Perusing Poetics: End of the Poetics Journey

I started out this blog talking about the two different parts of me, and how they work together. I’m going to end it by talking about how they stand apart. Granted, I’m going to be focusing more on my Writing major, just because the Poetics is a Writing Department class, but trust me when I say that the point I’m about to make is applicable to my English major too.

Yes, this post is required as a final project. Yes, there are question guidelines. I’m about to do a very odd thing and copy them out for you (sorry Professor. I swear there’s a reason for this):

  1. What do you make and is it similar in any way to the art practices we’ve read and/or talked about in class?
  2. Why do you make it, and do you see your ideas aligning with or being similar to the “why” of anyone we have read and/or talked about in class?
  3. What is the relationship of language to what you make, and is this relationship in any way similar to anyone we have read and/or talked about in class?

Using your digital archive and ideas, address

  1. What are your influences and how have they influenced what you have made up to this point? Who or what do you admire in your field, and why? (Use videos, images, other archives, etc.)
  2. What do you aspire to create, and what have you learned or encountered in class (if anything) that may affect your processes going forward? (Note: this can be a negative effect. That is, “Now that I’ve seen how horribly wrong thing XYZ can go, I want to avoid that route…)
  3. What was the most influential/important reading and/or concept to your own processes of making?

You know what I’m absolutely sick of? Realizing there are two ways I want to answer these questions. Then realizing that one of them is just another story I’m afraid to tell.

“What I mean is that within the University there could exist a relationship with word, language, thought, tradition, and power that might run counter to the relationship a poet might want to have with word, language, thought, tradition and power.” – Sarah Vap, End of The Sentimental Journey

Recently, in my Renaissance Literature class, the professor asked us what we were going to be reading over the summer. My answer would have been Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses. But I didn’t answer, because people starting saying “Milton” or “Absalom, Absalom.” My answer didn’t seem like it fit.

So, today, when I answer these questions, I’m not going to do any of us the disservice of lying or telling you half-truths. I’m going to tell you BOTH truths. I’m going to answer you from the

Academic

and from the

Personal

Bear with me.


What do you make and is it similar in any way to the art practices we’ve read and/or talked about in class?

I write fiction, not poetry. In generic terms, this might make it seem as though few of the readings of this semester would be similar to what I make, since it has (mostly) all been about poetry. However, though the aesthetic qualities are very different, any writer will tell you that we are all just that–writers. We tell stories. We use language for certain goals. As Wordsworth says, “the language of a large portion of every good poem, even of the most elevated character, must necessarily, except with reference to the metre, in no respect differ from that of good prose” (Wordsworth). When Pound talks about “imagism,” for example, or Coleridge talks about “suspension of disbelief,” they are discussing the concepts in terms of poetry but it means little different for prose. In fact, one of the most interesting thing about make of the readings these semester was going through the readings that seemed hyper-poetry-specific and realizing that writing as an art is not so different as one might think.

I did not think of my art having a “process,” necessarily, when the semester started. I have trouble aligning what I do think of as my process now to anything as radical as the Futurist Manifesto or something that thinks about language as Craig Dworkin does. If I were to look at one and see a “theory” of some kind that I apply to my own work, I would have to take William Cronon’s discussion of how “where one chooses to begin and end a story profoundly alters its shape and meaning” (Cronon 1364). I have found myself multiple times this semester having to repeat to other writers in my Fiction I class: “A short story is a snapshot, a novel is a picture album.” Whether I’m creating a novel or a short story, my brain has to think about this concept in two very different ways. However, by accepting Cronon as my “theory” here, I must also acknowledge the complication of constantly thinking this way. I had never applied this thinking to topics such as history until I read Cronon, and it reminded me to think more carefully about the narratives I read outside of fictions.

*

You know every time someone asks me this question, I usually just say fiction unless I think I’m among friends because listen buddy do you have any idea what it’s like to tell an academic that you aspire to write young adult fantasy fiction? They laugh at you. They kick you out. They turn up their nose and in the background there’s an echo of Ezra Pound saying, “Oh yes I suppose sometimes ‘the modern poet is expected to holloa his verses down a speaking tube to the editors of cheap magazines'” (Pound). So I say fiction, because it’s simpler. It’s cleaner. They nod and assume you are discussing some kind of work that re-imagines the cosmos of the universe or something. Well, Mr. and Mrs. Walt-Whitman-Wannabes, you can take your expectations of “the poet to indicate more than the beauty and dignity which always attach to dumb real objects” and “indicate the path between reality and their souls” and look elsewhere (Whitman 4).

What I write isn’t senseless, or careless or purposeless. Every story, every character, every word–it says something. But it doesn’t say it in the way that academia wants me to say it, in the form that they want me to say it, and therefore it becomes: senseless, careless, and purposeless. But that isn’t what I write. That isn’t why I write.

***

Why do you make it, and do you see your ideas aligning with or being similar to the “why” of anyone we have read and/or talked about in class?

Sometimes I feel like there isn’t a particular reason why I make a piece of fiction. Sometimes I sit up in bed and am moved by something. My ideas align a lot with William Carlos Williams, especially when he talks about how “the imagination is an actual force comparable to electricity or steam” (Williams 49). (I cannot agree entirely with him because he says some choice things about prose v. poetry that am not sure I believe.) Usually, however, a story idea is based in only one question: why? For me, this is often expanded in the direction of “Why people do what they do?” in particular. This semester I have written fiction trying to answer questions such as, “Why do women return to abusive boyfriends?”, “Why do we cling to friendships that are dying?” and “Why do we fight losing battles for people who no longer love us?” When I list them out, there is an obvious theme. I am not writing something simply because it was due in class that week. I am asking myself a question and writing my way through to some kind of answer (hopefully!). Again, as Williams would say, “there is no confusion – only difficulties” (Williams 78). Writing is a way to work through difficulties.

*

When I started writing, I wrote for me. This is still generally true. I wrote the stories that came to me from other things I had read. I went through that phase of writing about dragons and trying to come up with my own language and giving my characters names that I couldn’t pronounce. They were about war and adventure and romance. As I’ve gotten older, however, the reasons have changed.

Now the reasons are a lot more driven by the “who” and not the “what.” I have multiple characters that I’ve created that will not leave me alone until I write them. They control the narrative, in a way–I’ve never been able to outline in any constructive way. I write to discover who these characters are and what they want. In doing so, I find out about myself and other people. The fantasy element, for me, is just a bigger way to attack these issues. I never have been able to write in “real world” boxes.

The young adult part stems from me “writing what I read,” in a way–and wanting to make it better. I’ve been immersed in the genre for so long that there is this personal investment that I can’t even quantify what it is anymore. I know that the genre has issues. It gives me something to aim for. I want to write better, for myself and others.

Also, side-note, being a writer is just … amazing. To quote Williams again, the writer can use the power of imagination to “give created forms reality, actual existence” (Williams 49). For some variety, Toni Morrison also references the test of a writer’s power “to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar” (Morrison 15). Writing is magical. Being “in the zone” and creating a whole new world is a feeling like no other. Sometimes, if I’ve been blocked for a while, I get the urge to find some learn-to-type program just for an excuse to hit the keys of my laptop, to engage in the act. It’s that powerful.

***

What is the relationship of language to what you make, and is this relationship in any way similar to anyone we have read and/or talked about in class?

Language is the building blocks of all literature. That said, oftentimes people do not realize how close this relationship is. As a writer, language is the key “small edit” for which every story must be read and reread. For example, dialogue in stories can be difficult. You have to make sure that the characters do not sound like the same person. Language is also the only method you have for showing the reader a picture of what you are describing, whether it be person, place, or thing.

I have also become convinced that writing could also be seen as author psychology, and that often has to do with language. Benjamin Whorf and Toni Morrison talk wonderfully about this concept in both their works, in their own way. Whorf, for example, states that “our linguistically determined thought world not only collaborates with our cultural idols and ideals, but engages even our unconscious personal reactions in its patterns and gives them certain typical characters” (Whorf 154). Morrison offers an example of these “certain typical characters” by describing them as “the languages they use and the social and historical context in which these languages signify are indirect and direct revelations of that power and its limitations” (Morrison 15). I have discussed Whorf and Morrison’s concepts in other blog posts, but I have also seen this concept show up in my own work. I always become conscious, after a work is written, that even my most fantastical pieces show off an aspect of myself that I did not intend. I learn about the way I think about things when I write about stories that are not mine–and all that subtext appears in subtle language choices.

*

Now, don’t look at me funny, but language isn’t usually something I think about until the last draft is done. The words have to come out of my head, first, and then I can play with them. I sit in writing classes where they talk about extended metaphors and unique images and it occurs to me that perhaps this is something about young adult literature that gets on their nerves. Young adult literature uses these conventions, but not particularly in the same way. It’s faster, cleaner–there isn’t any room for fluff. Now, I’m not saying that literary fiction doesn’t have some beautiful passages, I just … get bored. I hate to equate myself with Whitman in any way, but I snap my fingers when he says that in his poetry “What I tell I tell for precisely what it is” (Whitman 6). If that happens to be a land where dragons are real and the language is made up, then so be it.

It honestly amused me when Longinus said that “the effect of elevated language upon an audience is not persuasion but transport” (Longinus 97). It was the first clue that his idea of elevated language might not be what I assumed it was, which was like some high fantasy description of one castle wall that goes on for four pages or one of those ridiculously long descriptions of something that is supposed to be beautiful but instead just has me skipping pages. Like Game of Thrones. I assume that is what elevated language looks like, but if I was calling it? Game of Thrones puts me to sleep. Young adult novels like to take me places. So, I suppose I mean to say that I don’t write in what would stereotypically be considered elevated language, but man do I go for transport over persuasion.

***

What are your influences and how have they influenced what you have made up to this point? Who or what do you admire in your field, and why? (Use videos, images, other archives, etc.)

Tree of CodesThe last thing that I remember directly influencing me was Lorrie Moore’s “How to Be a Writer.” I wrote my own version, a very meta and ‘formally innovative’ piece that I rather enjoyed writing. The nature of that piece speaks to a larger influence of mine, post-modernism and conceptual art. For example, a while ago my book club did a vlog about Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes and I never got over the impact of reading it. The book was die-cut from another book, and it had been printed with the holes intact, so you could choose to read it as either a page by page story or the sentences that sometimes appeared through the holes. I have yet to consider writing anything that spectacular, but the concept behind it and other “less-traditional” methods of storytelling are always on my mind.

I cannot give a specific person that I admire, mostly because I admire things that are done. I admire risks. I am a terrible English major in that I cannot stand classics. I know it is an oxymoron to say that I hate Shakespeare, since he was a risk taker for his time, but–though I respect that–I cannot read anymore of it. I especially like things that, like many readings in this class, make me think about something I had not thought of before. Sarah Vap’s The End of the Sentimental Journey, for example, is something I want to wallpaper my apartment with next year.

*

Okay, are we talking influences RIGHT NOW or OF ALL TIME because listen I’ve got a list I think will be longer than this long as all get out blog post. In brief, I suppose I should start with Eragon by Christopher Paolini. The fact that he published that book when he was fifteen encouraged little 12 year old me to write my own novel. I’ve since grown up enough to learn that the books has many, many faults (that were somehow made worse by the movie). After that, my world expanded. Tamora Pierce will forever be one of my earliest and greatest influences, with her strong fantasy females. My new favorite voice is Sarah J. Maas, because her books are fabulous to begin with but I also enjoy being able to grow with her as a writer with each new book.

The project that I plan to write for my next semester’s Writing Senior Project is potentially one of the most complicated stories I’ve ever attempted, especially in terms of issues of culture and sexuality. It’s also a YA dystopian novel, which is weird to be because at this point I hate that stupid concept, but then again that is the only way the story I want to write fits. Thanks, characters in this story, for telling be that this is where you live. Right now, I’m being influenced for this novel by a wide range of subjects that looks like this…

If you can figure out how all this fits together, you are one step ahead of me.

***

What do you aspire to create, and what have you learned or encountered in class (if anything) that may affect your processes going forward? (Note: this can be a negative effect. That is, “Now that I’ve seen how horribly wrong thing XYZ can go, I want to avoid that route…)

I aspire to create fiction that answers questions. Perhaps, initially, they will only be the answers to the questions that I ask myself, but I do believe that they are questions that at least one other person will be asking. At the highest level I do believe that it is “through storytelling, very often, that people articulate their cherished values and, by playing with modes of reality other than the merely palpable, make possible a future that differs from what now exists” (Niles 2). Of course, here John Niles is talking specifically about oral litrature, but I do not think that power is only given to that particular genre.

At the same time, I do not attempt to write anything thinking that it will “please all and always” (Longinus 100). While I respect those like Harryette Mullen, who writes while thinking about “unknown readers [she] can only imagine” and their ability to connect with her text, I find that task too … all-encompassing, too frightening (Mullen 8). I write to connect to a current problem, to connect to a current audience. Perhaps that it too “low brow” of me for the likes of Whitman and Longinus, but it is what interest me. I am asking this question now. Maybe later I will ask a different question–and perhaps I have come to it because I have answered a previous question. In my sophomore year I wrote a short story I could not end because I did not know the answer yet. I wrote the ending to it a year later. Realizing why I could now write that ending answered more questions than the story itself.

*

I aspire to create something that is undeniably me. One of my most visceral, negative reactions to a reading came when T.S. Eliot said that “the progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality” (Eliot). Sure, I’ll give you the self-sacrifice–but only if you mean to say that this is because you are giving up part of yourself and placing it into the work, not erasing it. Erasure is what gets this earth into some of the biggest, fattest messes. Stop. I want to tell stories that are me and everything that I’ve learned. I want people to learn with me.

When you say you write YA, people think that you can’t write good enough to write “real fiction” or you’re just looking to “cash in.” Has it occurred to anyone that to write to a growing generation is one of the most powerful things in the world? There are people whose childhoods are defined by Harry Potter. Multiple generation were changed by JK Rowling. That is power. If we do it write, young people going through some of the most tumultuous, defining years of their lives can reach out to a bookshelf and find someone else like them, someone struggling like them. YA has been one of the best places for books that leap in diversity, sexuality and gender. They can teach a life and they can save a life. They can do both. If, someday, I create something that touches just one person, I will have achieved my goal.

***

What was the most influential/important reading and/or concept to your own processes of making?

There were so many readings throughout this course that made me stop and think that, in terms of my critical knowledge, I feel as though my brain exploded. Off the top of my head, I am thinking of the Genocide of the Mind readings, Jerome Rothenberg’s “Ethnopoetics,” Benjamin Whorf, Toni Morrison–the list goes on and on. In terms of the writing I personally will go on to do, however, I am sticking to the first text that popped into my head: surprisingly (to me) William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All. I know he said some choice things about prose that I do not agree with entirely, and half the book is entirely poetry with the point of conveying no emotion but there is just … something about it. The innovative way it is put together, the variety of phrases I wish I could get tattooed to my body (“There is no confusion, only difficulties” being top of the list)–just … that thing. Longinus calls it the sublime, Whitman calls it kosmos. Whatever it is, I already have the feeling that this is a text I will return to for pleasure, to read when I am feeling stuck or frustrated with the craft of writing. Williams says that when he reads he looks “for ‘something’ in the writing which moves [him] in a certain way”–and that is his book for me.

*

In terms of the novel I am about to attempt to write, I know that I will need to keep Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark close by me. There are so many underlying notions and consequences that something I could write, as a straight, white female, that do not occur to me because they never have to–yet by only writing generic white characters I am doing my fictions–realistic or not–a disservice. It’s like when I wrote my first novel at the age of 12 and I wrote a battle scene, yet in the aftermath I forgot to describe the bodies on the ground. I wrote about death without actually killing anyone. How naive.

In terms of me as a human? Most certainly Sarah Vap’s End of The Sentimental Journey, from which I drew the name of this blog post. I wish I could quote the whole thing in here so you could know why. (By which I mean, go away and read the entire text and then come back, I’ll wait.) If you’ve never read it, the reason will make sense when I say: the entire poem is about Vap struggling to figure something out, to find answer. The entire piece is her asking questions of herself and trying to answer them with varying levels of success and clarity. She embraces what she doesn’t know and uses it to move the poem forward. It is a physical representation of what I want to do in my fictions. I think I’m going to buy a copy to put next to Williams on my bookshelf.

***


Are you still here with me? That’s pretty impressive, I’ll be honest. I hope that maybe you’ve learned a lot more about me then you ever needed, but I hope you also understand. When I make something, I have to choose who I’m making it for. What I make for myself I can’t always make for academia. What I make for academia I don’t always want to make for myself. Yet, the two sides aren’t disparate. They make up a whole. They make up me and my writing. This is my poetics.

“Because language isn’t, at least always, the thing we’re actually conveying.” – Sarah Vap, The End of The Sentimental Journey


The follow is my Works Cited List. You aren’t forced to stick around for this.

Cronon, William. “A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative.” The Journal of American History 78.4 (1992): 1347-376. Sakai. Web. 5 May 2015.

Eliot, T.S. “Tradition and the Individual Talent (1920).” Sakai. Ithaca College. Web. 5 May 2015.

Longinus. “On The Sublime.” Unknown. Sakai. 95-108. Print.

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Print.

Mullen, Harryette. “Imagining the Unimagined Reader.” The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be: Essays and Interviews. U of Alabama, 2012. 3-8. Print.

Niles, John D. “Making Connections.” Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature. Philidelphia: U of Pennsylvania. 1-32. Print.

Vap, Sarah. End of the Sentimental Journey: A Mystery Poem. Noemi Press, 2013. Print.

Whitman, Walt. “Preface to Leaves of Grass.” Sakai. Ithaca College, 1855. Web. 5 May 2015.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee. Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings. Ed. John B. Carroll. Cambridge: MIT, 1956. Print.

Williams, William Carlos. Spring and All. New York: New Directions, 2011. Print.

Wordsworth, William. “Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1802).” Sakai. Ithaca College. Web. 5 May 2015.

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7 thoughts on “Perusing Poetics: End of the Poetics Journey

  1. If you didn’t make a good grade on this, I might faint. Definitely well though out, presented very well, and the point is brought across accurately and definitively. As a YA author of fantasy myself, I appreciate your phraseology and applaud your purpose! 😀

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