WAVES ON A PAGE

My return to literature was like a sailor

returning to the salt air after a decade ashore.

 

The thin clatter of books from bookshelves

were like oars clattering into a paddle boat.

The small creak of hardback covers sounded

like wooden planks curling beneath my feet.

 

It wasn’t long before I’d raised sails,

and made my way into the first waves

on a broad, shining sea of letters.

 

After a few bumpy chapters,

the waves came rocking,

building, like a crescendo,

until each page was its own torrent

of water and hellfire crashing;

battering and beating the boat

 

and I was there screaming along,

mad with the thrill of the ride.

 

Until finally the pages shut,

the seas grew quiet,

and I found myself drifting along

waiting patiently for another storm.

——

 

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WORDS AND IRONWORKS

I wasn’t born to be a poet.

With a name like “Smith,” one is only fit

to work over a hot fire with iron and steel,

and yet somehow the words chiseled their way

into the forge of my life.

 

The sound of my pen spattering paper

rung out like an imagined hammer,

shaping the letters of Apollo

into a work more spectacular

than those creations I’d made for Vulcan.

 

For though the glint of the ironworks

could be heard throughout the village,

it was the letters sung between drinks

that filled it with happiness

and when the time came for another pair of sons

to be whisked away on bloodied spikes

the solace of words meant more to the mothers

than the stained return of mail

to be buried with the bodies.

——

 

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LOOKING FOR WORDS

I started out searching in regular places:

under the coffee table, between seat cushions;

I could always find a couple handy ones

hiding between the pages of the dictionary,

 

but like a pair of lost keys, the first few places

often yield unsatisfactory results—particularly

when one is in a crazed rush to find them. Then,

under the pressures to get going, I will begin looking

 

in stranger places—like underneath the sink,

inside the empty spaces of an egg carton, and

even within the frozen depths an ice tray,

like fossils hidden in the arctic that are needed

to complete the evolutionary chain

 

that is the last poem I need for my book.

But then it will happen, in a sinking sigh of relief,

that I will spot them sticking out on the counter

beneath that morning’s newspaper,

which sports a headline that always seems to read

that the world is coming to an end.
And now that the words have suddenly

put me in motion, I can’t help feeling silly

that I didn’t spot them lying there sooner.

——

 

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CRITIQUING BILLY COLLINS

So, I just got back from USC this past weekend after my month at the USC/LARB publishing workshop, which was an absolutely amazing experience. The people at the Los Angeles Review of Books are all extremely outgoing and kind. They clearly care about the value that every publisher brings to the table—we heard from smaller presses like Angel City Press and Tia Chucha, as well as massive corporations like Netflix and Amazon, and all the magazines, authors, and so on in between.

It was this constant dedication to diversity that made me wish to discuss the work of Billy Collins today briefly. Specifically, I wanted to talk about the poems in The Rain in Portugal, since I just finished it and it is fresh in my mind still. I should preface this with A) that I have not read all his work—in fact this is the only collection of his work that I have read, so take what I say with a grain of salt and B) that I really enjoyed his work. Like it was some of the most inspiring, thought provoking poetry I have ever read.

With that in mind, I wanted to talk about the issue I have with the collection. The issue I have found is that, in many cases, Collins provides only a male-centeric narrative to his poems. Under the Stars, Cosmology, and A Day in May (also titled “May Day”) I think illustrate this issue the best. Under the Stars portrays a person, who is most likely a man, pissing under the stars. While the overall message is to find tranquility in the most unusual of areas, the emphasis on fraternity creates a sort of in-group versus out-group mentality, where the reader may feel alienated if they lack a penis.

Similarly, Cosmology paints the image of the world resting on a variety of unusual pictures (the infinite backs of turtles, for example). Collins decides that placing the world on the back of Keith Richards, holding a bottle of Jack Daniels and smoking a Marlboro cigarettes is the ideal place to rest the world. Of course, this is meant to create humor, but the decision continues to uplift the male narratives. Which isn’t necessarily bad, until Collins begins to represent women to the contrary.

In Collins work, women often become objects. A poem is personified as a woman, for example. And truthfully, it is extremely romantic and lovely to read. But it also can be one-dimensional. One example of this is in A Day in May, in which Collins highlights a girl telling him “have a nice day.” In his brief commentary afterwards, he mentions this statement as being “an irritant” because the girl could not possibly know how good the day was already. Yet to describe her as an irritant seems unfair. She was simple a cashier doing her job, and being polite about it at that. This representation presents women as “lesser” people. Which I think is on the border of cruel.

Anyways, that’s just my opinion. I still adore his poetry—I just ordered a couple more of his collections. But I still think that we can do better—or at least should be aware of the problems that exist even at the highest branches of poetic form. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

 

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TALKIN’ ‘BOUT POETRY

So I made a friend recently (whoa! so hard to imagine, right?) in my time at USC, which isn’t to say that I know them super well, but I really wanted to talk about an interesting conversation we had the other day. They shared with me some of their poetry (like ten poems), and I got to read through it. it was super cool (sorry I can’t show you all, but it’s not mine to reveal).

But I did want to recount the awesome parts. Which aren’t really…well, aren’t really the actual words that matter. I mean, obviously the words of a poem matter, they’re what make a poem poetry…but that isn’t what was important to what we were talking about—it was the discussion. Which is not only where a poem sits in the history of poetry, but also how it affects and influences the reader. For example, I’ll use an aspect of my poem yesterday (because what kind of self-centered author would I be if I didn’t refer to my own work?):

 

“as I hang there suspended, swinging

in the breeze on a nice, thick rope

 

like back in Florida, above the water,

while my father roared with laughter”

 

So those lines, are the last two and first two lines of two different stanzas, and I like to think that they create a nice contrast in perspective. The first two lines, from the end of the first stanza, create the image of a body swinging from a rope…which, lets be honest, sounds like a suicide or a hanging. The break makes the reader pause, and allows (ideally) the brain to process it. Then, the latter two lines contrast the darkness of those lines with the nostalgic image of falling into the water, with a father laughing in the background. This creates a dialogue in the readers head, which I think everyone reacts to differently. Is the narrator actually suicidal, and reflecting how their life went? Are they happy, and just being cynical? Are we just misreading them? Hard to say.

Anywho, I just wanted to pause some questions, because I think poetry reading is one of the most interesting things there is. Let me know your thoughts!

——

 

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TEN THOUSAND WORDS

In ten pictures, I’ve seen ten thousand words,

Yet in ten words, I’ve found ten thousand more.

 

‘Course they wouldn’t tell you of that magic,

Not anymore, not nowadays. Not when

We hunger, feed, thirst, and drink for vision.

Not when we are pacified by color.

Not when we are made ravenous by lust.

By the need to see, rather than to know.

By the need to have, rather than to hold.

By that carnal, burning desire to win,

‘Ther than admit defeat for the greater good.

 

But I can show you a world divine,

Where true lovers rest, and heroes reside.

Where the wars are fought for nobility,

And the wind’s pass us by much more slowly.

A world with some truth, and pain, and lies,

And a world where good men go to die.

But a world more real than on TV

Hides within those pages for you and me.

 

Those ten thousand words can last a lifetime

While pictures fade as memories decline.

——

 

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THE HALLWAY

I woke up in an empty, white paneled hallway. It was lit with rows of florescent lights, which reflected off the walls to make them appear even brighter. When I got up to look around, I noticed that there were no windows, but in the distance there was the vague outline of a doorway. I glanced behind me, only to see the ongoing nothingness continued that way as well.

I began to walk thought the hallway. The emptiness was filled by the soft pattering of my shoes beneath my feet. The clothes I had woken up in felt clammy, and stuck to my skin awkwardly, but the more I walked, the more they fell away from my skin. The door, which had been but a tiny outline in the distance, grew closer as I walked toward it, and it became clear that it was built for another time period.

In stark contrast with the walls around it, the door was made of a faded bronze metal, with a handle rather than a doorknob. As I put my hand on the door handle, my eyes came into contact with a large door knocker. The knocker was made of a large metal serpent’s head, which looked vaguely draconic. The serpent held the metal knocker ring in its mouth. The ring itself was another work of art, which had been fashioned with careful detail into the design. Rather than smooth metal, the ring had been made to look like a chain of people moving into and out of the serpent’s mouth.

I realized I had been transfixed on the serpent, and shook my head back to the task at hand. I pushed and pulled on the door handle, but found it to be stuck in place. A few more shakes and I yielded. I sighed, and took a step back from the door to look around. The white halls stretched endlessly on either side, but in the distance from the direction I had come I could hear the faintest of sounds. Dah-duh…Dah-duh it was the unmistakable rhythm of someone—someTHING walking closer. I strained to look into the distance, and noticed a speck of black at the edge of my sight. It was definitely moving, albeit slowly.

Fear shot through my body, and I had the sudden urge to run away. I restrained myself, and turned back to the door. I wondered what could be on the other side of the door. Freedom. Safety. Slavery. Murder. Death. It was the great unknown, locked to me. And what monstrous being would be on the other side? But as my ears turned back to the slowly approaching creature down the hall, I decided it was best to take my chances. At worst, I would have two things coming for me instead of one. I drew my hand up to the ring of people, and banged it hard against the door twice. I stepped away from the door again, and prepared myself for what came next.

One…two…three moments past before I heard the distinct clank of metal unlatching from the other side. The door swung open, and the stale air of the hallway mixed with the moist, wooden air of the new room. Standing in the doorway was a little girl, no older than my cousins. She was pale white, with light brown hair that fell down to the middle of her back. She looked on at me with wonder; her head cocked to the side slightly. Her eyes were black and dead, yet her mouth moved with the most colorful and lively emotions. Shy, happy, concerned, scared, and so on. She was dressed in a white ballerina’s leotard, and white ballerina shoes.

“Hello,” I said cheerily, meeting her empty eyes with as warm a smile as I could muster, “and what is your name?” She didn’t answer. I glanced off into the room, and saw nothing but a black void before me.

“Do you have parents? Or a caretaker? Would they be available for me to speak to?” Again I was met with silence, though this time the little girl stepped back from the door and into the darkness. The light faded away from her body, and I could barely make out the barest hint of her form. She beckoned me in, then stepped to be completely engulfed in the darkness.

——

 

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TONE IN LITERATURE AND LIFE

From time to time, my father and I talk about a variety of subjects. Anything from alcohol, to weight lifting, to…well, really anything. Yesterday, my dad finished reading Honored Enemy, a book by a (slightly) lesser-known fantasy author: Raymond E. Feist (at least, compared to George R.R. Martin), and we were considering it in comparison to the Game of Thrones series (yeah I know it’s called A Song of Fire and Ice officially, but everyone calls it Game of Thrones). My dad asserted that Feist’s characters were more hopeful, which I thought was an interesting perspective, since at many times throughout his book, they knowingly face and fear certain doom.

To contrast, the characters in Game of Thrones, while often times very dire (I mean, the Stark’s house words are “Winter is Coming,” which is indicative of a fear of death, rather than an enjoyment with life) also hold a sense of hopefulness at various points, it just doesn’t seem hopeful. Think about it. Tyrion is hopeful in his own way—in the sense that he thinks he can overcome pretty much anything with his own wit. Renly is hopeful in a way too. He is very fun loving, and clearly represents some amount of goodness in the world. Vars, in his own way, is hopeful that things can go well, and Littlefinger is hopeful in his own schemes. Though I would categorically say that Game of Thrones is far less hopeful than most books.

Which takes us to the point of this post! Tone! The whole tone of the story frames the perspective it takes. And I like to think of stories as an allegory for life. This one is that the tone you take can change how you look at life. If everything you think is hopeless, then the world will seem that much darker. But if you can look at the things around you, and find some greatness in it, suddenly you might be able to enjoy it a bit more—even in dire straights.

Alright, well I’ll leave it a bit shorter today, but don’t forget that life can be really great, just as books can be really great, even if there are many points where the world seems too big, and the battles you are fighting seem hopeless. Let me know what your thoughts are on the subject. Is life better when we view it as better? Or does the pessimism lead to better successes in happiness?

——

 

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LOVE POEM #34 – SOLACE FOUND

I’ve never seen a more handsome couple

Than my best friend and his hesitant bride.

Which isn’t to say that either’s supple,

But that no lovers exhibit such pride.

He’s round ‘bout the edges, and pudgy too;

With a mouth you can’t take home to mother.

And he loves to make a hullabaloo

By saying that they don’t love each other.

And I’m not quite sure I’d call her a catch.

She’s quiet, and a tad bit annoying.

She’s the kind of girl that would leave a scratch,

And I would prob’bly find disappointing.

Yet together, somehow, they pirouette,

Like he’s Romeo to her Juliet.

——

 

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LOVE POEM #32 – A LITTLE FANTASY

I have this little fantasy,

Where every morning, you and me

Wake up beneath the unlit skies

With an adventure in our eyes.

 

We pack our bags, and picnic too,

And set out, as the sky turns blue.

We scale up the mountain’s peak

Till we come to the point we seek:

 

The highest point our eyes can see,

Occupied by a lonely tree,

With leaves more green than summer’s grass

And roots more deep than legends past.

 

Up there we waste away our day

Without the need for words to say.

Just cheese and wine and happy thoughts;

Admiration for what we’d wrought.

 

As the sunsets, I see us both,

Sitting beneath the undergrowth

We’re arm in arm, and cheek to cheek,

And I feel the urge to speak.

 

The sudden welling in my throat

Is realer than all I’ve wrote.

And there, beneath that glist’ning view,

I have to whisper “I love you.”

——

 

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