Category Archives: kerouac

A clarification for the poetry you (maybe) read on this blog.

Yesterday the 8th graders had a poetry slam to celebrate the collections they published and all the life changing reading experiences they had (ha. I wish) during our unit. It really was one of my favorite moments of this year so far, though. 14 year olds willing to share their writing in front of 90 other students, and 90 other students willing to listen.

Teaching poetry is my metaphorical spring. I love finding ways to reveal just how life giving and refreshing reading it can be, and all of the opportunities for creative expression and freedom in writing it. One of my teaching goals for the year has been to write along with my students, which is hilarious because my students are precious enough to think that everything I write is amazing. I am obsessed with revision. I try to arm students with strategies and encourage experimentation. As I was trying to model what experimentation looks like, I ended up learning a lot about myself as a poet.

One, I like powerfully descriptive language in prose, but I don’t like to overdo it in poetry. I’ve found that the poetry I am most excited about writing is when I try to capture a single moment in words and simultaneously give the reader a picture of what was happening while conveying its emotional weight. I tend to do this mostly through steam of conscious-style writing paired with meaningful line breaks. I love how one single image can speak volumes beyond itself.

So as I was experimenting with my own work in front of my class, I found I didn’t like a lot of the revisions I was making when I was intentionally trying to include poetic devices. Granted, my rewrites were way better than the deliberately bad poems I started with, but they did not seem to have my voice and identity in them. For this reason, I didn’t “publish” a collection with them, because despite my best efforts and seeming “good” revisions, I felt like a fraud.

This caused me to take a look at the poetry that I have written, and then feel compelled to explain it. Two of the most influential poets in my life are Pablo Neruda and Jack Kerouac. Neruda’s use of language–even in translation–is musical without music, deeply beautiful at once transcendent and cascading and I always imagine someone who is talking with such deep passion that he forgets to breathe. (please read for an example. or google Sonnet 17.) Kerouac’s western haikus are the pared down version: “Above all a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella.” He was able to get “the rendering of a subject’s essence, and the shimmering, ephemeral nature of its fleeting existence,” (Weinreich):

Frozen
in a birdbath,
a leaf.

My hope in my own poetry is to work toward combining these two styles; to try to convey the weight of a nuanced image and the way my heart can just drop to the ground, but in the good kind of heartbreak. I’m not sure that I felt I had to write this to justify my writing style to you, but more as a means to process through who I am hoping to become as a writer?

To close in another’s words, an excerpt from anArs Poetica that I found recently. It seems to almost perfectly describe the art of capturing of a fleeting moment that becomes timeless and heavy:

Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

*

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

*

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.

Hey Jack Kerouac.

“Everything I had ever secretly held against my brother was coming out: how ugly I was and what filth I was discovering in the depths of my own impure psychologies.” So says Sal Paradise toward the end of his travels in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” I’ve been excited to finally read this classic, and I’m surprised I haven’t read it before; Kerouac having been a major influence on my poetry. It’s interesting to hear this come out of Sal’s mouth…the reader expects this traveler to have formulated some deep, bohemian theories about life in the novel, but not this.

I have started wondering to what degree this comes in some form in every journey. I remember being much younger and thinking that I really could do everything right; relationship-wise, that is: I will be a nice person to everyone. I will think good thoughts about everyone. I will make all the right decisions. Obviously, you get the naivete. And these are things that I strive to do…but they can only be perfected if one becomes a hermit and interacts with no one, and in that case I don’t think it really counts.

The older I get, the more aware I become of my shortcomings. And shortcomings is putting it too lightly…the filth that is in the depths of me. And instead of getting super personal on a blog, I think I’ll talk in general for a minute. The idea that people are sinful and selfish creatures is so real to me. The idea that we will never get it all right is finally beginning to settle in my bones. The idea that I need a Savior not just on a lifetime basis, but a minute by minute basis is the most utterly real aspect of my life right now. I have never wanted to embrace non-order or perhaps non-beauty is a better way to put it. Growing up and even today I struggle with wanting everything to be right and good. But. This, for now until the Earth is restored, is not reality. And this is what I want to embrace and admit, even though I’m not “on the road,” but rather just in my life.

Not everything is picturesque at first glance, but I think there may be a bit of beauty in the mundane, in the raw, in the un-manicured urban.

Kristen Sometimes.

“It was after this that Charlotte began to dream she was fighting to stay Charlotte, and one night woke from such a dream struggling, even crying a little. When she was calm again, she did not feel sleepy at all, so she lay still, carefully and deliberately making herself remember Aviary Hall, object by object, room by room. Also she made herself remember things that had happened to her as Charlotte, but it was alarming how the details seemed to slip away from her.”

I stumbled upon a new edition of my favorite book from third grade–Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. A girl in 1940’s England begins boarding school and finds that she travels through time and switches places with a girl similar to herself, only in 1917. In the middle of the book, she she becomes stuck in the past and has a hard time then remembering who she really is. The passage I quoted above has haunted my thoughts for quite a while now. I began to think about how easy it was to become so preoccupied with life that your identity gets lost in the mess of daily life and gradually becomes less and less impassioned.

I have felt that way lately, which is incredibly tragic because fall is the time when my senses are most awake and inspired. I have found myself needing to set aside the piles of grading and planning and to do lists and phone calls I should make and remember, “object by object” where my heart actually lies, before it slips away and life becomes just motions.

At the core, this is a spiritual issue. When I forget that I am loved, forgiven and lavished with grace I begin to live in a way that calls out the world to give me meaning, which is so hollow…but also an attractive hiding place. It blocks my view of Jack Kerouac’s haikus, and walks through tree lined streets and laying on my bed listening to La Ciengna Just Smiled and eating banana bread with neighborhood kindreds.

My lack of posts is due to this perpetual list making that cuts off the passion. But I’m working on remembering object by object, room by room…