Jan 03

A picture is worth a thousand words… or at least a poem’s worth

Over on Google+ there’s a photo project going on called GOOGLE + :: Project 52 :: 2012 wherein photographers (amateur or professional) submit a photo every week according to a provided theme. I’m not much of a photographer, but I thought it would be nice to have something similar for writing so my mother and I decided to join forces: she’d take the photos and I would write something to go with them. I’m sure most of the accompaniment will end up being poetry but then again, maybe not. It should be fun.

The entries are due on Google+ each week by 20:00 PST so I’ll try to have our entries posted here by the following Tuesday (and the first one was due yesterday so I plan to have it up later tonight). I highly recommend following the contest if you’re interested in photography the first round of submissions is impressive. Also, the contest name is a bit of a mouthful and more than I care to type, so I’m going to shorten it to “GP52” going forward.

Nov 26

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving

I’m currently working as a contract Technical Writer; it’s my first time working as a contract employee and it’s a little weird. The lack of benefits sucks, but it’s nice being able to walk away from work after eight hours no matter what’s going on – the contract is cleared for overtime but I can’t actually do it unless I’m given permission in advance. I think the thing I like most (but also find the most odd) is the lack of managerial oversight.

A Thanksgiving poem created for work

To a certain extent it bothers me because my responsibilities aren’t well defined and I don’t like feeling as if I’m wasting time or money, but I work really well on my own and tend to be very independent anyway so the freedom suits me. One of the side-effects of being a mercenary (as my old boss put it), is that there’s not really anyone who is tasked with keeping track of me; therefore, to help my co-workers know what’s going on when I’m not at my desk (am I at lunch? coming in late? working a half day?) I have a mini easel and a small whiteboard that I put up on my desk when I’m stepping out.

I worked a half-day the day before Thanksgiving because I was going to a congratulatory lunch for a friend who had found a new job and then I was going over to my parents’ place to do some baking. Rather than write all of that I had the idea Tuesday evening to write a Thanksgiving poem to make the sign more interesting. The idea came to me basically as I was getting ready for bed so I used my new tablet to compose the poem. Unfortunately I was distracted when I left for work the next morning and forget my tablet so I had to reconstruct the poem as best as I could from memory. For fun I checked my tablet when I got home and found I had gotten it 75% right. The poem below is a mash-up of the original and the reconstruction (the photo shows the reconstruction I used on my desk at work). In most cases I liked the original line better but I liked the “toasted” line in the reconstruction better. So much better that I used it for the title.

 
Toasted

Gobble! Gobble! Let’s run away!
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving day!

If you’re slow they’ll make a winner
of a festive turkey dinner.
Brined and dried and rubbed and roasted
‘til you’re pretty, brown, and toasted.

I guess, at least, this can be said:
You’ll see the guests are all well fed.
But better still is not to fall:
keep feathers, gizzard, beak, and all.

Gobble! Gobble! Let’s run away!
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving day!

Jul 30

Poetry Roundup #3 – Poetweets

One of our prompts last semester was to “test the integrity and possible effects of lines, try out as many free verse versions of a prose sentence as you can think of.” Rather than trying to come up with all new poems for the sake of the prompt, I thought it would be more fun to use text that wasn’t necessarily meant to be poetic and turn it into a poem by messing with the line length.

Since I was looking for a collection of short, random source blocks, Twitter seemed like the obvious choice; I scrolled through my tweets from that week and picked a handful to mess with. I used the provided hashtags as titles (for those that had them) and created hashtag titles for those that didn’t. I messed with case a little bit but left the words exactly as they were and, other than removing any emoticons, I only made minor punctuation changes.

Overall I like how the poems came out, but some definitely worked better than others. I found it interesting how you could change the rhythm of the statement in drastic ways just by cutting a thought short or letting it run on.


Original tweet: wha? It’s fruit juice mixed with sparkling water and it helps with my thirst just fine

#ilikemyjuicejustfine

wha?
it’s fruit juice mixed with sparkling water
and
it helps MY thirst
just fine


Original tweet: Should be doing homework but I’m wiped so I’m gonna go to bed and yell at myself in the morning for being lazy 😛 #itslikeicanseethefuture

#itslikeicanseethefuture

should be doing homework
but
I’m wiped
so
I’m gonna go to bed and yell at myself
in the morning
for being lazy


Original tweet: My friend and I laughed hysterically & saw actual past behavior echoed in the main characters’. Clearly we are the target demographic. #Paul

#paul
my friend and I laughed
hysterically
and
saw actual past behavior
echoed
in the main characters’.
clearly
we
are
the
target
demographic.


Original tweet: Gaa! “… as compelling AS yesterday’s”… Stupid thumbs! Learn English more gooder! You’re embarrassing me 😛

#shamedthumbs

gaa!
“as compelling AS yesterday’s”

Stupid.
Thumbs.
Learn English more gooder…
You’re embarrassing me

Jul 23

Poetry Roundup #2 – What I Did

What I Did

I sat down
upon the ground
and saw I’d lost my shoe.

“Can’t go ‘round,
left foot unbound!
Oh dear! What shall I do!?”

Quite bereft
about my left,
I walted in distress.

“Hateful theft!
(Though also deft
to manage the undress.)”

Fantful eyes
and hishful sighs
I retraced where I’d trod.

“Woe! No prize!
So, though unwise,
I’ll go left foot unshod.”

And that is what I did.

 
Commentary

What I Did is a free-form rhyming poem although the rhyme scheme and structure is (very) loosely based on a Petrarchan sonnet. The poem is presented in three pairs of triplets where the first set of three lines provides the poem’s plot and the second set of three lines contains the speaker’s monologue, commenting on the situation. Each stanza is built from sentences of three, four, and six syllables and the rhyme scheme of the triplet pairs is AABAAB. The voice of this poem is lighter and sillier than I usually employ in my poems, which makes for a good contrast with the rest of the “round up” collection, but it’s also an interesting compliment to the sonnet form that inspired it because a sonnet’s form and rhyme scheme are tightly controlled and strictly regulated whereas What I Did is basically nonsense.

Jul 18

Poetry Roundup #1 – Tides

Tides

The serenade springs lightly from your mouth
slipping and sliding along the ground
until it crashes gently at my feet –
a honeyed, silver wave
lapping lightly at the shore of my soles.

Held fast by chains of trust,
I watch without fear as it rises.

from shoe
   to shin
      from shin
         to shirt
            from shirt
               to shoulder

Until I am drowned
in sugared hate.

 
Commentary

Of all the poems I wrote last semester, I think this is my favorite.

Tides, is a prose poem but it has no prescribed form and plays with the presentation of the words on the page in an attempt to evoke the feeling of a rising tide. I think this poem uses the empty space of the page in an interesting way – more so than any of my other poems to date. I am also very pleased with the repetitive “sh” sound that sounds like waves lapping on the shore but I think the best part is that the poem starts off sounding like a positive poem but has a surprise twist at the end.

The poem is one of the few I’ve written that is based on personal experience. I wrote it after I received an unexpected, emotional slap in the face from someone I thought was my friend and I was shocked by the level of derision and judgmental indifference that her words contained. My hope is that the reader will not see the venom of the last line coming and also experience a symbolic “slap in the face”.

Jul 10

Why Video Games Matter

I just got home from a friend’s house-warming/birthday BBQ. There were between 30 and 40 people in attendance and out of everyone there I knew exactly two people… one of which was the hostess. I’m very introverted, especially in new situations and environments, so even though I tried to make small talk with the other guests, the first hour was basically spent standing around in the backyard, doing nothing but listening to everyone else talk to each other. Finally I gave up the pretense and went back inside to ask if there was anything I could do to help in the kitchen. I love food and cooking so for 30 blissful minutes I was in my element, but then the prep work was done (or the parts that I could help with anyway) and I was forced, once again, to face the idea of mingling among strangers.

When I initially approached the women in the kitchen I had mentioned by way of introduction (and to forestall them shooing me away) that I was introverted, very bad at mingling, and loved to cook. Once my assistance was no longer needed one of the women I had been helping basically dragged me into the backyard and introduced me to a friend of hers by declaring that we had something in common. This forced her friend to ask me what it was that we had in common (apparently we’re both introverted and “nice people”) and a conversation ensued. She was a chemical engineer and the other participant in the conversation was an ex-software developer who had become a QA/QC engineer. The fact that all three of us had technical/scientific backgrounds gave us something in common to talk about and we managed to blunder awkwardly through a variety of small talk for almost an hour. But then the conversation faltered and I excused myself to address the two beers I had already consumed by that point.

On my way through the house I noticed a young boy sitting on one of the couches. There were no other kids at the BBQ and I was probably the closest to him in age despite being (in all probability) at least 20 years older than him. He was sitting by himself not really doing anything but staring into space and it was obvious he would really rather be anywhere else but at this party. When I eventually made my way back from the bathroom he had moved from the couch; there was a cat in the corner of the room basically hanging out and ignoring people and he was attempting to interact with her. By now my tech comrades had moved on to other conversations with people they actually knew. Having lost my window of opportunity I grabbed another beer and stood in the yard feeling a little lost. Then I looked back into the living room at the boy. He had given up on the cat, moved back to the couch, and was staring off into space again.

It’s hard enough being an introverted adult at a party full of strangers, but being a kid who doesn’t know anyone at a party clearly meant for adults? It made my eldest-sibling senses tingle; I figured he had to feel at least as uncomfortable and out of place as I did so I decided to go talk to him. He was, understandably, a little withdrawn when I greeted him and his answers to my questions were addressed to the floor rather than me. At first the conversation centered mostly on the cat and how she seemed to shy away from him: “probably because [he has] a dog and she can smell it.” Eventually, I asked him what he liked to do when he’s not in school.

“I play games.”

“Oh?” I asked. “What kind of games? Video games?”

He nodded.

“What’s your favorite game?”

He answered me, but I couldn’t really hear the answer (although I’m pretty sure it started with an “R”) because he was mumbling and speaking very quietly; I think he figured I was humoring him so he wasn’t investing much in the conversation. Rather than ask him to repeat his answer, which might have made him think I wasn’t paying attention, I just kept going: “I don’t think I know that one. Is it a puzzle game? A first-person shooter? …”

At this point I think he realized that, just maybe, I actually knew something about video games and he raised his head so he was looking at me instead of his shoes to interrupt my question: “It’s like both. It’s a mix of a bunch of types of games.” I told him that sounded kind of fun and asked him why he liked it (because he could play with his friends), if it was a PC game or a console game (PC), and if he primarily played consoles or PC (PC, but he sometimes plays console games at his friend’s house). By now he realized my interest was genuine and he started actively participating in the conversation.

“Have you heard of Halo: Reach?”

I told him that, yes, I had heard of Halo: Reach, but I hadn’t had the chance to play it yet. “I’ve heard it’s pretty fun. Do you like it?”

For the next hour I was regaled with stories about matches in the “R”-game (whose complete name I never did catch but it apparently includes zombies and guns that you can only fire once?) and about “this one time” in Halo: Reach where he managed to beat his opponent with a double explosion by deflecting a rocket launcher attack with a hammer then throwing a sticky grenade before the reflected attack struck. After a while I mentioned that I liked playing Arkham Asylum and the conversation moved to Lego: Batman, a game that both of us had played, and we discussed the pros and cons of the different characters. By then he had warmed up to me enough that when I mentioned I liked playing as Harley Quinn because the double-jump suited my playing style he felt comfortable making a joke about how the rest of the characters were bound by the laws of gravity but she and the other high-jumping characters weren’t.

Eventually we both got called away to get some food – he by his parents and me by my stomach – and I got caught up in a conversation with the one other person there that I actually knew so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him again before his parents decided it was time to head home. They went out into the backyard to say goodbye to the hostess but had to come back through the living room on their way out. Without any prompting from his parents, he stopped long enough to say “See ya” and give me a high-five/handshake combo as he went past me. Of everyone there, I was the only person other than the hostess to whom he said goodbye.

There are plenty of people out there who will tell you video games are dumb, and plenty more who will tell you that:

  • video games are art (regardless of what certain critics might say),
  • video games are an immersive storytelling medium that can’t be matched by other visual mediums (although the bibliophile in me would argue books are at least as good),
  • video games have a substantial, albeit frequently misunderstood, presence within the public eye, which gives them increasingly significant mainstream, cultural weight, and
  • probably a billion other reasons why video games are awesome (many of which I would likely agree with)

But if you ask me, the reasons listed above – and others like them – aren’t why games matter.

Video games matter because, unlike television or movies, it isn’t about that one game that happens to be popular right this moment. It’s about the act of playing within a set of rules that are well established and well understood; it’s a framework. And certain elements of that framework are familiar to all gamers – regardless of the kind of games they like to play or whether they are casual or “hardcore” gamers. Whether you’re trying to solve a room puzzle in Zelda or Resident Evil, trying to take out an opposing team in co-op play, or just trying to beat your own best score in your favorite arcade game, the frustrations and triumphs are basically the same. The beauty of video games is that you can talk about them even if you don’t happen to like the same kind of games; it’s not about having a game in common, it’s about having a common language.

Earlier that evening, three people who were (theoretically) peers with similar career and educational backgrounds struggled to maintain a polite conversation for just under an hour. But thanks to video games, two people who had absolutely nothing else in common: a bored pre-teen boy who would “ditch school if [he] could” and an introverted, 34 year old woman who’s a total nerd, effortlessly maintained an engaged conversation, as equals, for nearly two hours.

When’s the last time a television show or movie did something like that?

Jun 26

It’s a little dusty around here!

Man, it’s been forever since I posted something. Wrapping up Spring semester then going on vacation almost immediately after a 6-week illness my friends and I lovingly dubbed “The Plague” did a wonderful job of destroying my productivity!

Now that I’m on summer vacation (does it really count as “summer vacation” when you work full time?) I plan to dust off my writing exercises and get back to writing for at least 30 minutes every day; I’m guessing that first week will be the hardest because I need to get back in the rhythm of it, but I’m looking forward to it. Honestly, I enjoy writing poetry, but I missed the challenge and variety of the random exercises. Over the next few days I’ll be posting a Spring Semester Round-up of the poems I wrote for class that haven’t already been posted here and start the writing exercises next weekend.

I’m excited and looking forward to knocking the dust of this place… Even if no one but my mom is still reading it (Hi, Mama!) ^__^

– Sarah

May 04

Women In Science

Two days ago, Phil Plait (@BadAstronomer) posted a call for responses from women on Twitter to a very troll-ish comment on his Women as planetary science role models blog post.

I will only say one thing: If women want to have careers in science and engineering, the door has been wide open for several decades. Women need only enter the door, and work at their education the same way all of we men have done.

 
I deny the idea that women have been denied entry to science and engineering in the last 30 years. I deny that women have been prevented by whatever force from advancing in their careers in science and engineering. There is no “glass ceiling” preventing women from achieving the highest levels of accomplishment and respect in science and engineering.

 
James Glass PhD, PE
Chemical Engineer, Licensed Professional Engineer, Colorado and Wyoming.

That’s a seriously large helping of denial right there.

Before continuing, let’s set the stage, shall we? I don’t see myself as a victim and don’t feel that I’ve been held back in any particular way, but I am a woman in science and a woman in tech in particular, so this hits close to home. Moreover, I have a blog where I can write what I want so I’m adding my two cents. What follows is fairly long, autobiographical, and, for some, potentially boring so feel free to click away and come back later when I’ll have some interesting poetry or fiction to post – you won’t hurt my feelings.

Moving on…

I have always been a nerd and a geek. There may have been a time, very, very early on where I wasn’t interested in learning and knowing things, but I certainly can’t remember it. I grew up watching 3-2-1 Contact, Square One, Mr. Wizard, and documentaries on PBS in addition to my Saturday morning and after-school cartoons. I had Barbie and My Little Pony but I also played He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Transformers with my brother, and I used my Speak & Spell so much that I wore out the laminate on some of the keys. I wrote my first computer program in BASIC when I was 10 or 11 and I have been playing video games since the Atari came out. Admittedly, I hated math until I got into Calculus because I found applied math either boring, easy, or both depending on the class, but when I discovered abstract math it was love at first sight and I was just as happy in college writing research papers on Computer Science theory as I was writing literary analysis.

Growing up, it was hit-or-miss whether I’d be in the gender-minority for a given environment:

  • In middle school I was the only girl in fencing the first year it was offered, but one of at least a dozen in shop class.
  • In high school I was one of around four girls and the only sophomore in AP Physics, but my AP Calculus class was essentially an even split.
  • In college I was frequently one of a handful of women in my undergraduate CS classes but my Chemistry labs had more women than men.
  • At my current company I have been: one of two women on the Software Team, the only woman, one of four women, one of six women, and now I’m one of three women but the only female developer.

I have, since entering the workforce, run into one or two people who dismissed me for being a woman and a distressing number of people online who refuse to believe I’m a woman because I like science and nerdy things and “sound like a guy” when I speak because I don’t “squeal and gush” about everything. But, on the whole, I have been monumentally lucky (and obliviously stubborn) when it comes to my academic and professional careers.

My parents never told me what to be interested in or that I couldn’t do something, and I was expected to do well in all my classes including science and math. I have a father who is equally annoyed with irrational behavior in all of his children and expects us all to understand how a car works, and I have a mother who expects all of her children to be able to feed themselves, do laundry, and understand the working end of a mop. I turn to my father when I want to geek out about cooking and food and I turn to my mother when I want to geek out about computers and tech news. I’m massively introverted so it takes me a very, VERY long time to develop lasting friendships, which means the few friends I do have (male and female) are accepting of who I am, nonjudgmental, and supportive.

I am immeasurably lucky to have so many diverse and interesting people in my life who continually defy the male/female stereotypes we see perpetuated endlessly in popular culture and who reinforce the idea that intelligence and skill should be the deciding factor in whether or not you succeed.

That being said, no one has ever encouraged my interest in science specifically, but no one actively discouraged me either; my parents encouraged education in general and supported following your passion whether that was art, science, or being a garbage man so I was free to find my own path to (and through) what interests me. I wasn’t looking for “open doors”. I was just looking for opportunities to learn, and if that meant I was the only woman in the room, oh well. Frankly, when you’re as introverted as I am, just being in the room at all can be daunting so you tend to ignore what others think about your being there as a matter of course to avoid being intimidated. Being an introvert was part of the reason I always sat in the first row in class… well that and, as I mentioned before, I’m a huge nerd.

I have never expected anyone to open metaphoric doors for me (or, for that matter, physical ones), but because no one ever discouraged my interests I also always just assumed they were out there somewhere and it was only a matter of finding my way there. If I had to go off trail to find them I was okay with that because I always saw learning as an adventure.

The end result is that I can disagree with someone, respect their opinion, understand their reasoning, and even learn from their perspective, without it affecting my confidence in my position. I am the clichéd wallflower in new environments and I prefer civility and constructive discourse over open hostility, but if I think I’m being humored, disregarded, or dismissed, I will challenge you, loudly and tenaciously, and repeat myself as often as necessary to make it impossible for you to ignore me or not take me seriously.

That’s not to say that things always go my way when I stand up for myself; the key is that I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions:

      In my high school Physics class I was told by my (male) final project partners that they didn’t need my help and that they would let me know when they were ready for me to participate. I couldn’t force them to work with me so I came up with a topic and did the entire project on my own. On the day our group was supposed to present our project I got to class early and told the teacher that my partners had refused to work with me in any way, that I had done the project entirely by myself, that I would be presenting the results by myself, and if I had to lose points for not working with a team that was fine but I would absolutely not allow them to take credit for my work.

      In college I was told by a (female) student adviser that the basic Chemistry series would be too hard for me and I should take the remedial series first. This was the summer before my freshman year so I had no idea how hard a college chemistry course would be and no way of knowing whether the adviser was right. I cried for a bit because I was unsure and scared then talked to my mom to work through the problem. I decided to ignore her advice, trust my abilities, and plan my courses as I saw fit. If that meant I received a bad grade because I had bit off more than I could chew then at least I’d know where I needed to slow down and could make an informed decision.

      In grad school I was told by my (male) research professor that I was lazy, useless, and a bad student because I refused to work 80 hours a week as a research assistant like my male counterpart – that I was also working as a T.A. as part of my financial aid and going to classes myself while he was not was, apparently, irrelevant. For that, and a variety of other reasons, I gained the dubious honor of being the first female student (possibly the first student period, I can’t remember with certainty) to be kicked out of the program. (FYI, that particular observation comes from the department adviser who mentioned offhandedly that my committee was making me jump through hoops because kicking me out of the program when my grades were so strong would make the department look bad and they were trying to make it as hard on me as possible so I would quit).

      In the workplace, I’ve heard on multiple occasions that it’s okay to not take women seriously in tech because they’re not “real” developers – they’re just using a developer position as a stepping stone to move into a managerial position. While, obviously, there are exceptions, I feel confident in saying that as a general rule any career path in tech will involve team management in some form as you move forward. That I am expected to believe male tech professionals aren’t looking to move beyond an entry-level developer position, or that their successes are a result of their passion for technology and not because they’re actively working toward furthering their careers (like women are) is so blatantly stupid that I generally just laugh in the face of anyone dumb enough to regurgitate that idea.

Everything I do is a consequence of my decisions to act or not act: I can choose to push my way through obstacles, find a way around them, or simply ignore them, and as illustrated above, I have made use of all three tactics. But not everyone is born a stubborn packhorse, and I saw many female Computer Scientists fall by the wayside who probably would have stuck with it if they had been made more welcome or, at minimum, not treated like they were an oddity. When I started my second year as a Computer Science major almost all of the women I started out with had changed majors over the summer, and in most cases to majors that had nothing to do with the physical sciences. When I started grad school there were only around six female grad students in the entire Computer Science department and no female faculty. I can’t know for certain that the women who left the program as undergraduates felt intimidated or unwelcome, but comments like “hey, there’s a girl in the class!” that made them the center of unwanted attention, the patronizing lectures I sometimes heard going on behind me (I was still sitting in that front row), and the lack of female faculty to serve as an example, probably didn’t help.

The truth of the matter is that there are still plenty of people out there (men and women alike) who consider women in science an aberration and hold to the notion that the differential is “understandable” because the female brain “just works differently” and they are happy to make a point of telling you so. As Glass points out, there are more doors open to women in science now than there ever have been, but those doors aren’t always clearly marked; no matter how open or unguarded, it’s hard to walk through a door that’s kept hidden from you. I found plenty of doors because I believed they were there and basically ignored anyone who tried to tell me otherwise. Where I am today is as much a testament to my upbringing and stubbornness as it is to the opportunities I have been afforded, and I’m pretty happy where I am, but I have to admit that sometimes I wonder how many doors I missed along the way simply because I didn’t realize they were meant for me.

Apr 03

Why Form Matters

This week I wrote a sonnet for the second time in my life and I can honestly say that the second one did not come any easier than the first. When I posted the sonnet for my classmates to review, I made a joke that sonnets are my kryptonite because they don’t come together as easily for me as less rigidly structured poetry; the sentiment is sincere, but it’s not meant to imply that I don’t enjoy writing them – although I can and do frequently declare that I hate them when I’m neck deep in the middle of it (it’s a love-hate relationship). Writing a decent sonnet is a pretty steep challenge for me, but it’s a worthwhile challenge; as with anything else, you can’t grow as a writer unless you push yourself beyond the current limits of your skill. Before I continue, here is the result of last week’s labors:

    Ignis Fatuus

    In the twilight of sleep our spirits drift
    lost; forced from Nod but not ready to leave.
    Unfinished stories fade as plot threads shift
    and slumber’s aid withdraws. The sprites will weave
    new tales to hold defeat at bay and rack
    the mind for feeble arms that fight regret
    and fuel their waning flame against attack
    by sharp awareness, lest the ghost forget
    the joy of dreams’ embrace. The change is slight
    but will ensnare the airy light. Still, loathed
    confinement only limits lucent flight;
    the fragile robe of fancy shredded, clothed
    instead by heavy flesh, the soul is caught
    undaunted – burning timid, small, but hot

What makes the process of writing a sonnet interesting is how it changes and refines the message of your poem if you work within the restrictions of its form rather than fighting against it because it won’t let you say what (you think) you want to say. When I started my sonnet, I had a very different image and tone in mind; the subject matter was essentially the same, but the original sketch for the poem – which was not written as a sonnet – cast the wil-‘o-the-wisp in a more nefarious role. When I tried shoehorning the words from my sketch into the shape of a sonnet, the result was abysmal. It wasn’t until I started working with, and leveraging, the inherent structure of a sonnet that the poem started coming together. A sonnet is a very rigid form: 14 lines, prescribed rhyme scheme, and iambic pentameter. Deviate from that and you don’t have a sonnet… well, not really. There are plenty of stellar sonnets out there that do, in fact, deviate from the prescribed form but to quote Elizabeth Bear, those are professional writers on a closed course – not a would-be writer creeping down a dirt road in a jalopy that could fall apart at any moment.

The poem really didn’t come to life until I made a connection between the form of the sonnet and the imagery in the poem; like the flame, my words were being confined by the “heavy” rules of the sonnet. Something about recognizing that parallel opened things up and made the form of the sonnet feel more like a storytelling tool than a pair of handcuffs. The poem is meant to depict a very specific moment of confusion – that moment when you first become aware of the fact that you’re dreaming but you haven’t quite left the dream yet – and I tried to echo that disconcerted feeling by using enjambment1 through most of the poem. As a result, although it is written as a traditional Shakespearean sonnet, the poem feels more like free-verse sonnet; the lines do rhyme but the prescribed rhyme scheme is overwhelmed by the enjambment and fades into the background. It’s only in the last four lines or so, when the subject has woken up and the confusion has abated, that the lines come closer to being end-stopped2 and the fact that the lines do actually rhyme comes to the fore.

There are elements about this poem that I really like, but I’m not entirely happy with it either and for now I’m going to put it away so I can, eventually, come back to it with a new perspective (also, my other homework and writing projects are piling up). One thing I do know is that whatever other changes I may eventually make, it will remain a sonnet. If this poem were not a sonnet it would not have the same impact. It’s the interweaving of enjambment and rhyme, their cross-fade within the poem, that gives the last few lines their emotional weight. The content of the poem would work in another format, but the voice and tone of the poem would be very different.

Form matters. We tend to think about writing as being word-centric, but it’s not. Words may be a writer’s most crucial tool, but without form they are just ink on a page. It’s the combination of the two that makes writing an art form. It’s the reason good writing takes practice, and it’s the reason I’m still behind the wheel of a jalopy.

 


The first sonnet I wrote was a Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet and can be read here.

1 Enjambment is fancy writer-speak for when a phrase or sentence in a poem is split across two or more lines and the line breaks do not occur where the natural flow of speech would expect them to (i.e., where you would naturally pause when reading the poem aloud).

2 End-stopped is the opposite of enjambment; when a phrase or sentence in a poem stops naturally at the end of the poetic line.

Mar 28

Experimenting with Structure

 

Snowfall

Downy sprites fall and gather together in
plush, tempting piles, but touch them
and they cut with crystal
blades that will only
be dulled by
the ever
warming
sun
struck,
the skeletal
grip loosens grudgingly;
defiant even in defeat,
the icy angles collapse into
stubborn heaps of grimy slush while
life crawls free of its frigid blanket.

 


Some Commentary

 
This poem is inspired by the fact that it snowed on my last day in Massachusetts while visiting family. It was the first time I had seen falling slow since leaving Maryland (20 years ago at the time of this posting) and I spent over an hour sitting or standing by one window or another just watching it snow.

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