Blog post to a young poet, rejected from a program, who,for a day, wants to quit writing

Dear ________,

I was in graduate school the first time that I heard the term PoBiz, a clipped, half-cynical half-shruggingly sarcastic way of referring to the Poetry Business, which I had also never heard of. I gathered that the Poetry Business entailed marketing one’s self. Are you a female poet? A poet of color? A poet with a disability? With a disease? A queer poet? A religious minority poet? An eco-poet? Etcetera.…I had always written about the things that I felt made me different, the things that stung, because I was alone, lonely with those weights. I wrote about abortion not because I thought I was going to tap into some niche market, but because it weighed heavily on my heart. I wrote about alcoholism because it was the center of my life, not because I was a Bukowski devotee (though there’s nothing wrong with that). I wrote about god and faith not because I had an academic interest in religion and spirituality but because it felt at many points that my life depended on whether or not I was able to tap into a power greater than myself. I never really had any idea about marketing myself. It was true that I wrote mostly about what was hard in my life, but I also wrote about traveling and fish and movies.

Carl Phillips wrote a great essay awhile ago in which talked about being asked why he doesn’t say what color the people in his poems are.  And here is what I’m trying to say, in a roundabout way: The System, any program, any school, any magazine, is going to somewhat judge you through what makes the actual you unique and not wholly on the quality of your writing. It’s a double-edged sword, and a fluid one. Sometimes it can feel as if the system rewards the person, not the poem.

Here is what I’m trying to say: of course the rejection feels personal. It is personal. Some folks got into the program, and you didn’t. You said that you thought you shouldn’t take it personally, but you have every right to take it personally. We pour our hearts into something, toss the thing out into the world, and watch as nobody puts out their arms to catch our beloved pieces. We watch the gears of the PoBiz grinding along, rewarding writers who maybe we think our work is equal to or better than. We think both Why me?! and Why not me!?

But — the poem is also an artifact. It’s something that has been done, a past action. It’s a product of a different moment, a past self. I love the Buddhist saying of “Do your work, then step back.” It’s very simple, but I have thought about it for many years. Some days I am better at stepping back than other days.

If you feel like quitting writing sometimes, that’s ok. The place where a poem comes from is the place where the urge to paint comes from, the place where the urge to swim comes from. It’s something that wants to move. So, let yourself move around. Make a collage, sing a song, pick up an instrument you’ve never played before. Learn to bake bread. But don’t stop embracing the muscular impulse of your creativity. If writing feels daunting, that’s ok. But make something else. Even if it’s just a dance in your bedroom. And, go outside for awhile, without your phone. That helps. It usually helps everything.

I think the real thing to quit is the search for validation, which is insidious. I have to remind myself sometimes of the same thing. When sending out a poem, the thought should not be: I hope that XYZ publication takes this poem so that everyone knows my poem is good enough to be in XYZ publication… it should be: I hope that XYZ publication takes this poem because i really think it is beautiful / strange / insightful / cathartic / funny / etc. and I want to share it with people – I think it might be important for someone. Writing poetry is about the urge to share something, even just with yourself. It’s not about gold stars. There’s no endgame to poetry, as the PoBiz might have you believe. A bio full of laurels and fellowships means almost nothing. Right before my book came out, and I had to choose what my bio in the book would say, I decided that it would be very short. It lists where I was born, and where I live now, two journals where my poems have been published, and the fact that I do interdisciplinary work. What’s most important to me in my bio is the latter, the fact of interdisciplinary work, because I hope, someday, that a visual artist or dancer or painter will write to me and say they’d like to collaborate. It’s almost like a little Personals posting, an ISO. I chose to leave out my education and prizes and residencies not because I don’t value them, but because — that’s not really what I want to talk to people about.

So, don’t worry about being rejected from the residency. Let it be a Not this time instead of a No, never. If you keep writing, and I get the sense that you will always write, there will be dozens of opportunities you might reach for and dozens of times you may be rejected. You get to decide how, and how long, to hold each disappointment. You get to decide what to expect of your writing. Don’t worry about being too much of one thing, or not enough of another. Don’t worry if you don’t publish anything for awhile, or for a long while.There is no right path for a poet, and there millions, literally millions, of incredible poets and writers and literary journals you and I have never heard of. And what a joy! What an absolute joy, to know there are so many more writers we will meet, who will mean so much to us, and to know that the writers we are today might be vastly different than the writers we are in 10 years, in 20 years…There’s no finish line. In the end, there is only the work itself. Enjoy the moment of your work, and how it feels to read your poems aloud, and how those poems can nourish you. Let the rest fall away. Onwards.

Love,
Sophie
( Teen Sequins Co-Editor )

GS 8.1 Contributors

We’re psyched to announce the contributors for our 8.1 issue, debuting this winter!

ART: Yokim Snow, Sarah Shields, and Miguel Angel Soto

COMICS: Jason Hart and Anna McGlynn

FICTION: María Isabel Alvarez, Andy Myers, Elizabeth Gibson, Kim Hagerich (5th annual Flash Fiction contest winner), and Saul Lemerond

CNF: Benji Alvey, Jacob Little, and Bailey Pittenger

POETRY: Zoë Bodzas, Kristi Carter, Brian Clifton, Emily Corwin, Dan Encarnacion,  Dana Fang, p.e. garcia, Marlin M. Jenkins, Paige Lewis,  Xandria Phillips (5th annual Poetry contest winner), Katie Prince, and Michael Martin Shea

TEEN SEQUINS 2016: BRAD TRUMPFHELLER, AGE 19

Welcome to day six of Teen Sequins 2016! Today’s poem is “Scene from a Western” by Brad Trumpfheller.

 

“Landscape is character,” wrote Henry James, and perhaps nowhere is this remark more visibly true than in the traditional genre of Western films, where landscape saturates and governs every character’s action. In Brad Trumpfheller’s “Scene from a Western,” a family is fused with the mythical Western landscape. In this poem an absent father’s palms are plains, his eyes “like the rolling yucca trees,” and the land itself gives a ragged cough “which the wind would then fashion / into the shape of my mother.”  A newborn foal drags itself down the steps of a family home, no—Trumpfheller, the actor, the director, the author, draws a newborn foal down the steps of a family home, “..and this is how / the audience knows my father….” This a poem of clear pulse, astute attention, and wide horizons, swallowing a rider in the sunset. -Sophie Klahr

 

SCENE FROM A WESTERN

 

Below the canopy of day, a foal

drags itself down the stairs

 

of my childhood home, threadbare

mane slick with blood. & this is how

 

the audience knows my father

is never home for any of my birthdays.

 

I will only see him when the night swallows

the sun or something needs

 

to be fixed. & after my mother came home

from the hospital, the storm

 

door had come off one of its hinges. O God –

his hands like flat & empty plains, his eyes

 

like the rolling yucca trees. Now do you see

how the sandstorm crawled its way across

 

the desert? A dead landscape mustering up

some slow seize, some cough of dirt & bone

 

which the wind would then fashion

into the shape of my mother: bed-ridden

 

for days, thighs reddened

into clay. But there is something honest

 

about the sand. How it shocked the windows

with rattling. How the house was buried

 

& unburied while my mother’s pillows etched

epitaphs into themselves.

 

Before the audience leaves the theater,

or before my father can disappear

 

again – the scene ends with the foal, collapsed

in the desert, its body curled into the shape

of an empty crib.  

 

Brad Trumpfheller is a student at Emerson College, studying literature & musicology. He was raised in the south, but spent time all over the United States. His writing has appeared in / will appear in the Nashville Review, Lambda Literary, Red Paint Hill, and elsewhere. He reads poetry for Winter Tangerine and handles business development for The Adroit Journal. In his free time, he writes about music.

 

Honorable mentions: Ariella Carmell (University of Chicago, Chicago, IL), Deepali Gupta (DY Patil University, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India), Samantha McLaughlin (Denison University, Granville, OH), Eloise Sims (University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand), Em Sutliff (Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, OH), Oriana Tang (Yale University, Livingston, NJ), Eli Winter (University of Chicago, Chicago, IL)

TEEN SEQUINS 2016: TALIA FLORES, AGE 18

Welcome to day five of Teen Sequins 2016! Today’s poem is “& soil” by Talia Flores.

 

The opening ampersand of “& soil” signals right away to the reader that this will be an intimate poem, a particular coiled fertility. Thalia Flores’ poem is serpentine and rich with mystic undergrowth, a poem to be whispered. With short lines flayed by slashes, Flores’ hand visibly crafts a directive for the reader: where a sharp inhalation is required. In “& soil,” where “blood / seeps tulips,” plant life not only inhabits but is knit into the essence of a human body. Flores’ surreal poem is a fecund field of reversals, busy with the music of new life. — Sophie Klahr

 

& soil

 

in the bulb of a wet cheek /
a plant sprouts. illuminated
prism / in the spit of caves.
here grows / the heart of a
flower, / a black hole or /
reverse birth. / out of cracked
blood / seeps tulips
freshened stems / caught in
vermilion; / a skin bark and
muscled green. / she combs
her hair to turn it into moss. /
her legs / are those fallen logs
inverted, earthy sestinas /
bark muscled green.

 

Talia Flores is from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and graduated from Eden Prairie High School in 2016. She is the recipient of the 2015 Texas Book Festival Fiction Prize and has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Her work appears or is forthcoming in National Poetry Quarterly, Words Dance, Souvenir Lit Journal, Glass Kite Anthology, and more. She was a mentee in The Adroit Journal’s Mentorship Program, and she works as a reader for Polyphony H.S. and as an editorial intern for The Blueshift Journal. She will be attending Stanford University in the fall.

Honorable mentions: Mernine Ameris (George Mason University, Fairfax, VA), Lia Bernhard (Lewis & Clark College, Portland, OR), Lauren Gay (Jefferson Community College, Watertown, NY), Emmi Mack (Northside College Prep High School, Chicago, IL (graduate)/ (incoming) Columbia University, New York City, NY), Caroline Tsai (Canterbury High School, Ft.Wayne, IN (graduate)/(incoming) Harvard University, Cambridge, MA)

TEEN SEQUINS 2016: MARGARET ZHANG, AGE 17

Welcome to day four of Teen Sequins 2016! Today’s poem is “Straw Theory” by Margaret Zhang.

Margaret Zhang’s poem is a series of tricks, “a trick of the eye”, “a trick of the brain”, leading to a turn no less surprising for its simultaneous shock and familiarity. Spoken in a voice both distanced from the experience and swept up in memory, “me the magic trick over and over” casts a spell on the reader as Ruby cast on the speaker, as the speaker cast on themselves, enamored, innocent. “How two could be coiled/so tightly and suddenly/have nothing.” Zooming out and back in (from “two” to “we”), Zhang’s specificity and proximity are where the poem makes impact, and proves her theory. -Robby Auld
 

STRAW THEORY

 

Ruby first taught me to untangle
stirrers of showy coffee shops
by tangling them: to perforate the paper coats
with our teeth until the holes pooled together, crumpled
off like trousers, then to interlace them in fingers until
they were no longer wound. She showed
me the magic trick over and over
until I memorized how she laid the straws
across each other like crucifixion, wound
the stem of the cross over the arm, choked the neck
with the right limb, bent the structure like a bird
opening its wings towards
each other. It was a trick of the eye:
snap snap, knot gone before we could see
it. Watching her twist straws like watching
god devise glow
from thunderclap. Any latch, when bolted
too tightly, too cautiously, she taught me, spun
the other way without notice. How two could be coiled
so tightly and suddenly
have nothing. That night we pretended
we were straws and locked
so firmly we receded from each other’s
arms. It was a trick of the brain:
snap snap, knot gone before
I could see it.

 

Margaret Zhang is a senior at Castilleja School (Palo Alto, CA), where she appreciates memes and serves as the Editor-in-Chief/Co-Founder of Glass Kite Anthology. She has attended writing workshops at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, among others. Read her other work in Words Dance, Cadaverine, the Foyle Young Poets Anthology, YARN, and other journals.

Honorable mentions: Shira Abramovich (Newton South High School, Newton, MA (graduate) / (incoming) Brown University, Providence, RI), Hetty Bai (University of Missouri, Kansas City, MO), Ashley Cheak (Stivers School for the Arts, Dayton, OH), Steven Chung (Monta Vista High School, Cupertino, CA), Anabelle Crowe (homeschooler, Asheville, NC), Sophie Evans (Lusher Charter School, New Orleans, LA), Gus Gonzalez (Albert Einstein High School, Silver Spring, MD), Hannah Graf (Middleton, MA), Alex Greenberg (Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York, NY), Allison Huang (The Lawrenceville School, Princeton, NJ), Ziqi Lei (The Pennington School, Pennington, NJ), Annalise Lozier (Interlochen Arts Academy, Interlochen, MI), Erin Jin Mei O’Malley (York, PA), Keith Prescott (Falmouth High School, Falmouth, ME), Jean Rivera (Greenburgh Graham, Hastings-On-Hudson, NY), Nicole Seah (United World College of South East Asia, Singapore), Elizabeth Seri (Harvard-Westlake School, Los Angeles, CA), Emily Yin (Boxborough Regional High School, Acton, MA), Lisa Zou (University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA)

TEEN SEQUINS 2016: BEN READ, AGE 16

Welcome to day three of Teen Sequins 2016! Today’s poem is “Barium” by Ben Read.

 

In Ben Read’s “Barium,” the good-bad joke is about death, and laughter is followed by crocus-lined graves in “necklaces of purple and blue” and by a grave turn, as the speaker notes that “Barium is the element / that doctors feed you to see your organs.” Read’s syntax ties the pieces of the narrative together, the poem emerging with each recurring image, Read forming his own necklace. “It is spring. I imagine the flowers / taste like morning, and I remember”–the poem emerging from this remembering too, because what else can be done with the past? Write it down or bury it. — Robby Auld 

 

BARIUM

 

In chemistry class, we told bad jokes and laughed.
What do you do with dead elements? You barium.
The crocuses in the front yard line the graves—
necklaces of purple and blue. Barium is the element
that doctors feed you to see your organs. Swallow,
and show them your body. For discovery.
It is spring. I imagine the flowers
taste like morning, and I remember
the morning I learned the murmur of a creek,
how it sounds like secrets. You were there; you told me
about vulnerability. I looked at you. I am always thinking

 
about childhood. The world where we met
looks so small now, built from bricks and windows
that won’t close. I am thinking
of the time we went to the playground,
sat on the blue swings, staring at the seesaw
in silence. We already knew. We were children.
Barium is highly reactive; it doesn’t want to be alone.
It is spring, and I sit on the porch, watching
the birds in the trees. I chart their paths
from branch to branch to telephone
wire. They are drawing. It looks like a skeleton,

 
a face, a body, maybe. Like a barium x-ray.
Who can tell what I used to see before the illusion
disappeared? What I thought I had? What do you do
with old memories? Barium is heavy in your stomach,
in the earth. The crocuses come again every year.
Sometimes I step on them, and sometimes
I stop to pick them, hold them in my palm,
and smell them. I am thinking how easy it is
to forget. How I have to think to remember the sky,
the time we climbed a mountain, running
each switchback, breathless, and each time,
we had to rest. At the top, we looked out
and thought the whole world was ours, and everything
looked enormous, because we were there.

 

Ben Read lives in Spokane, Washington, where he is a junior at Lewis and Clark High School. His work has been recognized by RiverLit, Eunoia Review, and The Adroit Journal, and he was named a 2015 Foyle Young Poet of the Year by the Poetry Society of the United Kingdom. He recently co-founded Ponderosa Literary Journal at his high school. Other than writing, he likes to participate in speech and debate, attend and read at local poetry slams in coffee and burrito shops, and listen to music like the Juno soundtrack. His favorite muse is the river.

 
Honorable mentions: Margot Armbruster (WI), Ella Boyd (Falmouth High School, Falmouth, ME), Emilee Burridge (BASIS Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ), Paul Elaire (Northside High School, Lafayette, LA), Farah Ghafoor (Vincent Massey Secondary School, Windsor, Ontario, Canada), Katie Howell (Bishop Guertin High School, Nashua, NH), Christina Im (Sunset High School, Portland, OR), Elizabeth Johnson (Fike High School, Wilson, NC), Alonna Kilpatrick (Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts, Chattanooga, TN), Sarah Licht (West Boca High School, Boca Raton, FL), Grace Marion (Neshaminy High School, Langhorne, PA), Megan McEvoy, Matteo Moretti (Newark Academy, Livingston, NJ), Abigail Walker (Milton Academy, Milton, MA), Topaz Winters (Singapore American School, Singapore), Alisha Yi (Ed W. Clark High School, Las Vegas, NV)

TEEN SEQUINS 2016: AIDAN FORSTER, AGE 15

Welcome to day two of Teen Sequins 2016! Today’s poem is “Cistern” by Aidan Forster.

The word “cistern,” an underground reservoir, originates from the ancient Greek kiste, meaning “chest.” If the body is a chest, a vessel, then the shadow of inevitably losing that vessel, i.e. the body, permeates Aidan Forster’s poem. Present too in the poem is what we inherit from those we love, how we inherit those people themselves, and in this way, never lose them. “I hold his living self/” says the speaker, “underneath my tongue.” The speaker of “Cistern” learns from their grandfather, romanticizes him, internalizes him, yet fears going on without him. “When the river dries up,” the living self remains, the memory held in place. Its water grows the “great white gourd” from Forster’s neck, from our necks, too.  – Robby Auld

 

CISTERN

 

It is true I drank the river water
my grandfather offered me. Yes, we knelt

before the river’s mouth
and touched our lips to it. It is true

he is still living in his body
like it’s a wooden house. He says

I should hold a gun like an infant
but treat it like an animal. And yes,

we moved from shooting Coke cans
to shooting rocks, then small animals,

then large ones. It is true I once shot
rabbits, deer, watched him peel the flesh

from the glisten of their ribs. I took
nothing from their bodies—not skin, never

bone. And yes, I learn to think of him
as more than he is. It is true. Yes, his body

tried to become less of a body and more
of a cistern. I hold his living self

underneath my tongue. I have heard
his head grows like a great white gourd

from his neck. When the river dries up
I will take all the things I love

and smash them one by one.

 

Aidan Forster is an incoming junior in the creative writing program at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. He is the blog editor of The Adroit Journal and the co-founder/co-managing editor of Fissure. He is the 2016 winner of the Poetry Society of America’s Louise Louis / Emily F. Bourne Student Award, and made the editors’ list for the 2016 Adroit Prizes in poetry. His work appears in or his forthcoming from The Adroit Journal, Assaracus, DIALOGIST, Tinderbox, and Verse, among others.

Honorable mentions: Celora Blair (homeschooler, Kalamazoo, MI), Michael Cheng (Lower Merion High School, Wynnewood, PA), Marlee Day (Belton High School, Belton, TX), Olivia Hu (Port Moody Secondary School, Port Moody, British Columbia), Vivien Huang (Syosset High School, Syosset, NY), Amelia Huchley (The Harker School, San Jose, CA), Clarissa Hyde (Rowland Hall, Salt Lake City, UT), Annarose King (George School, Newton, PA), Vivienne Kraus (Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH), Angie Lopez (Coral Gables Senior High School, Miami, FL), Krzysztof Mendel (St.Euthans, Letterkenny, Co.Donegal, Ireland), Reagan Newton (Kinkaid School, Houston, TX), Maria Sigrid Remme (North London Collegiate School, London, England), Lily Richman (Brentwood School, Los Angeles, CA), Shruti Sahu (Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX), Nathan Shankar (Evanston Township High School, Evanston, IL), Clair Szeptycki (Castilleja School, Palo Alto, CA)