Writing Poetry with Darlene Silva Soberano

Transcript:

 

[00:00:10] [Soft music playing] 

 

[00:00:27] Hello, I am Darlene Silva Soberano, I am a poet and
also an essayist, a critic and an interviewer.

 

[00:00:35] Most of what I write outside
of actual poems is about poetry, too.

 

[00:00:40] Today, I wanted to avoid talking about
poems, but I found that I couldn't.

 

[00:00:45] So today I will be talking to you through the processes 
of writing a poem and about influences on poetry,

 

[00:00:53] Especially my poems.

 

[00:00:54] And at the end, I will
be leaving you with an exercise. 

 

[00:00:58] [Soft music]

 

[00:01:02] I started writing when I was
a child and I wrote fiction.

 

[00:01:06] I read a lot of visual novels
about  legal dramas and whodunit,

 

[00:01:11] So I wrote short stories about
murder mysteries that never got solved.

 

[00:01:16] I always end the story with 'to be continued' because we
always ran out of time to write at school

 

[00:01:23] And for poetry.

 

[00:01:23] I've always been curious about it because

 

[00:01:26] In primary school, the first thing I ever heard 
said about poetry was from a teacher

 

[00:01:30] Who said that poetry is really difficult.

 

[00:01:33] It's difficult to read and
it's difficult to teach.

 

[00:01:36] And I was a pretty competitive
child. I like challenges.

 

[00:01:40] So it piqued my curiosity immediately.

 

[00:01:43] I've always read poetry and I wrote it in secret, 
as I wrote my fiction which was my "serious writing". 

 

[00:01:43] I only started writing poetry seriously and
taking my poetry seriously in 2017 when I was nineteen,

 

[00:01:58] And I left fiction completely behind.

 

[00:02:02] I was studying literature at university and we had to write
poems for an assignment, 

 

[00:02:07] I showed them to a friend and he said, 
'I didn't know you were a poet',

 

[00:02:10] And I said I didn't know I was a poet either.

 

[00:02:14] I had my first poem published that year
in 2017 with Mascara Literary Review,

 

[00:02:19] Called 'You Like The Smiths?', 
and a lot has happened since then.

 

[00:02:24] I don't publish poems often.

 

[00:02:26] I think I maybe have seven total published poems, but
I do write poetry a lot

 

[00:02:32] And I just oriented my life around poetry.

 

[00:02:36] I am a poetry editor for Voicebox magazine, which is
a position I started in August last year. 

 

[00:02:42] And I am currently a editorial
assistant for Australian poetry.

 

[00:02:46] Since 2017 I have participated as
an artist in Emerging Writers Festival,

 

[00:02:51] National Young Writers Festival, and this year I did a
reading for Queensland Poetry Festival

 

[00:02:57] And a reading from Melbourne Writers Festival, 
for the first time.

 

[00:03:01] I did that reading with
Toby Fitch, Evelyn Araluen, Ursula Robison-Shaw.

 

[00:03:06] And I believe that there is a free recording of
this event up now,

 

[00:03:10] In the Melbourne Writers Festival 
website, which is very cool.

 

[00:03:14] This year I have also been a hot desk fellow at the
Wheeler Centre, and that has been my career thus far.

 

[00:03:20] [Soft music]

 

[00:03:24] Currently, I am putting together a manuscript of a little
poetry chapbook that I hope to be able to

 

[00:03:30] share in the next year or so.

 

[00:03:32] I am a poet who writes about inheritance and
trans masculinity, loss and desire,

 

[00:03:39] And my manuscript will definitely contain 
poems about these big topics.

 

[00:03:43] I'm currently at this stage of my manuscript and
at this stage of my writing. 

 

[00:03:48] I'm struggling with trying not to write 
the same poem over and over again,

 

[00:03:53] So that the manuscript isn't boring.

 

[00:03:56] There's a lot to consider in this particular practice.

 

[00:03:59] I'm trying to give myself a large field and accepting that
not every poem I write will end up in the manuscript.

 

[00:04:07] And by now, right now, I am thinking that it
is OK to write the same poem over and over.

 

[00:04:13] There's a balance to be struck.

 

[00:04:15] I don't want to bore a reader at the same time 
that I don't want to write against my obsessions. 

 

[00:04:20] In an interview I said, 'if you try to write against
your obsessions and try to force your poetry

 

[00:04:27] In some way that isn't of sincere interest 
to your deeper psychic life.

 

[00:04:31] It's like trying to row against the current.

 

[00:04:34] You're going to have a bad time and just exhaust 
yourself before you get anywhere productive.'

 

[00:04:39] And this reminds me of what the poet Richard Hugo
said in his book of essays on poetics 

 

[00:04:44] Called 'The Triggering Town'.

 

[00:04:45] He said 'Your words used your way will generate
your meanings,

 

[00:04:50] Your obsessions lead you to your vocabulary,

 

[00:04:53] Your way of writing locates, even creates,
your inner life.

 

[00:04:57] The relation of you to your language gains power.'

 

[00:05:01] So if you were seeking some sort of permission to
delve into a larger field,

 

[00:05:06] A larger space to give yourself while writing, 
I think these words are very good words to keep in mind.

 

[00:05:11] Kaveh Akbar is also one of my biggest
influences on my poetic practice,

 

[00:05:16] As is the poet Ocean-Vuong, 

 

[00:05:19] I would also site Frank Ocean as one of my biggest 
poetic influences, even though he is a musician.

 

[00:05:25] Whoever I am as a poet, is defined
by my failure to become Frank Ocean,

 

[00:05:30] Or to become Kaveh Akbar or Ocean-Vuong.

 

[00:05:33] What I learned from my failure
to imitate my influences, define 

 

[00:05:37] Who I am as an artist. 
I learn what I value from my writing.

 

[00:05:42] These poets in particular
–including Frank Ocean as a poet– 

 

[00:05:49] Speak to me because their poems 
poems somewhat trend towards sad themes,

 

[00:05:54] Yet there's so much delight to
be found in their poetry.

 

[00:05:56] Even if it is about sadness
or about loneliness or about difficulty.

 

[00:06:02] In that same Adroit Journal interview, Kaveh Akbar said,
'there are so many extraordinary poems that you

 

[00:06:08] could be reading, and if you choose to
read mine, I owe you something for it.

 

[00:06:12] The way I can pay back that debt of
gratitude is by offering a bit of delight.

 

[00:06:17] Even if it's a poem about a very dark
thing, there's still delight in language to be offered.'

 

[00:06:23] And I think that delight, even if nothing else,
is something that is reliably found in poetry.

 

[00:06:29] It's a medium in which delighted people find
ways to delight other people, even if it's just

 

[00:06:36] through this shared affection for language,

 

[00:06:39] Which again, to quote Richard Hugo,
'your way of writing locates, even creates, your inner life.'

 

[00:06:44] [Soft music]. 

 

[00:06:49] Reading is as important as writin.

 

[00:06:49] I will now talk about one of my poems
and I'll be talking about how I wrote them.

 

[00:06:57] My poem, which is titled 'My Father The Sky',
was published with Peril Magazine last year,

 

[00:07:03] Which feels simultaneously like forever ago,
and also just yesterday.

 

[00:07:07] I will read it for you now:

 

[00:07:12] 'My father the sky'

 

[00:07:16] I –
Am preoccupied. 

 

[00:07:17] With being a man preoccupied 

 

[00:07:19] With motorcycle dreams preoccupied 

 

[00:07:22] With garage sale jazz cassettes I–

 

[00:07:25] Am so much like a father I–

 

[00:07:27] Build the bookshelves with my hands I–

 

[00:07:29] Stave off loneliness by drinking beer with

 

[00:07:32] Basketball players floating 

 

[00:07:34] Across the television screen, And I–

 

[00:07:36] Move through the world with the certainty 

 

[00:07:38] Mistaken for confidence. I–

 

[00:07:40] Do not know any anxious fathers. I–

 

[00:07:42] Ask my father how he knows 
which buses and jeepneys

 

[00:07:47] Will take us to the Mall of Asia from Bawi in two hours,

 

[00:07:51] He says // Just ask people and 
They will tell you where to go //

 

[00:07:56] I do not know

 

[00:07:57] How to use our language with grace and

 

[00:07:59] There are no guide maps for Filipinos

 

[00:08:01] In the Philippines I–

 

[00:08:03] Am so much like a prince I–

 

[00:08:05] Hand my father a country unfamiliar and 

 

[00:08:08] Once he grew up with a woman and 

 

[00:08:10] Never called her that even after she died and I

 

[00:08:13] Do not think he has forgiven me. 

 

[00:08:15] In this new land// a border// a wall// an exile// When

 

[00:08:20] I was younger he said // I want all of us to be in heaven together do not

 

[00:08:24] Be a liar 

 

[00:08:25] Because liars go to hell //Well

 

[00:08:29] The truth of me has made us quiet

 

[00:08:32] When my father looks me in the face he remembers and

 

[00:08:35] By the time he finishes looking away he has

 

[00:08:37] Already forgotten his first-born 

 

[00:08:40] In a country unfamiliar

 

[00:08:42] I am the child he would not recognise in the lineup we–. 

 

[00:08:46] Speak in distance

 

[00:08:48] Trailing and 

 

[00:08:49] My father is a sky I dip in and out of with

 

[00:08:53] My handmade airplane ride a 

 

[00:08:55] Loudspeaker in my hand he mumbles his pain from his chest 

 

[00:08:59] To my chest

 

[00:09:01] I say to a friend //I do not want to be looked at// but

 

[00:09:05] I think what I really want is to not be looked away from 

 

[00:09:09] Father hold my gaze

 

[00:09:11] I want to look at you too 

 

[00:09:13] Your eyes that are my eyes

 

[00:09:15] Your hair that is my hair

 

[00:09:17] Your face that is my face forget

 

[00:09:20] The languages we cannot grace and the names

 

[00:09:23] You will Never Know Me

 

[00:09:24] By Father 

 

[00:09:26] Pentecost with me

 

[00:09:27] If the Bible is at once

 

[00:09:29] What keeps us together and what

 

[00:09:30] Turns you into the sky.

 

[00:09:35] So I have screenshots of my files for this
poem. I made 26 copies of this poem.

 

[00:09:42] The first was in June 2018 and
the last was made in May 2019.

 

[00:09:48] This particular process is quite pedantic.

 

[00:09:52] My process is, I write the poem and then
if I feel that I need to change something,

 

[00:09:57] I'll make a copy and then edit that copy
in case what I try doesn't work.

 

[00:10:03] And if you're wondering how often I actually do
look back on the previous versions,

 

[00:10:06] I never ever do.
I probably could stop making so many copies,

 

[00:10:11] But by now it's a ritual of mine and it does
help me to let go and to explore what could be.

 

[00:10:19] This poem that I just read to you,
this version, I've actually changed.

 

[00:10:25] Since it was published in Peril.

 

[00:10:27] And it's just one word in the lines.

 

[00:10:30] 'Your face that is my face.

 

[00:10:31] Forget the languages we cannot grace
in the names you will never know me by.'

 

[00:10:36] In the magazine version 'names' is actually 'pronouns'.

 

[00:10:40] So it went from pronounce to names.

 

[00:10:43] And I think that this is a better change.

 

[00:10:46] Aesthetically, pronouns is not a pleasant word to say.

 

[00:10:50] So I'll give an example.

 

[00:10:53] 'Your face that is my face.

 

[00:10:55] Forget the languages we cannot grace
and the pronouns you will never know me by.' 

 

[00:11:01] So whenever I read that out loud, 
I would stop there

 

[00:11:05] And I wondered why it was so awkward.

 

[00:11:08] So this is a good editing tip, by the way.

 

[00:11:10] Read your work out loud, especially
if it is a poem.

 

[00:11:12] But other kinds of writing also
benefit from being read out loud.

 

[00:11:18] Even now, reading this poem again, there are
things that I do want to change about it.

 

[00:11:21] I always want to edit them.

 

[00:11:24] But anyway, the the word names is just
easier to say out loud and it feels right.

 

[00:11:30] And on a deeper level, the word pronouns is
also just a little too on the nose.

 

[00:11:37] The poem already makes so many gestures
towards masculinity and towards discomfort of masculinity,

 

[00:11:43] especially traditional masculinity that we or you,
the reader, don't really need to

 

[00:11:49] Explicitly understand that the speaker may or may not be
trans, and I think that the word names also

 

[00:11:56] manages to carry this gestural burden anyway,
even if it doesn't carry everything.

 

[00:12:01] There's that gap I have to
be respectful of as a poet.

 

[00:12:05] The gap between my intentions
and the reader's interpretation.

 

[00:12:10] When I first wrote My father the sky. 

 

[00:12:12] I wanted to get everything out on the paper, I drafted it by hand.

 

[00:12:17] I always draft by hand first, and when I draft by
hand, I try to determine

 

[00:12:22] Whether or not everything is there 
before I transfer it to the computer,

 

[00:12:27] Because I do have this really old school belief that
something could more easily get lost

 

[00:12:32] When it's written electronically just because typing is faster

 

[00:12:36] and there's a little less room for doubt.

 

[00:12:39] And I think the doubt is quite
important to the process of writing poetry. 

 

[00:12:43] Is definitely important to my own process of writing poetry.

 

[00:12:48] My father this guy was a prose poem at first, 
but it didn't feel right and I really struggled

 

[00:12:54] with the shape.

 

[00:12:55] I made it all one-column, left aligned, pretty traditional.

 

[00:12:55] And then I made it two columns side by side.
And both did not work at all.

 

[00:13:03] So I left it alone for a long time, which is
why it took about a year to publish.

 

[00:13:09] Then I found this poem called 'All the Dead Boys
Look Like Me', by Christopher Soto,

 

[00:13:13] Who is also known as Loma.

 

[00:13:15] I will read it for you now:

 

[00:13:17] 'All the dead boys look like me.

 

[00:13:21] Last time I saw myself die is when police killed
Jessie Hernandez,

 

[00:13:25] A 17 year old Brown Queer who was sleeping in their car.

 

[00:13:29] Yesterday, I saw myself die again. Fifty times I
died in Orlando And

 

[00:13:35] I remember reading Dr José Esteban Munoz before he passed

 

[00:13:40] I was studying at NYU where he was teaching, where
he wrote shit 

 

[00:13:44] That made me feel like a queer brown survival was possible,
but he didn't 

 

[00:13:48] Survive and now on the dance floor, in the restroom, on
the news, in my chest

 

[00:13:54] There are another fifty bodies that look like mine and are 

 

[00:13:57] Dead and I've been marching for black lives and
talking about police brutality

 

[00:14:02] Against native communities too, for years now. But this morning

 

[00:14:07] I feel it, I really feel it again how can we imagine ourselves // We being black native

 

[00:14:14] Today. Brown people// how can we imagine ourselves

 

[00:14:18] When all the dead boys look like us? Once I asked my nephew where he wanted

 

[00:14:24] To go to college, what career he would like, as if

 

[00:14:28] The whole world was his for the choosing. Once he answered me without fearing

 

[00:14:33] Tombstone's or cages or the hands from a father, the hands of my lover 

 

[00:14:38] Yesterday, praised my whole body. Made angels from my lips. Ave Maria

 

[00:14:44] Full of grace. He propped me up like the
roof of a cathedral in NYC.

 

[00:14:50] Before we open the news and read. And read
about people who think two brown queers 

 

[00:14:55] Can't build cathedrals, only cemeteries. And each time we kiss,

 

[00:14:59] A funeral plot opens in the bedroom. I accept his kiss and I lose my reflection.

 

[00:15:05] I am tired of writing this poem, but I
want to say one last word about

 

[00:15:10] Yesterday, My father called, I heard him cry for only
the second time in my life

 

[00:15:17] He sounded like he loved me. It's something I'm rarely able to hear.

 

[00:15:22] And I hope, if anything, his sound is what my body remembers first.'

 

[00:15:31] So for context, all the Dead Boys Look Like Me
is about the Orlando nightclub

 

[00:15:35] Shooting at the Club Pulse, in which about 49 people were killed, and the nightclub was a gay nightclub.

 

[00:15:43] So I would say comparing this poem and my
father the sky, there are definitely overlapping themes

 

[00:15:49] and certainly the conversations are
in conversation with one another.

 

[00:15:53] But what I really want to
draw attention to is the shape.

 

[00:15:58] So I did borrow the shape of
all the dead boys look like me.

 

[00:16:01] You can see the zigzag shape, you can see double
slashes, and you can see that every line begins

 

[00:16:07] with a capital letter.

 

[00:16:09] I chose to borrow the shape mostly because I
was inspired by the use of capital letters.

 

[00:16:14] Let me show you something that is really
cool or what I hope is really cool.

 

[00:16:18] It's in this part where Soto writes, 'Once I asked
my nephew where he wanted to go to college //

 

[00:16:25] What career he would like // as if the whole world was was
his for the choosing // Once he answered me without

 

[00:16:31] fearing tombstones or cages...'

 

[00:16:34]  visually, try to imagine
these lines without the breaks.

 

[00:16:40] Imagine just seeing 'as if the world was his for the choosing'.

 

[00:16:44] To write that line without breaks, 
I think conveys a lot of hopelessness

 

[00:16:48] "As if the world
was his for the choosing.'

 

[00:16:52] But Soto breaks the line after as if and it
makes 'the world was his for the choosing'. 

 

[00:16:58] A standalone line. It stands on its own.

 

[00:17:01] And that is where the hope is conveyed in this poem.

 

[00:17:05] Hope is in all of the white space after 'as if',
and then 'the world was for the choosing'

 

[00:17:12] Stands on its own. Conventionally beginning a line with the
capital means that it is part of a new thought.

 

[00:17:19] But with this little trick it
seems like it's supposed to be part of the

 

[00:17:24] previous line, but becomes its own line, just with
this little trick, the speaker conveys to us the

 

[00:17:31] full weight of their dreams for their nephew,
while at the same time expressing great despair.

 

[00:17:37] And I think that's what I really get drawn to in
poetry; is the ability to express so much with not

 

[00:17:44] just words, but with also the page.

 

[00:17:49] I wanted to imitate that effect in my poem.

 

[00:17:52] Some of the lines I have in
My father the sky sound like commands.

 

[00:17:56] You can see that in this part where I write 'when I
was younger, he said //I want all of us to be in

 

[00:18:02] heaven together do not

 

[00:18:04] Be a liar.'

 

[00:18:07] So it breaks after 'do not'
and then it becomes 'be a liar.'

 

[00:18:11] And Be a liar is the command/the line itself.

 

[00:18:15] And it's a little act of defiance
that is expressed in the poem.

 

[00:18:23] So when I personally write a poem, I'm also
reading many other poems for advice, being influenced by

 

[00:18:30] another poet or another piece of work is to also
partake in a conversation with that poet, which is

 

[00:18:35] why literature exists,

 

[00:18:37] to know that we are not alone.

 

[00:18:39] Susan Sontag once said literature needs a
lot of people, which is true.

 

[00:18:43] And Garth Greenwell, in an interview with The Atlantic,
said 'The sonnet is not the same form after

 

[00:18:50] Shakespeare, not the same form after Milton,
not the same form after Hopkins.

 

[00:18:55] At the same time, you, the artist, are also
transformed the sense of reciprocity with the past,

 

[00:19:02] That the past and the self are not monoliths, but
dynamic things that change through their encounter with

 

[00:19:08] one another. Is the idea of tradition that strikes
me as most beautiful and as most true.

 

[00:19:14] And I definitely align myself with this idea.'

 

[00:19:18] I want to read a poem now
called 'To Robert Hayden' by Eduardo C. Corral.

 

[00:19:29] 'To Robert Hayden.

 

[00:19:31] Less lonely, less...

 

[00:19:35] I gave you a tiny box.

 

[00:19:37] You lifted the lid, 
praised

 

[00:19:39] The usefulness of my gift:

 

[00:19:41] A silver pin shaped 
like an amper-

 

[00:19:45] sand, as you fastened it
to your lapel,

 

[00:19:48] I thought again of 
that motel. 

 

[00:19:50] Outside of Chicago. 

 

[00:19:51] ¿Te acuerdas?

 

[00:19:54] I sat on the edge of a bench,
untied my shoes faced down, eyes shut.

 

[00:20:01] You breathed in the aroma of sweat
and allspice coming off the sheets.

 

[00:20:06] I tossed my ring gold inscribed
toward a pile of clothes.

 

[00:20:12] But the ring dropped in the small of your back,
where it rattled and rattled like a coin in a

 

[00:20:18] beggar's cup.'

 

[00:20:24] When I first read to Robert Head and I thought,
there's not really much to this poem, it's short.

 

[00:20:30] The the breaks are quite sudden
and it's kind of mysterious.

 

[00:20:35] It's nice to read, but it
doesn't do a lot for me personally.

 

[00:20:40] But then I found myself coming back to it
again and again, and I didn't really know why.

 

[00:20:48] So when I encounter a poem that really moves me, I
ask myself, what is it about a poem that moves me

 

[00:20:54] and how does it do that?

 

[00:20:56] What is it about this poem
to Robert Hayden that moves me?

 

[00:21:00] For me, this poem is about two lovers
who are reunited after some time apart.

 

[00:21:04] The speaker in this poem
is speaking in past tense.

 

[00:21:07] Right. I gave you a tiny box and
then shifts into a further past tense.

 

[00:21:13] I thought again of that motel.

 

[00:21:16] So perhaps these two lovers have been separated
again and again, and that their relationship is

 

[00:21:21] mostly defined by distance.

 

[00:21:24] Silence feels like the true medium of this poem,
and the words themselves function as a white space,

 

[00:21:31] whereas the white space feels
like that is the poem.

 

[00:21:35] This is something that Kaupapa pointed out
in his column for The Paris Review.

 

[00:21:40] So this is a white space,
and this is the real poem.

 

[00:21:45] Corral wants us to pay attention to this
because the silence expressed here

 

[00:21:50] Heightens the silence expressed in the poem, 
the silence which emphasizes

 

[00:21:56] The distance between the two lovers.

 

[00:21:59] My favorite part of this poem is two words, which
mean 'do you remember'

 

[00:22:04] Because this is a part of the poem that 
really feels like it is for the lover

 

[00:22:08] And for nobody else. Because the speaker says it in
Spanish, and it is addressed to you.

 

[00:22:17] I love this poem so
much that I modeled my poem

 

[00:22:20] 'I think of you while my cools' after it. 

 

[00:22:22] That poem was published with Liminal magazine,

 

[00:22:22] I'll show you that poem very quickly.

 

[00:22:29] I would read the whole poem, but it was a
collaborative piece with music done by Hannah Wu

 

[00:22:35] For a performance we did called Silent
Treatment with the Liminal Magazine.

 

[00:22:39] It does feel a little off to not read
it with the music, but I'll read this stanza.

 

[00:22:47] 'The sleep cleared from my eyes.

 

[00:22:50] You were everywhere.

 

[00:22:52] We have walked the entire length of this city
once when we got lost in the garden.

 

[00:22:58] You told me about your whole life and
I told you about mine

 

[00:23:03] Naalala Mo?.'

 

[00:23:05] So I put the phrase in my poem Naalala Mo,
which means 'Do you remember?' In Tagalog 

 

[00:23:12] and my poem overall is longer than Corral's poem.

 

[00:23:15] And it doesn't quite aim to express the
distance between the speaker and their beloved.

 

[00:23:19] But the importance of this exercise

 

[00:23:21] Is that modelling your own poem after another poem is
that you get a glimpse into what your poem could be.

 

[00:23:29] So the theme of that
performance night was silent treatment.

 

[00:23:32] And my process behind writing this poem, which is a love
poem, is that when I was asked to do silent

 

[00:23:39] treatment, it was during a time in my life when
I was very, very tired of performing poems of

 

[00:23:45] damage, including My father the sky.

 

[00:23:47] I was very tired of it at that point.

 

[00:23:49] It had been a very long year.

 

[00:23:53] I'd written and performed a lot
of poems about injustice and persecution.

 

[00:23:57] And while I do think that writing those poems are
vital for me as a poet, they're also really

 

[00:24:02] exhausting to perform.

 

[00:24:04] Time after time again.

 

[00:24:06] So I wanted to write and perform a love poem,

 

[00:24:09] And because the theme was silence, I thought,

 

[00:24:12] Why not model my poem after 
To Robert Hayden by Eduardo C. Corral

 

[00:24:16] And I think that overall love
poems are so hard to get right.

 

[00:24:20] I think they're probably the
most difficult poems to write.

 

[00:24:24] And I wanted to aim for a
love poem that wasn't too cliche.

 

[00:24:28] There's a Linda Gregg poem called The Defeated, and
there's a bit in it that goes:. 

 

[00:24:33] 'Already, what I remember most is the happiness of seeing
you, having tea, falling asleep, waking up with you

 

[00:24:41] there awake in the kitchen.

 

[00:24:43] It was like being alive twice.'

 

[00:24:46] And I think that's what makes a good love poem,
expressing that feeling of it was like being alive twice.

 

[00:24:52] Now I want to focus very briefly on a Kaveh
Akbar poem before I leave you with an exercise.

 

[00:24:58] This poem is called Against Dying,

 

[00:25:07] "Against dying, 
If the body is just a parable about the
body, if breath is a leash to hold the mind,

 

[00:25:15] then staying alive should be easier than it is.

 

[00:25:18] Most sick things become dead things

 

[00:25:21] At twenty-four my liver was already covered in fatty rot.

 

[00:25:25] My mother filled a tiny
coffin with picture frames.

 

[00:25:28] I spent the year drinking from
test tubes, weeping wherever I went.

 

[00:25:33] Somehow it happened.

 

[00:25:35] Wellness crept into me like a roach, nibbling
through an ear drum

 

[00:25:40] For a time the half minutes of fire in my brainstem
made me want to pull out my spine.

 

[00:25:46] But even those have become bearable

 

[00:25:49] So how shall I live now in the unexpected present?

 

[00:25:53] I spent so long in a
lover's quarrel with my flesh

 

[00:25:57] The peace seems overcautious, too polite

 

[00:26:00] I say stop being cold or make that blue bluer

 

[00:26:04] And it does.

 

[00:26:06] We speak to each other in this
code where every word means obey.

 

[00:26:10] I sit under a poplar tree with a thermos
of Chamomile feeling useless as an oath against dying.

 

[00:26:18] I put a sugar cube on my
tongue and swallow it like a pill.'

 

[00:26:24] I think that this poem is so beautiful,

 

[00:26:27] Even as it speaks about
something as difficult as addiction.

 

[00:26:31] There's a lot of delight being offered
by the poet here in the language.

 

[00:26:35] 'Wellness crept in to me like a roach.

 

[00:26:37] Nibbling through an ear drum' is so strange and so
delightful to read because it is so strange

 

[00:26:43] And the image is so visceral, a
roach nibbling through an eardrum.

 

[00:26:48] I would say that this kind of strangeness is what keeps
me drawn to Kaveh Akbar's work, and it makes me

 

[00:26:53] want to explore strange imagery in my own work.

 

[00:26:56] It helps me to seek strangeness in poetry.

 

[00:27:00] And there's still hope also being offered in this
poem, even as the poet recounts such difficult

 

[00:27:05] experiences. 'How shall I live now
in the unexpected present?' is really gorgeous. 

 

[00:27:11] [Soft music]

 

[00:27:16] Now, I want to pass on to you an exercise
that I learned from a podcast interview

 

[00:27:20] That the poet Marie Howe did.

 

[00:27:23] She did this interview with the 'On Being podcast'

 

[00:27:25] And the episode is called 'The
Power of Words to Save US'.

 

[00:27:30] It's a very simple exercise,

 

[00:27:32] Write ten observations of things in the
world without using metaphors or similes.

 

[00:27:37] For example,
This morning I saw my dog Dipper.

 

[00:27:41] He has light brown fur and he
was sleeping on his gray dog bed.

 

[00:27:45] And there's no metaphor in there.

 

[00:27:48] Marie Howe in the podcast says that to resist
metaphor is very difficult, because you actually have

 

[00:27:54] to endure the thing itself, which
hurts us for some reason.

 

[00:27:58] And she also talks about how resisting metaphors
is really difficult, because without them, whatever

 

[00:28:04] you write feels less important.

 

[00:28:07] It's not enough to say, for example, I love you.

 

[00:28:10] Sometimes we add on a metaphor like 'I
love you to the moon and back'.

 

[00:28:14] And I think that is why this exercise is so
helpful, because it makes us sit with whatever story or

 

[00:28:20] information we want to convey to the reader.

 

[00:28:23] Stripping metaphor from our work teaches
us why metaphor is so important.

 

[00:28:29] I hope you enjoyed this video and I hope that you
write lots and lots of poems, even if they're not

 

[00:28:34] perfect. I hope you give yourself this
very large field. 

 

[00:28:38] And please stay safe. 

 

[00:28:39] [Soft Music]

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