Tag Archives: poetry

The Poet is In

24 Nov

It’s become part of a punchline for me now when people ask me what my first Bachelor’s degree was in.

“I majored in poetry, but being a poet doesn’t pay like it used to.”

Always gets a moderate chuckle. But it’s jarring to me to think back to a time when that really was my life plan. I knew it was mostly crazy, and I think I was young and rebelling against growing up. I didn’t want some office job. Like most young people, I rejected the life I thought society was forcing on me. And while I’ve successfully avoided having a desk job for most of my adult life, I did bid farewell to my dream of being a poet laureate. It’s not the creative outlet I wanted to invest myself in. Yet poetry exists in my soul like a latent infection.

Back in April I saw a post on Instagram about a pop-up poetry event at Grand Central called “The Poet is In.” It was an all day event that had poets set up at booths writing personalized poems for people. I left work early and hopped a subway South. I had to be there.

I waited in line for about 45 minutes, not minding at all. I had a book to keep me occupied, and I was so excited. Which poet would I get? That hipster one over there? The wise old man over there? It was amazing to see so many people in line, excited about poetry. That’s what poetry is supposed to be. For the people. To connect with one another and, like all art, to share in a bigger human experience.

I think I would have been happy to get any of the poets, but I felt like fate brought me to Marie Howe. A warm presence with wild hair, it turns out she is actually the one who dreamed up the event when she was the New York State poet laureate. She asked me some questions about myself. About the classes I was taking in school. About what I wanted to grow up to be when I was a little girl. She took some notes as we chatted, then loaded up her typewriter and clacked away. When she was done, she read me my personalized poem.


I almost cried. I loved it so much, and it felt like the perfect snapshot of that very moment in my life. I sniffled back my tears and profusely thanked her for my poem and for putting the lovely event together.

“You know, I didn’t start really writing my poetry until I was in my thirties,” she told me. “You have it in you for when the time is right.”

I needed to hear that.


Finding Poetry

2 Jun


New Year’s Resolution #5 this year (right after “Drink Less”) was “Find My Poetry.” By that I didn’t mean write more poetry, read more poetry, or even go to more poetry events, although all those are lacking in my life. I meant to find the poetry that used to infuse my life, that used to be the core of who I was. Six years ago, it meant everything to me, and somewhere along the way I lost it.

As with most resolutions, I started out strong. I volunteered at the Poetry Project‘s annual New Year’s Day Reading Marathon. After serving chilli to the masses for a couple of hours, chatting with poets, volunteers, fellow verse enthusiasts, I was allowed free admission to the reading. The Poetry Project is housed in a church in the Lower East Side and this reading took place in the nave. Some of the poems were beautiful, some were hilarious, some were stirring. More than anything it felt good to be hearing it again.

As I was leaving to go feed a pug in Midtown, I ran into an old friend/writing partner. I recognized his shock of white hair, and we hugged, whispering together. We used to get together once a week in Seattle to read poetry and write it, to drink whiskey and talk about our futures. He’s currently getting his MFA in Alabama. He was in town to spend time with his boyfriend who lives in Brooklyn.

“Oh, I knew Chrissy Wilson would be here!” he said to me. “I’ll be moving here in June. Let’s have poetry dates again.”

We were shushed by people around us, so I agreed, hugged him, and left. Six months later, it’s June. He emailed me that he’ll be here in a couple of weeks. But I haven’t done a single thing to find my poetry since that blustery New Years day. Time has done nothing but slip through my fingers.

But the other night, I was reading an interview with Cheryl Strayed where she mentioned one of her favorite Emily Dickinson quotes, the one in the art above: “If your Nerve, deny you-/Go above your Nerve.” And I couldn’t get it out of my head. I couldn’t get Emily Dickinson out of my head. I found myself pulling my dusty Parini Poetry Anthology (which could also function as a bludgeoning weapon) off the shelf and started reading the poems of hers I found there. And not just her. I felt as though I was looking through an old yearbook as I sighed over the names of poets long forgotten. Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, Louise Gluck, Theodore Roethke. I read Anthony Hecht’s “The Dover Bitch” over and over again, feeling just as enamored with its perfection as I did when I first read it for a class in 2007.

“…To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl…”

Then I moved on to my old notebooks. The ones I carried with me everywhere. Full of mini-poems, thoughts, quotes, drawings. Nothing spectacular, just the things I heard and saw that stirred something in me, that felt destined to become a poem or a story or anything.


This page with lyrics from a Gwen Stefani song, from a Blur song, a quote from the beginning of an episode of Planet Earth, a drawing of my legs in capri jeans. The notebook was full of nonsense like this. Recipes, directions, notes to self, doodles, schedules. It reminded me what I was missing when I lost my poetry. It’s about the observation, the curiosity of life, the ability to try and turn things askew and look at them in a new way. This isn’t to say I’ve found my poetry but those old notebooks that are full of embarrassing things and a couple of poignant things reminded me to observe and to note. That is the purpose of writing after all. Not to just publish or write successful how-tos. It’s to be a correspondent to the unique experience we each have.

I said that I hadn’t found my poetry, but on second thought, maybe I have.

Crooked Lines

28 Oct

Last Thursday I was at work when my friend Jeff texted me that he had an extra ticket to an off-broadway musical called “Here Lies Love” and could I be at Astor Place by 8. Normally I would have said no. Thursdays are my night in. I work till 8pm and have to be back at 8am the following morning. But something about the randomness of it all pulled me to say, “Sure!” despite not knowing how on Earth I could get there in time.

I took a cab, then ran through giant puddles on the Lower East Side to arrive at the theater at 8:07. The ushers shove me into an elevator and take my coat and bag from me for coat check. I exit the elevator and walk into what looks like a giant dance club. Jeff waves at me as I make my way across the room, and the second I am by his side, it begins. I had no idea what I was in for.

“Here Lies Love” was created by musical geniuses David Byrne and Fatboy Slim about the rise and fall of the former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos. I’m unsure how to describe the following 90 minutes of my life. It was incredible. An interactive, multimedia, dance-hall themed musical. People in space suits (not as crazy as it sounds) shifting the crowd around, the performers coming into the audience to sing, breaks in between songs for the crowd to do DJ-led, Filipino-style line dancing! Every once in a while, Jeff and I would look at each other in ecstatic amazement.

After a crescendo of political strife, assassinations, the institution of martial law, a headline on the screen showed that Imelda Marcos and her husband, Ferdinand Marcos where helicoptered out of the Philippines for refuge in the United States. At this point one of the stages had been morphed into stairs where the audience sat. After the multimedia, dance club extravaganza, one singer came out with a ukelele and performed a song called, “God Draws Straight.”

The minimalism of the performance almost brought me to tears. The lyrics struck something in me. Despite having never heard the song before, it wouldn’t leave my mind. I downloaded it the next morning and have been listening to it on repeat for days. The crux of this song’s chorus is this line:

“You might think you are lost, but then you will find that God draws straight but with crooked lines.”

This is an idea I’ve been coming across a lot the last couple of weeks. This sense that everything happens for a reason, that things are unfolding as the Universe intended. It’s hard to comprehend and make sense of it, but the line in this song made it click. I’m not where I expected to be at 28, and I can’t believe how winding the path has been. But I have to believe that all my experiences, the good and the bad, are leading me toward a better path. I don’t feel lost the way I did at 25 or 22 or 18. I do feel nervous about my future though. I don’t have a sense of where I’ll end up living, what I’ll end up doing, or which people will be around me. But that’s not because I’m lost, I’ve just been heading down crooked lines, and that’s okay.

My Filipino co-worker who has already seen “Here Lies Love” twice is bringing me the full soundtrack to the musical and a documentary about Imelda Marcos to work tomorrow to lend to me. I’ve put a couple of books about her along with a book about the Power People Revolution on hold at the library. As Jeff and I left the theater and walked down St. Mark’s looking for a place to grab a beer, we could hardly express our amazement at what we had seen. Jeff summed it up pretty well, “David Bryne! That crazy, creative, genius son-of-a-bitch!”

Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe

19 Nov

My favorite Marilyn Monroe movie is “Some Like it Hot.” If you haven’t seen it, she plays Sugar Kane, the lead singer of an all-girl jazz band who has a weakness for falling in love with saxophone players. In the movie, she’s adorable and funny and heartbreaking as the girl who “always gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop.” It’s the epitome of the characters she was known for playing. Beautiful, helpless, not so smart.

Unfortunately, that has become not just the roles she played, but her legend. But did you know that MM often insisted on having her photograph taken whilst reading books? Did you also know that she took night classes in literature at UCLA in her spare time? She also scribbled poems and little notes to herself in a variety of notebooks. This wonderful book collects many of those.

This book, edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment, places side-by-side her actual writing and transcriptions of them. Often her stream-of-consciousness writing jumps all over the page and only gives a small insight to what was really going on inside her mind. They have also collected a variety of pictures of MM with authors and artists whom she admired.

To me, this book is vital in understanding her. It is also vital in understanding that people are not always the image they present. We never know what’s stirring in someone’s mind. Marilyn Monroe was no exception. It makes me so happy that we can finally put a little of this “dumb blonde” nonsense away and respect her for the complete human being she was.

“Not a scared lonely little girl anymore Remember you’re sitting on top of the world (it doesn’t feel like it).”

Memorizing a Poem

26 May

My path to poetry was atypical. I suppose everyone’s is. I was never a big fan, other than Shakespeare which for some bizarre reason I never really considered to be poetry. When I made the decision to apply to the Creative Writing track at my university, I dreaded the fact that I would have to take poetry classes. To me, poetry was pretentious, obtuse and a dying art form. I felt like all the required verse classes I had to take were a giant waste of my time. Prose had always been my natural mode of writing, and I wanted to spend as much time as possible perfecting it.

Then, there was Steve Dold.

Steve Dold. I don’t know where to start. He was my junior year poetry writing professor. He was a dreamboat. Every girl in our class was madly in love with him. He would strut into class with his leather jacket and tousled hair. When he read poetry aloud, he’d get this dreamy look in his eyes and take on a high-pitched intonation which was comical yet entrancing. He taught us iambic pentameter by relating it to a steady heartbeat. A 20-year-old girl’s heart didn’t stand a chance.

Our assignments were pretty standard creative writing stuff. We would read a bevy of a certain type of poem then write our own. One week we worked on narrative, another week we worked on sonnets. The only other requirement he had for us was to memorize a poem, just one, any one we liked.

“I believe this will be the most important thing you take away from this class,” I remember him saying. “You will have this poem in your mind if you choose to keep it with you in your life. At some dark hour, when you most need it, it will be there, a calming refrain, a gift you give yourself.”

I rolled my eyes and decided that I would just pick a random villanelle. Villanelle is a highly structured poem based on French poetry. There are a couple of repeating refrains, a strict meter, and a predictable rhyme scheme. I figured this would be an easy form to learn. I checked out a book from the library full of them, I read a couple and found one that struck me. As I read it aloud, something about it was so pleasant, so perfect, and although I didn’t completely grasp the meaning, it affected my heart in a positive way.

I set myself to memorizing it one night when I was home alone in my apartment. I remember making Macaroni and Cheese, taking a shower, cleaning up my room, all while repeating the poem over and over again to myself.

With each repetition, something happened. I became more and more attached to each line. What was originally an interesting but opaque poem became a poem that meant something, each line revealing itself to me more and more.

I memorized that poem and still know it by heart. I went on to focus on writing and reading poetry. When I bring up poetry to people, they often groan and say they just don’t get it, that it’s too academic. Nothing irks me more. Poetry takes time. It is rare to read through a poem and understand it and be done with it. Poetry is meant to dwell with, to spend time with the words, the variety of meanings, to pull something from it for yourself. When I originally set to memorizing a poem, the poem had little meaning to me, except that I enjoyed the first line. Now it is a source of comfort when I’m feeling down. Yes, at dark times in my life, that poem comes to mind and it means something to me. It might not mean anything to anyone else, and it might not mean to me what was originally intended by the poet, but that’s not the point of poetry. It’s an art, and we are to take from it whatever we need.

The Waking

I will forever be thankful to Steve Dold for that.