Poetrygrams, privacy and setbacks

I hate calling myself a poet, in the way I always struggled with calling myself an artist (I still don’t like calling myself an artist). To be a “poet” or an “artist” means you have received a degree of instruction, or self-taught prowess, of a calibre that it can be disseminated. I don’t think I have that distinction at all. I can barely call myself a writer. It’s easier to create some space between myself and the act: I write poetry, I make art, both are more palatable in that they aren’t claims, they aren’t identities, but they are easily identifyable actions.

At some point, I had forgone this cautionary practice and – kind of arrogantly – started calling myself a poet. For what reason? I got a handful of likes on some poetry I threw onto my Instagram feed, and it fed my ego. I wrote more stuff, and threw it on my Insta feed, and got more affirmation. Don’t get me wrong – I cared about the poetry I wrote, and I took care in the writing process. I sat on poems until I was happy with them, for weeks and months at times. But at the back of my mind, I knew the medium I was writing for. I had a formula – no more lines than can fit the length of my phone, linebreaks so that there were no run-on sentences past the width of my phone, and squat enough that the poem could be easily squared and put up on Instagram. I was immediately limited to short bursts of prettily strung together sentences that, sure enough, were poems but by no means the best poems I could write. At some point, I had accrued enough poems that I could dedicate a separate poetrygram to my work, and I did. I felt wonderful about that – maybe I could find a poetry community for myself on Instagram. I could cultivate followers, get feedback, learn from the feedback. It would be a form of workshopping that I didn’t have access to.

A few months passed. Feeling somewhat dissatisfied still, after a few months of playing around with the poetrygram, I created a poetry WordPress blog. I felt wonderful about that again, but in a slightly wiser way. That was my first inkling of understanding. Once I started writing poetry specifically for the WordPress blog, I found that I became more experimental. I started playing with formats and styles, wrote longer poems, I created room for myself to expand into. All the little lessons I had stored away in the back of my mind in my miserliness after years of reading diverse poetry finally had a space to come out in. I was Silas Marner, and this endless space for growth and writing was my Eppie. I was a surprised at how different my poetry had become, within days – I wasn’t writing for a specific medium anymore, and, honestly, I wasn’t writing for the easy validation either. I hate admitting that the influx of likes made me feel better, more talented, but it did. But I never got the poetry community, the access to the world that I wanted.

But the WordPress blog brought to light a whole other issue. With the advent of the WordPress blog, I found the courage to submit poetry to various publications and reviews, and – well – I was knocked back onto my butt with an important realization: the poetry world rewards privacy. That is to say, you can’t publish stuff that has appeared online before in any form.

I reeled. I should have known this. Somehow, I thought a blog – an Instagram feed – I thought they didn’t really count as having appeared online before. What a weird combination of arrogance and self-deprecation. In the process of years of writing dozens and dozens of poems and subsequently uploading all of them to Instagram and WordPress, I had completely nullified 80% of the opportunities available to me; I had stunted my own ability to access a poetry community. (I say 80% here because there are definitely publications out there that take work that has previously appeared online.) All this in pursuit of the instant affirmation I got from one-click uploads and Instagram-savvy/SEO-friendly (hash)tagging. All because of my inability to appreciate poetry as a private pursuit.

I felt like crap. But it was a moment of much needed clarity. I’m overwhelmingly grateful for being humbled like that. The poetry I’ve written to this point matters to me. I parsed away little pieces of myself in everything I’ve written thus far, and I’m grateful that people got to see what they did – but I need to start from scratch now. I need to keep my work close to my chest, learn to actively workshop, learn to actually utilize the lessons I take away from the poets and poetry I read, to not cater to easy validation anymore. More generally, I need to care for my privacy. I’ve received a few harsh lessons in the part regarding privacy, and I don’t seem to have learnt anything. If not for my own safety, I should at least learn from the blow my ego – my ambition – has been dealt because of my own lack of diligance and easy susceptibility to memetically engineered cultures of art.

I’ve already taken down my poetry blog. I won’t be taking down my poetrygram. I think it’s important to face the physical manifestation of my arrogance head-on and learn from it. Removing the poems I’ve written so far from the face of the internet won’t help me much anyway. It’s also way too easy to pretend I never made a mistake. But, so help me God, I won’t be putting more content on there that hasn’t already been published elsewhere. I’m also going to stop making excuses and actually go to poetry workshops from now on.

I feel wonderful.


PS: I have…more feelings about Instapoetry than I’ve let myself disclose/discuss in this blogpost. There is a whole discussion about accessibility and democratizing poetry that I haven’t really touched on. This is not a commentary on making poetry accessible, just my experience with Instapoetry culture and the adverse impact it had on me as someone trying to be better at poetry.

Advertisements

DAMN., Goddamn.

At some point I need to admit to myself that there are so many articles about music I can get published before people start getting annoyed at me. I’m no music critic; I’m not even an upstart music industry/related field major – I’m just an upstart politics student whose entire conception of life is framed by art.

Within 12 hours of To Pimp a Butterfly being released, I had the skeleton of an article ready. Who didn’t? There was so much to analyze, so much to deconstruct, so much to contextualize. With Kendrick Lamar’s latest release, DAMN., it’s different. It’s the kind of album you mull over for hours, listening and re-listening – and that’s not to say TPAB wasn’t that way. I still realize new things about it every time I do a full-album re-listen. But with DAMN., I don’t even know where to begin.

Actually, I do: we’ve been blessed.

Kendrick Lamar is the kind of artist who has every right to disappear after one album, let alone after (give or take – but, well, mostly give) four absolutely stellar pieces of art. He could have been a one-hit wonder and we still wouldn’t have been worthy. And that’s not out of some weird celebrity-worship; he is the absolute cream of the introspective-music crop. With each album, we are given a window into the mind of an artist, watching an author write their treatise, their magnum opus right in front of us.

Every time I go to a museum, I try to stop by the conservation galleries so I can catch a glimpse of conservators working on restoring art. I have yet to be successful in catching a restoration in progress. Still, I like to read every thing; I like to look at the tools, touch all the interactive aspects of the exhibit, try to envision what it must be like to be a conservator entrusted with handling – fixing – works of art. What an absolute honor – and what an honor to be able to witness that, right?

With DAMN., I feel like I’ve finally been able to catch a conservator in action. Hell, I feel like I’m watching Langston Hughes whisper the words of a nascent poem aloud to himself to see if it sounds right. And maybe that’s dramatic, but as a poet that uses her medium to strip herself completely raw, regarding DAMN. is both somber and exhilarating. But what is it about DAMN. that makes it the prime artistry that it is?

It was hard to anticipate how Kendrick would follow up TPAB, an album so intensely political that it leaves you feeling exhausted when you’re done with it; an album so intensely political that one of its singles became the anthem for an entire anti-oppression movement. That was the power of TPAB. But DAMN. didn’t need to be a manifesto – frankly, it didn’t need to be anything. But what it became was the breathless musing of a man coming down from a protest high: slumping down into your favorite couch, the feeling of taking your shoes off after a long day, the – well – depression and malaise after you’ve emptied every reserve of your adrenaline.

Introspection. That’s what follows. As a friend noted, DAMN. is a return to Section.80, a contemplation of self, and the role of self. Kendrick positioned himself to be a messiah of sorts in To Pimp a Butterfly, but in the life of every prophet, there is a moment of doubt; a falter, a question of “Is god actually there? Do I matter? Will anyone ever stand with me?”

We caught glimpses of that in TPAB, and certainly in good kid, m.A.A.d. city, but DAMN. tackles these questions in renderings not unlike “u” or “Swimming Pools” – especially the latter with its misleadingly party-friendly vibe. I firmly believe that if you go into a Kendrick Lamar song without heavily considering that he might be talking to himself, about himself, then you have no business having an opinion about his music. Damning (hah)? Sure. But this is a rapper that means so much in today’s politically charged climate that to access him is a privilege, and we at least owe him, and ourselves, the ability to understand where he’s coming from.

“Ain’t nobody praying for me,” he declares repeatedly, and the bravado gives way to anxiety as a motif throughout the album. Kendrick Lamar has struggled with depression throughout his life, not unlike Chance the Rapper, and both young stars have been extremely public with this fact, using music as a conduit for introspection and even extrospection. The songs in this album are so raw, pained, desperately hopeful and desperately despondent at the same time. He tries to hold the world accountable, but invariably turns back at least some accountability onto himself. There are specific times in the album (the bridge in ELEMENT., the entirety of FEEL. – especially 2:50 – the intro to PRIDE., the tail-end of FEAR.) where I want to drop every thing and cry because it hits home so hard that I need it to bruise, to be sore, so that it can linger and I can remember how I felt when I first listened to DAMN. for the rest of my life.

For an otherwise not very good class, I read literary giant Chinua Achebe’s novel Anthills of the Savannah. I had read Things Fall Apart quite a few years ago, so I knew the kind of author Achebe was and I was rightfully excited about this one. It was situated in a much more contemporary context, and unfortunately, the novel ages pretty damn well. For the corresponding essay, we had to pick our favorite passage, and mine was the following:

“Do I contradict myself?” asked Walt Whitman. “Very well, I contradict myself,” he sang defiantly. “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Every artist contains multitudes. Graham Greene is a Roman Catholic, a partisan of Rome, if you like. Why then does he write so compulsively about bad, doubtful and doubting priests? Because a genuine artist, no matter what he says he believes, must feel in his blood the ultimate enmity between art and orthodoxy […] Those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots and party-liners.

Every artist contains multitudes. It felt incredibly timely that right after reading this novel, DAMNdropped in all of its glory, in all of its contradictions: in all of its multitudes. Kendrick Lamar is that partisan of Rome; he is that genuine artist; he is myriad and beyond. I aim to memorize that quote so I can remember the lesson inherent in it: not only is to err to be human, but to contradict oneself is to be human; to be multitudinous is to be human. What other species could carry such capacity for horror, and such unmatched capacity for beauty?

Blessed.

And maybe that’s a funny thing to say when Kendrick Lamar struggles with the concept of being blessed, or not, but regardless of whether he feels like he is god-sent, god-sped, he is for me.

There are not enough words in the world to discuss all the facets of this album that I want to. I have a feeling I will be coming back to this a lot.

Until then – I’m waiting for Sunday.

A post written in poem

​as a child i listened to The Cranberries

singing anthems i could not grasp 

for Salvation & for Zombies, 

as Odes to my Family & to Saving Grace;

i am 21 & my heart aches as it connects

the dots a five year old in her father’s car

could not.

i cry for the Warchild, 

for Ridiculous Thoughts,

& sing my Daffodil Laments

(my anthem for Zombies is much the same). 

as a child my mother found me

watching the news with the grimness of 

a newly minted tween.  

i had tears in my eyes & what felt like 

a noose in my fists  

& an anger so new to my 4 foot 5 frame. 

“how do i fix it?” “you don’t.” “why?”

“you talk to others about fixing it. you trust 

others to help you do what you can’t do 

alone.”

mamma bade me speak with the softness 

of water & watch the ripples flow from me. 

with their tanks 

and their bombs  

and their bombs  

and their guns,  

watch them die in a treacherous mind’s eye. 

& spill forth water from open arms.

Divining

some cooking tips:

1. when you cook chicken (breast, thigh or fillet)

make three thin nicks with a serrated knife
(okay, it’s more for bread than poultry
but it was the only knife within reach).
stuff rosemary in each pocket
& smell the divinity in your kitchen.


2. most things are better crushed.
take garlic, mint, ice, an empty can:
press down on the flat of your knife (or)
smush up leaves, admire your green thumb (or)
take your blender/hammer: now pulse/smash (or)
bring your foot down hard on the can
(extra points for panache)
& smell the divinity – and beer – in your kitchen.


3. don’t take offense if people ask
for salt or pepper with their food.
everyone has a different palette,
and besides, you always ask for hot sauce,
so why hold others to an unfair standard?
just bite your tongue,
nurse your ego in a separate room,
& smell the divinity of food shared in your kitchen.


4. they say that food cooked with more than five ingredients

is not as good as food cooked with three ingredients.
i’m not sure what the significance of three is,
but look: rice, meat and yogurt.
that’s three, but that does not biryani make.
now toss in the garam masala, saffron, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, fennel, bay leaves, salt, cardamom, cumin and peppercorn
& smell the divinity of your grandmother in your kitchen.


5. don’t be disheartened when you realize that english is

all you can write any poetry in.
your mother sings a silken tongue, but no good chef is the sum
of a single ingredient, however rich (or organic).
persian, arabic, turkish all threw in their loans,
but english lends itself nicely to being spun so soft
it can melt in your mouth like the best of them.
so forgive your insecurities,
& smell the divinity of poetry in your kitchen.

Five years & another damn poetry dump

According to WordPress, this blog turned five years old on Sunday. I don’t really know how much I believe that, but then I refuse to believe five years ago was 2010. Seriously, don’t correct me on that, five years ago was 2005.

Regardless of whether or not this is entirely accurate, five years is still one hell of a milestone and I’m honestly surprised I kept up a blog that received its baptismal blessing in the form of a Year 11 English teacher (it was an assignment for my IGCSE First Language English class). I don’t like going back through this blog all that much – I have enough of retrospect as is without having to parse through my own words – but it’s reassuring to know it’s out there. Far more reassuring than the existence of 75% of my other social media platforms.

I’ve been reading a lot of Kierkegaard lately in the form of a little anthology comprising his journals and essays and seminal works; I love reading journals and letters written by my favorite thinkers because I’m that pompous ass and because it explores what is a distinct beauty in their very musing, a grace in the core of their self. Allow me to indulge my fantasy: in an ideal future, I’d love to be the kind of person whose “journal” and correspondence inspires and is widely circulated because it’s believed that I have something of value to say, and that there’s merit to my first draft thoughts so to speak. Now I doubt that that would be the case. And there’s very little romance to sharing links. And I think I’m the only idiot who still writes letters out of sentimental value on occasion.

(To my future publisher: I do have a journal. It’s not worth it except for scribbled down poems and maybe a proper entry here and there. And a few of half-decent drawings. Ask for it at your own discretion. I’ll probably have thrown it away though. Also, my handwriting isn’t all that pretty so it’s not even worth it for the aesthetic value.)

Now that I’m done destroying any chance I might ever have of being a published fauxlosopher, here’s some poetry. Continue reading “Five years & another damn poetry dump”

the universe is ever-expanding

My heart is not so small that

it cannot ache for the many;

my conscience is not so limited as

the number of words on my tongue;

and my attentions do not only bend with

the curve of my lover’s spine.

i am human and

we

have an uncanny knack

for feeling with every star in the sky

and since when has Andromeda glowed

with the light of a Facebook post shared?

(but skin, i’ve heard, can be scorched and broken,

and even nature needs time to process calamity.)


There are a lot of afterthoughts in my poems, and this one I felt like I needed to add in light of the AME Church massacre last night. Ramadan Kareem to all, and I hope you find peace in prayer and community. I had a whole post planned out but my Ramadan zen has given way to a lot of hunger and wooziness.

poetry dump, take one

a fun fact about bruises;
the throb lasts about as long
as the memory that accompanied the blow;
and as far as battle-scars go,
registering bluepurpleblack
with vague surprise
Feels like a posthumous victory
Sounds like a retroactive yield
& Looks like my own smile reflected back
in a blade, diamond-sharp;
a will that cuts.

She slips into her abode
(mantled in sea foam
water lapping her hands
salt inching up her hair)
And her legion of guardians,
her friends of the water,
greet her with rigid salutes.
Their faces stony in loving obedience –
and Oh, What A Scene!
Mermaid, her heroes,
a dance to hail the sea!
But a bliss broken
By a knock, an intruder;

Scatter! says Mermaid
to her erstwhile heroes,
their bravado chastened –
The Harbinger is come!
Ships, one and all, sink into
maritime security;
a final salute to the Officer-at-Arms.
The Portent, she smiles,
and reaches into blue,
in a swirl, in a tempest.

The aftermath is sudsy,
stony faces of little green men,
and the smile of the Mermaid
“Is it time for lunch yet?”

I rose with the birds

And let myself fly through wind

To kiss morning light

–. — -..-. — -.

My skin crawls fervent;

horrified —

and the sound it makes

is Morse.

The code intones

the following words:

“It’s over, it happened —

It’s Done.”

Some say comfort is

luxury

And my flesh?

Derelict.

But if will truly comes from

ones heart,

then the braille on my breast says

“Go on.”