The piece below is the experience of writer's block itself in a prose-styled, poetic essay. Experiencing the poetry in the present world is aided by dialogue--a realization a Liberty Cab driver gave me while running late for school one day. When experiencing writer's block, I found that being aware of the poetry around you is better than trying to invoke or create it. My advice for anyone in a similar boat is that when your poetic thoughts aren't coming out, simply look up from the page and inhale the poetry you live until it flows from your fingers and back on to the page.
Often, I wonder about what I can do to get over closed bridges to poetic thought. Writer’s block is a closure. Before physically transporting to a new (possibly different) place, I want to attempt to capture the sublime and overcome such an obstacle. Typically, immediately after experiencing the awe or horror of a scene, poetry would flow through me river-like--a fluidity, as water under a bridge of elevated emotion and thought. However, the stream of current events has been very distracting, forming boulders and boulders of writer's’ block. What does one--who was once inspired by the immediacy of the moment--do when current events are the very things causing blockage?
Recently, I encountered a taxi cab driver who helped me find the answer to that question after missing the shuttle bus to school. What he did through normal dialogue is trigger what I haven’t noticed: When something is in the way, you just have to climb it; go around it, because that’s what rivers do. With an exchange of words, he made me realize the irony of the moment, often the poem itself. It is then I realized that it is not one's momentum, but one's view that moves the pen. Thanks to that exchange, I wrote a stream of consciousness poem called “If You Miss Your Shuttle, Call a Taxi Cab.”
If You Miss Your Shuttle, Call a Taxi Cab
How long would it be before the plunder? Of new lands like Heaven, Valhalla, Elysium, Mictlan; any place un-mangled under the Misconstrued? Because dollars signs are easier to read than protest signs for environmental protection. They already got Narnia. Yes, the CGI is amazing and the land there is abundant with resources, but none of that should be for sale. It’s trademarked, already controlled by 4 white kids; where the girls are constantly undermined by the boys with their anger issues, trying to be heroes in all the movies. Just like Hollywood likes it.
At my destination, I pulled out a 20 (plus tip) and thanked the man for the ride and poem. He said, “I am grateful, sir. I hope we meet again in the stars. If not, call me and I’ll take you there.”
Nature Writing is a technique used by insightful individuals that are trying to awaken the sleepless drones that have reprogrammed by political circuits, in order to save what is left around us and hopefully ourselves in the process. Many environmental issues have been weaved into human civilization and yet, most ignore it, but worse is that some don’t even know. As a poet taking this course, I assumed that this topic would selfishly improve my poetic scope into what I haven’t been able to do —which is write poetry. However, in many occasions, I would go through my own sublime moments through the various texts covered, as well as the many discussions in class. Thus, several poems have come out of my observations of nature with these moments in an attempt to address a fundamental issue most humans produce but cannot ignore; toxic waste and its various forms.
While toxic waste is publicly seen as the offspring of the bomb, my first poem aims to change the public perception and hopefully, its definition. It was inspired by the revealing that this year will be the first year humans born will not have been affected by the Hiroshima bomb. It is not the only bomb that has disrupted our environment —such as the atomic tests that have tainted the coasts of the Philippines and the nuclear test sites in Nevada that are still too polluted for life to grow, but it has had a long and undeniable effect on us all. It was through “The Clan of One-Breasted Women” written by Terry Tempest Williams that I found that there was a correlation between the definition of life and the definition in bomb, both manipulated and decided beyond our immediate control.
She, The Bomb
Today, I rejoice knowing my third niece will be born without atomic sin. She will not have to carry the weight of its blast in her genes and carry on with her own explosion of life as she heals the toxic scars on my heart with her purifying presence and beats up my nephews with equality, with joyful fists of love and impunity that do not create pain, only more joy as she hopefully lives in a world where my sins and failed prayers can't be read in a chapbook about being knee deep in Craigslist ads and soup kitchen schedules; where hunger, like tragedy, like laughter, can only be felt in our stomachs, minds, and hearts until all the stale bread is taken after shoveling a path for the ghosts that still linger around humanity in this nuclear wonderland, and instead, reads history books unashamed of truth they usually hide that tell tales about how we saved ourselves, how we swallowed our beard and garbage until we felt grateful again, how we learned that love was the only bomb that was meant to bombard us as it blooms; not death, but life, like her. But she isn’t here yet, just a false alarm. I guess I can wait and be ready for Lily's birth, the boom.
Toxic waste is more than what the general public perceives it to be. Toxic waste is actually defined as the product of human manipulation of resources into products that can be proved to be difficult to salvage while they have a negative impact in its current environment. This means anything from tube televisions, the tons of garbage we produce that is then pushed off and into our oceans, and the cigarettes we smoke are all just toxic waste by definition. However, we as Americans tend to live in the fallacy that what we do will not affect us in the long run because we live in the 'greatest' country in the world. Bill Mckibben points out that the “End of Nature” has already happened when observing the overwhelming greed humans have over nature. Nature, as powerful as it is adaptable, is unable to cope with the demands we put on her. Nature as a post-traumatic stress victim was the inspiration of the second poem I conjured while observing Hoyt Lake in Delaware park.
The Surveyor of Delaware Lake
Swoops as low as I did for food
When a park bench in Central Park
Was my High School home.
She raises back up, empty-beaked
and circles more for tonight's dinner
before it gets dark enough for the Nocturnal shift
to survive and rule the land.
But it doesn't happen.
She stops and practices yoga for patience on top a half-lit lamppost
with a distant stare and feet dipped in algae
in the fisherman pose.
I think if there was any fish in the lake
they would join in and
mirror its predator for change like
Politicians in the Senate.
But it doesn't happen.
The fish are dead
The water is an open cesspool
the algae eat flesh
and her chakras aren't aligned.
Slumlords own the land
the lights are never turned off
food is no longer wild
So the seagull should have ordered take-out.
But that doesn't happen.
all she has
is her wings
Toxic waste can also be found in the hearts of men. Not just on a genetic level or in our surroundings, but in the mindset of white privileged men who chose to aspire for the wealth of power instead of the wealth of knowledge. This goes without saying; most of what has happened, will happen, and will not happen is manipulated by these individuals. Much good can be done, but most choose to sustain or attain more power. That is because the nature of man has long since been defined as the 'survival of the fittest' as Darwin would put it. It is this very thought that has tainted the powers that be in misusing the politics of a country that once fought for freedom. As Jamaica Kincaid points out in “Alien Soil,” politics has never considered nature as a victim of its laws and judgments and has been dying every time the two collide. Because this has been an important and frightful year for politics, the third poem is influenced by Kincaid's recognition in the raping and owning of nature by white men who hoped to better their cause, such as Thomas Jefferson's expansion of the American border. We now have a president who is the embodiment of all Kincaid feared and despised. This censored poem is called “The Orange Megalomaniac.”
Toxic waste from the mouths of politicians seems to do the most harm to Mother Nature. That is why most, if not all, of the writers we have discussed have, in some way or another, voiced their opinion about the carelessness humans have and how it’s been managed by the government thus far. Frank Zappa was wrong in thinking the meek will inherit nothing. A planet barren of life is what we stand to gain from the current direction of the human race. It’s up to us to remind people that the sublime we seek in nature is not in its destruction, but in the experiences it’s capable of providing us. With all that I've learned through this class and further research in the Clean Air Coalition of WNY, social suicide is a form of toxic waste that we can’t afford to make any longer, and poetry is one way to clean it up.
Finch, Robert and John Elder. “Alien Soil.” The Norton Book of Nature Writing: Edited by Robert Finch and John Elder, New York: W.W. Norton, c1990, New York, 2002.
Jamaica Kincaid writes about the effects of disturbing the culture of Natives to a certain environment. The natives in question are the Antiguans, who are affected by colonization. While she talks about the connection between her people and the native plants, this relationship is similar to that of slavery during this time. She also draws connections to American powers that have also influence this relationship. She summarizes the story by stating that “Americans are impatient with memory, which is one of the things order thrives on” (1021).
Finch, Robert and John Elder. “End of Nature.” The Norton Book of Nature Writing: Edited by Robert Finch and John Elder, New York: W.W. Norton, c1990, New York, 2002.
Bill Mckibben focuses on the influences human beings have had on nature while bring attention to how dire the current state of the world is. He states many times that the loss of nature is due to human consumption and inability to stop consuming itself from self- destructing. However, he offers readers a chance to take this warning as something of how much potential humans really do have with its control of nature. Thanks to the narrative style and word choices, the piece doesn't instill a great fear or any solutions to the problem, it merely addresses that there is one.
Finch, Robert and John Elder. “The Clan of One-Breasted Women.” The Norton Book of Nature Writing: Edited by Robert Finch and John Elder, New York: W.W. Norton, c1990, New York, 2002.
Terry Tempest Williams introduces readers into her family history with cancer. Because of being exposure to radioactive sites in Utah and Nevada, her family has been scarred by the government's lack of control and concern for the lives they are affecting. She also makes it a point to show that she is not only witness to such things but also is a part of this and can never go back. From religion to poetry, Williams uses many elements that have long conveyed human emotion in order to connect with readers on a fundamental level. She makes it clear that the politics of man has never cared for the well-being of Mother Nature and its own race.
10/17/2016 0 Comments
(The transparent eyeball symbolizes Ralph Waldo Emerson's transcendentalist philosophy that man should take in the nature of all things in order to bring truth to observation. With this in mind, perhaps instead of projecting ourselves onto our surroundings, we should be mindful and holistic while writing, taking in the environment around us.)
During dinner, a friend recently asked me why I am pursuing degrees in English and Anthropology when only one has its use in poetry. After finishing my meal, I simply replied that anthropology and poetry aren’t different to me. My poetry is a ploy to express the human condition. Anthropology is the study of the human existence. To me, both anthropology and poetry convey our connection to the human experience differently, but the purpose is still the same; to shed light on our truth as a species. I would have never come to these realizations without attending a cultural anthropology course.
Years ago, I took a cultural anthropology class, and it changed my life. Cultural anthropology is the study of human culture and the branches that stretch and influence other aspects of life. Throughout the class we learned the various practices and methods anthropologists use to keep an unbiased, detached, and focused mind on humans and their relationship to each other. I learned what it meant to truly observe my surroundings while momentarily disregarding what I felt about it. How to keep a holistic mind on things that are drastically different than what I’m used to became an aim to which I aspired while reading.
We were once given a 'fieldwork assignment' in which we visited a location completely unfamiliar to us to simply observe it. While there are other aspects to fieldwork, this one was challenging to me since I tend to be self-centered, judgmental, and unable to look at things beyond my scope. I chose to go to a Greyhound station that I’ve been to a million times, but each time it’s a new feeling, a new experience. It was then I wrote my first poem, off-ice Cubicle.
After realizing the station was being renovated, I chose to focus on the worker walking into a semi-glass box office centered in the middle of the floor. There, isolated visually and mentally from what’s going on outside of the booth's walls, I saw this person and couldn't help but inject poetry into the image before me; it was a way to order, to make sense of what I don't know or could be. I took what I’ve observed and applied poetry to it. It was only after working on my first chapbook that I began realize anthropology’s potential use in poetry.
I had another assignment in which we were to choose a movie and argue its similarities and differences in how human culture is shown. I chose “Cloud Atlas,” an amazing movie worth watching if you have 7 hours to spare (3 to watch, 3 to re-watch closely). After writing a paper using a poetic sensibility and an anthropological lens to decipher the film’s plot, I not only completed my assignment but found the core of what I wanted my future research to be based: Finding ways to cross the bridge over social injustice and into other cultures using poetry as a foundation.
While the anthropological approach taught me to expand my worldly scope in order to accurately absorb and record, I find that when I add a dash of poetry to what I see and what I perceive, it gives me a unique perspective. I mean, after all, that’s what poetry is right? In using anthropological methods to broaden my poetic scope, I now gain better insight into human nature and other aspects of life as the “Transparent Eyeball.”
After taking in such lessons, whenever I’m going through a writer’s funk, I try to get out my comfort zone and put myself in a different physical environment. That's because sometimes I write something that may not be understood fully due to its highly specific context. However, I want readers to like Emerson in nature, take in all of the surrounding environment of a piece before judging it. Like a cook I want readers to see my dish as a whole, with descriptions and word choices that add complementing layers of taste and texture to what I conjure up through a particular piece.
When I write, it is like decorations on a cake. Cake with dry lemon frosting, in spite of its indulgent appearance, disgusts me until I sink my teeth into and devour the rich moist cake within. Sometimes, to have a full experience, one has to dig in, not just remain on the surface evidence. As a spoon and a fork, anthropology and English are two utensils I’d like to carry with me when dining on poetry. Ah poetry, it is dessert.
“Transparent eyeball” as illustrated by Christopher Pearse Cranch, ca. 1836-1838 |
I’d like to acknowledge my friend Rob Arnold for [assisting or contributing] to this piece.
“After a little bit of tweaking on the bus and a 5 hour wait, I get on the bus with reclining seats that are lightly coated with frost, a surprisingly clean restroom with toilet tissue, and enough room to have my own companion seat. This was very comforting for a polar bear like me. My eye started to feel irritated as the bus pulls away from the Greyhound station and onto the highway. Suddenly my mind, after being awake since leaving Buffalo, goes into rest mode where it reviews what has happened thus far on the poetry tour. I realize orange peels are humorous when suggested as a solution, sleeping under rain clouds makes you look inside the vastness of your own heart, and the meal your best friends send you off with can make you cry. Even now, I can still taste the sweet grease from the fried chicken and collard greens. I feel alone right now (and hungry) without my mp3 player. Good thing poetry is here, keeping me company.”
-Summer of ‘16
When it comes to poetry and road trips, poets from different generations have shared one common thought, “Do it while you still can.” [A road trip] can be very challenging, even when you aren’t traveling at the speed of light. Especially in today's world, we are used easy access to many things in life. But whether it's traveling from New Jersey to Texas or to the corner of your block, the speed in which poetry operates is that of a heartbeat. And that heartbeat usually matches the rate of broken white lines at 65 miles per hour. It is there in a humming unison of breath from body and road, three lines came to mind.
Know your companions. When you are stuck a metal box with other people, take advantage of the limited space and bring about an open heart to learn more about them. Poetry isn’t just the bond found between you and the topic at hand, but also the connection between one another. You will find that not only do you have an opportunity to get closer to your fellow poets, but also gain insight to their poetic process. While we walk our own poetic paths, we have a lot to learn from others.
Experiment with what you don't know. There is a whole hive of reasons how, but here's the three “be's” I found to be most helpful:
Absorb it all, but deal with it later. There will always be moments on a road trip where poetry is waiting to be acknowledged. Breathe it in. Better yet, live in it. Yes we want to write about it, but poetry seems better when we lived through it. Those moments (you will know when it is one) is real poetry.
On the road, poetry is the passenger. We are just driving it between the lines.
My blog's focus is to make poetry accessible.
Julio Montalvo Valentin is co-founder of Cringe Worthy Poets Collective and Just Poets of Rochester. He writes Semi-confessional, socially awkward poetry as an attempt to become immortal.