Outsiders and poetry contests

Throughout my junior year of high school I continued to write poetry. It was a way of getting out all these thoughts that were bouncing around my head. They didn’t have to remain stuck in a circular loop, and I didn’t have to worry about how others would interpret the words.

I continued to share some of my writing with my English teacher from ninth grade. We worked to build a literary magazine for the school, and she encouraged me to continue writing. I’m sure she’s the one who suggested I enter a poetry contest hosted by a local college.

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Poem: Injustice

Impressionism

This poem is like looking at an impressionist painting. Looking straight on, it’s more of a blurred image, but once your eyes adjust, you can see more clearly. It’s pure imagery, so brace yourself.

I remember seeing snowflakes fall during French class and then experiencing that sense of disappointment when it all disappeared by the end of the day. And that image stuck with me while on the bus heading for a basketball game. It could be considered injustice, living in the South, that it takes a lot for the flakes to stick to the ground.

In the downtown area of where we lived, we’d walk around for festivals and stuff. And I remember noticing how when the grass was wet, it looked the same as cooked spinach. The kind of cooked spinach that comes frozen in those little boxes and, to a little kid, looks completely disgusting. So that’s what I’m referencing with “spinach blades.”

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4 poems: Creating a persona

One concrete example of being competent and in charge of an English class group assignment happened during 11th grade.

I was in the regular version of this English class, not AP. I remember receiving a bit of flack about that from the teacher, who was fully convinced I was taking the easy way out by not going for his AP class.

Anyway, we had a group project where we had to create a persona, create the background of a character: who this person is, what they are doing. And then somehow we needed to tie in some type of literary piece. This was an English class, after all, so it wasn’t merely about writing a paper; it required some creativity.

I know our group settled on a female student who was studying different key events in history or was at least interested in history. We decided to create a journal for her where she reacted to various moments in history. Somehow we created journal entries and then also established that she wrote poetry. Yes, I’m sure the poetry aspect was all me, but I was happy to volunteer to make that writing my responsibility.

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The Goldilocks of English class

Reading books

Throughout high school, I alternated the difficulty of the English classes I took. First regular, then honors, then regular, then Advanced Placement.

The regular classes I found to be fairly easy to the point where I became the point person in group assignments because no one else had ideas or they just didn’t care. I also had a perfectionist streak in me in these classes, I suppose, an air of wanting to do very well. So I guess my classmates and group members knew that if they slacked off, the work would still get done. I also felt confident that we would be graded as a group, not for how the work was divided up. Meaning if someone fell through with what they were expected to do, it would impact the entire group instead of just that individual. So I never wanted to let that happen.

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The fear of driving

I came off the excitement of Governor’s School to begin my junior year with braces. The wires, rubber bands and brackets on my teeth were cumbersome. Using wax didn’t help much to protect my gums from stray wires that poked out. Braces were challenging to clean, and wearing headgear at night was just a pain. I wasn’t a very cooperative patient, but eventually the braces did their thing and helped to correct an overbite. Mine stayed with me through at least the first year of college.

Junior year meant officially being considered an upperclassman. Many, well most, of my classmates were now driving to school. I was 17 at the start of the year and still hadn’t shown much interest in driving. I knew how much responsibility I would be taking on by driving, and I was scared.

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Governor’s School: All about sounds

lesson9-music

Paul Allen was probably my favorite of our guest instructors for Governor’s School. He focused on the sounds and rhyming of poetry, but he wasn’t interested in sing-song poetry. He showed us the impact of replicating sounds, even near-rhymes.

It was under his guidance that I produced my absolute favorite poem of the program. First, we were asked to think about an event we had experienced. We described that event in one to two sentences. From there, we chose about five to six key words. These words topped separate columns across our paper and underneath we wrote down as many words as possible that rhymed with them. We incorporated literal rhymes (church, birch) as well as capturing similar sounds (for instance the long A sound in sway, rage, fade). We used these words to craft our poems.

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Governor’s School: Structured poetry

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A simple example of rhyme

I was much more comfortable and used to free-form writing. I didn’t want rules and restrictions. I didn’t want to have to worry about following a pattern or a rhyming scheme. And yet, that’s exactly what I was introduced to for my poetry writing sessions. Our teachers introduced us to structured creativity. That sounds contradictory, but it’s really not. There may be established limits, but that’s really where you prove your skill. I didn’t want to be given a very specific writing topic that I had no experience with, but having a specific prompt meant I needed to engage in writing in a new way.

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Poetry philosophy: Show me, don’t tell me (also struggling with compliments)

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Theodysseyonline.com

I’m not sure where the phrase “show me, don’t tell me” first originated. I think it was through exposure to creative writing exercises and other writing efforts. But I took that to heart. I took that seriously. And in many ways that influenced my approach to poetry writing.

You don’t want to just say “she was upset”; that doesn’t tell you much. But instead you describe the used tissues scattered on the bed, the box laying nearby, how her eyes are puffy. You acknowledge the remnants of a bowl of ice cream. You describe the girl curled up on a bed, clutching tight to a pillow or stuffed bear. These images offer more details, they help tell the story. She probably didn’t just screw up a pop quiz; it’s more likely that she had a fight with her boyfriend or they broke up.

I was much more interested in showing the details of a story and describing the scene versus being straightforward. I still had trouble balancing what was described and how much to describe rather than saying things outright. I often went overboard on the descriptions and imagery, especially early on, but I was trying to find my style, trying to figure out what worked. How much detail do you really have to give?

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Poem: The Golden Days

In some ways I think this is the high school version of the poem Road ahead is closed.

There will always be a sense of longing for times in the past that seemed easier. But that ease is mostly because that particular situation is now familiar and comfortable; the emotion completely overlooks how challenging and daunting it was in the moment.

This was written during tenth grade

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Poems about peacefulness

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Most people probably have a spot they like to go to for peace and quiet. It might be a daily place of refuge or more infrequent. It might mean going to a physical location or just closing your eyes and creating a special environment in your mind. Or doing a daily Bible study and meditation which helps to start the time with a proper frame of mind.

In high school and college, my happy place was with a journal. Writing out my thoughts and feelings offered me peace. I could vocalize what I needed to there without having to worry about pleasing anyone or needing someone else’s approval. So, yes, despite all the uncertainty that encompassed my life, there were still moments of seeking calm and peace … and finding it.

These poems were both written during tenth grade. I have no idea what prompted the first poem, although it was written before I had any concept of yoga. The second was written after finishing my biology final exam.

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