Creative Writing by Yev @ VolumesofWords.com
Before we started as freshman in high school, my class was sent on a weekend trip outside of New York City. It was then that I got to know my best friend and several other people that would leave an impression on me. One of the things I remember well from the trip was laying in the grass at night and looking up at the dark sky. I had hardly known the location of the stars after spending most of my life in the brightness of the city, but our future science teacher made us look carefully and use our imaginations. Like many other times before, I strained my eyes to find some pattern in a dark sky awash with glowing dots. The stars were beautiful to me, but in contrast to the architecture of New York — the bright windows of office buildings and skyscrapers — dispersed without any pattern.
Many years later, I moved about 30 miles outside of the city to Connecticut. My neighborhood was far from a dark, wooded place, but any place is after New York City. I was able to see a lot more stars than I ever had before. My husband would point out constellations that he learned as a kid.
Did I see Orion? With three stars for the belt, legs and outstretched arms. The big and little dipper. I couldn’t see them after staring up from fields and looking out the window on long drives, using constellation plotting apps, or compasses on my phone pointing north and south.
Recently, we were walking at night together and I looked up at the apparently rare Christmas full moon. It might have washed out the stars around it, but all of a sudden I noticed a line of three stars. Orion’s Belt!
I had that wonderful feeling of learning something new. Someone else pointed out the stars to me a few weeks later, and I nodded. I know what’s up there. I can see the three stars that make the belt, the head and the arms outstretched. I know exactly where they are after staring up so many times.
What makes you, you?
People tend to compare themselves to others at different stages of their lives. Sometimes these comparisons can help us set goals and find confidence in our identity. You might have seen yourself in a parental figure or a celebrity. But have you ever felt like lion at heart or a graceful fish in the water? Has your soul felt as one with a leaf falling slowly from its tree in autumn or have you found yourself ingrained in the cobblestones of a city?
That’s the spirit of Paean to Place by Lorine Niedecker: We see ourselves in others, like family, and also in our surroundings. I read Niedecker’s work for the first time as a college freshman, and sometime during that class I copied some of my favorite lines into a notebook. Unfortunately after almost a decade after “discovering” this writer, I’ve never seen anyone share her work. You can read the entire poem here.
—————FishfowlfloodWater lily mudMy lifein the leaves and on waterMy mother and Ibornin swale and swamp and swornto waterMy fatherthru marsh fogsculled downfrom high groundsaw her face
Looking back to the past for help
“Paean to Place” centers around a woman who we learn several things about almost immediately. She was from an area constantly flooded by water. She grew up poor. Her parents are dead.
It is written in the past tense so I always read it as the narrator looking back at her life. She is not only remembering things, but recounting her story in order to accept who she is. I’m pretty sure of this as I get to the last stanza. Read it on your own and let me know if you agree.
So she’s a product of her surroundings? Yes, but more than that. She finds that herself and her parents can be described in reference to the water or the creatures living around it. Things that help her construct an identity and figure out what’s important.
Up in the sky and in the water, she was surrounded by birds that she knew by their official names: Plovers, sora rails, canvasbacks, woodcocks. She remembered all of their sounds (even wishing in one line, that her mother could hear them). At one point the girl considers herself a “solitary plover”. Like the marsh birds, she had a unique song and one outfit. She wore it as long as the birds kept their feathers. (Apparently seven years). But as much as the girl wants to be like them, ultimately it’s the wings that really set them apart. Her feathered neighbors had more freedom to leave the marsh in which they resided. This is pretty sad, given that within the first few stanzas she reveals her parents dreams: “that their daughter/ might go high/ on land/ to learn.Niedecker’s narrator does not have feathers but “a pencil/for a wing-bone.” Words are what carry her out of her difficult world. This is the line that really resonated with me. (Please leave your sarcastic gasps for the end of the show. I’m sure that other writers and lovers of words will feel the same.)
—————You with sea water runningin your veins sit down in waterExpect the long-stemmed bluespeedwell to renewitselfIt seems that the girl, now a woman, left her home in an effort to escape the water and the flooding. She’s different now. But when she returns to visit her parents’ graves, the narrator finds herself a part of it all again.Though she tried to be a bird and fly away, it’s not the wings that were missing. Her identity was shaped like the water lillies, irises and speedwells that spread around her. Ordinary flowers grew toward light and pleasant conditions, but these survived flooding and grow on top of graves. She had just grown roots in one place for so long, but that was okay.The water haunted her but it also renewed her, and gave her life.————–O my floating lifeDo not save lovefor thingsThrow thingsto the flood————–It’s not easy to figure out what defines us. For me, like in Niedecker’s poem, there’s always been a small battle going on to accept things that have shaped me for better or worse. Those things can feed us and help us grow instead of keeping us down.
So what would you say has shaped you? Is it something that holds you back or helps you forward?
Kurt Vonnegut was one of my favorite writers when I was in high school, so I trust his judgement on writing a little bit. The following tips are taken from the “Self-Assessment” section of the wiki on Kurt Vonnegut. In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
It continues: Vonnegut qualifies the list by adding that Flannery O’Connor broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that. Write onward!
You, who lets three coins strike the counter
because you are afraid to feel the dirt caked in the ridges,
are not ready for the large hands of the cashier.
- I write
consciously when water taps
to mark each sleepless momentwhen curtains can’t containthe flame of a full moonnor the glare of the street lamps.I writewhen impulse overwhelms sleepand verbs float in the airfighting for air spacewith bleating sheeptoo loud.One by one I shoot them down.
you test the edges with your foot
and find out how far you can tip-toe
around the flora before
you catch the fear
of falling and your tired shoes
over to the force of gravity so strong
you’re sure the laces will untie themselves
and like a boa constricting its prey
into the abyss, binding your body
to an uncharted route
in this space you find
the rhythm and the blues stormier weather
than you predicted
here the winds push you too close
to the end
“The Great Wave” by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai
The ocean’s waves pulse
pulse against my body.
The water is cold and unapologetic.
You sit on the sand and gaze
gaze at shells that might be treasure.
You are sure that they are gold.
I try to float
float over the waves and back to shore.
(I don’t know how to swim).With each move I sinksink under ages of salt.I’ll collect your oysters on the way down.You let the water carry
carry broken shells to your feet.The tide pulls me away.My voice is silence
silence when you finally notice the expanse.
- It was just a thought. One that struck me so hard, I felt it through my chest. So hard that it took my breath away.
The music wrapped around my throat like a snake, and its venom seeped into my ears. It was choking me and I couldn’t do a thing. My smile never faded and my body never stopped dancing. There was no plan, no escape, no reason.
I just came for the food.
Senior year of high school fills my mind with endless memories. Even though many years have gone by, there’s one week from that winter that still pinches my memory.
I was unlucky enough to catch a bad cold that winter. This particular week brought me back to class with a sore throat and barely able to raise my voice above a whisper. Although a temporary loss, I was extremely annoyed. My best friend served as a mind-reader/translator of hand signals. It really felt like the end of the world at the time. There were too many things to express, and so many events to discuss.
This was a class in which I regularly voiced my opinions and debated with classmates. I had always been very shy — embarrassed to share my thoughts or even speak in public. So in a class that was just a midday burden for some, I was building my self up. I’ve been trying to express that for some time.
I’m still working on self-image, confidence and the like. I try to motivate myself and to not be overwhelmed by someone else’s standards. Sometimes it’s hard for me to be confident about my own ideas.
I know that it’s something I’ll always have to work on. Every moment I pass up or choose to act adds to my voice. Not making a decision or taking an opportunity is definitely a choice.
Obviously the world is not simple. Having a voice does not ensure that you will be heard, but the search and the strength that results is what shapes who you are.
I discovered this quote from Melinda Gates some time ago:“A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult. It’s complicated by the fact that in most nations women receive substantially less education than men.”
It’s been bouncing around in my brain for a while now. I am a young woman, not that far out of my “teens”. I move between proudly flaunting my resume of life-experience and actively hiding from it. My life has changed in so many ways in the past year couple of years, yet there are also many things that have remained the same.
We who write, paint, draw, dance, speak take pride in creating “art”.
Creation implies something new, but maybe it’s only a novel way of saying the familiar, perceiving the norm. You grow something beautiful out of the ground we walk on everyday; create a masterpiece out of the air that one breathes.
How often do we acknowledge the structures that existed before you attempted to plant the seeds. The formation of thoughts that could only come out because of precisely shaped lips or from words that were said before your time on the earth.
I am not referring to some god or grand design, but simply nature. Anything and everything that had a beginning has something else to thank.
Sometimes when I start believing that nothing I can say or do is truly new, it can be a bit depressing (sorry)! It’s like reading the news and knowing that the front page will always be a tearjerker.
So what’s my point? If you don’t see yourself as an artist, you should. Just because you didn’t think it first, say it first or create it in paint, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add on.
Maybe you don’t feel like you have a purpose yet, or perhaps you feel trapped by a history or life that you were born into. Take a moment to picture yourself as the Picasso of the age, painting layers on layers of paint. You wait for each to dry and repaint when you decide that it doesn’t suit your taste. Some years later, an amateur painter will come and scrape your paint away and try to find the original layers.
That’s how I think life works. I don’t believe that anyone can come into the world and not leave a mark… or perhaps, that everyone should aim to.