In this day and age, poetic form gets a bad rap. Somewhere along the line, free verse poems became considered modern poetry, and everything else kind of fell by the literary wayside. Sonnets are for Shakespeare, rhymes are for kids, and when was the last time anyone cared about a trochee, anyway?
Free verse poems are great, but I’ve always been drawn to fixed form poetry. So today, I thought I’d share one of my favorite forms with you. (Yes, hello, it’s me: the annoying girl in your English class who raises her hand to talk about the significance of enjambment).
Here, have a villanelle done by a master. This is “Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath:
"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)"
Haunting, right? Part of the reason this poem works so well is its form. See the way she repeats some of the lines throughout the poem? This is traditionally represented as:
A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2
A1 and A2 are those repeated lines. Lower-case a and b are for rhyme scheme. Her “a” lines rhyme on “dead, head, red” and her “b” lines on “again, in, men”. This interlocking of rhyme scheme and repetition makes a villanelle easy to spot.
Other examples of villanelles you may know include “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas and “If I Could Tell You” by W. H. Auden.
Forms make you think about words in a different way. When you have limited mobility in one dimension, you have to get creative with the others. In the case of the villanelle, what’s limited is how many different lines and rhymes you have to work with. What’s not limited? Subject matter, meter, voice...the list goes on. Using forms is a great writing exercise because it forces you outside your comfort zone.
Here’s a challenge for you: try writing a villanelle. Plath wrote “Mad Girl’s Love Song” in college, after all, so why not give it a go? It doesn’t have to be your favorite thing you’ve ever written, but I guarantee you’ll be surprised by what you come up with.
Written by Megan G.
Sometimes, artists and writers are told that the way to make our leisure activities legitimate is to turn them into work. In order to become a real writer, the saying goes, you have to write every day. I wholeheartedly hold this to be true, but it’s more engrained than that. When people tell me I’m “talented,” I tend to quip that the only talent I have is the ability to want to write every day, and the discipline, built up over many years, to actually do so. The hunger to be writing, as acute and disastrous as my caffeine addiction, is my biggest asset. I am a real writer not because I treat it like work, but because I genuinely feel more psychologically secure and content when I have spent time writing. My leisure has the consistency of work, which is why other people accept it as legitimate.
Yet there is the looming opposition, the force of finances. While we artists are told to convert our leisure into work, we are also told to discard it, and turn what has become our work into mere leisure. “You should be an Economics major, and get a career in consulting,” as it were, “because you can still do art on the side.” Or, to be more blatant, “You should focus on getting a job and find time to write on the side.” This mantra of on the side, on the side, delegitimizes the claim that art of all mediums is done well when it has become work. Art, in this on the side view, maintains that you can be good at art, and enjoy art, in a minimal timeframe. That if you are truly talented, you can make it work. This notion that art should be a hobby, or a pastime, kind of strips the ability for writers and artists of all types to prioritize the very thing they want to do. And as a result, it becomes that much more difficult to turn on the side, this leisure project, into work, which is a necessary step of improvement and enjoyment.
So: in order to get good at an art form, you have to turn it into work; in order to turn your art form into work, you have to acquire time. In order to acquire time, you have to turn your art form into leisure (to make money). We’re facing a bit of a crisis.
Still, there are some ways to adjust to this crisis-type time frame, strategies for attacking this sort of reality. This is why I’m actually a big fan of things like Inktober, NaNoWriMo, and the accompanying NaPoWriMo, programs that gather writers and artists and poets and create a schedule of accountability for turning leisure into work. You can’t participate in one of these three sort of activities (or any other sort) and expect amazing work out of them. All the same, these programs take time out of the equation when it comes to developing habits. Inktober, for instance, requires one piece a day. Why stop in the month of October? And if a piece a day means the pieces aren’t very good, well, you’ve still gotten in the habit of carving out a slice of time, so keep that time alive.
It’s not quite a perfect solution – we still all must face the gripping questions of financial stability, and the markets aren’t shifting in the direction of elevating all artists to financial glory any time soon. Still, the way to adjusting with any scenario is to put tools in your tool kit. Establishing long-term discipline and habits is a harder task than it seems, and it doesn’t seem as enticing as the possibility that one day, you’ll wake up and be able to write/paint/draw/whatever the next cultural touchstone of a generation. But the long-term strategy, in my opinion, is the way to stay highly aware of the way art is being relegated to the position of the fries that come with your hamburger, and to remind yourself – my art is work, too. I’m the kind of person that orders a hamburger just to eat fries anyways; at least until I can get to the point where I’m exclusively ordering fries.
Written by Erika S.
You can’t just put -tober at the end of everything during October, they said.
It’s the end of October, it’s too late to make another -tober a thing, they said.
There’s already too darn many -tobers, it’ll just be lame, they said.
But who cares what people say.
If you’re reading this, odds are you’re interested in getting and/or staying woke. And it’s a good bet you also like to read. So, dear reader, let me welcome you to… Stay-Woketober!
In honor of Stay-Woketober, the spookiest of -tobers and one I’m aware is not an original creation, I’ve compiled a list of books (and one podcast) that may get you a bit more woke—and they’ll be a nice, well-deserved break from midterms, too.
by Shailja Patel
Shailja Patel is a an internationally acclaimed performance artist and poet, and Migritude is her writing debut: a hybrid of historical narrative, intimate monologue, and powerful poetry, Migritude tells of Patel’s struggle as an Kenyan immigrant living in England who’s trying to connect to her roots while also developing her own identity. It’s a mind-bending read that breaks genres and interweaves stories about British colonialism, silk saris, and Patel’s childhood into a seamless, gorgeous narrative that offers a whole new perspective on culture and immigration.
2. A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
Set in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, Hosseini’s books focus on the strict gender roles and religious struggles of Afghans growing up in the war-torn streets of Kabul. The Kite Runner deals with masculinity and morality, while A Thousand Splendid Suns focuses on female empowerment and liberation in the midst of oppression. Both novels are powerfully written against the broader background of Afghan culture and history, and touch upon issues that remain relevant even today.
3. Conversations with People who Hate Me
A nonfiction podcast by Welcome to Night Vale’s queer activist and journalist extraordinaire, Dylan Marron, this show follows Marron as he contacts people who’ve posted hatefully about him online to try and get them to answer a simple question—why? From homophobes to racists, Marron takes you on his journeys to find the humans on the other side of the screen. With an equal focus on social justice and explaining the phenomenon of hate-speech, this podcast is a must-hear.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Brought back into the spotlight by the brilliant Hulu miniseries (and the election of a certain president), Atwood’s classic dystopian novel shows what happens when religious fervor, declining birth rates, and a now terrifyingly realistic authoritarian regime combine. Atwood’s sharp prose and captivating world-building keep you on the edge of your seat as you join Offred in the nightmare of having no civil, political, nor reproductive rights just for being a woman, and the silent acts of rebellion that ensue. Sound familiar?
That’s all for today, folks. Hope you enjoy, and if you do, pass it on. You never know who’s eyes you might end up opening. Happy Stay-Woketober! Read on, stay woke, and beware Gilead.
Written by Mariana N.
I first visited Rice in late February of this year for VISION. When I came back home, my twelfth grade British Literature class had just started reading Frankenstein as a part of what felt like a never-ending hellscape of Romantic literature (although in my opinion it was an improvement upon the preceding never-ending hellscape of Enlightenment literature). I had been anticipating the novel with visions of Boris Karloff in my head, but it continued to hold my interest through my sympathy for the creature. In my opinion, Frankenstein was the monster, and his creature was no more than an abandoned child. An eight foot tall child made up of cut-and-pasted corpses, but a child nonetheless. Who wouldn’t sympathize with the creature spurned by his creator who immediately recognized the abnormality in his creature; who wouldn’t want to reach out to the “poor wretch,” whose only family ran in horror when he revealed his true identity?
Well, a few people. I was told by my classmates that the creature revealing himself to the De Lacey’s as a coming-out allegory didn’t make sense, for a few reasons:
So I let it go. I finished the Romantic literature unit, I passed British Literature, I came to Rice. Frankenstein would have to be revisited at some indefinite point in the future, if at all. I chose the introductory English class taught by the same professor whose class I had visited at VISION, and eight months later, I’m reading Frankenstein again. It’s funny for a few reasons:
It’s almost unbelievable to me, considering my previous desperation to express my sympathy. I was once annoyed that my classmates didn’t agree with me, but now I’m grateful. Could you imagine, on top of the stress that comes with being a high school senior in the middle of your college applications, your classmates agreeing with you, seeing how you could sympathize with this creature, since you and this gigantic, shambling mess of rotting limbs have so much in common? Now, I’m grateful that I was made to wait to sympathize with a monster until the time of year when we all embrace the monsters inside of us.
Written by Anonymous
On the WWW trip to Ho Chi Minh, we stayed in this beautiful house on the river in the Mekong Delta for 3 days. It was a refreshing experience that gave me a newfound appreciation and respect for the “simple life.”
Living Simply in the Mekong Delta
Dawn breaks with the whir of the river boats and the rooster’s morning call, I open my eyes and, not wanting to use the outdoor restrooms, try to stall. The bright green leaves and breezy air strongly contrast,
with the lizard infested shanties that never fail to leave me aghast.
In the 21st century, where we have cellphones, artificial hearts, and indoor plumbing,
why are some places in the world forced to suffer from problems so numbing
like pollution, corruption, poverty, and disease?
I am astounded by how the people of Vinh Long live so simply with such ease.
However, their lives are also filled with joy and beauty.
They are one with nature, humble and focused on their duty.
The river is their everything,
it’s where they work, live, play, bathe, eat, learn, and sing.
Floating in a boat down the river, I was able to see:
a little girl bathing, having fun and carefree
a young man navigating a flatboat of his sole source of income, wheat, to the marketplace,
a mother washing dishes and ignoring us tourists who were invading her personal space.
I got to see a glimpse of their lives from inside a boat,
and although I don’t know much I can connote
that the Vietnamese culture is one of hard work, strong families, and good food.
I have learned from them that the best life is one lived simply off the Earth’s riches, such as seafood.
Poem by Sree Yeluri
In "I Interview Rice Students About Poetry", I, you guessed it, interview Rice students about poetry, that oft perplexing arrangement of words.
How would you define poetry?
Student 1: I guess poetry is the use of words to paint a picture of something?
Student 2: Poetry is for people who want to express a sentiment but don't have enough words to make it prose.
Student 3: Words?
How frequently do you read poetry?
Student 1: Never.
Student 2: (laughs) Every goddamn day.
Student 3: I don't really read poetry, but I used to watch a lot of spoken word shit.
Can you name any famous modern poets?
Student 1: Rupi...shit.
Student 2: Shel Silverstein.
Student 3: Modern poets? What do you mean by modern poets?
From the last 30-40 years.
Student 3: There's that one guy...Robert Frost. Oh, Dr. Seuss, Dr. Seuss!
What do you think poetry's role is as a creative or artistic genre?
Student 1: Its role is to allow people to express themselves in a way that they might find typical writing limits them.
Student 2: I think that it's good for expressing emotions, because sometimes you write too many words to where you lose the feeling you're going for. So I think that poetry is good for feelings. Like in the ambiguities, it lets people understand what you're trying to say.
Student 3: It's like an outlet for expression...I guess. I don't know, poetry's weird. It's like, you can literally make some grunts, and then title it 'Grunts', and that's a poem.
What's your least favorite poem?
Student 1: I pulled this up because I read it in sixth grade and I was really mad at poetry then because I thought it was really stupid.
The Red Wheelbarrow
By William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
And that's the whole poem! That makes me really angry.
Student 2: Also William Carlos Williams: I find this super funny because from what has been described to me about this poem, they just found it on his desk after he died, and
no one can figure out if it was an actual poem or just a note on his desk.
This Is Just To Say
By William Carlos Williams
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
What is something about poetry that confuses you?
Student 1: So you know when you're little and you learn that poems rhyme? And then you get to fifth grade and they stop rhyming. And that just like really threw me off.
Student 2: If you only keep reading Shel Silverstein, you never have that problem.
What makes a poem good?
Student 1: Not The Red Wheelbarrow poem.
It makes you feel something. I know that sounds really corny, but when I read Rupi Kaur, I'm like, holy shit, do I feel it. When I read Milk & Honey, I just like sat there and was like, this woman just put her whole life on display for everyone in the most beautiful way. And that's why I struggle with the genre of poetry because I feel that very few poems do actually make me feel the way her writing did.
Student 2: I really like the extremes to which you can go with poetry, which was kinda why I really liked Shel Silverstein. His poems are always weird, and I feel like people don't write enough weird poems.
Student 3: When it speaks to you. When a lot of people find that they can connect with it.
Written by Sanvitti S.
Inspired by The Adroit Journal’s We Ask Our Parents About Poetry.
In high school, I stumbled across a blog article called “Slow Practice for String Players.” In it, Hilary Hahn, an American violinist who performs around the world, explains not only that slow practice is important, but also what slow practice actually means.
While stringed instruments and pen/paper/keyboard are physically quite different from each other, I’ve been thinking about how slow practice might apply to writing—especially in midterm season. First, Hahn advises starting from the beginning: “play everything in slow motion.” Slow motion is what writing a first draft feels like to me. However, unlike Hahn, I don’t choose to write it that way.
The next step is to play the notes slowly, but include shifts, note changes, and string crossings at normal speed. She calls this the ability to play slowly but “move between” at tempo. It seems like checking the gears and making sure they function. Or moving with the flow of ideas, to make sure they’re communicated clearly (or hopefully clearly enough).
She adds that body position cannot be overlooked. Posture isn’t only for dancers or finishing school pupils. I can’t help but think of this literally, but I also feel that this aspect of slow string practice can be translated in writing as balance, perspective, knowing when to go for run around the outer loop before coming back for a second foray into tangled sentences.
Her last tip, which she calls “icing on the cake” is paying attention to phrasing and musicality. She writes, “My teachers taught me that technical prowess and musicality are inextricably connected.” One of my professors recently said to honor your own fascination as a writer. In slow practice for writers, I see these two ideas as intertwined. Just as I love to play music musically, I love to write what I love to read. This might be the icing on the cake, but we all know a cake wouldn’t be much of a cake without its icing (at least for a cupcake).
Although the analogy between slow practice for writers and string players isn’t perfect, thinking about sentences and paragraphs like notes and phrases reminds me that, in many ways, academic writing is art. Maybe it’s a good thing that writing first drafts come slowly. Maybe revision, like practice, can be creative in itself.
Here’s Hilary Hahn’s original article: http://hilaryhahn.com/2004/01/slow-practice-for-string-players/
Her other articles under “favorites” also include “How to Pass Time Alone in a Hotel Room,” “Things to Watch in an Orchestra Concert,” and how to make a costume for your instrument when you’re bored.
Written by Sarah W.
It’s fall! At least according to the calendar. But since your midterm recess just ended and you have to the stifling humidity and heat of Houston, here are some literary quotes about autumn to hopefully get you in that fall spirit. Even if it is still 90 degrees outside.
“November — with uncanny witchery in its changed trees. With murky red sunsets flaming in smoky crimson behind the westering hills. With dear days when the austere woods were beautiful and gracious in a dignified serenity of folded hands and closed eyes — days full of a fine, pale sunshine that sifted through the late, leafless gold of the juniper-trees and glimmered among the grey beeches, lighting up evergreen banks of moss and washing the colonnades of the pines.”
-L.M Montgomery, The Blue Castle
"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."
“There is something incredibly nostalgic and significant about the annual cascade of autumn leaves.”
-Joe L. Wheeler
“Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.”
-Lauren DeStefano, Wither
“I was drinking in the surroundings: air so crisp you could snap it with your fingers and greens in every lush shade imaginable offset by autumnal flashes of red and yellow.”
-Wendy Delsol, Stork
“It looked like the world was covered in a cobbler crust of brown sugar and cinnamon.”
-Sarah Addison Allen, First Frost
“Autumn...the year's last, loveliest smile."
-John Howard Bryant, Indian Summer
Hopefully these quotes have put you into an autumnal bliss. Just make sure you don’t walk outside.
Quotes amassed from Bustle.com, The Odyssey Online, Goodreads.com, and my brain.
Written by Joshua A.
Important announcement! The "Monthly Contest" page of our website (one of the tabs above) has been updated for September 2017's winners. There were incredible entries this month, and we're excited to share the winning pieces with you. They are:
All photos from The Station Museum of Contemporary Art website. Torture by Andres Serrano is on display through October 8th. Admission is free.
From the outside, the Station doesn’t call to you, it doesn’t welcome you—it stands there and it waits.
And when it’s done waiting, inside it’s almost just like any other gallery; light, polished wood and white walls, bouncing spotlights and the echoes of words spoken inside off of each other. But these walls move, because this space is about the art, first and foremost, and so with every new exhibit they are torn down and rebuilt to accommodate the incoming work. And so, it is also different from any gallery you’ve ever seen.
1502, on the Corner of Alabama and La Branch. This is the Station Museum of Contemporary Art.
It stands as a small warehouse in Houston’s Third Ward, where the roads are at least three different colors of repaved asphalt, and the number of wires crossing from post to post above them feels a little claustrophobic. It’s the kind of place where it feels like the sky should always be gray, because anything else just wouldn’t make sense. Just like the wire metal mosque and worn out billboard in front of it don’t really make sense, at first. But it is all there—inside and outside its walls—for a reason, and every piece of art has something to say.
Currently these walls hold Torture, a controversial photography exhibit by Andres Serrano, in which a combination of staged photographs, portraits, and still life shots displayed in massive prints reveal to us a dark and convoluted narrative of torture in the modern world. It is, by no accident, a political, active, and incendiary work.
As told in the exhibit’s introductory literature, Torture was born in the walls of The Foundry, an obscure experimental space in a commune of southwest France. To produce his staged images, Serrano hired models who allowed him to submit them to shackling, humiliation, and “degrading positions” with the help of military personnel, thus blurring the line between staging and reality, asking How much is too much?
And there is a whole other level of contextualization to this narrative—a powerful statement in the inclusion of images of real torture survivors, historical torture sites, and portraits of political figures with links to torture controversies. Indeed, like Serrano himself, the Station Museum is no stranger to controversy. It is not their goal to seek it out, but they will not run anywhere but towards their pursuit of creative and expressive freedom. Their mission is indicative of this, undoubtedly proud:
“The Station Museum upholds the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. The museum is an activist institution supporting civil society issues as well as artists who engage in social, political, aesthetic, economic, and/or spiritual content and expressions.”
Serrano’s Torture arguably occupies all of these adjectives. To see his work is to feel and to think somewhere dark—to find discomfort in something beautiful, so that we walk through it and around it, and most importantly, so that we cannot ignore it.
Wandering through the exhibit on a class field trip a few weeks ago, I felt the overwhelming presence of a narrative that needed to be told, and was able to do exactly that inside of those frames and on those walls. My body and the bodies of these photographs shared the same space, and, maybe only by some long stretch of my imagination, I felt that my body and the bodies of the individual people suspended in those photographs shared the same space.We shared stories without words, and they told me something I didn’t know before.
And so I think there is something to be said for space, for how Torture’s current residence in The Station Museum is a marriage of art and place united towards a common goal. Just as much as the space means nothing without the art, the art is arguably nothing without its walls. Whether it is in this place or another a thousand miles away, the art does not, in the end, exist to its full extent without this physicality. Without a place to hold the viewer, there cannot be a viewer, and without them, does anyone ever hear what the artist is saying?
I can’t help but think back to our own art community at Rice, and about how our lack of student art spaces is nothing short of an insult. It is another voice, an administrative one that says, Your art will not exist because we do not want to hear it. But we, the students, do. And we will. Just like at the Station Museum, there are places—places hidden from view, that need us to find them—where the walls are shifting and ready to be filled. These conversations are just beginning.
For now, I find comfort in this: there are places out there that don’t sell themselves to us, but that does not mean we cannot find them. Spaces where narratives are unfolding at a million miles per hour—where art is coming into contact with the world outside, kicking and screaming. Where it comes into contact with you, to kick and scream at you until you hear what it has to say. Where art and artist and viewer share a space and say We want to feel, and talk, and think about this, whatever this is. Where we are not passive.
These spaces are close to you. Find them. Make them.
Written by Ana Paula P.
I share my body with an angel / of light who sunbursts / on my horizons at dusk
- Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton