A Beginner’s Guide to Poetry, 21st Century Edition

My college professors, as is expected, knew their stuff. They had areas of specialities, and in the English department, this meant people and time periods. I expanded my knowledge of poetry and poets by taking classes like “Forms of Poetry,” “African American Poetry,” and “Recent American Poetry.” I haven’t become an expert in poetry–that’s not what my English degree means. Instead, I know more about things I don’t know.

In hopes of bringing everyday people out of the darkness of not knowing poetry, I have compiled a list of 7 types of poetry everyone should know exist. These could come in handy.

1. Free Verse

This is a point of resistance for young children, who are confronted with the idea that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. Free verse is about breaking structure: down with meter, down with rhyme scheme, and down with form. Free verse follows the internal rhythm of the poet.

I Hear America Singing” – of patriarchy, but with rhythm, Walt Whitman

Still I Rise” – a celebration of self and perseverance, the Maya Angelou way

Home Wrecker” – memory, love, and family from contemporary poet, Ocean Vuong

2. Form

Sometimes called fixed form, these type of poems follow a structure, contrary to free verse. The structure can be small or big: a poem written without one or two letters from the alphabet, the lipogram; a poem using 14 lines, rhyme scheme, and iambic pentameter, the sonnet; a poem that repeats lines or words in calculated places like the pantoum, villanelle, and sestina.

My Brother at 3 A.M.” – a pantoum about addiction by Natalie Diaz

Mad Girl’s Love Song” – a villanelle about nothing other than mad love by Sylvia Plath

When I consider how my light is spent” – or Sonnet 19 on life and faith, John Milton

3. Experimental

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This category could easily be broken into subcategories to include the kind of art redefining poetry: composing a new poem using math formulas to replace words in an old poem, cutting out words from random places to create a collaged masterpiece, erasing words in a book to leave behind poetic lines. Experimental poetry is all about experimenting with words in new ways.

The Lady” – a quick little something about death, Guillaume Apollinaire

Sonnet III” – a collaged sonnet, Ted Berrigan

a leaf falls” – an initially illegible poem, e.e. cummings

4. Prose

Prose is text without lines. Novels. Short stories. News articles. Poetry uses what’s commonly known as a line or a verse. Prose poetry is what happens when poetic elements enter the prose genre. Of course, this blurs the lines of prose and poetry, and that’s just what prose poetry aims to do. Test the borders.

The Objectified Mermaid” – a mermaid tells us about the modeling industry, Matthea Harvey

Girl” – a short story about growing up girl, Jamaica Kincaid

The Prose Poem” – a poem about the landscape of the prose poem, Campbell McGrath

5. Visual

Through space on the page, photograph or cut outs, or rearranged words, visual poetry reminds us that poetry is an art.

haiku #62” – a collage mimicking the haiku form, Scott Helmes

Silence” – repetition with a message, Eugen Gomringer

Women” – a protesting and moving poem, May Swenson

6. Spoken word

Spoken word feels relatively new, but it’s only been made more accessible through video sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. In the past, spoken word existed in the confines and ephemeral moment of the poetry cafe. A blending of performance, musicality, and poetry, spoken word is memorized by the poet(s) and performed instead of recited. This could mean the use of accompanying music, a short film, or the presence of a finger-snapping and encouraging audience.

When Love Arrives” – a duo about patience and love, by not-a-couple Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye

Love Drought” – poet Warsan Shire’s verse sprinkled over Beyoncé’s Lemonade (2016) album

The Last Poem I’ll Ever Write” – not the last, bless their soul, a touching piece, Andrea Gibson

7. Micro-poetry

Poetry meets the internet age, from 140-character tweets to Instagram’s short verse. Micro-poetry is just that, poetry that hits the stomach or lungs with a quick punch. Instagram in particular has rejuvenized the poetry world and resurfaced the typewriter. This kind of poetry is practiced by anyone from skilled poets like Rudy Francisco or Rupi Kaur to your average Jane.

Hey, World: I Am Immigrant and I Graduated College

In the spring of 2012, I unpacked bags and sat on a bed I shared with my mother, a bed inside a room rented through a former friend in the Falls Church area. I had returned from my first year at a small liberal arts school, Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. I had returned to stay, with fears of having reached the end of my college years.

Months back, I had sat with my school’s financial aid officer to discuss my financial standing and immigrant status.

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2013 protest. Photo by Claudia Rojas.

Did I have a visa? No, I didn’t. What I had was a work-permit granted to Temporary Protected Status holders, people who enter the country illegally, but who are protected by the U.S. because they did so to escape from natural disaster and war. There were little hopes of attending a school with an annual $45k tuition.

I was slow to understand my scholarship search yielded no results because of my immigrant status. Whether I was a permanent resident or citizen, of which I was neither, was not something I thought about as a child.

I didn’t come into college aware I was in a financial mess; Simon’s Rock was a college for youth with ambition. I was accepted into the 2011 class with a 4.0 high school GPA and without a high school diploma. I wouldn’t need a high school diploma; I would graduate from the college and receive a Bachelor’s Degree. My plan, however, didn’t calculate my naivete about American systems.

While most immigrant students learn and come to understand their status by junior and senior year, when they meet with counselors to discuss their future, or lack of future, I didn’t have those years. I started Simon’s Rock after I had finished sophomore year.

I was impatient and eager. I had filled out paperwork on my own. My counselors and teachers were either too excited or impressed by my goals to ask me the real questions: What do you know about the college application process? What do you know about finance?

After my conversation with the financial aid officer, I spent months in distress. I had to come to terms with the idea that the world wasn’t at the palm of my hands.

Instead, I was at the mercy of my immigrant status.

On August 10th, 2012, the day I turned 18 years old, I took the GED exam. I ranked in the 99th percentile rank in the Language Arts Reading and Writing portions. I made a return visit to Northern Virginia Community College, and was finally allowed to enroll.

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Math at NOVA. Photo: Claudia Rojas

I spent many unhappy classroom hours at NOVA, but I also discovered that my assumptions about community college were unfounded. In the eyes of these college students, I saw perseverance and dreams. I saw potential, saw hope for myself. In 2013, I began a short-lived experiment with social justice, taking part and promoting immigrant protests in Washington, DC.

Before long, I was wishing to stay longer at NOVA. The year I transferred to George Mason University–after Smith College and Georgetown University had rejected my application–I was hopeless.

I had no scholarships. I lived half an hour away from campus. I had to take on a part-time student load. I had tuition bills to cover on my own, after my first year at college drained my mother’s energy and finances.

I hated the struggle my future had become.

It was 2014 and I felt incapable of finishing college. I was working and studying, and maybe I was amounting to nowhere. In the middle of tears, I contemplated dropping out; this on more than one occasion. In the spring of 2016, George Mason University awarded me with a Stay Mason Fund scholarship. I had earned it not because of my academic record, but because I was on the verge of economic despair.

I was fortunate (or misfortunate) enough to have the scholarship renewed for my final year at Mason. There were many difficult moments.

This spring, I was in a car accident–another car ran straight into traffic and hit my car. On that February day, I spent several hours not worried about my health, but about what the insurance agent had said, if a totaled, the car couldn’t be fixed. A day later, it was declared totaled.

IMG_0100.JPGI didn’t know how I would manage school, except that things have a way of working out. Through Uber, Lyft, metro, bus, friends’ cars, and wandering feet, I did it. In spite of my low spirits, in spite of the new presidential administration, I made it.

This past May, I graduated with a Bachelor’s in English. Para mami / For mother: for all the years spent in uncertainty and doubt about the college dream.

I write this to remind myself of the journey. I write this to remind myself that the struggle is not over.

This is to remind myself that I am still immigrant, but that I am strong.

1,000 miles: step 80

2017 is here, 2017 is here. I have welcomed it with reading, pleasure reading. It’s amazing how much poetry and fiction I can take when I’m not writing weekly papers or poems. I will not think about politics right now, will not mourn over the possible setbacks of a Trump term for the immigrant student, for the woman, for the lover.

2017 is a reading year. This spring semester, I’m reading twelve poetry books for one class alone. I plan on reading more Spanish poetry, now that I have an adequate appreciation of the Spanish poetry tradition.

I also want 2017 to be the year I place my foot in the publishing world’s door. In 2016, I started submitting my work to online literary magazines and journals. There were rejections–actually, the rejections are still coming in. There were minor successes, enough to keep going. The literary world must know my name, my story.

With the goal of sharing stories with a greater audience, I can now be found on Instagram, @claudiapoet. While the poetry on Instagram is not always refined, it’s giving poetry a home in this social age. Another place to share with the world the preoccupations of my poet heart.

Onward, 2017.

Panoramic view of Georgetown

Panoramic view of Georgetown

1,000 miles: step 79

The fall semester is now over.

I have submitted “finals,” known as projects to the English major. Grades are coming in. I have gaps of time–yes, time. It has all gone by so fast.  This semester I made a savvy choice, and I took all poetry classes: a small-sized workshop, a course taught in Spanish, and a course covering African American poetry from the 50s and beyond. I’m grateful for the semester; I gained exposure to an unbelievable range of poets and interesting perspectives from classmates.

At school, I ate a waffle in the library, learned a little salsa, attended a few open mics, carved a pumpkin, and started a gym routine. I didn’t plan some of these things; they just worked themselves out. I also attended two literary festivals in September: the Library of Congress National Book Festival in DC and Fall for the Book events on campus. In November, I spent three hours at the African American History and Culture Museum. Time spent well, all in all.

In the spring, I’m once again taking poetry classes. I want my final days as an undergrad to be full of poetry. When I think of the future, it is still scary, but I’m more willingly to get there.

2016 has been good to me. There have been bad days. I’m not going to lie: I spent post-election day crying–mourning to be precise. This week wasn’t entirely good either. Tuesday night I was upset with news of Aleppo. Wednesday morning I woke up further into sadness with this tweet still in my mind:

And it is because today I am alive, and yesterday I was alive, that I am thinking of everything–support, laughter, art, growth– that 2016 has offered me.

Thank you, world.

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1,000 miles: step 78

Alright. Reader, I’ll let you know what I did last summer, this past summer in fact. It’s called summer camp.

I don’t believe I’ve ever had a summer like this one. It was fun and jarring every day. I have some experience with kids at the middle school classroom level, so I know that any day with kids is a recipe for an unordinary day. At camp, the odds of a hectic day are increased. Never have I ever seen so many boo-boos and running feet or heard so many laughing and shouting mouths. Imagine doing this full-time for three months. Now, see, summer camp is for the strong at heart!

The Summer Camp Experience: whoo. ah ahhhh.

I turned 22 years old at camp, too. I can’t wrap my head around that.

I picked up some new skills, and that is always a plus in my book. I can now finger-knit and sew on a machine. I can also program a moose to move–he has to be on an iPad though. I can assemble a robot and cardboard furniture. I can help resolve an argument between friends. I can dance! (Ok ok, so that last one’s quite not true, but I can dance with slightly more rhythm.)

1,000 miles: step 77

Dear reader, I’m still here.

My summer is concluding–next Monday is yet another college term, with the happy knowledge that I’m ever SO close to graduating. I keep telling myself that but 2017 is my year.

These past weeks, I’ve been writing less, reading less, which is not how my summer started. But who can write when there’s a summer camp experience to be lived and had? More on that to come.

For now, I want to leave you with scraps of poems I’ve been working on which are available through Prose.com:

Poem for the Body

&

Royalty

xo,

Claudia

 

1,000 miles: step 76

Lately, I’ve had to slow down.

The spring semester is over.  I knew a couple of the graduating seniors–thanks to (a short-lived) student writing adventure, so this was the first semester that I paid attention to graduations. Next year is also my graduating year. I started college fall 2011. Twists and turns have pushed me to George Mason, and I finally feel like it’s where I belong.

These days, I’m a lot more content, particularly when I ignore politics. I’ve had the chance to dig into reading, a hungry kind of reading that keeps me still for hours. Last week, I took a CPR and First Aid training course because why not. Summertime means possibilities.

Stay tuned–

Hey, Poet: World Poetry Day Awareness

March 21st marks the 16th anniversary of World Poetry Day. First observed in 2000, World Poetry Day is an initiative taken by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to celebrate poetry as an art form and a cultural phenomena.

If you’re thinking poetry isn’t your thing or it’s a waste of time, I have a few words for you: you are a poem and poetry pays.

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Julius Meinl Coffee‘s 2016 Pay With a Poem Poster

Julius Meinl, a global coffee and tea provider based in Europe, started celebrating World Poetry Day last year by using poems as currency, and this year, Pay With a Poem will be observed in over 1,000 locations across 30 countries. Currently, two U.S. cities located in Florida and Illinois are on Pay With a Poem’s location finder, though if you happen to be around Italy, Austria, Romania, or Germany, expect several coffee shops to hand you free coffee in exchange for your handwritten poem.

Dear America,

let’s start loving us some poetry and getting ourselves some free coffee. Doesn’t this Pay With a Poem promotional video make the smell of coffee ciruclate your nose and the sound of poetry kiss your ears?

Robert Frost says it best when he says “A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love sickness.” Poetry can dig a nest into our hearts, but it’s often treated as a second class literary form in school curriculums. When poetry is taught in high school, it’s the type of poetry that makes people cringe. Those epically long poems, those tritely rhymed and metered sonnets, and those exceptionally esoteric word choices have some people fed up with poetry when we should actually be engaging with poems.

"Journal Entry"

Journal Entry” Joel Montes de Oca CC BY-SA 2.0

Everyone has a different taste, but there is a poem waiting for all of us. Whether you need therapy, a laugh, a dose of politics, or a mental workout, poems have you covered.

Here are 14 poems that will have you rethink the meaning and medium of poetry:

1. [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] by e. e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

2. Story XI. The Lion who Hunted with the Wolf and the Fox by Jelal al-Din Rumi, translated from the Persian

A lion took a wolf and a fox with him on a hunting excursion,
and succeeded in catching a wild ox, an ibex, and a hare. He

3. For Jane: With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough: by Charles Bukowski

I pick up the skirt,
I pick up the sparkling beads

4. Scars/To the New Boyfriend by Rudy Francisco

5. Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real? by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

If by real you mean as real as a shark tooth stuck
in your heel, the wetness of a finished lollipop stick,

6. The Ballad Of The Landlord by Langston Hughes

Landlord, landlord,
My roof has sprung a leak.

7. Accents by Denice Frohman

8. wishes for sons by Lucille Clifton

i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town

9. Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation by Natalie Diaz

Angels don’t come to the reservation.
Bats, maybe, or owls, boxy mottled things.

10. A Letter to My Dog, Exploring the Human Condition by Andrea Gibson

11. This Room and Everything in It by Li-Young Lee

Lie still now
while I prepare for my future,

12. I Stink by Roque Dalton, translated from the Spanish

I smell like the colour of mourning on those days
when flowers wilt due to their price

13. The Beloved by Paul Celan, translated from the German

She is standing on my eyelids
And her hair is wound in mine,

14. Buffet Etiquette by Hieu Minh Nguyen

Photo by Tyler Menezes CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo by Tyler Menezes CC BY-SA 2.0

Start small this World Poetry Day by sharing a poem or go big and campaign for a poet’s freedom of speech. Poetry can be dangerous: poets around the world are threatened and silenced for writing poems deemed too political or blasphemous.

Take over social media or write letters on behalf of poets like Ashraf Fayadh, who was almost sentenced to death in 2015 for sharing his poetry in Saudi Arabia. Find other dissident poets on Pen.org and help save a poet.

Need more time to find the rhythm of the poetry that runs through your blood, the lovely pump in your heart, the gentle wind chimes in your laughter, and the captivating hold of your stare?

April marks the 20th celebration of National Poetry Month in the U.S. Find your inner word genius and get to celebrating.

 

1,000 miles: step 75

Line for Hillary Clinton's Rally an Hour Before She Speaks

Line for Hillary Clinton’s Rally an Hour Before She Speaks

I find primaries and elections emotionally difficult. I find a lot of things emotional, okay?

But here’s why: I’ve been 18 and up for three years now but I can’t vote. Voting is another of those reminders of what privileges I don’t have because I’m still an immigrant.

I hate conversations in election years because when people ask me, “so, who are you voting for?” I feel naked: I don’t vote, and I hate saying those words. It’s like saying, I’m irrelevant. I don’t have a say in this country. I don’t have a say in a country that I’ve lived for 14 years now. 14 years.

This infuriates me because there are some people who can vote, but don’t register. Every vote matters because an un-cast vote is a silenced voice.

Today, when Hillary Clinton came to speak at my school, I was proud. Women in America have held the right to vote for almost a century, and they started running for presidency since 1872. I like that Ms. Clinton hasn’t given up in her campaign for presidency. That’s the mark of a strong leader. Don’t get me wrong, Senator Sanders’ got a fighting spirit too. The race is often tied between the two in the Democratic party, and that’s why every vote matters. People make a difference.

My next goal in life is to become documented. Rather than be a temporary protected citizen, I want to be a permanent resident. I’m not going big. I take what life gives me, but I will always want more.

I don’t hold financial aid in college, and I’m not going to downplay my need. There have been days when my mother could barely meet the rent, when a grocery trip was hell, and when I just plain wanted to quit. Coming into George Mason was tough. I knew I wasn’t going to be a full-time student. I knew I was going to have divide my time between work and school. I knew there would be days, and maybe weeks, where I didn’t want a college degree.

I just didn’t know how hard those days would be.

I’ve worked hard for the few scholarships I managed to find, and I’m so close to graduating with a Bachelor’s. I’ll go mad if I go into graduate school without the privilege of economic help that I deserve in every way.

Voting season gets me infuriated, and sometimes, that what a person who’s accepted her situation needs. Anger makes you crave a solution. I will find one.

1,000 miles: step 74

Friday morning found me wondering if kids should’ve gone to school. By evening, I started to believe.

The East Coast is covered in snow and Jonas just keeps going. Yesterday, I cancelled my in-home students and made the best call. Driving is not an option with the wind and feet of snow. My Honda Civic is actually turning into a Honda Hidden:

imageMy professors have long been anticipating that we’ll miss class time. This snow may well wait until spring to melt. I’ll need to pull out my boots from when I was in Great Barrington, MA–those boots’ time have come and they were made for walking.

So, 2016 is sure a bundle of surprises!

I have had my own personal surprises. The first week of January, I received a scholarship from Mason that covered nearly all my tuition expenses for the semester. This was beautiful. This will be the first time since I started college that I won’t have money dead-lines teasing me.

Another small surprise is that I’ll be writing for Mason’s student-run online newspaper, The Rival. My first post hit the Internet on January 20th. It was also my first movie review, and though I’m no critic, I really got into the review. I didn’t even go to the theater with the intention of writing about the film. Writing teaches you how to process visual stimuli! Writing is rewarding, but even as an English major, I don’t do enough.

At 21 years, I have no excuse not to write. I have a store full of memories and life in progress.