Top 13 Scary Moments: Claudiapoet’s Edition

In the spirit of Halloween, I want to share some moments that have scared me in different degrees, but scared me for sure. Are they all spooky? You have to read on and find out! Go on, see whether any make you scream or scram.

Some of these moments are small fears–you may even say silly. Other moments have roots I cannot begin to tell you.

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13. The Storm and Thunder 

The way the trees toss and turn outside my window scare me. Thunder has such a loud boom that I find hard to ignore. My least favorite time out in the roads is during the slightest clap of thunder.

12. Alarms 

Any sudden or new beeping sound to me makes me jump a little. Alarms, fire alarms or sirens, make me uneasy. I’m just not a big fan of loud noises.

11. Being Late 

Whether it’s a job, a class, or an event, I like showing up when I say I’ll be there. I’m habitually on time to things. I leave up to half an hour to an hour early when I’m going somewhere new. If I’m late somewhere, I imagine people looking at the clock and frowning or scowling. All this drama build ups in my head.

10. Rejection Letters

Submitting poems to journals and magazines is easy. Hearing back from them is not; it’s scary because sometimes it doesn’t happen. Whenever I hear back from a submission, if the subject line or opening line lacks a “congratulations,” my heart sinks.

9. Dialing Strangers, Especially Representatives 

The act itself is not scary, but there’s still times where I have to pep talk myself into making a call, or when I have to write out my message before I can speak it. Maybe the digital age has spoiled me. Maybe it’s one of the downers of being an introvert. Maybe it’s being in a woman of color body. 

I wrote a poem about one of these scary calls. It was to ask my congressman about Syria and its raped women. I stifled tears throughout the whole ordeal, which was particularly hard as the staffer explained there wasn’t anything to be done. 

If you, reader, don’t have this fear, I encourage you to make a call to support and demand action for the Dream Act–it’s a quick call, actually. This matters to me not because I am a DACA recipient, but because I know their pains and fears.

8. Encounters with Many-legged Insects 

Enough said. I don’t want them near. Yes, I know caterpillars grow up to be butterflies. 

7. Lock-downs with Middle Schoolers

When I worked in a middle school classroom as a tutor, there would be times when a crime had happened near enough the school to put the school on lockdown. This often meant that the classroom had to go quiet, which isn’t easy in a roomful of squirmy bodies. The tension of the moment was something similar to that Halloween movie where you’re screaming at the girl, “don’t go in there!”

The children made it, but I know that some days, some school does lose a child–to gun violence or to bullying.

6. Transferring to a 4 Year College 

It was actually the commute that terrified me. And then the financial expenses. I figured George Mason University would be my last stop in my journey to earn a college degree. I figured I wouldn’t graduate… but I did in May 2017.

5. Car Rides with Speedy Drivers 

Will we survive? Is there a police behind us? Hey, are you seeing that stop sign? Slow down. I want to live.

4. Post-Election Day 2016

I had gone to bed late, with each hour, hoping the votes coming in would change direction. I couldn’t believe that a man with recorded evidence of gross “locker talk” was winning the election. I was scared of the future. I was scared for the future.

At the time, I was a classroom tutor, and I couldn’t imagine going into work. The students had spent months commenting on the racist remarks of the candidate-now-turned-president. It was a horror story.

I didn’t have work that day. I had school, which was just as bad because in most classrooms, I’m the Hispanic or the Latina. Post-Election Day I was the.crying. Latina. 

3. Car Accident, February 2017

I learned that even cautious drivers like myself can’t avoid car accidents. I was hit head-on by a driver who miscalculated or was plain reckless when she made a left turn, wanting to enter the road in the opposing direction of traffic.

The scary part was that I didn’t see her car; I felt the car slam against my car before seeing anything or anybody. The other scary part was the quiet in the car. In TV images of car crashes, there’s always screaming. I turned around and my mother, who was my passenger that day, wasn’t screaming–but she was alive.

2. My Mother Takes a Trip to El Salvador

In the summer of 2015, my mother made an emergency trip to El Salvador. TPS beneficiaries have to file an advance parole application to make visits outside the U.S. This was my mother’s first trip. We both had fears that something would go wrong, that she wouldn’t be allowed back into the U.S. For the few days she was away, I worried about her return trip. At that time, I was a full-grown 20 year old woman going on to 21 years, and all I kept thinking was Come home, mamí.

And she did! It only took some procedural hours of questioning at the airport.

1. The Right Now 

In case you don’t know, TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for Nicaragua and Honduras is set to expire January 2018. For El Salvador, that’s March 2018. Homeland Security is due to make a decision about the future of Central Americans and Haitians into November, and November starts tomorrow.

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Simple Gems in the City of Washington, DC

Living in Northern Virginia, I have a great view of the city. Washington, DC is a metro ride or car ride away. There are no-effort and wallet-free options for the city, some hidden and some in plain sight. Here are some day trip ideas for the next time you head to the nation’s capital.

City Views

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Adams Morgan shops

A productive stroll in the city involves more than dining or shopping. It means going into a bookstore, sitting at a bench when you manage to find one, and being open to discovery.

Museums are a must, and there are so many to choose that you may be missing on some gems like the National Building Museum or the colorburst, the Blind Rhino. You can spend hours in one museum alone. Some really great sights, murals and sculptures, you will find find right in front of your nose. Be on the lookout.

Murals

You’ve seen these on social media posts, especially Instagram. Why not see them yourself? Some neighborhoods to try are U St, Adams Morgan, and NoMa, which have blocks full of murals and are metro accessible. It’s easy to miss a mural at night, so daylight is the way to go.

DC Mural

U St mural at dusk

In daylight, some murals you can’t miss–they’ll take up an entire wall as you pass the sidewalk and other artwork will be hiding down alleys. Stay alert.

You’ll notice artists using the wall medium to their advantage: to wow and to celebrate the city. Recent additions are part of MuralsDC Project started in 2007, an effort to make art of graffiti around the city.

While you will stumble upon murals unintentionally, here is a map of DC murals.

Sculptures

Many tourists know to take pictures of the sculpture of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. These are great but DC has much more to offer.

Find PandaMania sculptures throughout DC! The sculptures are a long past 2004 art project with many sculptures still in perfect condition, all scattered around DC and Northern Virginia.

Find a sculpture of Albert Einstein on 2100 Constitution Ave NW or sitting and pensive George Mason in East Potomac Park or the Bartholdi fountain inside the Botanic Gardens, named after the artist who also happens to be the artist behind the Statue of Liberty.

Interested in other overlooked sculptures? There’s more, all small surprises around the city.

Cozy spaces

Terrace View

John F. Kennedy terrace view

Visit the John F. Kennedy Center. Watch no-ticket-needed music and dance performances at the Millennium Stage. Upcoming events include Rocky Horror dance lessons from the Joy of Motion Dance Center on Halloween and a Thanksgiving Day Swing Dance Party on November 23. While there, head to the Tour Desk for a free tour. Handy fact: there’s also a free shuttle that departs from Foggy Bottom.

Attend a poetry event hosted by Split This Rock. Stop by on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month for a no-cost writing workshopStop by monthly poetry open mics: the next one in DC is on November 19 and in Virginia on November 12. Split This Rock hosts open mics on the regular with $5 tickets. Stay updated via Split This Rock’s Facebook page.

In the mood to treat yourself? CityCenter, with over 30 shops, is the place for you. At the plaza, sit for awhile and enjoy the view. Notice the art installations change by the season: beach balls in the summer, now leaves hang from Palmer Alley. The CityCenter plaza is a family-friendly location.

Choose these city delights for a low-cost and relaxing day, but know there’s still more to discover. 

 

 

Questions? Comments? Let me know. Find me on Instagram, @Claudiapoet.

Claudia Poet’s Ideas for Random Acts of Poetry

October is a fairly decent month: the calm before the winter freeze, the color before the bare landscape. It is host to Northern Virginia’s Fall for the Book literary festival and to Random Acts of Poetry Day.

Random Acts of Poetry (RAP) falls on October 4 this year.

Legend has it that RAP Day arose in the early 80s, following a Canadian writer’s scribbles on a restaurant mat. That writer was Anne Herbert.  In the U.S., the writer Dylan Barmmer may have woken up Americans from their slumber. Whatever the origins, RAP Day is a holiday we have all much been waiting to discover.

On this day, the key thing is to commit to surprise people with poetry. (Read a beginner’s guide to poetry here.)

RAP-French-Pin-Poetry.pngFollowing are unexpected spots and ways to find a poem:

1. Library Book
Have you ever found an abandoned bookmark in a book and felt a little wave of discovery? Make that happen for someone else. Write a line from a poem on a sticky note or bookmark, pick a page in a library book, and be done.

Estimated Discovery Point: unknown, it could take years for the book to be opened
TIP: pick a New Arrivals/Hot Pick book for a faster discovery rate

2. Bathroom Stall
Leave a poem on a bathroom stall, where a stranger won’t have much of a choice but to read it! Be bold, make it a long poem.

Estimated Discovery Point: within hours.
TIP: Print out or write on colorful paper.

3. Bus or Metro Newspaper
Write fortune-cookie size poems and leave them inside newspapers. Imagine the surprise on strangers’ faces when they realize the day’s news has a poem.

Estimated Discovery Point: within hours.
TIP: use tape so that the poem doesn’t get lost.

4. Hashtag Poem
Ever wonder if people are reading your hashtags? Chances are they at least sneaking a glance. Surprise them with #onelonghashtagpoem.

Estimated Discovery Point: within minutes of post.
TIP: choose a mundane photo. Use #Raopoetryday or #RAPDay2017

5. Balloon
Write “POETRY” in big letters on a balloon, leaving room for a short poem. Release it into the air. Repeat.

Estimated Discovery Point: unlikely.
TIP: take a picture. Throw a party.

Want more ideas? Check out TS Poetry’s idea booklet.

Questions? Thoughts? Send me a poem? Follow me on Instagram, @Claudiapoet or Twitter, @Claudiadocumented

1,000 miles: step 83

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Issue 15 of Canadian magazine, Poetry is Dead

It’s been difficult to separate my personal life from the political world.

Every morning on my way to work, I’ve made it a habit to search for news articles about the future of TPS (Temporary Protected Status). I’ve been sharing these articles on social media and with friends.

Most of the time, I feel like I am speaking into a vacuum, as if no one is listening and no one is caring.

I have to remind myself that people have lives, and on a given day, one thing or another has more priority.

Some friends do check up on me, and I am as always, grateful. I do have a hard time expressing myself when it comes to the question, how am doing? My first instinct is to push people away because I am obviously not doing well–how could I when my future, life as I know it is on the line? I want to pull some kind of tantrum; of course, I don’t. All I want out of friends and allies is that, friends and allies, people to be there for me.

Time is better spent than lingering over the uncertain future.

Though, if you, reader, are interested in supporting immigrants, you should. The most important thing is to show up, speak out.

I am lucky to live in Northern Virginia and near Washington, D.C. Life still goes on. Over the past few summer months, I have become a festival go-er. Street festivals and book festivals are all fair game. The National Book Festival earlier this September was my favorite. I spent most of the time in the ground floor chasing childhood nostalgia.

Fall for the Book, a literary festival sponsored by my alma mater, George Mason, is coming up in October. I have a line up of poetry events on my itinerary.

I’ve been getting around metro and bus, with the occasional car coordination.  This past weekend, I worked on a poetry project with a friend and poet. It is a poem that speaks about our shared experience with learning the English language. When I first proposed the project, I had no idea what to expect, though I tried hard to keep organized.

I can’t wait to share the poem with the world. Collaboration is fun and challenging; it fosters understanding of the self.

There are no poetry publication news other that in August, my copy of Poetry Is Dead finally arrived. My poem, “Losing words,” selected for publication since late last year, is now being read in one corner of the world.

My inbox is otherwise filled with rejections from poetry magazines. To name a few: American Poetry Review, Meridian, and 2River. I’d like to say the sting of rejection eases with each rejection but that isn’t the case. Rejection makes you question the worth of your art. Rejection can make you angry. Rejection simply hurts. I am grateful for the summer campaign I ran, as through the funds raised, I have felt brave and supported.

I hope to find my poems small homes and my poetry larger homes through the forms of a chapbook or a poetry book. I am trying, so, so hard.

With everything that is going on, all I can do right now is fight on.

On Citizenship: A Takeaway from the DACA Decision

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Japanese-American Memorial: center sculpture by Nina A. Akamu depicts two birds with chained wings and wings breaking free

This past week, the nation tuned into Attorney Jeff Sessions’ announcement on the termination of DACA. News outlets were then eager to interview DACA recipients to share the stories of these youth. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a program. It did not offer a pathway to citizenship or permanent residency.

When the program started in 2012, it was “subject to renewal,” which meant the program was a temporary fix. Homeland Security stated strict eligibility requirements for the program, aimed at protecting youth from deportation. All DACA recipients were granted temporary work permits, which in some states were used to apply for driver’s licenses and in-state tuition. The program has a filing fee of $465.

What Congress is supposed to do within the next 6 months, shape the future of thousands of young lives, Congress had to do sooner or later.

Congress is long overdue, overdue like a library book found in the attic. Under Obama’s administration, the DREAM Act was proposed, which would create a way for undocumented youth to become citizens. In the White House Archives President Obama is on record: “I have said time and time and time again to Congress that, send me the DREAM Act, put it on my desk, and I will sign it right away.”

Congress did not pass the DREAM Act in 2012; instead, that year, President Obama pushed DACA into existence.

The program was to be renewed every two years, during which years Congress was to find another solution. The Trump administration’s decision to end DACA speeds up the necessary discussion about citizenship rights for youth who grew up believing in America and feeling American.

Who gets to be American? In a nation built on the abuse of Blacks and Native Americans, American somehow boils down to a birthright.

The U.S. is a country that offers birthright citizenship, or if born overseas, birthright through parentage.

This is because the 14 Amendment, enacted post-Civil War, states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” As baby, a person has a land to claim, a land that will protect them.

Because of birthright citizenship, some children have parents who are undocumented. Because of birthright citizenship, some mothers give birth in America. It happens. It’s ridiculous and shameful, not for the parents but for the countries that these children aren’t being born to. Something is horribly wrong if a mother has to consider geography when giving birth.

Trump proposed an end to birthright citizenship during his campaign. Whatever your opinion about the President, he wasn’t wrong in bringing up the issue. In some countries, citizenship isn’t automatically granted upon birth. In 2013, the Dominican Republican took away citizenship from thousands. A ruling declared that persons born after 1929 without “at least one parent of Dominican blood” did not qualify for citizenship. It is a ruling that is still being questioned.

In the U.S., a person born in another country has to apply for citizenship in two ways: 1) citizenship through parents 2) naturalization which often requires reaching permanent resident status.

When we talk about a pathway to citizenship, we are skipping the first step: a pathway to permanent residency.

Permanent residency must be petitioned for or sponsored by an employer, a family member, or a spouse. In some cases, victim-survivors of domestic violence, incest, or rape, can apply to U-visas. Refugees can also apply to citizenship. One of the barriers to permanent residency is the lack of education about the immigration system. Another is economical: affording an immigration attorney. I believe there is a third barrier: all cases are not equal. All lawyers are not equally qualified or capable. The process is complicated.

Over the next months, it’s important to think about what we mean when we use the word American and legal Americans. 

At the beginning of 1942, President Roosevelt issued executive order 9066. If you visit the Japanese American Memorial in Washington, DC, you will find etched in stone the story of how 120,000 Japanese Americans were mistreated during World War II.

Were these Japanese-Americans illegal? No, they were American citizens. Was America scared? Yes, and America is still scared. Today, documented and undocumented Americans face fears about job security, terrorism, quality education, and ownership of homes.

As a community member, as a fellow human, I want to acknowledge those very real fears.

It is not easy to make a living in America.

Yet, some people manage to live in America, with different degrees of success and survival. In the U.S., some people view undocumented youth and their parents as an enemy force. The enemy, however, looks more like a stubborn Congress, mass incarceration, natural disaster, low-wage, greedy corporations, and inadequate healthcare access.

In other words, the enemy isn’t touchable, which doesn’t matter because the hero walks like you, laughs like you, looks like you. Dear reader, the hero is the you that comes to understand political problems are indistinguishable from human problems. It is the you that recognizes the face of another human to find yourself.

AMERICA: PLEASE TALK ABOUT ME, BEHIND MY BACK, TOO

American-flag-AmericaI am panicking. It’s already the middle of August, and America isn’t talking much about me. Not many news sites are talking about the me that holds an immigrant “status.”

TPS news is not going viral, which is unfortunate for thousands.

TPS (Temporary Protected Status) is not really an immigrant status.

It’s not a visa. It’s not a permanent or stable residency. In short, it holds little to no claim to citizenship. It’s a temporary program that grants legal protection from deportation for persons who immigrated to America to escape war or natural disaster.

A person doesn’t apply to TPS from their home country; it doesn’t work like a visa. A person comes through illegal means, not through ill wish, but through a need to survive. If a country is indeed inhabitable, Homeland Security adds the country to a small and selective list of TPS designated countries. Then, an individual can apply for a temporary work permit and a temporary protected residency.

A recent news piece about TPS deals with Central America and was published through NBC this past Friday. Before that, there was a similar article from Mother Jones, with an opening quote of “We don’t have a plan B” published early in August. According to NBC news research, Central American TPS holders make up 80% of the TPS population. In 2014, MigrationPolicy.org estimated that there were over 340,000 TPS beneficiaries from countries like Haiti, Syria, El Salvador, and Honduras.

TPS affects hundreds of thousands.

I have been a TPS holder since 2001. Since learning and understanding my legal condition a few years ago, I have lived with mixed guilt and relief. TPS is only renewed if the Secretary of Homeland Security believes that a country is not ready to receive its people back. TPS is then extended for 18 months. The renewal process includes a filing fee of nearly $500 dollars per person.

TPS means you will go home eventually. The thing with TPS is that in many cases, it carries on for several decades—not out of a fault in the system, though many will argue that. The thing with TPS is that its extensions reflect the global instability of third world countries.

Like other TPS holders, I live in constant anxiety about the future.

I share the same sentiment with DACA recipients, and now, they share the same legal experience as me. We do not, though, share the same support. The cultural and political interest is lacking. TPS does not have age limits. The thousands of us that have it are children, students, parents, and grandparents. We aren’t just youth, as are the DACA recipients. And again, many have held TPS for decades, holding jobs and raising families: Americans without citizenship, there but overlooked.

In 2013, I volunteered with CARECEN, one of the few local organizations that works closely with the TPS community. I was not a fighter, then. I did not last long. With each failed protest, with each project’s small waves, and with each human interaction, I felt hope flee my heart.

There are days, TPS has an incredible ability to make me feel alone.

TPS for Honduras and Nicaragua expire in January 2018. For El Salvador, it’s March 2018. News of its renewal (or lack of) is released through a press statement from Homeland Security about six months before its expiration date.

Come September, I’ll be a little closer to knowing my future.

Sometimes, the lack of talk is good. It could mean that TPS is safe. It’s not an important issue. It could also mean that TPS holders are unprepared, easy targets. This is how it happened for Haitians, who are currently campaigning to stay in the U.S. longer. Their TPS status, designated in 2010, was extended for only six months, instead of the program’s usual 18 month renewal period.

I know TPS is not reliable. I know my having crossed the border as a child is a crime. Most TPS holders aren’t asking for citizenship. Like me, they ask for a permanent residency because despite our lack of legal certainty, we are Americans, permanently.

I don’t know what happens next.

I haven’t known for years. I am standing on such promising and such dangerous ground. As a recent college grad, my adult life is just beginning. As a recent college graduate with TPS, I don’t know if I will be legally allowed a job in 2018.

The bigger problem is that my America doesn’t know how I fit inside—what will become of me.

Please talk about me.

1,000 miles: step 82

work-week-Reston

Statue at Wiehle-Reston East metro

I got news! I have a summer job, and I survived my first week as an office employee.

I don’t have a briefcase. I travel light. I do have a key card, office e-mail, and a cubicle. I commute taking the bus and metro.

This Friday, through a chance accident of forgetting my stop, I experienced extreme rush hour. Let me tell you–not my cup of tea. People bumping into you. No seats left. Sighing and grumpy people.

Fridays are lovely, regardless. They will be my favorite day for weeks to come. The work I do is repetitive: data entry. There’s stacks of paper, an office keyboard and desktop, office supplies, and a scanner at my desk. There’s a line of paper boats that I’ve made over the course of the week, after I learned to expect delays with the scanner and office software.

What’s most exciting is the interactions with people.

My co-workers have all kinds of backgrounds: they are parents, single ladies, bakers, actors, writers, and so much more I’ve yet to discover. Many of them have been working together for years, or they have been at the company for decades and watched it change and grow. It’s interesting to watch their faces as they reflect on years back. As an incoming employee, it’s nice feeling to get their history.

Though this week felt exceptionally long–waking up early, coming home late–it did go by with a paradoxical and retrospective speed.

This past Tuesday, I managed to host a book chat on Twitter with Booked For Review, opening the first #B4RTalks for #31DaysOfBooks. That, too, went by quickly. If you haven’t read my young adult book reviews, visit bookedforreview.com

I also squeezed in time to make final edits to a poetry submission with a due date of today. Since meeting my fundraising campaign goal, I’ve submitted to three literary venues and anticipate many more magazines and journals. There’s a lot of competition, but I genuinely believe in my poems and because of the campaign, I know other people support my work. I’m developing a Pinterest Board for published poems and can’t wait to share in the near future.

Lotus scene

A summer scene with lotus at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

My busybody self is finally occupied.

I’ve met new people and new terms. The week ended with volunteer work with local youth, who themselves are planning volunteer work. My flower-enthusiast self is satisfied; I took my first visit to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. This weekend kicked off their festival of lotus and water lilies.

Though I’ve missed some news headings, some sleep hours, and some me-time, I couldn’t be happier.

The office job has helped me open a new chapter in my life. This chapter is headed toward opportunity.

 

 

1,000 miles: step 81

The graduation glow doesn’t last forever. The pride, though, persists. I’ve framed one or two graduation pictures, and I’m still in awe at my large, vertically shaped diploma which confers me, Claudia V. Rojas, a Bachelor of Arts in English with recognition.

Now let’s get down to business and ask the real questions. Here is a recent interview I conducted with Claudia Rojas:

What’s the best part about being a college graduate?

It’s the new sense of time. I don’t have to worry about turning in an essay any time soon. I’m not stressed about grades. I have a life outside of school. I exist!

Central Park

Central Park, a wonder

I’ve actually done more travel this summer than any previous summer combined. This June, for example, I went to New York City, for the first time ever. I spent a short weekend discovering Battery Park in lower Manhattan, where I saw the Fearless Girl statue and walking around the giant forest of Central Park. Of course, I snapped tons of picture for the Instagram feed!

I’ve explored close to home, too, places I should’ve already known if it weren’t for college and my workaholic tendencies. From visiting an old favorite, Old Town, Alexandria to a new favorite, Arlington’s Crystal City which is bursting with life all summer long. Recently, I took the Silver Line to Reston, which isn’t exactly close to me, but is one of the biggest metro projects in recent DMV history, phase one of the two part project completed in 2014. Yay, history.

What’s the worst part about graduation?

Unemployment, and the fear of long-term unemployment. As a part-time student, I was able to gain work experience while in college. I figured this would make the full-time job search easier. In some ways, it does. I can speak to my work years in cover letters. I have a better sense of what companies and work setting I like and don’t like.

Of course, I figured getting a full-time job in my field, writing and editing, would be difficult. What I didn’t anticipate is my own sense of panic. There have definitely been days where I have questioned my merit as a candidate. Job applications are similar to poetry submissions–they both send rejections your way.

In true Claudia spirit, I have kept going. One of the things that I’ve tried is freelance writing. That’s right, if you ever need a freelancer, find me and hire me on Upwork! I am always on the look for small poetry projects; that’s where my heart is at, after all.

What’s been keeping me busy?

Book sculpture at Library

A library day at my local Falls Church library

Job applications: I’ve been conducting an intense search for hiring companies and researching employee reviews with said companies. At home, at the library, or on the phone, I’ve been searching for editing and writing positions. Internship opportunities. Summer work. You should see my excel spreadsheet.

Poetry: I’ve had time to work on my poetry. In the past, I was organizing poems according to forms, because I was and am in love with forms. Now that I’m out of school (and graduate school will be a few years into the future), I can look at my poems as a whole.

I’ve decided that many are ready to be organized into a collection. Since I’ve been unemployed for over a month, I haven’t been making an income. Fortunately, there’s a lot of free writing workshops in Northern Virginia and publishing webinars. More fortunately, I gained some marketing experience when I created and succeeded with a small GoFundMe campaign. I’m currently working on final edits and submitting to literary venues and contests with reading fees.

Volunteering: I’ve become a contributor with Booked for Reviews (B4R), a blog for young readers. Check out my review for Walter Dean Myers’ Darius & Twig and Dawn Lajeunesse’s Star Catching. Can you tell that I have a soft spot for the young adult genre? Additionally, I’ve been volunteering with a junior youth program at my local library. Though I’ve stopped tutoring, I suppose kids have a way of finding me.

Anything else?

Yes! While I’ve been getting rejections from journals and magazines, I’ve also been gathering a few acceptances. Stay tuned to find out where. Next week, I also have some news, so don’t miss that.

Have a question I didn’t ask myself? Post a comment! Tweet me. Message me. I’m here.

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

My college professors, as is expected, knew their stuff. They had areas of specialties, 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 types 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 rejuvenated 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.