The Ways I Use Poetry

When I was in grade school, I used poetry for entertainment. My grade school had regular book fairs, and one of the first books I bought on my own was The Random House Book of Poetry for Children because, in the first few pages, it had a funny poem about a boy that would take off all his clothing and could never figure out how to put it back on. The book was large and full of various poems. When there wasn’t anything to watch on television, or when I finished some of my homework, I’d sit in my room and read through my book of poetry and try to memorize the poems that were on the pages. As I aged, the appeal of the book of children’s poetry faded, and it was placed into a box and given to Goodwill.

It wasn’t until high school that I started to use poetry again. This time, I used poetry as a form of self-expression, as many teens end up doing. Sometimes I wrote poems and sometimes I wrote song lyrics, but they were always dark and angry and honestly, not very good. I used poetry to help form my self-identity and to work through an extreme level of teenage angst. These works often found themselves on napkins, or on ripped up pieces of paper, or inside of one of my textbooks. The poetry I wrote back then is long gone, which is probably a good thing. If I had to classify the type of use this poetry was, it would fall under the category of misuse.

In junior college, I was told my writing was too direct by an English 100 professor and could benefit from more creativity. I started writing poetry again to try and use it as a tool to improve my academic as well as creative writing. I enrolled in a summer creative writing course and thrived, especially when it came to poetry. For the first time I was breaking out of free form poetry and exploring classic poetic forms like the sonnet and started a long love affair with haikus. While these poems were still of the self-expression variety, they were more complex and focused than the poetry I wrote as a teen.

As an adult in college, I have used poetry as a way to further my understanding of critical theory. In Dr. Simpson’s Modern British Novel course, I took Russian Formalism and applied it to Yeat’s poem A Coat, a ten line poem. From looking at the form, rhyme (or lack of) scheme, the number of syllables in words, the denotation and connotation of the words used, the juxtaposition of physical and intangible imagery, and more, I was able to complete an eight page analysis that explored the theory. I’ve shared this paper on my blog, on Academia.Edu, and in Sigma Tau Delta’s yearly journal, and the feedback I’ve gotten on the work has been positive. Recently, a student downloaded my paper from Academia to help understand how Russian Formalism can be applied and said it was helpful. While using poetry to further my own understand of theory, I have helped others use poetry to see how critical theory works.

I often use poetry to understand the cultural and political climates of the time periods I study as an English major. Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence, for example, illustrates the homosocial relationships of his time period and a movement away from the flowery love imagery used by poets before him like Petrarch. Donne’s poetry manifests that there were people in his time that were seriously questioning the teachings of the church and challenging the concepts that gave his society kings and monarchies. Moving forward in time, reading the works of poets like Langston Hughes from the Harlem Renaissance exposes a dysfunction in society where people of color were (and are still) treated less than their pale peers and the struggles associated with living in a world where one was (is) less-than.

Writing poetry is yet another way I use it. While I don’t always have the time to write poetry outside of academia and work, I have still had a few poems published in Pomona Valley Review and The Socialist. The poetry I write now has transformed from the self-expressive (and somewhat self-indulgent) poetry I wrote as a teen. Instead of writing poetry to portray myself as some kind of angry hard-ass, I write poetry to help solidify my understanding of the political world around us, my own involvement in activism, life, death, decay, and the fragility of the human condition.

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We’re Back!

Well, folks, it has been one long hiatus, and for that, we apologize.

Last year, as graduation loomed before me, I decided I needed to take a step back. I was worried that I was putting too much pressure on myself to “do it all,” and that because of that, any posts written here would ultimately suffer.

A lot has happened since I made that decision. Back then, I was living in Portland, Oregon, while earning a master’s degree in writing and book publishing, juggling a flurry of internships and part-time jobs. After moving back home in March 2015, I started working at a Southern California nonfiction book publisher, editing everything from “serious” art books for adults to quirky books about literary dinosaurs for children.

Now I’m freelancing and returning to the world of blogging, which for years has been a much needed creative outlet—one that I’ve been anxious to get back to. That’s the short of it, at least.

So for those new readers who stumbled to this post and for those past readers who gave us a chance, here’s a little bit about what you can expect from this blog. First and foremost, a lot about the writing life and the stories we love (and probably the ones we don’t). I don’t promise to be an expert writer or editor. I just turned 26. I go into each project assuming most of what I write will be crap, but that’s okay, because within all that bad will be a little good that I can shape into something I’m proud of. For me, this blog has always been a way for me to explore, learn, and lay the groundwork for a creative life.

Expect posts about that journey.

A new post will be up next week (an updated edition of one of our most popular, so I hope you enjoy it!). For now, be sure to read my co-editor’s post, The Ways I Use Poetry, which she wrote in anticipation of us presenting several of our published poems tomorrow on a panel titled, “Poetry in (Digital) Process: A Poetry Reading and Publishing Discussion with Pomona Valley Review,” at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association Conference in Pasadena.

Until next time.

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400 Years After Shakespeare’s Death


Believed to be one of the only true portraits of William Shakespeare. A lot of the others that depict him old and bald are just artists’ interpretations.

On April 23rd, 1616, it is believed that William Shakespeare passed away. While we don’t have records of his death, we do have records of his funeral which occurred two days later on April 25th, 1616.

At the age of 52, Shakespeare left behind a body of work that has captivated pop culture and has been the favored subject of academia (think of your high school literature classes) for the past 400 years. Shakespeare’s works have lead to an unparalleled phenomenon across cultures and well past his time.

This blog has continually looked for Shakespeare from searching for Shakespeare in bookstores in Taipei, Taiwan to visiting a bookstore with his namesake in Berkeley, California. Speaking of books, we’ve reviewed the Star Wars Shakespeare-style books, have shared our own stories about Shakespeare, and have made so many freaking posts about Shakespeare loot it’s kinda ridiculous.

Lauren Sumabat and I geeked out over plays like Richard III and shared it here for the world to see. I’ve also shared my research project that created three lesson plans for teachers in the Common Core system to use in an 8th through 12th grade classroom. We’ve done instructional posts on how to read Shakespeare for the first time, explored Juliet’s question on the meaning of names,  and have tackled current events like the revelation of a new Shakespeare play. I could go on and on and on about this blog’s coverage of all things Shakespeare because his works play such an important role in the literary world he and they, of course, play an important role in our blog about literature, creative writing, and education.

On April 23rd, 2016, 400 years after the beloved playwright, sonneteer, and poet passed away, his work is still alive and out there for you to see. All around the world, Shakespeare’s life is being celebrated on the anniversary of his death in countries like MexicoCanadaEngland (of course), and Japan.

Where I live, in Los Angeles, California, there’s plenty to do to celebrating the passing of this great influence on western canon:

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Poems for National Poetry Month

April is my favorite time of year. Not for the showers (although, rain’s nice), nor for the beginning of spring; rather, April is my favorite time of the year because it’s officially National Poetry Month and that means I get to spam everyone I know on Facebook with poems everyday, and sometimes twice a day, for a whole month. It’s also the month of William Shakespeare’s birth and death, so I like to pay special attention to his sonnets and poems, as well as poetry that celebrates his work, during my favorite time of the year.

It’s really an English degree holder’s dream.

I want to share poetry with everyone this time of the year, and you are not immune. Here’s a poetry month starter kit of poetry for you to share with your friends, or to just read an enjoy, during my favorite month of the year.

National Poetry Month
by Elaine Equi

When a poem
speaks by itself,
it has a spark

and can be considered
part of a divine

Sometimes the poem weaves
like a basket around
two loaves of yellow bread.

“Break off a piece
of this April with its
raisin nipples,” it says.

“And chew them slowly
under your pillow.
You belong in bed with me.”

On the other hand,
when a poem speaks
in the voice of a celebrity

it is called television
or a movie.
“There is nothing to see,”

say Robert De Niro,
though his poem bleeds
all along the edges

like a puddle
crudely outlined
with yellow tape

at the crime scene
of spring.
“It is an old poem,” he adds.

“And besides,
I was very young
when I made it.”

Spring is like a perhaps hand
By E. E. Cummings
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Politics and Poetry: John Milton


Is it weird that I really dig John Milton’s hair? I wish mine curled that well without product. I’m just assuming they didn’t have hair products in the 1600s.

John Milton lived during the Restoration period (1600-1798), also known as the Age of Enlightenment which occurred just after the Renaissance (1485-1660), in England and was one of the most celebrated poets of the era.

It was Milton’s goal to not just be a poet, but to be a great poet. He achieved this by hiring tutors to continue his education after his schooling had finished. In addition to studying hard to be a poet, Milton wrote and he wrote a lot. John Milton was a prolific poet, creating an extensive body of work from sonnets to a twelve book-spanning epic poem.

What Milton is probably most recognized for is that twelve book epic poem, better known as Paradise Lost. This epic poem recounts the fall of man from the Christian bible from the perspective of none other than Satan himself.


“Paradise Lost” by Terrance Lindall, executive director of the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center, at the center’s new exhibition in honor of John Milton’s 400th birthday. Credit Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

You might also recognize Paradise Lost from how long the opening line is if you read it at all in high school or in college:

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.

And that is, of course, all grammatically correct (ah, the power of proper punctuation).

If you’ve ever sat through a literature course, a course on poetry, or read this blog, that information was probably something you were already aware of. Besides being the beloved author of the epic poem Paradise Lost, Milton was a revolutionary that helped overthrow a king. Continue reading

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Literary Paraphernalia: Adult Coloring Books

As soon as adult coloring books became a thing (I really don’t know what defines “a thing” – I just know that everyone I know is talking about them), I wanted to do a post taking a look at the trend.

What I was really curious about was what made a coloring book “adult” versus one for kids or one for all ages. The general answer seems to be that adult color books are a heck of a lot harder to color because the lines are a lot closer together and the coloring area is fairly small.

But, a more fun answer is that the subject matter changes. Children’s color books tend to be about, say, monsters. Adult coloring books are about dinosaurs getting high (featured later in this blog post, so I won’t link it here). Now, if you’re interested in adult coloring books, you can always head down to your local chain-market and make a purchase of something generic filled with flowers or birds or what have you, or you can check out these adult coloring books from Etsy.Com, support an artist, and have a truly unique coloring book.

Without further ado, here’s a crap-ton of amazing adult coloring books I found on Etsy.Com. For funsies, I’m going to list these as most all-ages friendly to least all-ages friendly. So if you want the raunchy stuff, skip to the end.

You’re Weird: A Coloring Book for Strange Creatures of All Ages

Damn right I am.

This little coloring book has 20 pages total with hand-drawn and hand-lettered pictures, ranging from the adorable (a puffy cat saying woof) to the sweet (a page telling us to “stay strange” covered in funky characters). Weird children and weird adults alike, and even those who aspire to be weird and aren’t quite there yet, can buy themselves a version of this book and have fun with it.

Flat Faced Friends: A Pug & French Bulldog Coloring Book

It’s like all the cutest pictures of pugs on the internet came together and turned into a coloring book!

Even if you’re not a dog person, you’re going to want to fill these pages with color. Seriously. Look.

They are like Pokemon – not in that they are animals, but for the compulsive need to collect them all and fill them in with strange colors.

A to Z of Unicorns

Fat unicorns are the best unicorns.

I may have a soft spot for unicorns, as my best friend and godchild have an affinity for them. I know they’d both dig this coloring book, and I figured a lot of you would too.

I can see myself finding my zen while coloring a fat unicorn in a pretty garden.

Cthulhu Coloring Book

Remember, he’s running for office, people. Cthulhu 2016: Why vote for the LESSER of two evils?

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The Martian v. The Martian

The Martian novel, written by Andy Weir, is a self-publishing success. In 2011, he self-published the book and it got enough attention to garner him a contract with Crown Books. In 2014, The Martian was re-released with the help of Crown and became one of the top selling books on Amazon.Com. And then it became a movie.


Is it just me, or does it look like he’s doing a happy dance?

I started reading The Martian last year and, between applying to graduate programs, moving (twice!), picking up a few side jobs (on top of my main jobs), and all the rest of life stuff that gets in the way of fun stuff, it took me a while to finish the book. Mind you, I really enjoyed the book as I was reading it and I even got students of mine to read it as well.

Now that I’ve finally finished reading and watching The Martian, I can compare and contrast the two different media used to tell Andy Weir’s story of an astronaut left behind on Mars for your (and more likely my) amusement and declare one better than the other (because all things must be ranked!).

If you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, this post contains spoilers. Though, if you’ve clicked on this blog because of the title, I’m assuming you kind of already knew that, but I thought I’d be nice and post a warning anyway.

Overall, despite the difference in media, the story of astronaut Mark Watney is pretty much kept in tact, with the exception of the ending. Both the film and the book rely on narration, which works well in the novel but not as well, at points, in the movie (I felt).

The main mode of telling a story through text is narration. With text, that’s pretty much the only way to tell a story. But when we change medium from text to film, new story telling elements arise. Film has an added dimension of spectacle through its visual nature that text is lacking. While a novel must take up time and pages describing costumes and sets, the spectacle element of film allows costumes and sets to be shown. While a novel must have a narrator tell us what’s happening in the story, the film has the option to show us, the audience, what’s happening so we experience it first-hand instead of through a re-telling or another character’s eyes.

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Mashups are a popular thing, right?

Only if you watch this show.

Wait, let me try that again.

Has this ever happened to you?

You: Hey, I want to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but I also want to participate in No Shave November for cancer awareness. I can’t do both at once, can I?

Me: Wait! You can! You CAN do two things at once.


Why yes, in this scenario, you are Bender from Futurama.

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Busy? Break Your Writing Projects Into Small Chunks

I have a confession: this blog has been going strong for 3+ years and lately, because the other editor (Mel) and I have been really, really busy, we haven’t been posting nearly as often as we used to.

That’s because writing takes time, and with her new gig as a publisher (everyone say CONGRATULATIONS to her, by the way) and my 5-6 academic jobs (and I’m not exaggerating there!), we’re fairly low on time between the two of us.

Time slips though my fingers like sand falls from the hourglass and - wait, I don't have time to write poetry!

Time slips though my fingers like sand falls from the hourglass and – wait, I don’t have time to write poetry!

Today I was helping a student plot out a large paper assignment and the advice I gave him is the advice I need to follow myself and that I recommend anyone without a lot of time and a penchant for writing follow: break down your writing assignment into small, digestible chunks you can finish in about a half-hour every night.

I know that sounds pretty easy, but being able to judge your own ability to get a task done isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Here are a few tips that’ll help make the process easier.

1. Planning should be sessions 1-3, at the least. Planning takes time, and sometimes people feel that if they aren’t at a keyboard typing, they aren’t getting any work done and that simply isn’t true. You’re going to need to start planning before you can really start doing anything else. Continue reading

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The Two Book Rule

My friend is much wiser than me. He, you see, brings at least two books with him every place he goes.

I sometimes bring a book, or my kindle, but sometimes I forget and I’ll just leave the house with myself, my keys, my wallet, and my cellphone.

Sometimes I get really, really bored.

He, on the other hand, always has two books with him to read, so he’s generally always got something to do if conversation slows down or if there’s a wait somewhere or something of the like.

The other day I asked him, out of curiosity, “friend, why do you always have two books with you? Why not just bring one?”

He gave the simplest, most elegant answer I could imagine, “Well, what would I do if I finished the first book and didn’t have the second book? Not read?”

So now, personally, I’m implementing a new rule that I’d like to share. I call it the two book rule. The rule is as follows:
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