{National Poetry Month} Pockets

On Pockets with Poetry by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

To finish out the fantastic National Poetry Month, instead of a post as some fantastically deep reflection, I’m pushing us to do something as active participants. You may have guessed it– tomorrow is Poem in your Pocket Day. At first I was going to write about and feature poems about pockets, but that was both a hard-to-fulfill and stupid idea. :) I’m not afraid to admit it. Nor am I afraid to move on to something other than myself.

The idea is pretty simple– take your favorite poem, and carry it in your pocket. I would suggest not keeping it crammed in there. Share them. Express. It can range from a folded piece of paper to a laminated bookmark. Poem in Your Pocket Day has been around every National Poetry Month and is one of the few nationwide events organized with all certainty. It is fairly unobtrusive, yet powerful in its own way.

Admittedly, a lot of people (including myself) forget to print out a poem, so this is a great opportunity to carry extras to give people, start a discussion and share, giving them something to hold onto for the day. Often, libraries and stores will pass out their own, which have saved me quite a few times. And though the written word is powerful, if you cannot bear to carry a scrap of paper, your phone may suffice. Is social media in your pocket? Most likely. Or you could print out an epic poem on a scroll and pull it out just to freak people out.

You know, it’s pretty self explanatory, and despite my urge to make this day meaningful, quirky, and this post elaborate, I don’t think that I need to do any of that. Poetry is awesome. I hope you don’t need anything more from me on that front, because this is my last post for National Poetry Month (well, look for a farewell picture of my own Poem in Your Pocket Day experience).

What is a better way to end it? So tomorrow, April 30th, put a poem in your pocket and venture out.

Though before you go, I’d like to give my thanks to all of you reading– I’m most certainly still experimenting and by no means a fantastic blogger, but I thank you for hearing me out and hope you’ve enjoyed. I also want to thank L, who has graciously allowed me to invade her space with my own ramblings, and has taken the time to edit, advise, and post them up here. Without her, none of this would have left a stash of rough drafts in Google Docs to be presented on this blog of hers. And as the very final word, I want to request all of you for this to not be a 1 month a year thing. Of course, it is fantastic that you’ve dedicated the time to celebrate National Poetry Month. But if this sticks with you for less that a few days after the month ends, well, don’t tell me about it. ;)


Guest Blogger Natalya Lawren

On Matters of Poetry

{National Poetry Month} On Narrative Poetry

On Narrative Poetry by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

Poetry is not all about exploring a concept in a series of images– maybe it’s more like short stories which are, oh, right– exploring a concept in a series of images. But hey, joking aside, the difference between poetry and narrative is large, because poetry may contain a story, but will not flesh it out and tell it like a short story or a novel might.

Except when it comes to narrative poetry, which is very common, though popular perception makes it less so in modern times. Epic poetry was the way in which stories were passed on orally and to ease the process of memorizing. The language was precisely memorized and the rhythm and rhyme carried it along. Homer traded in these intricacies, particularly following the epic adventure of some of the most popular focus of early narrative poetry, that of heroes and gods.  Chaucer, Dante, and Arthurian Legend are also good examples of stories told through poetry. Even Shakespeare, though not completely in verse, utilized in the speech of the nobility in his plays.

Narrative poetry does not need to be long or spoken, but its requirements are that it tells a story, has a plot and usually, like prose, a character and setting. But as we move more into either an implied story or some change in approach to poetry, we appear to be moving farther from a continuous narrative that has such a fantastic impact. Not to be too hasty and attempt to mourn the loss of a form that is alive, there are still narrative poems being written, of which I would say my current favorite is “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Perhaps we will witness a return to poetry being the prevalent form of telling a tale.  Perhaps as an epic fantasy, perhaps a personal story. A ballad of romance gone wrong, or how you came to love mint chocolate chip ice cream.

I, unfortunately, am terrible at Narrative poetry, so I will not endeavor to share any of my disastrous attempts. But despite my utter failure, I’ve included this category because it is a massive part of poetry historically and presently. Just like poems can express revolutions, songs, people, and the fantastical, poetry is not only reserved by the abstracted– it can express a plot of a story. Some of the most successful poems and famous creations have been just that.

What may be so distancing from poetry might be this need for it to be/seem/fulfill expectations of the abstract.  Yet storytelling has always been a captivating experience, and when you find the right story in the right form, you fall in love. That’s what reading and hearing and experiencing has been all about. And if you feel as though National Poetry Month detracts from this experience of reading a story, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be like that.  We have become caught up in a stereotype of everything poetry is and must become, but what I am trying to do for myself and everyone else is exploring the many facets of what poetry is, because we get to the unfortunate truth– everyone judges a book by its cover.

Yet a cover for a book of poetry may entail the fantastic journey of the lone hero in slaying a dragon. It can be a quirky and honest experience of a mistake. What have we to say to that? If we had to give the prevalence of poetry in the original form (before writing evolved onto paper) a reason, it would be to tell a story– to unfold the image of the creation or teach the people the history of a tumultuous war. How would the explanation differ from present-day?

I encourage us to be aware of the narrative form and to seek out writings in it. Read some classics, or find contemporary or still-living poets and their work. Tell a story of your own and think the best way to formalize it. Narrative poetry is a fantastic thing to read and experience, and I encourage everyone to seek it out for National Poetry Month.

{National Poetry Month} here

Here by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

Call me extremely lazy. Call me ferociously busy. Both apply. Both are somewhat relevant to today’s post. But let’s think of it as a nice break from the usual study, and just an appreciation for poetry itself. This is to date one of my favourite poems, and I believe it stands for itself. How about for now, we all just read it together.


Next Time Ask More Questions


Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952


Before jumping, remember

the span of time is long and gracious.

No one perches dangerously on any cliff

till you reply. Is there a pouch of rain

desperately thirsty people wait to drink from

when you say yes or no? I don’t think so.

Hold that thought. Hold everything.

When they say “crucial”—well, maybe for them?

Hold your horses and your minutes and

your Hong Kong dollar coins in your pocket,

you are not a corner or a critical turning page.

Wait. I’ll think about it.

This pressure you share is a misplaced hinge, a fantasy.

I am exactly where I wanted to be.


*originally published in Poem-a-Day, American Academy of Poets, 2015

{National Poetry Month} On Mail

On Mail by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

I’ve spent this month talking to you. Similarly, poets devote themselves to a message but rarely receive a direct response. It’s time for this to change. It’s time for you, reader, to talk back.

Of course, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, but what I had in mind was poetry.org’s Dear Poet Challenge.

They set up this absolutely fantastic opportunity for National Poetry Month involving a slew of famous poets, and the ability to send them mail. I’ll let you read it for yourself, and although I know it has an age limit, I would encourage even people who cannot participate in the competition to consider the process and write to their favourite poets. National Poetry Month is intrinsically linked with the idea of community. So a poet is waiting for your letter, just as you are waiting for a poem. Read a message and write back. We’d love to hear from you.

{National Poetry Month} on silence/speaking


on silence/speaking by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

I apologize for the radio silence.  And on that note: more than ever I’ve realized how much of poetry is a voice. I say this because on Friday (the 17th), I participated in the Day of Silence, a movement of students in support of the LGBT community, protesting the bullying, harassment and bigotry that silences and forces people to hide who they are. But as I struggle with not speaking and relate it to not speaking out of fear of hate, I pondered not speaking at all! This is the silence of the oppressed, of the not-quite dissent but unvocalized issues.

I’m very much extroverted, and extremely talkative. I try to reconcile this with the popular stereotype of the writer who writes so they don’t have to speak. Though this stereotype is often not applicable, it is true that to write is the words that may not be communicated otherwise. Something personal. Something conveyed through poetry as an exploration, revelation, secret or struggle.

I’ve been saying this all along, but not in such clear of terms. Perhaps I should’ve said this on the first day of the month.

But it was today I began considering not only the movement as an act of protest, but also one of empathy, and something allowing me to listen and ponder the nature of communication. It’s simultaneously frustrating and fascinating to see how much I can encourage people to talk with just my facial expressions, and I began to study their reactions in turn. I am rarely as introspective about my usual day-to-day speech as I am now with my silent communications, and of course, I am most thoughtful about my writing. It somehow becomes less about just the brunt of what is being communicated, but how we share it, which has most always been the refinement of poetry, and now speech as I think about it.

So speaking is not necessarily poetry (though I promise you an article on spoken word poetry later in the month), but what if it became the same through the amount of thought of how to express, how to impact or best convey? Here I’m treading the challenge of making poetry relate to day-to-day life, a pursuit I continue even after “Poetry in the Everyday” and “On Matters of Survival.” Whether this communication is by changing the nature of the world around you or changing society, using blank spaces or writing messages directly to people, it must occur in some form or another.

And consider the silence. Call it blank space, call it made-of-fear. There are certain things we do not talk about. I believe art is one of those things. We talk in terms of entertainment and consumption, but conversations actually about music or poetry or just the nature of humanity are some of the best ones I’ve had. I think we should have more.

So whether you prefer to speak to people about poetry this month, or speak with the thought of poetry, or not speak at all but listen to others, I encourage us to have time of our own to do this. I do not want to detract attention from Day of Silence, which I believe is a fantastic endeavor, but I thank it sincerely for the inspiration for this idea. Be it silence or speech, take National Poetry Month to be something worth thinking about.


{National Poetry Month} On Timelines

On Timelines by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

I’d set out to make a timeline and ended up with reactionary patterns and a map. What interests me so much about history and the differing cultural responses to poetry is that it is perhaps proof of poetry’s impact. It is shifting and flourishing in different ways– with different principles.

I began to look for perhaps the most fundamental of movements and time periods within poetry: Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism, and such, even broad terms applied such as the Bronze, Silver and Golden ages of poetry. Then I sought out the most interesting-sounding– the Martian Poets, the Angry Penguins, The Jindyworobak Movement. It eventually occurred to me that each group has its own unique story, and that poetry has followed similar territory yet all over the world. Thus here is a map. Maybe a list tailored to my interests that might interest you as well. A brief history, the pattern of poetry’s metamorphosis (to be structured, to be loose, to be emotion, to be realistic, then fragmented, then returned to tradition, as a revolution, to be broken free from revolution– art for art’s sake, and so on). Things you may or may not heard of– I encourage you to look farther into it and reply with your own favourite group of writers and their pursuit of poetry. There’s also that puzzle– what writing revolution is sweeping the nation today? Will we not know of it until after the century has passed and we are written up in history books? There is something glamorous and exciting about this.

Here are the movements that stand out to me, and a short summary.

The Jindyworobak movement— Started in 1937 in Australia; started by Rex Imagells, and ended by the 1950s. The word Jindyworobak means “to join” or “to annex” in Woiwurrung, and the poetry group attended to a nativist Australian agenda, with the belief that the writing should be in connection to the land and aboriginals of Australia. They often borrowed concepts such as dreamtime and the Aboriginal spiritual beliefs, and revolted against the feeling of the lost land, the lack of true identity on the landscape.

Dertigers— A group of South African poets in the 1930s creating an independent literature in Afrikaans, whose main members were N. P. Van Wyck Louw, W.E.G. Louw, Uys Krige, and Elisabeth Eybers.  They believed in the emotional honesty and intensity of poetry, and ignored the local political factors in favor of a more universal experience. They believe poetry is, as Van Wyck Louw states it, “A form of life itself without which we as humans and we as Afrikaans people could not as a people have a full human and national existence.”

The Beat Generation— An American movement of post-WWII, coming from the idea of beat, “exhausted, at the bottom of the world, looking up or out, sleepless, wide-eyed, perceptive, rejected by society, on your own, streetwise” (Anne Waldman, The Beat Book). A small group of East Coast Writers: Ginsberg, Carr, William Burroughs, and Kerouac, formed their own community yet also joined the movement of a separate phenomenon, the San Francisco Renaissance. Most notably was the famous reading event– the “Six Poets at the Six Gallery”.

The Misty poets, or The Obscures— from 1979 to 1989, a new generation of Chinese Poets challenged the current tradition of social realism and rebelled against the cultural revolution, using metaphors and obscure images to make a social commentary. The four main poets: Bei Dao, Gu Cheng, Duo Duo, and Yang Lian were exiled.

Young Vilna (Yung Vilne)— A group of progressive Yiddish Poets in the early 1930’s living in Vilna, Lithuania. They lived (and died) through the Holocaust, and during times of persecution acted as both soldiers and poets, their work spreading through the community. Chaim Grade, and Abraham Sutzkever would both grow to fame after these events, as well as their poems about the time. Within the movement is a disparity in the writing, yet they wrote inspired by the same events and in the same community.

Sturm und Drang— meaning “storm and stress,” a phrase referring to a group of German writers of the 1770s who rebelled against the current ideals of objectivity and rationalism, and believed that passion and creative confusion was better than orderliness. Through emotion and the yearn to return to nature, and folk styles in order to convey these things, writers such as Johann Heinrich Merck, Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, and Friedrich Maximilian Klinger published quite a lot of pieces voicing their opinions.

The Society of Fireflies, also known as the Sosyete Koukouy–is a Haitian group of writers writing in Creole. It was founded in 1965 by Pye Banbou (Ernst Mirville), Togiram (Emile Celestin-Megie), Jan Mapou (Jean-Marie  Willer-Denis), who were persecuted, jailed, and exiled by the Duvalier Dictatorship. They extended their influence to friends in the United States and published there.


These are only some of many fascinating historical movements in poetry, and there are many others inspired by or in reaction to the previous revolution. Each group has an ideal and a community, a vision and the style and words to carry it out. That is essential to poetry, and even now poetry is undergoing some new direction. It is important to look into the past and identify these perhaps unsung heroes or figures. It has exposed me to so much more of the world, and many more poems, things expressed at the time and culture in a different turn of speech and values. I encourage you to continue searching, reader. Perhaps you already know of a generation of writers that you identify with or with whom you are fascinated. Maybe this has helped you discover more. I sincerely hope that you look farther into the matter– this is only the surface of a rich history– only part of a map– only fragments of a timeline. There is so much to explore.


{National Poetry Month} On Form/Space

On Form/Space by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

Line Breaks are a godsend.


I propose the reason why poets seem so lazy with proper punctuation is that line breaks are a punctuation of themselves. They immediately express that the writing is a poem, and that sliver of blank space breaks thoughts apart like paragraphs in an essay do– makes the reader breathe.

Some poets make line breaks subconsciously. I try my best to consider and do it intentionally. They can be subtle or just as obvious to the reader.


What about an even more aggressive approach to poetry. That visual challenge– that visual punch to the gut, where you gasp as if amazed by the beauty of it. Concrete poetry.

For me, this entails an enthusiastic relationship with e. e. cummings, master of the form. It also led me into the fantastic world of using Adobe Indesign to mess with my writing (moving text boxes around Microsoft Word gets tedious and terribly annoying). Just as one line changed can change the entire poem, you can use the very placement of the exact same words to create different meaning. This can be as simple as choosing to break apart an idea into two stanzas, or as avant-garde as e. e. cummings by smashing them together with no spaces at all like claustrophobias best friend.


Shape can be as simple as writing a poem about a shark, and shaping the poem into a literal

shark. It can capture the energy of the subject of a poem, just like e. e. cummings’ “Grasshopper

or give the reader a choice in how to read it. It can be clever and give messages within messages via (parentheses) all sorts of (glorious) contraptions prompting (interruptions) side-tracking and even interruptin (thewordallsmashedto) g(ether).

It can float, or sink, or startlingly center–









but the meaning becomes all too clear.

Hard to read perhaps, but clear nonetheless. This is both an elegant solution to the subtext of poetry, and also the poet having way too much fun.

It can go overboard, but it can also be wildly successful. Many a poem I’ve written have become so much less boring and flat when I messed with the layout. It also gives the reader either a puzzle to entertain themselves with, or something nice to hang on the wall (now I’m really wanting that shark poem).


I also absolutely adore Designer and Poet, Sara Michas-Martin, who recently published Gray Matter, and just as beautiful as her dissection of the human body in human spaces is the design of the book. Her BFA really stands out, as apparently she designed the whole thing herself.

What comes across as simply a pattern of indenting gives a whole new breath to her poems, or whether they are single spaced or broken up into gaping two-line stanzas. For sheer aesthetic quality, they are amazing even before you read them, which you are then touched by to be flabbergasted further. To quote a line from her poem “Vision,”

The street vendor craves often

an aerial view.


This line summarizes some of what I am attempting to describe. We crave an aerial view. We are startled, challenged, and invigorated by the difference each poet chooses to interweave with their work, and although the drastic concrete poems may not be your preference, each poem has a careful choice that leads you when to breathe, when to leave you moving to the next idea and/or stanza, and what is grouped together. Maybe I prefer this type of form more than the form determined by syllables and rhyme scheme.


Seek out the echoes of meaning to the way it looks on a page. The next poem you read, pay more attention to what choices the poet made, and maybe how the meaning or impression you got would have changed if the stanza or line break had been in a different place instead. Be intentionally observant in your interpretation of the poem. It is not every day (nor month) that people are willing to sit down and get to know a piece of poetry, and it is days (and months) like this that call for us not just to read, or write, but to explore all parts of this world.


So, yes, spacing may be the last thing on your mind on every given day. But it is there. For example, I could have easily clumped this entire piece into one paragraph. Or separated it into a million different lines. I am calling you to this detail.  This could be a poem

in and

of itself.

So see space. structure space. space is what surrounds the earth and fills the world, what allows you to stand so far away from the highway. It is no less important in writing.