How I wrote this week’s poems: Lines and spacing

Photograph of lilac blooms

Hi folks,

I’m completing a 30/30 challenge with Tupelo Press this month, and each week I’m writing a blog post about how I wrote the week’s poems. I’d like to also give a shout-out to my sister, who made the first donation to my fundraising page. I’m really grateful for her support!

This week, I challenged myself to avoid using my go-to starters (sonnets and golden shovels) and also tried to play with space on the page.

To be frank, I know that my own poetry tends to be quite “safe” or “traditional” in a lot of ways. I write using forms (this week I attempted a rondeau about storms). My free verse poems are almost always left-aligned with short, sometimes rhyming lines. The few times I’ve attempted found poetry, they always seemed to fall short in some way; I have not yet figured out what elevates found writing to the level of found poetry. I never do concrete poems.

This week, I was inspired by Kirsten Miles’ craft talks for the May 2023 30/30 cohort about line breaks and experimenting with found forms. While I haven’t deviated completely from my usual methods of drafting, I did try to intentionally use enjambment and caesura in interesting places.

Perhaps the strangest piece of this week, though, was a poem I had written after skimming through a copy of Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein’s “They Say / I Say,” which is a book about teaching academic writing. The building that houses the English Department at my university is undergoing some renovations over the summer, so everyone has to pack up their offices to be temporarily relocated. All throughout this process, though, people have been getting rid of books from their offices, and I happened to get a copy of “They Say / I Say.” Though I had never read it before, a number of professors I worked with at my previous institutions would often share a few of its lessons, and I’ve been curious about it ever since.

This particular poem I’m thinking about used a few of the sentence templates in the back of the book as a kind of poetic madlibs: wherever there was a blank, I inserted some grammatically correct but somewhat off-the-wall observation or assertion, and gathered them into a kind of poem. I’m sure if I had more time, I would have come up with something to say for every template the authors listed.

And in general, I feel like my poems this week were concerned with time: the fleeting nature of lilac blooms, the slippage of time through my fingers as I procrastinate on my work, the short bursts of attention and then long bouts of inattention. The end of the semester always makes me feel this way: like I have so much to do and must constantly switch between tasks to complete them. My poems this week, I feel, mirrored the fragmented nature of my attention. I broke lines moved them across the page to mimic what it’s like to be in my brain right now.

In a way, this feels a little like an affront to poetry: as I’ve made my way through my MFA and now through my PhD, reading poetry is always presented as something that demands deep attention and critical, creative thought. To write a poem that intentionally resists that, then, might lead to some discombobulation. How much attention do these poems really demand? How much is attention is the reader meant to pay? And is the shallow price one of the reasons why the poems, to me, don’t feel quite complete yet? When I revisit these poems, I’m sure that I will be thinking about these questions, and the balance between immediate understanding and demanding attention to detail.

As I’m doing this 30/30 challenge, I know that I’ll have to actively maintain the well of inspiration from which I draw my words. Please consider donating–there are even a few rewards you can redeem if you donate certain amounts!

Thanks for reading!

Published by Caroliena Cabada

Caroliena Cabada is a writer currently based in Lincoln, Nebraska. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing, Fiction, from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her writing has been published in online and print journals and anthologies, and has been selected for Best Small Fictions 2021.

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