Retrospective (w/Citations)

Amanda Gorman at Joe Biden’s inauguration in January of 2021

When I first started writing poetry in 2002, I attended open mics at a cafe in Staten Island called Muddy Cup. During that period, my work was unabashedly political. Additionally, I became more open about my struggles with bipolar disorder. As I progressed as a writer, there were future places I called home. During the Alor Cafe years starting in 2010, I began to have work accepted for publication. The work during that period was mostly erotica. Starting in 2012, I featured as a performance poet at a DiY art gallery called Deep Tanks. These were my experimental years. In 2015, Richmond Hood Company was my next venue. During this era, I got into performing in poetry slams and wrote mostly comedic pieces. The current version of my craft is under my pseudonym, Jacob R. Moses. The poems written under this name are mostly spiritual. I have certainly taken on numerous personae throughout my career.

In comparison to current trends in poetry, I would say that I take elements of the craft commonly found on Button Poetry and reinvent it. Many of the poems expressed deal with personal adversity. Although I wrote extensively about taboo subjects surrounding my mental health and addiction issues, I would say that I have deviated from that format. Namely, I have thoroughly dealt with my past trauma and do not choose to constantly rehash these instances in my own poetic craft.

In my analysis of the works of famous poets, I have greatly improved my craft. One of my resources throughout this semester was The Poets Laureate Anthology (Schmidt). My initial foray into poetry was through Robert Frost. In sixth grade, I had to memorize a poem and chose “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”(Frost 551). I can safely say that as the father of an 18-year-old, two dogs, and three birds, I have “…miles to go before I sleep/and miles to go before I sleep” (lines 15-16).

In selecting my ten poems for my Poetry Fundamentals class at SNHU, I noticed that there was a reflective theme present in my craft. I also noticed that I made people the subject of my work. In organizing my portfolio, I wanted to create a storyline. It isn’t a straight narrative, but it definitely has a timeline attached to it. Frost comes into effect as a source of imagery. The woods he speaks of are reminiscent of the beauty I’ve found in the woods in all the seasons. He as a muse also helped me write more succinct messages in my writing. If I learned anything this important in my craft, it is minimalism.

The feedback I received was mixed, but I was mostly impressed by the constructive criticism I received from both my peers and my professor. The best feedback I received was on “Bodega.” One student mentioned that the line “Sativa kept us modest” could have used more imagery. I agreed with this assessment and changed the words to “This fog had kept us modest” as a way to improve the image and continue the stream of imagery intended for this poem. On that same poem, a student made a comment about political derision in the 1980s. This was not a practical statement and did not give me an idea as to how I could improve.

In one instance, the poem “Collages of You” had some drastic changes made to it. What was an acrostic poem became more than just an acrostic poem. It was meant to show emotion without showing it, but didn’t show emotion initially. This was the feedback given by Dr. Sullivan. Since this feedback, I changed the title to “Collages of You” after it had been simply “Collages.” In another instance, I changed the pronouns from “you” to “she” in my poem originally titled, “March of the Amethyst Camel.” Since revisions, the title became, “Queen of the Caravan.”

Constructive feedback in poetry entails showing what parts of a poem works and what can make the intended message more effective. It’s being able to spot instances where an image could be illustrated with more depth. It’s being able to spot excessive verbiage, cliches, and mixed metaphors. The greatest constructive feedback is not to change the message, but to help your peers improve upon the messages and vice versa.

In choosing feedback to offer, I chose one poet who left the feedback about the 1980s and reviewed his work. I wanted to make sure my focus was strictly on the work itself. I offered the following feedback to him. Conjunctions need to be minimal. Prepositions can be replaced by punctuation. Streamline the message by using as few words and limited voice as possible. I have offered a similar critique to my fellow students.

Using this same instance as an example, I further discovered the aesthetic importance of writing a poem. Ultimately, I learned that not just every word matters. Every placement of a word matters as well. The word “and” in a poem can disrupt its flow. This is often true when “and” begins a verse.

In poems I’ve read on The Poetry Foundation website, I developed a greater insight as to how I could better aesthetically organize my words. Poetry is unique in that there are no restraints and one need not necessarily flush their words to the right hand side of the page or separate letters in words. This is especially true with ee cummings; a poet who was often referred to as the “typesetter’s nightmare.” In his poem “(“crazy jay blue)…”)”, he writes, “thief cook cynic/ (swimfloatdrifting/fragment of heaven)/trickstervillain” (cummings 191). During this class, I took especially kind to cummings, as he inspired me to write “for suheir hammad (after ee cummings).”

As I analyzed works presented in the class (and read independently), I cannot stress the importance of the aesthetics. In many successful poems, the lines are usually in alignment not just with the left margin, but with the end words. In “Elegy [“I think by now the river must be thick”]” (Trethewey), it is worth noting that the second lines of each couplet align with each other on the right. There is a stairway effect created between each line.

I have had a total of 158 poems published throughout my career as a poet. When my work first started getting accepted, I noticed that the more minimal poems were getting the greatest number of acceptances. It led me to believe that my more compact pieces made for better reading. I learned throughout two decades that the most effective pieces of writing said a mouthful of sweetness with just a spoonful of sugar.

The quality of my poetry improved based on the specific prompts which were given. I learned how to work within the parameters to write something effective. I am usually used to writing longer poems, so it was a welcome challenge to have a specific number of lines with which to write. Although I have found great success as a poet, I still want to grow. This will be especially true when I begin writing my thesis and compile a larger portfolio. I hope that this will be publishable material for a new book.

In crafting my final product, some of my revisions were based on which words worked with one another and which words provided awkwardness. As someone who is a stage poet as well as a page poet, it’s important to make sure the words can be spoken as much as they can be read. In other cases, I catered to superstition. I did not want to see duplicates of initial letters in this portfolio. I had two poems which began with the letter B. To fix this, I kept the title of “Bodega” and changed the title of “Blood Moon Eclipse 2021” to “Under the Lunar Eclipse.” I also felt the change would provide more of an evocative image. “Collages” became “Collages of You” to reflect the subject of love and attraction. “Ace-Deuce-Tray” became “One Eyed Jack” to give the poem a preview which was autobiographical. Ultimately, the order in which these poems was presented was told in the reflections of a middle-aged man reflecting upon his life. The rest are written in chronological order based on the time of these memories.

My future as a poet boils down to this. I want to keep writing. I want to keep communicating. If I am not learning, I am not growing. As I continue to pursue poetry as a concentration in graduate school, I want to remain inspired by the likes of Rupi Kaur, Brandon Leake, and Amanda Gorman. I am inspired by how these three poets have taken this artform and brought it back to the human consciousness. Poetry tends to go in and out of vogue in the public eye. I will continue to keep submitting my work and I will continue to read my poetry on stage. I will also continue to tour around New York City with my current book of poetry, Grimoire (Moses).

In the future, I hope to be recognized for my craft. I want to continue pursuing this poetry concentration at SNHU. I want to keep selling copies of Grimoire. Most importantly, I have a goal of becoming a poet laureate. Staten Island got its first poet laureate in the summer of 2019. By 2023, there should be a new poet laureate application process. I will be applying and I will certainly be praying that I get selected.

Works Cited

cummings, ee. “(“crazy jay blue)…”)”. Poetry, 1950. p. 191. Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=25515. Accessed 19 Dec. 2021

Moses, Jacob R. Grimoire. ii Publishing, 2021.

Schmidt, Elizabeth Hun. The Poets Laureate Anthology “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost. Library of Congress, 2010. p551.

Trethewey, Natasha. “Elegy [“I think by now the river must be thick”]”. Thrall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57695/elegy-i-think-by-now-the-river-must-be-thick. Accessed 19 Dec. 2021.

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