And my voice rings on again

Why

For my final poem of the semester I decided to go with another one that I had written earlier in the semester. “Why” is an interesting poem. Most of the time I try to end a poem on an upbeat message, but “Why” ends in the admission that there is no set reason not to just give up on life. There is no single answer for all people on why living is a worthwhile thing. That idea strikes me as one not often discussed. I feel confident is saying that we all believe that suicide is not the answer to life’s problem, but the often arguments for why you should not such as “life gets better” or “think about the ones who love you” do not really mean anything to the one suffering. Instead each person has to find their own unique reason to live. This is the question that the poem leaves you with.

The rest of the poem contains a couple ideas I really like exploring. I do not really write in a typical stanza structure, but the first chain of ideas after the initial opening is my admission of inexperience. It is the admission that this is my vent. “I write poetry not as some expert / But rather some kind of freak” because poetry is the pouring out of my soul and consciousness. That leads directly into the admission that I am not good at opening up. I bottle things up until I am ready to burst and from that bursting comes poetry. To me this emotional pressure, although unpleasant, creates my best work of poetry, a song of words and pure meaning.

The bulk of the poem is one big stanza at the end. It discusses the shifting mind state that I sometimes find myself in. There are days where I feel like an alien living in a world I do not understand which is not inherently a bad thing, but it can be rather isolating. The line ”Because it’s not a question of who but why” begins the final wrap up with an admission that I have a grasp on who I am, but I do not understand why I am this way. This leads back to the beginning question of why. Why is life worth it. Why should I be the way I am and not just end it. This is the fundamental question and frankly this poem does not give an answer because there is no answer I can give. I have my reason. Now more than ever I have a grasp on myself and my mind, but the way I found that hand hold on reality won’t work for everyone. Every person is different. Everyone has their own purpose in life or their own reason to stay around. Maybe you have a dream you fight to fulfill or maybe there is a person or  people you stick around for. Maybe you don’t know what your reason is, but its there. Regardless, find your reason and help others do the same when you can. It exist and when you find it hold on and never let go. The sky isn’t going anywhere. You can reach up to the heavens another day.

Music and Poetry

So this another post about inspirations, because I don’t have any finished poems ready. This time I am going to talk about my musical inspirations. Right off the bat I’ll tell you I listen to just about any genre of music to some extent. This not to say I like all music. Within rap and hip hop I am fairly particular, but with the exception of NF and partially Eminem and Mat Kearney those genres do not drastically impact my poetry. But that’s enough about the people who only partially influenced me let’s talk about all the people that did.

One of the earliest genres I truly fell in love with was Bluegrass. Bluegrass is an interesting genre in that there are sort of two ages of it at the moment much like country music. There is the old school traditional including people like Ricky Skaggs and the more folksy americana bands like Trampled By Turtles. There are a host of bands the spectrum between these two and further each direction as well including The Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show. All these bands particularly the latter have given me an appreciation for the combination of storytelling and emotion involved in there pieces. (You can blame the mandolin on Ricky Skaggs, it was a group he was affiliated with that provided that grant that led to me learning the instrument in first grade. Also I got to play on stage with him which is really freaking cool if I do say so myself). These groups and others like them replaced what would of been traditional country for me. (I still like old country, but I find myself annoyed by most of the modern pop country as it exaggerates the stereotypes too much)

So now you know about my farm country boy side let’s talk about punk, alternative, and all the fun in between. Green Day’s Good Riddance was one of the first more modern songs I learned to play on the mandolin and the punk genre has inspired a lot of my opinions on thinking for yourself and not letting others force you into any particular corner of thought. They served as a launch point for punk, but that side quickly collided with my love for the alternative and garage bandy sound of bands like Weezer and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. These bands and others like them brought me to the radio station 104.5 Philly Alternative. From there I learned about Twenty one pilots, Kings of Leon, Judah and the Lion, and many more. These bands and those like them have made not afraid to be who I am whatever that may mean. They value expressing yourself with your own sound which is something I try to do in my poetry.

If you want to know what happens when somebody like both folk music and punk music you’ll like the next few bands I talk about. Folk punk is a weird genre to most people. My favorite bands in this genre are probably Andrew Jackson Jihad, Days N Daze, Pat the Bunny, and The Homeless Gospel Choir. These bands are what inspire me to be a little weird. Although this doesn’t bleed into the poetry I have posted here it does into the times where I am just spouting off ideas and random poems. This is also where I hear a lot of discussion over political ideas as folk punk is a very politically charged genre. Overall folk punk is a sort of outlet for me just as poetry is.

These genres and others like traditional folk, indie rock, indie acoustic, etc. add elements to my poetry that range from speech style to topic to general mood. They all play a role in my poetry just as they play a role in who I am.

The Sun

So another week, another poem. One of these days I’ll actually pause and go back to re record my old poems with some wording changes and some actual editing to the videos, but today is not that day only in part because I had two midterms this week and am writing this at 4 in the morning. Regardless let’s talk poetry. “The Sun” was an interesting poem to write in that I had to balance my urge to pour out everything I know about the Sun with actually making this a poem and not a documentary. To prevent myself from giving into that temptation I decided to personify the Sun to a very high extent by talking directly to it. I have always loved story telling poems, so narrating the life of our Sun back to our Sun seemed like a cool challenge. The parts that I liked the most were right at the end when I talked about the dying of the Sun. So… while I have you here let’s talk about star life cycles.

As we do with all good stories, we start at the beginning. (For those interested I am pulling most of my information from this website to make sure I am getting my facts correct) We begin with a nebula. The source of this nebula is not completely known, but approximately 4.6 billion years ago the cloud began to collapse. The collapse caused dense regions to form in the dust and gas, which caused a chain reaction of gravity that pulled more in more matter. As the dust and gas coalesced it also began to rotate at an increasing speed (Conservation of Momentum). This rotation caused the matter to form a disc around a central ball that would become the Sun. The pressure caused by gravity on the ball generated heat that built up in the young protostar for around 100,000 years before igniting nuclear fusion in the core. The young star was a T Tauri star, a very active young star that releases intense solar wind. This stage did not last long (only a few million years, so no time at all). The Sun, now settled into it main sequence stage where it converts hydrogen into helium. From what we know about the Sun we can say it has been in this sequence for 4.57 billion years. Unfortunately, our Sun like all stars only has so much fuel and will inevitably run out. This process of burning fuel creates more pressure through a shrinking of the core and an increase in gravitational pressure, which in turn prompts faster fusion of hydrogen that increases the luminosity of our Sun by 1%… every million years. In 1.1 billion years, the Sun’s increase in energy will heat the Earth causing a greenhouse gas effect. By 3.5 billion years the Earth will be more like Venus than the planet we know and love. When the hydrogen eventually runs out, the helium in the core will collapse and the Sun will expand as the core heats up forming what is know as a Red Giant. THis expansion will eat Mercury and Venus with the potential of reaching the Earth as well (is being consumed by the Sun or completely scorched worse?) At this point the Sun will be in its death spiral. It will spend around 120 million years in the Red-Giant-Branch phase before suffering a helium flash. The Sun will shrink to around 10 times its current size (its still huge) and will be around 50 times its luminosity, but it will be cooler than it is today. A 100 million years from then most of its helium core will be gone and it will be in the Asymptotic-Giant-Branch phase where it again expands and becomes more luminous. This phase last for about 20 million years where it loses mass from thermal pulses, but grows larger and more luminous. The Sun will lose most of its mass and the exposed core will cool into a white dwarf that will fade to black.

So, I talked a lot, but space is cool and so is the inevitable heat death of the Universe. Regardless, the Sun is a pretty cool guy. (Well maybe not that cool)

“I had a Plan”

This weeks poem “I had a Plan” is all about the future. When I was in high school, I had the rest of my life planned. I knew everything I wanted and exactly how I was going to get there. Looking back now that was pretty stupid of me to do. I am not saying that having a plan is bad, but assuming that your plan will go perfectly is idealistic at best. That is exactly what happened to me. I came here to Penn State and things changed. I still have some of the same goals. I want a PhD and I would like to be a professor (although I went from wanting to be a research professor to wanting to be a teaching professor), but many things have changed. My priorities and views on the world have evolved. To be completely honest though, this poem is not finished. It leaves off when everything has fallen apart, but it never mentions the rebuilding or any of what comes after the realization that the dream life you had is not what is actually going to happen. It lacks any part about coming to accept that and what that acceptance involves. I hope to eventually finish this poem, but as I discussed last week, I am currently struggling to write.

With an incomplete and rather short poem like this week’s, I normally like to take the actual commentary in another direction away from the specifics of the poem. I have discussed this before, but I am not the best at sharing my emotions in real life. A computer screen gives me the level of separation I need to open up. I have already told you that this poem is based on my experiences, but I wanted to tell you more about how it felt and how I have responded in the hope that if you know someone or are going through it yourself that you will be able to relate and realize that this is a part of life. Coming into college I was very fortunate to have my life fairly together externally (if you have read past post you know that inside may not have been as great). To be fair, my life is still very much together, but due to the circumstances of the past year, the internal stuff has begun to bleed out. There are days where I feel as if life goes on around me, separate and independent of my actions. It is as if I am nothing more than a spectator in my own life. I feel out of control and numb to it all. There are days where I forget to eat until late at night because I am just trying to keep track of what I am doing at that exact moment. It is kind of surreal and it does not happen every day (thank goodness), but it happens enough to remember. Those days are my plan falling apart days. I am no longer one hundred percent in control of myself and as terrifying as that is I am trying to come to terms with that. I can not control the world and unfortunately (or fortunately depending on who you ask) the world does have an influence on me. I guess that is just part of life.

I Am

The first real poem I can ever remember writing was in eighth grade. It like the poem this week was an “I Am” poem. I don’t have a copy of it on any computer that I know of (it is floating around somewhere), but it is what kind of kicked off my interest in poetry in general. I write about expressing my inner self in through poetry in a lot of my other post. “I Am” style poems are all about defining yourself through your experiences, interest, and personal identifications. This poem and the original both do that by creating various four line pairings that all revolve around a central theme. This themes include family, scouting, poetry, academics, memories, nature, and the darkest stanze, insecurities. My goal is to make this an ever expanding list of themes. I said it in the video, but I want this poem to be my autobiography. Its purpose is to tell my story through all aspects of who I am.

Normally this would be the part where I talk about all the different messages inside the poem and what they mean, but with this type of the poem I prefer to leave it open for interpretation. Its purpose is to explain me and each listener will know me in a different way. So instead of talking about that, I am going to talk about writer’s block because that is completely related (I’m joking if you can’t tell). Over the past two weeks I have had about a million different ideas for poem lines dancing in my head, but when I sit down to write the lines stay disconnected. My normal writing style is to sit and talk. I string random lines together with only a rough idea where the story or message will go. Normally this is a seamless process that lets me produce a rough draft that I can then edit into something better. This, however, has not been the case over the past few weeks. The lines just have not sounded right and whenever I try to switch up my style and attempt an actual rhyme scheme I get caught after a single stanza maybe two if I am lucky. This struggle is why the last post was all about my inspirations rather than a new poem. This lack of creative flow is a downer especially considering that my poetry is my primary way of getting out my stress and general emotions. Now you may be asking if I haven’t been able to write recently how on Earth did I write this weeks poem. The truth is this style of poem is a lot easier for me to write than my normal poems. It is a simple statement about life following a set format. Although I think the poem sounds good, but it is a lot simpler than others I have written and the various ideas I have been unable to write. Overall I’m anxious to see if I can get the ideas to flow again for next week.

My Inspirations

Today I wanted to do something a little different. Every week I write a poem and tell you the hows and whys and the message, but I have never really delved into my inspirations and history within spoken word. Its not a particularly crazy story, but it does give me the chance to share some of my favorite poets with you all and any excuse to do that is good by me.

My first significant experience with poetry was in eighth grade. We listened to “To This Day” by Shane Koyczan (Remember him we’ll come back to him in a bit). This was my first time hearing spoken word and it led to me getting really into my first poetry assignment in school, an “I am” poem based on my identity. That same year (I think it gets a bit fuzzy) I heard a friend of mine perform “Scratch & Dent Dreams.” It was here that I realized how attainable poetry really is. After eight grade I lost track of poetry. I would hear the occasional poem from people like Suli Breaks who have a tendency to go viral on Facebook. In the tenth grade my English class participated in a school version of Poetry Out Loud. The poem was titled “Advice to a Prophet” by Richard Wilbur. It was during this project that I fell in love with poetry. It became a running joke. Here I was, the science and math nerd, reciting poetry. Sometimes I found people like Harry Baker and his melding of math and poetry, but I also fell into the deep pit of poetry online. Groups like Button Poetry and Write About Now filled the gaps, but it was specific poets that captured my ears and caused me to stare into a mirror and start speaking. It was Levi The Poet, listener, Neil Hilborn, and Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye that inspired me. Listener’s poems “Wooden Heart” and “You Were A House On Fire” inspired me to give music to my words. Levi The Poet’s series Correspondence Fiction inspired me to tell a story that is part fiction and part reality. Neil Hilborn’s “OCD” and “Punk Rock John” inspired me to put every ounce of energy into each poem. And Shane Koyczan (told you to remember the name), his poem “my darling sara” taught me to pour my heart out.

Every poem I hear taught me something new. When I find a new poet or spoken word band like Hotel Books, TAL, Sleeping Giant, and To Speak Of Wolves, I am changed. My poetry like my life is a quilt of experiences. It is the sum of influences and experiences. It is the poets who inspire me that make me stand and speak. They are the wind in my sail and they may never know it. But that’s okay. They live their life creating incredible beauty, incredible sadness, incredible joy. They give birth to new stories and to memories. They give me a release. And they inspire me to do the same.

The Mask

So throughout this blog I have always talked about both the style and the meanings behind my poetry. I am starting to reach a point where I no longer feel the need to discuss my technique because I utilize the same general techniques in many of my poems. So for now on I will only be discussing technique if I utilize something new.

 

That being said, let’s get into “The Mask”. This poem is a big coming out for me. Before this I released poems that talked about being unhappy and such, but this poem describes the life I have been living for longer than I know. I can’t remember when I put on my mask. For as long as I can remember, I would hide my terror at making a mistake with a veil of confidence and sarcasm. I would sprinkle in some self deprecating jokes and a morbid sense of humor to mask the moments that reality leaked through. I was good at this. I recently confessed to my mom that I hated myself in high school. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. For years I hid that from my family and friends. I can’t speak for her, but I think it caught her by surprise. To give some background, my mom is a guidance counselor who works with a lot of kids who struggle with things like depression, so for her to not know when her own son was struggling was tough. I regret not talking to her. I regret not telling anyone. But I hid for so long that I sort of forgot that I was hiding at times. My main source of fear (I don’t call it depression or anxiety because that would warrant a diagnosis and I am no doctor) is perfectionism. To me, building a mask was always a better option than admitting that I was unhappy. To be sad or angry was imperfect in my mind. I prefered to work on my cocky, sarcastic, morbid, borderline egotistical character than reveal the mess of a person underneath. Every little mistake, I internalized rather than express how it hurt.

The poem tells the result. If you listened to last week’s poem you know that I recently went through a pretty rough patch. After being able to so casually keep on the mask, this struggle made me break character. “For the first time in forever I shall see my own face in the mirror.” I was caught off guard by how far gone I really was. I have been trying to get ahold of who I was before, but so far separating the mask from reality has been extremely hard and I fear the old me is forever changed. It is sort of like those pictures of a tree growing around a sign. I have fused to my mask and now am in the painful process of tearing myself away from it. I keep catching myself trying to shell up again. I’ll build a part of a mask and catch myself. I am trying to figure out how to live without this crutch.

I also want to make something clear. If you are hiding, if you built your own mask, take it off. Tell someone and get help. If you can’t take it off, ask for help. If you can’t tell someone in person just yell into your keyboard. I couldn’t talk about this in person. I have conditioned myself to lie about feelings, but something about just typing things out makes it easier. So, set yourself free. Whatever it takes, be real, be you and I’ll do my best to be me.

Brother, I Hunt for my Angel

“Brother, I Hunt for My Angel” is not only the longest poem I have ever recorded, but also the most involved on the production side. The poem was recorded in segments. Each verse and chorus was its own unique recording that then had to be spliced together. This process led to some interesting changes made throughout. The first major difference was the ability to edit the actual content of the poem post recording. I ended up scrapping one instrumental segment for this initial version of the poem. Speaking of instrumental sections, that was the reason I recorded the poem in segments. I was concerned how the instrumental would sound after recording and I did not want to risk losing the whole poem to it. This was my first time experimenting with instruments in my poetry, so I kept things relatively safe and only included my mandolin, which I recorded in the same process as my normal poetry. I think the extra effort was worth it, although I would have liked to kept working on the sound quality of the instrumental segments so the mandolin rang a little cleaner.

The technical act of writing the poem was very similar to previous poems despite the added challenge of deciding how to incorporate the mandolin. I utilized a lot of repeating phrases and structures. This is particularly evident in the word “brother” and in all the music segments. I wanted to create an almost echoing correspondence within the lyrics of the poem. I did break the structure in a few places where I thought the main character would break (We’ll get into how I knew where he would break). Overall, the technical writing in this poem was secondary to the message.

This blog and my poetry is my outlet. I tend to hold things in until I burst, but this past Sunday was the single worst day of my life. Just under the past two years I have been in a relationship that I can only describe as life saving. My girlfriend was my best friend and we had our whole future planned out. I was never one to believe in love at first sight, but the work we both put in, the understanding we had, I thought our love was unbreakable. And it was, but not irreplaceable. Sunday night, I got on a Skype call with my girlfriend, and with tears in her eyes, she said we should break up. I was shocked. I loved her. I still do. And she loved me. She even said so as we talked. But that’s where it gets complicated. It was because she loved me that she wanted to end things now before she hurt herself and me more than we already were. She had found another person. Her “prince” in the poem. I couldn’t blame her. He was at the same college, I am three hours away. He is another artist. I am a scientist. How could I compete. I couldn’t just let her go though. I had to make sure she was in good hands. So I talked to him. I made him promise me that he would take care of her. She was after all my angel. I still hurt, but I trust her to have made the right decision. And I trust she knows that she still has a part of me with her. I will stay. I am the brother on the road. She is my angel. He is the prince. And I will never forget her. I will never stop loving who she is and what she has done for me. But you’ll hear more about that in another poem.

 

I Like to Say I’m Happy

“I Like to Say I’m Happy.” The title tells you everything you need to know about this short poem. It is an expression of all the unexplainable sadness that crops up. It is about the self doubt, the anxiety, the little dark thoughts that worm their way through everything. This blog post will be a little different then most of my post in that it is only in part about the poem. Although I wrote this with a structure in mind, it probably took the least amount of time of any poem I have written. “I like to Say I’m Happy” was completed in around ten minutes, while I waited for my chemistry class to begin. Normally I rewrite and edit every poem, but this is not just a poem for me. It is a kind of confession. It is an admittance of my own shortcomings. As a poet ( particularly a spoken word poet), it is expected that I would share my personal feelings and insights, but if you read the earlier post to this blog you will see that I hid behind fictitious stories and a prayer I grew up with. This poem is my first step out into the light. It is me saying that sometimes things are not perfect.

Before I dig to deeply into the personal side I wanted to cover the symmetric layout of the poem.

I like to say I’m happy

I live a good life

I smile when people say hello

 

I like to say I’m happy

Because I’m afraid of what they’ll say if I don’t

 

I like to say I’m happy even though I don’t know if I am

 

I like to say I’m happy

because I’m not sure why I’m not

 

I like to say I’m happy

I live trying to forget

I try to ignore the voices that say I’m not

The poem follows a three line, two line, one line, two line, three line layout that is reflected over the central statement. That along with the repeated title phrase is supposed to build an almost circular poem. It begins and ends with the voices of other people, although the ending voices are internal as compared to external in the start. This change in external to internal is another point of symmetry with the top half being focused on the external force of other people, while the bottom revolves around the inner struggles that seek to tear us down.

Now that I have explained my structure, it’s time to do the hard part. Anybody who has known me for awhile knows that I do not particularly like expressing emotions. I try to hide any feelings behind morbid jokes and my focus on academics. Unfortunately you can only bottle things up so much, especially when you are dealing with a host of self inflicted stress. People often use being a perfectionist as a way to brag, while also seeking pity for having a weakness, but real perfectionism is so much more than a cliche answer to an interview question. Perfectionism is seeing every wrong answer on a test as a fatal flaw in who you are as a person. It is not accepting anything less than a hundred percent, because you thought everyone would make fun of you otherwise. That was me. Most of my schooling was completed under this fear that I wouldn’t be good enough. I lived in a world where you were either the best or you pretended to not care about that topic. Even after I became an Eagle Scout, National Honor Society President, and was in line to become Valedictorian, I still wasn’t good enough. I hated that I couldn’t meet my own standards which meant I hated myself. Imagine being too afraid to admit something was wrong with you because that would mean you weren’t perfect, that was the twisted world I lived in, and still live in at times. I still struggle at times, but through high school and now in college I have learned some strategies to fight back the doubt. I met people who showed me ways to balance things. I connected with my best friend who taught me that it is okay to talk about it. My poetry is my release. My poetry is me admitting I am not perfect and that is okay.

Our Father

 

   “Our Father” was a hard poem for me to write. Not only is it longer than many of the poems I have written before, but its incorporation of existing text made the choices in language much more difficult. Every section of the poem had to incorporate a line at the start of the section. This meant that every section had to connect topically and fit the flow. I tried to vary the strategy used in each section as well. In several locations, I used reputation of a word, while in others places I repeat an entire phrase. In many of the places that I did not use repetition, I utilized similar sounding words (made more similar by pronunciation). Outside of all the similar phrases, words, and sounds, I also played on the prayer format. I utilized phrases and language typical of a formal prayer. In the final section of the poem after I have gone through the entirety of the prayer, I decided to utilize a call back by incorporating lines from the prayer in the wrap up. I further made reference to faith by discussing the bread and wine used in the Eucharist and ending the poem with amen. I am not quite thrilled with some of the smaller phrases and word choices. I think I may change a few lines in later readings, but it is in an acceptable state for now.

      Although this was a technically difficult poem, it was also an emotional poem to write. I am a practicing Catholic and was raised as such, but it is impossible for me to blindly follow anything. I have questioned my faith for a very long time, especially when I hear and see sad and evil things. This questioning has sometimes put me at odds with other members of my faith. My own self doubts and the disagreements with the Church sometimes forces me to make decisions or judgments that I look back on poorly. This poem takes all the anger, sadness, fear, and disappointments and directs it towards God, but in the end its an admittance of weakness and vulnerability. It is a dependence on God to survive that brought me to write this poem. I am a man of science. I study astronomy. I base decisions on data. Faith should not be a factor in my life, but it is. God is my comfort and my rock. Whenever I find my mind wandering to the dark parts of life, it is God that pulls me back. That is what really shines through in my final statements of the poem, “Although I may doubt / Although I may fear / May my faith be strong and my prayer be clear / Amen Amen / I say to you Amen.” It is my final plea. It’s the whole purpose of my poem.

      Whatever you may believe, this poem is a call to hold firm to your beliefs. Whether this means hold to morality or to faith is up to you. It is a call to take all the bad in the world, all the pain and accept that it happens. It is a call to be open to questioning yourself, but not giving up on who you are as a person. If nothing else, I hope this poem left you and all other listeners to know that it’s okay to doubt and okay to accept that your beliefs are okay.