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A fish, in the first person.

September 27, 2010

Yes, I know that is an abstract title. No, I’m not going to rewrite it for you.

I promise this will make sense if you read this in its entirety.

Recently, I have been rummaging through old papers and poems I have written. (I’m getting ready for grad school and I need to get my portfolio together.) To my delight, I came across a poem which I had completely forgotten about writing. This poem sent me on a trip down memory lane.

Four years ago, I was a student in Florida. I remember taking a creative writing class that, for many reasons, changed me. It shaped me into the writer I felt I needed to be me, not the writer I wanted to be. I won’t say that these changes weren’t for the best but they certainly came about in a way that was painful. Surrounded by elitism, I felt belittled by the other professor’s pets (in which I was included for a short time) and it ended up turning my beloved degree program in English into an arduous struggle to say the very least.

Now far removed from the everyday comings and goings of academia, I have, at long last, accepted I am a better analytical, expository writer than a poet. Conceding this point breaks my heart a little. It shatters more than one or two dreams but it is the truth. I poured hours and hours into writing intelligent, moving, otherworldly poetry. I would draft over and over, convinced my editing was never complete, laboring under my professor’s proclamation that “there is no such thing as writing — only re-writing.”

When I was assigned to write a short story, I put every ounce of effort into a twenty eight page piece. If anything ever represented all of my hopes and dreams mingled with all of my fears and doubts, it was in those very pages of paper. I remember sitting in my seat, tremulously waiting to receive my grade and to read through all of my comments and feedback from my professor. I beamed, in disbelief as I saw “A” scrawled across the front page. Imagine my devastation when the only comment came on the very last page, green ink scratching out “this didn’t spark or hold my attention.” I received an “A” because I had completed the assignment, not because it was any good. I set up a meeting to discuss what I had done wrong. I had to know what would make me better. Honestly, I needed to hear whether or not my professor thought I had any real talent for writing at all. In my brash, emotional state of youth, I felt it was too painful to continue on studying in a field where I would possibly never find work as a writer. I needed to hear raw honesty. I got it. His words thudded in my ears with violence. “Jennifer, you are too abstract for your own good.”

I sobbed.

I began filling out papers to change my major to history.

Thankfully, my friends dragged me out of my pity-party and encouraged me to continue studying English. They assured me that one person’s opinion, even if it was the most important professor in the department, didn’t dictate the world. They were right. However, my professor was also right. I’m not a very good writer. Anyone who hangs around here long enough will agree that I’m wordy. My poetry really is terrible and I admit I’m abstract. I’ve learned (and have even attempted!) to rein in my defects in order to produce better quality pieces. As it turns out, all of those pieces have been non-fiction, non-poetry (😉 ). I’ve finally turned into the writer that my professor probably wanted me to be all along. I’m still not very good but I’m better.He’s a brilliant man and I am thankful for his tutelage.

Four years later, I am not a published writer but I am loving my job. I blog and journal to my heart’s content. Being “Freshly Pressed” was a total encouragment to me, as well as a surprise. No, my piece wasn’t the next great novel, nor was it a collection of poems that will win me the position of Poet Laureate. I have long since given up the idea that I may be a great novelist. It’s much better for me to write what I’m good at. It’s practical.

It isn’t very much fun though.

The poem I found was the last one I ever submitted for my creative writing professor. The assignment was to randomly pick out a photograph from a stack he had sitting on his desk. We had to write the poem based on the photograph. When it was my turn, I grabbed a picture of a school of fish. It looked very much like this.

What I ended up writing was ridiculous. It was an act of defiance. I rebelled. I had spent the rest of the semester trying to be more concrete and to be more concise. I worked myself sick trying to earn a “A” for talent, not because I completed the requirements. No matter what I did, I couldn’t spark his interest. So I decided to write what I really wanted. I was going to be silly and free spirited. I wrote as a fish, in the first person.

In my abstract mind, I imagined a very bright little fish going through an identity crisis. He wants to be an individual. Poor little protagonist fish! Not much alone time in a giant group. I envisioned him attempting to have a serious, existential monologue but being continually interrupted as his mates chime in, imitating him — anything to protect the group.
Anthropomorphism at its most ridiculous, I assure you.

I honestly don’t remember what my professor thought of this poem. I know that I enjoyed it. I showed it to a few friends and they found it amusing. They said it reminded them of one of my literary HEROES, Dr. Seuss. Many people didn’t understand what he was writing about at first. Critics thought he was a bit looney and abstract. I guess after all the ups and downs, I’ve landed in good company.

So without further ado, I present my poem

Solidarity

Here I am!
(…and I, and I!)

Yes, you are.
But I am here.
I am me.
I am me
and you, and him too.
And you are me,
in this sea.

One.
One hundred.
One hundred thousand.
And me
(…and you, and him too!)

Knowing and being
following
through
in circles and depths,
unknown.
In numbers unknown.
Too many?
(…too few!)

I am blue.
(…and I, and I!)
As blue as the sea!
Yes, I am blue!
(and you, and him too!)

18 Comments leave one →
  1. September 27, 2010 12:24 pm

    That is a great poem, it does remind me of Dr Seuss but I’d be glad to be compared to such a memorable writer myself! It’s light and bouncy, I think it’s great.

    You have a great style with all your writing, I for one am keen to read more. I’m quite verbose myself, often falling into lengthy explanation or description and pretty much always wandering off into a side story.

    I say keep it up. For every one person who prefers a different style of writing, there will be at least 10 who love yours.
    🙂

  2. September 27, 2010 8:05 pm

    Enjoyed reading about your journey and the lil’ poem that brought a lil’ smile.

    • September 30, 2010 6:01 am

      I’m so glad!🙂 It makes me happy to hear that! Glad you enjoyed the poem in all its sillyness.

  3. Hami in Japan permalink
    September 28, 2010 11:33 am

    I love that poem. I’m not great when it comes to poetry. I generally find it dull and still believe that everything should rhyme, meaning that poems for me go something along the lines of “there was a cat, who sat on a mat, and who ate a rat….” But I loved the fish poem!!

    And keep writing my dear, cos I love it!! x x x

    • September 30, 2010 6:01 am

      Awh thanks Hannah~~!~❤ I think it's a funny, strange little poem. It probably makes better sense when I read it out loud… because I hear different voices in my head… haha wow. That's something I probably shouldn't have admitted.😄

  4. September 28, 2010 8:31 pm

    Is the program that you are applying ask for a portfolio mixed with fiction, poetry and non-fiction work? Where are you applying?

    • September 30, 2010 6:02 am

      Yes. I need to submit many examples of previous writing. I’m applying to several different places… but I’d rather not say where. Sorry. >_<

      • October 1, 2010 4:56 pm

        sorry. didn’t mean to seem like a creep.

      • October 1, 2010 5:09 pm

        Oh no! Don’t worry!!! I don’t think you’re creeping! haha I just don’t want certain bits of info out there.😄 Not that I really think anyone will track me down in Nowhere, Hokkaido!😉

  5. September 29, 2010 10:13 pm

    First of all Jenn – your blog fascinates me for countless reasons, but it kind of excited me that you touched on this, because I empathise about a billionfold!

    I remember in my first year of university, I stormed in and defiantly presented my lecturer (professor) with a dog-eared sheaf of my proudest verse – the newly-cut poems of the sort I felt a Literature student really ought to be writing. Soon after though, he handed them back almost wordlessly except for a single comment: ‘I think you need to read more contemporary poetry.’ He then handed me a free copy of the poetry journal he edited. At the time it absolutely rankled and ate at me. How dare he?? Who the hell was he to say that? And so I refused to write a word of poetry for an entire year, and just read ferciously instead.

    In hindsight though, the poems were atrocious. They were the needlessly abstract posturings of a kid who was high on too much Eliot! I appreciated the tough love and honesty of my lecturer. I soon realised that carving a voice for yourself, paying attention to the sounds the poem makes, is what leads to better poetry. I needed to make sure that it had a solid and meaningful framework, not just Gertrude Stein-esque random knick knacks.

    Borges wrote that ‘poetry springs from something deeper – it’s beyond intelligence’, and he’s right, but the other 99% there is so often just sheer hard work. Just because poetry is beautiful, it doesn’t mean it should flow forth like some inspired dream-song all of the time. Although thank god that in all the desperation of writers’ block sometimes it can, this last part from Mark Strand’s ‘Mt Life By Somebody Else’ kind of reminds me of that:

    Why do you never come? Must I have you by being
    somebody else? Must I write My Life by somebody else?
    My Death by somebody else? Are you listening?
    Somebody else has arrived. Somebody else is writing.

    I loved that you got at the fluid sense of self within the school of fish, how the words reflect an ‘I’ that’s as flowing and impermanent as the water it swims through.

    You’re a fantastic writer – clear, intuitive and graceful. I’m honestlyenvious of your prose style, it’s awesome🙂

    Don’t ever give up on the poetry. The waste paper basket really is the poet’s best friend, and it’s a continuous journey that noone ever really finishes.

    Sorry for waffling! Have you been reading any of the old haiku masters in Japan? What I’d give to read Basho or Buson in the original and UNDERSTAND it…

    Peace out and keep writing🙂

    • September 30, 2010 6:04 am

      Thanks so much for such a great and thoughtful comment! I appreciate it! I’m glad that we can all suffer through things together. Empathy is appreciated haha. (By the way, IS there such a thing as too much Eliot?!?) Thanks for the quote! I really enjoyed it!
      As far as haiku, yes! I’m in love with haiku! I just picked up a new book not too long ago. Japanese is hard but definitely worth learning!😉

      • September 30, 2010 9:36 pm

        Don’t worry about it🙂 It’s so hard sometimes just to get something down on that big ‘ol blank page, something about the internal monologue-y ness of prose sometimes makes that seem so much easier.

        Well art’s certainly to be suffered for😉 But yep, us aspiring poets have to stick together y’know! I think there’s a thing as too much Eliot inasmuch as I probably couldn’t eat 5 boxes of super-rich chocolate fudge cake” Gotta love the TS though, April is the cruellest month and all that:)

        Haiku! That’s amazing. I didn’t think I could actually be any more impressed Jenn, but there you go. Take a bow. I got Robert Hass’s translations of Basho, Buson, and Issa actually. I absolutely love Robert Hass. I love Issa too, he’s so funny:

        Those sea cucumbers,
        they just don’t seem
        Japanese.

        He crazy.

        Chris x

  6. Corrie permalink
    October 1, 2010 5:16 pm

    😄 Aw, I think your poem is such a cool idea! I love Dr. Seuss-esque poetry just as much as I love the stuff of T.S. Eliot (though I guess you could say that both of them are pretty abstract in their own way).😄 Anyways, I think our best creative work often comes when we create something that we want to read or see–if we put our best into it, chances are it’ll show, and other people will like it too! I definitely understand where you’re coming from in trying really hard (and often to no avail) to please your professors, though.😄

    Also I think it’s awesome that you’re applying to grad school! Will you be taking classes in Japan/online or in the US for that?

  7. October 2, 2010 9:55 am

    Grad school writing programs are mostly all about networking and making time to write and talk with other writers about writing. It’s effective to some degree, but only if you’re surrounded by people and are assigned to an adviser who think like you or in a way you can relate to or appreciate, which is not always how it works out. I taught writing for a couple years in grad school (I was studying a different field but past experience got me hired) and realized how futile it is, first of all, to teach anything but technical forms of composition in any sort of consistent way between professors (and even then there’s still way too much subjectivity and favoritism that isn’t going anywhere) and it’s nearly impossible to get bright people used to doing well to write what they want rather than what they think the professor is looking for. Writing and grades should never mix because the latter defeats the former, though constructive criticism should be handed out constantly. Hope you find a program that suits you.

  8. Linda permalink
    October 26, 2010 7:13 pm

    Well I think it’s just great! It’s happy and cheerful. One can just see the poor little fish trying so hard to be heard. To feel unique. It made me think of the great big fish that I have painted on my bathroom wall. Might I have print your poem on the wall as well? If not thats fine, really. I think it would be very cute though. It would make a great statement.

  9. Ryan permalink
    November 4, 2010 12:53 am

    It’s no doubt that my poetry is often too abstract, and too contextual to myself.

    And I suppose while it may not be exactly accessible to others… I don’t find myself caring.

    Maybe it’s the inner desire for someone to know my heart more than what I’m simply trying to convey. Or for someone to understand me that much… I dunno.

    But I mostly write for myself. And that’s what matters to me.😀 If I want to write for someone else, then I guess I’d be a little more concrete.

  10. December 7, 2010 2:30 pm

    Hi Jennifer,
    Accidentally bumped into your blog, and this is the first post I read. I like it. I know what you mean, I truly do. I guess writing is very personal, like what you said, write till your heart’s content, that’s what matters:)

    Keep on writing

    The other Jennifer
    Malaysia

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