Many writers are daunted by poetry. I used to be one of these writers, too. I used to think poems had to be vulnerable and confessional. However, poetry is different from nonfiction. In a poem, writers can dramatize their memories while remaining true to the authenticity of their experiences. As the poet Billy Collins once said: A poem is a memory that never happened.
Memory shapes who we are. Memory is a multitude of stories which show where we come from and how we approach our current lives. It is more fleeting, but less flexible, than imagination. Each time we reflect on a memory, it changes. We reinterpret them, retell them, and reshape our past experiences to resemble our present more effectively. In writing, a poem should allow for a memory to be recast, reimagined, or to be told in fragments. We can be as vulnerable as we choose if we play with memory as we do in fiction. Memory is an introspective art. It is a tool that explores the human experience, and makes tangibility out of the ephemeral.
In poetry, writers sometimes explore their memories by recasting themselves as a “persona.” Persona poetry is a style of poems in which the writer speaks through an assumed voice to mask their truths. The assumed voice can belong to a character, a historical figure, or another person the writer knows. Using this identity, they relive memory through a new lens. Here is a writing prompt to help you get started, inspired by the writing exercises from Christopher Castellani.
Make a list of four “firsts” in your life. Then skip to “thirds,” “sixths,” or “lasts,” in order to jump around through memories. Examples may include:
The first time you failed a test
The first time you got a pet
The first time you snuck out from home
The first time you attended a concert
The third time you went on vacation
The last time you hung out with a friend before the friendship ended
The last time you apologized to someone
The last day of your second year in high school
Let the moments marinate in your mind for a few days before writing them down. Try to remember all the details of the memories and recast the identities of all the people. Use a variety of these moments in your poem. Scatter the memories across different lines. See if the finished poem retains its truth, while also being a memory that never happened.
It is somewhat well-known that the first modern record of ‘fanfiction’ can be traced back to the 1970’s, with the very active Star Trek fan community. This primitive form of fanfiction was published in fan-run magazines, quickly gaining so much popularity that the show’s creators were eventually compelled to acknowledge it. Now, fanfiction is a widely recognized part of fan culture, with even the most casual fans of shows, books, music, and movies participating in either the consumption or production of fanfiction.
It is difficult to find exact statistics that detail the real number of people who consume fanfiction on a daily basis, but by examining specific websites and organizations we can see how widespread fanfiction really is. FanFiction.net, a very popular fanfiction website, has over 14 million new stories published each year, according to public statistics. Traffic metadata also shows that in December of 2021, the other popular website Archive of Our Own, had 1.7 billion page-views, a number that had been steadily rising throughout that year.
With so much content, how does a fan find the stories that most interest them? The primary way to filter through these archives goes as follows; the reader goes on the website and selects which fandom, the book/franchise they want to read from, then by characters, and they can narrow it down even further by the scenario they want to imagine. For example, you want to read about Superman and Batman meeting in a coffee shop? There’s a tag for that. How about a raunchy dystopian buddy-cop adventure starring the cast of Hamlet? There are several tags for that. Want to see Jesus and Lucifer suddenly get the hots for each other? There’s definitely a tag for that. The system of tagging works with pertinent details about the plot, settling, characters, and the interactions that will ensue means that a reader can find exactly what it is they want to read. It completely cancels out the worst part about finding a book you enjoy— sifting through all of the books, and plots, and mediocre characters that don’t interest you. This likely reflects what the future of the creative market looks like, a completely customizable and personalized experience, something that will go a long way to aid in the exposure of all sorts of new writers and novels.
But why is it that people write these strange niche stories? They aren’t getting paid for it, and most might even think them strange, so what compels a person to write a fanfiction? For many it boils down to a genuine passion for writing. Fanfiction can be a fun and engaging way for people to both expand on characters and worlds that they adore, while also sharpening their writing skills. One of the hardest parts of writing is creating a world and characters that suit that world, but writing fanfiction completely sidesteps those issues by using previously existing cannons as a writing prompt for new adventures. Another aspect of fanfiction that has historically brought in many new readers is that fanfiction has been a way for people to tell queer stories that the mainstream media have always avoided. Fanfiction and queerness have gone hand in hand in more ways than just sharing stories about queer relationships, it has also been a way to foster new and safe queer communities. It isn’t uncommon for a casual purveyor of fanfiction to have made friends in the comments of a favorite fic! What might begin as sharing common interests in a specific ship can bud and grow into large groups of interconnected individuals all creating a safe space for the creation of art, and that is a very beautiful thing.
For many a love of fanfiction stems from a want to expand on worlds and ideas that have captivated you. Perhaps the ending of a series was disappointing, fanfiction can be a great outlet to practice one’s writing while also learning how to critique the media we absorb. It has historically been a way for queer individuals to find themselves in the characters that inspire them, and to use their voices and imaginations to shape media in a way that allows for a representation that isn’t often given by the major corporations creating the stories we consume. Fanfiction; whether a hobby or escape, a means of growth or of comfort, has something for everyone. As our culture continues to shift and change with the times, it will be interesting to see where this fanfiction phenomenon goes in the future.
To the poet, the line straddles a nexus of beginnings and ends– at once a breath drawn and a final exhale. Likewise, to the visual artist, the line deftly asserts and differentiates. Lately, I’ve wondered about the line, its sojourn into physical and conceptual space. There’s no denying–it gets around. But what does it do? What are its means as a constructive basis across these two disciplines?
Every poem leaves the trace of an invisible mover; under whose careful craft do these black strokes soar across the page, under whose charge do these ants march left to right?
Though lines are more often obscured in visual art, they serve as a similar constructive basis, leaving the scent of a not dissimilar mover. The intuitive drawing of the line is more divisive than we might initially think– an assertion, literally, against white space, an observation of illustration as opposed to blankness. This same tension, procured by the line, is readily observable in poetry. The white space of the page and the black text of the line exist simultaneously– the voice of the poem and the silence of the page are at once actualized. It is then the reader who traverses these silences and their acquittals.
The simultaneous assertion of these oppositions, this paradox, is in part the life of the poem, and the primary source of its constructive tensions. That a human scrawling can exist amongst an invisible order– or at the very least, a voice out of what might otherwise be deemed silence– asserts a tension around which art finds itself uncompromisingly gathered.
It is worth observing also that in the simplest visual terms, the line in poetry is a horizontal line. In his famous treatise Point and Line to Plane, Wassily Kandisnky writes that in the human imagination the horizontal line “corresponds to the line or plane upon which the human being stands or moves.” This perhaps is the most poetic basis on which to build our impressions of the poem’s structural nature and the purpose of the line; to stand, to move.
Though up from what does it stand? From what is it spurred into motion? It may suffice for now to say that poetry moves from and out of the invisible. The artist’s often indefinable inspiration, contextual mysteries within the writing, the mysterious arrival of a poem itself may all be things which signify and constitute these invisible points. Regardless, the line articulates these invisibilities and furthermore, it moves both at the joining and in the wake of their connection. It is the basis on which a poem is propelled logically and tonally, the poem’s vastness cocooned also in each line.
A line, in works of visual art, encompasses this same ethos of movement, a visible articulation of invisible points, toward which they are joined into critical parts of a whole. It is here in motion from the point to the line that Kandinsky notes, “the leap out of the static into the dynamic occurs.”
Some poets believe the line is breath; the syllabic spell of iambic pentameter was originally meant to encompass the measure of a single breath. Poets who write in projective verse–Jorie Graham, Barbara Guest, Ocean Vuong (to name a few contemporaries) – make white space an even more integral part of the line, so one measures the cosmos of the poem visually as well as linguistically, thematically, and the breath between each abstract term, each ‘line,’ becomes enveloped by this basis of survival: breath.
The lines of a painting or drawing may be more numerous than the lines of a poem, but each of them carry respectively the same necessity; each is air to their respective body. Both the poem and the drawing obscure the line, transform it, expound upon it, and when undressed, can also be brought to it, distilled in its brave and necessary insistence to move, to speak.
Temporalities should also be considered– the line as a unit of motion is also necessarily one of time. In Medieval times, before paper was easily procured, there existed a mode of recycling whereupon writing was scraped or washed off animal hides to be reused. These collective documents, called palimpsests, exemplify a unison among the disparate, containing not only the contents of a present document but traces and shades of previous writings.
It is through the destruction and transformation of the line that a painting contains and expounds upon its own past. Drawing then itself earns a kind of palimpsestic quality, past records of the line destroyed and transformed by the artist, quipped into form. It is called a pentimento in painting where earlier drafts haunt the final work and these spectral lines again reemerge.
Poetry, too, is a picture of palimpsests and pentimenti. When writing or reading a poem, there is a feeling one is impressing and being impressed upon by previous voices; who–yet again–are these invisible movers? Whether they be an engagement with the work’s previous selves, or with voices of the past at large—a work of art is always in conversation with its predecessors; an inky palimpsestic chorus, worn and feathered lines flanking each written word, each emerging shadow and shape. Between the two disciplines lies yet another convergence; the past, and present, in all its looming candor, is on the line
The Purchase community has long been enriched and uplifted by the generous support of the Durst family. For one, their endowment supports the Roy and Shirley Durst Distinguished Chair in Literature, which is awarded to a distinguished professor whose work bridges literature and the visual or performing arts. Since 2012, it has also made possible the Durst Distinguished Lecture series, which hosts renowned authors who read their work, share their expertise and offer insight into their creative process – right here on campus. It has helped make the college a hub of literary culture: a place where students can take seminars with Michael Chabon and work on multimedia projects with Claudia Rankine, where community members can hear George Saunders read and chat with Zadie Smith. The series attracts writers of international renown and brings audience members from New York City and beyond. The generosity of the Durst family has been, and continues to be, an incredible gift.
Their support has nourished the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Humanities, and especially the Literature and Creative Writing programs, of which we here at Italics Mine are a part. Ourselves editors, visual artists, poets and writers of prose, we are particularly grateful for the amazing lecturers in the creative world we have had the privilege of learning from, talking to, and forging connections with over the years.
Italics Mine has always functioned as a passionate collective, a creative collaboration, a catalyst for student growth of its own. Since its founding in 2001, the journal has served as a tangible space to showcase the best literary and artistic talent our campus has to offer and has given opportunities for undergraduate students to achieve their very first publications. Simultaneously, production on the journal trains Creative Writing students in new and practical ways. Over the course of a year, writers in the program learn how to be editors; what it takes to publish a journal, to sustain it and grow it, how to respect and handle such an honor while stepping into the power and potential of their roles.
Like so many, this recent past has been challenging and pivotal for Italics Mine. Just over one year ago, as our previous editorship was in the midst of producing Issue 17, we were all suddenly thrust into the digital sphere, displaced from collaborating in person. Budgets froze and the printing factories shut down. Our editors forged on via internet to complete a beautiful issue, though one they were unable to print and pass between hands, run their palms over the thick glossy pages and get close to the vibrant ink.
How increasingly important it has become this year to be able to make something, to make it beautifully, to hold it in our hands. So much of what we used to be able to reach out and touch has seemingly vaporized; or rather, digitized. Many of us have experienced the disorientation, disappointment, and grief of not being able to celebrate years’ worth of hard work, passion, and energy in the traditional ways we would have liked. Whether that was not experiencing the traditional college graduation, postponing a wedding, or rerouting an important project, we have watched things that once felt impermeable, dissolve around us. The contributors who were published last year never got to read their pieces to an audience at our traditional launch event, nor take home their copy of the journal. The distinct editorial teams of Issue 17 and, most recently, Issue 18, weren’t sure if they’d get to see their hard work and growth substantiated into something tangible; until now.
Thanks to this funding from the Durst family, Italics Mine has just published our first ever double issue, comprised of: the new Issue 18 (produced by our first entirely remote staff) and Issue 17, for those who have yet to hold a copy in their hands. The importance of this cannot be overstated. This year’s team managed to turn a lost opportunity into finished product; a chance for closure, perhaps in some way for those involved throughout to heal and move forward – and having that tangible experience, now, wouldn’t have been made possible if not for our donors. We are grateful for the opportunity to share two-years’ worth of writing, art, and dedication, as well as the ability to print more issues going forward.
Empowered by our gift, we are also, as we have been, adapting to the digital landscape, trying new things as a journal and expanding. This support will help us continue to award amazing writers and artists for their work, expand our submissions pool, do additional and more expansive advertising, collaborative projects and outreach, run more contests, and so much more. It will be, and has just now been, especially vital in continuing our print publication.
On behalf of the entire editorial staff at Italics Mine, past, present, and future, we would like to say a sincere and humble Thank You to the Durst family for their continued and unwavering support in the Humanities, and in turn in Italics Mine. We are honored to have the support, and we can’t wait to use it to continue to plant seeds for so many creatives and watch them all grow.