By Iman Byfield
Many thanks to Tidal Basin Review for letting me blog. And let’s keep those pens moving moving moving.
By Iman Byfield
Or rather, why I haven’t held a pen in months. This occurred to me only after I recently had to answer a short essay question, during which my hand cramped after about four lines. I was confused, I didn’t understand what was happening, and then I realized I hadn’t actually written anything in I don’t know how long. I remember when my writing was contained within dozens of journals filled and scattered all over my apartment. Now, my journals are confined to a collection of folders and files on my computer and copied onto a few pen drives which I have either lost or couldn’t find easily.
I thought this was a great accomplishment as a writer. The moment when I needed a flash drive solely for my writing was a great one for me. I thought that meant I was doing something. That I was actually producing and finishing pieces, it felt so concrete and official. Now I just feel sad that I’ve gotten so accustomed to typing that I can’t write for five minutes without catching a thumb cramp.
I realize how much this lack of writing has hurt my creative process. I don’t write as much as I used to when I used to actually write. Not only did my journals serve as an immediate emotional and creative outlet, but they were also full of ready-made writing prompts. Now, I stare at a blank screen until I get a headache and then close my netbook without doing anything at all.
Oh how I miss my old writing habits. I miss the scatter of words across the page of a working poem, the repetition of lines, the misspelled word minus red squiggly line. Words are so much better when you form them, and my poems just sounded better in my own hand.
I have become a typist. Beware my fellow poet people.
My desire to say things in other languages is manifesting itself as an obsession with Korean dramas. This obsession being a direct result of my determination to learn passable Korean before I return to Seoul in February. And naturally, this desire to learn Korean well enough to do more than order food in a restaurant and take a taxi has extended to my poet self. I mean, I know how I like for words to look next to one another and there is something about a SOV syntax that I cannot resist.
And then there is the thing of thinking in another language. Of understanding beyond the grammatical structure, right? How surprised I was to figure out that verbs in Korean can mean so much (Meokdah, “Let’s eat.” “I ate.”“I want to eat.” depending on the context). I am always, I think, as concerned with the culture of a language as I am with the mechanics of it. Formal and informal language, casual and polite.
Earlier this year I attended a reading/lecture by a poet, who spoke of the importance of cultural immersion when learning language. About the moment when you realize you are thinking in a language as opposed to just translating from your native tongue. She said this was critical to her work intranslation. I want to be that good.
And then I wonder if my Korean speaking/thinking self would be different than my English speaking/thinking self. Can I learn this language well enough to incorporate all the subtleties into my poems? I don’t know. I am obsessing over this. I want to know. Even now, after just about catching up on my Korean dramas over the past two weeks, I will sometimes say things differently. The melody of the Korean language is stuck in my head. Unfortunately, at the moment, I only have sufficient Korean language knowledge to speak of common restaurant fare and shopping.
I was not a productive poet my last time in Korea. Truthfully, I was unable to write about my time there. Not because nothing meaningful happened, but more because I did not know how to say the things I wanted to say, and a stubborn determination to not say it in English. After all, I was not experiencing things in my native tongue and I do not want to put my work in Korean, I want to write new work that may never be said in English. That maybe can’t be said in English. I am thinking it will go better this time. I feel more equipped. After all, what better way to approach a language than from the context of young adults falling in and out of love?
By Iman Byfield
As much as people gripe about the Internet mugging up the literary arts by allowing anyone to publish his/her work, I have found that online literary publications have been great for introducing me to poets I would otherwise not have known.
In fact, I spent the first semester of my MFA program filling my cohorts mailboxes with articles, submission and contest info, and other useful information (I hope) all of which I got from my daily Twitter feed, which I mostly have to follow literary journals and presses.
As it turns out, Twitter is not just useful for sharing what you had for lunch (or in my case, documenting every minute of my insomniac nights “ugh, I can’t sleep #insomnia”). The literary community in particular has made great use of the opportunity to share information. Especially among younger writers as much of the time interns are tweeting/blogging for online lit journals. This is important because it not only give opportunities to younger writers, bit also offers a way to enter into this whole circle of poetry and writing which is planetary and intimidating at times.
Side note: At this moment, I am covering my face in shame that this has turned into a promo for Twitter.
But I know many writers who don’t engage with the rest of the writing community as much as they should because they don’t know who to read, they don’t know where to submit, they don’t want to just read “established” writers, they feel the people who show up in major journals are the same people over and over, or whatever the reason.
I know, this is not new information. Everybody knows the internet is an abyss if anything, a lot of which no one needs to know or accidentally stumble upon. But, in terms of connecting to the writing community, all of the slightly annoying entities (FB, Twitter) really do make it easy to sift through and get to some good stuff. And although it is always exciting to discover writers that I like, approaching the poetry section in a bookstore is like walking into a forever 21, super overwhelming.
As a poet, I know and am constantly having it impressed upon me the importance of reading my contemporaries. In fact, this post was originally intended to share a few poets who are new to me and who I like: Marcus Wicker, Zach Savich (Google em).
With that being said, I really want to use my blogging time as share time. I am currently working on my MFA thesis in poetry and I have so many things I am thinking about in terms of the business (as in, busy-ness) of being a poet. Not just writing poems and saving them in a folder, but putting them together and beside each other, wanting people to read said poems, wanting people to read said poems, like them and publish them. All of the things the coming up poet is thinking about. A recent writing workshop made clear to me the importance of sharing practical information among writers. We just don’t share enough practical information, no doubt because the world of writing, poetry especially, sometimes feels like the gladiatorial arena. So many poets, so much seeming competition, although I’m not sure what’s being competed for.
So let the sharing begin. Until my next post.
Iman Byfield is an MFA candidate in Poetry at Chicago State University. Her work has appeared in the Garland Court Review and Tidal Basin Review. She lives in Chicago and is currently at work on her first poetry collection.