Semester of poetry

life, change

24 Nov 2023

5 minute read

It’s been a while. I meant to post sooner but I got sidetracked, and then I got sick, and here we are. I had an impulse to post something

I’ve been meaning to write about poetry. I’m taking the 21W.771 Advanced Poetry Workshop class this semester, where each week you come in with a poem you wrote and discuss/get feedback and suggestions.

I am really enjoying the class and like how it kind of naturally allows me to set time aside for fluffy / aesthetic stuff like poetry, even if STEM stuff is somewhat crowding the stage.

In highschool actually, the professors I liked most were the ones teaching humanities, like literature and philosophy. I felt like there was a search for patterns I really enjoyed there. It was an exercise in building up a gradual picture of how people answer questions about how people live and what matters to them: through asking questions, or creating images, and then trying to demuddle them. I started writing poems then, but really quite casually.

At MIT sometimes it can feel like a lot of people view humanities as something to deal with and sweep under the rug, but many people also manage to balance a passion for scientific thinking and a passion for “HASS” (Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences).

I wanted to talk a bit about why I like poetry. I feel like in a lot of endeavors here at MIT you need this form of precision and rigor — especially as a math / CS major — that allows you to build powerful systems by understanding how they work and being able to trust them.

But it also means you need to start with some direction of where you’re going, whether it be a problem, a project, or something else, I think the difference is that there’s always some initial idea of what “success” might look like.

What I like about poetry is that when I start writing I don’t have any idea of what success could be. It starts first as a sketch and then that sketch rises and grows as I bounce off ideas and memories.

In this initial phase, I can stumble, take lopsided directions, dive into something else, and it won’t really damage the end product but just bring me to a new perspective on what I might consolidate the poem into.

Once I like the vision, I come back and consolidate the thing to make it a bit more polished, and bring a different kind of rigor here to make things stand together in an (i hope) aesthetic way.

It feels like just following my mind onto a web of images and seeing where I’m taking, picking some things to add on as I go.

And what I really like is that once you’ve written your poem, you can see what it elicits, what this fuzzy compression of what you’re feeling makes other people feel, what it maps to for them.

I like how open it feels, because that openness and relaxation of constraint allows a lot to bloom in unpredictable ways.

I was planning on just talking about poetry on a meta level, but I actually got inspired and decided to write a poem. Maybe it’s a bit confusing, it’s kind of late as I’m writing but I felt an impulse and want to share.

There’s also some little drawings, but my drawing skills are very subpar so don’t pay too much attention to it if you don’t like it.

Ode to shepherdy #

a year

and a bit more now

on this new continent

i landed here

and the kid i was (am?)

felt pierced by a dual lens –

two striking eyes

looking for it all

but seeing nothing

in the superposition

of black

and white

man split in between two black holes

like the confusing letters on a page

of this tome I opened

that follows me everywhere –

will the next page I slide open

turn into dust?

but I turn and turn

again in all directions

to find resonance

faces rotating, question mark underneath

and that harmony i felt when my dad

sang about a wandering coban (shepherd)

to help me fall asleep

but suddenly that memory fades

as weeks pass and i lean towards new pages

and i start reading words and words and words

on the essence of this world

that always felt a bit magical –

that called to me

like an elegant equation

that became an infinitesimal fraction

Of a demonic circuit or hamster cage

that became a river

of symbols

that became a distant beauty

that holds my will

like the gold at the end of the rainbow

and so

I try to understand

and swallow down –

swallow down the earth

without vomiting even a single sheep –

i am a greedy monster

that didn’t understand

that to see behind

the silver thread connecting my eye to the world

monster eating the world

i had to stop

and ignite my books and words

to look at the stars

and find the shepherd again –

man sits in front of a fire

that shepherd I want to become

that hears

in the bleating of sheep

An om of the universe…

man in the mountains surrounded by sheep

But that om stands still in my ears

For just the life of a breeze –

then extinguishes itself

into obscurity

and rends the earth,

rends my gaze.

and the stars disappeared

and I felt alone, so alone

until a spine gushed from my eye

to bury itself in my chest

and embrace my heart

so that i remembered

that even the shepherd

knows to come back

and forget the allure of the stars

to find once more

human look and touch

and graciously thank

the tapestry and danse

of a world

that lets him see

the page and then close it

lets him stare at the sky

and turn his back on it

lets him hug a friend

and then remember these words.

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