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
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
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
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
that became a distant beauty
that holds my will
like the gold at the end of the rainbow
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
i had to stop
and ignite my books and words
to look at the stars
and find the shepherd again –
that shepherd I want to become
in the bleating of sheep
An om of the universe…
But that om stands still in my ears
For just the life of a breeze –
then extinguishes itself
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.