Recap: Packing A Lot in a Good Time

Hi everyone, so we had a really fine Verso Quatro tonight featuring Jessica Helen Lopez, Mary Oishi, Seth Walker and Joaquin Zihuatanejo with moderator Richard Vargas. We started off with about 14 people in the room and ended up with twenty…. an attentive group and a thought-provoking discussion. Here I’m gonna give you a few highlights and my take on summary below real quick for those  of you who missed it. I’ll try not to misquote or put words in anyone’s mouth–but reader, know, sometimes I’m paraphrasing what I got from listening.

Richard Vargas started by leading in with a quote from Quentin Tarantino. “You can’t write poetry on the computer.”  

Mary kind of took the cake with blunt logic: “The act of writing is like giving birth which I couldn’t do on a computer.” If she starts with pen and paper, she goes quickly to the “voice” and “ear”, often reading her poems as much as 80-90 times in a row to figure out if she’s got the right words. Later, she’ll move to the computer and perhaps edit one more time. As for technology though, she really values it. She loves accessibility and the exposure you can get from a computer, the way information (and art) can be accessed. As an example she said that she researched this event by checking out a bunch of videos of Joaquin Zihuatanejo on YouTube.

Seth goes with the pen. For him, the computer causes too much instant editing with spell check and auto correct etc. He likes raw human emotion and feels like staying connected to old ways of doing something can keep us connected to the purity of the art form. He’s also spoke, in varying ways through the night, about newness. His stance is anti-commercial. He firmly promotes challenging yourself to take risks and not simply repeat what’s known and worked for someone else. He differentiated between an architect and a builder who simply follows plans. He encourages people to push themselves into the very architecture and design of new creative expression. Another thing I took to heart: Write poetry to compete with but don’t write competition poetry.

Jessica approached this question from a variety of angles, from the pen to the computer. She encourages young poets she teaches to pay attention to the muse, and if inspiration strikes, get it on paper, or a napkin, anything, even if your hands are covered in dishwater and the poem gets wet, just try not to lose it.  While pen and paper got her going in her career, she says now she has written three poems at one time using tabs on word documents “because I’m a multitasking mother.” She also acknowledges that technology is a great boon for education and loves the accessibility that the internet provides—at which point she drew a mirror to the accessibility of the slam scene, how it’s open to everyone and makes a point of cultivating a an audience that is not exclusive. Then she read a poem “That Following Sunday,” about which she revealed, “I actually slept with this poem under my pillow… so I could look at it and revise it.” Writing is intimate.

Joaquin talked about teaching for seven years, how valuable it was to him, and how he asked each student to turn in a rough drafts of a research paper that was handwritten. The instructions were explicit: cross out what you want to change with one solitary line. He said that he liked to see in his student’s work, and also in his poetry, both the revisions and the original impulse — because sometimes the original might turn out to be better. Joaquin also talked about writing in unusual places: write at the top of a mountain, in a dirty laundromat, at Walmart. Going somewhere, and changing your environment and being open to what happens is a great way to access writing and push yourself, a way that seems to nurture his creative process.

Two more rounds and a closing happened, I’ll post one more in a separate post…