Undrawn Self Portrait

Undrawn Self Portrait

  1. The heart cracks into yellow yolk & white as it throbs through Instagram.
  2. The body walks to its reflection and squeezes itself shut.
  3. The ears tuned for sourness savor silence before they turn on & the mouth groans at
    the loudness of the world.
  4. The brain breathes out a sigh as yesterday’s burdens are borrowed again.
  5. She mumbles about the crumbling capitalist cycle, tasting silence in return.
  6. She peels the banana & she wonders if one day, she’ll shed her skin & be silent.
  7. She consumes Radiohead’s Nude & the heart shatters at “you paint yourself white, and fill up with noise” as she imagines herself with an invisible paintbrush.
  8. In a family of scientists, the creative one chokes on the wrong genes.
  9. In her skull, there’s no more space for the pulp of afterthoughts.
  10. In the dark, she silently cracks herself open until she’s all shell and no yolk, again & again & again.

 

Sara Cao is a junior at John Burroughs School in St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently involved in her school’s newspaper, literary magazine, and Science Olympiad team. Outside of school, she is passionate about social justice issues, writing, drawing, listening to music, and eating Shin Black Ramen. Through her poetry, Sara strives to heal and inspire people who relate to the overall messages of her poems. 

Art by: Diana Ryu

(un)reality – Three poems by Allison Stein

liquid state of matter(being)

let’s go swimming, you say, 
a heat-scorched dragonfly
(who goes in memorable movements to sip the fresh sunlight

beneath the softlapping surface the lake shines wild green
and your ears are whorls of precious jade.
you burble through the delicate-draped light,
             (diving to wrap yourself in the dim)
down here our skin looks wondrously unnatural as we link pinkies
                          and trail our heels through the silt.

               pulsing storms in the eddies of our slippery bodies.
               how grotesquely powerful we are here
                           where no gravity exists
                           and we do not recognize the silken moss growing from our scalps
                                                                 and lingering behind us in the tepid water.
we are alien, perfected by unrepentant green,
vivid things tiptoeing on the rim of a boundless heaven.

i run out of breath faster than you do 
and drift to the surface like a film in reverse:

                                                 lips spit out clear water and hands brush hair back from shining 

                                                 face–
          back rises through the membrane into forgotten air–
slowly up up with hands grasping for the bottom– 

let’s drink, you say
dirty shoes off exposing ripped sock, 
your head sparely haloed by string lights
(but you are less iridescent than ever)

lovely you hands me vodka in red-knuckled, apathetic fingers.
        clear like tap water, smelling of bare collarbones and average late nights
                       and through it i see the everyday pink of your cheeks
                       and the places where your cheap earrings have scarred your lobes.
you and i are no lake creatures and no gods.
here we are, natural beings, sipping nothingness.

 

 

 

half an instant of light

we paint cities on the palms of our hands / and press them feverishly along the edges of the sky / knowing they will wash away in building hurricanes. / (we can hear their eyes blinking, their weight heaving through wet air) / fragility smells like crushed lavender, don’t you think? / how lucky, how cursed we are to be minuscule                  (timewise). / if you are a baby mayfly and i am the corner of the briefest cloud / can we ever hope to last longer than this holy-handed present? / and if we are so sweetly fleeting can we ever be anything but lovely? / we climb to the tops of cherry trees / until we can no longer see earth or sky. / (just the smudges we left with our chrism-oiled hands) / really there is nothing before or after us. / this you say to me with your fingers in your ears, / smearing skylines over your blushed cheeks. / (darling darling i long to hang streamers from god’s front stoop with you.) / (darling my darling i will stay with you forever / until we blink our eyes and the world erupts into empty—– / how awful and beautiful it is to stretch time ragged / breathing hard and fast to fit infinite life into half a second. / your head so cleanly haloed by tangible wind. / the sun rises and sets while we eat one overripe cherry. / is this not life? / is this not the span of the universe? / are we not occupying all the time that will ever exist? / look at us choking on luminous air. / our bodies burn out, quickly, quickly. / for the slowest of seconds we wind our fingers through the shuddering void.
darling, darling.  it is time to go

 

 

 

photo album, with you everywhere

here is me squeezing the last toothpaste from the tube
          hoping that when i slit it open, i will not find you
          sleeping on the silver foil, a neon, too-familiar thing.

here is me slicing an apple into messy eighths,
          hoping the overripe nectar will cover the taste of you: 
          stardust (which is all just heavy metals).
 
here is me peeling off my eyelids and soaking them overnight in contact lens solution
          praying that when i stitch them back on,
          your face will no longer be etched in this most fragile of skin.
 
here is me staring at my wall from which all lavender has bled out
          trying to rub my neurons raw enough
          that this will stop being your brain, too.

 
here is me losing my balance as i walk along the curb

here is me waking up to a tree burning scarlet in the yard. 

here is me trying to forget you.

                              (here is me wishing i had said goodbye.)

 

Allison Stein is a 17-year-old student living in Pennsylvania. She has been writing stories and poems since the age of two or three. Her work has previously been recognized nationally by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and published in the Ralph Munn Literary Anthology as well as several smaller publications.

Visual Art by Guo Cherry. 

Layers of Self

The marks of my creators surround me
With no inch left bare
My soul carved by sculpted hands
A dichotomy of pairs

In the sea of my skin
Mother and father leave their mark
My every feature blurred
A rendition of art

Two variations of the self
Devoid in common thread
Have woven an artful piece
A testament to words unsaid

I am molded in the image and likeness
Of those who came before
My very visage and limbs
A shadow well worn

My gown of paint and clay
Is a shroud to the truth within
For although my self be old
It remains my very own

 

Lauren Kim is a writer of both poetry and prose and resides in New Jersey. She draws inspiration from small nuances in the world around her and aims to magnify them in her writing. She is a junior editor for her school’s two literary publications. An avid reader of classical European literature, she melds the literary voices of past and present to project her voice on themes of importance.

Visual Arts by: Yixuan Luo 

Fish Magic

Based on a Paul Klee’s Fish Magic

It is the mirk of stained glass that glows by a slice
                                                                                                                        of moon.

Gaunt elegies speak of a desolation beyond the edges
                                                                                                                        of era.

Generation upon generation–genealogies betray the birth
                                                                                                                        of seed.

The ambiguity of a barren clock transfixed at IX:
Even the fish await the tearing of the veil.
Hands clasp dust. Ash taints scale.
Threads of exile weave into a silent cloak.
Only time will tell.

 

Lynn Kong is a sophomore at Cary Christian School. She is co-president of the Holocaust Literature Club there. She adores Dostoyevsky and Flannery O’Connor, and just about every line of epic poetry. Part of her is always lost in Amsterdam.

Visual Arts by Rudy Falagan

 

 

 

A Conversation With Alice Bolin

Alice Bolin is the author of Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession. It is a New York Times Notable Book of 2018 and a New York Times Editor’s Choice book, is on the list of Kirkus’ Best Nonfiction Books of 2018, and is an Edgar Award nominee.  Alice has published poems, stories, and essays in numerous publications, and is the former Poet-in-Residence at Idyllwild Arts Academy. She is currently a Creative Nonfiction professor at the University of Memphis.

 

Delany Burk and Kalista Puhnaty sat down to interview Alice about her recently published essay collection, Dead Girls, a large portion of which was written during her two years as the Poet-In-Residence here at Idyllwild Arts Academy.

 

Q: You write in many of your essays about the sexism that is present in the media. Do you think it is improving with the “Me Too” movement and the issues that are being brought up surrounding that?

 

A: I do think that it is improving, and that there have been a lot of changes when it comes to representation, and more diverse stories, but we have a really long way to go. I also still think stories that are supposedly combating sexism often play into it in certain ways. Even with the Sharp Objects thing, where a lot of it is just an excuse to just watch violence against women, and also watch women be ravaged by their past trauma. I don’t necessarily know if staying in that mode is doing us any favors, and I would like to see just more diversity in stories, not only in terms of representation but in terms of the kinds of stories we tell, and more experimentation with plot and structure. It is happening in some ways, like–I don’t even want to use this example–with anthology series like Black Mirror, changing the ways that people consume TV, which is really cool, and we aren’t as stuck in this season arc thing. But I think that we still have a long way to go, that’s my basic answer.

 

Q: Do you think that the fascination with dead girl shows, and stories like that, have anything to do with the “damsel in distress” theme from many older stories?

 

A: Yeah! It has everything to do with that. That sort of overlap between fairy tales and dead girl stories, and the ways that they always feel fairy tale-esque, harkening back to those attitudes about women, about women needing to be saved or helped by men. We still feel really comfortable with that narrative, of “Oh, let’s get a dad to come help,” but that’s what’s interesting about dead girl shows. The dads are the heroes and the villains, and that tells us something about our culture that we didn’t know before, which is ultimately sort of the good thing about them. But yes, it definitely harkens back to that damsel in distress image for sure.

 

Q: Why do you think that serialized crime shows are so popular, when a majority of people don’t know about real cases of women disappearing and dying, especially with the killings of women of color and trans women often going unspoken about?

 

A: I think our conception of what a mystery is has everything to do with the identity of the victim, and probably the perpetrator. When I lived in Los Angeles, two guys were shot right near my house and their killers were never caught. What they said in the newspaper was, “Oh, it was probably gang related,” and that they were two Latino guys, and that’s all we ever heard about it. That’s a mystery, we don’t know who did it, but it wasn’t treated like a mystery. Gang violence answers the question. “Okay, mystery solved!” When a white girl gets killed you feel like, “Oh! Who could have possibly done it?” because we don’t think that white women deserve violence in the way that we think that other kinds of people deserve violence. Or maybe because that’s just not our image of a victim of a violent crime. So that’s part of it, the allure of “the perfect victim.” Also, I have read literary theory stuff about serialized fiction even in the Victorian era, you know, Dickens and Wilkie Collins, but also journalism. Once the daily newspaper would come, people would follow these cases that were salacious, and serialization is kind of this method of getting people addicted to narratives, where once you have that cliffhanger, people start to fill in their own ideas of who did it, and what the answer is. It is perfect for these kinds of stories. I think that it has to do with structure too, there’s something about it that has been around for 200 years.

 

Q: Is there ever a time where having a dead girl in a story can be justified? And If so, how do we write stories about dead girls in a way that doesn’t fall in the same pitfalls that other dead girl stories do?

 

A: I don’t really feel like I’m the arbiter of what kind of stories people get to write. I even met the writer Megan Abbott who has written a bunch of literary… you might say literary thrillers, and they all center around female characters, and female rage you might say, and she explicitly said about my book, even though she liked the book, and she gave me a blurb, she said about my book that she doesn’t necessarily agree, and she thinks that we need to keep telling dead girls’ stories, and keep exploring that idea, because that’s where we’re going to find some answers about why this violence is so prevalent. Which I think is valid. I respect that opinion. So basically my answer is I don’t know… but I think there are ways that dead girls shows, and dead girls stories can kind of reveal our feelings towards women, and our feelings about crime and about who is the perpetrator and who is the victim, in ways that other stories can’t because they’re so outlandish and over the top and even fairy tale-esque, and magical. They kind of illustrate our really messed up interest in these stories by being so over the top. I think Twin Peaks is the perfect example of that.

 

Q: What other criticisms have you received for Dead Girls, and how would you address them?

 

A: I think that the biggest criticism that people have of it is that it is not all about dead girls. There need to be more dead girls in it, that it’s too personal, and there’s not enough analysis of that phenomenon in it, and it’s a little bit of a bait and switch. Which… whatever. But I think for me that was not the book that I was interested in writing, was a critical analysis purely of this dead girl phenomenon, not that it would be difficult to write. But I also felt like, “Well there are endless dead girls, I could write about that forever. Where do I find an end to that story? How do I find my way out of it instead of just staying in it? That book could be 1000 pages long. How do I find a resolution?”  And the only way that I could do that was sort of veering off course, and examining other stories, maybe examining alternatives to that story and thinking about my own stories and the ways that I have sort of been complicit in the kind of oppression I was critiquing. That was how I found my way out of it. I’ve talked to women who are really cool who are like “Oh I’m so excited for your book, I’m a PhD student and I’m writing about violence against women in literature for my dissertation” or something and I’m like, “That’s great…” and you know I think that can exist alongside my book, and be kind of an alternative. I’m not the only person who is writing about this stuff but that’s kind of my take about it.

 

Q: You seem to have a fascination with mystery; have you considered writing a mystery novel or story? If so, how would you approach it?

 

A: Yeah! I want to write one about Idyllwild. But the thing is, I do like mystery and mysteries, but what I like more is that kind of mood, a really noir-ish or thriller-ey tone. And I love that in books that really have no mystery or the mystery is kind of missing, like books by Shirley Jackson, or Patricia Highsmith. I think those books, or even books like Toni Morrison, or “Ghost Story” books where you feel like there’s a mystery and you are reading it like there is one but ultimately the mystery is never going to be solved. That’s the kind of book I’d like to write. And maybe about Idyllwild. I think it would be the perfect setting. It’s so creepy.

 

I moved to Idyllwild from Koreatown in LA, which is the most densely populated part of LA, and I never felt worried about walking around at night because there were always people everywhere… but here? No. I’ve written about it a little bit, I think it’s so perfect for that creepy mood. That’s what I’m more interested in, because I do want to question our addiction to mysteries.

 

Q: Has teaching influenced your opinion on women in media?

 

A: I mean, teaching has influenced sort of everything that I think, but… Basically I think one thing that teaching helps me do is be more open-minded towards kind of practical ways that representation is important or sticking by what I believe in in certain ways, where maybe even if I like a book, or an essay, I’m maybe not going to assign it if I think that it could be offensive or marginalizing towards my students. And it is more important for me to represent more diverse and interesting voices because that is what my students need, and also what they would appreciate. So I feel like in some ways it has put me more in a mind of how I can be more responsible for my own choices, and the media that I’m personally consuming and recommending or assigning. Because I have this weird kind of power where I can make a group of people read books that I tell them to, and so I want them to read books that do have good representation of women, that don’t have damaging ideas about women, unless that’s something that we want to talk about.

 

Q: You’ve dug quite deep into many aspects of the media that are considered shallow. Are there any rabbit holes you’ve gone down that didn’t make the cut?

 

A: Lots of them. Yes, tons. Especially stuff about music and country music. There’s none of that in the book but I have written lots about country music, because I think that country radio is really fascinating and especially actually how it relates to women and female artists and the kind of values that it perpetuates to its audience. Also stuff about reality TV, there’s a little bit in there but I have, much more to say about MTV. I think I am probably going to be writing about stuff about media in my next collection, especially women and social media influencers, stuff like that is something I am really really interested in and love to write about.

 

Q: What is your opinion on the media’s obsession with bad mothers?

 

A: Hmmm. I feel like the media probably has pretty equal obsessions with bad mothers and bad dads, but they’re portrayed in different ways. I think we villainize women more for being bad mothers, like it’s almost perverse to be a bad mother. But to be a bad dad is sort of expected. It’s like, “Oh, sure.” It’s sort of a cliche, where a bad mom is like gasp, “So shocking!” and that’s something that in fairy tales, usually the mother is dead. But there might be an evil stepmother, or there’s this witch figure off in the wings and there clearly is literally or figuratively a stand in for a bad mother or an absent mother. I think it has a lot to do with our anger towards women, and towards our own parents. That’s something I talk about I think in the dead girl show essay, that the Philosopher Julia Kristeva, her theory of the abject had to do with this anger, maternal anger, anger towards our moms, she was a psychoanalytic theorist, so its like this Freud thing, but I think that it’s kind of gross, right? That’s really my only take on it, I really like stories about moms, and about moms who are in the picture, and who are good moms. I think that’s actually much more interesting than bad moms… Bad moms can be interesting too. That’s what my student at Idyllwild said to the class once: “To get writing ideas, I google ‘I hate my kids.’” I was like, “How many stories can you write about people who hate their kids?” but still, that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard.

 

Adultolescence: A Money Grab for a Social Media-Crazed Generation

Gabbie Hanna, Adultolescence, $16.99, ISBN 978-5011-7832-0

Adultolescence by Gabbie Hanna is a playful and childish book of poetry, paired with Hanna’s own simple and beautiful artwork. It explores the mentality and struggles of the new adult generation, as well as the influence of social media on mental health and real life relationships.

The book depicts grueling subjects such as breakups, the struggle to find oneself, and even depression and suicide. However, despite the subjects, Adultolescence remains sarcastic and immature. The childishness of Hanna’s poetry has its charm, and follows the newly developed “Twitter-speak” form of poetry which derives its language and audience from the short, cynical style of the new social-media-crazed population. However, this style does not serve the subject matter in an effective way.

Some of the poems follow a rhyme scheme, yet are too short to fully carry it out. The poem HIDE (15) for example, follows an AA rhyme scheme, and explores the effects of hiding depression and other mental health issues. But this poem is too short to have an important or influential message of any kind. It seems that these subjects, which are common topics among teens and young adults today, are only there for the reader to relate to. In addition to falling short in the linguistic department, the shorter poems deal with heavier topics like mental health issues, even addressing death and the desire to die, or wanting someone else to die; yet the poems seem to trivialize these issues. For example, POUT examines these issues in an immature way, saying, “life sucks. be grateful, you woke up this morning. that’s the worst part.” (8-9) This type of language is often used by teenagers today; they joke about these feelings in conversation in order to mask them, using humor as a coping mechanism, which is not often a positive message for someone to be promoting. These short anecdotes are paralleled by longer poems and anecdotes which seem repetitive and dry, devoid of the sarcasm and wit that is present, albeit misused, in the shorter poems.

The art is interactive, often incorporating the poem into the drawing in one way or another. At times the art pairs well with the pieces, but ultimately does not help readers obtain a meaningful takeaway. Hanna is clearly artistically inclined, as her drawings are impressively detailed, while still sticking to a line art style. The realism of the drawings may take readers by surprise, as the people in them are easily recognisable, and often appear with Gabbie in her YouTube videos. All of these positive traits, however, do not make up for the writing, some of which is worked into the drawings in rather disappointing ways. One example of this is a poem titled “K,” which is an blank page, except for a text bubble with the letter “K” inside and a read receipt underneath.

Adultolescence follows a common thread, which seems to have stemmed from the Milk and Honey phenomenon, and follows the same pattern of good artwork paired with–at best–mediocre writing. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur was one of the highest grossing poetry books of 2017, and was Number Two on Amazon’s Best Seller list. It is widely loved and cited as an aesthetically pleasing and relatable work by many teen readers. That being said, Milk and Honey shows a pop-culture side of poetry, rather than the traditional style which uses beautiful language, and images found in the work of poets like Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson. This new and vulgar style is now simply being accepted by readers without much thought, due to its easily interpreted, relatable content.

Adultolescence–along with Milk and Honey–represents a new idea of “money grab” poetry, which stems from social media influencers, and the new Internet-focused generation. These influencers write books in the anecdotal style of Twitter and other word-space-limited social media platforms, and then claim them to be artistic and poetic, when really it is a way for an already well known celebrity to make even more money. People like Gabbie Hanna, who could be considered second tier influencers, and have a smaller audience than other big-name YouTubers, often share their financial situation with their fans and may have a lower income than larger influencers. This somewhat justifies the “easy money” of writing and selling books, as it pulls in readers from a smaller fan base, and expands the writer’s brand.

However, this does not justify the claim of “art.” Adultolescence does not represent what poetry really is to most published poets. The claim of poetry and art should be reserved for beautiful, intelligent, and playful works, and should not be applied to collections of on-trend, relatable, and sarcastic content, which sells more copies than authentic art, due to the popularity of the writer rather than the quality of the work.

By Delany Burk