BY SARAH MAYO
The first I heard of New Forum was my first time at UCI. I’d accepted my admission without ever visiting the campus, so that spring I decided to attend a Welcome Day tour, promptly abandoning the tour and getting terribly lost but also getting to see more trees. After a few hours, I’d gone to an English majors’ mixer, met Professor Jayne Lewis, and felt secure in the fact that I wouldn’t hate it here. I was trying to find my way out when I wandered by the club fair in Aldrich Park.
Within five minutes, a girl stopped me and asked if I had any interest in creative writing (Yes!) She asked if I had ever tried submitted anything for publication. (Definitely not.) She asked if I wanted to be on their email list. (Su-ure?) I signed my name, left, and forgot about New Forum until several months later, when I had my first piece published in the journal and was formally introduced to a small but passionate pocket of UCI students.
Time has passed and a lot has changed — this year I have the privilege of serving as editor-in-chief of New Forum, while Jayne Lewis is stepping in as our new faculty advisor, and our events have grown in scale and ambition — but in many ways, I still feel a certain timidity when it think of my role in the creative writing community at UCI. The truth is, some days, I don’t feel like much of a poet, much of a writer.
A few days ago, I sat down to write a poem with the recurring line, “I can keep up.” There wasn’t really a story or point, just a few lines about the end of summer; what I wanted to get in to the poem, and what I’m not sure I did, was the sensation that something can seem like it should be wonderful and artistic and precious and right, and can instead just be… off. Misha wrote a wonderful post for this blog a few weeks ago about how poetry has tethered and grounded her during these chaotic times, but sometimes I wonder what to do when it feels like I am so far away, not even poetry can reach me.
I haven’t been writing or studying poetry for very long, but something I have learned in these short few years is that the best poems are based in honesty — they may bend or stretch the truth, of course, perhaps collate a few separate instances into one — but readers can recognize authenticity, and this is what pushes a piece with some good lines into the territory of greatness.
If I were to really write some honest poems now, they would be about lying in bed, sweating into the sheets but being too lazy to take the covers off, feeling that I ought to be doing something but never having the strength of will to do it. About thinking, I should be reading — I have stacks of great books, one’s I deeply coveted before buying them — or watching a movie — I have a list that I told myself I would watch before the summer runs out — but never quite getting there. If I were to write some honest poems, they would be about refreshing Instagram on loop while the sun goes down behind the floral tablecloth I have hung instead of curtains. They would be about sipping coffee with my mother, each of us sitting in the shadow of the question, “When was the last time you remember being happy?” They would be about helping my grandmother put on a turquoise paper vest before she gets her breasts examined, about pulling my hair out at 3am, about sometimes seeing a glass wall between myself and the world. When I wrote, “I can keep up,” I meant to say that if I concede myself to the idea that maybe good stuff isn’t coming, I can reconcile with life and simply go on.
But then I think of what brought me to creative writing — what brought me to New Forum — in the first place. It is never my own words I feel reach in and grasp and save me; it is always someone else’s. When we put on open mic nights, there’s always a moment when I hear someone’s piece, maybe spoken word or a sonnet, and think, I can’t write like that and I’m so glad they can, and do. (This is my same theory on rocky road ice cream; I’m happy it’s someone else’s favorite.) I truly believe New Forum is a gift to the students at UCI, a place where we can simply let voices be heard, and admire those who have something going on that is entirely different from ourselves.
I suppose the point of this rambling entry is that, sometimes we cannot write our way out from under a cloud, and cannot expect words of happiness to pull us out either. Sometimes poetry must meet you where you are, instead, and stay there with you, and weep with you. So, to conclude, here is one poem which I have found myself memorizing over recent weeks, which has felt like a companion in sadness:
“Spring and Fall: To a Young Child” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Márgarét, are you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.