Classroom Marginalia

June 24, 2015

For the past few years 32 Poems has partnered with a number of high school and undergraduate instructors to help introduce young poets and readers to the pleasures of contemporary poetry. Our editors visit classes in person or via Skype and in several cases students have had the opportunity to speak directly with the poets they’re reading. Some of our favorite collaborations have been with Christopher McCurry’s classes at Lafayette High School in Lexington, KY and this spring McCurry’s students responded to the work in 32 Poems 12.2 with a variety of essays and meditations modeled on the personal reflections we gather in our Contributors’ Marginalia Series.  Frankly, their work and their enthusiasm for the poetry blew us away, so today we’d like to share the responses of three students in a feature we’re calling “Classroom Marginalia.”

Below, you’ll find a reflection on Charles Harper Webb’s “We Rarely Mark When They’ve Occurred” from Laura Biggs, a graduating senior with fresh perspective on “lasts.”  You’ll also read Kyle Deaton’s “Translating MMA”; Deaton gives us a martial artists’ response to Ricardo Pau-Llosa’s “Reflections at MMA Masters, Miami.” Finally, you’ll see Aiden Ziliak’s dramatization of a late night conversation via text in which two students discuss Brittany Perham’s “Double Portrait.” We hope the contributions of students like these will become a regular part of the discussion we host here on the 32 Poems Blog.

We also want to make a special point of thanking Christopher McCurry for the incredible work he does to share poetry with his students and to celebrate those students’ own poems and essays. He’s the teacher we wish we had in high school.

(*Instructors interested in partnering with our 32 Classrooms program this fall should contact George David Clark,, for more information.)


A (Soon-to-be) High School Graduate on “We Rarely Mark When They’ve Occurred
By Laura Briggs

I am ten days away from my high school graduation, so it’s apparent why I was particularly partial to this poem when I first read it in 32 Poems. The first stanza’s blunt fragments steamrolled over me: “last pot roast… last blood red sunrise.” As I moved through the poem for the first time, I couldn’t help but see the piece in two different lights. First, there was the celebratory graduation experience, evoked by phrases like “each day is a new bride.” But there are unavoidable parallels to a much darker severance. Charles Harper Webb elegantly and concisely explores the treasured events and people that we, for one reason or another, cannot take with us “aboard the future’s 747.”

“Whack!” marks a definitive shift in the poem from the sentimentalities of the first two stanzas; the sharp transition mimics the fast and unexpected ways in which our lives are altered. When this “pole-axe” inevitably comes to relocate us, we clutch to our memories. Their garb of “brilliant tie-dyed tee-shirts” evokes a childhood summertime activity, a fabric drenched in dyes that fade with each trip in the washing machine. From the mention of these memories, Webb progresses into a poignant sensory description of his personal “lasts,” which appear to be specific to the scenery of his infancy—mentions of “papaya” and “plumeria” indicate that final experiences are not always due to death, but sometimes to a change in one’s environment.

The most precious aspect of this piece is its brevity and precision; every word and phrase carries equal weight. Just thinking of one’s “last healthy day” reminds us not just about our own mortality but also of the slow decay that accompanies the end of life, provoking a panicked frenzy that grows with each passing minute of aging. Each line of a stanza is indented further on the page, cascading towards the right margin before regressing back to the left with every new stanza. While this structure parallels the catharsis of a fresh start with every stanza, it also indicates the struggle to progress when one is attached to a previous way of life.

As the poem concludes, the parallels between celebratory and mournful transitions fade, and the final stanza ends on a note that suggests that ends are not only necessary but beneficial. The “satisfied” feeling of conclusion, even the conclusion of a poem, is vital to progress and a full life. Although the poem originally gave me “all the feels,” it actually left me inspired in the end. We can all wish that we knew when our “last home run” would occur, but to linger on these moments without punctuating them is contrary to our own best interests. This poem will hopefully give me wisdom as I walk across the stage and toss my cap into the air, putting a period (or preferably an exclamation mark) on one stanza of my life and capitalizing the next.

Laura Briggs is a native of Lexington, Kentucky. She will be attending Emory University in the fall to study chemistry and dance.


Translating MMA
By Kyle Deaton

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of martial arts is that at its very base, it is a form of poetry. Avid fans of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) are usually transfixed on the physical savagery of the sport: the blood, the broken bones, and of course, the constant cycle of humiliation/exaltation as legends lose and underdogs win.  Reading through this compilation of poetry I was enraptured by the elegance of Ricardo Pau-Llosa’s “Reflections at MMA Masters, Miami,” and his translation of the true beauty of martial arts.

One would find it difficult to fluently understand this piece in full if they were not very aware of whom “Bellows”, “Ballanchine”, and “Rilke” are and what they do. Instead of inundating this text with biographies, it should suffice to say that the first listed is a painter, while the second is a famous ballet choreographer, and the last a poet. Each allusion grafts martial arts into the larger landscape of art: part dance, part poetry, part painting.

Ricardo describes the art of MMA, “a plosive clap”, “stone torsos ride the wheel of blurs”, “bodies jitter and glide” as the collision of vehemently programed men interlock their training and prowess in physical altercation. These men contrast their ability of attacking, counterattacking, and trapping all at once. The art is in the person’s ability to instantaneously translate the memories of constant drills into an applicable response to the opponent. Ricardo shows the striking similarity to painting along with dance in that paint is the art of translating a mental picture onto a canvas and dance is the art of turning emotion into physical expression.

His last two stanzas beautifully articulate what every martial artist knows all too well physically:

“They stop to think their suddenness, wrap tight

their wrists, and resume to bleed all chance
from the coming battle. For this they yearn to endure
the timeless sharpening, to promontory from the fog
of the quotidian and earn a victory that will not hide
in hope or prophesy. A fairer art, to fight.” (15-20)

A fighter goes through constant agony from drill after drill in hopes that all that he or she learns can be put into actual competition against someone else who has taken the same exact measures to obtain the exact same goal. That is, to see to it that all prophecies of your victory will come true and those who spoke them are not false prophets. A victory that will no longer “hide in hope or prophecy” but that will emerge from the “fog” of numbed repetition. Pau-Llosa’s rhythms remind us of the fighter’s assiduous process of sanctification. Everyday is spent on mats tediously ironing out reaction time, strength, and pain resistance. All serious fighters train to perfect their combat art in focused ambition.

What Ricardo truly does here is not restricted solely to fighters. All art perpetually drives the walls of originality in poetry outward into unexplored realms including the world of mixed martial arts.

Kyle is going into his freshman year at Asbury University and presently has 14 years of martial arts experience.


On Brittany Perham’s “Double Portrait
By Aidan Ziliak


/have you heard of Brittany Perham/

\not really\

/the poet?/
/she’s good/
/read Double Portrait, it’s on


\that was good\


\i liked how it wasn’t about how romantic the ‘old way’ was\

/yeah nothing’s changed/

\but also how dumb it is that we obsess over texting back\

/I dunno/
/I feel like her point wasn’t that it’s dumb/
/just that it’s the same really/

\but the woman in the past “arrived at a moral”\
\which you can’t do after only an hour of waiting for a text back\

/I think that ‘moral’ thing is totally ironic/
/she doesn’t even imply what the moral is/
/it’s making fun of stupid didactic Romantic stories/

\i guess\
\the whole poem is super ironic\
\that’s why I think she’s making fun of the constantly-in-contact culture\


/”White-Sailed Ship”/
/and “Tropical Paradise” versus “Promising Pioneering Paradise”/
/she gives them names like brands to lampoon the symbolism of rebirth and opportunity/
/because it’s not really a rebirth for the protagonist/
/it’s a burden/

\but the way Perham relates it to the present\
\it’s like the experience is silly, but valid\

/the speaker seems to relate the experience to a teenage romance/
/”but she didn’t die.  She got older.”/
/it’s anti-Romeo and Juliet/
/stupid teenage assholes/


\I don’t know if it’s really anti-Romeo and Juliet\
\because she doesn’t dismiss the validity of the relationship\

/I dunno/


\Perham’s narrator is a romantic, I think\
\but she’s also a Millennial so she’s self-aware\
\like how the poem transitions from ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to ‘Sex and the City’\
\”grand furnishings dark rum an infinity pool”\
\she’s emphasizing the vapidity of the experience\
\the same experience that’s keeping the speaker’s significant other from responding\
\rather than actual physical boundaries\
\it’s just the boundary between the two people\
\so it’s more intimate but also less so\
\because the list is irrelevant\
\there are no ships with letters or lovers\
\just indifference\
\so the speaker’s really sincere about the grief in this texting process\


/”same moon!”/
/dat me lol/
/it seems more self-aware than romantic tho/
/it’s an ironic grief poem/
/where the “CambridgeMassachusettsInWinter-Gray window” is just a symbol for the absence of the object of ur longing/
/and the “widow’s walk” could just be the walk from your bed to the toilet/
/and the whole grief process with the whiskey and dying expectation of the letter could just be in a few minutes/
/it’s a skeptic analyzing her own behavior/


/like I see myself in this/
/if someone doesn’t respond I feel like the lover sending texts via “the Very Next White Ship”/
/and I know that it’s dumb that I feel that way/
/which is how I think Perham’s speaker sees it/
/the feeling is honest but the speaker knows it’s dumb/


/are you reading this? will you be writing back?/

Aidan Ziliak is a senior at Lafayette High School, class of ’15.

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