A poetic attempt at brevity (because CNF is hard)

Of all the types of creative writing out there, I’m perhaps most intimidated by creative nonfiction (often shortened to CNF, for the nonwriters reading). Which may seem unexpected: To me, it’s always seemed to be a marriage of journalism and poetry. One of those, I’m degreed in. The other, I’ve practiced since I was 12.

And yet. Oh, and yet.

There’s something about CNF that feels too vulnerable. In journalism, we write about other people. In poetry, we can make up shit as much as we like. But the point of CNF is to be a sort of memoir. The best stuff bleeds, a little, because that’s the stuff that makes someone say, “What? You, too? I thought I was the only one.” (Thanks, C.S. Lewis.)

So I’ve signed up for a four-week CNF class through the Indiana Writers Center, led by my new friend and beautiful writer Leah Lederman, with the hope to break through whatever it is that stoppers me in the genre.

For this week’s assignment, Week 1, we were to write a response–in any form, be it essay or letter, poem or list–to the first chapter of our class book, Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s World of Wonders. Since my goal is to work on my CNF, I opted for an essay.

When I finished the first draft, I returned to the assignment and realized I overlooked a key word: short essay. Ummmm … yeah, mine’s, like, 1,200 words.

And therein lies one of my major problems with CNF. So much of it, especially the truly powerful pieces, are so short, flash essays that make a point that’s needle-fine and Indy 500-car-wreck-explosion powerful. Whereas here I am, rambling on.

So, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that I’ve had brevity on the mind for the last few days.

A favorite Instagram feed I follow is called Poetry is Not a Luxury. Last week, it shared two brief, very brief, ridiculously brief poems by Sonia Sanchez.

They put me in the mind of a form I learned in a class I took last year, a sort of revamped haiku intended for American English, called a cinquain. The instructor taught that traditional Japanese haiku, which follows a 3-5-3 syllable scheme, nearly can’t work in English because our words have more syllables. The adjusted version, which is still brief but allows for our lexicon to stretch its sexy legs, has a syllable scheme of 2-4-6-8-2.

So I sat with one of Sanchez’s ditties, which says more in 17 syllables than many 1,200-word essays (ahem) to see what I could come up with.

Mine’s still longer that hers, because of course it is, but it definitely fits the theme of brevity.

(Also, a bit of inspiration to share: A current song that’s posted up in my guts these days is Lake Street Dive’s “Know That I Know,” which itself is, I suspect, inspired in part by a classic Friends episode, The One Where Everybody Finds Out. A poetry prompt: Write a cinquain inspired by your current earworm.)

So I share my little attempt at brevity, brought to you in part by Lake Street Dive and Friends. Here’s hoping I take this lesson into Week 2 of my class!


if I
scroll my phone quick-
er, your face flashes by,
a flip-book reminder from that
time we

caught eyes,
unfolded, this
hungry blooming I know
you know I know all about, babe,
you know?

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