| Don’t Write Alone
Notes From Class Ode for the Ants: A Love Song for My 2021 Generator Students
Have you ever walked into a room of twelve strangers sitting quiet at a long table, bodies poised toward the nervous, generous edge of a year-long wade into manuscript-making?
We was ants together.
Not the kind that are elders, or ladies lined up whispering the world into place, but bugs. Obedient to none but the morsel, none but the queen.
Antenna alert. Body smooth and segmented into three. Tiny legs like brown rain contacting the dirt. Our unison march glistening with that ancient intent: to write. To write side by side. Certain as the sugar spill, here the poets come quickly to gather and collect.
“An entire life / of loneliness swings / upside down” – Julian
Writing life has a (honestly, corny) reputation of a fate defined by unbearable swaths of solitude, understood commonly as a practice and profession wherein the writer is supposedly an island facing that great abyss alone. But have you ever walked into a room of twelve strangers sitting quiet at a long table, bodies poised toward the nervous, generous edge of a year-long wade into manuscript-making?
“It must be my mother / folding me / with her prayers” – Ahmed
It’s undeniably bold to gather. We know this now. But even then, in the Before Times, to gather elbow-to-elbow, breath fogging up the glass, with the goal of sharing oneself and to be shared with was brazen in its own right. I missed it before it was gone and could not have known it would not return.
“I long not to be an elegy, / yet” – DeShara
Jericho Brown visited our class about midway through the year and told us poems are just one [successful!] line after another. What a relief he offered. All one need to do is spend uninterrupted time with the line. Put one’s face to that line and trust that the next one will come when it does. The determination of ants—little bloodhound bristles snigging out the goods. Chemosense fastening the path to a line of ants moving in common mission.
Where there is one, there are no doubt more beyond what the eye knows. Ants roll deep. Woo Woo, ya heard?
Often, we gathered on a regular Wednesday, not knowing how or if any of the trillion ongoing global tragedies would resolve. We gathered at the brink.
“Who but fools believe the weatherman when he gives a forecast? – Siri
February 12th, 2020, we had our first class. I can still see Hayley’s big hair and smart eyebrows relaxing above her glasses. Maryam’s mouth pressed into a line as she leans into the table. Ahmed directly to my left, offering a smile that would become a signature of our room. I was grateful from jump, talking miles around myself in that hot little room precious with nascent kinship.
I remember beckoning the room to crack open. If you’ve been in any randomly arranged room calling for vulnerability, you know a good Cracking is mandatory for proper revelation. You can never predict when it will happen: a chair squeaking in such a way that mimics a bodily function prompting everyone to erupt into laughter, a bag of chips burst open as a class offering and sprinkled easily into palms, the first time the Quiet One pipes up to drop major science. You can never predict when it will happen, when ego and shame loosen their grip and get gone for good.
“ Live the shred. / Do not divert / the heart’s traffic.” – Sarah
You can’t watch America do what it be doing and still dream of labor. I don’t relish my bones being milked for a wicked machine, so no, I don’t have a dream job. I don’t dream of work, but I do dream of service. God of mud and hills; God of spondee and well water; God of mighty herds, please don’t let me clog anyone’s path toward themselves. Please let me serve their poems or else let me go on to other dreams.
“And the space between me and myself / who is also yourself, / loses all its room” – Hayley
March 10th Atom sends an email to all Catapult instructors that we know is coming but can’t wrap our flimsy breath around: Starting firmly this coming Monday, March 16th in-person classes will not be held.
I’m silly when I’m afraid, foolish even. I should have known that what makes a room powerful, transformative, honest are the writers present no matter where they are broadcasting from. Once brought together, once cracked proper, there is a unification that cannot be undone our outdone by physical distance. Quite the mischievous opposite actually. Reader, they popped TF off.
I’m remembering something poet Aracelis Girmay said in a Poetry Society of America feature. Speaking on bodies as constellations, Girmay proposes that when a piece of the body is left behind the body begins (or continues?) to constellate. Hair left in the comb. Fingernails in the waste basket. Blood on the band-aid gauze. All of it might be understood as coordinates marking all the wheres that the body is and has been.
Constellated and broadcasting live from grief. Broadcasting live from Canada, California, Brooklyn, Manhattan. Philippines, Egypt, Puerto Rico. Virginia, Michigan. Land of Lenape, land of Musqueam. Mineral and flesh. Our common body. We are present. Our poems sift our dead and dismembered selves into the only room that matters: the room of communal memory.
“The Tagalog word for pomegranate is Granada. / Having eaten what I can’t detonate, I agonize” – Steffi
They were writing poems in a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. No matter the surgery, the job loss, the displacement, familiar fractures, holidays, a whole absurd insurrection—and still—the poets kept each other. I’ve never seen a thing like the thing these poets made from listening to each other and showing up and showing out and returning to a well built in real time.
Sarah would arrive to workshop eager with a purse full of exclamation marks. Alex would be busy flooding the chat window with mirrors—quoting folks’ poems back to them and polishing it off with a parade of heart emojis.
“I wish to crash/ without words into the sleep / but wolves keep crouching in my dreams” – Alex
Sometimes the words failed us. But the poets never failed each other.
Sometimes they would come to class but keep the camera off. Sometimes someone would be silent all class and only turn their mic on at the end to say Thank you/ I needed this today .
Lock me up if you gotta, but in a year where life itself was a question mark, who could have blamed them for retreating into survival? But then the chapbooks came, and then the final manuscripts came, and the offerings were resplendent each, pulsing with necessary life and high velocity voltas.
“The nation of our/ love sits in the sky, pressed and purple” – Chelsea
There was sorrow, there was exhaustion, of course. But there was too a bright levity, an audacity of music.
“All portraiture and all self-documentation is reconciliation” – Lana
I bet you think I’m the queen.
Or maybe you think it’s poetry itself?
You are wrong. Listen to me when I say we was ants together.
Marching single file, lifting the heft of a line over our heads, the sustenance sometimes five thousand times our own weight. Deliberate and devoted, antenna tuned towards the turn of the 6th line into the 7th.
Tithing at a bouquet of couplets.
“My hair spooling like its / never seen daylight” – Maryam
The mission is, of course, always truth. Not the realm of fact, but truth. That funky and undeniable realm. Motion giving way to meaning as we hold the inextinguishable words above our heads. Holding and lifting them like a grand church hat blocking out the sun.
“If time is a line / mine traces / a crack in the sky / wet sidewalk / until it finds/ an explosion of green / fighting through” – renée
The morsels we tend to, we bring them back to the source. Eternally in cahoots, pheromones trailing. Proximity be damned. 2021 Catapult Poetry Generator Forever. Extraordinary league of the scattered and nation-less.
If you ’ re interested in studying with Angel, her next 12-month class begins in February. Apply by December 15th if you ’ d also like to apply for financial aid!
Don’t miss the opportunity to read poems written by Angel’s students during their 12-Month Poetry Collection Generator! Find them below:
• Maryam Gunja, “continental breakfast at wilshire & hope ”
• Julian Guy, “Before You Go, I Want to Love You”
• Sirianna Helleloid, “ a book named sirianna (for Gunnar Ulstad) ”
• renée kay, “my depression as punishment for desire ”
• Lana C. Marilyn, “you can run but you can’t hide ”
• Hayley Mojica, “Where we go to be together ”
• DeShara Suggs-Joe, “Family Tied”
• Steffi Tad-y, “Gising”
• Chelsea Williams, “ The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks ”
• Ahmed Zaid, “ Sitting On a Bed In The Middle Of The Milky Way ”