Ariana’s poem White Noise is the 1st place winner of the Robert Frost Poetry Prize. You can check out her work in ZPlatt 2016. Here’s a little bit – in her own words – about this piece.
“White Noise is a piece that delves into the issue of white privilege and how it causes people of privilege to turn a blind eye to those who experience racism daily. White privilege is a cocoon that shields people from random subway searches, denied job opportunities, incarceration, violence, and ultimately murder. This piece brings to light the importance of understanding and admitting to the internalized racism of society.”
What began your writing journey?
My writing journey began when I was 13 or 14. Growing up, I felt like I was sort of overshadowed by older sister. She was a lot more outgoing than myself. In fact, I was very introverted and angry at the world. She spoke for me a lot of the time so my voice wasn’t really heard as much as I would have liked. Because I was so withdrawn, no one really paid attention to me; it’s sort of like if you’re not going to give any energy out, you’re not going to get any energy back. In a way, it made sense why things were the way they were. I never harbored any resentment towards my sister, though. Isabella is great. (laughs). I was simply envious of her ability to interact with people and have them immediately take to her. Basically, little Ariana would often think ‘Oh, Isabella can sing, dance, socialize, and utterly succeeds at everything. That’s awesome but please notice me, everyone, I’m small and afraid.’ (laughs)
I had friends like everybody else, my weird group of cool people. Though, I didn’t feel that I had something special to define me. All I really knew about myself was that I was a tomboy and a small, in the closet, little queer child. (laughs) Anyway, enough of my childhood.
In 7th grade we did this creative writing project. You know, we had fun in elementary/ junior-high. It was something silly about like creating a candy and marketing it, and I was just very enthusiastic about this project for some reason. My english teacher at the time handed me back my project and essentially said, ‘Wow kid, this is some good stuff. You’ve got a real got a talent.’ I was caught completely off guard to be honest. In my head I was like, ‘What? You think I’m good at a thing? Uniquely to me? Wow!’ I was just so relieved that somebody recognized something specifically, you know, about me. That I had a talent of some sort. I dabbled in writing a little before this point, but not much at all. I really have my english teacher to thank for awakening my genuine passion for the writing arts. Honestly, english teachers are the best people in the world.
Do you ever look at those old pieces?
(Laughing) I have a couple. They’re actually not too bad, but they’re way too archaic. When I was younger, I modeled every poem I wrote after Shakespeare because that’s all I knew. I didn’t really have my distinct style until a couple years later when I realized that every word didn’t have to be ‘thee’ or ‘thou’ and that modern poetry was certainly a thing that existed.
What is your process for beginning a piece of poetry? Has that process changed over the years?
When I was younger, I felt like I couldn’t sit down and write a poem unless something very serious happened. If something emotional happened, I would immediately run to my computer and type like mad. I didn’t have much of a revision process. I’d just produce poetry in the heat of the moment and leave it at that. ‘It was raw and passionate,” I probably thought at that time.
My writing process now is a bit different. First of all because I can write poetry more so on command. Second of all, I don’t sit down for hours writing a poem straight through. Instead, I’ll ponder about what i want to write about, type out lines that come to my head, reorder them, and change the wording. Lastly, I actually revise.
What is your goal for your writing life?
I hope to go to graduate school and get a doctorate in English so I can become a university professor. Then I’d get to teach some lovely college students and be able to write a lot. You know, as english professors do.
What advice would you give to other aspiring writers? Or someone else who is just getting that little inkling of wanting to write.
I’d have to say just take a jab at it. Don’t be afraid. For me, writing was always cathartic and made me feel as if I had something to offer the world whenever I did write. Poetry is a powerful thing and that shouldn’t be forgotten. It can really impact people on a deep level and even the world. Just think about all the poets studied in school. They started off as newbies too.
Also, never be afraid of criticism. A poem can always be better. I mean, even famous poems can still be critiqued. As long as the criticism is constructive, I’d say use it as a tool to your advantage. After all, that’s what it’s for. Just stay free of destructive criticism. You don’t need that. Don’t let anyone’s negative comments deter you from translating the universe a.k.a poetry.
But don’t let what critics say always change your poem. There might be others who really appreciate it…
Definitely. If someone who is giving you feedback suggests something and you think ‘Oh wait, that actually makes sense. I’ll make a change to my poem.’ that’s all well and good. However, if you’re dead set on a certain part of your poem, it’s ultimately up to you what stays an what changes. It’s your poem after all.
Who or what inspires you?
I’m heavily influenced by nature when it comes to writing poetry. Growing up, I’d always go outside and just stare up at the sky and look at how beautifully the sun shined through the leaves of trees. It always eased me whenever I was feeling upset. It also made me the happiest. Even now when I’m feeling upset, I sit down by Hawkins Pond. It’s really beautiful over there, especially at sunset.
Another huge thing that inspires me is my identity as a queer woman and social inequality of all sorts.I feel compelled to write real, honest to god literature about the life and struggles of not only myself but the others in my community and those outside of it also struggling. It’s important that we have our voices heard. We need to protect each other in a tough world like this.
What is the hardest thing about crafting a poem?
I want to say the hardest thing is plain, old word choice. I’ll spend so much time on a poem simply because of one word that I feel doesn’t sound right. Many of my poems are meant to be performed so I am very conscious how each word flows and sounds.
What was your favorite writing class?
Dr. Guzzio’s Witness & Trauma course. It introduced me to many genocides and aspects of wars I was unaware of. It further deepened my sympathies towards those who lost their lives due to a government’s intolerance and cruelty. In fact, this class inspired me to write White Noise. Thank you, Guzzio.
What is a topic you really want to write about but have not yet opened up to or found the words for?
I think the things I want to write about I’ve found the words for, but I want to write even more. I want to continue writing lots and lots of things about social justice, inequality, sex, and gender. This is all stuff that needs to be talked about after all, desperately.