Artist Spotlight: Meg Day by Cianna Hoppe

Artist Spotlight: Meg Day by Cianna Hoppe

I first heard of Meg Day in my Creative Writing class at Bethany. I was instantly hooked not just by her style, but when I heard she was a deaf poet. I am learning American Sign Language this semester at Bethany, and we’ve discussed Deaf culture in class and some of the unique nuances that differ from hearing culture. I was especially intrigued by Day’s connection to language and how her experience with English may be different when compared to my own. For this assignment, I went to the MSU Memorial Library and checked out her recent book of poetry Last Psalm at Sea Level

While reading Day’s works, I noticed several relatively consistent craft choices, both in writing style and topic choice. Some topics that she visits often in Last Psalm at Sea Level include two types of perspective poems. In some, she writes a self-portrait that discusses herself at another age or in another vocation or even as two separate persons (Portrait of My Selves at Ten, as Father & Son or Portrait of My Selves at Eleven, as Kings); other times, she writes from the shoes of a specific person, such as On Nights When I Am Amelia Earhart and On Nights When I am Brandon Teena. She also visits topics such as gender and sexuality, both from her perspective and the perspective of society at large, displayed in Teenage Lesbian Couple Found in Texas Park with Gunshot Wounds to the Head. She also writes specifically about her own life experiences, including cancer, motherhood, and having a partner (or more often, lacking one). I’ve noticed in my own writing this semester that I am often drawn to religious topics, which she visits occasionally. While she doesn’t always address religion explicitly, she weaves religious concepts or phrases into many of her poems, discussing “Adam’s ribs”, “confession”, or “psalm”, especially in poems like Hymn to a Landlocked God. I found that I connected more personally to those phrases in her poetry. 

As for her craft choices, her writing often flows, even from the title! She uses the title not only to set the setting of the poem, but to begin the poem itself. At times, the title was the first line of her poem, such as in “Sit on the Floor with Me”. Many of her poems have a melancholy theme, mourning or longing for something from the past. She utilizes line breaks, punctuation, and capitalization, often surprising the reader by continuing a line into the next phrase with a different meaning than you originally anticipated. I love these lines from Taker of the Temperature, Keeper of the Hope Chest, “runners of the tight shift, leavers of the light on—hanging / one hat up only to put on another, their labor / or love still & always labor. What candle burns / at both ends & lasts the night? We did not have years”. I think these lines display an excellent picture of her style. She often writes in sentences with punctuation and capitalization but uses line breaks to make them fresh and different; she likes to make her reader think! The words she chooses are very intentional; she emphasizes how things sound with consonance especially at the beginning and end of words. She also uses the “&” symbol in her poetry, rarely typing out the word “and” (I haven’t noticed the word “and” in any of the poems that I’ve read!) which makes the words around the symbol have more emphasis; it’s a little detail that highlights the richness of the words she chooses. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her poetry, particularly because of the unique picture that she crafts of herself and how she engages with the world around her. 

“In the style of Meg Day”

To imitate the style of Meg Day, I decided to write a poem similar to her several “Portrait of My Selves as/at” because she had several pieces with that title and all having a similar theme from age 9 through age 12. Even with the similarities, her pieces were written in different styles and place herself in a different vocation, at a different age, or representing two persons. 

Portrait of My Selves at Age Thirteen, as Girlfriends

One friend to another, we

swiftly swing, pushing with our legs,

a creaky copper chain & molded metal all that 

tethers us to each other.

Rising above the morose mountain 

of clouds, pushing above to avoid 

falling faster, we anxiously wait for 

him, the other half of

my heart, I hope

he smiles when he sees me, a wanna-be

girlfriend of sorts. He can have this sparse shell, split

between wanting him & just wanting

to be wanted. If he changes his

mind & chooses the other one, the girl who 

swings with me, a sworn sister, I could be

her too, she has a soft smile that

welcomes & warns you, be careful

with what you wish for, this specimen

of superiority, this next wonder of the 

world that has been fashioned into a face that is pretty

inviting for a day. He buys chocolate to sweeten

her milky skin, her honey eyes, her sweet gaze, but he

cannot sweeten her. He can have me, I am already 

sweet on him, or at least I can be if

he chooses me.

After studying Meg Day’s craft, I determined that I needed to speak in my poem from two perspectives, just as she does in Portrait of My Selves at Nine, as Old Men, Portrait of My Selves at Ten, as Father & Son, Portrait of My Selves at Eleven, as Kings, and Portrait of My Selves at Twelve, as Pallbearers. In all four of these pieces, she examines herself at a different age but also at a unique event or stage in life. She sees herself take on a new role that is both this and that.

I wanted to be liked as “that girl” in the poem so much that I didn’t care so much if he actually liked me.

For me, I chose myself at a stage of life where I wanted to be liked, really liked, by a boy. I chose to talk about my first “date” with a boy in eighth grade when we walked to the park down the street from my house. I wanted to be liked as “that girl” in the poem, the one with the “sweet gaze” so much so that I didn’t care so much if he actually liked me, the person I already was. This piece is supposed to examine the relationship a person experiences with themself as they change from child to adult; in my case, my shift from girl to woman. Day often examines gender and the role of her past relationships that have shaped her present.

As for craft, I mimicked Day’s style with her phrasing and the pictures she uses. I incorporated consonance so that the poem has vivid sounds that make it fun to read aloud. I developed pictures that are more easily identifiable but described in a more unique way. Day uses line breaks to keep her poetry moving and develop a flow, but also to emphasize certain lines and surprise the reader. One of my favorite lines in my poem is the connection of “half of my heart, I hope / he smiles…” because of how it keeps moving but brings new meaning to the poem. I also tried to incorporate her punctuation and capitalization, as well as her use of & over “and”. 

I really enjoyed this activity because it made me play the part of me, just slightly different! Exploring another writer’s craft has helped me explore my own. While I used my own words and made my own choices, Day’s influence helped me shape this piece. Meg Day often writes of one thing existing with another, and now, I’ve explored my craft as it exists alongside hers.

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