Category: Opinion & Democracy

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Rough Cuts, End Thoughts and Poetry – Liz Axelrod

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it-don’t cheat with it. – Ernest Hemingway

If you start with a bang, you won’t end with a whimper. – T.S. Eliot

Every disappointment is an opportunity in disguise. You’ll overcome this and move on to better things. This is what your friends tell you when you get those awful declines and rejections. Yes, it may be true and yes it may help to soothe the deep hole under the diaphragm that gets larger with each rejection letter, each ending, each failed appointment, each time we’re told, So sorry, yes, you were excellent, but there were others before you, better candidates. Yes, you’re at the top of the list, but we only have so much room. Try again next year.

I ask myself each time I’m rejected by a literary journal, magazine, an online outlet, a reading series, the school I love, the men I want to love— Why continue? Why not just give up and settle?

But this is what scholarly pursuits, writing, and I suppose even life is all about—Blind 
submission, acceptance, rejection, not-so-blind submission, rewards, and then some more rejection.

Since I read my first book and put my first words on the page (in red crayon) I’ve been on this path of exquisite torture. For every success, for every featured reading and published piece, there are seventeen rejections. A professor once told our class she papered her bathroom wall with her rejection letters. She’s got two published novels now and a slew of awards, so I guess the effort was well worth it. But how do we continue to find the courage to put ourselves out there and keep from falling into the pit of desperation and despair? How do we handle the fact that this is a solitary effort and maybe only a handful of our contemporaries have even an inkling of understanding the pressure? I’ve written way too many poems about why I drink too much, and my self-medicating habits don’t even come close to some of my fellow writer friends. There are days I just throw my hands up in the air and want to scream when the words won’t come, and days when I just sit and stare at the blank page, eyes and fingers crossed…

However, this is not about success or failure, it’s about lessons learned, and the will to go forward. It’s not about intelligence, ego, jealously, or empathy. It’s about shared experiences with fabulous, talented professors and fellow students, and mostly, it’s about growth. Our 12th Street team grew tremendously over the past two years and two issues. We sat at the table together and drank wine, poured over submissions, devised our strategy for the journal, and then worked to create the best undergraduate literary journal in the country (as awarded by AWP this year!). We have much to be proud of and will be leaving a strong legacy to uphold.

Real writers never settle (though we do tend to overindulge). We polish and perfect, re-write and edit, beat ourselves up over syntax and language, cry over misprints and typos and then start with a fresh clean page. So, with this in mind, I’m writing my farewell letter as Editor-In-Chief of this website and as Managing Editor for the last two issues of 12th Street Journal. My years at New School in The Riggio Writing & Democracy Program have whittled me down to a fine tuned, open mouthed, well honed, Honors Graduate and yet I still feel unfinished, in need of strong cuts and edits. I’ve been trying to take some time for growth, give space for new opportunities and learn to see just where those cuts and edits make the most sense.

The new team is getting set to take over and I’m getting set to let go, but first, I want to present you with a taste of what we came out of the program with. Following are poems by 2011 Riggio Graduates – Sylvia Bonilla, Rebecca Melnyk, Luke Sirinides and me. We all possess creative strengths and weaknesses, we all owe much to the Riggio Program, to the concepts of Writing and Democracy, to our shared experiences, rewards and disappointments, and we will all move forward in the writing world in our own individual forms.

To the next group coming on board this fall, I offer my warmest wishes for a wonderful learning experience, a shoulder to lean on when the going gets rough, and my support, encouragement and aid wherever and whenever needed in order to continue this most worthy and excellent endeavor.

Always be a poet,  even in prose – Charles Baudelaire

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An Emerald City Wheezes: A NYC Walking Tour of the Cherokee Apt. Building on 78th & York.

I click my heels three times.  There’s no place like home.

New York is an electric mess of metal and concrete, noise and people. Slick and buzzing, a thin layer of ice covers a worn grid etched over a tiny island.  An emerald city is dying inside the snowy mist and grime. It erodes by the water, wheezing.  It’s called The Cherokee.  This is my building and I was entirely unaware of its unique history when I moved in about 6 months ago.

The Cherokee – a hidden oddity beyond the freezing rain-soaked streets – below York Avenue, squats over an entire block.  The building is painted like an emerald inside the city.  It’s a historical relic and one of the city’s most natural, hidden museums.  This summer when I answered an ad on Craigslist, I sprinted over in the crippling heat and humidity to see the place.  Ornate green arches greeted me.  The building itself, felt steeped in another time, like a Parisian Belle Epoque.  It’s sepia-toned and splashed with layers of green – green doors, emerald banisters and railing. The walls arch and creak over an outdoor staircase.

Immediately after I saw the façade of the building, I applied to live there.  I don’t know why I was inexplicably drawn to this fossilized landmark building, but soon after I moved in, I started googling its history.

The Cherokee was erected in 1909, funded by the Vanderbilts.  Originally referred to as “The Shively Tenements” (named for Dr. Shively, the man who dreamed the place up), the massive building consumes the entire block.  It once served as medical housing for poverty-stricken New Yorkers with tuberculosis. The project was scrapped after four years and the building became a cooperative by 1924. Decaying along the riverside, the Cherokee is a stalwart emerald city within the city, aging under collecting layers of paint.  Unchanging and magnificently faded, it reaches to the river, eroding under the city’s artificial light.

The Abracadabra

The Abracadabra: A New Poetry Game

I invented this game during Paul Violi’s poetry workshop “Romantic Rebellion.” Two examples of the Abracadabra—“Four Reviews” and “Four School Subjects”—are presented below. Read the rules, check it out, and play along!


The player chooses a general topic and four subjects within the topic (e.g. Critical Reviews: Theatre, Book, Food, Film and School Subjects: Math, History, English, Science.)

The player writes four poems—one for each subject (these together make the Abracadabra.)

The poems are written in Dactylic meter—each foot has three beats: Stressed, unstressed, unstressed. ONE, two, three, ONE, two, three. It’s like waltzing. (NOTE: This rule can be broken. If you find a meter better suited to your purposes, you must use that one.)

The rhyme scheme is ABCB. You may write as many quatrains as necessary—but less is more!

The player must use each letter of the alphabet in order throughout each of the four poems. You do not have to use one letter per line, only in order.

In the A-Z words, you may not use the same word twice in the Abracadabra. (This rule can be bent. For example, using “X” to mean “crossing out” is not the same as using “X-” as the prefix for “X-axis.” But try and stay diverse.

* Editor’s note: Click MORE to view Luke’s poems and play along – leave your magic poems in the comments box.  Have fun!