Santa and His Machine (Or Just Research)

In a world where we can get information with a few words typed into a worldwide search engine, we must be careful how we use that power.

When writing a research paper, or any paper in which you would like to use outside sources, it can be easy to Google a couple words, pull up Wikipedia, copy, paste, and bam, done.

However, when we use Wikipedia or other such websites as a quick source, we are bypassing multiple layers of information that can be helpful, and are often necessary to ensure that what we are quoting is valid.

  1. The Author: It is important to know the author when quoting the source because the author has their own set of contexts and biases. If you were to quote the president of college, who then writes an article about going to college being worth the money, you must recognize the bias of the article and be careful how you use a quote.
  2. The Research: The preliminary research that went into giving you numbers or generalizations in your search can greatly affect the way you use those ‘facts’. If you have a statistic that says 75% of Canadians believe Santa makes snow, but the interviewers only talked to 4 kindergarteners, 75% is not a very reliable number to use when making a large generalization. Similarly, if a statistic states that 95% Canadians believe Canada is primarily French-speaking – but you are only interviewing French-speakers, you are missing the point.
  3. The Publication: If you acquire information from Wikipedia or a similar site, a person was able to write out something and publish it, with little to no peer review. The advantage to peer review is that what someone decides or thinks is true goes through multiple people, institutions, and critiques before it reaches you. This provides validity to the info you are using because if multiple scholarly institutions believe a fact, after reading and critiquing, you are probably safe to believe it too.

Researching is something we all do, whether we are looking up song lyrics or writing actual papers. We might as well learn to do it right, otherwise, we may start sending expedition teams to the North Pole looking for Santa and his really cool machine.




“Do You Have Some Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?”

Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave
your house or apartment. Go out into the world.

It’s all right to carry a notebook but a cheap
one is best, with pages the color of weak tea
and on the front a kitten or a space ship.

Avoid any enclosed space where more than
three people are wearing turtlenecks. Beware
any snow-covered chalet with deer tracks
across the muffled tennis courts.

Not surprisingly, libraries are a good place to write.
And the perfect place in a library is near an aisle
where a child a year or two old is playing as his
mother browses the ranks of the dead.

Often he will pull books from the bottom shelf.
The title, the author’s name, the brooding photo
on the flap mean nothing. Red book on black, gray
book on brown, he builds a tower. And the higher
it gets, the wider he grins.

You who asked for advice, listen: When the tower
falls, be like that child. Laugh so loud everybody
in the world frowns and says, “Shhhh.”

Then start again.
—Ron Koertge

I absolutely love this poem. I came across it on the Library of Congress’s Poetry 180, hosted by Billy Collins.

(You should sign up. It gives you a poem per day and it’s super awesome.)

This is a poem on writing, though I think it applies to most, if not all, attempts in life. I love to think of my attempts to love others as a tower; I add on and on, my smile widening, until it falls down. Instead of crying, I laugh and laugh. I stand up, I pick up the pieces, and I start again. My attempts to write go through the same process. My attempts to do my Precalculus homework, the same. My attempts to play violin. My attempts to nurture a reading lifestyle. All the same. Crashing and laughing, crashing and laughing, over and over. I love it.

Poetically, this is a well done poem. Koetge’s use of enjambment works well to further emphasize sentences. Take, for example, the first line, “Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave” Not only is the full sentence – “Give…desk” – a good way to make a point, the enjambment of the word “[l]eave” at the end, makes it act partially as a full sentence, furthering the idea in the past the sentence.

The form of the poem impacts the way I read the poem because each stanza is an important part of the ‘instructions’ or advice that Koertge gives. The stanzas separate and inform them reader of the different steps for “starting out.” First, you must leave home – first stanza. Second, get a notebook, not something super special, just a notebook – second stanza. Avoid uninspiring places – third stanza. Libraries are one of many good places to write – fourth stanza. Lastly, here is what to do when it doesn’t work out the way you planned – last stanzas. So while the form does not hugely impact the information given, the ideas communicated would be different without the form.

Koertge’s poem is an inspiring poem about being persistent, specifically in writing, but it in any endeavor. It tells a narrative that could not be told the same way in prose.

(Mainly, though, I like this poem because it gives me permission to laugh so loudly everybody looks at me funny, which I am all for supporting and participating in.)


Moving On

2015 was a year of writing.

In the second semester of my tenth grade English class, I discovered that my teacher – Ms. Magnuson, of course – was a really wonderful poetry reader and editor, not to mention encouraging (and pretty awesome). The very first poem I took to her is this:


take a moment
yeah You.
See the way
he shuffles his feet
See the way
she braids her hair
how can we deny
“you are beautiful”
how can we not acknowledge
your Soul shines
through the calloused layers of unloved skin
Making You a Beacon
of Much-Needed Light
to those around you.

I also discovered that I could seriously enjoy poetry assignments. I could genuinely appreciate writing in response to something, in a certain tone, or in imitation of another writer. I wrote this poem mimicking a poem by Mary Oliver:


It doesn’t have to be
heavy thoughtful words, it could be
spare time on a Tuesday night, or a
hand on your back; just
notice them, then learn

to be comfortable in the silence of appreciation
don’t try to make it perfect
for you are not vying for first place

You are learning to pour out the
grace you have been given.

This year, I also discovered that poetry – my own and other’s –  has the power to heal. This poem has the weight and hurt of momentary pain and coming to the end of it healed a wound of sorts.

{loving and leaving}

a knot in my throat
that’s what its called

but all I feel
are breaths
shuddering and crumbling
under the weight
of my thumping heart

it is an organ
the heart is
made of arteries and veins
and yet

continues to tremble
because the fear
of being left alone
alone in a world
where people
talk to break
not to build
without the quiet kinship
of a friend
is a scary thing

so I lay curled
knees to my chest
trying to shield
my body
from everything
that plagues

molten shards
of my sun-shattered-soul
pour down my cheeks
flow and rush
over the bridge of my nose
leaving scars
only I can feel

if I could hear anything over
the loud banging-clanging of my heart
I would hear
the gentle pitter-patter
of tears released

but my heart
continues to beat
its own jarring reminder
“you are alive and working”

my voice breaks
as I choke out
a whisper
into the soft darkness
“thank you”

I also learned, or rather continued to learn, that writing helps me to pay attention to what is going on around me, and how I can be better attuned to it. I can learn to see the world – the “night” – as it is, not as I’ve convinced myself it is.

{dark nights}

we moan
we groan
we tell
of how
our Night is
how violent
our Storm is

but even then
when we chance
a look at the sky

its not as dark
as we once thought
lighter blues swirl
with indigos
more than how we insist
on painting it
the moon shimmers
on our rocking waters
the stars beam
with loving smiles
the clouds
move leisurely through
the oxygen that is home
heavy with water they may be
ready to rain on our slow funeral walk
but still

and all of us
here we are
mostly insignificant
and groaning
while Creation beckons
us to notice
the beauty in the Night

The poem below was written with magnetic words on someone’s fridge. I spent a good 15 minutes searching the entire fridge for words that could make up an intelligible poem. This poem taught me the search for words and the fact that I can make a poem out of practically anything or anything  – whether they be on a fridge, in my mind, or elsewhere. Also, this poem showed me how good constraints could be: I never would have used “hath” if I had had my own unlimited choice of words, instead of a fridge set.

{I Am More}

when slander’s ghost
hath poisoned
my every thought

know this

I have
let no curse
measure me

The last poem I wrote in 2015 is a poem on grief. I’m not sure what that means for 2015 or the coming year, but I do know that poetry is a way of moving on. Through all the poems above and all the poems that I wrote that are not here, I learned something, and they have let me move on – to a new phase or deeper into something.

2015 was a year of writing that taught me to move on. So I continue to move on – to 2016 and to new things.

{missing lives}

we were
in a king size bed

when the world
lost an
eight year old
“with a glow about her”

we were
on Nakuru

when our planet
lost another
eight year old
“not of this world”

I look out
from the car window
my bitten nails
in my lap

I see farms
streaking past
people busy
with lives
with sadness
all of their

the clouds
paint shadows
on the green
rain-fed hills
and all I can do


the years
of believing
in a loving

slip trip and

my cheeks

I catch just
with my lips
to keep the prayer
in me

and we keep

if you’re lucky
pain doesn’t
only pause

we see more
more cattle
more sheep

more clumsy
tumble into
the heavy air

and we keep

So here’s to moving on. Cheers.