Are You Deep? Are Your Words

The Common Application admission essay is limited to 650 words
What follows is 650 words plus a title “How It Feels”


Do popular kids write poetry? The popular kids in my high school are the cliché teen-movie jocks and cheerleaders who bitch and moan through every poetry segment we do in English class.

“This is just weird and makes no sense,” is a constant refrain.

Or: “Yo, this person needs to chill out. It’s just a tree/bird/ building/urn/body of water. Like it’s really not that big of a deal.”

• • •

Darkness is acceptable and even attractive so long as there is a threshold that is not crossed. But most people I know who suffer, suffer relentlessly and unendingly no matter what sort of future is proposed (“it’ll get better / it won’t always be like this / you will start to heal / I know it’s such a cliché but you really will come out of this stronger in the end”).

• • •

Why is it so humiliating to go on and on about something that means a lot to you only to be told, “Wow, you spend a lot of time thinking about stuff, don’t you?”

Or: “So, you’re one of those people who analyzes everything, huh?”

Or: “That’s kind of dark.” Or worse: “Um…OK.”

• • •

What I know about poetry that has been taught to me in high school: it is both hard to understand and completely open to interpretation. I was told that a poem could really mean anything. Poems could have grammatical mistakes, they could give a fuck about narrative or the space-time continuum or reality as we knew it. Poetry was an attempt to dig into the buried stuff inside a person’s psyche. It used dream logic instead of the logic of our waking lives. Poems were sputtered by demons not sprung out of morality.

In other words, poems are deep shit, and they are also anything at all.

• • •

When someone dies, we go searching for poetry. When a new chapter of life starts or ends — graduations, weddings, inaugurations, funerals — we insist on poetry. The occasion for poetry is always a grand one, leaving us little people with our little lives bereft of elegies and love poems.

But I want elegies while I’m still alive, I want rhapsodies though I’ve never seen Mount Olympus. I want ballads, I want ugly, grating sounds, I want repetition, I want white space, I want juxtaposition and metaphor and meditation and ALL CAPS and erasure and blank verse and sonnets and even center-aligned italicized poems that rhyme, and most of all — feelings.

As a teenager, every little moment calls for poetry.

• • •

I guess what is so embarrassing about being a poet, is that you might be filling the world up with more crap. That your pathetic little thing is not interesting to anyone but yourself.

“O!” I write in my poems sometimes with nothing to follow but it is wonderful to use that letter and that exclamation mark. It is wonderful to try and say anything. O maybe no one really does care. Maybe it is humiliating to attempt anything.

I sincerely don’t know why poetry can be mortifying but tattoos can be cool.

I think everyone wants to make something touchable, but most of us don’t out of fear of being laughable. I’m not saying I’m fearless.

• • •

My mom used to ask her mom to touch her earlobes so she could fall asleep. When she immigrated to New York and could no longer fall asleep at her mother’s house in Shanghai, she started asking me and my father. I remember one time I said, I don’t get it, why do you like that? Let me show you, she said, and she rubbed my earlobes until I couldn’t help but close my eyes. I started to see differently. I think we were spooning. Or I had my head in her lap and she was sitting upright against the bed. “Do you see how good it feels to be touched there?” she asked me. I did.


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Should this writer t be criticized for invoking negative stereotypes? If you said no would your answer differ if she made comments about other groups instead of jocks and cheerleaders (low income or under-represented students, for example)?

Were you surprised at the end to find out this student is of Asian descent? Why or why not? Should this have any bearing on how to evaluate this piece?

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