The all-important call to revise and resubmit

“Revise and resubmit.” 

We say this often at our meetings, when an art piece needs only minor tweaks, when a poem is just a few concrete images or capital letters away from acceptance. Sometimes the artists heed this call, and the poem reappears one or two semesters later with changes, whether slight or major. But, more often, the poems or art pieces submitted never return. 

I understand why. Want to hear a secret? I hated Opus for most of my time at Hope. Why? Because I was awful at taking constructive criticism.

When I went to a few Opus meetings freshman year, not only were all the others upperclassmen, but they were smart upperclassmen. They analyzed every line of poetry under a microscope, pointing out details of syntax and word choice that I never would have considered. There is an element of frustration to receiving a rejection letter from the Opus account, full of notes relaying your errors. To me, it didn’t just feel like a rejection. It felt like a personal blow. How dare you attack my poetry? I wrote it like that for a reason. Who are you to tell me it could be better? 

It wasn’t until sophomore year, after having gone through a creative writing workshop and developing a self-realization of the flaws in my own work, that I realized the editors of Opus didn’t give me this feedback to offend me but to help me.

A rejected poem doesn’t mean you’re not talented. In fact, I would argue that poems can’t exist without talent. Poems rely so much on surprising images and diction that they require a unique voice. Every poem is valid. The message you’re attempting to convey is important, and by giving you constructive criticism, we want to help you get that message across in the most effective way possible. The same applies to art and prose. We recognize how talented the students of Hope are, and we want to be part of the journey to becoming the best you can be. A rejected poem is never a “no,” only a “revise and resubmit.”

If you, like me, have received the call to revise and resubmit before or are worried about your work being critiqued, I would make a few suggestions: 

  1. Come to our meetings!

Fun fact: Opus meetings are open to the entire student body. In these meetings, we (the Opus staff and any students who join us) read each poem aloud, then point out what we like and what we feel could be improved. Each student, regardless of whether you’re on staff, gets to vote yes or no on each piece. We send out packets of poetry before the meetings each week, so if you see your poem, come to that meeting! Listening to the editors talk about your piece in context is much more personal, and being part of the discussion gives you the opportunity to give your own opinion. Poetry and art are subjective, meaning that everyone may have a different view of a piece, so your insight is important! 

  1. Ask for our notes on your piece. 

While we discuss each piece at meetings, one of our editors takes detailed notes of its praises and critiques. If you’d like rationale for why your piece didn’t make it in the book, please reach out to us (email us at opus@hope.edu)! We’d love to talk with you about your piece in more detail and give you any suggestions we can. 

  1. Come to our workshop night. 

In a normal, covid-free semester, Opus holds workshop nights before our submission deadline. Hopefully, these workshop nights will be reinstated in the fall, giving you a chance not only to meet the Opus staff but to get early insight into possible improvements for your piece. This way you have the opportunity to revise before submitting, giving your piece a greater chance of getting in the book. 

Ultimately we want your work to be the best it can be. So, it bears repeating, if your poem doesn’t make it in the first time, revise and resubmit! 

Is Opus important? (Yes, I think it is.)

It’s hard to believe that this semester is almost over with. In the midst of so many final projects and exams, I forgot several times this week of a very special event. And even when I remembered and marked it in my calendar, it was just an event, an obligation that might be fun. I didn’t realize it would recolor my vision or introduce new colors to my life. 

I’m writing this just after our bi-annual Opus Soup, where we celebrated the accomplishments of those artists who were recognized in this Fall 2020 edition. And it is safe to say, this has been by FAR my favorite Opus Soup I’ve experienced. To watch this event as someone who helped put it together (I say that as if I did a lot; really this was the spectacular brainchild of Morgan Brown and Violet Peschiera, our co-editors-in-chief) is something I feel so monumentally blessed to have experienced. I felt like I knew every piece so well, having spent many nights this semester peering at them during our Zoom meetings, putting on my critique mindset to objectively analyze each poem, painting, prose piece, and photograph. But tonight, there was none of that analysis, none of that judgment; it was all in love and celebration, and let me tell you that it’s the only good way to ever view a piece of art. 

Tonight I got to hear the stories behind the stories, the fragments of personality hidden in the dark brushstroke here, the line break there. Emotion wept out of the pages of my Opus edition, which I read like a Bible as each student repeated their words of truth and power. Few books seem as sacred as this one did tonight. As I read, as I watched everyone unmute themselves to snap during our Zoom call, I fell in love with this swirling beautiful mess all over again. 

I had only rediscovered my love for writing and for art at the end of my sophomore year at Hope, when I took Professor Childress’s ENGL 253 for my FA2 credit, and that love is something I now hold onto tighter than the heart beating through my hands: the fear of facing an unknown world armed only with a pen. After that class I couldn’t imagine living without writing, but now, a few years down the road, I could feel the shine wearing off a bit. I loved artistic expression, but I’d lost sight of the ingrained need, the force stronger than passion that demanded I put words on the page or, so be it, air will stop flowing through my lungs. That flame that had burned through Akhmatova and “The Stray Dog Cabaret,” through Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation. But tonight, as I teared up over a story about Death and a child, as I pondered the battle of being in-between, as I learned of the windows a high school student would look out of to predict the weather, I think I found that unambiguous glimmer. And I have to thank every single artist at Hope, who was either recognized in Opus or wasn’t, for that prophetic revelation. 

Before tonight, I felt big; I felt like the experienced, upperclassman poet who knew what he was talking about and could easily rifle off a few critiques of another student’s work, assured in his skill and ability to evaluate that skill in others. But tonight, I felt small. Tonight I listened to young artists read their work and realized, in a moment where I could almost hear God talking to me, that all these students are glorious, ever-spanning like the stars, talented and beautiful and unscalable. Yes, I felt very small indeed, and I couldn’t be more grateful. There is nothing like the love one artist can feel for another, and I just wish that everyone through Zoom could have felt the love I felt for them, for their art, for their unique view of the world, bred of obstacles, that birthed such fractured masterpieces. Everyone should feel proud of what they have done, not because it got into Opus but because it is Opus.

I was handed an amazing responsibility this semester, one I knew I would love but couldn’t predict just how much I would love. It took Opus Soup for me to understand the scope of it and just how classically futile it is. In the end, we aren’t the ones judging work; you are the ones judging your own artistry, and I hope for the love of God you realize how beautiful your projections of reality are, how real and moving and profound each idea is. You artists hold up the sky. From your hands the trees take root and from your breath the sovereign is born. I hope, if tonight did anything for you, that it reinstated how important art is and how important you are as a creator. 

I also realized that groups like Opus have a much more vital mission than simply judging your works. We are an enabler of creativity, a producer of inspiration. After tonight, the only thing I want to do is take out my writing pad and scrawl away until I run out of ink or sanity. It can be a lonely, arduous job, creating art, and often we can feel like we’re on a tiny island, aswarm in the twilit night, holding a ghostly light so we can crane over our works. The blood of our art doesn’t flow very often, and often I’ll stare at a blank page and feel every curse dance above my head. But with other writers, those curses lessen, and through friends, peers, editors, and encouragers, the blood begins to flow again. I like to think of Opus as a small outpost in a dark world, where all we can give is bread and water but we give it freely, in the hope you will find the strength to stumble to the next destination. Some may believe that Opus isn’t all that, and maybe it’s not. But a hope, a desire, ignited for the promise of tomorrow, can be kept alive at least another day. All of us have kept a hope alive tonight. Let us believe it will return in the morning. 

For those who are interested in viewing Opus Soup, here is the link to our recording of the event: https://vimeo.com/479009511.

Women in Art

Being an art major, I’ve sat through my fair share of art history lessons, and going to a liberal arts school, I’m assuming that many of you have sat through these lessons against your own will to fulfill a gen ed requirement. I apologize if this is the case and I’m hoping you’ll find this post slightly more entertaining than class. 

For those of you who have taken an art history course I’m guessing you heard a lot about artists like Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and Donald Judd. Sound familiar? I thought so. Now what do all these artists have in common? They’re incredibly talented artists? They went down in history? Yes and yes, but they’re also all men. Like most genres of history, men tend to be in the spotlight of the art history world. That’s why I’m here. Welcome to your history lesson on the legendary women of the art world.

(I have to preface that all the information I’m about to share with you has been learned in Art 242 so shout out to Dr. Kraus)

Eva Hesse

Eva Hesse is a name you might have heard before. Hesse was a very famous abstract expressionist artist during the 1960s. She’s most widely known for her sculptures that explored materials and gender with their often very sensual forms.

Hesse was originally from Germany, but her family fled to New York to escape Nazi Germany. In New York her parents divorced and shortly after, Hesse’s mother commited suicide. Hesse’s difficult childhood left a deep wound that was often explored and reflected in her work. 

As if overcoming her traumatic childhood isn’t inspiring enough, what I admire most about Hesse is her journey to becoming the wildly successful sculptor she is remembered as today. Most of Hesse’s early works were not sculptures, but paintings. It took Hesse quite a while to find her niche in sculpture and as an aspiring artist I find this incredibly reassuring. Reading about all these famous artists, I think it’s easy to feel like these people really had their lives figured out. Hearing about Hesse’s struggle to find her artistic style was a breath of fresh air and a nice reassurance that it’s okay to not know what you’re doing.

Hesse’s life was incredibly short, she died at the age of 34 from a brain tumor. The amount of work Hesse created in her lifetime is just another reason to be inspired by her. I highly recommend watching the Eva Hesse documentary, if you want to learn more about Hesse’s life and her art.

Picture of Eva Hesse and a picture of her piece Untitled or Not Yet, 1966

Kara Walker

Kara Walker is an African American artist that is most widely known for her silhouette pieces that explore race and gender inequality. With a similar story to Hesse, Walker thought for the longest time that she wanted to be a painter, before finding her style with paper cut outs. Looking back, Walker believes that she was so determined to be a painter because in the art world that is what is often associated with success and power.

What I love about Walker’s art is how ironic it is. Her use of all black or white paper causes all her characters to look the same. To distinguish race or gender in her pieces, Walker emphasizes offensive and stereotypical characteristics of either a race or a gender. The way that Walker depicts African Americans can be related to how white people would offensively represent black people in minstrel shows. Walker creates her characters like this not to be offensive, but to ironically callout these stereotypes.

Though paper has become her signature medium, Walker is not one to shy away from experimentation. She’s created a monumental sphinx like women entirely made out of sugar, to comment on sugar’s not so sweet history. The giant sphinx was installed in an abandoned Domino Sugar factory that was scheduled to be demolished. Walker’s transformation of the space is jaw dropping, and definitely worth checking out.

Kara Walker’s Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, 1994

Marina Abramović

Last but not least is the incredibly gutsy Marina Abramović. Abramović is commonly referred to as the “Grandmother of Performance Art,” a title she irrefutably deserves. Abramović changed the art world for the better with her performance pieces during the 1970s and she continues to do so. 

Many of Abramović’s pieces are difficult to watch because she often physically harms herself or puts herself into danger. Her piece Rhythm 10 is just one of the many examples. She knows no bounds when it comes to art. Her bravery, perseverance, and willingness to do anything for her work is, in all honesty insane, yet admirable. 

In pieces like The Artist Is Present, Abramović put her body through such unimaginable physical strain. To be able to sit in one spot for hours and hours, day after day, sounds impossible to me. I can barely sit through a 50 minute class! Her self control and discipline is unmatched, and her ability to be so in touch with her mind and body is incredible to me. 

I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly crazy, cool, and epic this woman is. I strongly recommend watching the documentary on Abramović and her work at MOMA called Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present. This documentary was fascinating to me and in the end it had me laughing and crying. If an almost two hour documentary isn’t your style then I suggest checking out Jay-Z’s Picasso Baby music video. The video is clearly inspired by Abramović’s performance piece mentioned earlier, and she even makes an appearance in the video.

Marina Abramović during her piece Rhythm 0, 1974

These three women are only a small glimpse into the world of influential women artists and just a few of my favorites. Thank you for willingly coming to my history lesson and I hope this inspires you to dig deeper into the women of art history. 

Where is your creative space?

Sometimes when I close my eyes, I find myself in Ireland. Inchydoney Island, to be specific, a remote beach on the west coast of the country. When I studied abroad in Dublin last semester (which, funnily enough, proved to be not the best time to go – thanks Covid), the writers program I was part of took us to Inchydoney for a four-day retreat. While there, our only responsibility was to write, to immerse ourselves in our surroundings and use them to inspire us.

Never before had I felt so in touch with my writing. Never before had I seen so clearly a vision for what I wanted to create. 

Why? Because the atmosphere was so conducive to creativity. Between poetry readings and group dinners, I took my little green notebook out to a hill overlooking the beach and just observed. I watched the gulls swoop over the water and rabbits shoot out of holes in the strikingly green landscape below. I watched couples stroll along the shore together and dreamed of being in their shoes. I watched parents playing with their children, a father holding his daughter’s hand as she dipped her toe in the water, and thought of my own father. I watched the friends I had made in the program shuffle along the beach, eyes trained to the ground looking for shells or seaglass. They embedded their footprints in the sand and waited until the waves swept them away, something our professor had told us to do. “Notice how we make marks in the sand, but the waves wash the shore clean by morning,” he pointed out. “There’s a poem in that.”

On that cliff, with a misty Irish breeze crinkling my notebook pages, I realized just how in love I was. Not necessarily romantic love (though there was some of that as well), but this awestruck sense of connectivity with everything around me. I was so in love with the country, the culture, the nature, the students and professors in my program whom I’d come to know intimately in just a few months. 

I was finding stories in everything. The dogs, free of leashes, prancing along the shore. The fence outside our hotel, mysteriously broken overnight. The old lighthouse keeper’s house settled above the bay, abandoned and ruinous. A docked ship, molding from algae and years of disuse. A lone pink boot left by the water. The party of old men drinking wine in the upstairs lounge. All of our shadows cast onto the hills, ingraining us in the landscape.

After that retreat, the leader of the writers program told us to hold on to Inchydoney, to keep images of it tucked in the back of our minds that we could pull out at a moment’s notice. “Picture this place when you write,” he told us. “Remember how you felt being here.” 

How I felt was free. Unrestrained by the responsibilities of life. Dedicated. Inspired. Encouraged. Reinvigorated. In just four days, I had fallen in love with writing all over again.

I managed to hold onto this feeling for months after COVID-19 forced us out of Ireland. How? By doing exactly what my professor recommended. Whenever I sat down to write, I conjured Inchydoney. It sounds dorky, but I put away my laptop, played the sound of wind and gulls and lapping waves, and wrote by hand. I remembered sunrise walks at the crack of dawn, the sweet smell of a breakfast buffet, my friends reading poems that they’d ruminated over in sandy alcoves of the hills. I remembered the heat of a hotel sauna, my professor raving about wild mushroom penne, the glow in my friend’s eyes as we wrote stories by firelight. I remembered midnight walks on the beach, when darkness enveloped the sand, and though I was moving, it seemed that everything around me stood still.

Remembering these sensations brought peace, clarity, and focus to my work and to myself.

Yes, there is truth to the idea that writing is a feral beast that needs to be domesticated. A disobedient child who needs to be disciplined. Inspiration is elusive; it has a tendency to disappear when you need it most. It requires, to some extent, routine, sharpness, and intense drive. But I’ve found that writing can be just as strong when it comes from a place of peace, when it’s grounded in the place your heart calls for most.

Of course, this imagery of Ireland is unique to my memory, but this is a universal experience. So I ask you, reader: when you close your eyes and think of peace, where do you picture yourself? 

Harness that space when you’re doing creative work. Remember the details of your surroundings, your emotional state, and use it to your work’s advantage. I promise it helps.

How to ‘hack’ the Opus submissions process

Hello everyone! I’m writing this today to tell you all how to make my job a lot harder. I want all of you to get work into Opus, but the sad truth of it is, not everyone’s work makes it into the magazine. But I want you to have the best shot possible of getting published, and this post will tell you how to do that. So here goes!

The key to submitting quality work to Opus is preparation. If you are planning on submitting work, you need to start thinking about that mix of work well ahead of time. For example, I began thinking about what pieces I was going to submit to the Fall 2020 Opus in the spring of 2020. Thinking that far ahead might seem crazy, but I needed time to figure out what creative work I wanted to do over the summer. This also allowed me to think about diversifying the things I would submit, which I will talk about in more length later on.

When I am doing creative work, I often research. Research is particularly helpful for Opus art submissions because at Opus Soup you are expected to discuss your work. Pointing to your research is an easy way to talk about your inspiration (I learned this the hard way, by the way. Not fun showing up to Opus Soup and having to come up with something to say, especially for an introvert!).

Research for me often takes place on social media and YouTube. If I’m learning something new, like I did this summer, I will glean as much as I can from YouTube videos on the subject. One of my favorite tools is a show called Big Lens Fast Shutter. Matt Cohen, a famous rodeo and sports photographer, critiques photo submissions in these videos. It really helped me get a sense of what quality rodeo photos look like.

Here are some other examples of inspiration I’ve taken from social media:

Ryan Pfluger is one of my favorite photographers right now. I started following him on Instagram a while ago when he was mostly posting simple celebrity portraits, like the ones above. I became obsessed with this portrait style. His work is gorgeous and emotional.

These works helped inspire my piece “Rivals,” which you can find in the Fall 2019 edition of Opus. Here it is:

Steve Wrubel’s work takes a more artistic than sports approach to rodeo photography, but I love it. The square format of his pieces, like “Clayton,” pictured below, lend themselves well to Instagram.

Matt Cohen, mentioned above for his role in Big Lens Fast Shutter, is undoubtedly the best rodeo photographer there is. Check out his website if you want your mind absolutely blown by photos like this one:

There are many other amazing rodeo photographers if that’s what you’re into, so hit me up if you want more. I simply use this as an example of the type of research I do when considering the artistic work I want to submit.

I will also say it is very important to diversify, especially if you are submitting artwork. I only submitted two rodeo photos to this year’s Opus. I branched out by exploring digital art, diptychs, and black and white. I have found it helpful to submit work to Opus keeping these things in mind:

Use all five slots! You can submit five works of art and five pieces of written work. Make our lives harder as editors and give us tons of stuff! This gives you a better shot of getting something published, especially if you diversify and submit creatively different things.

If you need access to some fun prompts for written work, check out Katy Smith’s article for The Anchor called “Checkup From an Artist to an Artist.” There she provides some fun prompts you can use as inspiration for pieces you might eventually submit to Opus (or The Anchor!).

Attend the Opus workshop! Due to COVID-19 we were sadly unable to hold an Opus workshop this semester, but in the future, plan to attend! At the workshop we read your work and talk with you about its strengths and weaknesses just as we would at a regular Opus meeting. It’s a great event to come feel out the editors’ likes and dislikes. You’ll hear the things we get nitpicky about and the things we absolutely love! This way you can present fully polished pieces during the submission process.

Quick person story about the Opus workshop: last semester I attended the workshop, and the editors and I worked on one of the pieces I had just written for my ENGL 253 class. I then submitted this piece, and we were able to talk about it again at an Opus meeting (which you can attend even if you’re not on staff!). It was rejected from Spring 2020’s Opus, but I worked on it some more over the summer and submitted it again this semester… and it got in! It was so helpful for the development of the piece to get feedback from the editors, so I would highly encourage you to come!

This last comment is specially for those of you submitting physical art. Submit a quality photo of your work! It is heartbreaking when we get a grainy or super small image, and the detail you worked so hard on is lost. Badly cropped borders where we can see a random, out-of-place background aren’t great either. Ask someone for help if you need it! Photographing art can be hard, and as we have all learned this year, technology can be a struggle. It makes such a difference to have good quality photos of your work.

Now you know the tricks of the trade, the “hacks” for the Opus submissions process. Now go forth, be creative, and submit! I am so excited to see your work in Opus Spring 2021!

Common poetry critiques from Opus staff and how to avoid them

Have you ever felt like the criteria for getting a piece into Opus is elusive and mysterious? Maybe you’ve been frustrated with a poem you thought deserved publication, or you just didn’t understand the notes you got on it. Well, I’m here to help! In this post, I’ll share with you a behind-the-scenes look into some of the most common critiques we mysterious Opus editors have about your pieces, and how to avoid them. With this handy guide, you’ll be that much closer to getting published. 

Capitalization and Punctuation

Before I say anything about this subject, I do want to make it clear that capitalization and punctuation issues alone will not always result in a rejection. Often, if we love a poem but wish that minor capitalization tweaks were made, we will accept the poem on the condition that it is adjusted. Saying that, here goes. 

How do you feel about capitalization In the middle of a sentence? Doesn’t make sense, right? We learned in elementary school that capitalization belongs to the first word in a sentence. So if every line in your poem begins with a capital letter but not every line starts a new sentence, you are essentially doing what I did in the first sentence of this paragraph. And it bugs us. Here is an example of what we often see versus what we would like to see: 

The trees are

Turning new colors.

Pumpkin spice

Is in the air.

It’s finally fall!

Versus

The trees are

turning new colors.

Pumpkin spice

is in the air.

It’s finally fall!

Look at how much nicer the lines flow when you aren’t distracted by the unnecessary capitalization! And lucky for you, this is a very simple fix. Next let’s look at another simple fix—punctuation. Julia Kirby, a past Opus co-editor, would always say that with punctuation “it’s all or nothing.” If your poem has no punctuation, that is your stylistic choice, and you should probably have a reason for it—but we don’t mind it. In fact, if you do it well, it is really good. On the other hand, if your punctuation is perfect, and everything makes grammatical sense, great! We love to see it. But if your poem has random punctuation, we’re gonna nitpick a little. If we can’t find a reason you end a thought with a period a couple times but then have odd run-on sentences everywhere else, that’s not going to help your poem. Inconsistent punctuation often leads to confusion about the ideas you are trying to convey in your poem, too, and we want to hear what you are trying to say in your poem without any confusion! 

Imagery 

We love to see poems with good, quality images that make us stop in our tracks. Poetry is all about conveying emotions and ideas through vivid imagery. If your poem leans more heavily on rhetorical questions and abstract ideas that aren’t conveyed through images, we’ll be a little more likely to say no. These lines from Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” are a great example of a poem packed with imagery: 

“I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” 

Compare that beautiful scene with these lines: 

Sometimes I get lonely

and wonder to myself at night

why am I not in love? 

Where am I going in life? 

What is a girl to do? 

How could I improve upon those lines I wrote? Well, what does it look like when I am asking these questions? Am I tossing and turning, blankets getting all bunched up? Am I crying? Am I angry, throwing things and punching the wall? There is a way to work imagery into everything. Get creative, get unique. Ask yourself what kinds of crazy metaphors you can make. Adding more imagery will take your good poems and turn them into amazing ones. 

Condensing 

Another comment we frequently make—this poet could condense here, or here. Here they are saying the same thing they said before. Here they could lose a word or two that aren’t important. Read over your poem and ask yourself: what am I really trying to say here? How can I say it in the least amount of words possible? You don’t have to go to extreme lengths cutting down your poem so that you lose the spirit of it, but focus on consolidating your thoughts. Reference one of my favorite short poems, by William Carlos Williams: 

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

Also — this poem works as a good reminder that quality poems don’t have to have any punctuation! 

The Mickey Mouse Effect

While punctuation and capitalization are good things to work on, and imagery always helps, none of those comments leads to a sure-fire rejection from Opus. So here we come to the dreaded Mickey Mouse effect. Coined during one of last semester’s Opus meetings, the Mickey Mouse effect is named for a poem we read that included an off-hand mention to Mickey Mouse. The poem was lovely, but what it was talking about did not really have anything to do with what we typically associate with Mickey Mouse, and the reference totally threw us off. So here I bring warning of the Mickey Mouse effect to you: be very, very careful of referencing things in your poem that have wide connotations different from the message or spirit of your poem. If, for example, you have a poem that talks about a beautiful snowy day, and you mention that it’s as cold as a certain politician’s heart (you pick), then all of a sudden we’re torn out of your beautiful snowy day into thinking about the most recent thing he or she did. That is not what you want. Similarly, poems that include off-hand references to Disney, Avengers or Star Wars characters often get the critique of “Well, I like it, but this reference to so-and-so makes no sense.” The current Opus editors have a strong dislike for anything falling under the Mickey Mouse effect. I’m not going to say that it is a guaranteed rejection, but I will say I don’t remember a poem yet to get voted in that had this critique. 

Considering all of that, I think it is important to point out that references that fall under the Mickey Mouse effect are not inherently bad, but they often serve to distract us editors from your unique images. We want to see more of your brilliant imagination and less of what some studio exec cooked up. 

Final Thoughts 

Obviously, this list is not meant to be a hard-and-fast guide to whether or not your piece will be rejected or accepted. You can break these rules and write an amazing poem. You can follow all of these rules and write a dud (We all do it! Myself included!). But hopefully this gives you a look into some of the things we are talking about at Opus meetings. 

Last but not least, I will say this: the best way to figure out what Opus editors are thinking is to come to the meetings! At meetings we read a selection of poems, view a few art pieces and spend time discussing each and every submission. People who are not on staff are encouraged to speak up about their opinions on the pieces, and everyone in attendance is able to vote on the work! For me, meetings are not only valuable workshop time for the pieces I submit, but I get to see what all of Hope’s students are doing and learn from all of you! You’re all doing amazing. Keep up the great work. 

List of Tiny Desk Concerts to Set the Vibe of Your Creative Space

One of my favorite stages in the creative process is creating the right environment to work. To me, there is nothing better than making sure the lighting is right, creating my playlists, and getting my favorite mug for tea. I know that each person has a different vibe and workspace that suits them best. Whether your space is a comfy chair in your room, a desk at the library, or the floor next to your bed I have some suggestions for what tunes your ears should be listening to.

I always like the feel of live music, and one of the best outlets for artists curated songs is NPR’s tiny desk concerts. If you are not familiar then let me introduce you. They have artists bring in only as many instruments as can fit in the tiny NPR Music office space, and have had every range of artists you could imagine. In the past few months, they have had an amazing series of tiny desk home concerts, where artists bring you some of their favorite songs from the comfort of their own house or recording space. It is fascinating to see the reflection of the artist in the spaces they choose to film in, and it has really been a bright light for me during these stressful times. 

I hope that this list will be as soothing and inspirational for you as they are to me. So…sit back, grab your notebook/sketchbook, and a nice cuppa. In no particular order please enjoy these tunes friends.

1. Jacob Collier

This opening song always makes me want to dance and cry at the same time. Collier’s music is as eclectic as his personality and gives sets the tone of creativity really well. He is quite literally a musical genius, and everything he does is so pure that I can’t help from smiling.

2. Jhené Aiko

This is one of the most recent uploads from the tiny desk home concerts. Jhene Aiko has the voice of an angel. Her peaceful and inspiring melodies make you want to melt into the floor. This piece is for the times when your so deep in your work that the rest of the world grows fuzzy around the edges.

3. Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers

Okay, yes. Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers won the tiny desk contest in 2018. Their work is full of the angst that flows through people age 15 to 20. But I would be lying if I told you I didn’t listen to this video at least once a month. I think it has to do with the beat poetry aspect of Hobo Johnson’s lyrics, paired with the simple melodies made by The Lovemakers. So take a chance and I recommend playing this piece while laying in the middle of your kitchen floor while yelling the lyrics.

4. Declan McKenna

Declan McKenna is best known for his song ‘Brazil’, but the man has such a fun unique sound that really shines here. He is also one of the few solo artists to perform alone on tiny desk concerts. The pairing of his acoustic guitar and stark vocals really highlights his unique brit-pop vocals. This video is so simple and endearing I think it could be listened to at any time anywhere. He just put out a new album that was released with another tiny desk home concert, so I’ll leave the link to his latest tiny desk here.

5. H.E.R.

I am a huge H.E.R. stan. Honestly if you haven’t heard of her yet, run don’t walk to click on this video. With a sultry voice and soothing bass line H.E.R., aka Gabby Wilson, is a grammy award-winning artist who’s first EP set the world on fire. You can understand why because she writes her own music, and can play 5 different instruments. This woman is awe-inspiring while having music that is subtle earworms and dramatic vocals.

6. SuperOrganism

This group is so wonderful and fun. Honestly probably not the best music to study to, so if you feel like you need a dance break I recommend this piece. This artist collective is all kinds of quirky. I’ve only known one band to play ‘water in a bucket’ as an instrument or have the iPhone alarm sound make me smile. their trippy lyrics are fun and have a sense of beat poetry under them.

7. Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals

This man… His work is so funky and makes me want to dance. I would say this Tiny Desk Concert was a cultural reset and brought his work to a larger audience. It is also one of the most-watched tiny desk concerts ever, and for good reason. .Paak is funny and feel good throughout this whole video, enjoy the bumps and beats of my favorite soul artists.

Well, we have come to the end of the list, but I had trouble narrowing it all down. So enjoy this extra mini list for my die-hard Tiny Desk fans out there:

  • Hadestown Musical: A greek tale retold in a bluegrass broadway show
  • Hozier: Self-explanatory, honestly
  • Paramore: This one is for the emo-pop lovers
  • Tyler, The Creator: I love him and the vibe he set for the space is immaculate
  • Koffee: A Jamaican reggae artist who is redefining the genre

A blast from Opus past to inspire your future submissions

Here at Opus, our purpose is to show you off. You, the students of Hope College, make this journal what it is. For those who have submitted this semester: thank you. We love going over your work. You impress us, and it is my solemn wish that we could publish every single piece that we receive. For those who haven’t submitted: what are you waiting for?

If you’re wondering what you should submit, the answer is anything.

Poetry (traditional and non-traditional forms). Short stories. Flash fiction. Flash memoir. Personal essays. Scenes. Dialogues. For artists, sketches. Paintings. Sculptures. Photography. And you’re not limited to only these. If you’ve created anything that can be published in print, send it our way. The possibilities are endless.

This semester, I’ve jumped onto the Opus staff for the first time. After attending meetings as an observer throughout my freshman year, I was stunned by the creative prowess of Hope students, the intellect and care their work exudes. That’s the beautiful thing about writing and art — you can see the artist’s hand in all aspects of the work. Every word of poetry is so carefully chosen, every story so intricately crafted, every art piece so delicately molded, every photograph so artfully shot. My aim, joining the Opus staff as a co-editor this year, was to display as much of this talent as possible. And let me tell you, it has been the joy of my semester to watch all your writing and art flow into our inbox, to see the unique inventions of your minds.

Throughout the past few weeks, as we draw closer to the end of meetings and the beginning of forming our Fall 2020 edition, I’ve been flipping through some former editions of Opus for inspiration. The shelves of the Opus office are stuffed with old copies, and Lubbers 224 (the classroom that I’ve essentially adopted as my own this semester) has editions all the way back to the 1950s. In the spirit of proving to you that you can submit anything to us, I’ve pulled a few examples of unique works from past editions that (I hope!) might inspire your submissions in the future.

Spring 2006 edition

First off, we have what may be my favorite Opus cover of all time. It certainly tops the charts for uniqueness, featuring a color-by-number cartoon of author and former Hope professor Jack Ridl in the dress and stance of a superhero. A cover like this allows readers to interact with the book in a creative way. Another note: this edition featured an entire section devoted to satire. Students submitted satirical poems and stories, and a faculty member even sent in a satirical essay. If humor is more up your alley, send us your satire!

Spring 1988 edition

Simple things can go a long way in making your piece stand out. This author submitted a poem with doodles drawn in the margins, an effective addition that provides another layer of meaning to the piece. The doodles exhibit a free-flowing nature and attribute a personality to the piece as a whole.

Fall 2002 edition

In the spirit of creative collaboration, writers and artists are allowed to submit together! This submission features an artist’s colorful pieces overlaid with a writer’s poems. The interplay between the two mediums shows off the talents of both the poet and the artist. If you and a friend have collaborated on a piece like this, please share it with us!

Spring 1965 edition

This author took seriously the idea that your poetry should reflect your passions, having written the entire poem in French. We appreciate the diversity of pieces that Opus is known to publish, and poems written in languages besides English are no exception! The poem has such a beautiful sentiment and grounding in nature, proving that poetry is a universal language (I also really wish I could read this without Google Translate; maybe it could inspire readers to learn a new language!).

Spring 1987 edition

Though writing-wise we mostly receive poems and short stories, we encourage you to submit work in any format. Some older editions of Opus feature short scenes or dialogues such as this one. Theatre and film students: I’m talking to you. Use your skills in drama or your background in play/screen writing to write us a scene! Then, come to our meetings to watch us poorly act them out!

Winter 1960 edition

If I haven’t drilled it into your head enough throughout this post yet, I present my final reminder that you can submit anything to us, including music! Flipping through this edition instilled me with a desperation to whisk this copy to the music center and play one of the several piano compositions published (alas, coronavirus restrictions). Music is an art form in and of itself, drawing on both artistic and poetic qualities. Send your sheet music and songs our way!

I see Opus as a celebration. A celebration of not only your work but your minds. A celebration of the arts and the fascinating way they speak to each person in a different manner. A celebration of your talent, your efforts, and your view of humanity.

Opus is a glimpse into how Hope students view the world. We want our medium to be a platform to amplify your voices. Each and every piece of creative work has value, and we hope, regardless of whether or not your piece is accepted, that we can leave you with that encouragement to never stop creating.

Why won’t my comfort and creativity get along?

In early April I drove home to Indiana after a two-week quarantine, during which I readjusted to not waking up in my little apartment in Dublin’s Liberties. It was a little rough, I’ll be honest, but after many tea-fueled ruminations and long walks on the beach I felt ready to move on to the next part of my life, which, in everyone’s case, turned out to be a long summer of coronavirus. I tried to remain positive and hyped myself up on the thought that no matter what happened this summer, I would have plenty, PLENTY of time to write. I had just returned from a semester in Dublin for a writer’s program through IES Abroad, caffeinated off long discussions about James Joyce and W. B. Yeats and inspired by my friends and classmates to become the best writer I could. An extra-long, now internship-free summer seemed the perfect time to lay all my Irish inspiration out on the table and bang out a collection of writings that even Seamus Heaney would be impressed by. 

Well, fast forward to this point in the school year, I guess, because in terms of how much I wrote, the summer might as well have never happened. The pathetic few pages I’d managed to fill couldn’t even be called substantial, much less impressive. Instead of methodical, focused writing sprints holed up in my dark room, my family below worrying for my sanity, my time home was saturated with the most intense ennui I’d ever experienced. There was no drive, no muse, no rattling desire to translate the things in my head to things on a page. Instead I felt the urge to sleep through the entire day and to fill the moments I couldn’t be asleep with TV. It was a summer of family meals and board games, of gardening in the cool mornings and reading through the hot evenings, of finding peace in the everyday atmosphere. But it most definitely was not a summer of writing stories, brainstorming poetry, or expressing my creativity. 

When I look back on the summer, I find myself incredibly frustrated at how little I did of the things that, professionally, really matter. Any writer who hopes to become published and successful enough to build a life off of his art, would be thrilled with the opportunity that this past summer offered, especially a writer who’d just spent the entirety of the semester before honing his craft and feeding his inspiration. Toward the end of the spring, I felt like I’d been handed every tool I could possibly need and shuffled out the door separating myself and the Real World of Writing, with voices behind me shouting, “Welcome to life! Don’t look back.” 

So what went wrong? 

How could I go from literal motivation running through my veins not being able to bear writing 100 words a day? After a little bit of time the answer was obvious to me, as I’m sure it is obvious to all of you; comfort killed my creativity. When I wasn’t working or taking summer classes, it was so easy to push off the tortuous art of writing in favor of a far more effortless and enjoyable mode of spending time: doing nothing. In my mind, the idea of setting an hour or half-hour timer and retreating somewhere quiet so I could expand on my medieval fantasy plot was so agonizing that I couldn’t bear to think about it, and instead spent my free time avoiding the very thought. 

The person I was this summer largely conflicts with the version of myself I’d built up in my head, whom I always thought was so driven and so passionate about his writing. Even though I am a creature of comfort, I never thought it would get in the way of what I desperately want to spend the rest of my life doing. So why did it? Comfort and free time should intensify one’s desire, not defuse it. We read all the time about artists who isolate themselves on a desolate cliffside retreat, seeing no one and doing nothing but writing on a typewriter in shaky cabin light, who walk out six months later with a deranged mind and their next bestseller. Secluded from the business, sociality, and stress of the school semester, why couldn’t I accomplish the same task?

Whenever I come back home to Indiana, whether it’s for a few days or several weeks, I notice the same trend occurring over and over. I can feel myself slip into a lull of passivity unencumbered by the stress and stimulus of Hope College. Instead of running with the same drive I possess when there’s deadlines to meet, I sort of let go of my energy and allow myself to relax. Which is good, right? Life without relaxation is a garbled mess I want nothing to do with. There must be a way, as a writer, to balance work and leisure, just like there must be a way, as an artist, to balance comfort and creativity.

Creativity requires regular stimulation. I’ve found that my writing is at its best when I’m taking a fiction or poetry class, where almost on a daily basis I’m being exposed to new authors, styles of writing, and narratives. Ireland was a veritable goldmine of creativity. It felt like the very ghosts of the city were filtering out of the historic walls to move my pen across the page (or my fingers across the keys). Every class was engineered to spark my writer’s imagination, every moment in the city a poem within itself. There was something new every day, whether it was a person I’d never met before, a town I’d never visited, or a part of Dublin I’d never explored. So it was quite the dramatic change coming back home, where I spent the entirety of my day in an increasingly monotonous drone. Thus, the origin of the problem presents itself: my dream hobbit existence is my downfall. I personally loved having the same schedule every day, the most stressful event being my weekly excursions to Meijer with my mom (which, actually, in those early days of COVID-19, was quite stressful). The comfort of home surrounded me like an oppressive bunny, making me simultaneously desire freedom while fearing anything that would take me beyond the front door. 

Needless to say, I was relieved to find that, upon arrival on campus this semester, my creativity returned to me, at first in drops, and now a steady rivulet coloring my daily thoughts and actions. And I’m thankful it’s back. But I can’t help knowing that the next time I indulge in comfort, the next time I return home — whether at the end of this semester or randomly in the middle, because who really knows — I’ll have to wave goodbye to my inspiration as it turns down the street. Knowing this inevitable end, I’m tearing at my hair and searching for any method or plan where, no matter what situation I’m in, I can set aside time, brainpower, and motivation to write. My amazingly probable future as a bestselling novelist hangs in the balance; all bets are off. 

What I’ve learned, after watching a myriad of YouTube videos by influencers who make me hate my life, is that creativity is an elusive b**** that has many forms and comes to different people in many ways (outstanding). For some people it’s triggered by the scent of spiced pear tea; for others it only shows itself during the wee hours of the night when the moon waxes red and you can hear Satan pacing the hallways. Sometimes creativity demands a blood sacrifice, but sometimes it only asks for the milk of a pygmy goat. Often it will whisper to you, but only in Morse code, and often it scratches subtext across the white concrete walls of the engineering building. All in all, very exciting stuff. 

To get to the point, I find creativity to be as boring as the will to do homework. It’s something that, in the moment, is painfully unglamorous and needs to be forced. If you wait around for creativity to strike, you’ll be sitting with back pain in a straight-backed chair with nothing to show for it. Creativity isn’t easy to conjure, but it can be facilitated through regular stimulation, specifically from a source of passion. Creativity is about finding something one cares about and digging deep, deeper than one would think necessary. In Ireland, I was surrounded by the history, art, and nature of the one place I loved more than any other, and that defined the medium through which I created my truly debatable masterpieces of the semester. So when I’m home, even if I’m not in Ireland, I need to connect with the things that inspire me and to force motivation, even when it’s the last thing I want to do. This goes for wherever I’m at, whether it’s home or abroad or at good old Hope College. Creativity and comfort will never go hand in hand. They’re two sides of the same coin in the fact that neither can be heads-up at the same time. It’s always compromise, deciding which side should be up at what time. As a writer, this is a lifelong challenge. We must sacrifice a lot for our art, and sometimes that is the comfort of our own homes. The key, as always, is finding that easy medium. Our goal as artists is to search for the liminal space where even in the confines of comfort, inspiration can grow, and even in the madness of creativity, contentment can be bred. 

Six Books You Never Knew You Needed to Know…You Know?

While helping a professor organize the floor-to-ceiling bookcases in his office, I stumbled across some titles that fascinated me and authors I never knew existed, silly me. I have built up a large collection of photos in my phone of these books. The other day I found myself thinking, “You know who might enjoy these? The people of Opus.”

Prove me right. Read ‘em all.

  1. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde

Seems like one of those books that would inspire even the most writer’s block-y, cynical, jaded creatives. Whether you write, paint, glue recycled plastic together, capture photos, compose…it’s a gift.

  1. Shattered Sonnets, Love Cards, and Other Off and Back Handed Importunities by Olena Kalytiak Davis

She would be an author I’d like to sit down with over coffee (or something a little stronger) and sift through her love life with. This is a raw and unadulterated look into the human heart–unromanticized of course.

  1. The Confidence Woman: 26 Women Writers At Work edited by Eve Shelnutt

If you’re a lady who plans on having a career, get yourself this anthology and prepare for inspiration and gratitude.

  1. The Open Door: 100 Years of Poetry Magazine edited by Don Share and Christian Wiman

This anthology features an introduction by Christian Wiman that is, quite frankly, one of the most provoking reflections on poetry as craft I have ever read.

  1. Hannah and the Mountain: Notes toward a Wilderness Fatherhood by Jonathan Johnson

I mean, come on! Wilderness fatherhood! How beautiful and Walt Whitman-esque!

  1. Eleanor Roosevelt’s Book of Common Sense Etiquette

It was probably common sense then, and my LANTA do we need it now. Features helpful tips about eating with the fork in the left hand.

 

Deep appreciation for Professor Pablo Peschiera’s personal library.

~Sarah Kolthoff