How do I choose materials and color schemes?

It is important to know why, or have a reason for choosing a material. Like the previous exercise, we observe and choose material for our particular graphic poems, which will add layers to the final composition.

Art and poetry should have creative freedom; however, too much randomness may confuse audiences and dilute the art.

Materials should support its own theme and project. The smoothness or roughness of a particular fabric may change the way you present certain emotions with it. It is the same with everything from paint type, brush tips, pencils, plastics, photos, pictures, and anything else you use in the creation process.

Some people tell me that I am lucky because I can visit Japan to purchase these fabulous papers, which is true. But I use many papers and almost any material available to me, including the color printed coupons in grocery store receipts, bits of an old towel, and shredded Sallie Mae letters.

You may like reviewing “The Sallie” in the Jet Fuel Review e-book. For the piece, I used the real bill-collecting letters (they are scattered around the graphic poem), melting ice-cream (water color & crayon), gift-wrapping paper, and pen & colored pencils.

This is the original written poem. "The Sallie" was written after reading "The Dictators" by Pablo Neruda.


No particular odor stayed in their living rooms:
cold plates, half empty bottles, and stomach aches.
Between Moll Flanders lay the carpet, in their frozen
bank accounts, their soiled orange aprons.
Their bosses said, “Before I became manager…”, and griped.
In their places, all the bills are like suicide notes.
The silent letters redoubled, a moment
spanning after graduations, sucking
these millennials’ next thousand months. Slaves of
………….the top 1%,
their loans were perpetual, and added, like puddles on ice-cream,
forcing their bodies on August 3rd, the mirage on asphalt,
and forklift by forklift in the warehouse,
five hours’ work,
their lunch boxes filled with concrete
and near American dreams. 


I use old greeting cards, magazines, candy wrappers, toilet papers, basically anything around me I can modify to fit my work. I also use my respected poet’s cover-art.

You may like to see the Gallery of Graphic Poems.

Choosing materials can be a lot fun. Probably, this is my favorite part of the process. Creating graphic poems are always a pleasure to me because it can create very festive and colorful experiences in my brain.

One simple way to improve observing habits after graphic poetry exercise

Observing our own surroundings may be overwhelming as we often have so many choices, so I want to introduce my process of graphic poetry technique to manage this habit.

I had the chance to ask college students at Oakton Community College, “If you are creating a graphic love poem, which washi paper would you choose? And why?”

This is a quick exercise for them, so I pre-selected two papers; however, this process will work for any paper and materials because the materials are just for priming the brain, like how a cogwheel starts running better after being lubricated.

This is an important point for awareness, as we will eventually notice more from our surroundings in order to create graphic poems; and perhaps, for other creative activities as well.

I also ask students to finish a simple sentence, like “Love is…”. The open-ended answers will help to understand what they are finding to be the core of these materials.

Students who pick up the blue origami responded:
Love is like the ocean. It has its ups and downs.
Love is like fish. It is sometimes cold.

Students who pick up the red origami responded:
Love makes me happy, like spring flowers.
Love is a floating feeling.

I am so happy that the students observe details despite the patterns on the origami paper being foreign to them. And then I asked for the reason for their responses.

Love is like the ocean. It has its ups and downs.
.................Because the design looks like waves. And love is not stable.
Love is like fish. It is sometimes cold.
.................After twisting the origami ninety degrees, it looks like fish scales. I like that fish have freedom (except farmed fish, and my pet goldfish), but also cold.
Love makes me happy, like spring flowers.
................White and pink flowers, and green leaves remind me of spring. The red background is like a flaming love.
Love is a floating feeling.
................The golden Asian fans remind me of the floating feeling of love.

Even though this was such a short process, students understood this concept very quickly. They selected a paper and described their choices well.

The next step is to find and select your own “two origami papers” for each graphic poem. The more advance the scope of the project, the more options can be presented. But keep it limited, or it will defeat the point of the exercise.

(You may be interested in reading: Then why did I use toilet paper?)

To be continued.

Is it difficult to have divergent thinking?

Thinking outside the box may be tough if it isn’t natural for someone, like an individual used to a defined professional or repetitive environment for a long time.

Like my mother, who was a nutritionist. She studied the latest theories in her college and taught my sister and I how important it was to choose what we ate.

For her, breakfast was crucial. Through my childhood, we had a picture-perfect breakfast every morning. This habit literally ingrained in my bones and muscles.

When I was an office worker, I had to leave every day at six-thirty to catch the morning sales meetings; therefore, I woke up at five-thirty and had breakfast around six. I had never skipped breakfast as my mother had taught me.

Then I started having problems: sudden stomachaches, bad digestion, and my atopic dermatitis (eczema) became worse and worse. It took me a while to figure out why I was becoming sick. I had never imagined that my breakfast caused these unwelcome troubles.

A 15 to 18-hour fast was introduced by my doctors. It basically skipped a breakfast to support and recover my healthy digestion system.

When I told my mother about this treatment she grew upset. But I decided to stick with the fasts to see if they could improve my health. If they didn’t work, I would simply go back to having a daily breakfast.

A 15 to 18-hour fast worked for me well. I still occasionally have breakfast together with my family and friends, but the majority of the time, I do not eat 15 to 18 hours after dinner. My mother is a pro-breakfast nutritionist, but this is her belief and it works for her health. My body is different and requires a different regimen.

This experience is very similar to my graphic poetry project. When I started creating graphic poems, feedback was generally of one of two divided opinions:

“I love what you do. It is so inspiring. I will try this.”
“Your graphic poems are not poetry. They should not be considered poems.”

These represent their preferences and how they define art and poetry, and come from their experiences and beliefs. To accept or reject graphic poetry is totally up to them. However, I strongly believe that creating graphic poems, if nothing else, is beneficial to one’s own editing skills. It even has the potential to inspire different ways to approach writing poems or observing one’s own surroundings.

(You may enjoy reading my past articles about How Graphic Poetry Helps Us Progress the Story Telling Technique and the Creative Process of Its Own Editing)

To be continued…

Video Poem about my Proxima Centauri-b Project

I posted a video poem about my Proxima Centauri-b project on Twitter. This is a fifty second video, so please visit my account whenever you have time.

Proxima Centauri-b is an exoplanet orbiting in the habitable zone of its red dwarf star, and it fascinates me, along with ants and their behavior. These themes have been my obsession.

Last year, after participating in several poetry events in Los Angeles, I packed a table cloth from our RHINO Poetry booth without knowing it contained a queen ant and was soon to be infested.

After I came back home, I started seeing ants on my walls, kitchen floor, and dining table…small, black insects chillingly crawled all over. At first, I did not kill them in light of my calm Buddhist spirit. I thought that they were passing through between the seasons and eventually they would go outside and dig deep in the garden.

However, they were comfortable between the folds of the RHINO table cloth, eating its paints (some yellow-brown holes shown like meteorite burns) on the stair handrail next to unopened mail and magazines. They dexterously laid eggs in the notch.

I was frozen (I hate swarming little things). It took me a while to use the vacuum cleaner, but the ants survived the turbo sucking mode, so I grabbed the table cloth and tossed it into the super high heat tumbler dryer.

Amazingly, they walked with unsteady steps like a toddler. I shut the door and turned it on for fifty minutes more.

And they still survived.

It took me several weeks to contain the situation. Through the battle with them, I learned a lot about the insect, and also learned that red dwarf stars are unpredictable and would randomly wipe out surrounding potential life with giant flares. As I learned more about these obsessions, I felt depressed thinking of human frailty and the rampant growth of other organisms, like ants.

So, I thought that it may be fun to add animation and music to the poems for my own cheering. I used a public domain movie, "Dancing On The Moon, A Max Fleischer Color Classic", and added a simple music track inspired by Mozart.

Indeed, summer is the perfect time to play the piano, and I am thankful to my parents for supporting me with numerous years of lessons. Although I could not become a professional, this is my life-long hobby. I will post more video poems on my Twitter, so stay tuned.

Can a graphic poem have a line break?

Recently I had a chance to interview Beth McDermott about graphic poetry. In the interview, she has great insights: such as what kind of visual textbooks she uses, what are the advantages or disadvantages of studying graphic/visual poems, etc. This is a ten-minute audio interview. If you have the time, please visit my homepage to listen to it.

In her interview, she mentioned her thoughts of line breaks in written poems. She enjoys finding surprising line breaks on a page. Then I thought, can a graphic poem also have a line break?

I enjoy placing awkward, yet surprising line breaks in my written poems too. I consider composing some line breaks to alter the tempo of words and vivid images. “Beneath the Sand” is one of my newer poems, which was published in Diode Poetry Journal. In the poem, I played with line breaks and sections a lot. The following picture is an example me wanting to use the sound “of” repeatedly without too much repetition. If you would like to read the whole poem, please visit their website.

It will take a lifetime to master line breaks; however, I learned two things about it over ten years. When I was a graduate student, I used so many awkward line breaks because I personally believed that it was a cool thing to do at the time. I felt like composing my own music of words.

Then, I took one workshop with Lina Ramona Vitkauskas who said that my line breaks were confusing. A fellow student in the workshop agreed, “Like a link of short sausages on paper”. That was my eye-opening moment of line breaks.

My two rules are now:
#1) Line breaks may not disturb and confuse readers
#2) Line breaks may not disturb the musicality or punctuation of phrases

My rules may be too simple, but I always keep these in mind when I write. So now, do I purposely add line breaks in graphic poems?

My answer is yes (but may not be for all graphic poems).

I reviewed some of my graphic poems to find out how I adapted line breaks from their written source material. “From an Apartment” may be a good example for this investigation.

This graphic poem was made after the following original poem, which I wrote in graduate school at Indiana University South Bend over nearly ten years ago. This is indeed one of my earliest poems. (And you may see stubby line breaks in this poem too, like “stale/beer”.)



I walk. Sticky yellow
chewing gum is smashed
on the concrete curb. I smell stale
beer in a green
recycling box. Crows
observe me from the electric wire. My mother
watches them from the fifth floor. She shrieks.
I step back.
A bus honks at a cab. It carelessly
turns. I keep walking,
past the fountain of polished
granite. Yesterday’s newspaper
drowns in it.
I stride down the crosswalk
stepping only on the white
lines. Cars wait.
The drivers’ eyes follow me
like mannequins. I see
the subway station while crossing
the lawn in a park. I look at the trembling
camphor trees. Black street lamps are stuck
toward the cloudless sky. I step on
a dandelion. I grasp my one-way ticket.


The graphic poem was slightly different from the original poem. Like the poetry erasure technique, the original poem carefully scattered specific phrases or implied images. However, the line breaks are clearly there. Therefore, I removed the graphic part to see the line breaks more clearly.


Smashed sticky chewing gum;
I smell stale beer..........a recycling box,
crows, the electric wire
trembling camphor trees
buses honk..........yellow cabs.
The driver’s eyes follow mannequins.
Black street lamps stick..........toward the cloudless sky.
I tip toe the crosswalk
By the fountain of polished granite.
Yesterday’s newspaper..........drowns in it.

The graphic poem of “From an Apartment” has more poetic components than visual elements, and the line breaks play a big part of it. I will keep investigating theories of line breaks in poems and graphic poems. As you already know, each graphic poem communicates with a unique imprint from the poetic spectrum.

(You may also enjoy reading this article about the differences in the spectrum of visual and written pieces.)

It excites me to analyze the relationships between poetry and graphic poetry. Thank you very much for publishing “From an Apartment” in Glass: A Journal of Poetry.