“I don’t think poetry should be hard to read or digest. Poets of today should use language that people of today will understand; otherwise, why are they bothering?”
Meet Randi Cramer, a third-year at Columbus State, who is working towards an MFA in Creative Writing. She explains it simply, “Everyone has that one thing that they are here for, even if it’s something silly. For me, it’s poetry, but for other people it’s different things. The point is, we are all experts at something.” And that’s the beauty of Columbus State, we are all here for something different, all at different points in our lives. And for Randi that makes for great writing, “I used to sit on the Columbus statue and just write and write and write about all the things going on around me.” Uh-Oh, I wonder if I’m at the heart of any of her poems.
So what’s a writer anyway? In an age when thousands of new books hit the shelves on a weekly basis and everything mainstream is supposed to be crap, what does it mean to write? How does one become a writer? And how does a reader know what’s good? I mean, seriously, who decides what’s any good? For Randi, who spends just as much time reading as writing, the magic happens when she reads someone who “can write as if it took no effort at all.” When you come across that rare piece and, “you’re halfway through the book before you realize that you’ve turned a page.” She spends most of her time exploring virtual environments, digesting the constant change of contemporary writers online, and hearing strong voices that may have been drowned out otherwise. Randi has been featured in a few literary magazines here and there – including our very own Spring Street – but she names one of her biggest accomplishments as her publications in The April Review, where she is now working as a poetry editor. But where did it all begin?
Randi cannot remember a time when she didn’t write, but it hasn’t been long since she began to think of herself as a writer. She says, “For some reason, in my head, writers weren’t people who lived and did things… they were like unicorns that magically pooped out stories somewhere in the sky and delivered them to bookstores when I wasn’t looking. It wasn’t until I came to school that I really realized it was something I could do myself.” And then she couldn’t stop. Now, she spends her time surrounding herself with whatever fascinations she can muster and thinking of as many different ways to talk about something as she can before she’s “beaten the dead horse flat.” So did she just become a unicorn one day? Is that what we should get out of this? Actually, it took a lot more work. “The best thing that ever happened to me as a writer was when my teacher gave me a legal pad and said, ‘fill this’.” And sometimes that means forcing herself to write. In fact, that is the advice she offers to anybody interested in becoming a writer: “Force yourself to write, and when you feel burned out and can’t write another word, fill another page. Pushing through that stage where you can’t think of anything else is right where the good stuff comes from.” She says that once she has filled pages and pages, she goes back through and reads it aloud, maybe ten times. Why? Because the key is to “make it more human, make it more you.”
That sounds rough. It must be time-consuming. Randi doesn’t deny that at all, but it all paid off for her the very first time her work was published. “There was so much validation in it,” she says. And the best part? It hasn’t seemed like work. “When it comes to something I’m passionate about, I can study it all day and night. People will wonder where I am because I just fall off the Earth.” It has been a long road for her, from failing her ninth grade typing class for doodling poetry on the machines instead of completing her assignments, until now: taking all her general courses here at CSCC with hopes of making it big in the literary world. Her recipe is simple, write and then write some more. When you can’t possibly write one more word, read. Randi suggests Kurt Vonnegut, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Anne Carson – some of her very favorite writers. I was excited to hear that Fitzgerald made her list, as he is one of my favorite writers as well. The best part of reading other writers is when you happen upon a story or a poem and just can’t get away from it; you keep coming back and wishing that you were the one who had wrote that! So I asked Randi who her biggest fan is. Her response: “My dogs. I could read them anything and they’d love it.”
For Randi, writers used to have it easier. “Writing has become more challenging than ever, you have to win readers back from the TV set with some yummy images and love on the right areas of their brainstems to get them hooked.” She has a point! How many of us come home from a long day at work or class and grab a book? It seems a lot more common nowadays to throw on the boob tube and let our brains go into a coma. But this is part of the excitement for her. When her work does get published, when people do compliment her, when she sees her own lines in a literary magazine, it’s all that much more worthwhile. Besides, there’s so much out there now, you really have to find a way to make the familiar extraordinary. And Randi thinks that her calling is in observing the unobserved, “I see a lot of recurring themes in my writing. I adore the city, but I live on a farm. So I spend all my time in the city noticing every little thing and then all my time on the farm holding onto images that I won’t see again once I move. So I guess I just write about things that maybe other people don’t notice in the hopes that maybe one day they will.” It’s not just luck that got her here. And the rest of her life doesn’t pause politely while she writes. “Every day that I get up and manage to face what comes at me is my biggest accomplishment. Sometimes just making it to the bathroom to brush my teeth feels like the creation of the world,” Randi explains.
Randi makes time for her passion and she attributes who she is and what she writes, in part, to Columbus, where every day she is astounded by the diversity of the culture, as well as opinion. The other part, she attributes to Shel Silverstein. “I remember my mom having the book ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ in the closet where she hid candy and I used to sneak it up to my room sometimes. I don’t know why I felt like I had to sneak it.” Between commandeering hidden sweets and borrowing these animated lines of poetry, she found a love for writing that has brought her to our classrooms and our vibrant city, where “there is always something going on for writers.” So was it Silverstein that convinced her to go with poetry? Not exactly. “There’s something about the editing process of poetry, where you take eight pages and shave it down into a paragraph. Then, right there, is everything I wanted to say in the most powerful words I could come up with and it just really smacks you in the teeth.” Eight pages into one paragraph? My teeth hurt already. But for Randi, she didn’t realize right away that poetry was something she could progress at. “I heard my first writing professor, Mike Wright, was a poet and I was like holy crap, they do exist! He was like a dragon. So I gave him one of my poems, he made suggestions, and suddenly, poetry was something you could work at, you could improve.”
Then, she was off. Randi has been working specifically towards becoming a writer for three years now. She hopes to transfer to Ohio State for her Bachelor’s and then make the move to Bowling Green for graduate life. It’s a process, but she isn’t intimidated, “Whatever does happen, I’m going to write anyway. If you want it, you go get it, and that’s really all there is to it.” Wow. How can we all stay this motivated? “Well,” Randi suggests, “I wear my High School graduation ring every day and I keep it on because I know that I can’t get a new one until I graduate with my BA, and then another at the next level and so on. It’s a reminder that I have to finish.” Words that we can all benefit from, I’m sure. Does she ever get discouraged? “I guess I just figure, if you’re going to fail, fail for poetry.” Aren’t we all just art martyrs? We, at Shameless Pen, are excited about Randi Cramer, and we are excited about the art scene that sweeps our cityscape, giving a national voice to writers right here under our noses.