Two Worlds of Words: Literature vs Journalism

By Claire Moncla

My mother has a video of me at five years old telling her I wanted to be a writer. Fifteen years later, my goals haven’t changed much. And lately, I’ve had the privilege of getting valuable on-the-job training through working on the Phoenix, Baylor’s literary magazine, and the alumni association’s Baylor Line magazine.

Throughout grade school and high school, I excelled in English and wrote numerous stories and poems. I imagined myself becoming a famous authoress at eighteen. In high school, my English teachers always told me I had beautiful prose, but that I could be a bit wordy. Although they chided me, I never changed my long-winded ways. When I edited an essay or creative assignment, it was as if each word was a part of my being–it caused me physical pain to prune my work. I used to think that a piece of writing wasn’t beautiful unless it was complicated, unless the reader had to untangle the comparisons, allusions, and syntax.

In college, I began taking journalism classes as well as English. I was surprised when my articles were returned to me as a mass of bleeding paper, slashed and cut by red ink. It was a learning experience. If I wanted to study both English and journalism, I needed to find a happy medium. I had to be able to write in both the concise, fact-driven form of journalism and the descriptive, style-driven form of English.

Learning to write well in both styles has been a continual struggle for me. I have always favored English because it allowed me to have a more expansive style. This past year, however, writing for the Phoenix and the Line, two totally different publications–one supported by the English department and one set in the journalism world–has challenged me.

Ironically, my first assignment for the Baylor Line was an article on the fifty-year anniversary of the Phoenix. Because I had submitted poems to the Phoenix and served on the editorial staff earlier in the year, I thoroughly enjoyed researching the history of the publication and talking to the founders. It allowed me to appreciate the Phoenix so much more. I heard about its humble roots and looked through fifty years of its issues, noticing the changes both subtle and extreme.

I was able to combine my two writing worlds–English and journalism. I was able to participate in the expression side of writing by submitting my poems to the Phoenix and the communication side by writing about the magazine that published my poems. I was surprised by how much beauty I saw in the journalistic side of writing.

Writing for the Baylor Line so far has taught me that there is beauty in brevity and satisfaction in succinctness. Journalistic writing has more in common with poetry than I had previously thought. It is precise and lyrical: using a few words and using the right words. To read my first Line story, go to “Rise of the Phoenix.”
Here are the poems I published in the Phoenix–a little bit of lyrics and precision:

Sheets

To us the sky was a black sheet with the moon tucked in a corner.
We held candles to help the moonlight and stood on flannel ground.
Stuffing our mouths with cotton and draping ourselves in silk,
we spun our lives into silent, comforting cocoons–un-intertwining.
Perhaps you are reassured by each noiseless thread;
perhaps you are resigned under each hushed blanket–white as snowdrifts.
But I am bound as if each woven string was a steel bar,
so I have cut a slit through the black sheet so that I can see the sky.

The Bird was Bound

I can see you now
bowed as if in prayer
on a broken sidewalk step,
sweeping your hand across the stair.

And when the recognition comes,
you hold it up with pride:
a feather the length of my pinky finger,
a measure of the love inside.

Dark gray and muddled white,
you lay it in your soft pink hand
and press it gently to your waiting cheek–
the color of milk and sand.

And I find myself wishing fiercely
to turn time’s table upside down
to fly us both back to that day
before the bird was bought,
before the bird was bound.

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