Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Weeding My Poetic Garden

     Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of working Kathleen Merz, Managing Editor at Eerdmans and Jodell Sadler to offer a webinar through Kidlit College on creating reading that hooks readers on the first page and pulls them along to the last page with Kidlit College. It was a fantastic experience that has inspired the topic for today's blog--poetic weed.  It's a term I coined for applying the fundamentals of editing poetry to revising and tightening writing of any genre. All me to demonstrate one element of the poetic weed to get you started:

Here's my poem for today:

(27 of 30)

Growth Spurt

"Mom, what's a growth spurt?"
she asks from the comfort of the backseat of our minivan
Is it going from learning the lyrics of "Jesus Loves Me"
to changing them to say, "Jesus send my grandpa back to me"
two days after he died?
Or is it learning about the sacrifices of lent while sliding your chicken off your
plate onto the restaurant floor,
then announcing, "I gave the chicken up for lent."
Maybe it's raising your hand at children's church
when the minister asks, "What is heaven like?" 
and saying, "It's where you go and get a new body and never feel any pain anymore"
But what I tell you is that it's when
you're body craves all the nutrients you need and 
allows you to grow in one big overnight push
Yet I can't help but think that there's so much 
more than two rows of seats between me
and the little girl I can still see in the
rear view mirror

Pull All the Prepositions

Here, we have a narrative "poem" about a girl growing up too fast in a writing style that is more prose than poetry and even at that it's more told than shown, so the first step of a poetic week is to go back through and see if there are any words that are not essential to the manuscript. The best way to get started is to look at conjunctions, articles, prepositions, adverbs, and adjectives and see if perhaps you can't winnow down the language.

But remember this rule: Only remove words if by their removal you make the writing more active, dramatic,and organic. If removing the word makes it awkward or stiff, you want to leave the word where it is. 

  Let's give it a try:

"Mom, what's a growth spurt?"
she asks from her car seat perch
Is it learning the lyrics of "Jesus Loves Me"
and converting them to, "Jesus send my grandpa back to me"
two days after he died?
Or learning about lent while sliding your 
chicken onto the restaurant floor,
then announcing, "I gave it up for lent."
Maybe it's responding, "What is heaven like?" 
with "It's where you go and get a new pain-free body"
But what I say is, "Your body stories all the good food
you eat, then zoom you grow double quick."
Yet, I'm thinking,
there's so much more than two rows of seats 
between me
and the little girl 
I can still see in the
rear view mirror

The events and images are a lot tighter and clearer now, the pace smoother.

But this is only one step of a poetic weed and it's important to remember that writing is like gardening. You don't just pull one batch of weeds and walk away until harvest time. You plant, you water, you fertilize, then you weed, and weed, and weed, then after you've dealt with the birds and the bugs and little bare footed invaders, you harvest what could be a beautiful tomato of a poem or it could be a lovely red fruit a piece that looks good but tastes/reads like dirt.

Give Strength to Your Tomatoes 

Or at least the opening and closing of each line.  Just as we put our tomatoes in a cages to give them something to grow on, the scaffolding of a poem can be your opening and closing words for each line.

A poetic weed also asks you to look at where you end and begin your lines. You should go for strength, clarity, and narrative gap here. You want strong, concrete words that can open up a sense of suspense for what's coming in the next line.

Let's put up our tomato towers in the poem I'm working on:

"Mom, what's a growth spurt?"
she asks from her car seat perch
Learning the lyrics of "Jesus Loves Me"?
Converting them to, "Jesus send my grandpa back to me"
two days after he died?
Learning about lent while sliding
chicken onto the restaurant floor,
announcing, "I gave it up for lent."
It's responding to "What is heaven like?"
with "It's where you go and get a new
pain-free body."
I tell you, "Your body stories all the good food
then zoom,
 you grow double quick."
Yet, I'm thinking,
there's so much more
 than two rows of seats
between me
and the little girl
I can still see in the
rear view mirror

We're getting closer one bloom at a time. I hope. Here, by turning the answer into separated questions, I was able to lead with "learning" and "converting" and remove "your" and "then" and I worked on the line breaks to set up the possibilities of the answers with "or," "maybe," and "but" they're not powerful words, but I'm hoping the single words work like the base in a fulcrum, balancing the ideas on either side.

I hope this gives you a little helpful advice.  I know that with this particular poem, I'm just getting started and I'm eager to keep going/growing!

How about you?

Weed away my friend!  You'll never know what may grow from it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Poetry in Brief

“Poetry is a necessity of life. It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so. ”                                   —C. D. Wright, Academy of American Poets Chancellor (2013–2016)

There is an urban legend that Hemingway took a challenge to write a short story in one sentemce and wrote. "For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn." (See More Here) While we now know that this tale is not only untrue, but this sentence story is one that has origins back to the turn of the last century.  While it may nto have been Hemingway who originally wrote it, the power of this breif "tale" atests to the power of writing in brief and it's clear from this blog on brief poems that peotry in brief has been around for a very long time: Brief Poems

For today's poetry month post, I'm going to share a few very brief poems to explore the power of brevity.  

(23 of 30)

Night Mothering

The cry of night that defies coyote,
and coon,
to bring you breathless into a room,
to comfort the child.

(24 of 30)

Night Filing

Thunder wakes you moments before
bare foot falls, blanket dragging tails,
and bright eyes ask, "Can we sleep with you?"
You open the file, check to verify the correct procedure,
reply, "Go back to bed, girls. You'll be fine."
Report filed, you roll over and go back to bed.
Your wife slips into the shoes of night, 
shuffles out to tuck them in,
stubbing her toe on your filing cabinet as she 
returns to bed.

(Hmmm. That gender-mirror exercise didn't fit into the form--how ironic considering the theme)

Celebratory Aside:

 I'M CAUGHT UP.  It's the 25th and I'm writing my 25th poem of the month.  My apologies, but I had to celebrate a little!

(25 of 30)

Signing on the proverbial dotted line which I've towed to this point.

(26 of 30)
Gimcrack, gewgaw, bauble, all babble about nothing, rippling on sound.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Stanza Sprints:
The Benefits of High Speed Poetry
(Are There Any?)

      According to Read. Write. Think., writing at high speeds

  •  Helps to overcome the “blank page” problem 
  • Warms up the brain for higher-level functioning
  •  Can increase fluency if done regularly 
  • Strengthens the right brain 
  • Can help increase motivation 

    Or it can simply help you get caught up on your poem a day commitment for the month of April. Let's give it a go and see, but I have to add that for me the "blank page" problem is solved by 

a. never writing until you don't know what happens next. Always leave enough in reserve so that your subconscious can be working on your story while you're doing more important things like grading papers, caring for your children, hiring a new colleague in your department, teaching, and fighting bronchitis--or maybe that's just my to do list that never got fully done this week.

b. realizing that creativity is the recombination of known facts in unusual order, so to write new things you have to learn new things and ask questions of them.  Keep your mind open and asking --what exactly does "Truth will out" mean and where did that phrase become famous? How could you describe the texture of a wasp's nest?

Now on to the stanza sprints.  I'll attempt to write one stanza poems at high speeds.  Let's try 120 seconds.  Here comes the rubbish!!

(18 of 30)

Wind carries rumors of storms
languishing over mountains
shaking houses
liking the rattle of windows
of the days when only 
centurion trees 
held sway over the prairies
no one feared 
thunder then
1:26 (86 seconds)

But this speed stanza screams for commas!

Dare I ask, can I top that? 

(19 of 30)

catching up to the laughter
chasing it 'round the
rumor that 
children's laughter 
fuels the soul

(59 seconds) Phew!

Ha! And again. Wow, this is nerve wracking!

(20 of 30)

not the echo
of greek goods
but the refrain 
right now
dog by the door
child on the edge of the bed
husband defying
if I have the power 
to stop it*
but my godly skills faded
sixty sleepless nights ago
(1:52  or 112 seconds )

I made it to the * by 59, but that didn't complete the stanza/poem. Who am I kidding, the poems I've been doing this month are mere wisps of drafts, not poems. But a poem can start anywhere.

(21 of 30)


With a bead of 
water on a newly stained
the crooked neck
hang of a leaf
the way a swing 
growns as a child launches
for the ground
the emptiness
of energy released
to be captured in a line
an image
a stanza stretched
to show 
the poem
that begins
like this
(1.28 or 78 sec)

Last chance to beat the clock-- 59 seconds!!

The pound 
of dog eyes pinning
your heart
touch my head
scratch here
can I come home now?
(36 seconds)

 But is it a poem? Why don't you tell me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Few Views On Freedom

(16 of 30)

"Free as a bird"
or so they say
but I don't think of it
that way
they free to 
        be rained on
        have their eggs crushed
        trees cut down
        nests knocked from their firm grasp on
                     porch light
                     garage joist
                     light housing in the barn
they cannot go to concerts
perch on a bench at the Met to contemplate Corbet
and the Woman with the Parrot
Freedom carries with it weights and balances
free flight on a windy day
for the right to have their homes taken away
Seems like that words
so symbolic of "freedom" 
come with a heavy price to pay

(17 of 30)

"What I wouldn't give for 
an ounce of their energy"
she says with a sigh of age, 
gravity borne wrinkles,
pew leaning grace
Would you give away
    the timing & entrees of meals each day
    the clothes you choose
    the moral bar you jump over
    the subjects of study that occupy your day
   they have no bills to pay
   their house is on another's pocketbook 
   their laundry spins by another's hands
Yet and all
Trades are made
Ground is gain
And lost
We each have our own sources of energy
some run hot and quick 
                   lightning come to ground 
some run long like the house furnace
that warms and cools and runs 
                                all through the night


Monday, April 18, 2016

It's Poetry Month,
 Not A How Many Poems Can You Write in One Day Contest!

Best Intentions Sprinkled With Pollen and Balloon Shards

Weekends, children, and allergies are not the ingredients of choice when trying to stick to a writing routine, especially when a double birthday, allergies, and deck painting are involved. That's my tightly packing, sneeze-filled--think I have bronchitis--just taught the nurse about Yiddish--excuse for the day. Say, I do believe I just resined a poem in that convoluted sentence!

So let's talk about personal experiences and poetry.  But first, I have to go teach a Children's Literature class on graphic novels. Be back soon.

I'm back.  Writing from life experiences can be cathartic, but it can also be difficult because you have the  lived the experience and may not know how much context to offer to make the experience relatable without using explanation.  Economy of language is essential in poetry, so that makes creating context even harder. 

For a compelling exploration on experience and poetry, take a look at Christina Pugh's essay, "No Experience Necessary"

From Experience Comes Confusion, Contemplation, Clarity

When you write about your own experience, you can often confuse your readers if you don't provide enough context.

Shouting "I hate Mr. Rogers" 
the girl said it all.

This actually happened as my best friend and I studied one night in high school, but it doesn't "say it all" or even enough to share the experience with outside readers.  Let's try that experience again with a little more context and see what happens.

Poem (9 of 30)

When you're blind
waitresses raise their voices when 
they get to your order
because they don't know
how to get your attention

When you're human
loud voices can be startling,
make you shrink

When you're blind
teachers tell themselves to slow 
down and explain things 
(read: "as if you're a child")

When you're human
patience sweetness is hard to swallow
when it's pitched to a six year old and 
you're old enough to go R rated

 So, homework before us,
legs crossed, directions recalled,
my friend, 
who came into this world without the benefit of eyes, 
throws back her head and yells,
"I hate Mr. Rogers!"

The king of patience,
the model of kindness
the "voice of childhood"
is an irritating echo in the
directions our English teacher offered
on our way out the door.

Wishing I had the clip of Mr. Rogers 
cursing a out my mother's favorite word,
as he pitched a tent.
I laughed, recalling our own collapsing 
attempt the weekend before

"He's cool." I said. "You just have to get to know
the whole person."

"You said it all," my friend replied.

I guess we did.

Here, I wrote a poem that contextualized the line and how the over kindness of teachers drove my friend to hate Mr. Rogers--no the man, but the voice that echoed in the instructions she received far too often from well-meaning people who saw her disability and over compensated, an issue I tried to bring alive for readers in the poem. 

Mining for a Poem

Now, let's try to mine my morning and an earlier sentence in this blog for a poem. I said, "That's my tightly packing, sneeze-filled--think I have bronchitis--just taught the nurse about Yiddish--excuse for the day" because one of the reasons I didn't write poems over the weekend was because I have seasonal allergies that often lead to bronchitis.  Trying to help my husband stain the deck in the great pollinated outdoors wasn't so wise an addition. When I went see a PA today, she prescribed a shot that it was the nurses duty to administer and it was delivered to my posterior. I mentioned that it had been a long time since I'd had to have one in my "tuchus" to which she replied, you're what?

And that's how I used a slang term for your backside to introduce a nurse to the language of Yiddish. If you're unfamiliar with the language, let me offer a definition from Yiddish is a Germanic language with about three million speakers, mainly Ashkenazic Jews, in the USA, Israel, Russia, Ukraine and many other countries. The name Yiddish is probably an abbreviated version of ייִדיש־טײַטש (yidish-taytsh), which means "Jewish German".

And now for the poem (10 of 30)

When pollen makes your nose
imitate a sink with an eroding washer
And your throat becomes a slide
there's no hiding 
from the chest clenching cough
that makes sleep like the tissue
dropped on the table
blown out of reach by a hacking
that when the buds bloom
you're stuck behind glass
as your head starts to ache
But help is a 
office visit away
steroid shot in the tuchus
may indeed mean
you can return the gift
of open airways
in kindof
by telling the nurse about
a language
a way of life
a cornicopia of cultures opening up
one word at a time
like the capillaries in my 
bronchial tubes
the relief is overwhelming
I'm verklempt

 And now, because meeting call and I need to visit the pharmacy, I'm going to offer a few tidbit poems.

(11 of 30)
A candle burns
the room illuminated by sunlight
filled by shouts
mouths open
ready for cake
excitement cells fighting 
dust motes for space
a wish
stuck in the traffic
of anticipated sugar high
jack knifed 
by a truckload of impatience
she wishes for a wish
and blows!

(12 of 30)

How Many Six Year Old's Does It Take to Go to the Bathroom?

O if the show is on and cross legs will do the trick
1 if there's lima beans on my plate in the dog's outside
2 if a friends over after school and I have lip gloss to share
3 if it's a sleepover and all the guests I found the flashlight
4 if recess isn't over, but it's too cold to play
5 if it's a movie party and the scene's too scary
6 if it's a big stall at the circus and the clown car just came

(13 of 30)
As luck would have it
I needed a new bag
my strap broke mid dash for class
only thing that didn't spill out
where the bills that cling
to statement balance
making a 70 dollar replacement
a decadence
a triple-decker cake on a diet
But the tri-colored lilac can be eye candy
Thrifting to replace
the jeans the youngest of five
made holy on the 
church of the preschool playground
I see
hanging from a shelf
three shades of purple
like a canvas roll of candy
the bag
the three-decker cake I desire
is three dollars
What luck.

(14 of 30)
To do
to done
a "ta-dah" moment
I've never rightfully won

(15 of 30)

a leaf harvested 
worlds away
steeped in steamy surroundings
Set down
to scrawl out 
the next word
yet I covet my
my arm chair
cat hair covered
corner of the world
while tea leaves
turn sunward
in a place I'll 
never see

Until --Tomorrow?  I hope so. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Line by Line, I'm Already Behind!

Keeping Our Writing Commitments Creatively

As I've already mentioned, routine and I remain at odds.  As a result, I've already missed a day of writing a poem a day (actually 2 since I started on the 12th of April), but to illustrate my commitment to the venture of writing 30 poems during National Poetry Month, I'm going to try for four poems for today.

Commitment is an essential of life in friendships, work, and avocation, but we can meet them creatively as long as we continue to make our commitment known and fulfill our obligations. We'll see if I have practiced what I preach at the end of the month.

Making Writing Goals So Our Writing Grows

One of my consistent efforts as a writer is to always set a goal when I start a new writing project. The obvious goal would be to finish the project and that's a given, but I also try to take on learning more about something new.  For this month,, I'll be exploring an element of writing poetry each day and offering an article and what little insight I can offer on the subject.

For today, I thought enjambment and line breaks might be a good thing to discuss. For me, line breaks are lead by pacing, narrative gap, impacing imagery, the strength of the last line, and irony. For insights another poet has to offer on the subject, please explore this article by Rebecca Hazelton "Learning the Poetic Line".

What's In a Line Break

Pacing often determines where you break a line to create a longer pause, leave an image on a line, allow your reader to focus and process it before moving on. You can also use a line break for disruption of the pace to get a reader to stop and consider the many different ways a poem can go in that moment which can create a narrative gap--an opening in the text that can be filled by the reader and the poet simultaneous. The reader gets to the end of the line thinking one thing will happen and has that image in mind when they get to the next line which may offer another image. When a poet intentionally fills a narrative gap by inviting one image in the reader's head, then offering an alternative, they not only make use of irony, but they create impacted imagery--two images for the price of one. Gary Soto does this wonderfully in the poem "Oranges".

When the young narrator arrives to walk to the store with a girl he's sweet on

She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rogue. I smiled,

Here, we see a general gap after pulling--what's she pulling? But with "face bright" we may be thinking happiness, nervousness, or other emotional states, but then we find out it's "rogue" creating of the double meaning of emotion and make-up (a young girl of 12 acting older).

So, now for the hard work, trying to apply what I've learned in my own work..

Breaking the Surface (Poem 5 of 30)

built of chemicals, moments of friction
words barked over spilled
reaching for a glass
filled with why can't I?
The world is not scaled to her size
your hair's too big to fit in
Math has ten's place, tens frame, ten ways
to reach the other side of an equals sign
And I watch her struggle with
fitting in, filling in that blank line
The father fumes, his fire soul-scorching
sound to make her fold like a
pill bug seeking a log
I sit in stiff silence
knowing a vacuum waits to be used
a carpet uncleaned, strewn with
controlers, wrappers, and half-spoken promises
swept away by a game-filled screen
to them, these couch riding teens,
he says, "Good night"
Offers them money for work
they won't do right.
And tonight, the smoldering hits
hi-temp ignition point
breaks the surface, shooting flames
that will not bend to my will
for it is warped and ready rail

Pickle Pucker Promises   (Poem 6 of 30)

My mom, smiles, opens the fridge, saying,
"It's tradition.."
And in a family with post-turkey
belching contests, why should her retrieval
of a pickle jar surprise me?

Handing one to wispy-curled toddler
she laughs, just wait for the pucker face

That does not come.

She tastes, eyebrows raised,
chomps, chews, and shows us a palm
that's raised,

Mom's amazed.
Me, I believe a promise has just been made.
This one.  The girl with 100 words
where 25 reside
with eyes that see the fly above her bed
sings her own lyrics to "Jesus loves me" when
her grandfather is dead
She will not pucker when life is sour
She will chomp and chew
suck out the seeds from which
good will grow
and say,
"Is that all you've got?"

After the Rain   (Poem 7 of 30)

Standing on the edge,
warped, well-watered wood
varnish washed away weeks before
my feet, resist splinters, perch
toes bending, nails sun-bathing,
waiting for the burning pollen call
of spring to bring summer
like a kite on a rain chased wind

Pucker (Poem 8 of 3)

a flaked tag of dried skin to be pulled
a candy to sour to keep
a kiss
       of good-bye
                    tell me I'm loved
lipstick lining in blood
orange colors left on
napkins, collars, and notes
pinned to the fridge by a
magnet, saying,

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Poem a Day Keeps The Imagery in Play

Writing daily, it's like exercise, rest, and vitamins--it's good for you, you're supposed to do it, and I, sadly, usually don't. I'm quite bad at routine--I can't even breathe routinely (allergies and asthma), so I'm the last one to talk about "sticking to a routine" and expanding your writing ability and dexterity by writing every day.

 Still, just because it's not something you've been able to achieve before, it doesn't meant you shouldn't try again and again and again. So, Here I go, AGAIN to attempt to practice what I've been told is good for the poet within--writing every day for the rest of the month as part of National Poetry Month.

Since I'm already nearly two weeks behind, I'm going to dive right in and do two poems a day to get "caught up." But I also want to invite each of you to check out the Poetry Foundation. Not only do they have one of the best poetry magazines in the country, if not the world, but they also have excellent articles, interviews, audio poems, and an amazing anthology of poetry. Not to mention the fact that they have an entire section on poetry for children, so check them out today--tomorrow--as often as you like. Dive in with pen, paper, keyboard, and open mind at the ready! Visit the Poetry Foundation

The imagery in my fiction is what often prompts readers to say, "I felt like I was there" or "Reading your book was like watching a movie"--I write for kids, so this is a great compliment from a young reader who might prefer film to books. Imagery didn't come naturally to me. I learned to create vicarious imagery through lots of practice--describing things in my head, reading lots and lots of fiction, but my ability to create memorable imagery didn't really hit a high point until I learned to read poetry for the purpose of analyzing the construction of the imagery and once you've done that with poem after wonderful poem--they're like good chips, you can never read just one. For some insight into imagery, check out this great article from Rachel Richardson "Learning Imagery and Description".  Once you've learned to unpack the mysteries of imagery, then the best thing to do is practice...practice...practice, so here I go--a one, and a two....

Poem 3 of 30

Mage of the I before the ine
they used to think creativity
was only divine
then co-created
God and I
on a tear
to find the right image
the rose that opens
like a book dropped on a
table to stand, pages suspend
by curiosity
peaked even
the golden wire bowl
centered around the eye
of the rose
the I of prose
who turns the
ideas around to catch
the sun of inspiration
with a smile,
a sigh,
and my eternal thanks

Poem 4 of 30

I know of
sentence, word, morphemes
cell, atoms, nucleus
what parts lie with in the slices of
what is the calcium rich skin of a
the thin walled segments of juice
in the belly oft bell-like
sound of humor
ah, now it rings back to me
and below that?
in the base
electron, the drop of juice
so tiny the wetness
doesn't register
I know...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

April: National Poetry Month and Diving In!

Check out this great site! Napowrimo

From the site:
NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month, is an annual project in which participating poets attempt to write a poem a day for the month of April. 
This website is owned and operated by Maureen Thorson, a poet living in Washington, DC. Inspired byNaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month), she started writing a poem a day for the month of April back in 2003, posting the poems on her blog. When other people started writing poems for April, and posting them on their own blogs, Maureen linked to them. After a few years, so many people were doing NaPoWriMo that Maureen decided to launch an independent website for the project.
This site was designed by the very nice people at 2the9design, who know waaaaayyyyy more about back-end coding stuff than Maureen does. But this site isn’t meant to be “official,” or to indicate ownership or authority over the idea of writing 30 poems in April. There is no corporate sponsorship of this project. No money is intended to change hands anywhere. Maureen just likes poems and wants to encourage people to write them. The site doesn’t ask for your email address, or any other personal information. Heck, you don’t even have to give your name.
From me:
This is such a great idea, I'm going to give it a go, even though I'm 12 days behind. Can I get caught up? Well, let's see!
I'll have to do a few poems a day to get caught up.
Catch up Poem of the day 1 of 30
A cold grows old 
one sneeze-snatched tissue at a time
calls for cough-filled naps
cups of O.J. heated with tea
with voice-filling changes in the throat
the welcome of scent of vapor
fading to tulips turned up
to the sun
Time to catch a ray!
Poem of Day 12  (2 of 30)
The road to work-a-day-care drop
winds away from home
we, you and mirror-me,
wing with words
This is the way we go
Go! Go! Go!
'cause I know
S-T-O-P has got 
the sign
and in time
I'll find "you"
I love you, 
Mom loves "Me"
On to tomorrow!  Let's go!
Who is ready to join me?!  If you write a poem for every day in the month of April, I'll enter you into a contest to win an autographed copy of my novel-in-verse Pretty Omens