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Posts from the ‘Poetry’ Category

Discover the power of word choice

Whether you’re writing prose or poetry, word choice is paramount. The words you choose determine where the emphasis is placed in your line or sentence and, thus, where you draw your reader’s attention.

In honor of National Poetry Month I’ll use a few of my poems as examples of the difference a word can make.

From my poem “Suppose someday I say hot springs:”

 

Original:

will I remember our hike up Sol Duc,
how we riffed fingers over silk moss,
how we stepped stone to stone
over the creek that crossed our path,
how we posed for a photo on the rickety
footbridge dwarfed by fir and red cedar?

Revision:

will I remember our hike up Sol Duc,
how we riffed fingers over silk moss,
how we stepped stone to stone
over the creek that crossed our path,
how we posed for a photo on the rickety
footbridge under fir and red cedar?

As you can see, I changed the bolded word “dwarfed” to a simpler word “under” in the revision. Why? Dwarfed is a more unusual and striking word but, because of this, it draws more attention to itself—attention that I don’t want in that particular place.

My first choice draws my reader’s attention to the footbridge while the revision places the emphasis more on the “we” of the stanza and the trees—which is where I want it. Read more

Writing advice from a Tasmanian cave spider, or how to get your creative juices flowing

Ok, I lied. This post isn’t really about writing advice from a Tasmanian cave spider—more like life advice.

Hang with me for a moment. You’ll see what I mean.

After taking nearly a year off from writing poetry, I had an idea to kick start 2015 with the goal of writing two to three new poems a week for the month of January. But I wasn’t feeling very inspired. Some pretty heavy stuff was going on in my life, and I felt drained.

Then, a gift arrived in the mail.

My blogging partner Carly sent me The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, by Diane Lockward (I hadn’t even mentioned my goal to her…scary how we think alike, isn’t it?)

Now, I’m normally NOT a “prompt” person but being the good friend that I am, I felt I should at least flip through the book so I could extend my sincere gratitude to her. (Wink. Wink). Late one night, I dragged the book to bed with me and the strangest thing happened—the pages reached out and grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Hands down, best poetry craft and prompt book. Ever. Nine of the ten poems I’ve written so far this month were inspired by the book.

But what does this have to do with a Tasmanian cave spider? Read more

Four tips for setting 2015 writing goals

In the process of setting my goals for 2015, I realized how much magic there is in writing them down—and I don’t mean just randomly choosing goals and then giving ourselves a due date. That doesn’t work. The magic comes when we dig deep.

Here’s my process in case it helps you:

Tip # 1: Brainstorm and write it down

First, I grab a legal pad and have one page for each of the following areas of my life: business, writing, health, and hobbies. For each category, I write down the goals I want to have accomplished by the end of 2015. And, if necessary, I break the goals down into different categories.

For example, in my writing life, I have prose goals and poetry goals. My prose goals for 2015 are to finish and publish my fantasy novel and then edit and finish my memoir. And then to be writing down ideas for my next book. All great goals. But I need to chunk them down and make them doable.

For my fantasy manuscript, my first goal is to finish my first draft. How many words per day/per week/per month can I realistically do while I work fulltime? Figure it out and set a date. Once my first draft is done, what’s next? Implement my marketing plan while I take time to revise and edit. I continue writing down the next action step in my plan until I can see all the parts to the whole.

Tip # 2: Look forward to events

Look forward to events that can be used as goal dates. For example, the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference is in July this year. What would happen if I had my book ready and published in order to market at that event? The idea excites me! It feels good. Can I realistically meet this goal? With hard work and focus, I think it’s doable. Now, I work backwards from this date and plan accordingly.  Read more

Poetic inspiration for your writing

We’ve all faced the need to clean out our closets and finetune our possessions, whether we’re making a move, downsizing our living space, or just reorganizing.

We have to make hard decisions about what to keep and what to toss or give away. And sometimes the decisions aren’t hard. We wonder why we still have that stack of papers or miscellaneous junk that we never should have saved to begin with.

Exercise: Think about a time when you sorted through your stuff and had to decide what to get rid of and what to save. Think about how you felt. What were the emotions? What tugged at you and why? What was hard? What was easy? Now, write a poem, story, essay, or scene about it.

For inspiration and one poet’s take on getting rid of stuff, read the poem below from the American Life in Poetry project. Visit the American Life in Poetry website to sign up to receive a free weekly poem in your e-mail inbox.

American Life in Poetry: Column 497

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I’d guess everybody reading this has felt the guilt of getting rid of belongings that meant more to somebody else than they did to you. Here’s a poem by Jennifer Maier, who lives in Seattle. Don’t call her up. All her stuff is gone.

Rummage Sale

Forgive me, Aunt Phyllis, for rejecting the cut
glass dishes—the odd set you gathered piece
by piece from thirteen boxes of Lux laundry soap.

Pardon me, eggbeater, for preferring the whisk;
and you, small ship in a bottle, for the diminutive
size of your ocean. Please don’t tell my mother,

hideous lamp, that the light you provided
was never enough. Domestic deities, do not be angry
that my counters are not white with flour;

no one is sorrier than I, iron skillet, for the heavy
longing for lightness directing my mortal hand.
And my apologies, to you, above all,

forsaken dresses, that sway from a rod between
ladders behind me, clicking your plastic tongues
at the girl you once made beautiful,

and the woman, with a hard heart and
softening body, who stands in the driveway
making change.

————————

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Jennifer Maier from her most recent book of poems, Now, Now, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Jennifer Maier and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Heat up your writing with these prompts

Sometimes I get into a writing funk. It’s as though I’m frozen in place.

Maybe this has happened to you. You’ve gone through a stressful event, you’re not sleeping well, or you’ve been consumed by work deadlines. Stress and fatigue are known to affect creativity and inhibit the brain from generating creative ideas.

I find that the harder I think when I’m in my slump, the more I blank out. I’ve learned that I need to think differently. I need to activate the part of my brain that comes up with new ideas, instead of the part that is sparked by stress.

One of the things I do to re-energize myself is read good works of literature. I also find that doing a few writing exercises helps me out of my rut.

One of my favorite books for this is The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano. If you’re in a slump, try this prompt from The Daily Poet.

Choose a color. Now write a poem only using images of that color. For example, if you chose white, your poem might include clouds, snow, yogurt, angels, paper, ping-pong balls, or plastic bags. The poem may or may not evoke an emotion associated with your chosen color.

Here are two more prompts from another of my favorite writing books, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg. This book is geared towards writing memoir but the prompts are equally good for writing essays and poems and even coming up with the seed of an idea for a short story or character. Here are two sample prompts from the book:

Knew. What did you know that you didn’t want to know? Go. Ten minutes.

Repair. What have you tried to repair? Write for 10 minutes.

Test your poetry skill with this quiz

I admire people who can recite poetry from memory. I’ve never been able to do it. An 80+-year-old friend and poet can recite poetry all day and night and week long. Yes, I’m jealous!

But there are other ways to test our poetry dexterity. Try this poetry quiz put together by Jessie Strasbaugh: Poetry Quiz

For more ways to experience poetry, read my earlier post “The yoga of poetry.”

And, to enjoy movies about poets or poetry, check out Carly’s post Celebrate National Poetry Month with a movie night.

How did you celebrate National Poetry month this year? Please share in the comments below.

The passion of poetry on the Garden Island of Kauai

Aloha from the beautiful Garden Island of Kauai. Wherever I travel, I try to check out the local writing or art scene. The other night, I traveled from our hotel in Kapaa to the town of Hanapepe on the southwest side of the island to attend a poetry reading in honor of National Poetry Month.

At the home of Storybook Theater, 10 or so local poets read and treated the audience to song, guitar music and a cacophony of Kauain frogs that at times drowned out the speakers with their deep, bass voices. (When one croaked right behind me, I nearly skyrocketed out of my chair because it sounded like some kind of jungle monster, not a frog). Competing with the frog choir was a baby chicken that sent out little peeps like sonar throughout the night. Talk about local flavor! All we needed were a few feral cats to complete the scene. (Kauai has a huge feral cat population—and we always participate in their nightly feedings when we’re here. Yes, just call me Cat Lady).

But I digress. Back to poetry. The theme of the reading was planting seeds. Seeds are a big thing on the Garden Island where food and plants can be grown year round in the rich soil. Read more