Saturday, October 25, 2014

Prompt #206 – Trick or Treat

Here is the U.S., and in other countries as well, it’s long been a common practice for children to dress up in costumes on Halloween and to go from door to door saying “trick or treat.” In other words, “Give us treats or we’ll find ways to trick you. The treats typically mean candy while the tricks (usually idle) suggest mischief of some sort.

In North America, trick-or-treating has been a popular Halloween tradition since the late 1940s. The custom of going from door to door and receiving food existed early on in Great Britain and Ireland in the form of “souling,” where children and poor people sang and said prayers for the dead in return for cakes. Guising, in which children dressed in costumes went from door to door for food and coins, also predates trick or treat, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895. Back then, masqueraders in disguise carried lanterns made from scooped out turnips and visited homes asking for cakes, fruit, and money.

Today, trick or treating remains popular in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Puerto Rico, and northwestern and central Mexico. In Mexico, the custom is called calaverita (Spanish for “little skull”). Instead of saying “trick or treat,” children ask “¿me da mi calaverita?” (“can you give me my little skull?”)—the asked-for calaverita is a small skull made of sugar or chocolate.

This week, let’s write about a Halloween memory, a treat or a trick that stands out for some reason.

Guidelines:

1. Begin with a list of some of the Halloween costumes you’ve worn (as a child or as an adult).

2. Select one of those costumes from your list.

3. Make another list of details (things you remember) from the time you wore that costume.

4. What made that costume (or that Halloween) so memorable? Was there a trick or treat involved (something that you didn’t expect that was either a trick or a treat for you)?

5. Write a poem about the experience.

Tips:

1. Avoid over use of details, adjectives, and adverbs.

2. Pay attention to craft.

3. Enliven the poem with effective use of language and figures of speech.

4. Re-create the experience by showing, not by telling.

5. Create a strong mood or tone.

Example:

Living Room
         by Catherine Doty

Remember the Halloween night
I was sick with migraine
left alone with you
while the others went out
and we took your nap together
after the beer
you on the couch and me
on my back on top of you
I could smell the painted flames
on my devil costume
the devil’s starchy mouth hole
damp with beer
I could see the car lights
stripe the living room ceiling
hear Halloween banging
at the door
hear your breathing
turn to sleep breathing
as I lay full-length
on that bony, crabby daddy
the man who never touched
who hardly talked           
I was happier that I had ever been
I was petting a sleeping lion
I though of turning five
the next day
I though of the cake
the paints and paper
I’d asked for
a picture I’d make you
of two red devils sleeping
of bowls of candy
safe and untouched in the dark

Reprinted by permission of the author. From Momentum, CavanKerry Press. 
Copyright © 2004 by Catherine Doty. All rights reserved. 



Saturday, October 18, 2014

Prompt #205– Creating Tension in a Poem


This week, in keeping with our October Halloween “theme,” let’s take a look at tension in poetry. Most of the time, we look to eliminate tension from our lives, but there are times in poetry when we want to create it!

Arguably synonymous with “suspense,” tension in poetry is a way of building and keeping interest throughout the poem. Simply creating tension in a poem doesn’t mean writing about a mysterious or haunting subject. More importantly, tension in a poem is the direct result of skillful and intentional craft. 

Tension is defined as the act or process of stretching something tight, the condition of being stretched, a tautness. How do we create that in our poems? A poem’s “tension” is a combination of poetic elements that work together within the poem. For example, repetition used well can add an element of tension as in Poe’s “The Raven” with its famous repeated line “quoth the raven nevermore.”

Here are a few other tension-creating pointers:

Writing in the first person and in the present tense enhances tention in a poem by placing the reader close to the suspense, or mystery.

Line breaks that create disjunction can generate and control tension by causing readers to pause or stop, even if only briefly, to reflect upon meaning.  Pauses can also add to a sense of foreboding, of something about to occur.

Short sentences that contain active (dynamic) verbs enhance tension in a poem.

Deliberate fragments can help create a sense of confusion and mystery—incomplete statements can serve the same effect.

Unusual imagery, restrained as well as intentional language, connotative and denotative language, rhythm and sound, subject matter, alliteration, and assonance all add to the tension in a poem.

Changes, twists, and surprising juxtapositions of images also add tension—the unexpected can unsettle readers.

Anticipation and expectation enter the mix—don’t give away your ending before you get to it.

Guidelines:

1. This week, write a narrative poem in which you create tension through the story you tell, the scene or experience you describe, or the emotion you suggest. Think “Halloween,” “scary,” and “mysterious.” Work with the following:
  • A compelling opening line
  • Subject and symbols
  • Language
  • Unusual imagery
  • Form and meter
  • Effective line breaks
  • Mood
  • Sound (alliteration, assonance, internal or external rhyme)
  • Repetition (anaphora)
  • A nod to the supernatural
  • A dismount that does more than bring the poem to obvious closure

Tips:

1. If you need a jumpstart, select something from the following (you don’t need to include the line or phrase in your poem but may if you wish). Give your poem its head, and see where the starter leads you!
  • a shutter slaps the side of my house
  • a shadow in the corner behind the staircase
  • footsteps in the hallway on the other side of the door
  • mist hung between trees, between shadows
  • deep night and a sound inside the silence
  • when nothing is what it seems
  • a full moon risen on the cusp of my fear
  • nothing but darkness and the rustling of small animals
  • his/her face framed by a dark hood
  • only the sound of a clock ticking
  • a white deer standing between tombstones
  • silence and then the scream
  • something floating beneath the water’s surface

2. Write in the first person and in the present tense to create a sense of immediacy.

3. Don’t lose sight of the this week’s goal: creating tension in a poem. Keep the stakes high—show, don’t tell.

4. When creating tension (suspense), be sure to create “breathers;” that is, tensions needs to ebb and flow throughout your poem. The number of breathers you incorporate will depend upon the length of your poem and your subject’s needs. In a shorter poem, you may only need a single breather.

Examples:



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Prompt #204 – "There Is Something In the Autumn"


It’s autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere, my favorite time of year, which always reminds me of the very first poem I ever memorized, “A Vagabond Song” by Bliss Carmen. At age 7 or 8, the poem appealed to my young sense of wonder—I decided that what I wanted most was to be a vagabond poet. I loved the way the lines looked and the way the words sounded. I still do and share the poem with you below.

          A VAGABOND SONG by 
Bliss Carman
          There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood —

          Touch of manner, hint of mood;

          And my heart is like a rhyme,

          With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.
          The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
          Of bugles going by.
          And my lonely spirit thrills

          To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

          There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;

          We must rise and follow her,

          When from every hill of flame

          She calls and calls each vagabond by name.



October also means Halloween! This year I plan to offer three season-appropriate prompts, starting this week with one that deals with Halloween but, more importantly, with nouns and verbs in poetry.

The great poet Marianne Moore once said, “Poetry is all nouns and verbs.” Writing a memorable poem can be a matter of choosing strong nouns and verbs. To use some Halloween language: nouns and verbs are the skeleton of a poem. Adjectives and adverbs are the costumes—if you use too many, they hide the deeper meanings of the skeleton.

Guidelines:

1. Choose one word from the nouns list below for your subject (of course, if you have another Halloween-related noun, feel free to use it).

                Nouns                  

autumn (fall)                                    
October                                            
moon                                                
moonlight
mask
wind
footsteps
cauldron
visions
haunted house
ghost (s)
bats
graveyard
night
pumpkin
jack o'lantern
darkness
crows
shadows
trees
bare branches

                Verbs                  

haunt
hide
howl
knock
drag
hear
whisper
creak
scare
frighten
scream
run
disappear
glow
horrify
terrify
shock
disguise
dread
rustle

Note: There are no "ing" endings in the verbs list. 
For more on "ing" endings (Prompt #193), click here.   

2. Free write for a while about the word you've chosen for your subject.
3. After free writing for a while, go back and read what you’ve written. Is there an emerging theme or idea?
4. Using your free write material, begin writing your poem, making sure that you use a few words from the verbs list.

Tips:

1. Think Halloween.
2. Be mysterious.
3. Remember that the verbs you choose will give your poem momentum and a sense of trajectory.
4. Avoid overuse of adjectives and adverbs.
5. Create a tone or mood that's appropriate to your subject.
6. As you develop your poem, move away from the obvious and work toward deeper meanings.

Examples:


And … by way of sharing, here’s a Halloween prose poem
from my forthcoming book, 
A Lightness, a Thirst, Or Nothing at All.  

HALLOWEEN

Trick-or-treaters come to the door repeatedly—little ones early, older kids into the night until she runs out of candy and turns off the outside lights. The wall between worlds is thin (aura over aura—stars flicker and flinch). The woman buttons her coat, checks her reflection in the mirror, and stands cheek to glass (eye on her own eye, its abstract edge). She leaves the house (empty house that we all become)—shadows shaped to the trees, crows in the high branches.

(Acknowledgment: US 1 Worksheets, Volume 59, p. 51)


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Prompt #203 – "The Art of Losing"


I recently read Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” for about the thousandth time and thought that, this week, we might take a very concrete approach to something lost. We’ve all lost things from time to time, and by “lost things” I place the emphasis on “things.” This week let’s write about things that we’ve lost—actual objects, not loves, not feelings, not friendships, not people, not pets.

Guidelines:

1. Begin by making a list of things that you’ve lost (a favorite book, a piece of jewelry, an old photograph that meant a lot to you, a family heirloom, a treasured memento of a special time).

2. Select one item from your list and begin making a new list of what that lost item meant to you. What were the conditions or circumstances that made it important to you?

3. How did you feel about losing the item?

4. Begin your poem with a statement about the object and then go on to explain how it was lost. From there, let the poem take you where it wants to go.

5. Another option you might consider is to write from the lost object’s point of view (adopt the lost object’s persona).

Tips:

1. Think in terms of a narrative poem in which you tell the story of your lost item, but be sure not to over-tell. Remember that the best poems show, they don’t just tell.

2. Your obvious subject will be the lost item, but you should work toward another subject that goes beyond the simple act of losing something.

3. Use language that’s engaging and accessible.

4. Avoid clichés and sentimentality. Evoke emotion through images.

5. Try to create a “dismount” that doesn’t sum up your particular loss as much as it sums up the universal feeling of something lost.

Examples:



Saturday, September 27, 2014

Prompt #202 – Postcard-Sized Apology by Guest Prompter Peter E. Murphy


This week’s prompt comes from Peter E. Murphy, founding director of the highly-praised annual Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway and other programs for poets, writers, and teachers in the U.S. and abroad.

Peter is the author of Stubborn Child, a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize, and three chapbooks of poetry. His essays and poems have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Green Mountains Review, The Journal, The Lindenwood Review, The Literary Review, The Little Patuxent Review, Rattle, Witness and elsewhere. He has received fellowships for writing and teaching from The Atlantic Center for the Arts, The Folger Shakespeare Library, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars.


From Peter

Assignment: Write a postcard-sized poem in which you apologize for or argue against something or someone for an offense, real or imagined.

Requirements: Choose three postcards that attract you and one that disgusts or confuses you and incorporate one or more of these images into your poem.

[Note: When Peter uses this prompt at his Getaways, he provides participants with postcards from which to choose. He also offers a site for postcards at which you’ll find several postcard examples:


Alternatively, Peter suggests that you might choose from your own postcards or even old photographs or letters.]

Variation: Have someone apologize to you instead. Wouldn’t that be sweet?

Challenge for the delusional: C’mon, do you really need any more stimulation? Oh, all right. Integrate some writing from one or more of the postcards into your poem.


Note: Speaking of “challenges for the delusional,” be sure to check out Peter’s book Challenges for the Delusional: Peter Murphy’s Prompts and the Poems They Inspired (“a selection of Peter Murphy’s infamous and eccentric poetry-writing prompts. For 19 years he’s shared these prompts at his writers’ conference, the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway, and this collection features a sampling of the many diverse and wonderful poems that they’ve inspired. Contributors include: Stephen Dunn, Kathleen Graber, Dorianne Laux, James Richardson, and more.” Click Here to Order

Examples:

"Sorry" by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (Though this one is definitely not postcard-sized!)


Thank you, Peter!
__________________________________________________

This prompt calls to mind one that was posted in August of 2012 . If you missed it first time around and would like to try a different spin on the apology poem, here's the link.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Prompt #201 – Poem Beginning with a Line By ...


Autumn begins here in the Eastern United States in two days’ time, and that got me thinking about  beginnings. Accordingly, in a spirit of beginnings, it might be interesting to write a poem that begins with a line by another poet (kind of a new beginning for a previously written line).

This, of course, isn’t a new idea or one unique to me, but it’s a great way to create a poem, especially during those times when wrestling a poem out of your pen isn’t easy.

Guidelines:

1. Read a couple of the example poems below.

2. Now read several other poems, poems that are long-time favorites or new poems (perhaps in current issues of journals) that you haven’t read before.

3. From the poems you read, select the one that “speaks” to you the loudest and read it again.

4. Pick one line from that poem and use it as the first line in your own poem.

5. Either use quotation marks or italics to set the line apart and to indicate that it’s the quoted line (and make a note of the title of the poem from which the line comes).

6. Let the line you quote inspire you, let it direct the content of your poem; give it its “head” and see where it leads you.

Tips:

1. Keep your poem under 30 lines.

2. Remember that good poems have more than one subject (the obvious and the suggested or inherent).

3.  Show, don’t tell.

4. Don’t let the obvious meaning of the line dictate what your content will be.

5. Let your poem connect, reveal, and surprise.

Examples:


Some Lines You Might Like to Use:
  1. “In my beginning is my end” by T. S. Eliot from “East Coker”
  2. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all” from “Ode On A Grecian Urn” by John Keats
  3. “But at my back I always hear” from “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell
  4. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats
  5. “And miles to go before I sleep” from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
  6. “Let us go then, you and I,” from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
  7. “Because I could not stop for Death,” from Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death”
  8. “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”
  9. “Hope is the thing with feathers” from “Hope Is The Thing With Feathers” by Emily Dickinson
  10. “Scarcely a tear to shed” from “An Evening” by Gwendolyn Brooks
  11. “Our whisper woke no clocks” from “Dear, Though the Night Is Gone” by W.H. Auden“When we two parted / In silence and tears” from “When We Two Parted” by George Gordon (Lord) Byron
  12. "When we two parted / In silence and tears” from “When We Two Parted” by George Gordon (Lord) Byron)


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Prompt #200 - What Does a Poem Need?


This week prompt is a follow-up to last week’s and all those wonderful poet-tips. 

So ... let's stay in revise/edit mode and begin by taking a look at a few ideas of what a poem needs to be a poem.

For starters, a poem needs
  1.  to be fresh and to have a dynamic sense of language;
  2.  to have a strong emotional center;
  3.  to engage readers, to be accessible;
  4. to require every one of its words—no more, no less;
  5. to avoid preachiness and sentimentality;
  6.  to steer clear of abstractions (to show, not tell);
  7.  to be clear even when complex;
  8.  to create an integrated whole of meaning, language, and form;
  9.  to startle, to connect even the unseen dots, to reveal;
  10.  to employ craft effectively and attend to the mechanics of verse while using the head as much as the heart;
  11. to have more than a single subject (the obvious, yes, but at least one other suggested and inherent);
  12. to “speak” with the ownership of the poet—both the poem and its contents, its emotional core, and its voice (the page may be silent, but readers must hear the poet’s voice).
Guidelines:
  1. This week again, take a look at some of your previously-written poems and pick one that hasn’t quite worked for you, one that still needs “fixing."
  2. Using the checklist above, examine your poem analytically and see if it meets the criteria. If it doesn’t, ask yourself why not and work on it line-by-line to make improvements. 
Tips:
  1. Go back to last week’s prompt and review the tips noted there. 
  2. Focus on one or two of last week's tips and apply them to your poem.
  3. In the process, you may think of some tips of your own. If you do, be sure to jot them down! 
  4. Click here for some helpful editing tips from Writer's Digest.
Poem:

The Poem Wants a Drink
By Karen Glenn

In the workshop, students analyze
what each poem wants, what each one
strives to be. Well, this poem is
a layabout with limited ambitions. It wants
a drink. This poem doesn't give a damn
for rhyme or reason. It only sings
off-key. It has no rhythm
in the jukebox of its soul.
It grew up without symbols.
It doesn't know from assonance.
Give it mambo lessons, and it
still won't learn to dance. It has
not one stanza with a lyric pedigree.
It's late, and getting later, and this poem
wants a drink.
Call it gray and tired. Even call it
a cliche. This poem's lived long enough
to know exactly what it means
to say: Don't be stingy
with the whiskey, baby.
.....Yes, the night
has been a cruel one, and this poem
could use a drink.



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Prompt #199 –Tips for Fixing Your Poems


I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning,
and took out a comma.
In the afternoon I put it back again.

— Oscar Wilde
__________________________________________________

Edit: Correct, condense, or other wise modify written material.

Revise: Alter or amend already-written work to make corrections or improve.
_______________________________________

We all spend time editing and revising our poems, and I’m sure we all have certain things that we attend to as part of the usual edit-and-revise process. 

I recently read an article about famous poets whose first editors were famous poet friends. Wouldn’t it be a treat to have a noted poet-mentor who would look at every poem we write and offer expert advice on how to make out poems better? Of course, we’re not all lucky enough to have poet-editors in the way that William Wordsworth had Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the way Lord Tennyson had Arthur Hallam, and the way T. S. Eliot had Ezra Pound but, this week, we do have advice from several distinguished poet friends who were generous enough to share some of their editing and revising tips with us. 

Renée Ashley:

Compression is one of the keys to a well-tuned poem, and one easy edit for tightening is a read-through for the notoriously almost-always-deleteable relative pronoun (that, which, whom, who). If you find one in your draft, try reconfiguring the sentence without it. You’ll probably see your line become crisper, swifter, and more effective.



Laura Boss:

Recently, I've been using some of my own lines from poems I've written in the past and incorporating these lines into my newer poems. I've suggested this idea to some of my writing students who have had success using their own favorite lines from their previously written poems and incorporating them into newer work. (I don't believe in using lines from other poets in your own poems unless you credit the poet or at least use quotation marks to show the words are not your own; using your own previously-written lines eliminates the need for acknowledgments.)



Robert Carnevale:

Take all the punctuation out of the poem and put it away without reading it in this state. When you take the poem out again, look for places where the absence of punctuation adds a new meaning or makes the meaning ambiguous. Consider the possibility that the new or ambiguous meaning might be the true-to-life one. Look for places where the absence of punctuation alters the rhythm or makes it ambiguous. Likewise, the tone. Stay open each time to the possibility that the change brings the poem closer to life or enlivens it some other way. Finally, restore just the punctuation marks that have passed this test and still seem to you gains for the poem.



Barbara Crooker:

“Sometimes, you have to kill the little darlings.” I’ve seen this quote attributed to Seamus Heaney, but I’ve also seen it attributed to numerous other writers. At any rate, it’s good advice—sometimes, you have to delete lines you absolutely love in order to make a good poem better.  Something I’ve found that helps me do this is to save cut lines and cut images that I still really like. I then try and use them to help jumpstart new poems.



Catherine Doty:

When I’m blundering about in a narrative and find that I’m sticking too close to the truth, whining, or beating to further death the horse of some watery epiphany, I summon the voice of a mentor—someone whose work I greatly admire. Would Thomas Lux say this, I ask myself, would Renee Ashley let something this overstated out of the corral? Sometimes it snaps me in the right direction, sometimes it just helps me toss what needs to go, even if I’m not sure what will replace it. 



Gail Fishman Gerwin:

Print out your poem(s). Take them to a quiet place, away from your computer. Pretend you are someone else: an editor, contest judge, respected mentor. Read the poems aloud as if you were an audience and look for cadence while observing unnecessary details: words that halt the movement, detours meaningful only to you, punctuation, overkill. Make your changes, repeat the process, and see how the work looks and sounds. 



Penny Harter:

I write mostly on the computer these days, print a couple of drafts, read them out loud to myself, make some edits by hand, go back into the computer to make those changes, and THEN find myself making even more. I also let a poem sit a day or two and revisit it to see whether I need to make further edits. One thing in particular I like to do is vary line lengths to see what works best, evaluating whether I want all the stanzas the same number of lines, or different, and also whether a longer or shorter line works both for content and sound.



Diane Lockward:

Finding the right form for your poem is best left for late-stage revising. Let’s say you have a single stanza of twenty lines. You like the way it looks and reads. But before you mark it Done, explore the possibility of alternative form arrangements. Divide your single stanza into four 5-line stanzas. Live with that for a while. Then try five 4-line stanzas. Now break those 4-line stanzas into 2-line stanzas. How about 3-line stanzas? This strategy often exposes the poem’s flaws—a weak line, a redundant line, a spot where something is missing. And eventually, you’ll uncover your poem’s true form.



Priscilla Orr:

Poems that drive me a bit crazy are poems where the speaker says what the person being addressed already knows. You once said…, or when we walked here. This is deadening to a poem. Instead, start after that moment, or argue with the person (even if they’re dead). Keep drafting until your poem takes a turn and you discover where it really wants to go. One thing that helps me is to move back and forth in time, so that the dialogue goes beyond what has already been said. 



Bob Rosenbloom:

Even with a couple of revisions, hearing yourself read a poem aloud helps. Reading to an audience is like airing a poem out and helps me hear how the poem might/should sound, so I often read drafted poems at open mics. If you edit as you read, which I do, you’ll discover better phrasing. Also, talk the poem out. What are you trying to say with the poem? Do you say what you meant? Talking the poem out with another poet, or even non-poet friend, who doesn’t mind listening to you often helps.



Charles Simic:

Remember, a poem is a time machine you are constructing, a vehicle that will allow someone to travel in their own mind, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while to get all its engine parts properly working.



Matthew Thorburn:

An early draft of a poem often takes a couple lines to rev up to full speed—and likewise it may drift along for a few extra lines at the end. When revising, take a close look at your opening and closing. Would the poem be stronger if you cut lines 1-2 and start with line 3? Could you delete those last three lines for a more surprising ending? Try folding the page over at the top or the bottom and see how it changes your poem. Your poem may actually be shorter than you thought.



Michael T. Young:

Sometimes a poem feels clunky, it’s just hitting some wrong notes no matter how much I revise.  I rework the poem but as a prose poem. I give myself the breathing space to write anything that comes without the restrictions of stanza and line breaks. Then I rework it again to find the stanza and line breaks after having found the images and diction necessary to the material. Giving myself that freedom helps find the movement needed to hit all the right notes in the final poem.

  

… and one from me with a quote from Mark Twain (’cause no one else mentioned how pesky adjectives can be).

Adjectives are descriptors and, in general they lack the power of nouns and verbs. Often, adjectives are just spectators at a prizefight, the real power and punch come through nouns and verbs. In fact, adjectives sometimes duplicate the meaning of the nouns they describe and are therefore redundant. Too many adjectives can ruin an otherwise good poem. So, as Mark Twain wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.”


Guidelines & Additional Tips:

1. The activity for this week is to revise and edit one or more of your already-written poems using the tips provided above to help jumpstart the process. 

2. Look at each of the poems with which you choose to work this week and identify a phrase, sentence, or line that represents the poem’s emotional center. What have you included (and should delete) in your poem that’s really meaningless in relation to the poem’s emotional core?

3. Don’t lose sight of the whole poem while editing the particular.  As you prune your poems, make sure that every word, every, phrase, clause, and sentence is necessary.

4. We all know what we mean when we translate thought into written language, but what we actually write on the page isn’t necessarily what we intended (and that includes the typos we don’t see precisely because we “see” what we intended and not what we typed). Be sure to “listen” to whatever spell checking program you have on your computer (they’re not always right, but a heads-up here and there can be a good thing.

5. Keep a copy of your originals and compare them, line-by-line, with your edited versions.


And ... here's a related poem by Wendy Rosenberg for you to enjoy.  


Renovation
By Wendy Rosenberg

To renovate a poem
gut your kitchen first,
then sit in the middle of
the rubble and imagine
words climbing a trellis
outside the window.
Notice which words fall
to the ground when the
winds change. Invite a few
inside to light up the dark corners. 
Let the boldest ones paint a
fresh coat of phrases over dull walls.
If your poem still needs a
shelf to house some sadness,
leave the doors off.


William Butler Yeats wrote, “A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,  / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.”




Saturday, August 30, 2014

Prompt #198 – Poeming the Blues




While recently listening to B. B. King, it occurred to me that blues lyrics are akin to poetry in many ways and have, in fact, lead to a type of poetry known as “blues poems.” Such poems embrace subjects that include resilience, strength in the face of hardship, oppression, and human sorrows.

















According to Poets.org,

“One of the most popular forms of American poetry, the blues poem stems from the African American oral tradition and the musical tradition of the blues. A blues poem typically takes on themes such as struggle, despair, and sex. It often (but not necessarily) follows a form, in which a statement is made in the first line, a variation is given in the second line, and an ironic alternative is declared in the third line.”

One of the first poets to think in terms of blues poems was Langston Hughes, who first heard the blues played by a blind orchestra in Kansas City; he was eleven years old at the time. When he moved to the East in 1921, he heard the blues again and later wrote of it in his autobiography (The Big Sea), “I tried to write poems like the songs they sang on 7th street.” According to Hughes, those songs “had the pulse beat of a people who kept on going.”

This week, let’s give blues poems a try.

Guidelines:

1. Listen to a few good blues tunes (YouTube is a good online source), and get a sense of what typical blues lyrics are.

2. Blues lyrics are typically twelve bars, and focus on pain, suffering, subjugation, sadness, or loss. A typical blues poem stanza contains three lines. For this poem, you may have as many three-line stanzas as you wish.

3. While blues poems originally highlighted African-American troubles, the blues sensibility can be applied to tragedies and wrongs of many kinds.

4. Begin by making a list of blues-worthy subjects in your own life or in the general world today.

5. Choose an item from your list and compose your poem.

6. Keep in mind that blues poems often have a kind of heartbeat rhythm, ta, dum, ta dum, ta dum, ta dum—like the iamb in formal poetry.

Tips:

1. Anything “bluesy” carries with it both lyrical and rhythmical suggestions. Work on incorporating a blues-type rhythm in your poem. See # 6 above.

2. Considering the Poets.org definition, begin with a structure that starts with a first-line declarative sentence, repeat that sentence or give a variation of it in the second line, and use that sentence to begin a third line that expands on the first two. The intention is to express an emotion. For example:

I couldn’t believe he/she was gone.
I couldn’t believe he/she was gone.
I couldn’t believe he/she was gone, and I was left with nothing.

and this from Lead Belly's “Good Morning Blues”:

Good morning blues. How do you do?
Good morning blues. How do you do?
I’m doing all right. Good morning. How are you?

3. Don’t be afraid of repetition. Just be sure to expand in the third line of each stanza. 

4. Continue to build your poem using this structure (understanding that changes may be made when you begin to edit and tweak). In each new stanza, the problem may become larger and your explanation more detailed.

5. Include some metaphors or other figures of speech.

Examples: