Saturday, January 11, 2020

Thoughts on a Poet's True Success by Guest Blogger Michael T. Young

Michael T. Young and His Family           L-R: Malia, Chandra, Ariel, Mike
 
Have you ever thought about what makes you feel successful as a poet? For many, getting poems and books published is the ultimate litmus test for success. But is it really? 

I recently had the pleasure of reading a “poetry meditation” by my dear friend and fellow poet, Michael T. Young. His thoughts on the true measure of a poet’s success really resonated for me, and I thought they would be a great way to begin a new year on the blog—a great way to gain perspective on what is, and what should be, important to us as writers. Many thanks to Michael for his generous sharing.
 
Thoughts on a Poet's True Success

By Michael T. Young

Some thoughts for my fellow poets as we strive to publish our work: It can sometimes be discouraging when we get many rejections. So it’s important to keep a good perspective on where the actual success lies. Everything that comes after successfully writing the poem is not an achievement but a form of recognition of the achievement. That is the case with everything from acceptance for publication to winning a prize. Those forms of recognition are good, I might even say important, because they encourage us and allow us to be part of a larger conversation and community. In that recognition of the achievement, our judgment and achievement feel confirmed. But it is important to locate the actual success correctly, so we don’t mistake the trappings of recognition for the goal. When that happens, poets put more energy into marketing strategies and promoting their name and treat their work as a commodity, rather than focusing on the never-ending struggle to refine the work and achieve their vision and voice as a poet. Those poets might be more published but that doesn’t make them more successful. This is, in fact, why there is poor writing widely published. We live in a consumer culture and those market forces distort nearly every aspect of our society. Emily Dickinson was successful because she wrote visionary poetry and that took all her energy and focus. She didn’t spend time networking or building a platform. I’m not saying don’t publish and I’m not saying avoid wanting to publish, I’m saying: just remember where the actual achievement lies as you strive to publish.

About Michael T. Young

Michael T. Young's third full-length poetry collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was longlisted for the Julie Suk Award. His other two collections are The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award from the New England Poetry Club. Michael has also received a poetry fellowship from the New Jersey State Arts Council, a William Stafford Award, and the Chaffin Poetry Award. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous print and online journals.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year!



Happy New Year, dear blog readers! 
May the coming year will bring you good health, 
much happiness, 
and all the things you cherish and love!





Saturday, December 21, 2019

Prompt 346 – Happy Holidays



For many years, I've revisited the story of Virginia O'Hanlon and her letter to the editor of the Sun at some point during this time of year, and I'm happy to revisit it with you again here on the blog. It's one of those magical Christmas stories that never fails to warm my heart. There are several prompts for poems that follow, as well as a letter written by Mark Twain to his daughter.

Over a hundred years ago, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial on Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps. I've read Virginia's letter and Francis Church's reply every year during December for many years. I hope it will touch your heart as much as it always touches mine.

The Editorial

    DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
    Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
    Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
    Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

    VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
    115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

    VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

    Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

    Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

    You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

    No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


_______________________________________________

The first poem I ever had published was a letter to Santa that I wrote in December of 1956 (I had just turned 8 years old and still believed in Santa Claus). My poem was published in the Grover Cleveland Elementary School newspaper. Happily, my mom saved all those early writings, and I have an original copy of the newspaper.

Your prompt for this week is to write a letter to Santa in which you list the things that you wish for. These needn’t be material things! You may also consider writing about what you believe or need to believe.

Suggestions:

1. Think in terms of non-material gifts you’d like to receive. (For example: spiritual well-being, healing from (and cures for) illnesses, an end to homelessness and hunger, peace in the world.)

2. Think about your family members and friends. What would you most like for them?

3. Is there a relationship in your life that needs healing? What would you ask for in terms of that relationship?

4. What about our world? What would you ask for?

5. Is there something you want or need to believe? How would you ask for that belief?

Tips:

1. Observe the usual caveats: avoid the passive voice, eliminate “ing” endings wherever you can, don’t use too many adjectives.

2. Use more one-syllable words than multi-syllable words in your last couple of lines (think in terms of strong verbs and no superfluous language).

3. Try (minimal) repetition from another part of the poem—sometimes this can work very well.

4. Try to link the end of your poem to the beginning but not overtly—and don’t over-write.

5.  Write beyond the last line, then go back and find the last line hidden in what you’ve written.

6. Leave your reader something to reflect upon.

7. Point toward something broader than the obvious content of your poem.

8. You may want to try a prose poem  or to use letter format. Here's a letter from Santa Claus that Mark Twain wrote for his daughter Susie:

 
Mark Twain's Letter from Santa Claus
Written for His Daughter Susie


Palace of St. Nicholas
In the Moon
Christmas Morning

MY DEAR SUSIE CLEMENS:

I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you little people have written me with your own hands--for although you did not use any characters that are in grown peoples' alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as all my subjects in the moon are children and use no character but that, you will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister's jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters—I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself—and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well trained, nice mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw. But in the letter which you dictated there were some words which I could not make out for certain, and one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock. Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star away up, in the cold country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say: "Little Snow Flake," (for that is the child's name) "I'm glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I." That is, you must write that, with your own hand, and Snow Flake will write you an answer. If you only spoke it she wouldn't hear you. Make your letter light and thin, for the distance is great and the postage very heavy.

There was a word or two in your mama's letter which I couldn't be certain of. I took it to be "a trunk full of doll's clothes." Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o'clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to open the door. Then he must go back to the dining room or the china closet and take the cook with him. You must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak—otherwise he will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse's bed and put your car to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, "Welcome, Santa Claus!" Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say "Good-by and a merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens," you must say "Good-by, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell that little Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here—I will be right in the west bay window; and every fine night I will look at her star and say, 'I know somebody up there and like her, too.' " Then you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall—if it is a trunk you want—because I couldn't get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know.

People may talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not hear my footsteps at all—so you may go now and then and peep through the dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right under the piano in the drawing room-for I shall put it there. If I should leave any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven't time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag—else he will die someday. You must watch George and not let him run into danger. If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl. Whenever you are naughty and somebody points to that mark which your good old Santa Claus's boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?

Good-by for a few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen doorbell.

Your loving SANTA CLAUS
Whom people sometimes call "The Man in the Moon"




Chaucey and I wish all of you happy, healthy holidays 
and the best blessings of this festive season. 
May the coming year bring you good health, 
much happiness, and all the things that you love! 
I’ll resume posting in January 2020! 
In the meantime, celebrate the season!





Saturday, December 14, 2019

My New Book!





Dear Blog Readers,

Forgive me for shamelessly prompting my new book, but I'm so happy to share the news that it's been published! Wind Over Stones is a collection of prose poems based on various artists' paintings, and my publisher (John Weber, owner of Welcome Rain Publishing) has included QR codes so that readers can look at the paintings online while they're reading. I hope you'll consider buying a copy for yourself or for holiday giving. 

To order via Amazon, click on the link below:

To order through Barnes & Noble:


I wish you every blessing of this special season—good health, peace, and joy,
Adele
 ______________________________________________________

Wind Over Stones
Welcome Rain Publishers, LLC
New York, NY

ISBN-10: 1-56649-405-2

$10.00
Paperback, 90 Pages

Publication Date: December 5, 2019

About the Book:

The ekphrastic prose poems in this collection were inspired by various artists’ paintings. A unique feature of the book is the inclusion QR codes for each of the paintings. Using their smart phones or mobile devices and a free QR code scanning application, readers can view the paintings while they are reading the poems.

From the Back Cover:

These prose poems continue Adele Kenny's reflections on the spiritual condition of being. Despite loss and change, she looks into the dark without flinching and finds light among the shadows. Using ekphrasis as a rhetorical device and combined with Kenny's signature elements of technical proficiency, hauntingly lucid imagery, and compelling immediacy, these poems filter and record experience in startling ways as they journey across aging's inevitable arc. Hardwired by Kenny's understanding of the human spirit, these poems offer us insights into the healing power of attention and awareness.
_____________________________________________________
 
"Compressed and brilliant in their philosophical and imagistic scintillations, the prose poems in Adele Kenny’s Wind Over Stones are of one piece in both voice and intensity of gaze. Through each artwork she has chosen as her lens, she seems to be saying, If we look hard enough and long enough, and with just the right slant of light, we can see through these paintings into ourselves. Her vision embodies, without presumption, the knowledge that, as John Muir told us, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Kenny tells us, This kind of purity comes to us without intention—in ordinary things that are anything but ordinary….” She paints it for us herself: “A flurry of bats becomes the Milky Way, and we make no pretense of understanding the infinite (deep inside us), our need to become nothing before we unname ourselves and disappear.” Everything is connected, and through the language of fairytale, examination, and prayer—the same language, after all—each of Kenny’s poems is a gem in a garland of gems."

—Renée Ashley









Saturday, November 30, 2019

Prompt #345 – Winter Holiday Poems



What is it about a winter holiday poem that can touch us so deeply? Did you know that Nobel Laureate, Russian poet Joseph Brodsky was so taken with Christmas that he wrote a Christmas poem every year (now collected in his book Nativity Poems, https://www.amazon.com/Nativity-Poems-Bilingual-Joseph-Brodsky/dp/0374528578)?

Here’s an example:

Star of the Nativity
          By Joseph Brodsky (December 1987)

In the cold season, in a locality accustomed to heat more than
to cold, to horizontality more than to a mountain,
a child was born in a cave in order to save the world;
it blew as only in deserts in winter it blows, athwart.

To Him, all things seemed enormous: His mother’s breast, the steam
out of the ox’s nostrils, Caspar, Balthazar, Melchior—the team
of Magi, their presents heaped by the door, ajar.
He was but a dot, and a dot was the star.

Keenly, without blinking, through pallid, stray
clouds, upon the child in the manger, from far away—
from the depth of the universe, from its opposite end—the star
was looking into the cave. And that was the Father’s stare.


Holiday poems and stories have an lasting appeal, they take us back to childhood, they remember things not always present in our minds, and they can make us laugh or cry. Most of you are familiar with Charles Dickens’s story about Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. For this prompt, we’re going to do some variations on the past, present, and future theme, and you’ll need to think about your past, present, and future Christmases, Chanukahs, Kwanzaas, or other annual winter-season celebrations.

And here’s one of my all-time favorite winter holiday poems, written by my late friend and fellow poet, Gail Gerwin (from her book Dear Kinfolk):


Are We Done Yet?
          By Gail Fishman Gerwin

When my daughter was four
we lit the Chanukah candles
on the wedding-present menorah
atop the Lane record cabinet,
our first purchase as a married couple.

In our new home we could peer
out the window at the house below,
where the Todds’ Christmas tree
in their den blazed lights of every
color, reflected by glossy ornaments,
all leading to a star on top that seemed
to descend directly from Heaven.

We chanted our prayers,

Barukh atah Adonai,
Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam,

allowed Karen to hold the
shamash, the service candle,
for her first time, hustled Katey
to the other side of the room
lest she set her pajamas aflame.

Our ritual complete, we gifted
the girls—a doll, a book, a toy
schoolhouse—sang songs
from preschool (only a hundred
sixty-four dollars for an entire year,
reads the bill I unearthed in the
basement as I rummaged through
that crowded cavern where we
store our past).

Dinner, I told everyone, the greasy
latkes already burning at the edges
as they sat in oil on the new gold
General Electric range.

Wait, Mommy, I have a question,
Karen said, what’s that in the window
over there? It’s a Christmas tree, I told her.

Why don’t we have a Christmas tree?
Because we’re Jewish, I said. She wanted

to know then, before eating brisket
cut into small pieces so she wouldn’t
choke, before crunching the latkes,
now on the edge of soggy,

When will we be finished being Jewish?

Suggestions:

1. Write about a holiday about your past (dig deeply into family memories).
2. Write a poem in which you compare winter holidays of the past, present, and/or future.
3. Write about seasonal ghosts that haunt you.
4. Write about people from your past who are no longer with you and how that impacts your present holiday season; or, write about one special person with whom you always associate the winter holidays.
5. Write about aspects of winter holiday traditions that remain part of your annual celebrations.
6. Write about the faith and/or cultural aspects of your winter holidays.
7. Write about one unforgettable winter holiday.
8. Write about holiday food treats and how they sweeten your memories.
9. Write about a holiday song that replays in your mind because of its associations (or, write your own words to a Christmas carol or other winter holiday song).
10. Write a poem based on an old Christmas, Chanukah, or other winter holiday photograph
11. Write about a historical holiday-time event.
12. Write about a winter holiday yet to come. You might consider a fantasy poem with a futuristic sensibility.

Tips:

1. Keep in mind that holiday literature can be tricky—be sure to sidestep the pitfalls of sentimentality, schmaltziness, nostalgia, and clichés.
2. Work toward fresh and original language, figures of speech, and an integrated whole of language, form, and meaning.
3. Be sure to show through examples and imagery—don’t simply tell.
4. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).
5. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles, conjunctions, and unnecessary adjectives too).
6. Think about your poem. What it reveals about being human? Is there a message larger than your memory or subject? How might your readers relate to your poem?

Examples:







Saturday, November 16, 2019

Prompt #344 – Gratitude is the Heart’s Memory



Here in the U.S., Thanksgiving will be celebrated on Thursday, November 28th, which just happens to be my birthday this year. I can remember how excited I was as a child when the two special days coincided. These days, I think more about the things for which I’m thankful.

Thanksgiving has a long history beginning in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is considered the first Thanksgiving celebration. That feast lasted three days and, according to attendee Edward Winslow, it was 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims participated. For over 200 years, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. In 1827, magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale began a campaign to establish thanksgiving as a national holiday. Finally, in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln set the last Thursday in November as the official day for a national Thanksgiving observance. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week, and in 1941 Roosevelt signed a bill that designated the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

In Canada, Thanksgiving (sometimes called Canadian Thanksgiving to distinguish it from the American holiday) is an annual Canadian holiday that occurs on the second Monday in October to celebrate the harvest and other blessings of the past year.

Other countries that celebrate Thanksgiving include Germany (a Harvest Thanksgiving Festival in early October), Grenada (on October 25th), Korea (in late September or early October), Japan on November 23rd), Liberia (on the first Thursday of November), and Norfolk Island located east of Australia (during the 1800s, an American trader brought the feasting tradition to Norfolk Island, and the custom has been continued).

Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Gratitude is a developmental emotion, and books have been written on the psychology of gratitude. There are times in our lives when we feel more Grinch than grateful, especially when the stresses of every day living gather momentum and all but overwhelm us. However, acknowledging and expressing our gratitude can have a beneficial effect on our lives, relationships, and work.

A French proverb tells us, “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” Our first step in writing for this prompt will be to remember—to look into our memories and to identify a single thing for which we’re especially grateful.


Guidelines:

Make a list of things for which you’re grateful.

Choose one item from the list.

Free write about the item you chose.

Review your free write and select images and details for your poem.

Draft your poem.

As you write, think about the reasons for your gratitude and show (without telling) what those feelings really mean.


Examples:

“Thanks” by W. S. Merwin

“Thanksgiving Letter from Harry” by Carl Dennis

“The Thanksgivings” by Harriet Maxwell Converse

Poems for Thanksgiving at Poets.Org



Happy Thanksgiving!




Saturday, November 2, 2019

Prompt #343 – Who's Your Muse?

 
Erato, Muse of Poetry by Sir Edward John Poynter, 1870

My Muse is fickle – she takes three-martini lunches and heads to the south of France for months at a time – which means that I don’t write as often as I’d like. My "fickle muse" has become a bit of a joke for me, but I do sometimes reflect upon where poems originate, how they develop, and what their various sources of inspiration might be. Have you ever thought about what drives you to write poems? Is there a clear moment of inspiration? Do you begin with an image or two? Does something sensory generate an idea for a poem? Is memory a deciding factor in some of your poems?

In Greek mythology, the Muses, in ancient Greek αἱ μοῦσαι (hai moũsai), were minor goddesses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, believed to inspire music, song, dance, and poetry. At some point, nine Muses were assigned to specific arts: Kalliope, epic poetry; Kleio, history; Ourania, astronomy; Thaleia, comedy; Melpomene, tragedy; Polyhymnia, religious hymns; Erato, erotic poetry; Euterpe, lyric poetry; and Terpsikhore, choral song and dance. On Mount Helicon, home to the Muses, were two sacred springs: the Aganippe and the Hippocrene. The Hippocrene spring (Ἱππου κρήνης) was considered a source of poetic inspiration (Tennyson referred to it in his poem “Ode to a Nightengale,” and Longfellow mentions it in “Goblet of Life”).

That little pre-ramble introduces an inspiration poem for this week’s prompt: William Stafford’s “When I Met My Muse.”

When I Met My Muse

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off – they were still singing. They buzzed  
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. "I am your own
way of looking at things," she said. "When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation." And I took her hand.

The key notion of this poem is one of self-awareness and our ability to express individual ways of seeing things. Stafford speaks to the importance of accepting who we most truly are. To live with your Muse, then, is to live comfortably with yourself.

Before writing, let’s “muse” this week on what inspires us. What inspires you to write poetry? What’s your Muse like? Is she ever-present or does she favor three martini lunches and long vacations in the south of France? In what kind of surroundings or landscapes do you find your Hippocrene spring? When you first started writing poetry, what inspired you? What inspires you now? Is there a person or place from which you draw inspiration? An emotion? Are you inspired by other poets? A particular poet? Is there a spiritual “place” to which you return repeatedly for inspiration?

Suggestions:
Let your musings and Stafford’s poem serve as inspiration for this week’s poem. Take the cues from your Muse and choose one of the following:

1. Write a poem about your Muse (serious or funny).

2. Write a poem about your “Hippocrene Spring” (your best source of inspiration – one to which you return often in your poems: memory, experience, faith, relationships, etc.).

3. Ray Bradbury wrote, “In a lifetime we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. These are the stuffs, the foods, on which The Muse grows.” Write a poem about the ways in which you “feed” your Muse.

4. Write a poem about living comfortably (or uncomfortably) with yourself. 

Example: 
“A Muse” by Reginald Shepherd