Saturday, March 28, 2015

Prompt #221 – Dazzling Dismounts


Have you ever read a poem that fell flat at the end? A poem, perhaps, that failed to come to closure in a memorable way? In my workshop groups, I always encourage participants to “dismount” with a punch. That is, to conclude their poems with something powerful, stunning, remarkable. This isn’t about simply “summing up” or coming up with a clever ending. This is about more than simply not letting a poem slip through a crack in your keyboard—it's about creating a poem that looks for and finds a substantial way out—what I call a “dazzling dismount.”

Take a look at these last lines by famous poets. What is it about them that makes them memorable? What ineffable quality do they possess? 

This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper.
—T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.
—W B Yeats, “The Song of Wandering Aengus” 

I only know that summer sang in me A little while, that in me sings no more.
—Edna St Vincent Millay, “Sonnet” 

Better by far you should forget and smile Than that you should remember and be sad.
—Christina Rossetti, “Remember” 

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted ­– nevermore!
—Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven” 

If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
—William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 116” 

I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.
—Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken” 

What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
—William Blake, “The Tyger” 

Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music – do I wake or sleep?
—John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale” 

And then my heart with pleasure fills And dances with the daffodils.
—William Wordsworth, “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” 

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
—William Ernest Henley, “Invictus” 

For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.
—Seamus Heaney, “St. Kevin and the Blackbird” 

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.
—Mary Oliver, “Breakage”

This week, the challenge is to write a poem starting with the last line. I know this sounds contrived, and perhaps it is, but remember that this is an exercise to be used in working toward the goal of writing a good poem. Several poets I know agree that there are times when a last line “appears” before any other part of the poem, and it is from those lines that their poems develop.

Guidelines:

First, “play” with some last-line ideas—just think up what might be great last lines. Write them down.

Then, think up some first lines. These first two steps will give your poem its “bookends.”

Next ... think, think, think ... and write the body of the poem.

Finally, read and revise. Make changes. Toss lines and phrases, even the first and last lines if you come up with better ideas.

Tips (dos and don’ts):

Don’t: End with a moral.

Don’t: Close with an “I’m going to tell you what this poem is about” ending.

Don’t: Go with an expected outcome (especially in a narrative poem). Shake up your readers’ expectations.

Don’t: Use up all the air in your poem on the last couple of lines—leave the reader room to breathe.

Don’t: Undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.

Don’t: Conclude with a sentimental or emotional statement (both sentiment and emotion may be heartfelt but, when they’re blatantly stated, they can detract from the power of your poem).

Don’t: Close the door on your poem; leave it slightly ajar.

Do: Link the end of the poem to the beginning but not overtly—and don’t over-write.

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

Do: 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).

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

Do: Resist the urge to apologize (or to even suggest apology).

Do: Leave your reader something to reflect upon.

Do: Point toward something broader than the body of the poem.

Do: Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”

Extension:

Go back to some of your already-written poems and check out their dismounts. Are there some that might be better? If so, try working on them!


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wonderful News!


When I started this blog, I promised myself that it wouldn't be an "about-me" blog, and I've tried to keep that promise. This week, however, I'm excited to share some really special news with you in lieu of a prompt or guest blogger post.

My new book, A Lightness, A Thirst, Or Nothing At All, is now ready for immediate shipment (at a generous discount) via Amazon.com.

 

Trailer



If you haven't already ordered a copy,
I very much hope you will (and thank you in advance for your support)!
  

CLICK HERE TO ORDER


(You may also place an order through your favorite bookseller.)
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From the Publisher's Press Release


"Welcome Rain Publishers (www.welcomerain.com) is pleased to announce publication of A Lightness, A Thirst, Or Nothing At All by Adele Kenny, a collection of 53 prose poems. Prose poems, which are arranged in short paragraphs rather than in lines, include deliberate fragments, the language of dreams, and an occasional nod to the surreal. Kenny combines these techniques with her signature elements of striking imagery and compelling immediacy to inform an enhanced view of the ways in which the interior life intersects with the outside world. These poems startle, surprise, and tell us things about ourselves that we didn't know."
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About the Book


"A gorgeous, deeply pondered work of art. I love it."
             
          —Renée Ashley, Poetry Editor of The Literary Review

"In language so subtly pitched, paced and modulated it captures our attention without drawing attention to itself, Kenny draws us into discovering that what never changes is all around us in the ever-changing world, that one is only approachable, knowable, bearable through the other.  We trust her to be our guide because her vision is so unwavering."

          —Martin J. Farawell, Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival Director

"Talk about channeling! Here reborn is Emily Dickinson, replete with the mystery, the haunting spirituality, and the metaphysical imagery. Adele, more than any other contemporary poet, balances all these elements so well, though with a touch far more personal than Dickinson’s." 
                             
          —Charles DeFanti, Author of The Wages of Expectation

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Sample Poems


Click Here for Video Remix of "Twilight and What There Is" (Video and Reading by Nic Sebastian)


WHAT YOU KNOW

A stray dog laps the moon from a broken flowerpot. Silk hydrangeas bloom against the fence. A heron stands on the clothesline—bluer than blue—perched where (sky, earth) edges converge.

On the wall, the painting of a clock ticks, hands painted in at three forty-seven. She takes a wax apple from the bowl and peels it with a silver fruit knife. Sugared bread dries on the table. Across the room, a dimensional window masquerades as persuasion. If you believe it, it is.


WHAT CALLS YOU

Back then, I wasn’t sure what calling meant. I thought something mystical—God’s hand on my arm, a divine voice speaking my name. Instead, I discovered the colors of cyclamen, how even the meanest weeds burst into bloom.

It works like this—among the books and fires—grace comes disguised as the winter finch, its beak in the seed; the twilight opossum that feeds on scraps—her babies born beneath my neighbor’s shed. Every day, I learn what love is: the finches, the opossum, the child with Down Syndrome who asked, Can I hug you a hundred times?

Whatever idea I had of myself turns on this: what lives on breath is spirit. I discover the power of simple places—silence—the desire to become nothing.

  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Prompt #220 – Limericks


With St. Patrick's Day coming up this Tuesday, I thought it might be fun to work with a form of poetry that's associated with the Irish.

The limerick is a quintessentially Irish form of poetry. Humorous, and sometimes naughty (even downright bawdy), limericks contain three long and two short lines that rhyme in a pattern of a,a,b,b,a. The oldest limerick (format) on record (thirteenth century) is one in Latin written by Thomas Aquinas in the form of a prayer:

             Sit vitiorum meorum evacuatio
            Concupiscentae et libidinis exterminatio,
            Caritatis et patientiae,
            Humilitatis et obedientiae,
            Omniumque virtutum augmentatio

During the eighteenth century limericks appeared in Mother Goose’s Melodies, but was most widely popularized by Edward Lear in his 1846 Book of Nonsense; however, Lear didn’t use the term Limerick. Here’s an example from Lear’s book:

          There was an Old Man with a beard,
          Who said, “It is just as I feared!
          Two Owls and a Hen,
          Four Larks and a Wren,
          Have all built their nests in my beard!”

Other poets who wrote limericks include Lord Alfred Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Guidelines & Tips:

Remember that limericks are typically humorous—have fun writing one or more this week.

Pick a topic and write your limerick using the typical pattern:

The first, second and fifth lines rhyme with each other and have the same number of syllables (typically 8).

The third and fourth lines rhyme with each other and have the same number of syllables (typically 5)

The fifth line either repeats the first line or rhymes with it.

Limericks have an anapestic rhythm that’s created through accented and unaccented syllables. The pattern is illustrated below with dashes for weak syllables, and back-slashes for stressed syllables:

 - / - - / - - /
 - / - - / - - /
 - / - - /
 - / - - /
 - / - - / - - /

Examples: 
Click Here for Limerick Examples



Saturday, March 7, 2015

Prompt #219 – A Piece of Your Mind


When most people think about poetry, they think in terms of beautiful expressions. For the uninitiated,  that usually means the stuff of spring days and flowers, love and loveliness. However, some of the most compelling poetry goes in an entirely different direction. Enter the “rant poem.” Rant poems offer poets opportunities to metaphorically stamp their feet, throw things out the window, and tell people off. Rant poems enable their writers to “let off steam” and walk away feeling good. In a rant poem, you can:

  • Complain
  • Criticize
  • Argue
  • Denounce
  • Engage in a Verbal Tirade
  • Spit Nails
  • Tell Someone What You Really Think of Him or Her
  • Tell Yourself Off for Something You’ve Done and Regret

Guidelines:

1. Pick a subject that really annoys, angers, provokes, or upsets you (something personal, something in the news, something about other people’s behaviors, etc).

2. Free write about that subject for several minutes. In this part of the process, don’t “pull your punches.”

3. Take a look at what you’ve written, and decide on the tone or “feeling” you want to highlight in your poem.

4. Think about what you want your readers to understand in your poem. In other words, what's the point of your rant?

5. Think about how you want to rant (using humor, vehemently, using sarcasm).

6. Go back to your free write and pick the details that will be a good fit for the tone or mood you want to create. Use language with “muscle.”

7. Begin writing using the details you selected from your free write, but don't be afraid to move in other directions as well.
8. Conclude with a real punch (a statement that beings your rant to closure in a unique and powerful way).

Tips:

1. Imagine yourself reading your poem aloud to an audience, then look at your poem and determine whether or not the emotion you want to convey comes through written language as well as it would if you were to read the poem aloud. Revise accordingly.

2. Punctuate purposefully. Use commas, dashes, and other punctuation marks to emphasize important parts of your rant.

3. Use adjectives sparingly. Remember that too many adjectives can be your worst enemy: most often the concept is already made clear in the noun.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Wonder of Workshops by Guest Blogger Basil Rouskas



Have you ever attended a poetry workshop? Many poets, novice and experienced alike, find that attending workshops can be rewarding. 

Not all poetry workshops are created equally, and it’s always a good idea to do some research before enrolling and paying fees. A good poetry workshop, one worth your investment of time and money should:

1. Help you discover your writing strengths and weaknesses.

2. Provide you with practical suggestions (and, if applicable, non-judgmental critiques) for improving your writing, along with prompts and other motivational and generative resources.

3. Present opportunities for sharing your passion for poetry with other poets.

For this week’s guest blog, I invited Basil Rouskas, a long-time member of the poetry group I conduct to share some of his impressions of workshops and how they’ve been helpful to him. Some of you may be familiar with Basil’s work: for the past few years, he has written a poem a day throughout April (National Poetry Month here in the US) and has posted his poems as comments. (Our workshop, by the way, is in its tenth year, and I’m so proud of our members, all of whom have published numerous poems in journals and anthologies, have won awards, and have had books published.)

Basil Rouskas has been writing poetry for over 30 years. His first poems were written in his native Greek and were protests against the military junta that took over Greece and ruled it until the mid 1970’s. He translated literature and theater during his first years in the US, and gradually his poetry became bilingual. He currently writes mainly in English. He is the author of two books, Redrawing Borders and Blue Heron on Black River. A third book, The Window That Faces South, was quarter finalist in the third (2014) Mary Ballard poetry Chapbook Prize by Casey Shay Press. Basil’s poetry has appeared in numerous venues, including the New York Times, Princeton Public Library Podcast, Helix Magazine, Shot Glass Journal, and Tiferet. In addition to being a poet, Basil is a management consultant, coach, mentor, advisor and expert in executive development. He is the co-founder of NovAspire and has taught at several institutions of higher learning. He has been a lecturer, consultant and leadership development instructor since 1993 at the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management (MBA) at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

From Basil Rouskas

What I have found through ten years of sharing with the Westfield Poetry Group is easy to articulate: special people—both colleagues and coach. What that means is encouragement, inspiration, honest feedback, resources, books, and tips. (Oh, along the way we dissect poems and suggest things to each other. All of a sudden (over a period of years) we realize that along the way we become better at the writing “craft” as well.)

Specific Things that Evolve through Workshop Experiences:

       You discover your natural preferences for the poetry writing process. I prefer to first write out long hand in a notebook that I reserve for poetry only. Then I enter the draft into my computer’s word processing program

       You develop strategies for “hearing” your own work. I read all lines aloud when I write them

       You learn to evaluate sound in your own poems. When my ear is not happy with the sound of a word, I refer to an online thesaurus and substitute the word with many candidates. I then reread the draft again using each option until I find the one that works best.

       You develop systems for organizing your work. I file my poems so I can sort them out by date of creation or alphabetize by title

Note: I have a drop box account and save my poetry chronologically (for details, visit www.dropbox.com and establish an account. It is free.) One of the benefits of Dropbox.com,  is that when I revise a poem, I automatically see it updated on my iPhone, where I also have Dropbox installed. This way I have my poetry always portable and I have an instant copy of  it on my regular desktop computer at home, without any extra effort.

Some Things I’ve Learned:

1. When I want to bring up the “energy” of a poem, I switch it into the present tense and read it aloud. If I like it, I commit to the new tense.

2. I don’t read poems at workshops or public readings that I have not revisited at least three times.

3. I avoid predictability like the plague. If a poem takes me down that path, I abandon it.

4. I read and mark (or copy) intriguing or touching stories from digital newspapers to use for inspiration.

5. I always read my “works in progress” and ask myself how I might make improvements. (For example, how necessary are all my adverbs, adjectives, and articles?)

6. I mark websites or URLs that contain rich language; I find they are great for kick starting a poem.

7. I visit and mark good Blogsites that offer prompts and craft tips. My favorite of these is right here (The Music In It).

8. At times I read foreign language websites, and I get inspiration from the sounds of foreign words I don’t understand. In doing so, if something intrigues me, I use Google translator to see if the meaning of the poem/song still interests me. I then put something on paper and revisit it within a couple of weeks.

9. I’ve learned to edit, edit and re-edit. And when I am editing, editing and re-editing, I cut, cut and re-cut. I’ve learned not to fear that I might “toss out and lose inspiration for ever.”

10. I’ve also learned not to push myself when the muse wants some time off on her own. We sometimes take a sabbatical from each other. We travel separately. When we see each other again, good things happen.

11. I read poets who are on the same wavelength and find that their work does miracles for my own new material. Some of my same wavelength poets are: George Seferis, Odysseus Elytis, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Yehuda Amichai, Czeslaw Milosz, and Wislawa Szymborska.

12. As an editing exercise, I translate into English poems from (my native) Greek, when I don’t have direct inspiration in English.

I realize I have been sharing a lengthy list here. If you ask me to condense it down to only three,  that have helped me the most, I would include:

A)  Form a community of honest competent poets and learn from them. Like other arts, your poetry stands on the shoulders of others’ work, book recommendations and balanced feedback.
B)  It is human to want to be published and share our work with the world, but I try to not lose  my “voice” just to make it more publishable.
C)  Cut, cut and re-cut (counts for only one word !)


PS. Here is an exercise you may try: Start with a poem that you have been struggling to complete. Decide arbitrarily a percentage    perhaps 30% — of words that you want to eliminate. Cut enough words to reach your goal. Every word processor has a “word count” feature. Once you’ve reached your goal, is the poem closer to where you want it to be? If yes, great. If no, cut more or consider “tossing” the current version. (Sometimes I find tossing a big relief from a thankless struggle. BUT … be sure to save and “re-use” lines and images for future poems.)
Thank you, Basil!