Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Literary Journal

A new literary journal is always exciting, and here's news of one that I'm very happy to share with you. On June 26th, I was honored to among the readers at the launch celebration/reading for a new journal called Adanna.  Founded by poet Christine Redman-Waldeyer, the journal is for and about women but is not exclusive, and male voices are welcome.

Guest edited by Diane Lockward this first issue is a beautifully produced (perfect bound, 118-page) volume that contains poetry, short stories, creative nonfiction, an essay, and a book review by writers from throughout the US and from Germany, France, Nigeria, and South Africa.

I recommend this new journal for its quality, inclusiveness, and aesthetic. Be sure to visit Adanna online for info about an upcoming poetry contest and submissions for next year's issue!  Click Here for Adanna Journal

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Poetry Prompt #59 – Poetic License

Poetic license is a term we’ve all heard and generally understand as a writer’s departure from established rules, conventional forms, facts, and logic to create a desired effect. This includes liberties with syntax, vocabulary, punctuation, and grammar. For examples, click on the links below and read a few poems by e. e. cummings – notice the infrequent use of capitals, the unusual punctuation, words that are run together or broken apart, and use of space on the page. 

Gerard Manley Hopkins also exercised poetic license through the liberties he took in inventive diction, inverted syntax, and sprung rhythm. Consider “Pied Beauty,” one of his curtal sonnets:

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

he fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

(Note: The curtal sonnet is a form that Hopkins invented in 1877. A curtal sonnet typically contains ten lines with a half line at the end; the rhyme scheme is usually abcabc dbcdc, or abcabc dcbdc.)

Poetic license may also be about the difference between “actual truth” and “emotional truth.” For example, my friend Joe Weil once wrote an amazing poem about a girl he knew in his youth. The emotional depth he achieved was profound but, in a conversation years later, he told me (and I share this with Joe's permission) that he made the girl up – she never existed in “actual truth” although she did exist as an “emotional truth.” Even knowing that the girl in the poem was not a real person, I can still read that poem and be moved by it – for me, the poem will always be about the ways we live in relationship with others and how the past informs the present. Joe’s intention was not to deceive. He did what the best poets do best: he used his imagination to create what he needed to make his point; and, interestingly, although the girl may not have existed in reality, she certainly exists for all who have read the poem. You can meet her (Sue Repeezi) in Joe’s book Painting the Christmas Trees.

Now for your poems! For this prompt, we’re going to work from a perspective of aesthetic judgments and sensibilities to experiment with poetic license as we use space in unique ways, make-up words (or create word combinations), take liberties with sentence structure, play with grammar and punctuation, and think about actual and emotional truths.

Poetic license doesn’t have to be extreme as in the works of cummings and Hopkins – a little will go a long way in enhancing your poem’s impact and power. The subject of the poem you write this week is up to you, and a good place to begin a little poetic license is to think about word combinations, made-up words that convey meaning, how to space words in a line, and inventive syntax. As you experiment, let the poem lead you – give it its head, and give it a long lead so it has room to change direction. Keep in mind that poems don’t always mean what they seem to say: there should be layers of meaning, nuances, suggestions, surprises, and things left unsaid.

An alternative prompt is to write gibberish as Lewis Carroll did in "Jabberwocky."
Exercise your poetic license and tell a story with made-up words.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Famous Authors Dissing Other Famous Authors - A Humorous Article - Enjoy!

I thought you might enjoy this article that begins, "Sigh. Authors just don't insult each other like they used to." It goes on to quote thirty hilarious author insults, including Dylan Thomas dissing Rudyard Kipling, Elizabeth Bishop dissing J. D. Salinger, and William Faulkner dissing Mark Twain. Lord Byron said of Keats, "Here are Johnny Keats’ piss-a-bed poetry, and three novels by God knows whom … No more Keats, I entreat: flay him alive; if some of you don’t I must skin him myself: there is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the Mankin.And Friedrich Nietzsche called Dante Alighieri, "A hyena that wrote poetry on tombs."

Good fun (though I don't suppose the insulted authors would agree)!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Poetry Prompt #58 – In the Rain

“A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain 
hoping to be struck by lightning.”
(James Dickey)

Spring in my corner of the pond has been especially rainy this year, but the trees and lawns are brilliantly green and the gardens are lush with blooms. Accordingly, I thought we might “stand outside in the rain" and make some “poetry lightning” this week.

Before you begin writing, be sure to read the following rain poems:

Now...  here are some questions to consider before you start to write:

How does rain make you feel?
Do rain clouds and rain make you feel melancholy?
Is there anything romantic about rain?
Does rain make you feel sleepy?
Do you love falling asleep to the sound of rain on the windows and roof? 
Does a rainy day in any season remind you of springtime?
Is there a freshness (newness, cleanness) in rain that speaks to you?
What memories does rain evoke?
How do thunder and lightning storms make you feel; what memories do they suggest?
Do you like the feeling of rain on your face?
Does hearing rain outdoors make you feel cozy indoors?
How does walking in rain make you feel?
Have you ever walked in the woods while it was raining softly?
Have you ever visited in a graveyard in rain?
How is rain like a voice behind a door?

After thinking about the above questions, and with an idea about rain in mind, begin writing your poem. Work on imagery, metaphor, and sound quality (including alliteration, assonance, and consonance). Whether you share a memory, tell a story, or simply reflect upon rain, try limiting your poem to 25 lines or less. This isn't arbitrary – compression is important – be careful not to include too many details. Let the rain in your poem speak to you, and remember that the best poems mean more than they say.

Alternatively, you may wish to substitute another “weather” and write a poem using that as your muse.

A second alternative is to use “April Rain Song” by Langston Hughes as a model for a poem of your own. 

Let the rain________
Let the rain________
Let the rain________

(Fill in the blanks and take it from there.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happy Bloomsday

Happy Bloomsday! Bloomsday celebrates the day on which James Joyce's novel Ulysses takes place in its entirety – June 16, 1904 (it is believed that this is the day Joyce first went out with his future wife Nora Barnacle). Bloomsday is named after Leopold Bloom, the main character in Ulysses.

Today, Joyceans in Dublin and throughout the world celebrate with staged Ulysses readings and other related festivities. In Dublin, the annual event isn't just celebrated on June 16 – the reveling lasts a week with Ulysses walking tours, literary-themed pub crawls, museum exhibits, commemorative Irish breakfasts and teas, and the annual Messenger Biker Rally in which people dressed in Joyce-era clothing ride old bicycles along the route that Leopold Bloom would have walked. 

Ulysses was the subject of a famous 1933 obscenity trial, but was found by a U.S. district court in New York to be a work of art. The furor over the novel made Joyce a celebrity.

I love this James Joyce quote 
(though I'm not absolutely certain that's all it takes or that it would work with poetry):

"I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the way of insuring one's immortality." (James Joyce)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Poetry Prompt #57 – Ways of Looking

Poetry is about looking – it’s about how we see and perceive things, and it's about how we translate our observations and perceptions into written language.  This week, begin "looking" by thinking about things (not feelings or people) that make you happy, inspire you, motivate you, encourage you, elevate your mood, or stir your creativity (something tangible that informs your world in a positive way).

Choose one thing and write a poem about it using the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” for inspiration.

In thirteen short, almost mystifying sections, Stevens “looks” at a blackbird with a kind of “multiplicity of seeing,” a unique “perspectivism” that challenges the imagination to look beyond the immediately observable. Look – really look – at your subject, and write beyond the obvious into deeper layers of meaning.

You may “borrow” from the Stevens title and adapt to something like “Five Ways of Looking at Hydrangeas in Bloom.” Similar is okay, just be sure to make the poem your own. Like Stevens, you may want to organize your poem in sections (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.). Try a different number, make your sections longer or shorter, but remember that each stanza should represent a different angle of “seeing.”

An alternative prompt is to write a parody of the Stevens poem. Use the same structure, but treat your subject with humor rather than with the deep philosophical and observational insights we find in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Poetry Prompt #56 - The Way Things Were

Do you miss the way things used to be? Are there yesterday-elements that you wish were still part of your life? This prompt deals with the way things were. Think about things like your childhood, your hometown, your country, the world, seasons past, school days, family life, advancements in technologies, relationships – anything "then" – and write a poem about something you miss. (Pay attention to details but be careful not to overdo.)

Sample Poems about the way things were:

1. Try to write a poem using a compare and contrast format in which you use alternate lines to weigh the past against the present. (Use "Then I" and "Now I" to start every other line; or, you might want to work with other phraseology, for example, “Back then I _______,” or “There was a time when I _____.”)

Then I ____________________

Now I ____________________

Then I ____________________

Now I ____________________

After drafting this “form” poem, you may want to edit to create something less predictable. Form poems can be great to get your engine started, but too much form can make a poem tedious. Remember that a poem can be consciously led for a while but ultimately needs to lead the poet.

2. Alternatively, you might write a list poem in which you list things from the past that you miss. Be sure to work with your list to diminish the obviousness of a simple inventory. Use some enjambments and include details. Bringing a list poem to closure can be a challenge. After creating your list, work on a “dismount” with a bit of punch.



It was all carousels and cotton candy –
long summer days, and light that lasted.
It was my mother’s voice calling me home
at the end of a day when even the dark was
friendly and warm. It was then – each hour  
long, and filled with little more than the
distant promise of (someday) growing up.

3. Another option for this prompt is to write a poem to or about someone who is no longer part of your life but who was once very important to you. You might want to start with a compare and contrast format.

We used to be ____________________,
but now ____________________ .

As with prompt option #1, be careful of predictability – draft first and then work to make the form uniquely your own.

4. And here’s one more: Are there things you might have done in the past (could have/should have) that impacted the way things are now? Write a poem about things you should have, might have, could  have done in the past.

Note: By way of sharing, please visit "East Rahway" by Adele Kenny, one of my own poems about the way things were.