Poetry, process, progress.

Category: Metadiscourse

When the Poem Goes Where You Don’t Go

When the Poem Goes Where You Don’t Go

It is day 11 of the February 30/30 Project, and I have eleven poems up at the Tupelo site. I’m feeling pretty successful, a feeling that will fade after dinner tonight when I must face the fact that I have to write a poem again and send it off before the end of the day since doing it by 8:00 AM tomorrow won’t really happen any other way. The surprising thing this time with the 30/30 is how often I’ve been faced with a draft that goes where I don’t, like today’s poem with one word I, the  non-swearer in real life, would never ever use. This is a strong reminder to me that the speaker of the poem is not the poet and has much more freedom. I tell students that, but  in my own writing, think about it more with persona poems. Today’s poem paraphrased something reprehensible said by a public figure (one guess who) and  struggled with the speaker’s need for syntactical and emotional accuracy against my need to never swear. The poem won, as it should.

I’m returning to the habitual practice of noting phrases and lines when they happen rather than trusting that they will return when I sit down to draft at the end of the day. They don’t. They really don’t. I tried using Siri in the car to take a note for a great poem title, but I didn’t phrase the command well and it didn’t work. I will get stuck like that again though and have hopes that Siri will learn what is needed. This is when fragments of poems happen–when I’m not trying and doing something else. So many pieces get lost, but by paying attention, I hope to keep more of them.

 

Subject Matters

Subject Matters

 

My Intro to Poetry students are doing thirteen poems this summer, not all of them being included in the end-of-semester portfolio, but still–I can see how the sheer number of poems could lead to anxiety. (more…)

Sometimes things happen: April and the NaBloPoMo challenge

Sometimes things happen: April and the NaBloPoMo challenge

It is hard to predict why some Aprils work and others don’t. One of my best years for the April Poetry Challenge was the year my mother died, although I did not know that then. What I did know was that she was taking almost as many hours as my job, even in a care facility. I didn’t grudge that time, but there were times I had to say no, like the time I was in heavy grading mode and there was a flood between me and her. She wanted me to come right away because the nurse would not come and get down a fresh pack of Depends from over the closet, saying that she had plenty. She was very upset when I tried to tell her it’s more than just raining–the road is closed and people are supposed to stay at home. I promised to call the desk for her and did, something that made me look like a fool but was somewhat less foolish than the runs to the facility when her hallucinations (from congestive heart failure, something no one warns you about) made her seek her own justice.

That April was possibly the best challenge ever. (more…)

PAD Challenge Progress Report

PAD Challenge Progress Report

I am sharing my poem-a-day posts with a few people who asked for the password on Facebook, but this has been an unusual month. Today’s poem made it clear that the new cluster of poems I’ve been writing means that I will want some of this month’s posts to be private. Poetry is public or it has no reason to live, but this particular thread may need time before it could ever be released. It may be a year, it may be less, but some things need to happen before today’s draft can be public. There may be more like that, and when it happens, it will be a private post. I know this is vague, but at least I didn’t resort to posting Ani di Franco lyrics to hint at the feels. (more…)

Day 9 process

Day 9 process

Today I did my poem for the Contemporary Verse 2 2-day poem contest. They pick ten fairly tough words and ask that you put them all in your poem. The rules are exacting–no plurals or tense changes, no jamming them in the title, no playing fast and loose with definitions and no shifting to proper nouns. For example, you can’t name someone Precipice even if you do know one in real life. 48 line max, not including stanza breaks.

I think it turned out well. I had to look up one word, something I haven’t done in decades. Like when writing in forms that have word repetition or rhymes, I found that the stress of finding a way to use these word brought out a poem that had been forming in my memory a very long time. That is the beauty of exercises. They keep the conscious mind busy with details and rules so that the subconscious can do its work unimpeded.

This was a nice challenge  for poetry month, and who knows? Someone wins those prizes.

PAD Challenge: Ekphrastic poem

PAD Challenge: Ekphrastic poem

For those who do not choose to contact me for the password for the poems, the April 6 poem is an ekphrastic poem based on digital art by Svetlana Petrova of her cat Zarathustra in Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” You can see more of her art and buy posters and prints at her site, Fat Cat Art. (more…)

The Long View

The Long View

I’ve been thinking a lot about process, mainly because of my Poem-a-Day project this year. I’ve been shifting strategies as I go along, sometimes using the prompts book, sometimes taking an older draft that badly need revision, sometimes writing what comes out when pressed to write with nothing in hand, or sometimes writing what I must write. Along with this I started this spring semester’s classes–two Writing II courses and a science fiction nd fantasy literature course. There are other things as well. I’d like to apply for a grant this year and I have major revising to do with my poetry manuscript. That is what I need to think about here. (more…)

Last process post for a while

Last process post for a while

Day nine and I’m still drafting daily. These process posts are going to stop though because it seems that my process is not that intricate. I think of something , maybe an image, ruminate, tell myself I can’t do it, then try anyway until it’s done. Today’s poem was a big revision of a failed draft from April. I lopped off the last half where it went wrong and tried something else. I think it’s better, but am not sure it is the whole poem. I will check it again in a week or two and see if I have any more. The photo is of snow on pampas gras. When I know why I took the photo, I may write about it.

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How to grow a poet

How to grow a poet

In my other, more academic life, I teach some graduate courses within rhetoric and composition with this semester’s offering being “Literacy Theory and Composition.” My students just completed their family literacy reports and I would like to do one too, one that traces a specific literacy.

Like most English professors and most writers, I had a childhood filled with books and more importantly in my view, filled with storytelling and analytical talk. Yes, I have the Golden Books memories common to the U.S. middle class upbringing, but we also had bookcases full of hardbacks and I was never stopped from reading anything that otherwise might have been considered above my level. A little bit of skullduggery was involved too. For example, we moved every few years and in one house when I was six or seven, I remember standing on a chair to get at some books on a closet shelf above the clothes. That was when I found  Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and probably more than one volume by Walter De la Mare, which I remember enjoying more because of all the nature imagery. I also found Shakespeare’s plays. I remember reading “The Tempest,” which astounds me now, but then I read it mainly for the action and for the rhythm of the lines. Iambic pentameter had a pull for me even then. Here is what I wonder–how does this rhythmic sense develop without reading and hearing it? I do not think children get this anymore, not to the degree I did. It makes a difference. The hardest assignment by far in a university-level Intro to Poetry class is the blank verse assignments. Students claim they just can’t hear it, and they certainly don’t hear the nuances that make up the shifting caesura within the iambic pentameter lines. I hear it though, loud as the slap of a jump rope against asphalt in a Kansas schoolyard.

That was one way rhythms played out besides reading poems. Chants, jumprope rhymes, taunts, rhyming fortunetelling rituals–wordplay was a big part of growing up. Being bored was too, and I don’t discount how the length of a Kansas, Oklahoma, or Texas summer day could lead to playing with words or going down to the basement where it was cooler to read. My father was a natural storyteller and that comes into play also. I don’t remember enough of what he said, but I do remember how quick he was, and an example I do remember is how on the farm when my son asked what the big door above the barn door was for (the hayloft door, for those without a rural background), he did not hesitate. “That’s so the giraffe can look out.” My son looked at him sideways a bit, but no one, not even that young realist could deny the power of what could be.

School was not always a rewarding place for me as a child, but some things were, mainly music and drawing. I wasn’t necessarily good at either, but I liked them and that meant I tried. I was good at metaphor even then, but trust me, a metaphoric view of life is not rewarded in school.  In third grade my teacher asked me what clouds are made of and I said cotton. Now, I knew they were water vapor, of course I knew, but have you ever seen a Kansas sky in April? The blue is so blue and the clouds bunch and ball up in wisps that look like you could go to the corner drugstore and buy a bag of them. I was laughed at so thoroughly that I kept my ideas to myself for some time to come.

This may be part of the trouble, part of the reason why we tend to see far more creative writers who aspire to be fiction writers than poets. Now, I was doomed. I couldn’t be anything else, and nothing else can express what needs to be said like a poem can. For those who don’t feel the rhythms right from the start or those that do but don’t have it nurtured through reading and community/family support, it’s hard to find it later in life. And, as I found out, seeing life this way is not necessarily rewarded in school or professionally. The stereotype of the dreamy poet who can’t deal with real life lives on, and the short, sharp insights that lead to poems can be very disconcerting to others if said out loud. A balance is needed between learning to keep one’s mouth shut and ignoring the insights altogether. I still struggle with that a bit, and it may be that my introversion grew out of the interior life of a poet and the need to not talk about it much lest other thing you’re a loon.

I believe specific literacy acts in childhood add up to poetic skill later in life. Some of them are still common, yet others are dying away as childhood becomes more of a series of after-school activities and sports teams. I suppose those activities are helpful, but I regret the loss of the long stretches of time children used to have to ruminate, do nothing, or make up stores and rhymes as part of play. Books are fine, but without the incremental growth that comes from practice with wordplay, taking up poetry successfully as an adult can be much harder, perhaps impossible.

Dual blogging, dual life

Dual blogging, dual life

This is post one for my newest site, one that is centered on me as a creative writer. It’s called This Poet’s Life since that is where I started as a writer and is the writing that most consistently happens for me. Believe me, if I am not writing poems, all else gets out of balance. (more…)