Posts Tagged ‘ Poetry ’

Teen Poetry Workshop: Poems

Friday, April 17th, 2020

A few months ago, Youth Services Librarian and friend Susan Monroe, of the Emmaus Public Library, invited me to conduct a teen poetry workshop at the library on Saturday, April 18, 2020. Of course, our plans went awry, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of Pennsylvania’s standing stay-at-home order. More recently, Sue asked me if I’d be willing to do the workshop as a video, and I said sure. Of course, the session would be very different. Instead of doing an introduction and then working with students on their own writing, I put together some tips about poetry, along with lots of examples of poems that illustrate those tips.

The video is now live here: https://www.facebook.com/emmauspl.org/videos/583554289175965/

I’d still be happy to offer a critique of poems for anyone who’d like my feedback. You can email them to me at shantipoet@gmail.com.

For some fun poetry prompts, go to Wild Violet’s poetry section. Throughout the month of April, we’re sharing daily prompts. In addition, I mentioned a couple useful sites to visit while writing or revising: Thesaurus.com and RhymeZone.com.

Below are the poems I read as part of my video workshop, along with the topic they were illustrating.

~~~

Alliteration

Repose of Rivers
By Hart Crane

The willows carried a slow sound,
A sarabande the wind mowed on the mead.
I could never remember
That seething, steady leveling of the marshes
Till age had brought me to the sea.

Flags, weeds. And remembrance of steep alcoves
Where cypresses shared the noon’s
Tyranny; they drew me into hades almost
And mammoth turtles climbing sulphur dreams
Yielded, white sun-silt rippled them
Asunder. . .

How much I would have bartered! The black gorge
And all the singular nestings in the hills
Where beavers learn stitch and tooth.
The pond I entered once and quickly fled —
I remember now its singing willow rim.

And finally, in that memory all things nurse;
After the city that I finally passed
With scalding unguents spread and smoking darts
The monsoon cut across the delta
At gulf gates. . . There, beyond the dykes

I heard wind flaking sapphire, like this summer,
And willows could not hold more steady sound.

~~~

Simile and Metaphor

Solitude
By Charles Simic

There now, where the first crumb
Falls from the table
You think no one hears it
As it hits the floor

But somewhere already
The ants are putting on
Their Quakers’ hats
And setting out to visit you.

~~~

Conciseness

Singing Image of Fire
By Kukai

A hand moves, and the fire’s whirling takes different shapes,
triangles, squares: all things change when we do.
The first word, Ah, blossomed into all others.
Each of them is true.

~~~

Precise Detail

Coal Train
By Jay Parini

There times a night it woke you
in middle summer, the Erie Lackawanna,
running to the north on thin, loud rails.
You could feel it coming a long way off:
at first, a tremble in youru belly,
a wire trilling in your veins, then diesel
rising to a froth beneath your skin.
You could see the cowcatcher,
wide as a mouth and eating ties,
the headlight blowing a dust of flies.
There was no way to stop it.
You lay there, fastened to the tracks
and waiting, breathing like a bull,
Your fingers lit at the tips like matches.
You waited for the thunder of wheel and bone,
the axles sparking, fire in your spine.
Each passing was a kind of death,
the whistle dwindling to a ghost in air,
the engine losing itself in trees.
In a while, your heart was the loudest thing,
your bed was a pool of night.

~~~

Poetic Form

Will Not Come Back [Volveran]
By Robert Lowell
(a sonnet)

Dark swallows will doubtless come back killing
the injudicious nightflies with a clack of the beak;
but those that stopped full flight to see your beauty
and my good fortune… as if they knew our names —
they’ll not come back. The thick lemony honeysuckle,
climbing from the earthroot to your window,
will open more beautiful blossoms to the evening;
but these… like dewdrops, trembling, shining, falling,
the tears of day — they’ll not come back…
Some other love will sound his foreword for you
And wake your heart, perhaps, from its cool sleep;
But silent, absorbed, and on his knees,
As men adore God at the altar, as I love you —
don’t blind yourself, you’ll not be loved like that.

~~~

Inspired by Everyday Life

Flash Cards
By Rita Dove

In math I was the whiz kid, keeper
Of oranges and apples. What you don’t understand,
master, my father said; the faster
I answered, the faster they came.

I could see one bud on the teacher’s geranium,
one clear bee sputtering at the wet pane.
The tulip trees always dragged after heavy rain
so I tucked my head as my boots slapped home.

My father put up his feet after work
and relaxed with a highball and The Life of Lincoln.
After supper we drilled and I climbed the dark

before sleep, before a thin voice hissed
numbers as I spun on a wheel. I had to guess.
Ten, I kept saying, I’m only ten.

~~~

Inspired by History or the News

Rosa
By Rita Dove

How she sat there,
the time right inside a place
so wrong it was ready.

That trim name with
its dream of a bench
to rest on. Her sensible coat.

Doing nothing was the doing:
the clean flame of her gaze
carved by a camera flash.

How she stood up
when they bent down to retrieve
her purse. That courtesy.

~~~

Inspired by Observations

A Moment
By Ruth Stone

Across the highway a heron stands
in the flooded field. It stands
as if lost in thought, on one leg, careless,
as if the field belongs to herons.
The air is clear and quiet.
Snowmelt on this second fair day.
Mother and daughter,
we sit in the parking lot
with doughnuts and coffee.
We are silent.
For a moment the wall between us
opens to the universe,
then closes.
And you go on saying
you do not want to repeat my life.

~~~

Inspired by Nature

Aviatrix
By Diane Ackerman

In dawn’s feathered light,
a lady cardinal hurls herself
against my bedroom window.

Hallucinations stalk the glass
as she slams her softness
into a flat, cold world,

Trying to perch on a limb
perfect in the sunlight,
but it will not hold her
skidding feet, her urgent thumping.

The hours are long panes
of glass she cannot enter.
love wings through
another world without her.

Tomorrow, it will begin again,
only louder, the frantic pounding
of her feathery will.

The grinding down of her notes,
one by one, in the glare of her reflection,
where loneliness stuns her.

~~~

Pieter Bruegel de Oude - De val van Icarus

Inspired by Art

Musée des Beaux Arts
By W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the plowman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

~~~

Inspired by Dreams

The Song in the Dream
By Saskia Hamilton

The song itself had hinges. The clasp on the eighteen-century Bible
had hinges, which creaked; when you released the catch,
the book would sigh and expand.

The song was of two wholes joined by hinges,
and I was worried about the joining, the spaces in between
the joints, the weight of each side straining them.

~~~

The Writing Process

Advice to Young Writers
Ron Padgett

One of the things I’ve repeated to writing
students is that they should write when they don’t
feel like writing, just sit down and start,
and when it doesn’t go very well, to press on then,
to get to that one thing you’d otherwise
never find. What I forgot to mention was
that this is just a writing technique, that
you could also be out mowing the lawn, where,
if you bring your mind to it, you’ll also eventually
come to something unexpected (“The robin he
hunts and pecks”), or watching the FARM NEWS
on which a large a man is referring to the “Great
Massachusetts area.” It’s alright, students, not
to write. Do whatever you want. As long as you find
that unexpected something, or even if you don’t.

~~~

Point-of-View

Song of the Seeing Eye Dog
by Alyce Wilson
(from Picturebook of the Martyrs)

I nose the curbed air.  My woman
bends to touch me.  I have licked that salty
trust.  Her scent of orchid and mushroom
I know.  And her feet by their rusty fall.
She wraps her fingers in my hair,
could find me in a brood of howls.

When the steel and plastic hushes
I uncrouch to tell her
Sister    and we go.

~~~

Revision

What Rhymes with Orange?
(version 1)

By Alyce Wilson

I peel it in a spiral, juicy: segments
like motorcycle spokes. Sun-blaze,
sweet citrus, fruit. Peel,
appeal. Pregnant, belly. Baby.
Pacifier, blossoms. White
blossoms. Lacy. Orange smiles
at soccer practice, as snacks.
Spiral.

*

What Rhymes with Orange?
(version 3)

By Alyce Wilson

I peel it in a spiral, juicy segments
like spokes. Sun-blaze sweet
citrus of summertime. Opulent,
round Christmas stocking gift. Like pregnant
bellies. A baby with a pacifier blossoms
from white lace. This nectar, distilled
into its essence, will purify sin. So many
foolish decisions collect in litany.
I need atonement. Praise be this beatitude, this
answer to orisons. Nothing
but a citron benediction. Titian rind,
once removed, becomes amen.

Video: Spring

Friday, June 27th, 2014

My third of three poems read for the Lansdowne Public Library. There are a couple audio problems with it, but hopefully you can make it out. Factoid: This poem mirrors the form of a poem I wrote 20-some years ago called “Autumn.”



Video: The Fitting

Friday, June 27th, 2014

The second of three poems I read for the Lansdowne Public Library in April, this one based on my experience getting KFP fitted for a ringbearer suit. One of favorites!



Video: Floyd the Monkey Baker

Friday, June 27th, 2014

I was so busy during April that I never got around to sharing the videos of three poems I read for the Lansdowne Public Library. Here’s a fun children’s poem.

Poems Published in FIVE

Friday, January 24th, 2014

The new issue of FIVE Poetry Magazine features five of my poems about the theme of Spring. These poems span my life events from young romance to pregnancy at age 39, all reflecting on the tumult and promise of the season. I actually get a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this issue, so please share!

FIVE Poetry Magazine Vol. 1 No. 7

31 Queries in 31 Days: #28-31

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Striving to finish up the 31 Queries in 31 Days project:

28) Submitted a proposal for a job via Elance, writing a custom poem for a client.

29) Submitted a proposal for a job via Elance, converting children’s stories into publishable short stories for a collection to raise funds for a charity.

30) Submitted a short story to Cricket magazine (one of my favorite magazines as a child).

31) Proposed a product name for a new style of boots, posted by a client on ODesk.com.

And that’s it! And just before midnight, too!

Ten More Tips for Poets

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Poetry in ink with spatter

Last week I shared my take on an old handout that I found my filing cabinet titled “Facts Every Poet Should Know.” I promised that at a later time I would share my own thoughts on what poets should now, so here is my list.

1) Be wary of scam artists. Let’s face it, there are possibly millions of poet in the world, and many people who would like to take advantage of them. The most important guideline to keep in mind is that, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of poetry anthology sites that publish any poem, provided the poets will pony up $50 or more to pre-order a copy. Be wary of self-proclaimed “agents” who request upfront fees just to review your work or offer writing advice. Agents earn their money from a commission on sales and should not request a dime until they’ve made a sale. Be wary of companies preying on self-publishing authors with excessive prices for editing, book preparation and marketing services. To weed out the worst offenders in the above categories, visit Preditors & Editors as well as WinningWriters.com.

2) Read extensively. Just like it’s important for a musician to listen to music or for an artist to study works of art, it’s essential that poets read poetry. Read not just poetry but other sorts of writing, as well, because the more you expose yourself to, the more you learn about what works and what you’d like to emulate.

3) Pay attention to line breaks. Unless you are writing in a form which dictates when a line will end, you should use line breaks to direct the reader’s attention. Consider the end of a line to be a very short pause, like half a comma, as the eye drops down to the next line. While it is tempting to break lines solely for visual reasons (such as making each line roughly the same length) or to break according to grammatical phrases, I’d encourage you to read your poems aloud and listen to exactly what the line breaks do to the poem. You may find that changing line breaks can turn a drab poem into a fab poem.

4) Know your markets. Before you submit any work to a publication, read a sample issue or two. If the magazine frequently publishes theme issues, drop a quick, professional e-mail to the editor to ask about the upcoming themes. That way you can send your work that has the best chance of being accepted by that publication.

5) Follow the rules, and then break them. If you are writing a form poem, remember to use what Shakespeare called a “prosp’rous departure from form.” This meant he would throw in a couple extra syllables or skip a rhyme if it added to the piece’s impact. If you’re writing in form, stick to the form as much as possible, but look for ways to change it up, because  that can often raise a poem above the mere adherence to form and into true artistry.

6) Kill your babies. Of course, I don’t literally mean to harm your offspring, but you need to keep an open mind when it comes to revising your poem, even if that means cutting a line you love. For the sake of the poem, you might find  a certain line doesn’t belong, or actually detracts from the rest of the poem. But take heart: you can always keep an “outcasts” file where you stick phrases and lines cut from earlier works. I once used such an orphan as the title for another poem, solving two problems.

7) Write what is hardest to say. This was particularly good advice I learned from my grad school instructors. Often we dance around the truth, or we take two or three stanzas to get to the meat of what it is that we really want to say. That’s fine for a first draft, but when you revise, be prepared to cut those intro paragraphs in order to get to the real emotional heart of your poem.

In the same vein, many poets stop poems before they truly reach what they need to write about. In the revision process, it can be helpful to push yourself further and see where that takes you.

8 ) Avoid clichés. This is true for any writing, but for some reason it tends to come up more often in poetry. Perhaps that is because most poets know to avoid using the hackneyed phrases themselves, but they still fall back on overused ideas and phrases. If something sounds too familiar, change it.

9) Nothing is too small or too large to write about. You can find inspiration anywhere, so don’t sit around waiting for the “big idea” to hit you. Take a walk around the neighborhood and make note of what you see. What are your neighbors doing? What does the sky look like? What thoughts emerge, based on what you see? Some of my best ideas come to me while I’m on the move.

10) Be bold. Take chances. Learn. Stretch yourself. Be it subject matter or form, be willing to try new things and see where it leads you.


I would be happy to hear anybody’s thoughts on this list, as well as suggestions for other things that poets need to know. Did I leave anything out?

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Facts Every Poet Needs to Know

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

I’ve been going through papers in my filing cabinet, and I came across a handout called “FACTS EVERY POET NEEDS TO KNOW.” No author or publication is listed, and on the back is a relatively outmoded listing of poetry markets, including mailing addresses but no web site information. The list includes such established literary journals as Carolina Quarterly alongside less expected magazines, such as Cat Fancy and the United Methodist Reporter. I no longer remember where I acquired this handout, but it’s folded in thirds and likely came tucked into an envelope along with some other writing-related book or magazine purchase.

The handout has both good and (in my opinion) quirky/bad advice. Without quoting it in its entirety, I’ll share the main points and my take on them.

  1. Copyright your poems to protect them from infringement. The author advises poets to put a copyright notice on each poem, as follows: © 1990 Author’s Name (The date used is a hint, I suppose, at how long ago I acquired this sheet). The truth is, this is not necessary, since your work is considered copyrighted the minute you write it, without further action. You can register the copyright for an entire manuscript, if desired, by going through the U.S. Copyright Office. However, since it costs $35 per document, it’s better to send a complete collection than to send individual poems. Again, it’s not necessary in order to defend your work in court, provided you can prove in some other way that the work is yours. Moreover, if you include a copyright notification on a poem submission, it will immediately paint you an amateur. After all, by doing so, you are implying that the potential editor is likely to steal your work!
  2. Always follow submission guidelines. This remains good advice: to always read guidelines carefully and understand that different publishers have different rules.
  3. Unless specifically requested, a cover letter is not necessary. Again, I concur. I rarely look at cover letters until AFTER I have made a decision about a work for Wild Violet. However, I do prefer that submissions include a biographical paragraph, which is stated in our guidelines. That makes my work easier when I do opt to publish a poem.
  4. No matter how much a poem is rewritten, it can usually be improved. I completely agree. Like Walt Whitman, who spent his whole life reworking his collection, Leaves of Grass, I constantly revisit old works. If you do the same thing, it’s probably a good practice to date each draft of a poem, so that you can easily track changes in the future. If you work primarily on a computer, you might save each substantially different new version as a separate file name, i.e. DogPoem.v1, DogPoem.v2, DogPoem.v3. Why keep different versions? Because sometimes wordings included in previous drafts may be useful to reinstate or to put in a new poem.
  5. Don’t expect to make a living writing poetry. Sadly, I’d also agree with this statement. I take exception to the author’s advice, though, to “enter as many contests as you can afford.” Although you can count the contest fees as a business expense, think about it like buying a lottery ticket: The likelihood of contests paying off is rather remote. You might actually be better off investing that money towards promoting your craft in other ways, such as buying advertising for your self-published poetry chapbook. A more practical way to make a living through poetry would be to pursue an educational path that would allow you to teach either poetry workshops or classes (or become successful enough as a published poet to be able to secure speaker’s fees — again, a very remote possibility).
  6. There is nothing arrogant about displaying your poetry, whether in the form of a book, a magazine, a framed display or some other art form. The anonymous author of this list says that “Modesty will get you nothing but obscurity,” but I can’t imagine how s/he imagined this point would help promote your poetry. Sure, hanging a framed copy of your poem in your home or office would make a few associates aware of your work, but it’s unlikely to lead to a major awareness of your writing. Perhaps if you have an artist friend who would be willing to sell illustrated poems at craft shows, you might increase your audience, but few people can follow through on such ideas. Personally, I think it’s a little tacky and desperate to hang a framed work of your own poetry in your home or office. A better idea might be to create framed works to give to friends and family as gifts, and let them decide whether to hang them.
  7. A thesaurus is a poet’s best friend. The author suggests using a thesaurus to “increase your word power” and also suggests a rhyming dictionary. I have mixed feelings about this advice, since some of my earliest teenage poems were what I’ve termed “thesaurus poems.” To write them, I thought about a feeling or other words I wanted to include in the poem, and then perused a thesaurus to make a list of words I could use. The resulting poems were cerebral and obscure, and to this day I’m not sure if even I totally understand them. A thesaurus can be useful, however, to find the right word, and I recommend bookmarking both Thesaurus.com and the rhyming dictionary Rhymezone.com.
  8. Punctuation is necessary and important! The author states that the majority of poems can benefit from the proper use of punctuation and even suggests purchasing a handbook on grammar and punctuation. I’d say to take or leave this advice. While using a period to end a thought can be useful, many poets choose to let line breaks substitute for commas, mostly for aesthetic effect. I agree that most poems require at least minimal punctuation, but the exact use still falls in the hands of the poet.
  9. The most common writing error is the improper use of “its” and “it’s.” The author states that “its” is possessive,” while “it’s” is a contraction for “it is.” While I agree this is a common error, I don’t feel it’s enough of a problem to warrant its own bullet point on a list like this.
  10. A long, self-addressed, stamped envelope is a welcome sight to an editor. This is, of course, true for all mailed submissions and inquiries. Many editors won’t reply if you do not include a SASE. Nowadays, most literary magazines accept submissions online via either e-mail or a submission service like Submittable, making SASE’s unnecessary. So if you are pinching every penny, save the postage money and submit online.

Overall, the list remains fairly useful, if a bit quixotic. In a future post, I’ll share my own tips for poets.

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31 Queries in 31 Days: #8 and #9

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

While working on my 31 Queries in 31 Days project, I’ve actually begun looking for poetry-related jobs via Elance, because it’s easy to do through their search function.

8 ) Submitted a job proposal via Elance for a job crafting a Halloween poem for an advertising firm.

In addition, I also sent out some poetry:

9) Submitted five poems to FIVE Poetry Magazine.

Wild Violet Featured: Week of October 15

Monday, October 15th, 2012

This week, my literary magazine, Wild Violet, visits the dreamworld:

Featured: Week of October 15

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