Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Does your inner writer need a New Year boost?

In my blog reading over the last few days I've come across a wealth of interesting articles. Some of them might interest you too.

  • Literary agent Rachelle Gardner muses on the process of making resolutions. This discovery of hers resonated with me: "Last year ... I identified that for me to be successful with my goals, I needed to first identify the underlying emotional reason for the goal." Read all of  "Goals, Resolutions, Words."
  • Ilya Pozin's  "7 Things Highly Productive People Do" contains Tony Wong's common sense advice like "Be Militant about eliminating distractions" and "schedule your email" as well as anti-intuitive suggestions like "Stop multi-tasking." Read all of "7 Things Highly Productive People Do."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tarr Award presentation to J. I. Packer

This 11-minute video features several minutes of introduction by Grace Fox followed by Dr. Packer's gracious words of acceptance of The Word Guild Tarr Award for Writing.

Dr. J. I. Packer receives The Word Guild Tarr Award for Writing

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Write a Christmas Poem (16 Christmas poem prompts)

The God who speaks planets, suns and galaxies into existence becomes a fertilized egg in a woman's womb. It's what we celebrate at Christmas. How it fires our imaginations and challenges our pens! Which poet hasn't tried writing at least one Christmas poem? Some attempt to write a new one every year.

But there's a problem with that. For in spite of the Christmas story's mind-bending beginning, its cast of colorful characters, unlikely setting and gripping plot line, it's been around for 2000+ years. By now it's as familiar as a cliché. With the body of Christmas writing that has collected over the centuries, isn't there a possibility—even a likelihood—that someone will have already had our Christmas thoughts and written them? How then can we keep our writing from being second-hand? How can we write engagingly and freshly about Christmas?

As I struggled with writing this year's Christmas poem, I decided to look for ways to think about Christmas that might yield new ideas. I've come up with 16 Christmas poem prompts along with examples where I could find them. Some of these ideas I've already tried. Others have me itching to get pen onto paper!

1. Christmas Character
Focus on one character from the Christmas story. Prepare to write by rereading the Christmas story (Matthew 1 & 2; Luke 2).  Imagine your character’s back-story, home, and family. Then retell the story or arrive at some truth about Christmas from that individual’s point of view.
Jan Wood, in her poem “Chosen” talks about Mary:

among women
not for your wide hips
or easy stride
when so many others
would have nursed
and cuddled
deity…          (Read all of "Chosen.")

2. Magnified Christmas Moment
Choose a moment in time from the Christmas story and explore it fully.
Claudia Burney puts a magnifying glass on the moment of Mary’s encounter with God as His chosen in her poem, "May It Be Done:"

Fear not,
    but tell no one.

    You are now
    a bearer of the holy.

    Sit, pondering

    There is no shadow
    in My Light,
    above the face
    of your womb waters…
               (Read all of "May It Be Done.")

3. Modern Setting
Imagine a Christmas character or some of the story events in a modern setting. You’ll need to use your imagination and give yourself permission take some poetic license to write this poem.

4. Christmas Symbol
Choose a Christmas symbol (star, bell, poinsettia, manger, gift) and write a lyric poem examining it in depth. This may involve doing some of the research explained in  October’s column.
Jennifer Zolper’s poem “Star” is such a poem:

God didn’t mean to torment the astrologers.
He would fulfill the promise,
Send the shimmering Guide at
precisely the right moment.
But then, as ever, their seeing was as dark
as a moonless night.
How many eyes winked and squinted
Imagined holy stars that weren’t
Each rhinestone of Orion’s belt was suspect…
           (Read all of "Star.")

5. Christmas Symbol Personalized
Write a poem about what a particular Christmas symbol or object means to you. Chris Green expresses how he feels about seasonal tree markets:
    Christmas trees lined like war refugees,
    a fallen army made to stand in their greens.
    Cut down at the foot, on their last leg,

    they pull themselves up, arms raised.
    We drop them like wood;
    tied, they are driven through the streets…
              (Read all of "Christmas Tree Lots.")

6. Unlikely Character or Setting

Combine the season of Christmas with an unlikely character or setting; for example, Christmas for the single person, the homeless person, the immigrant etc.; Christmas in a nursing home, prison, hospital etc.

Utmost featured a Christmas poem contest a few years ago with just such a stipulation. I wrote “Menno Home Christmas” for it.

Best Christmases were long ago and far away.
Weihnacht? But all is wet and green; there is no snow.
“Good morning, Mrs. Rempel, how are you today?”
At breakfast munch the toast while carols play…
sang that one in a pageant once and stole the show;
best Christmases were long ago and far away.
          (Read all of "Menno Home Christmas.")
 7. Sad Christmas Poem
Though the Christmas season is usually a joyous time, for some it is a time of sadness, regrets, even desperation. Write a sad Christmas poem.
Fran Howell’s “Christmas Lights” is a good example. It begins:

A thin denim jacket shelters shoulders
slumped against darkness
arctic air squeezes
through broken zipper
temporarily reverses the sign
"Out of Work, Please Help!"
          (Read all of "Christmas Lights.")

8. Childhood Christmas
Write about Christmases from your childhood. Start gathering material by writing lists and word clusters. Focus on particulars and include sensual detail—sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch. You may decide to write your memories in prose first. Later distill what you’ve written into a poem.  Here are some of my memories—from my poem, "Bonding"—of unwrapping a Christmas doll:
…Carefully I deliver her
from the store-womb
undo each twist tie and rubber band
till she is free
and I can hug
her soft stuffed body…
          (Read all of "Bonding.")

9. Poignant Moment
Think back to a Christmas moment that was especially poignant—perhaps a moment of epiphany, when you understood something significant about Christmas. Charles van Gorkom brings us such a moment in “Christmas Prayer”:
…I remember long ago
on Harry Road
in a shed on Christmas night
I sat among sheep
with an oil lamp—
leaned sitting in the hay
against a fat sleeping ewe–
          (Read all of "Christmas Prayer.")

10. Christmas Reflections
Reflect on what Christmas means to you presently. Again use lists and word webs to gather your thoughts. Choose one of the things from your list and elaborate in a poem, or make your poem a list of things.
Mary Lou Cornish reflects:
I cannot write about a manger
without thinking of a cross.
When angels are glad-singing,
joy-bringing, I hear
desperate joy-robbing,
cries from a crowd dispirited
at the de-souling
of the incarnate God.
          (Read all of "I Cannot Write About a Manger.")

11. Christmas Specialist
Write about some aspect of the Christmas story from a specialist’s point of view. Are you a carpenter (Joseph), a farmer (shepherd), a hotelier (innkeeper), or a  civil servant (tax collector)?
Physician Darlene Moore-Berg’s poem “Embryology” takes the idea of how babies are formed in utero and writes about this aspect of the incarnation.
A subtle thing
one simple moment to the next
a rhythm, a pulsatile beat
and the heart of God
takes on a mortal cadence.
In a dark, muffled womb
four chambers form- room
to comprehend the flow
of human blood...
          (Read all of "Embryology.")

12. Christmas Acrostic

Choose a Christmas word (STAR, BELL, MANGER, ANGEL) or phrase and write an acrostic poem. Colin Marshall’s poem won an internet Christmas acrostic poem contest in 2007. Notice how it flows, so that the words beginning each line (which start with the required letters) feel natural, even inevitable.
When autumn trees have shed their last
In encore to summer past,
Silent nights grow longer still,
Harbinger to winters chill.
          (Read all of "Wishing You A Merry Christmas.")

13. Christmas Tune Lyrics
With the tune of a familiar Christmas carol or song in mind, write a poem as a set of new lyrics.

14. Model Poem
Choose a poem you love for whatever reason—rhythm, rhyme scheme, emotional tone—and write a Christmas poem patterned on it.

To do this, you may first want to analyze the model poem to discover what’s going on in it. Scan it and determine the rhyme scheme. You may decide not to follow it precisely, but it’s good to start out by being familiar with its construction.
One year, using “The Kye-Song of St. Bride” as a model, I composed “Christmas Echoes”:
Generous Christmas carries
Rare and radiant gift:
Gold, myrrh and frankincense begin
But thanks fall short, to our chagrin,
For Godhead wrapped in baby’s skin
Radiant, rare
Holy gift.
          (Read all of "Christmas Echoes.")

15. Ekphrastic Christmas Poem
Write a Christmas poem inspired by a painting, photograph or other visual work of art. John Dreyer’s poem was inspired by Frederico Barocci’s painting “Madonna and Child with Saint Joseph and the Infant Baptist” from the National Gallery in London.
Herod's recent butchery is passed away
in the Baraccio Madonna's blue sky morning;
Salome's request macabre and
Pilate's washing of his hands are
cowardices yet to come.
For now, her nephew's
teasing of the cat
distracts the nursing child
from her breast.
          (Read all of "Madonna's Blue Sky Morning.")

16. Christmas Poem That Isn’t
Write a Christmas poem in the form of some other kind of communication, an email, text message, postcard or news report for example. Here are some lines from my poem “Christmas Cake,” written in the form of a recipe:
November or early December’s the time
to start on this year’s Christmas cake
Pour several cups of sweet anticipation into a large bowl
– the first snowfall when we hauled out the Christmas records
– all the dolls in the Sears catalogue
– paint smells from the basement
Cut in a pound of cold reality
– the year I worked nights and slept through
– the first Christmas without Daddy
– the one I broke my wrist
and cream these ingredients.
          (Read all of "Christmas Cake.")

Now it’s your turn. Choose one of the prompts above to guide you. Combine the ingredients of the wonderful Christmas story with your unique experience and point-of-view. This meld of Christmas old and Christmas you is one sure way to create new Christmas poems—poems unlike any that have been written in all the years since God incarnate came to Bethlehem.

(This article was first published as a Poets Classroom article on Utmost Christian Writers, December 2008.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Catching up

November is over. If you're wondering how I did with my November poem-a-day challenge, well, I certainly wasn't perfect. But I do have 24 new poem attempts in my files and that is much better than I would have done had I not set a 30-day goal.

One of the reasons I missed making my goal was that I got distracted by an exciting development in my 'career' (feels weird to call it that). As I mentioned before, a novel I have been working on for some years (and wrote the bulk of in November of 2009) made it onto the list of finalists of the 2011 Word Alive Publishing Contest. It was a few weeks ago in November that I made the final decision to self-publish that book through Word Alive Press. As a result I was busy, first considering my options, and then putting together the contract documents. I found it all energizing, yet draining, so that the last thing I wanted to do at the end some days was more creative thinking.

Regarding my book-publishing journey, it's still early days. Right now my manuscript is in the hands of a concept (big picture) editor. When I hear back from her, I'll consider the changes she suggests, get the story in as good shape as I can before I pass it on to the publisher's editor. And we go on from there. In the weeks and months ahead, I'll be writing about the publishing / marketing / publicity journey of that book, along with the usual poetry fare I often write about here.

I want to leave you with a couple of quotes from an insightful article I read in Writer's Digest many years ago. I filed it away, ran across it the other day and was inspired by it all over again.

"Most of a writer's life is just work. It happens to be a kind of work that the writer finds fulfilling in the same way that a watchmaker can happily spend countless hours fiddling over tiny cogs and bits of wire. Poets also love to fiddle with a word here, a word there—small spaces for hours. And when I'm working on a poem, I'm working harder than I've ever worked at anything in my life—I'm concentrating harder. But it's enjoyable. Not something I would describe as fun—it's more like rapture, a kind of transcendent play" - Diane Ackerman, "Tight Focus in Small Places," The Writer's Digest, September 1997, p.31.

And further on she says:

"Regard the world with affectionate curiosity and then write from the heart. You have to trust that you have something important to say and that you were put on earth to "stain the willows with a glance." And that the world will not look the same once you have written about it, that you will bring new life to the world through your vision" - same article, p. 33.

Friday, November 04, 2011

November—the month of writing craziness

It's November, National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo links thousands of writers around the world, who are even now pounding their keyboards in an attempt to accumulate at least 50,000 words and realize the goal of writing an entire novel in one month.

I was part of NaNoWriMo in 2009. And I churned out a novel—Destiny's Hands. After more work on it, I entered it into the Word Alive Press contest this spring and was ever so thrilled when it made the list of finalists. It may someday even see the light of publication.

I have not joined NaNo this year in the novel-writing sense. But in that spirit I have set my own November goal. For me November would be called NaPoWriMo - National Poetry Writing Month because I have promised myself to write one poem a day.

Robert Brewer at Poetic Asides planted the idea a couple of years ago with his November Poem-A-Day Chapbook Contest. He posts a new prompt every day of November and invites participating poets to send in a chapbook collection of their best poems (inspired by the prompts) at the end of December.

I am not planning to be part of this, but I do check his prompt every day to give me poem-writing ideas. If it doesn't inspire, I have a pocketful of other prompt sources: Adele Kenny's blog, Poets and Writers, and Writers Digest prompts to name a few.

I find such poem-a-day challenges good to get me to just write instead of wait for that extra-special inspiration that will end up in the GREAT POEM. Sure, I end up with a lot of mediocre poems, but Diane Lockward, in her November newsletter says that's okay. Talking about her recommended book for the month—Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking—she says:
"I underlined this: 'The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.' A good reminder that it's okay to do some bad work.

On risk-taking: 'And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.' And 'to require perfection is to invite paralysis.'" - (Quotes by David Bayles and Ted Orland).

So there you have it—permission to write lots of poems with the hope that one or two will soar.

Throughout the month I'll be posting some of these on my poetry blog along with the prompt that inspired them. Maybe we'll see you over there?

Whatever you're writing through November, may it be a satisfying, productive month!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's not always the right time to share your work

 It is becoming more and more accepted to share one's creative writing—poems, stories, personal essays—online. Still, doing that has its pitfalls, beyond the one that such works are then considered published and may not be eligible to submit to some publications and contests. Another danger is the effect that going public may have on you, the writer.

Bonni Goldberg talks about this in Beyond the Words.

"I often check my motives before I share by asking myself, what I want to get from making a given piece public. I know it's not the right time if my "want" list includes items such as empathy and understanding from my audience or their appreciation and attention rather than the opportunity to voice something I care about or to celebrate what moves me. As you take time to become aware of your motives to go public, you'll notice when it will be more nurturing and respectful to your Writing Self to wait" - Beyond the Words, p. 170.

Goldberg has opened a vein of truth here! I can think of times when I posted something, waited on tenterhooks for a response and when there was none, felt deflated and a failure. It pays to be aware of why we want to share something, and when is a good time. Sharing out of neediness can be a dangerous thing to the health of our creative selves.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Snatch those poetry moments

This blog has been sadly neglected in the last few weeks. I've been busy since the end of September, teaching a weekly class, welcoming my new granddaughter into the world, and celebrating Thanksgiving!

I miss the slower, lazier days of summer when I had time to moodle on poetry. I don't feel myself, somehow, when not tending that part of my writing plot. And yet it's the first to go untended, perhaps because it feels so much like play.

That is probably why the quote I found the other day resonated.

"A musician must make his music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to ultimately be at peace with himself." - Abraham Maslow

I also found this great little bit of wisdom from Barbara Crooker quoted in Your Daily Poem. Speaking about her publishing achievements (700 poems published in more than 2000 publications) she credits her success to perseverance as much as talent and says:

"Writing poetry is not putting down whatever comes into your head and leaving it at that, never taking it any further. Poetry involves layers, and a lot of revision." - Barbara Crooker
Hopefully today I'll find time to write another poem... or revise an old one!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When writing about God

Fernando Ortega (songwriter) gives advice to lyricists that applies to poets too:

  • "Be specific when you write songs (poems) about God. 
  • Avoid cliché. 
  • Avoid convenience. 
  • Avoid an obsession with the consumer. 
  • Avoid the temptation to make commercial success your central goal. 
  • Write with intelligence, employing all the craft, skill, and experience with which God has endowed you."

Read all of "Avoiding Convenience: A Word to Hymn Writers"

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Poetry Pickings [09-14-11]

The internet is rich with poetry these days. Here are a few of my recent finds.

What is Poetry?
That's what we're discussing this month at Tweetspeak and on the TS Poetry Press Facebook page. Angela Alaimo O'Donnell writes today on the Tweetspeak blog:

"I am a teacher of Poetry.

This means that several times a year I walk into a classroom, the seats filled with Bright Young People between the ages of 18 and 22, and try to make them fall in love with poetry. This, I admit, is a challenge. Poetry is difficult to define and defend—and past the age of 8, is difficult to learn to appreciate.

To read poetry, we need to cultivate a mode of reading that is less frantic than the hunt-and-gather method instilled in us by content-driven disciplines (not to mention daily life), to discover how to be patient with ambiguity and uncertainty, and to give ourselves permission to read for the pure pleasure of it...
Read the rest of "What is Poetry: Falling in love, 1"

Rabbit Room CD release party
Cool poetic lyrics by Jason Gray along with the songs are posted in the Rabbit Room. He has put up the lyrics of every song on his new album A Way to See in the Dark along with the story of each. It's an online record release party. But don't delay if you want to hear the songs. The audio files will only stay online for 24 hours. Here's the title cut "A Way to See in the Dark."

Magical Mystical Teacher
Magical Mystical Teacher posts photos along with short poems, often haiku, and once in a while a reflection about teaching (like "Praying in My Classroom"). You will be lifted!

Porch Poems
Canadian poet Janet Martin has poetry coursing through her veins. She posts to two poetry blogs. Front Porch Poems has poems of faith. Love and nature are her study on Another Porch right now. Here's first stanza of the very charming "Summer's Quadrille" from that blog.

We feel a tender beauty-tug
A bitter-sweet caress
As summer, with a mindless shrug
Begins to shed her dress
Choosing instead of emerald green
A gown of red and gold
With petticoats of scarlet sheen
And sashes bright and bold

Read the rest here...

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Advice to rhyming poets

We all know that unrhymed free verse is the most common form poetry comes in these days. But perhaps you're not like everyone else. Maybe words come to you in rhyme and rhythm.

I gave the dilemma of a rhyming poet in a mostly free-verse universe some thought the other day when a writer friend emailed me about a poet we both know who writes beautiful rhyming poems. She was discouraged because that's what she writes, loves to write, yet people say keep saying things to her like, "I don't read it if it's not free verse." What's a rhyming poet to do?

Here are some suggestions I (a writer who likes writing in both rhyme and free verse) passed on to her. Maybe, if you prefer writing rhythmic, rhymes, they will encourage you too.

You / we are not alone. Have you heard of the New Formalism? It's a modern movement of poets who prefer to write in rhythm and rhyme. I found a pretty good definition (including the names of some people who are involved) here.

A wonderful website called The Poem Tree features lots of poetry from New Formalism poets. One of my favourites is A. E. Stallings. Who can resist:

Cardinal Numbers

Mrs. Cardinal is dead:
All that remains—a beak of red,
And, fanned across the pavement slab,
Feathers, drab.

Remember how we saw her mate
In the magnolia tree of late,
Glowing, in the faded hour,
A scarlet flower, 
Read the rest...
The Machines Mourn the Passing of People

We miss the warmth of their clumsy hands,
The oil of their fingers, the cleansing of use
That warded off dust, and the warm abuse
Lavished upon us as reprimands.

We were kicked like dogs when we were broken,
But we did not whimper.  We gritted our cogs—
An honor it was to be treated as dogs,
To incur such warm words roughly spoken, 
Read the rest...

The Tantrum

Struck with grief you were, though only four,
The day your mother cut her mermaid hair
And stood, a stranger, smiling at the door.

They frowned, tsk-tsked your willful, cruel despair,
When you slunk beneath the long piano strings
And sobbed until your lungs hiccupped for air, 
Read the rest...

For further education along these lines I have just the book. Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms by William Baer came out in 2006. It teaches about rhythmic styles and forms (Sonnets,  the quatrain, couplet, tercet, and French forms such as the Villanelle, Rondeau, Triolet). Your local library might have it.

Also, you might enjoy Your Daily Poem. It's a website with  a new poem every day. The poems are wide-ranging in style from modern free verse to traditional poetry that's in the public domain. The standard is that the poems must be interesting and accessible to ordinary readers (not just literary types). (After you have read it for a while and if you feel your poems would fit with it, here is information on how to submit poems to the site.)

Finally read "A World Short on Masters," a wonderful article that encourages you as a writer to be your own artist and, more, to become a master artist in your chosen genre. I think that means if you're a rhyming poet, be the best rhyming poet you can possibly be. It will make both you and your readers happy. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Poetic Voice Lesson 2 - Expand Your Range (conclusion)

This is the second and concluding article in a two-part series on poetic voice. (Part 1: Poetic Voice Lesson 1 - Sharpen Your Ear)

Nothing spells disaster for a singer like a case of laryngitis. A close second is a limited range—above and below which notes are strained and pitch is off key. Did you know that writers can also suffer from laryngitis and a limited range? In this second voice lesson, we’re going to work at developing voice. We’ll look at some things that cause poetic laryngitis and suggest exercises to help you find your writing voice and expand your range.

Poetic Laryngitis

1. Mental and emotional permission
When poet Sheila Bender began writing poetry she described her voice as “rusty from disuse.” Under the teaching of poet David Wagoner, she explored reasons for this and found they were mostly mental and emotional. She realized that her family looked on art as superfluous. Furthermore, when she wrote about deep feelings, she felt like she was betraying her parents and husband. In order for her to “sing loudly and at greater length,” like her teacher instructed, she needed to give herself permission to write, and to write about certain subjects.[1]

The same may be true for you. You may feel strongly about some things, yet when you write about them you worry about betraying those close to you, disappointing those who have ideas of what you’re like, or even compromising your own ideals. The permissions and taboos we impose on our writing are personal. It’s important to realize, though, that these self-imposed rules will affect voice, perhaps even our ability to sing at all.

2. Bombast Complex
After spending some years in jail before becoming a writer, Les Edgerton occasionally returned to visit his former mates and encourage them to believe that life could be turned around. He soon began getting letters from inmates that were “rollicking and exhilarating.” They told of car chases, lawyerly ineptitude, shootouts, judges they were convinced had been fixed and more.

So impressed was Edgerton with what he called the “literary gold” of these letters, he invited the writers to send him stories they had written. But did he get back writing of the same quality? No. The stories they sent were “writerly”—poor mimics of Zane Gray or as stiff as school essays.[2]

The same thing can happen to you. If instead of being yourself on the page, you write to impress the reader, your voice can get lost in Thesaurus-hyped purple or academic stiffness and bombast. Natalie Goldberg says, “Learn to trust the force of your own voice. Naturally it will evolve a direction…but it will come from a different place than your need to be an achiever.[3]

Voice Exercises: Find your voice and expand your range

Before we go any further, let’s make sure we’re on the same page by reviewing what we mean by voice in poetry. In Voice Lesson 1 we used John Drury’s Poetry Dictionary definition of voice: “…the characteristic sound, style, manner, tone of a particular poet or poem.[4] We examined the elements he named in his definition—diction, syntax, attitudes, subject matter, rhythmic proclivities, line lengths, punctuation, the presence or absence of meter and rhyme, and tone—and explored how each contributes to a poet’s voice.

Keeping that definition in mind, here are six things you can do to help you re-discover your voice and expand your range.

1. Find your subject matter.
What matters to you? What affects you deeply? To discover what these things are, make a list of high points, low points and turning points in your life. These subjects will probably lead to your most powerful poems.

In addition, always carry a notebook with you to record ideas. As poet and teacher Michael Bugeja says, “If you record your muse, you’ll increase your output as a poet. You’ll also become more aware of epiphanies and experiences.”[5]

2. Imitate the poets you admire.
Artist Pablo Picasso believed that the very attempt to recreate another artist’s pictorial voice ultimately led an artist to his own. Writer Gabriele Rico says, “…we grow into our own voices by trying on many voices, not just the voices outside of us, but the multiple voices within us…. All the voices you try on are aspects of yourself.[6]

To mimic a writer, pick a written passage (poetry or prose) you admire and read it several times. Choose a word from that passage. Prepare to write by doing an idea-generating exercise from that word such as brainstorming a list or making a word cluster.

Now do a timed free-write, keeping the sound of the model passage in mind as you write. Return to your free-write later and refine what you have written into a poem or salvage one or two lines to use later in another poem.

You could also do a poem echo. Copy out a favorite short poem. Below it write a poem of your own (any subject) using the same line, sentence and punctuation structure as your model poem.

3. Use the four-step voice process (developed by Michael Bugeja[7]).
In relation to any specific poem ask:
i] With whom am I speaking (myself, child, parent, society at large, etc.)? The listener may never make an appearance, but having him in your mind as you write will help you determine the voice of the piece.
ii] Where is this conversation taking place? Again, the setting may or may not make an appearance. But even if it is only in your imagination, it can affect your tone.
iii] What is the nature of the epiphany I wish to share? A self-deprecating poem that makes fun of a quirk of yours will surely have a different tone than one in which you realize how unforgivness has shriveled your spirit.
iv] What voice is appropriate for i, ii and iii above? List the adjectives that describe the voice you’d like people to hear from your poem. Now go through your poem again and substitute words that best convey the voice you are after.

4. Explore your own various voices.
Identify the voices you use throughout the day e.g. spouse, parent, employee, child. Do a free-write on any topic in the voice of each of these personas.

5. Get into character.
Reread a favorite Bible story. Rewrite that story from the point of view and in the voice of each main (or minor) character.

6. Read your poem aloud.
Read your poem aloud to determine how your poem’s voice comes across orally. Adjust the physical elements of your poem—line lengths (short lines slow the reading, long lines speed it up), punctuation, stanza breaks etc.—to reflect how you would like others to read/hear it.

Vocalists work on scales and exercises regularly and for years to bring their voices to full potential. Voice training for the poet takes time and practice too. But unlike the rote repeating of scales and exercises that train a singer’s voice, a writer’s voice training is far more varied.

Each day can be a foray into new territory. Gabriele Rico calls it play: “We learn about voice in writing by taking on many voices, by experimenting, by allowing our imaginations to express this voice, that voice. In the process we find the writer’s voice that is most authentically our own… Only by playing can you discover authenticity of voice. No one can do it for you.”[8]


[1] Sheila Bender, Writing Personal Poetry (Writer’s Digest Books, 1998), p. 13
[2] Les Edgerton, Finding Your Voice (Writer’s Digest Books, 2003), p. 2
[3] Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones (Shambhala, 1986), p. 37
[4] John Drury, The Poetry Dictionary (Writer’s Digest Books, 2006), p. 342
[5] Michael Bugeja, The Art and Craft of Poetry (Writer’s Digest Books, 1994), p. 19
[6] Gabriele Rico, Writing the Natural Way (Tarcher / Putnam, 2000), p. 171
[7] Adapted from The Art and Craft of Poetry, p. 144
[8] Gabriele Rico, Writing the Natural Way, p. 173

© 2009 by Violet Nesdoly. This article was first published at Utmost Christian Writers.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Writers on Vacation

Recently Shelley Haggard and I teamed up to write "Writers on Vacation." Her story "I Was Planning to Write .... Really!" tells of her recent trip to Italy and what became of her resolve to blog about it. That's followed by my "Ten Tips for Vacationing Writers."

Read "Writers On Vacation" (published this week in Abbotsford Today).

Monday, August 15, 2011

The discipline of paying attention

Luci Shaw's musings on paying attention are wise. They urge us to live through senses exquisitely attuned to wonder and the sacramental. She says:

"I want to start where I am and use what I have and in the writing the mundane and the trivial may show themselves to be of greater significance. All of the ordinary givens are fodder for my faith.... God speaks from the loaves of bread, mu granddaughter's water-colour of a rainbow, the buzz of a housefly....These graces often begin with moments of attention and surprise" - Luci Shaw in Breath for the Bones, Kindle Location 1676.

For me, following in Ann Voskamp's train and keeping a gratitude journal has, for the past year, helped me to do this. Then last week a comment on someone's post about Breath opened a little wider the door to fulfilling this discipline. She said something like: "Stop in the middle of what you're doing and ask, What is holy about this moment?" (Sorry if I butchered the quote; I looked for it again but now can't find it.) I love that—for I'm still far too easily distracted from seeing the sacred in everyday things and need all the help I can get.

Another help is the inspiration of reading the writing of people who actually pay attention. Besides Luci's own vivid examples, I think of what I recently read in one of Wendell Berry's essays.

"Perhaps it is to prepare to hear someday the music of the spheres that I am always turning my ears to the music of streams. There is indeed a music in streams, but it is not for the hurried. It has to be loitered by and imagined. Or imagined toward, for it is hardly for men at all. Nature has a patient ear. To her the slowest funeral march sounds like a jig. She is satisfied to have the notes drawn out to the lengths of days or weeks or months. Small variations are acceptable to her, modulations as leisurely as the opening of a flower." - Wendell Berry in The Art of the Commonplace, page 19.

Isn't that gorgeous? I read that and say, being attuned is worth striving after. So I will continue to work at the discipline of paying attention — one that I've been working on for a while now. I wrote this in 2004-ish.


Besides the path that winds
through my waking and sleeping
grow like wildflowers
scenes, insights, connections
Some days I am too rushed
or distracted to see
On others I am wiser
live with the perception
that gathers a bouquet
chooses one or two to press
between the covers
of a book

© 2004 by Violet Nesdoly

This post is part of the discussion of Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit by Luci Shaw. Laura Boggess discusses Chapters 9 (Paying Attention) and 10 (Cultivating Creativity) here. At the bottom of the post you will find links to other posts about these chapters.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Of trickles and gushers

I loved Luci Shaw's chapter on journaling in Breath for the Bones. I could have underlined the whole thing. I think one reason this chapter resonated with me so much is because Shaw has articulated my experience in many areas.

  • The way beginning to write sometimes turns on, in my brain, a Pied Piper's song for words and images.
"I find that as soon as I put words and ideas onto paper, in my notebook ... they begin to gather to themselves more images, more words and ideas" (Kindle Location 1394).

"I write my journal which is where most of my seed poems are recorded" (KL 1421).

  • I often begin a poem (any piece of writing for that matter) without knowing how it is going to end. The way inspiration comes to me during the process of work is one of the reasons I chose the Madeline L'Engle quote as my blog description: "Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it."
"The writing, the music, the painting, the art will begin to open doors as it advances, without my always knowing where it is going or what the end result will be. The rational, planning mind does not leap ahead of the intuitive, imaginative mind. They work in tandem" (KL 1421).

  • I have also been often surprised by how much I find to say about some topics. Some subjects tap into deep, formerly undiscovered reservoirs within me (I think of it as finding a gusher).
"Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us. The writing itself reveals what is alive" - LS quoting Henri Nouwen (KL 1430).

  • I have been a faithful journaler with much bookshelf space given to fat 3-ring binders filled with handwritten words...
    "The task of the writer is to create a rich, immediate, usable past" - LS quoting William Saroyan (KL 1439).

... until 2010. And then those jottings dried to a trickle. It took me a year and a half to fill up a 3-subject coil notebook. I just started a new one at the beginning of August.

What happened? I'm not sure exactly. Distraction? So many words floating around, any more seemed extraneous? Bored with the sound of my own musings? I think above all, I lost sight of the point. Luci's image of the lighted display of the path of an airplane at the beginning of the chapter reminds me about it.

"I want to see clearly the country I have come from, and what lies ahead, and how fast and direct is my journey toward it" - KL 1384.

Reading this chapter couldn't have come at a better time for me. So far this month, the journal-writing is flowing. I feel I have reunited with an old friend - myself. I may just be needing more 3-subject notebooks before the year is up!

This post is part of the book discussion of Breath for the Bones, over at The High Calling. Read Laura Boggess on Chapters 7 and 8 ("Be Brave with Words"), then follow the links at the bottom of the article to more discussion of these chapters.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Moodling Metaphor

I bought Luci Shaw's Breath for the Bones after reading the first instalment of the Book Club discussion by Laura Bogess last Monday. (Grabbing a book at a moment's notice — I love it that I can do that sort of thing with my Kindle.) It is a good time for me to be reading this book and thinking along Shaw's lines. I read the two chapters discussed last week and found myself nodding, yes, yes.

Then I came to Chapter 3 ("Meeting the God of Metaphor") and on reading her story of the oak tree, my heart began to pound. Here's that story:

"After Harold died, my good friend Bernie Bosch and his sons took down the old dead oak tree that stood in our front yard. The previous spring it had not leafed out at all, and we had known it must be toppled. Bernie waited until the ground was frozen hard so that the crash of its enormous bulk wouldn't damage the lawn.

It was a huge job. And after the screaming power saws were silent and the tree was dismembered, all the wood had to be split and trucked away (that was the deal—he cut the tree down in return for the wood), and the mass of debris piled on top of the stump and ignited. The white-hot blaze burned for days, and even after the flames died down, a thin tendril of smoke still threaded the air above the site. It looked like a dormant volcano. The fire ate away most of the stump and the roots deep below the surface so that a week later all that was left was a black-rimmed saucer of ashes like a wound in the sod.

It was then I realized why the felling of the tree occupied my thoughts so consistently and with such a sense of significance. It was because I was the frozen sod with the deep wound, and Harold was my tree who was simply... gone. How unreal it seemed that his roots that had for more than thirty years penetrated deep into my life, that had anchored us and joined us so solidly and securely, had been eroded by the fire of decay. The space above ground that for so long had been filled with his vertical strength and solidity and shape was empty; air had risked in where, before, the towering trunk had outbranched to leaves" (Kindle location 678).

She goes on to explain how her latching onto that metaphor of Harold as the tree and herself the ground with the gaping hole was a healing thing: "I needed to find a picture, something so real in my imagination that I could derive sense impressions from it, and building from this stimuli I could perhaps see a pattern and derive significance from the image."

The reason I responded viscerally to Luci Shaw's story and how it affected her is because I have my own tree root story. Four years ago, when we were moving, we needed to empty our son's bedroom. Even though he hadn't lived at home for some time, his room was still full of 'him.' I spent hours one weekend, collecting his stuff from every nook and cranny of his room and assembling it in the middle of his floor, ready for him to take it to where he lived. It made me very sad and I felt restless until I saw a metaphor in it all. I even wrote about it.

The Prodigal’s Things

Unearthed from dresser drawers 
   closet corners and bookshelves 
his things sit in the middle 
   of his empty room 
the rootball of a dug-up tree

Lawn bags stuffed with clothes 
   balance on plastic tubs 
      heavy with Playstation, Game Gear
      trophies, marbles, a slingshot 
      ball glove, card collection, skate decks 
  and boxes bulging with photo albums, CDs, books . . .

Will he think we’re kicking him out?
“Don’t be silly,” says his dad
   “He hasn’t lived here for two years
and we’re selling the house”

Still the taste of mother-angst
   lingers on my tongue 
   wakes me at night
In the morning I place empty hands 
   on those uprooted tentacles:
“God, please look after this transplant 
with light, love, new life,”

and my heaviness lifts 
   as I am reminded
the great Tree Farmer 
   who made the tree
   planted him first in our home
   and knows intimately 
      each sapling in the forest
is still in charge

© 2011 by V. Nesdoly

Luci Shaw again:
"A metaphor, because of its implicit reality and force in one arena of life, can transfer or carry over its meaning into another arena. The image acts to bring sense and immediacy and relevance to the real-life situations it parallels."

I agree. We can spend our time in much worse ways than moodling metaphors.

This post is linked at "Breath for the Bones: Tell Me a Story," where writer Laura Bogess talks about chapters 3 and 4 of Luci Shaw's book.  There you can find links to other blogs which have joined in on the discussion.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Inscribe - join the family!

I first came across Inscribe Christian Writers' Fellowship ten years ago. We met in the back matter of a 2001 Christmas anthology published by Essence. As I read the bios of the contributors I came across many who belonged to Inscribe Christian Writers' Fellowship (Alberta). Curiously, only one of these people lived in Alberta. The rest came from B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. Could that mean that Inscribe was an organization for more than just Alberta writers, I wondered?

It took me a little while to find them (internet newbie that I was back in '01), but I eventually did and discovered they were indeed Canada-wide and beyond, making connections via email and online. I soon decided to join, and Inscribe has been like a writing family to me ever since. Here are some of the reasons I love being a member:

1. Writer friends.
As an Inscribe member I never need to feel alone or isolated as a writer. Each member gets an invitation to join Inscribe's Yahoo forum where we can connect at the click of a mouse. Even if you're like me and choose to lurk more than chime in on the conversation, it's so nice to have this daily connection with other writers.

2. FellowScript.
One of the perks of membership is a subscription to Inscribe's quarterly newsletter, FellowScript. I find FS a great source of information and inspiration when it hits my mailbox every February, May, August, and November.

3. My own poetry column
I felt hugely honoured when I got the assignment to write a poetry column for FellowScript back in 2005. Writing my Line Upon Line column for each issue is a wonderful challenge for me to keep on top of all things poetic.

4. Conferences.
The writerly development of Inscribe members is further encouraged at regular conferences. These happen about twice a year at some location in Alberta. I have had the privilege of attending one and it was a fabulous time of learning and meeting people in the flesh that I had up till then met only online.

The beautiful cake that the Inscribe organizers (Marcia reminds me it was Sue Plett - thanks Sue!) commissioned to celebrate the launch of Marcia Laycock's novel One Smooth Stone and my poetry collection Family Reunion at the Inscribe Fall Conference, 2007.

5. Contests.
Inscribe also sponsors regular contests (often in conjunction with the conferences). At various times I've been a winner, a runner-up and a judge in these. They are an opportunity to work up a piece of writing and, if one chooses, even get it critiqued.

6. Online presence.
Finally, I must mention Inscribe's online presence. The website is a virtual smorgasbord of helpful articles and links available to everyone — not only members. They also publish a group blog where individual members get to showcase their writing.

So, if you're a Canadian Christian writer who is going it alone, consider joining Inscribe. At only $40 a year for residents of Canada, $50 for US and international residents, I'm sure you'd agree it's a bargain!

This post is part of the July's Inscribe blog tour.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Poetic Voice Lesson 1 - Sharpen Your Ear

Chances are what attracts you to your favorite fiction writer, newspaper columnist, blogger, or poet has a lot to do with voice. Les Edgerton, author of an entire book on voice says, “The theory I’ve arrived at ... is that readers select certain authors to read in much the same way they select their personal friends: on the basis of the ‘voice’ (personality) of that person” -  Finding Your Voice, p. 4.

If voice is so important and having a pleasing one determines whether you’ll be published and read, a study of voice is worth a little time and effort. Let’s take a close look at voice, then, with a focus on voice in poetry.

In this first voice lesson:
  • We'll ask ourselves what voice is. 
  • We’ll take apart the notion of voice by isolating its components and thinking about how each might contribute to a poet’s voice. 
  • We’ll practice listening by reading segments from poems by contemporary poets. 
  • Finally, we’ll describe the voice we hear coming from each.
Defining voice
Finding a useful definition of voice was not as cut and dried as I expected it to be. The simplest said that voice was the revelation of a writer’s personality. That is somewhat helpful. But for the purposes of getting our teeth into the concept, I settled on John Drury’s The Poetry Dictionary definition: “The characteristic sound, style, manner, tone of a particular poet or poem. On the page voice comprises diction (word choice), syntax (word arrangement), attitudes, subject matter, rhythmic proclivities, line lengths, punctuation, the presence or absence of meter and rhyme, and tone" - The Poetry Dictionary p. 342

Let’s look closely at the elements in Drury’s definition (not necessarily in his order), to see what each might contribute to a poet’s voice.

A poem begins with subject matter. It’s an important starting point in developing voice, according to Michael Bugeja: “When they (well known poets like Sylvia Path) matured as poets, they began to write about people and topics that thoroughly consumed then.... Once they had discovered their subject matter, voice followed" - The Art and Craft of Poetry p. 140.

Another aspect of subject matter would be the imagery used. The world those images are taken from (for example nature, home, war, business), their originality and the aptness of the comparison all contribute to a poet’s voice.

Tone is a musical term that suggests the very sound of the voice coming from the page. It is also sometimes used interchangeably with mood. How writers achieve tone or mood brings into play other elements of voice like diction and syntax.

A poet’s sensitivity to a word’s shades of meaning affect diction. For example it will dictate what synonym for “run” he will use in a certain poem, knowing that gallop, jog and flee each indicate, besides a different speed, a different mood. 

The order of words (syntax) will be influenced not only by rules of grammar and which word sounds best at the end of the line, but also by the weight of the idea or thought that the end word conveys.

The length of lines, rhythmic proclivities of the writing, and the punctuation —in the way they imply pauses, places of emphasis, places to speed up, slow down, and stop—give us a glimpse into how the poet wants the piece to sound when read aloud. The use of meter and rhyme, and their way of satisfying us at a deep level, may leave us with the feeling that the poet sees things in an orderly, tidy-ending way, as opposed to the more random, loose-end feeling conveyed by some free verse poetry.

Other things that are achieved with these choices is writing that contains nuance and attitude. All the elements work together to become the writer’s voice or personality behind the words on the page.

Listening for and describing voice

One of the first things we can do to become aware of voice—our own and others—is to listen for it. To give you some practice, try the exercise below. Read each poem segment, then choose a word or words to describe how that poet’s voice sounds to you. My responses follow the poems—but of course, there are no right or wrong answers.


Just try it. If you dare,
I will hang you
from the highest tree
–on display
for the frail eyes
of this earth
You created.
(Read all of "Cursed.”)


Those months of infatuation
are over.
Our honeymoon is in pictures
boxed away somewhere.
It’s been rocky:
anger, a separation or two.
(Read all of “The Relationship.”)


O God, Your righteous judgments give the king
Who shall with justice judge the waiting poor;
And lofty peaks and tiny hills will bring
Peace, and by righteousness the calm restore.
(Read all of “The Reign of Messiah.”)


Sobs crack air
eyes, tumid map of veins
pulse a widow’s elegy
scan horizon flat as hope
(Read all of “Naomi.”)


This evening
I picked ripe
red, raspberries
In a gentle summer rain.
(Read all of “This Evening.”)


I can’t help myself, caught up in your love. On my tip
toes dancing, side to side, round and round, dip,
swerve. Got to have a lot of nerve to dance so wild
No, not really, caught up in His love, seeing Him with
eyes like a child. All my senses absorb all they can.
(Read all of “Caught Up.”)


Wire-strung words transmit requests for prayer.
The assassin returns, aims, strikes vulnerability,
recalls your mother caught in the crosshairs.,
Sights daughter pain across soft milk flesh
targets an inheritance the size of a plum.
(Read entire poem “April Winter.”)

Here are my responses. Were they anything like yours?

1. taunting, disdainful
2. resigned, intimate, honest
3. dignified, elevated
4. hopeless, doleful
5. simple, direct
6. energetic, excited, joyful
7. intelligent, alert, violated

Do you want to sharpen your ear some more? Try this: Find a writer’s voice that you like a lot and a writer’s voice that you don’t like at all. Study them closely. How are they different? Similar? Try to find the ingredients that make one voice appealing and the other unappealing.

Copyright © 2009 by Violet Nesdoly
First published in January 2009 at Utmost Christian Writers  in the Poet's Classroom series.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Taming the poetry beast

I am in the curious space in my poetry-writing 'career' where I feel the need to do something other than write more poems and that is review and organize the poems I've already written. (It's almost as if this part of the creativity process - a sort of clearing blocked plumbing, if you will, so that new words can flow...)

In an attempt to do that I've pulled sheets from binders and the pockets of clipboards, sorted them into piles according to the things I write about — faith, nature, family, objects etc. — but it's still a mess. However, I think I may have discovered the perfect tool for gaining some control over my all-over-the-place efforts. It's Scrivener.

I first came across Scrivener some months ago when a fellow writer recommended it as good software for working on projects where you need one place to collect the research, develop the concepts, do the drafts etc. I downloaded the 30-day free trial and used it for working on a long fiction piece. Eventually I purchased it.

Now, after mulling over how to best use it, I'm beginning to enter my poems into it. I'm hoping to collect and organize them so that I can see at a glance what I've written on various themes, what's worth working on or not, what's been published and where etc.

What I love about Scrivener for working on poetry is:
  • its keyword function (which is also searchable). You can keyword each document as to form, subject, published status, contest status, blogged etc.
  • its camera function: You can take a shot of each document before and after tweaking, which keeps all the versions attached to the poem and visible in the Inspector with a click of the mouse.
  • its linkability: You can easily post links in the Inspector, good for when the poem was inspired by an online prompt, for example, or you are planning to link it on a meme site (like One Shot Wednesdays).
I'm hoping to spend some time this summer taming the untidy poetry beast that lives in my office. For that, Scrivener will be my whip and stool.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Fresh, Sharp, Witty, Unpretentious*" - Canadian Poet Marianne Jones

I just discovered that Marianne Jones' book of poems Here, On the Ground won The World Guild 2011 Writing Award in the Special Books category. Congratulations, Marianne!

In February 2011 I did an email interview of Marianne for FellowScript. Today seems like a good time to republish that here to give readers some insight into Marianne and her prize-winning book.

"Fresh, Sharp, Witty, Unpretentious" - Canadian Poet Marianne Jones

Marianne Jones of Thunder Bay, Ontario was named Utmost Christian Writers International Christian Poet Laureate in March of 2010. The position of Poet Laureate is not the first recognition this Canadian poet has received for her poetry-writing skill. I interviewed her recently via email.

Violet: When did you first become interested in writing poetry? 
Marianne: I remember working seriously on poems when I was ten or eleven. But when I was younger I remember looking at things—rooftops, trees—and feeling an urgency to find the right words to describe them so that others would feel and see what I was experiencing.

Violet: What were some of the milestones along the path to becoming Utmost's International Christian Poet Laureate?
Marianne: The first time one of my poems was accepted by a literary magazine was a definite milestone for me. And when I won first place in the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop competition it was a real acknowledgement from my peers. Stephen Heighton’s praise of my work was an honour. Also, my chapbook, Highway 17, was used as part of the creative writing curriculum at Confederation College in Thunder Bay for several years. That was pretty special, as was receiving a grant from the Ontario Arts Council toward my collection, Here, on the Ground.

Violet: Some people claim they can't write poetry unless they are "inspired." Others write regularly whether they feel specific inspiration or not. How does the process of conceiving and writing poems work for you?
Marianne: Both are part of the process. There are days when my brain feels like sludge and produces nothing interesting. However, I have learned to carry a journal with me at all times and jot down descriptions and images. My poem “Canadian Tire” was written in the car as I sat in the parking lot outside the Canadian Tire store while my husband was shopping. I was bored, but decided to write about the experience. You never know from what unlikely place a poem will come!

Violet: Once you've written something, do you leave it the way it comes out, or edit it? If you edit, could you tell us about your process?
Marianne: My poems go through numerous edits. The first draft captures something—the essence of what I’m trying to say, or an image I like. But I need to sleep on it and revisit it later. Usually the first draft is a mess, which I don’t recognize at first blush. The editing process is the fun part for me, where I experiment with cleaning up sloppy phrases or deleting things that don’t add anything to the poem. The final draft often bears only a slight resemblance to the final product. This process is where I look for more muscular verbs and sharper images, a more graceful flow.

Violet: Your latest book Here, On the Ground (FriesenPress, May, 2010), has poems on a range of topics from Bible characters to life in northern Ontario. What was your concept for the book and what ties these poems together?
Marianne: These poems articulate a lot of my life experiences and thought processes. Tying them together into one theme was challenging, so I grouped them into sections. The Shadowlands section is about Biblical stories that resonate with me, and some of my own experiences in my journey. The red shoes section is about folk tales that speak to me, as well as a few playful poems added. How Canadians Survive Winter speaks to our love-hate relationship with the geography and climate of this country. I’d say that this is a very personal collection, that shows the range of my musings, from the mundane to the sublime.

Violet: This is your second published collection. Tell us about your first book and the process of publishing poetry collections in general.
Marianne: Highway 17 was an experiment and an act of faith. My daughter had been studying creative writing at Concordia University in Montreal. She told me that self-publishing chapbooks was the norm for poets in Canada, where very few publishing houses handled poetry. A friend helped me to sort and organize my poems, and I self-published a small number of chapbooks. I really didn’t expect much response, so I was pleasantly surprised when the first printing sold out. The second printing is almost sold out now. I did all the work on Here, on the Ground myself, except for the cover photo, which my husband did.

Violet: What activities have you found useful in publicizing and marketing your books?
Marianne: Marketing is the part that every writer hates, but it’s a necessary evil nowadays. I use Facebook, sell at local book tables, do readings and workshops. There is no easy or magic way. You have to realize that there are a million other writers out there also marketing their work.

You have to keep thinking of ways to promote, and enlisting the help of others. I’m not the best marketer in the world, but I plug away at it.

Violet: What advice would you give poets interested in publishing collections of their poems?
Marianne: I didn’t attempt it until I had already published a reasonable amount in a variety of magazines. That was what gave me the confidence that there were people out there willing to pay for my work. It’s great to have supportive family and friends who praise your work, but they may be responding more to you than to the work. The real test is whether editors will pay to publish your poems. After I had done that, and won some poetry competitions, I decided that self-publishing a chapbook was a logical next step.

Violet: What other poetry-inspired activities or organizations are you involved with? How are they helpful?
Marianne: I am a member of a local professional writers group. I am the only poet in the group, but we enjoy each other and support and celebrate each other’s work. I am also a member of the League of Canadian Poets. I do readings whenever I get the opportunity.

Violet: What advice would you give someone who has newly discovered they enjoy writing poetry?
Marianne: Read a lot of good poetry. That will teach you more about how to write than anything. I cut my teeth as a child on Walter de la Mare and Rudyard Kipling, and continued on to Stephen Crane, Wilfred Owen, Robert Frost. Soak yourself in the poetry portions of the Bible—Isaiah, the Psalms, The Song of Songs.
And take your time! Poetry is an activity that requires slowing down, meditating, observing quietly—things that are counter-cultural in the West. What we write in a hurry is likely to be superficial. Stretch yourself to find the unusual metaphor, the original phrase.

Violet: Can we find more of your work online? Where can we purchase your books?
Marianne: People can order Here, on the Ground from Chapters, FriesenPress or Or they can email me directly:

  • My review of Marianne's book is here.

*Words from the cover blurb of Here, On the Ground, by poet, editor & publisher of Penumbra Press, John Flood.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The internet - a great place to cultivate poetry

Writer-poet Marcus Goodyear doesn't believe that all the tweeting and hopping, the bit to bit and the clip to clip we experience when we surf the internet is making us stupid or shallow. He sees fragmentary communication not as dehumanizing but as poetry! He calls the sharing of our work for free via Creative Commons not laziness or thievery but stewardship and sees poetry as an effective way to steward ideas using internet technology to efficiently whiz them around the universe.

In that context, The Books and Culture arm of Christianity Today challenges poets with a prompt. Here it is verbatim:

Write a poem about cultivation. When I talk about cultivation, I mean agriculture but also creativity and culture itself. I am talking about the little place in your world where you have been given a small plot to grow new things and add to the beauty of God's world. Your deadline is July 1.
Read the whole article here.

So we have 14 days to write a poem and post it on our blogs and then link them in the comments of Marcus's article. Are we up for it?