…AND OTHER ROADBLOCKS IN WRITING!

Tag Archives: poetry

What? Am I on the wrong blog? I thought this was a writer’s site.

 Wait! Wait, no, it’s really me. Hang in there. Let me explain. I happened across an article on www.dumblittleman.com that lit up the cartoon light bulb over my head. I’d recommend them for great articles and tips for all areas of your life. I’ve been following them for years, back when it was called Life Hack.

The article I read was called “8 Bad Food Habits That are Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Goals.” Not that I needed that particular information, mind you, I was just browsing the site (and if you believe that, there’s a cliché in Brooklyn that I could sell you really cheap.)

What this article did was remind me that there are little bad habits that sabotage writers, too. For example, being personally aware of one bad habit, I was moved to write a poem ala the kids’ book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Here’s part of it:

IF YOU CLEAN A WRITER’S COFFEEPOT     by Virginia Nygard

If you clean a writer’s coffeepot…

he’ll want you to make a pot of coffee.

If you make a pot of coffee and hand him a cupful…

he’ll want a cookie, too.

If you mix up cookie batter quick…

he’ll fill up his cup, and wait for warm cookies.

While there, he’ll see the coffee jar’s low…

and grind fragrant beans to fill it up.

He’ll put the coffee jar away…

and notice the cupboard door is loose.

He’ll find his tools, fix the door, and then…

eye the shabby, faded walls.

You know where this is going, right? Straight to serious procrastination bordering on avoidance, yes? And that’s what eats away at your writing time.

Then, there’s the food-inspired question, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer? Yup, one bite at a time. Or, as a writer, one step at a time. Don’t start picking out the publishing house for which you want to be the next star if you haven’t started with Step One. Examine what makes you want to write. What makes you think writing is a good fit for you? Have you kept a journal? Had a pen pal? Have you read a variety of genres? Do you have a burning desire to share your story? Are you willing to learn? Do you want fame and fortune?

If the last is your driving goal, let me share what my high school guidance counselor said to me, “If you’re looking to make a bundle of money by going into teaching for a career, you’ll be going into the wrong profession.” She was right, but it was what I was called to do. And that warning can apply to writing, too. In my view, what society exalts is not always honorable, moral, or of lasting value. Consider what society exalts if you want big bucks. Just don’t sell your soul to get it.

Follow your desire to write with Step Two. What’s your support system? Have you looked into classes online or at your local community college? Joined a local writers’ group? Found a non-profit writers’ association in your state? There are groups online that offer writing contests or critique. Be aware of membership fees and check their credentials before jumping in.

When I was about three years old, I was eager to learn and do as much as I could, as fast as I could. And that applied to climbing stairs, too. Holding my mother’s hand on the way up to bed, I remember trying to take two-or maybe it was three-steps at a time. From below I heard my father’s voice, “One at a time. One at a time.” So we moved slowly up the stairs with me chanting for each step, “‘One at a time,’ Da-da says…‘One at a time,’ Da-da says…”

So how do we go about making The New York Times Best Sellers list?

Right. Da-da would be proud of you!

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…And I must, because otherwise I will be flattened like a pancake—make that a crepe—by that steamroller of wood pulp and ink on my tail that demands attention.

The Florida Writers Association just notified me of the judging results for its 8th annual short story and poetry collection. This year, the theme and title are Hide and Seek.

Authors and writers were allowed to enter two items: two stories, two poems, or one of each. A fan of diversity, I chose one of each. I am delighted that both made the cut, but because the rule is that only one entry per writer will be published, they chose the story over the poem. Perhaps that’s because the moral of the story is about doing the right thing in a difficult situation, something not very popular these days.

The short story, “Breaking News,” unlike Breaking Bad, begins with a character struggling against odds, who chooses up instead of down as her path after a battle with her conscience.

I’ve given Malika many mental hugs as I wrote her story. Were she real, I’d hug her twice as much. She chooses the right path, not the profitable, expedient, devious, hypocritical, self-serving, dissembling path of an opportunist. Okay, so that was a lot of adjectives. Deal with it. I had a dozen more. Trust me, Malika wouldn’t make a good politician. Nor would she come close to ever, ever becoming a presidential candidate in today’s world. Although…stranger things have happened.

The Florida Writers Association Collection, Volume 8: Hide and Seek, will be published in time for its debut at this year’s 15th Annual Florida Writers Conference entitled “CARPE Diem: Conquer the World, One Book at a Time.” Keynote speaker at the conference will be New York Times Best selling Author John Gilstrap, who will tell us what his ten favorite Volume 8 tales are. Stay tuned for how to get your copy!

If you are a tenderfoot writer, or need help networking and learning more about the craft, the Florida Writers Association, with critique groups located throughout the state, is the place to go.

Check it out at:   https://floridawriters.net

 

 

 

 


…a free verse that is really free. I remember learning “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer when I was in eighth grade. At that age, one usually wonders what on earth good memorizing a poem will be… while joyfully memorizing all the pop lyrics that come along. Hello, young Me? Most lyrics rhyme, like the trees of Kilmer’s time, and they are poetry! In fact, Kilmer’s poem is often described as a lyric poem!

In six rhyming couplets in iambic tetrameter, Kilmer’s poem also introduced me to personification—something I knew intimately, but hadn’t the word for, since being introduced to characters like the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. And I remember my elementary teachers at Read School in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with great fondness. They saw past the glasses and pigtails and the insecurity to the potential and promise in the plain little girl before them.

Miss Helen Carroll was the one who assigned the memorization of “Trees,” and so grateful for the excellent teacher she was, I kept in touch with her beyond my college years until she died. Her encouragement led me to dare to contribute to school newspapers and yearbooks, and to continue to learn and love literature.

Being a bit of a respectful rebel all my life helped me understand the drive behind inquisitive, creative, and daring minds. So it was I found a kindred spirit in Edward Estlin Cummings (E.E. or e.e., depending on your stance in the debate) and was intrigued with his free verse works as well as abandonment of conventional grammar and punctuation to create a more compelling expression of thought beyond his traditional works.

At last we come to the connection between “Trees,” E.E., me, and free verse. I think. Free verse tends to be like natural speech, but the poet can use such elements as rhyme, meter, alliteration, assonance, symbolism, ambiguity, and so much more to convey his message. So my reaction to Robert Frost’s comment that writing free verse was “like playing tennis without a net” is that it’s still tennis. It’s still a game requiring the clever and effective use of tools and skills within certain boundaries to attain a win. Boundaries? Of course. Two people cannot expect to play tennis with “A” at one end of a football field, and “B” at the other. One can’t write a Trigonometry textbook and call it poetry, unless it has poetic elements.

There are some forms of the poetic art that drive me crazy: those that seem like a flash fiction challenge, and those that appear to be internal dialogue that zig-zags across-the-ball-field. Okay, so I know not all people choose vanilla ice cream as their favorite, as I do, but I’ve learned to live with their lack of taste. Pun intended. Still, please employ a modicum of decorum when you play the game, and act as if the net were there. Thank you.


…lest ye be judged. Or debated. Or enlightened. Okay, so I’m still smarting from a recent rubric on a poem I entered in a contest. The poem did final, but might have won an award had one judge not given it the deep freeze. The loss is ameliorated only by the fact that another of mine did win, so sour grapes is not the moral here.

“Toll Road,” the poem to which I refer, was not intended to be “My Summer Vacation in (insert your favorite destination),” naming attractions and fine restaurants. It was not a travelogue. It was a metaphor for life’s journey. The most confusing comment was, “Poem needs to be more specific about place if you have a place in the title.”(sic) This reference to being specific was repeated several times, along with one generic…which matched the score!

Of the same poem, another judge wrote, “The title is perfect for this poem.” A third wrote of the title, “…some reflection of the finality of the journey might be more exact.” That, I felt, was a constructive point as it went to tying beginning and end.

At a different time, with a different poem, I totally enraged a judge by not using enough stops, punctuation and phrasing to tell the reader how to read the poem. What that person overlooked was that the poem was carefully constructed to be read more than one way, with more than one meaning. It is, indeed, difficult to be a poetic prophet in one’s time. That I adore creative freethinkers like e.e. cummings doesn’t help fill my pocketbook. It does fill my mind with the desire to explore and poke holes in boundaries. My mother told me that at the age of four, I looked inside the fireplace in the doctor’s waiting room and declared, “Mama, that’s not a real fireplace!”

This leads me to recall the time I entered a well-critiqued, well-edited short story in a well-known national contest. So confident was I that I paid in advance for an anthology of the winners’ entries. Though I didn’t win, I felt I’d invested in a good learning tool. I sharpened my blue pencil and edited every crappy story in the somewhere around a hundred-page, slim-line, small-type book. Putting all the entries in a room with five chimpanzees would have resulted in a better anthology. Others with whom I discussed my findings agreed, “Mama, that was a rip-off!”

So what are the several morals to the story?

(1) Learn all you can and write what you love.

(2) Sift critique like panning for gold. Save the grains and nuggets, and dump the mud.

(3) In critique groups, count to ten, and be kind to those who comment. They are giving you their time, offering a reader’s viewpoint, and learning, too.

(3A) Exception; You don’t have to be kind to nationally promoted contests, where they get big bucks for their time, and should give you your money’s worth.


. . . a poem as lovely as the one by me! (Apologies to Joyce Kilmer) I think all writers believe this of their literary babies. And, like any babies, poetry pups need basic training. Like don’t pee on the poetic form. Learn your boundaries-and then let go! I, too, have learned the difference between the carpet and the backyard, so here I go.

I’ve read and reread books of poetry and texts on writing poetry. I’ve been stunned by a poet’s ability to weave ordinary word-yarn into beauty that fits any mind. Many poets spin the most painful subjects into poignant pictures of human conditions and emotions. Others stitch fine metaphors from all of nature’s threads.

And while the intricate rules of poetry shapes it chameleon-like into many cousins, I find some forms fascinating but sterile. Some seem intent on mathematics of the thing, discouraging all but the most savant with their formulas. Many seem the Rubik’s cube of time long past.

Granted no society can live without rules. No discipline or function, be it science, mathematics, surgery, or driving a school bus, can accomplish its goals without a blueprint, a set of rules, policies and procedures. But is there necessarily beauty in regimentation? In following the party line, be it religious, political, or poetic?

Those who love such restrictions may not love my words. Yet I follow my spirit as it responds instinctively, intensely, to all things. I know I am here by chance. I am from the same star-stuff as is every great and minute creation on, and even far from, earth. So my work must be the same-random and free-not bound by laws of physics or archaic forms, unless, on occasion, the muse dictates otherwise.

And yet, while fish cannot mate with fowl, duck with dog, or moose with meadowlark some prose in sheep’s clothing hopes to fool the unsuspecting into believing it is poetry.

Prose, poetic or not, often squeezes the maudlin or mundane into a paragraph, dialogue included, as if the writer has just run into an acute paper shortage and decides to call a condensed memoir poetry, when it’s flash-fiction-at-best, and a rambling diary entry at worst.

Part of a poem I wrote in protest of this attempt to mate dissimilar species by virtue of similarities in their DNA, reads:

… i believe, too,
in loosening poetry’s reins;
but what cruelty
to sever them entirely,
shotgunning unfettered words
across the literary landscape,
to fall fallow in their field.

(From “Poetry?” by Virginia Nygard 2014)


TEN GREAT WEBSITES FOR WRITERS

I’ve been hunting the Internet Jungle for websites for writers, and some of these have been passed on to me from other writers. Hope these help!

1) dailywriting tips.com:
Each day this free newsletter gives tips on grammar, punctuation, lists of idioms, synonyms, and more.

2) wordsmsith.org:
Sign up for free A.Word.A.Day message that gives you the meaning, etymology, usage of a word. Also has audio to hear the word pronounced.

3) writing-world.com:
Billed as “A World of Writing information – For Writers Around the World,” It truly is a fantastic site with a super archive.

4) writersdigest.com:
Every writer’s Bible online! Articles, blogs, competitions, education, and more. Okay, by now you’re saying “Do I really need more?” Well, yes! Because I went to the trouble to find them for you!

5) grammarbook.com:
The free site begun by author Jane Strauss, now deceased, gives simple grammar explanations followed by a short quiz to anchor the concept in memory.

6) chompchomp.com:
While on the subject of grammar, here you can get a few bytes of the subject in advice and interactive format.

7) poetryfoundation.org:
I love this place. Sign up for their free poem-a-day. Sometimes I save opening this email until I need a break in my writing. Most works I love, others–eh–not so much. Like when it’s shaped and reads like a paragraph pulled from a page of a book. (Okay, poetry elitists, no letters, please. Some people like baseball, some like football. There’s room for all of us in the world)

8) novel-writing-help.com:
Helpful site by Harvey Chapman, a Brit. It covers getting started, planning and writing a novel, and lists writing resources. He seemed to speak to me: “…remember that most people out there wouldn’t have the guts or the stamina to attempt what you are attempting. …and you should feel immensely proud about whatever you have achieved today.” Thanks, Harvey! We all need to hear that.

9) freelancewriting.com:
If freelancing is your aim, this site has everything: hundreds of video tutorials, articles, and more. Give it a look.

10) scbwi.org:
If you are, or think you’d like to write for children, check into the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.