Consider Writing Poetry Even if You’re Not a Poet

How many of you write poetry? Raise your hands.

I thought so.

Well, if you are convinced that poetry is not your thing, think again. Even if you have no desire to be a published poet, you ought to try writing some. Why?

* Writing poetry can be a great way to warm up your writing skills like a singer warms up her voice. By the time you finish a poem, your muse is engaged and ready to tackle the main writing of the day.

* Poetry forces you to be concise, to leave out unnecessary words and search for exactly the right words. If, like me, you tend to be too wordy in your prose, it can  help you streamline your writing.

* Poetry uses images, such as metaphors and similes, that can also enhance your prose.

* To write a good poem that says a lot in a few lines, you must figure out what you’re trying to say, another good skill for prose writers.

* A poem can become an outline or a Cliff Notes version of the longer story you want to tell in prose.

* Poetry forces you to slooooow down and ponder each word, something we don’t always take the time to do when writing prose.

* Writing poetry is fun, especially if you’re not worrying about where you can get your poems published.

* Poets are very, very cool.

If you haven’t looked at poetry in a while, read what some modern poets are doing. Today’s poem does not have to rhyme or fit into a complicated form, although it still can.

It’s true that there’s no money in poetry and most of our friends and relatives never touch the stuff, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Poems convey a thought, a feeling or an experience in a few words, just like Twitter, without the hashtags. Try it.

Here are four books and a website to help you get started.

The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Wooldridge

The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop by Diane Lockward

Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry by Sage Cohen

Poetic Asides blog

Now go write.

 

 

 

 

 


Poem Not Right? Write It Again

You non-poets, stick around. This will work for you, too.

I’m not a great reviser of my poetry. I tend to throw lines on a page and consider it done. If it works, it works. But last week a prompt from Poets & Writers gave me a way to make an okay poem much better. The prompt was to take two favorite lines from a poem that needs revision and write a villanelle. Now, a villanelle is a form in which you write five three-line stanzas and end with a four-line stanza. What makes it tricky is that you are supposed to repeat the first line at the end of the second and fourth stanzas and the third line at the end of the third and fifth stanzas, then repeat them both as the last two lines of the ending quatrain. Confused yet? There’s more. The first and third lines of each stanza should rhyme while the second lines all rhyme with each other. Ready to give up? I hear you. For a great explanation and examples of villanelles, click on http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5796.

But wait, you don’t have to write a villanelle. In this exercise, the villanelle is just a tool, like grabbing a different screwdriver from the toolbox. And you have choices. In my revision, I didn’t do the rhymes, just the repetitions, and I liked what I got. Using the villanelle form forced me to think a little harder about what I was trying to say and to choose lines that said it better. However the repetitions became too . . . repetitious. So . . . I started a whole new poem, using the best of the villanelle, with fewer repetitions, and now I really like my poem. It took a while, I got a little sunburned because I was working out on the deck, but now I get it. Keeping only the best of the poem, cutting and adding until all the lines are good, I think I finally am saying what I was trying to say.

They’re only words, friends, tools to express an idea or a feeling. If the words aren’t quite right, reach into the toolbox for other words. You can always save the rejected lines for another poem. If you insist on keeping only the words from that first blast of inspiration, it’s like trying to tighten the screws on a bookshelf with a flathead screwdriver when what you really need is a Phillips-head. You’ll never get it tight, and it will always wobble.

Now go write.

 

 


Three Quick Tips for Writers: grammar, poetry, fairy tales

Once a week I am offering three quick tips that you can take and use right away. For those of us who would rather be writing than reading blogs, this is a place you can grab something useful and get back to work. If you have suggestions, please share them in the comments section.

Click

Are you finding that grammar is a mystery? Why do people keep adding commas to your manuscripts? What’s the deal with lay and lie? Find help from grammar guru Mignon Fogarty at Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She also has a Grammar Girl book by the same title.

Read

The Poet’s Companion: a Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorriane Laux. It’s got everything from getting started to getting published, including lots of poems to read and lots of writing exercises to try.

Try This

Rewrite a fairy tale. They’re doing it on TV and in books. You can, too. Start with your favorite fairy tale or myth, give it a modern setting with modern problems and a new point of view and see what happens. You can do this with current stories, too, but you’ll need to make it a totally new story to avoid copyright problems.

Now Go Write


The way to great writing? Slow down

Last weekend, I attended the Northwest Poet’s Concord right here in beautiful Newport, Oregon, and I learned a few things. Don’t tune out if you’re not a poet because the most important lesson I learned applies to all kinds of writing—as well as to other things in life.

The workshops covered many different aspects of poetry, from line breaks to language to setting poems to music, but for me it all boiled down to one thing: slow down and pay attention. Don’t just whip it out and call it done.

Our keynote speaker David Biespiel, poet and poetry columnist for the Oregonian newspaper, showed how us how to read poetry in a way I had never tried. Don’t just dive in, he said. Prepare.He compared us to Olympic divers, who spend more time preparing than actually diving. When preparing to read a poem, look at the title and think about what it suggests the poem is about. Think about the poet. What do you know about him or her and the era in which they wrote this? Read the first line and stop. Consider that line as an entity on its own. Now go down to the bottom and read the last line. How does that relate to the title and the first line? Then look at the ends of the lines. What kinds of words do you see? Are they concrete, philosophical, erudite, slang? Do they rhyme? Finally, read the poem, slowly. Then read it again.

Now, try this with your own poems as if you have never seen them before, as if you were a reader approaching them for the first time. Look at the title, look at the first line, look at the last line, etc.

Another session focused on revision, particularly the use of line breaks and sentences. The instructor urged us to consider every choice we make. Why are we breaking the line here? Why are we putting a comma there? Can we justify every adverb or adjective or are they just lazy ways of saying something that could be said with one powerful word if we took the time to find it?

Finally, choose the strongest line in your poem and work to make every line meet the same standard. Stop and think about this. Find the strongest line and work to make every line meet the same standard.

For prose writers, instead of lines, we can think of paragraphs. Maybe you have a brilliant first paragraph, but some of the others are just . . . there. Can you make them better? Can you leave them out? What about characters? Are a few so clearly drawn you can see and hear them while others are clichéd or vague? Stop and make each one as strong as the best.

As a former newspaper reporter, I write in a hurry. What if I took more time? What if I sat with that poem, story, essay, or novel as if it were the only one I would ever write?

This, I think, is the key to greatness. Try it. Take one piece of writing and see what you can do. Maybe a few changes will make it stronger. Remember, if you don’t like the changes, you can always delete and start over, and Word has a wonderful feature called “undo.” Control Z.

I’m heading out to the backyard now with one of the poems I read at the Concord. I thought it was fine before, but now, I think I can make it better.