Sunday, February 17, 2019

7 Things I Learned from Writing Poetry


This post is not a how-to guide for writing poetry. Rather, it is a compilation of a few things I have learned while writing poetry. I wouldn’t go so far as to say any of these things are rules but rather a couple guidelines that I have followed during the writing process.

I wasn’t always a poet. In fact, I like to claim that if it weren’t for a certain philosophy class I took in uni, I wouldn’t have taken an interest in poetry at all. As I struggled to understand modernism and postmodernism and why even philosophers don’t understand it (seriously, why???), I wrote a very odd performance poem about madness.

Thus, my interest in writing poetry was born.

Sure, I probably would’ve come to write poetry in a different way, seeing as how I took a creative writing class the next semester, but I like to think fondly back to that ridiculous poem. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about reading poetry and certainly a lot about writing it. Here are just a few facts about the latter.


1) Not all poetry is nonfiction.


This little tidbit I picked up from my creative writing class. Poetry is tied to emotions and metaphors, but that doesn’t mean you have to experienced them to write about them. When I wrote “Puddle”, I wrote about the melancholy change that comes with nature in comparison to a break up. But here’s the thing—I’ve never dated before much less had a break up.

So how did I write the poem? I just made it up.

Novels in verse even come in many different forms from contemporary fiction (Saving Red) to historical fiction (Blood, Water, Paint) and from classics (Paradise Lost) to memoir (Brown Girl Dreaming). Stand alone poems are no different. Some of them may be fact while others pure imagination.

2) Metaphors are fun to experiment with.


They’re probably one of my favorite parts of poetry. Comparisons that might sound forced or confusing in prose make for some excellent poetry, and readers don’t need everything spelled out for them. Though I still strive for simplicity with each poem, I like being able to overlay lines or phrases with multiple meanings and explore metaphors by asking questions like “How can I say this in a way that’s not cliché?” and “What shows and evokes emotion in the reader without outright stating it?”

For example, when writing “Heartbeat”, I played with emotions like unease and fear and mashed them up with imagery from Mount Saint Helens with its lakes where pine trees still lie beneath the water and the sulfur pools from Yellowstone National Park.

please don’t ask me to relax, for still I
feel the avalanche, lifeblood of this sphere with its
veins of ash and fire pulsing to drumbeats
in the deep
—excerpt from “Heartbeat”

3) Structured poems are challenging but rewarding.


I’m not much of one for sonnets (too sappy), and I still can’t write a villanelle (help!), but every now and then I try my hand at something other than my usual free verse. Typically, I’ll write something in iambic pentameter, with ten syllables in each line and the stress being on every second syllable. It’s got a nice rhythm.

The hardest part is finding words that fit the meter and still have the poem make sense. Sometimes, I’ll play around with the order of words and see if I can rearrange the sentence and still have it make sense.

My friends and I, we’d build small forts to hide
pretending tales were life with every stride.
Like sweets, the sap did cling to child’s small hands
and time blew through the trees with open fronds.
—excerpt from “Pine Trees”


4) Even free verse poetry has its guidelines.


I’ve been told
in many a book review
that writing poetry
is not just
hitting enter.

Which is why I’m not going to write this whole section and pretend it’s a free verse poem. It’s not. Even though free verse poems can be vastly different from structured ones, they still differ from prose in complexity and imagery and spacing, you name it.

My biggest struggle is with line length and whether to break apart certain phrases or keep them together. Even more recently, as I read and record poems for my monthly posts, I’ve come to discover just how important rhythm, punctuation, and line length are for ease of reading. “Small Talk” isn’t a bad poem visually if I may say so myself, but man was it hard to read aloud with so few pauses! If you happen to find my poems with more commas or pauses, it’s for reading ease.

5) I can’t force myself to write a poem.


A lot of people say that you can’t wait for inspiration to strike, that you just have to write. And I agree for the most part. Except when it comes to poetry. I’ve tried forcing myself to write poems instead of just letting the lines flow. Each time, I’ve wanted to set the final result on fire.

Maybe that means I’m still an amateur at writing poetry. Maybe not.

Either way, I usually have to wait for the poem to come to me. Inspiration takes many different forms, but for me, more often than not, it’s nature. If you haven’t already noticed, a lot of my poems tend to be nature poems. That and I tend to write the best poems in my head while I’m exercising. All my best exercising I do hiking through the woods, biking to work, or jogging through open fields.


6) Even poems may require multiple drafts.


I never post a poem or send one out for publication without first running it by my lovely critique partner, Faith. Back in university, we used to tear each other’s poems apart a lot more—maybe there’s something about reading them in person that makes it easier to examine or maybe we’ve both gotten better at writing. Now we continue to review each other’s work, from blog posts to poems, and I find it’s helpful not only to have somebody make sure I used the write word but also to ensure I made sense.

7) Poetry is meant for sharing.


The more I read and write poetry, the more I come to understand this one. Poetry isn’t just meant to be read quietly in a living room or alone in a sunny field. It’s meant to be shared and discussed. As I mentioned when I attended my first book reading/poetry night, sharing poetry with a group and hearing their favorite poems helped me better understand my readers. I also like it when I’m reading and a family member is around and I can share a line or maybe an entire poem with them. It makes reading that much more enjoyable.

Let’s chat! Any fellow poets out there? What’s your take on writing poetry? Reading it? What’s the last poem you wrote/read? Links welcome!

***


Literary references: Sonya Sones’ Saving Red, Joy McCullough’s Blood, Water, Paint, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Pre-Ordering, Boarding the Hype Train, & Letting it Pass


If you haven’t already guessed, I kinda like reading. Says the person who read 100 books last year. But I have a confession to make—I don’t actually buy a lot of books. For numerous reasons, though I’ll briefly touch on a few. I move a lot and books are heavy. I can’t exactly afford to spend all my income on books, shelves, and secret passageways let alone preorders.

Instead, I tend to frequent the library, which is another post for another time (see A Guide to Getting Lost in Your Local Library). In a way, I wish I could support the new releases and the publishing community more, but I give what I can. I volunteer, check out books, befriend librarians, write book reviews, and make lists of books to buy.

Whether you’re like me or not, here’s a quick comparison of the trends in the book buying world and how they influence readers like me. Because of the nature of this post, I will briefly acknowledge but not be discussing advanced reader copies (ARCs) and old classics.


Pre-Ordering your Personal Copy


Want to make sure you get that book you’ve been waiting for? Secure your copy now and buy it ahead of time!

Pros: supporting the author and the publishing world, bragging rights, and shiny new books!
Cons: high cost for hardcovers and shipping, sooooooo sloooooooow, what if I don’t like it, few people know about said book, and why did I order this again?

Can we find a middle ground?

Maybe… not. At least not for me anyway. Even when I know I have enough money to pre-order a book, more often than not, I don’t know if I’m going to have the same address when the book comes out.

I can only remember pre-ordering two books: Traitor to the Throne (Rebel of the Sands, #2) and A Thousand Perfect Notes. I only pre-ordered them because I could afford them, because I knew I could wait six to eight months without moving to another country, and because I trusted the authors. That’s a lot of requirements for an avid bookworm.

But I’m pretty sure my local library pre-ordered several books because when I spoke with one of the librarians, she mentioned how she bought a bunch of young adult books and couldn’t wait to put them out. So I waited… and waited… and a lot of them were displayed around their release dates. Thank you, dear librarians!

Jumping on the (Slightly Fast) Hype Train


This bit can be fun albeit slightly dangerous.

Pros: great conversations, you don’t have to wait as long for all the books, all the hype, and finding readers with favorite characters/books in common.
Cons: the factions/ships have already been established, potential spoilers, potential disagreement over hype, when does the next book come out, and what on earth is everybody talking about?

Can we find a middle ground?

Probably. Sometimes, I like to wait a bit for the hype train to see how far it goes, then I can judge it for myself later. The only thing is, I don’t always agree with the hype. Sometimes I don’t think the hype is worth it, or other times, I have less hype for one book than another.

I started reading The Hunger Games after the movie came out, and while the trilogy isn’t necessarily my favorite, I still think they’re pretty good. Similarly, I started A Series of Unfortunate Events, but didn’t finish reading the books until the first season came out. Now that the third season is here, I’m slightly obsessed and a little concerned when I go to work and have to stock the sugar bowls.

If you’re feeling Dauntless, go for it! Jump on the hype train!


Waiting for the Entire Series to Come Out


Why torture yourself with reading a book that ends on a cliffhanger and a sequel that doesn’t come out until next year when you can torture yourself by not reading any of them until they are all out?

Pros: better chance of getting matching covers for books in a series and binge reading!
Cons: SPOILERS are everywhere, the hype train is probably long gone, and will the author ever finish writing the series so I can buy it already?

Can we find a middle ground?

I usually lean more toward two extremes—getting a book when it first comes out or waiting for the entire series. Sometimes, I’m incredibly patient—I’m actually waiting for all the books in Arc of Scythe and the Shades of Magic graphic novels to come out so I can binge read them. Other times, I’m incredibly impatient—when is Patrick Rothfuss going to write Doors of Stone? The Name of the Wind came out in 2007, I didn’t read it until 2017, and I’ve still managed to join the group of fans waiting for book three. Oh, well.

Of course, these aren’t all the stages bookworms can encounter when it comes to new releases. There’s being a part of the hype train as it leaves the station and/or being the only person aboard, which can be refreshing and saddening all at once.

Let’s chat! Which stage do you prefer? When’s the last time you pre-ordered a book? Do you like hyped books or obscure ones or both?

***


Literary references: Alwyn Hamilton’s Traitor to the Throne (Rebel of the Sands, #2), C. G. Drew’s A Thousand Perfect Notes, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Neal Shusterman’s Arc of Scythe series, and Patrick Rothfuss’ Doors of Stone and The Name of the Wind

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Poem: Thoughts of Place (Audio)


The other day, I had a Saturday off and my family and I visited one of our favorite ruined castles, Hohenurach. Now we’d been there plenty of times before, from the glorious summer days with the forests rich with stinging nettles and ivy to the overwhelmingly rainy fall days where the waterfall overflowed onto the trail.

On our latest visit, the mountains and valleys were shrouded in fog that came and went, and for the first time, with most of the foliage gone, I noticed the plethora of caves in the cliff along the waterfall. I knew there were a few before, but I could never have guessed there were so many.

Which got me to thinking about what it means to visit a place once versus twice, to visit a neighborhood versus living in one versus returning to one I no longer live in. It’s different every time. Hence, the poem.


Thoughts of Place

I find
that the first time
I visit a place, I am
drawn to the way
the red roofs slope,
the snow-capped mountains tower,
the oceans lap at white shores.

Yet the second time,
I see how
the locals meander the streets,
the salamanders navigate the moss,
the acacia thorns guard the sand.
How did I miss it
before?

Living in a place
is not like visiting—
is not like returning
to where I lived before—
for the image
in my mind
of what was
is no longer
what is.

***

Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? Which places look different the more you visit them?

Similar poems: Snowfell, Bury Me, and Backspace