Forum Friday: How are you celebrating National Poetry Month?

Happy Friday! We’re almost a week into April, and for poetry that means great things. Although National Poetry Month is an American observance, you certainly need not be American to observe it. In fact, one of the things that inspired me to make this the topic of today’s Forum Friday is the sheer band of awesome things I’ve seen done here on WordPress by poets around the world in the last several days.

Some bloggers are writing a poem a day (some do this every day of the year!); some are sharing their favorite poems; some are following prompts put out by brilliant organizations.

I, too, am observing NaPoMo, but with a different practice each week: reading, transcriptions, blackout poems, and (hopefully) interactive poetry done with other bloggers and tweeters. (If interested in the latter, be sure to check back here in a couple weeks when I post prompts!)

But enough about that. I asked because I want to know, how are you celebrating National Poetry Month? Let’s swap ideas! Feel free also to tell us whether this is your first time celebrating NaPoMo or what you’ve done in the past, what you’ve enjoyed most, etc.

Cheers, and a laugh for those that have read Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry” (if you haven’t, read it now– it addresses that certain fear that first time poetry-readers/writers often have):

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30 Stories in 30 Days: Complete!

This post follows my successfully-completed endeavor to read one short story every day for 30 days, write about it, then post what I wrote on my blog. I challenged myself to do this in order to observe good writing, apply what I learned to my own writing, and—at least, where blogging is concerned—work on that other goal of expanding my writerly platform.

Now that the daily reflections are over, however, the time has come to reflect on the process as a whole.

Let’s look at the charts, shall we?

THE 30 STORIES IN 30 DAY CHALLENGE

Number of stories read: 31*

Number of words looked up: 135

Number of followers gained: 71

*Rounded up for the 31 days in January.

It’s a little harder to quantify just how much I learned in terms of craft, but there was at least one lesson in it for me each day. Every story, besides generally being a pleasure to read, had something to teach.

Looking at everything I’m coming away with—more stories in my head, better craft, new vocabulary, and no small amount of new followers—I definitely feel that this practice was worth the time I put into it.

That being said, of course, time was probably the biggest tradeoff in this investment. Reading a story every day (anywhere from one to twenty-six pages) might have cost a minute or a couple of hours; summarizing the story, looking up words and reflecting on writing lessons probably took up to another hour, or longer if the story was lengthy; compiling everything into daily blog posts (and formatting, finding an image, tagging, etc.) likely cost upwards of another half an hour.

That’s a pretty big commitment for thirty consecutive days, and it didn’t leave a lot of time for me to focus on the task this whole endeavor was meant to serve: writing! And yet, I did manage to write an entirely new short story in the month of January…(hooray!)

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely.

Would I do it again? With pleasure.

Am I in a hurry to do it again? No, sir—I have a manuscript to revise! That’s going to be priority #1 for a while.

I am, however, contemplating another, less time-consuming series. I like the idea of using those 135 words I picked up for something—maybe printing out and cutting up the definitions, putting them in a jar, and drawing a handful at random each day to make sentences with. We shall see.

Alternatively: blackout poems. That could be a fun break.

At the very least, coming up are a complete list of the 31 stories I read for my challenge, plus a compiled vocabulary list (all 135 new words).

Right now I’m still enjoying my (it feels as if new-found!) free time to write write write, anything I want! So far, since January and the challenge ended, I’ve written:

  • A letter
  • A poem that I’m really excited about…and might name a chapbook after
  • A rant about ugly pajama pants (look for it shortly)
  • Roughly twenty pages of manuscript (well, re-written; I’ve changed a great deal, plus wrote a character into one of the first scenes).

Well, lads—for now it’s back to the books, as they say!

Writing Challenge, Day 8: Ghosts, Superhorses, and Sock Monsters

30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge

Day 8: How old were you when you started writing? What did you write?

I started writing in grade school. To be honest, memories of my earliest work are vague, but here is what I recall:

1st or 2nd grade

I wrote a short story having to do with Halloween and ghosts. I found ghosts to be simply fascinating at the time and, along with writing about them on paper, may or may not have scribbled the occasional crayon illustration on my wall…

As would portend to much of my future writing, however, I grew frustrated with the piece and never finished it. Two hours is a LONG TIME for a six year old to keep her butt in the chair!

3rd grade

Although I didn’t know what it was until a good seven or eight years later, it was at this age that I first wrote fan fiction. I was BIG into Judy Blume and her Fudge books at the time and my favorite character from them was Sam. I remember admiring Sam’s mischievous genius—particularly the way he once pretended to dislike all his pajamas just so he could see, with each item he refused to wear, the looks of frustration on his parents’ faces grow crazier and more disgusted. He found it amusing. This scheming prankster was one of my childhood heroes and I determined to pen more misadventures for him.

I also remember envisioning (but never actually wrote) the first scenes for a book that would be comparable to Jaws. I resolved that people would read this book and be astonished a nine-year-old had written it. I imagine I was also proud that I knew what ‘astonished’ meant.

4th grade

Influenced by my favorite 2nd grade book Ghost Horse (which I have since searched for and been unable to locate—the author’s name was something like Jannie Lee Simner or Janie Lee Simmer…) and other horse adventure books, I started my very own story of a girl and her magical horse. NO JOKE. THEY COULD COMMUNICATE TELEPATHICALLY AND EVERYTHING.

4th-5th grade:

It was around this time that I made my first earnest attempts at poetry. I wrote about deep and meaningful subjects such as starlight, snowfall, and the laundry monster that ate all my socks.

Many years and many more writing endeavors have passed. I’d like to think I’m a little more grounded these days (none of this sock monster, superhorse nonsense) but I do still tend to begin many more projects than I am humanly capable of finishing. Three chapters into a novel I start a short story that takes me over a month to write the first draft of and then somehow, in the middle of that, I decide it’s a good idea to start an offbeat and possibly publishable third project. True story; this is my current predicament. Somebody slap me!

Writing Challenge, Day 5: “The Honey of Peace”

30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge

Day 5: What do you hope a reader will take away from your writing?

Short Answer: “What? No! When does the next book come out???”

Real Answer: Just kidding. I wouldn’t want my readers to come away unsatisfied! (Though hungry for more is perfectly acceptable… ;))

Robinson Jeffers has this fantastic poem, “To The Stone-Cutters” (see below), that communicates the ultimate evanescence of all things—and yet, even knowing that all things are doomed to blacken and wilt away, how we can find refuge in the written word. When readers come away from my writing I want them to feel that their lives are the richer for it. It is my sincerest hope that a story, a character, a conflict, or even a single line or poignant image will stay with them, a beautiful sanctuary for the rest of their lives.

Here’s the poem. Meaning to live by in ten short lines.

To The Stone-Cutters

By Robinson Jeffers

Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you foredefeated

Challengers of oblivion

Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,

The square-limbed Roman letters

Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain. The poet as well

Builds his monument mockingly;

For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth die, the brave sun

Die blind and blacken to the heart:

Yet stones have stood for a thousand years, and pained thoughts found

The honey of peace in old poems.

If I can reach people through the pages so that the words affect them…make them shudder, sigh, weep, throw the book across the room in frustration or get up and dance like a madman, I’ll know I’ve done my work.

7 Day Poetry Project

This year, to celebrate National Poetry Month, I made a commitment to transcribe one poem every day for a week, then at the end of the week to send the poems out into the world. Now April is nearly over … Continue reading

The Word ‘Plum’

If I were to teach poetry I would start with the most rudimentary element: sound. Many people shy away from poetry because they’re intimidated by it– by not understanding its language, its metaphors, its meaning (and yes, being afraid to give a poem more than a single read). Well, I have news for the general public: a poem is not a vortex. So save yourself the flailing and don’t get consumed by the need to dissect, isolate, and make meaning of every line and phrase and punctuation mark. As T.S. Eliot has said, genuine poetry can communicate even before it is understood.

How does that work, you ask?

Every poem has different elements at play, but I will say this: generally, poets listen to sounds. They collect onomatopoeia (words that sound like what they mean– click, crackle, murmur, shuffle, whoosh), consciously arrange assonance, consonance, alliteration, and sometimes they even make up their own words when existing language falls short (two famous examples: Dr. Seuss, Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”). Many employ rhyme, that pattern of sounds that enchants us as children, fixes in our memory and pleases our ears even as adults. But what a poet really seizes upon is the music and texture of each and every individual word.

To get an idea of what I mean, consider “The Word ‘Plum'” by Helen Chasin. Many of the words are not even remotely related to plums. But see what she does with it. For best results– to feel the words in your mouth and catch them with your ears– read this poem aloud.

The Word ‘Plum’
by Helen Chasin

The word plum is delicious

pout and push, luxury of
self-love, and savoring murmur

full in the mouth and falling
like fruit

taut skin
pierced, bitten, provoked into
juice, and tart flesh

question
and reply, lip and tongue
of pleasure.

SO GOOD. What other poems out there are great for celebrating sound?

April is National Poetry Month

What a beautiful time of year. Just as color paints the fields, the birds wing home and cherry trees make pink snow on the sidewalk, so April rolls around and brings with it lines of poetry as stirring as the scent of lavender in spring. That’s right: April is National Poetry Month!

So how do we celebrate? Poets.org provides a wonderful list of 30 ideas for observing the the most lyrical time of year– one for every day of the month! They are fantastic suggestions, and many of them– like watching a poetry movie, attending a reading, and visiting a poetry landmark– can be enjoyed even by those who are not regular readers. You’ll notice something else when you read the list: a good deal of ideas involve sharing poetry. Makes sense. Poetry is such an under-appreciated culture– one that people seem often intimidated by or shy away from– spreading the good words may be just as important, if not more important, than reading and writing them.

This year, then, in addition to trying to read a poem a day and writing regularly, I am making it my creative, literary, and super-secret AWESOME mission to deliver lines to the public. It will go like this: for the next week I will hand write one of my favorite poems each day. At the end of next week I’ll disperse them. How? That’s the fun part. By mail, to random addressees? Tucked into library books? Left on a bulletin board or coffee shop table? *Rubs hands together* Only those who find them will know 🙂 Look for evidence of creative mischief in upcoming posts!

What are YOU doing to read, write, revel in and share poetry this month?