Tag Archives: poem

The Ways I Use Poetry

When I was in grade school, I used poetry for entertainment. My grade school had regular book fairs, and one of the first books I bought on my own was The Random House Book of Poetry for Children because, in the first few pages, it had a funny poem about a boy that would take off all his clothing and could never figure out how to put it back on. The book was large and full of various poems. When there wasn’t anything to watch on television, or when I finished some of my homework, I’d sit in my room and read through my book of poetry and try to memorize the poems that were on the pages. As I aged, the appeal of the book of children’s poetry faded, and it was placed into a box and given to Goodwill.

It wasn’t until high school that I started to use poetry again. This time, I used poetry as a form of self-expression, as many teens end up doing. Sometimes I wrote poems and sometimes I wrote song lyrics, but they were always dark and angry and honestly, not very good. I used poetry to help form my self-identity and to work through an extreme level of teenage angst. These works often found themselves on napkins, or on ripped up pieces of paper, or inside of one of my textbooks. The poetry I wrote back then is long gone, which is probably a good thing. If I had to classify the type of use this poetry was, it would fall under the category of misuse.

Ode to the Haiku

The haiku is one of my favorite poetic forms. I will often jot one down in class when not paying attention to a teacher, or when riding as a passenger in a car, or on my friend’s facebook pages when I am awake late at night and procrastinating on something important to do.

Haikus are short and to the point, much like I am. It was as if the form was made for me, but really, it wasn’t. Haikus were made for all to enjoy, not just me. A traditional haiku has 17 syllables, broken up into lines that are 5/7/5 syllables each. In sticking with tradition, most haikus usually include references to nature or the seasons and contain a contrasting image within it. It is common for haikus to have spliced words, elongated vowel sounds or double syllabic sounds to fulfill the syllable count requirements. Haikus can also be joined together to make a larger poem, but each haiku must stand on its own and be able to be read as an independent piece for the poem to truly be considered a haiku.

Below is my interpretation of a traditional haiku. This is a series of haikus, but each also stand independently, or, I at least hope they do.

So You Want to Write A Villanelle

Okay so maybe you don’t want to write a villanelle, but that’s only because you don’t know what a villanelle is yet. But once you do know what a villanelle is, you’ll totally want to write one because it is a fun form to write.

In 16th century Italy and Spain, dance songs known as villanella or villancico were peasant tunes without any fixed form. French poets started to write poems called villancelle that again did not follow any fixed rhymes or schemes shortly thereafter.

The first villanelle with a fixed structural form, Jean Passerat’s Villanelle also known as J’ay perdu ma tourterelle, came about in the late 19th century. While the villanelle started in France, it never really caught on there but American poets claimed the poem form and are most known for executing its rigid structural form.

One of the most famous practitioners of the villanelle is Dylan Thomas, with his poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Now that you’re familiar with the form, let’s talk about the specific features that make the villanelle a villanelle.

“What is Poetry?”

In the wake of slam poetry and “spoken word,” confused audiences have asked themselves what poetry actually is. I think people tend to imagine that it looks and sounds like an English sonnet, with rhyming couplets and metered form (we all did once, right?). It might even have some kind of resolution: a neat bow of a message tying the whole poem together at the end. A poem might look this way, obviously, but I think we’ve moved on since Wordsworth. Poets like Walt Whitman (“Song of Myself”) pioneered free verse, or unrhymed, unmetered poetry, free of form or convention.

Poetry was able to say what it wanted, how it wanted. Postmodern writers came back to form from time to time, but usually to satirize their predecessors (think Annie Finch’s “Coy Mistress”, a response to Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”, or Billy Collins “Litany”).

Dear Mark Grist, I’m (Still) Totally In Love with You

This morning I found this amazing video by Mark Grist and his preference on girls:

 

After seeing (and swooning at) this video, I started doing some research about the poet and, holy heck, I love this guy.

Mark Grist is a former English teacher who quit to become a performance poet, but his passion still lies within the classroom. Since leaving his teaching position, he has started to do workshops at schools to get kids interested in poetry again through the use of rap.

 

And that’s not all.

Shaped Poetry

I wouldn’t call myself a poet, but I do write poetry and do pursue publication of my poems. One weakness I have for poetry is shaped poetry. I’ve tried my hand at it many times, but outside of one shaped poem I’ve completed, I haven’t really fell in love with any of my shaped poems.

John Hollander, a well known American poet, makes some fascinating shaped poetry. For example, his cat poetry:

I want to pet his words.

Reading Poetry Out Loud

Poetry is a unique literary form. Unlike novels and short stories, poetry is meant to be read out loud. And, unlike a play or a script, poetry is not supposed to be performed. Poetry lies between silent reading and the stage. Earlier in the blog, I talked about the difference between a poem on the page and a poem out loud, and I stand by the assessment that poetry needs to be read out loud, but furthermore, for poetry to be understood it must also be read out loud and played with.

While the words of a poem on a page don’t change, the intonation, inflection, pauses, breaths, pace, and reader can have a vast effect on the received meaning of a poem. Often enough, what people remember when it comes to a poem is the inflection of the speaker rather than the words and phrases of a poem. When a poem is read in a romantic way, it is received as a romantic poem and, likewise, when a poem is read in a sorrowful way it is received as a sorrowful poem. Take, for example, this poem by W.B. Yeats titled When You Are Old:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Poetry In The Age of Instagram

I follow a lot of writers—whether that be on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr (John Green, anyone?), or Instagram. But Cheryl Strayed doesn’t post sneak peeks of her manuscripts. No, she posts photos of her with Reece Witherspoon and Laura Dern, who apparently are now her best friends after starring in the film adaptation of her memoir, Wild:

We wear our sunglasses at night. #wildmovie #tff41

A post shared by Cheryl Strayed (@cherylstrayed) on

 

I mean, come on. They’re even rocking sunglasses. I think it’s safe to say Cheryl’s living the dream.

It’s harder to share passages of prose on a platform like Instagram. And when authors do release excerpts, it’s generally in a magazine—online or in print. Poets have an advantage on Instagram. For published writers to those less established, Instagram—and features of the digital age, like hashtags for one—gives savvy poets the ability to reach a huge pool of readers from all over the world.

The significance of this is that writers who plan on continuing the craft for years—those who know that they may one day seek to publish a collection of poems or even a novel—can begin developing a following early on in their careers before they ever have a single piece in print. This completely upturns the typical way that the industry works, where publishers act as “gatekeepers.”

There are plenty of ways to approach creating an Instagram for your poetry. As you’ll see from some of the poets whose accounts I’ve included below, some writers choose to separate their personal and professional accounts. This makes sense if you’re a private person or if you simply don’t want to bog down your current followers’ feeds with your poetry (Hey, not everyone’s a word nerd. We get it?). Other writers combine a little bit of it all, the personal, the professional, other hobbies and careers (like photography). And still, other writers choose to remain anonymous, preferring the use of a pen name.

As with all of writing and publishing, there is no one approach, but I think the poets of Instagram prove just how valuable social media can be for writers today. Here are just a few Instagram pages you should stop by:

Alexa Bolton and I went to college together as undergraduates, where we took a creative writing class in poetry. I remember back then, as she so often does now on her Instagram page, hearing her read poems she had written about love. And she does it beautifully. So much so that in the short time since she created her Instagram account (specifically for her poetry) back in January, she has gained nearly four thousand followers. Most of the pieces she posts are unedited. Alexa now teaches at Loyola Marymount University, where she earned herself a fellowship as she works towards her master’s degree.

I was told to pray & He would soon answer. But often, the silence between us feels empty.

A post shared by Alexa Johansen (@alexajohansen) on

 

15 Historic Poetry Recordings We’re Lucky to Have

Technology has made the life of writers and readers much easier. We can store thousands of books in an e-reading device; write, edit, and save stories with a word processor; and use our phones as a dictionary and thesaurus and skip lugging the heavy books around. Now that many classic literary texts have been entered into the public domain, readers can find some of the greatest works in history with the click of a button. And as William Faulkner once said, “Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.”

That same logic applies to poetry too, of course. And as poetry is often read aloud, it’s a great idea to listen and learn from some of the masters. Thanks to technology, we have the ability to access historic recordings of some classic poets, like Dylan Thomas and Langston Hughes.

You’d be surprised by how many great poets can’t read well. By that, I don’t mean they’re illiterate, but, for whatever reason, when they read their poems they don’t engage with their audience. Personally, Ezra Pound’s voice grates at me, but I really enjoyed Anne Sexton’s recording of “Letter Written on a Ferry.” It was honest and soothing; it lulled the listener in.

But listen and decide for yourself. I’ve included fifteen historic recordings, with links to The Poetry Archive, where you can hear them, below.

1. “Anyone lived in a pretty how town” by e.e. cummings

Ezra Pound - Creative Commons
e.e. cummings 1917 passport photo

2. “The Waste Land Part V – What the Thunder said” by T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot

Other Writers Are The Best Motivation

Sometimes it’s hard to write. Most of the time, it’s hard to write. Or at least to just get started. For me, motivation comes from many places. I may spend a year revising a poem, but that initial draft generally comes in one fell swoop.

I’m on the bus or walking around the city and an image plants itself in my brain and refuses to let go. It can be anything. The woman tying one end of a tarp to a light pole and the other to a grocery cart so she can sleep at night without the rain soaking her. Something a friend says in passing. The man on the street corner passing out miniature versions of the old testament.

But Neil Gaiman once said “If you only write when inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you’ll never be a novelist.” His words are blunt, but there’s a certain truth to that. With short stories or novels, one image isn’t enough—in the way it might be for a poem. Sure, one image might get the gears turning, but it’s not enough to sustain the piece or your own motivation for that matter.

During down time, I sometimes go on Goodreads. Not to stare at the pitiful amount of books I’ve read this year in between my full-time course load, but to read what other writers have to say about the act of writing. Some of these quotes are plain beautiful, while others are plain honest—making me realize that the only thing stopping me from becoming the writer I hope to be someday is myself. Here is a sampling of some of my favorite quotes about writing that I’ve come across over the years. I hope they provide you with as much motivation as they have for me.

“Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.” — Philip José Farmer

“If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.” — Natalie Goldberg

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” — Virginia Woolf

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” — Madeleine L’Engle

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” — Sylvia Plath

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” — Anais Nin

“Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” — Louis L’Amour

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” — Anne Frank

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.” — Joss Whedon

“Write about the emotions you fear the most.” — Laurie Halse Anderson

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make.” — Truman Capote

“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” — Robert Cormier

“So okay—there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.” — Stephen King

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” — Martin Luther

“Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” — Gloria Steinem

“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” — Beatrix Potter

“You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.” — Junot Diaz

“Half of what I write is garbage, but if I don’t write it down it decomposes in my head.” — Jarod Kintz

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything good.” — William Faulkner

“I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card…and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.” — Joyce Carol Oates