Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Waxing Poetic

By: Deborah Brewer

What writer doesn’t want to improve their prose? Let me recommend dabbling in poetry to do just that. Reading, studying, and practicing verse have improved my fiction writing experience in several ways, improving my mood, my vocabulary, and my emotional expression. You might try it too.

Use Poetry to Ease the Blank Page Syndrome

Writers are often intimidated by the emptiness of a blank page. Poetry eases my blank page dread and replaces it with enthusiasm. Writing a very short piece that no one else may ever see removes the pressure from performance. I can revel in my imagination and create something that never existed before without imaginary critics looking over my shoulders. I don’t need to write melancholy verses to enjoy poetry’s benefits either, I can write silly poems that lift my mood. This mindset of joy and confidence stays with me as I write my fiction, helping me overcome procrastination and feelings of inadequacy. If this were the only benefit of writing poetry, it would be reason enough.

Break Out of Your Vocabulary Rut

Writing poetry also breaks me out of vocabulary ruts. Poetry requires rich, concentrated meaning from a very few words. Once I’ve exhausted my memory for poetry words, I call on my second favorite “dinosaur,” the thesaurus, for help. I might also research my poem’s subject online to refresh my memory of descriptive words or enter “Words that rhyme with…” into my online search engine. It’s common for people to comprehend more words than they regularly use in writing and speech. Searching for the perfect word, rhyming, alliterative, or otherwise, is a great way to limber and strengthen working vocabulary.

Find the Emotion in Your Writing

Emotion is at the core of poetry, as it is at the core of fiction. Poetry puts me in touch with my feelings. A poem is more than the mere sum of its words. Word placement, rhythm, and allusions all contribute to the emotion of a poem. While I do want to put more emotion in my fiction, I often don’t because emotions are scary. Writing poems helps me shed this reticence. It provides me with a safe place to play with my feelings and learn how to control their expression.

Now if perhaps, you’re wondering;
In my loneliest girlhood dreams,
Though other creatures joy did bring,
The brontosaurus reigned supreme!

Even writing terrible poems makes for great writing practice. For me, attempting a highly structured poem form, like a sonnet, haiku, or a quatrain, is a more entertaining brain exercise than working sudoku or crossword puzzles. You, too, might enjoy the puzzle aspect of highly structured poems.

Poetic Form – A Closer Look

There are so many variations of poetic form—ancient, classic, and contemporary—that you are sure to find one or two that suit you. Sonnets are grand. Haiku poems are meditative. Limericks are good fun. Odes of praise are usually serious, but can also be silly or satirical. Even highly structured poem forms are often written with irregularities, and you are certainly free to create a form of your own.

To a Button Lost

Oh, button iridescent,
Sweetest pearl of milky white,
Freed from m’ lady’s “precious” sweater

In the middle of the night.
Our dalliance was jolly
As we frisked about the house,
Until you hid between the floorboards
Like a timid little mouse.

Your snub has left me sullen;
My lady is fuming sore.
You have departed, dearest button,
Lost to me forevermore.

To improve my poetic capacity, I did a personal study of haiku poetry in late 2019. I remembered enjoying haiku in grade school and thought I might recapture some of that feeling. I read about the history of the form and its masters. I explored haiku organizations and publications online. I read lots of haiku. Finally, I wrote 50 haiku poems myself.

What is haiku? It’s a very short, poetic form adapted from Japan in the late 1800s, in which two images from nature are juxtaposed to invite feelings of quiet awe and inspiration.

During my studies, I chose some guidelines for my poems that would satisfy most haiku enthusiasts:

  • A seasonal reference (snow, flowers, fruit, falling leaves)
  • A focus on nature
  • Two concrete images with a change to a new image at the 1/3 or 2/3 mark.
  • A story or feeling is created by the marriage of the two images
  • Evokes a sense of quiet, awe, and/or the sublime
  • Uses sentence fragments
  • No rhymes or alliteration
  • No titles
  • A lower-case letter at the beginning of each line
  • The classic, English language grade-school structure—three lines and 5/7/5 syllables—or not

Below is a selection of winter haiku. The first poem changes images after the first line. The second poem changes images after the second line. The third poem eschews the classic syllable count.

a walk with my love
cottontails luxuriate
in winter’s soft light

owls hoot together
on a snowy moonlit night
dogs whimper and bark

tall pines
snowflakes fall
like petals

Freeform Poetry – Laugh at Yourself

When I can’t come up with haiku or don’t want to, I write whatever poems come to mind. One day, reflecting on an experience at a Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I wrote this short poem to capture a memory.

My smile full spent,
I retreat
to scones and tea

But a year into my poetry practice, I found this new poem to be more emotionally open.

Four hundred voices
Eight million eyes—
Refuge in a toilet stall

Perhaps you too have felt that way at a conference.

I’m not a published poet, nor do I aspire to be, but I enjoy and benefit from writing poems all the same. My own poems are included in this blog so you can see the very amateur level of my work and know that you too can write such mood-enhancing poems. If you need a use for your poems, consider writing them inside greeting cards, on bookmarks, or collecting them in a journal. Write poems about subjects you love.

I heartily recommend both the study and practice of poetry. Read some books, take a class, maybe attend a poetry reading. Then set a goal to write some poems of your own. (I usually write a full draft of a poem on the first day, and fiddle with it a few days more.) The practice may not make you into a poet laureate, but your prose will surely wax poetic.

A writer thought writing appealing,
But mostly, she stared at the ceiling.
To enliven her tomes,
She wrote flirty poems;
And now, writes with passionate feeling.

 

For further reading:

Write Like Issa: A Haiku How-To by David G. Lanoue (2017). An English professor and former president of the Haiku Society of America gives insight into the creative process of a haiku master.

Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, edited by Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns (2013). This broad anthology includes poems both ancient and modern, an introduction by poet laureate Billy Collins, and a historical overview by Jim Kacian, the founder of the Haiku Foundation and Red Moon Press.

The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Frances Mayes (2001). Mayes, also the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, writes that “…almost everyone can learn to write good poems.” I hope that means me.


Deborah Brewer

Deborah L. Brewer joined Pikes Peak Writers a decade ago, seeking help with a cozy mystery. When the novel was completed, she stayed for the camaraderie. Now she’s writing short stories. An editor for the PPW 2022 anthology,  Dream, Deborah contributes to Writing from the Peak to help fellow PPW members write better with more enjoyment, and ultimately, achieve their writing dreams.

Meet the Member – Maria Melendez Kelson

Today, Kathie Scrimegour, Meet the Member and Sweet Success editor, shares her recent interview with member Maria Melendez Kelson.   We’re pleased to share successes and highlight our diverse membership.  Kathie can be reached at  sweetsuccess@pikespeakwriters.com.


On Writing In Diverse Genre

KJ Scrim – I read that you are a poet and a mystery writer. Does one help with writing the other? How?

Maria Melendez Kelson – Both poetry writing and mystery writing involve a dance between fulfilling and subverting a reader’s expectations about form and structure.

  • Poetry taught me to look for opportunities to use unexpected phrasing, and to appreciate the potential for patterning in the physical sounds of language.
  • Fiction teaches me to look for opportunities for unexpected emotions or events, and to appreciate the potential for patterning in symbols and motifs.

Each genre adds to my understanding of the other. I wouldn’t go so far as to say one helps, or doesn’t help, the other. Who knows?

Current Work in Progress

KJ – What are you working on right now?

Maria – I’m writing a contemporary mystery set in the redwood country of northern California. The lead character, Boots Montoya, is a multiracial single mother of an adopted teen son. She’s an education reformer with a lot of do-gooder self-righteousness. But when her son is accused of the murder of an undocumented boy, she becomes a liar, a prowler, and a thief in her struggle to find the real killer and exonerate her kid. Clues lead her deeper into the area’s Spanish-speaking immigrant community, out to the wild Pacific coast, and into the ancient forest backcountry of Humboldt County, where she discovers a clandestine camp for teenaged domestic spies. If she fails to find the threads connecting these worlds, it could cost her son his freedom. When the killer learns Boots has come too near the truth, her search for answers becomes a fight for her very life.

Santa Fe Art Residency

KJ – You were recently selected for a writing residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. What did you have to do to secure this residency, and what does this mean to you as a writer?

Maria – The Santa Fe Art Institute has a theme each year for what they call their “sponsored residencies.” These are residencies for which the cost of housing is underwritten by sponsors, and residents need only pay for food and personal needs while living on-site.

Apogee Journal, a literary magazine I follow, tweeted out the SFAI call for residency applications, where I learned the theme for the upcoming residency year was “Equal Justice.” I thought—isn’t this a concern of many crime writers? It’s a concept that raises driving questions for the characters I’m writing about.

each genre adds to my understanding

The application requested a current work sample and a proposal for work to be done at SFAI. So I sent sample chapters from the work-in-progress, and … *gulp* … a brief outline of a “Book 2” with these characters. This felt like a huge leap of faith, since I’m still revising Book 1.

I submitted the application in February of this year. When I found out in July that I’d been selected for a residency, it meant a panel of strangers that included writers, residency staff, and other artists had seen value in what I am doing. This was a significant affirmation, and a handy little oar for (what feels like) my solitary writing raft. I’m not really going a whole lot faster with one oar, but it’s something to hold onto, and I might be able to beat back a shark with it.

The residency itself, I imagine, will be a big fireworks show of inspiration! I’ll be living at the Art Institute for the month of July 2018, which is a month the brilliant SFAI staff have designated for artists who are parents. I’ll have my family with me, and I’ll be living with seven other residents from multiple disciplines and their families. SFAI provides an apartment and a separate studio workspace. I’m so excited to learn about the other artists’ creative processes, and to see what kinds of unpredictable things come of our time with each other. The only thing I’m tasked with doing, as a resident, is my own writing, but residents are encouraged to interact and collaborate if their muses move them to do so.

For writers who are starting to build a record of publication, or for established writers who could benefit from a concentrated period of time in the company of other working writers or artists, applying for residencies is a great way to validate that your work, and the time needed for your work, are things to be taken seriously.

Beating Procrastination

KJ – What do you do when procrastination is winning over writing?

Maria – I’ve gotten better at measuring when I am truly procrastinating and when I am simply living my life. I used to think that ANYTHING I did that wasn’t writing was a way of procrastinating from writing. For this reason, I could feel guilty brushing my teeth, guilty about taking my car in for an oil change. Who can live like that? Now I make a weekly writing schedule at the start of the week, and set the expectation that I’ll be at my desk during those times. When it’s not those times, I consciously let go of guilt or anxiety about whatever it is I might currently be working on. Something that helps me do this is physically putting the work back in a drawer after each session.

When it comes to maintaining focus during a scheduled writing session, I have a couple of tricks: tracking my focused time in 25-minute increments (aka “the Pomodoro method”), leaving the home modem off, and keeping my writing desk generally free of non-writing related stuff.

Conferences, Workshops, Critique Groups

KJ – Writing conferences, workshops, and critique groups are an important part of the new writer’s experiences (and more experienced writers too!). How have they helped you?

Maria – Pikes Peak Writers Conference and SleuthFest (a mystery writers’ conference in Florida) have both been great for how-to sessions and for unparalleled opportunities to network with agents and editors.

Although I’ve only attended one or two events in each case, I should also mention that I’ve learned quite a bit from periodic free or low-cost workshops run through Pikes Peak Writers Write Brains, Pikes Peak Writers Critique Group, Romance Writers of America, and Colorado Sisters in Crime. The volunteer person-power that goes into running these public events year-round is staggering, and every one of these organizations’ board members and volunteers deserve a room of their own with unlimited chocolate, coffee, and craft beer in that great writer’s retreat in the sky.

Sisters in Crime runs a wonderful workshop the day before the annual mystery fiction fan-con (aka “Bouchercon”) that I’ve attend a couple of times. It’s for Sisters and Misters!

learn to love your process, not someone else's.

My local anchor for professional development as a writer has been the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America. I attended their monthly dinners, where there’s always a generous and free-flowing exchange of information, heartaches, and triumphs. Members range from newbie writers to established bestsellers with 30+ books in print.

Because it’s the largest writers’ conference in North America, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference is a wonderful place to meet other writers of color from around the country for fellowship and mutual support. In fact, writers of many stripes can find their tribe there. There are panels for and about writers with disabilities, writers who’ve lived abroad, veterans who write, etc. As a poet, I’ve presented at AWP a number of times over the years, and two years ago I put together a panel of women of color who write crime novels. The chance to connect these novelists I admire with potential new readers in the audience was a real high, for me.

As far as critique groups go … over the last 20+ years I have lived in Wyoming, South Carolina, California, Indiana, Utah, and (now) Colorado. In four of those six states, I’ve participated in critique groups. Some writers do fine without them, and in the two states I lived where I didn’t have a critique group, I still produced a fair amount of work, but I simply enjoy my own process more when I have regular meetings with peers to provide understanding, challenge, and … deadlines!

Go to Books for Writers

KJ – Do you have any “self-help for writers” books that you use regularly? How do they help? Please share your list of your top 2 or 3.

MariaAround the Writer’s Block, by Roseanne Bane, helps with organizing time and understanding the neurological conditions under which creativity can/can’t flourish.

Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson, helps with fictional structure and with seeing a sense of purpose in the highs and lows of the process of writing.

7 Secrets of the Highly Prolific, by Hillary Rettig, helps writers understand and improve their own processes and mindsets.

KJ – What is one (or a few) of the most important lessons you have learned so far?

Maria – Learn to love your process, not someone else’s process. And if learning to love your process is too much to ask, then learn to accept that feeling confident is desirable but not required. Only showing up and working is a must. In the words of an 80s candy bar commercial: “Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.”

 


photo of Maria Kelson reading a book

Maria Melendez Kelson is a poet and mystery writer. These very different genres lend a dynamic approach in writing. She has been accepted to a month-long writing residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute beginning in July of 2018.  

Visit Maria Melendez Kelson’s website at: www.mariakelson.com

Email: maria@mariakelson.com 

Twitter @mkelsonauthor

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