Creativity takes courage.
Happy New Year! I hope you had a great holiday with lots of down time, lots of writing time, and some good gifts both given and received.
Terrapin Books opens today for submissions of full-length poetry manuscripts. Submissions will close on January 31. Please check the Guidelines and FAQs. Good luck to those who are submitting.
Poem and Prompt
This month's poem is by Alan Michael Parker, taken from his book, The Ladder (Tupelo Press, 2016).
To come back to life as another man,
but made of love.
To pack a sandwich and a bag of cherries,
to get on the bus at the first stop,
slide sideways, step to the back,
and wave as we go by
to a boy as he fishes in the River of Time.
Then to ride the bus to the terminus,
the morning light flashing between
badly remembered dreams,
forehead pressed to the cold glass.
Or to return as a locust tree’s
kept in the pocket of a boy’s favorite jeans.
The boy stands on the bank
of the river, and fishes—
and for his lunch
a sandwich and a bag of cherries.
To be the seed rubbed between
thumb and forefinger,
the sure seed,
made of love, the lucky seed.
Or to return as a single sweet cherry,
bountiful, as I have not been,
whole, as I have not been,
red and rich and round,
as I have not been,
good, as I have not been,
made of love, as I have not been,
with a moon inside, a secret.
Neither to be lost between
nor to be swept along
in the River of Time,
where I am, what I have been.
I’m intrigued by poems that come in numbered sections and by the ways a poet connects the sections. Alan Michael Parker employs a variety of strategies to make connections. First of all, his title lays the groundwork for the 3-section structure.
Parker then uses infinitives to launch the poem and hold together the sections and the stanzas within the sections. The repetition of infinitives adds not only structure but also rhythm. Read the poem aloud and you’ll hear its music.
Another strategy Parker uses is contrast. In the first two lines, the speaker “will come back to life as another man, / but made of love.” Parker also juxtaposes the serious with the seemingly trivial. Following the preceding serious line, he gives us “To pack a sandwich and a bag of cherries.” In section 3, the speaker contrasts what the cherry is to what he has not been. The pit inside that cherry is no longer a pit but, in a lovely metaphor, becomes a “moon inside, a secret.”
Another connecting strategy is weaving what’s in section 1 into the later sections. The boy seen fishing in section 1 reappears in section 2 with a seed from a locust tree in his pocket. The sandwich and cherries from section 1 become the boy’s lunch in section 2. The seed is made of love as the speaker in section 1 hoped to be.
Another connecting strategy is weaving what’s in section 1 into the later sections. The boy seen fishing in section 1 reappears in section 2 with a seed from a locust tree in his pocket. The sandwich and cherries from section 1 become the boy’s lunch in section 2. The seed is made of love as the speaker in section 1 hoped to be. A bag of cherries becomes “a single sweet cherry” by the time we get to section 3, an interesting narrowing down of the image. That cherry is “made of love,” looping us back to section 1. And section 1’s River of Time rolls right along into section 3.
Let’s take on the challenge of a poem in numbered sections. Let’s stick with the number 3 as it’s a good symmetrical number. First, think of a category so that you’ll immediately have unity of idea, e.g., three excuses, three lies, three injuries, three promises, three indulgences, three reasons for leaving. One idea per section.
To get started, you might employ Parker’s strategy of using an infinitive, or you might begin with a word such as “Because,” “If,” “When,” “After,” or “Before.” Whichever beginning you use, return to it repeatedly throughout your poem.
As you move along, use contrast. Be sure to embrace the trivial and contrast it with the serious.
In section 2, bring in your second option. Weave in some of what’s in section 1.
Move to your third option for section 3. Again, weave in some of what’s in the earlier sections, but perhaps narrow down, zoom in.
Like Parker, feel free to vary the number of stanzas per section.
As you revise, work in some of Parker’s other techniques, e.g., images that appeal to our senses, repetition, the withholding of the “I” until section 3.
Mary Oliver's Upstream: Selected Essays reveals her love of nature and its influence on her writing. In “My Friend Walt Whitman” Oliver talks about cutting classes in high school and spending the day outside reading Whitman. In “Staying Alive” she writes about developing a passion for reading and writing when she was young. This is a theme of the collection and readers will notice that Oliver’s love of reading and writing grew right along with her love of nature.
“Of Power and Time” was one of my favorite essays. Here Oliver asserts what we all know but have a hard time practicing: “creative work needs solitude.” How hard we find it to avoid interruptions, to insist on privacy.
Several essays are devoted to Oliver’s literary heroes: Emerson, Poe, Whitman, and Wordsworth. Others are purely nature pieces—one on turtles, another an intricate description of a spider spinning its web, laying eggs, and capturing a cricket. In “Bird,” another favorite of mine, Oliver details rescuing a gull and nursing it until it dies.
Oliver also writes about living in Provincetown. She gives a name to a phenomenon I noticed each summer when I went to the Fine Arts Work Center, that is, the quality of the light. It’s called “Mediterranean Light” and it brings the artists. I’m sure I’m not the only poet who has written a poem about it.
These are quiet essays consisting of small actions and intricate descriptions. Readers will get a good view of how a poet looks at the world.
Molly Peacock’s newest book of poems from W.W. Norton and Company is The Analyst, a book-length sequence that tells the story of her long-time psychoanalyst who, after a stroke that forced her to close her practice, rescued her life through painting. Peacock is Series Editor of The Best Canadian Poetry and is published in literary journals such as Poetry, The TLS, Malahat Review, Oprah Magazine, and The Oxford Book of American Poetry. She is also the author of a biography and meditation on late-life creativity, The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 (named a Book of the Year in the US, UK, and Canada), as well as a book of prose poems & tales, Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions with illustrations by Kara Kosaka.
The Music of the Sentences
Poets are always concerned about the line. But the line only provides one type of music in the poem. Here is a craft tip from a poet who also writes prose: pay attention to the music of the sentence. If you want to shake up a tired poem, vary the sentence structure! The varieties of sentences have huge rhythmic effects:
Simple sentences. Here’s Emily Dickinson’s simple declarative sentence in poem 611. “I see thee better—in the dark.” A simple subject-verb-object sentence—with a devastating prepositional phrase as a punchline.
Exclamations! An exclamatory sentence changes the color of the emotional palette of the poem. Listen to the lilt in Frank O’Hara’s voice:
"Leaf! You are so big!
How can you change your
color, then just fall!
As if there were no
such thing as integrity!" (Lunch Poems)
Commands. Invite instructions into the poem, the way John Donne does when he says in “The Canonization,” “For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love,” then later gives out these edicts:
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his honor, or his grace,
Or the king's real, or his stampèd face
Contemplate; what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.
You could do worse than take a tip from the 17th century.
Fragments. Most poets use fragments. But do you dare to use ellipses? I had to turn to them in The Analyst. The linked poems in the book are about my 40-year relationship with my analyst, and how it continued in a new form after my analyst’s stroke caused her to close her practice. The whole book is about psychoanalysis and poetry—and pauses. There’s the pausing as a patient speaks, of course, but also the pausing of the analyst’s practice after her stroke. (My former analyst pauses many times in her conversations now, since it is difficult for her to remember certain words.) In this poem, “Speaking of Painting and Bird Watching,” a painter, Katie Kinsky, and I are talking about huge trees in front of her house while, at the same time, I am thinking about how my analyst was felled.
(“If someone chain-sawed my big trees,”
Katie said, “I could never paint the stumps
like those fancy-asses who draw them
just for the design…”)
Compound sentences, especially ones with that deliciously ignorable conjunction, “and.” Be not afraid of the “and”; it means you are thinking. Why not be a poet with a mind that links what others might think is the unlinkable?
“I believe in being killed, and I believe in poetry.” That’s one line that is also a compound sentence in a poem called “Credo” from The Analyst.
Complex sentences, especially those that introduce time into the poem, beginning with “after,” “when,” “before,” “since,” “during,” “whenever,” and the savory “yet.” These are just the “little” words that a workshop can talk you out of because they may feel “extra”—but don’t listen! These seemingly insignificant words are the language of thought because they add sequence and conditionality to what you are saying. Actually elucidating the steps of your thought process in a poem can be a revelation both to you and to your reader. Afraid what you’ve thought is too obvious? Think again, you smart person. Your thought process is unique to you; to follow the steps of your associations is a pleasure to a reader. (What seems obvious to you might even surprise you.)
The first line, which is also the first sentence, of “The Argument” by A.E. Stallings begins with “after.” Stallings follows this with another complex sentence, and she ends her quatrain with a simple sentence.
After the argument, all things were strange.
They stood divided by their eloquence
Which had surprised them after so much silence.
Now there were real things to rearrange.
Last sentence type? Questions.
Here’s Marilyn Nelson’s poem “Balance,” where the speaker poses a question about Master Taylor, the slave-owner of Diverne. The query interrupts the flow of the narrative—and enriches it.
What might explain the metamorphosis
he underwent when she paraded by
with tea-cakes, in her fresh and shabby dress?
Questions can also rough up the texture in a too-smooth, over-revised poem, don’t you think?
Lit Mag Submissions 101: How, When, and Where to Send Your Work
8 Things Every Creative Should Know
by Patricia Valdata in Valparaiso Poetry Review
And Life Goes On As It Has Always Gone On
, featured at Verse Daily
"Satire on the Run," a Review
by Zara Raab
Review by Grace Cavalieri in the Washington Review of Books
Review by Karen Craigo at Better View of the Moon
Review by Glynn Young at Tweetspeak
"The Phone Call" featured in Every Day Poems
Click Here for B&N
“I make beautiful the moments of terror,” Diane Lockward announces in an opening ars poetica. In The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement, she transforms occasions of deception, cruelty, guilt, and grief in her fierce determination to name the truth. —Chana Bloch
New Craft Book
Get your writing off to a good start in 2017!
New Review by Grace Cavalieri in the Washington Independent Review of Books
Companion volume to the original The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop.
Works as a sequel to the first volume or may stand alone.
A poetry tutorial ideal for use in the classroom, in workshops, or at home. Craft tips, model poems, prompts, and Q&As. Includes more than 100 of our finest poets such as Tony Hoagland, Laura Kasischke, Alberto Rios, and Ellen Bass.
Complete list of Contributors Here.
"It’s right on time to win hearts and minds of readers because it’s clear, smart and damn interesting.."—Grace Cavalieri
E-BOOK COMING SOON!
Still a best seller and now available in a Revised Edition with full Table of Contents and an Index.
Review of The Crafty Poet by Christine Swint at Balanced on the Edge.
Review of The Crafty Poet by Christina Veladota at Maybesopoetry.
Lynn Domina reviews The Crafty Poet at Lynn Domina, Poet.
Grace Cavalieri reviews The Crafty Poet in the Washington Independent Review of Books.
"I highly, highly recommend it to any poet writing today. It brings forth much fruit! Do go and secure a copy immediately." —C.A. Larue
Also Available As an E-Book.
Available at Amazon, eBookIt, or wherever e-books are sold.