Tag Archives: poems

Oh What a World in Which I Can Write Poems about Swimming with Sharks

Last April, I signed on to do the Writer’s Digest Poem A Day Challenge, and I blogged about it on here. For each day in April, I wrote a poem. The challenge coincides with National Poetry Month.

The writer directing the challenge, Robert Lee Brewer, posted daily prompts for us to use, or not use. Writers were then encouraged to share their poems on an open thread on the website. People could comment on the poems and make suggestions.

It sounded like a bit of a nightmare to me, or at least the part about posting your poem online that YOU WROTE THAT DAY.

I have never written a poem (or a story or a blog post or even an email), and then thought, Gee, that is amazing. It’s the work of true genius. I should publish this immediately.

I am not that confident or foolish or both. I edit. Sometimes, I enjoy editing. Sometimes, editing feels like a slow, painful death through sentence restructuring.

(I do recognize the possibility that the people who posted their poems spent all day writing and editing those poems. And in that case, I am jealous of their luxurious amount of time for poem writing.)

And yes, I edit my emails. Sometimes you get that stream of thought going, and it just flows. But oops, you forgot the You part of Thank You, so it just says Thank.

That’s weird, guys.

Or maybe if you reread that email, you’d have realized abbreviating follow-up to f/u is not a good idea. At least not if you don’t want your boss to wonder what she did to deserve a fuck you reply.

I digress.

My point is editing is important. You should edit your writing before the world sees it. The thought of putting it out on the internet largely unedited terrified me. So I didn’t.

And what have I done with those thirty gems of glittery poetry since?

The poems are sitting out there in the cloud, mostly untouched. I have been writing and editing things since then, it has just been mostly stories and papers.

So I let my thirty, shiny poems gather dust.

A month ago maybe, I realized I missed poetry. I opened my Poetry in Progress folder, and the title “Shark-Infested Water” caught my eye.

It was poem about a dream where Agnes (the character I write about often) and I were swimming with sharks. I didn’t remember the dream or the poem, to be honest. I had written just a few lines. But I liked the idea.

Swimming through shark-infested water with your main character. The brain is full of weird, amazing ideas.

I started to flesh it out a little more, changed the title, and workshopped it with my writing partner/friend Rachel. She liked it, but wasn’t crazy about the ending. As usual, she was right.

I’ve been working on it the past couple of days. It’s getting close. And after I’m done, I will submit it. Then it’s back to the Poetry in Progress folder.

I have at least twenty-nine other poems to edit. And it feels like it’s time to get back at it.

This week’s video is a live recording of “Oh What a World” by Rufus Wainwright. It is a fantastically beautiful song, and this is a great recording of it. The performance does seem to have taken place on Halloween though. Wainwright doesn’t usually wear a witch hat when he performs. Enjoy friends!

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The Joy of Jumping Boundaries with Flash Fiction

I write flash fiction. It is a relatively new genre, differentiated predominately by its brevity. A flash piece should generally be less than 1,000 words. Most stories are in the 300-800 word range.

Flash fiction can feel constricting. The writer must construct a narrative arc in a very brief amount of space.

In other ways, flash fiction is incredibly liberating. Since the story’s time is short, there is no room for extra words or details. Characters often have no physical descriptions. If a setting is mentioned, it is described in the briefest detail.

Stories also don’t have to adhere to having a beginning, middle, and end. Flash fiction often drops you right into the middle of things. En media res, as the smart kids say. Conflicts develop quickly. Resolutions are messy, if offered at all. Often, the reader is left hanging, free to interpret what happens next.

There is also more of an experimentation with form. Flash fiction walks the line between a story and a poem. Language is more lyrical. Imagery is potent and often fantastical. Flash fiction stories often make you feel like you woke up in the middle of someone else’s dream.

These are the stories I like the best. The dream stories. The stories that ride that line, ping-ponging between poetry and narrative. The stories that don’t spare a single word and leave you gaping, gasping, and wanting always, more.

Below are some of those boundary-jumping stories.

Remembering How Beams of Steel Disintegrated While Whole Sheets of Paper Fluttered Down Like So Much Ash and Dust to the Street” by Catherine Averill from Paper Darts

I Am Going to Cook a Quiche in My Easy-Bake Oven and You Are Going to Like It.” by Roxane Gay from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Lost Luster” by Kayla Haas from Nano Fiction

This week’s video is “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Bjork, another artist who likes to play with boundaries.

 

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Burning Down the Page with Plath

“My night sweats grease his breakfast plate.”

The line caught me, stopped me from flipping the page.

I whispered it to myself. Rolled it around on my tongue. Tasted it.

This line is from the poem “The Jailor” which appears in the poetry collection, Ariel. Ariel was the manuscript Sylvia Plath left behind when she killed herself in 1963. Her husband, poet Ted Hughes, published the book after her death.

I first read Plath in junior high, after a teacher recommended her work. Her language was dark and beautiful. Her voice was strong. Her words burned down every page. She was the first writer I really fell in love with.

I have Ariel The Restored Edition. It includes Hughes’ original version of the book, Plath’s version of the manuscript, and her notes throughout the writing process. It also includes a foreword from Frieda, Plath and Hughes’ daughter.

Plath and Hughes’ relationship was tumultuous, to say the least. Some people think having Hughes edit Ariel was a disservice to her work. He was, after all, a subject of scorn in many of her poems.

You see the tension in their relationship in the first line. Plath is angry, and she is angry at Hughes.

“My night sweats grease his breakfast plate.” Try saying it out loud.

That is part of what I love about Plath. Her poems aren’t filled with flowers and sunshine, but that doesn’t make her words any less stunning. Her phrases have a musicality, a flowing of sound.

Two stanzas later:

“Something is gone.
My sleeping capsule, my red and blue zeppelin
Drops me from a terrible altitude
Carapace smashed,
I spread to the beaks of birds.”

My favorite sound here is the “Carapace smashed” line. The phrase is musical, even if the image described isn’t conventionally beautiful. But that is one of Plath’s best tricks. She turned ugly images into beautiful sounds. This juxtaposition is part of what makes her poetry so arresting.

The poem ends with this stanza:

“That being free. What would the dark
Do without fevers to eat?
What would the light
Do without eyes to knife, what would he
Do, do, do without me.”

The language is simple, but no less stunning. What a clever way to describe light, as something that knifes your eyes.

But it is the ending that grabs me.

“What would he/Do, do, do without me,” she writes. The repetition of do, do, do sounds almost like a pop song. But in this context, it is a fiery question aimed at Hughes. A question that suggests he needs her as much as she needs him.

Reading Plath at a relatively young age shaped the way I write. Her style helped me develop an my ear for language. My stories inevitably have a few sentences that sound like lines from a poem. I strive for the musicality of Plath’s language.

A year or so ago, I was working on a story, and I wrote, “A man is a man is a jet plane is a rusted fire escape.” I knew what I meant, but maybe the reader wouldn’t have known. But more than anything, I liked the way it sounded. This line contained some of the mystery and beauty of poetry. It has since hit the cutting room floor, but I still love the sound it, the way it rolls off my tongue.

Plath also helped me learn how to channel my ferocity in my writing. I want my words to burn down the page like her’s.

In the foreword to Ariel The Restored Edition, Frieda writes, “Her own words describe her best, her ever-changing moods defining the way she viewed her world and the manner in which she pinned down her subjects with a merciless eye.”

Ariel contains Plath’s final words. Here we see her at her most fierce. Her eye most merciless. Her language most stunning.

What would he do, do, do indeed.

This week’s video is “Husbands” by Savages. They are an all female London-based rock band. And they rock hard, my friends.

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Coming Together and Saying Those Unsayable Things

I lost my brother Karl to suicide a little over ten years ago. It is still hard for me to speak about, but I am slowly, getting better at saying those unsayable things.

This summer I started working with Canvas Health, a non-profit organization that helps children, adolescents, adults, and families who struggle with mental health, chemical health, and domestic and sexual abuse. Working with Canvas makes me feel like I am, in a small way, helping people like my brother.

This fall, I decided to coordinate an event for Canvas Health on International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. The recognition day takes place this year on November 21st.

According to survivorday.org, Survivors of Suicide Loss Day was created through the efforts of Senator Harry Reid, who lost his father to suicide in 1972. In 1999, Reid introduced a resolution to the US Senate requesting a day of recognition for suicide loss survivors. After it passed, “the US Congress designated the Saturday before Thanksgiving ‘National Survivors of Suicide Day,’ a day where friends and family of those who have died by suicide can join together for healing and support.”

Our event will feature local writers reading about suicide, loss, and survival. We are trying to bring together people who have survived suicide loss, in an effort to build community and foster support.

SubText Books has generously agreed to host the event on 2:00 pm on Saturday November 21st in St. Paul, MN. SubText will feature the books of the writers who read at event. Canvas Health will also have information about its programs and services available.

I have contacted several writers and received a “Yes!” which I am extremely excited about. The talented Matt Rasmussen has agreed to read from his deeply moving book of poetry, Black Aperture. He was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2013 and won the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets in 2012.

This is where you come in.

I need more writers. The writers don’t need to have a book out to be included in the event. If your work has only been published online, that’s fine as well. I am looking for writers that are comfortable reading in front a group. Also I want writers whose work focuses on suicide and would contribute to the atmosphere of healing and support.

If you know any talented writers or are a talented writer located in Minnesota, please contact me. This event means a lot to me, and I think it will mean a lot to this community. You can email me at pameladewey4010@gmail.com or tweet at me @agnesofiowa. I appreciate any help you can direct my way.

This week’s video is “Come Together” by The Beatles.

 

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