Tag Archives: poetry

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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Help #EndTheStigma and Join Me for a Reading Event at SubText Books This Saturday!

The event honors Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, a day of remembrance for those who have lost someone to suicide. It is at 2:00 pm at SubText Books in St. Paul.

We’ve also added a writer! Poet Sierra DeMulder is a two-time National Poetry Slam champion and also the author of The Bones Below and New Shoes on a Dead Horse. DeMulder will join poets Matt Rasmussen and Michael Kiesow Moore along with writer Scott Long.

Canvas Health is co-hosting the event along with SubText Books. I volunteered to coordinate the event because of my own experience with suicide loss. I lost my brother Karl to suicide just over ten years ago.

The topic also has personal significance for the writers. Rasmussen won the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets for his book, Black Aperture. The collection of poetry is about losing his brother to suicide.

“It is a subject matter and cause which I consider incredibly important,” Rasmussen said.

Moore’s book of poetry What To Pray For focuses on bullying and teen suicide.

Long is a MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Minnesota. He will read a short story about losing a friend at a young age.

The topic also has particular significance for Minnesota residents. State data shows Minnesota’s suicide rate increased 29 percent from 2003 to 2011, more than twice the national average increase. For Millennial and Generation X Minnesotans, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

Senator Harry Reid proposed the resolution to recognize survivors of suicide loss to the US Senate in 1999. Reid had survived his father’s 1972 suicide. When it passed, Congress designated the Saturday before Thanksgiving National Survivors of Suicide Day. The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention later dubbed it “International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day” because suicide knows no geographic boundaries.

This week’s video is a live version of “Poison Oak” by Bright Eyes. It is a beautiful song that reminds me of Karl.

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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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Suffering Doesn’t Equal Great Art

I fell in love with writing in the third grade. My teacher assigned us to finish a story- I think it was about camping- and I wrote page after page.

I was hooked.

When was in grade school, I liked to write longer stories. Around the time I was in junior high, my angst kicked in, and I was all about poetry. In high school, I started writing for the school newspaper. As an English and journalism major in college, I wrote poetry, memoir, essays, as well as articles for the university newspaper. After college, I was writing mostly poetry again.

Poetry gives you more freedom to play with language. It feels looser and more lyrical. Emotions are pulsing under the surface, barely concealed beneath the lines of prose.

Poetry also helped me deal with the things I couldn’t always articulate. It was a way for me get the angst out.

But if I wasn’t sad or upset by something, I didn’t write. I just didn’t feel as inspired.

It is a recurring theme amongst artists, writers, and musicians. To make art, one must suffer. There is the archetype of the penniless writer slaving behind a typewriter in a hovel. Or like Van Gogh, painters should be so mad with their talent that they cut off their left ear and present it to a lover.

To be great, artists must be miserable and bring themselves to the brink of insanity. And for years, I bought into this idea. And I’m not the only one.

Musician Amanda Palmer recently wrote an article “No, I Am Not Crowdfunding This Baby (an open letter to a worried fan).” The article was in response to a fan that worried Palmer was using crowdfunding to pay for the birth of her baby (don’t even get me started on this), as well as worrying having a baby was going to force Palmer to lose her artistic edge.

The idea of suffering for art is so prevalent a self-proclaimed fan of Palmer’s seems to begrudge her the ability to birth a child. It. Will. Make. Her. Too. Happy.

But Palmer no longer buys into this idea.

“I have come to believe we don’t have to suffer to make art. But- still, to this day- I’ve had a hard time shaking the belief that suffering and isolation are critically important ingredients to art-making.” –Amanda Palmer, full article available at: https://medium.com/@amandapalmer/no-i-am-not-crowdfunding-this-baby-an-open-letter-to-a-worried-fan-9ca75cb0f938

It is hard idea to shake. I have had a hell of a time shaking it.

But there is a difference between working hard and suffering. An artist needs to be willing to push themself. And to be successful, there is a certain level of sacrifice required. You must be willing to sacrifice time certainly, but I would argue sanity and happiness are not necessary sacrifices.

I don’t have to write only sad stories. Sadness and anger will always be sources of inspiration. A bad date is a goldmine of material for stories, believe me. But I can live a happy life and still find inspiration. I have learned to appreciate the beauty in this world, and I would much rather surround myself with that.

One of the joys of being a writer is letting your imagination unfurl and reaching into the recesses of your mind. It is possible to invent entire worlds and languages. Look at J.R.R. Tolkien. Not all stories come from directly from a writer’s experience.

It is why I sit down day after day and put my hand to keys, the thought that today is the day I’m going to get it right. Today is the day I’m going to crack open my skull and pull out the bloody meat of my best story. And if I don’t, there are always new things to be inspired by tomorrow, whether these things are beauty, sadness, injustice, or some combination of it all.

This week’s video is “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse. Winehouse was a wickedly talented musician, and she left us too soon. I wish she had suffered less for her art.

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Writing a Poem a Day and Learning to Let Go

April is National Poetry Month. Writer’s Digest is sponsoring a Poem A Day Challenge, and I decided to participate. I have wanted to do the challenge in the past, but worried I wouldn’t be able to commit the time.

But lately, I have carved out more time for writing. I joined a new writing group and have a new writing partner. I entered some new contests and submitted more flash fiction and poetry. And as always, school is keeping me busy with writing projects.

So I am writing more. And it feels great. I know this is what I need to, if I want to be a successful writer. The rejections still sting, but it is all a part of the process. Not too sound hokey, but I have to be willing to fail, if I am going to succeed.

Back to the Poem A Day Challenge, the first day I struggled for about 3 hours to get a poem down on the page. When I write, I edit as I go, so I tend to write very slowly. But after the first day, I realized there was no way I would survive the whole month, if I was torturing myself like that. So I have been trying to let go a little, to not edit so much as I write. There is always time to go back and change things. Not every poem I write this month is going to be a winner. Sometimes you just need to write the words and move on to something else.

Here is my Day 6 poem. The prompt was to “write a things-not-as-they-appear poem.” You can view the prompt and other poet’s poems here: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2015-april-pad-challenge-day-6

Note: If you know me very well, you know Pretty in Pink is my favorite movie. This is my poem homage.

The Unbreakable Molly Ringwald

I am Molly Ringwald today, all awkward cute
with a penchant for pink. The red haired rules I break
as I saunter, daring Duckie to avoid admiring me.
He can’t, of course. I crush his tiny Duck heart in my pale fist.
I only have eyes for Blane. He may be a richie, but he’s not ruthless like
Steph, who smokes cigarettes in stairwells and oozes sex and sloth.
Blane is sweet but weak. He is be cowed by Steph, corralled
back into that rich boy pen. But I am cut from a different cloth,
one of pink polka dots. As I design my dress,
I know tonight they won’t see me fall.
Tonight I will not be something they can break.

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