Monday, October 20, 2014

What About Writing Poetry? ({Part 2)

Poet, Roy J. Beckemeyer, has a second guest blogger post for us on the topic of poetry. Roy explains the ins and outs of poetry in a reasonable and understandable way. I'm learning something from his posts and I bet you are, too. If you didn't read the first one, be sure to click on the link and do so. Roy leaves us with promise of another installment of your own personal poetry class. Here's Part 2:

Thanks to Nancy for asking me to pen another poetry-writing piece for her blog. In an earlier installment, we discussed line length as one feature that distinguished poems from prose.

Another difference between poetry and prose is the way the poem sounds when read (preferably aloud). Poetry probably had vocal origins, and the rhythmic pattern of poetry, the assonance, dissonance, alliteration, the richness or starkness of the spoken words all contribute to the poem's feel and message.

Let's discuss rhythm as an element that distinguishes prose and poetry. A traditional and once common rhythmic pattern in English language poetry is based on the iamb. This is a unit of measure in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed one. It is likely the most common form because it reminds us of our own heartbeat (da dum). It is also the pattern that became familiar to most of us because we heard it in nursery rhymes or when reading Shakespeare. The iamb is also called an iambic foot (a foot is a rhythmical unit of two or more syllables; various feet are combined to make up a line).  If you combine five iambs together to make a line, you get a form called iambic pentameter, a five-footed line in which each foot (or nearly each one) is an iamb.

Here's a commonly-used example, the opening line of Shakespeare's Sonnet 12:

                        "When I | do count | the clock | that tells | the time"

I have used a bold font to denote the stressed syllables and the vertical line to separate the feet. Notice that iambic pentameter sounds a bit "sing-song-y." Poets often change one of the iambs to another pattern to vary the rhythm a little. For example, here is a nursery rhyme in which three feet are used:

                        "Jack and Jill | went up | the hill
                        to fetch | a pail | of water"

Here the first foot of the first line has been changed to a three-a three-syllable one, with an unstressed syllable separating two
 stressed ones.  The second line ends with a tri-syllabic foot in which a stressed syllable separates two unstressed ones.

You can find many examples of rhymed poetry. Reading them, you will be able to decipher how the poet used various kinds of feet to provide the feel and richness of their particular poems. There is a nice summary of traditional formal poetry, and the other various feet and meters that are commonly used. You should look at that tip sheet to widen your understanding of the rhythms of formal poetry.

Blank verse is written in iambic pentameter, but the ends of the lines do not rhyme. Here is an example from Milton's Paradise Lost (Book 8: line 460):

                        "Mine eyes | he clos'd | but op | 'n left | the Cell
                        Of Fan | cie my | inter | nal sight, | by which
                        Abstract | as in | a transe | methought | I saw
                        Though sleep | ing, where | I lay | and saw | the shape..."

You might notice that the rhythmic structure of the examples we have used could be read to the cadence of a metronome. So it is likely no surprise that traditional rhythmic patterns are referred to as the meter of the poem.

Most of the poetry written these days is unrhymed and also does not use any of the traditional repetitive rhythmic patterns; it is therefore called Free Verse. But free does not imply the lack of rhythm. One way of viewing the rhythm of a free verse poem was stated by Ezra Pound, who said that it takes the form of "the sequence of a musical phrase, not in the sequence of a metronome." That is, the rhythmic structure of a free verse poem is more complex (its units are not feet, but in phrases or lines), and is generally not repetitive.

We will investigate the rhythms of free verse in a future installment. 

Some References

Cooper, G. Burns. 1998. Mysterious Music: Rhythm and Free Verse. Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA.

Flint, F. S. 1913. "Imagisme." Poetry Magazine. 1(6): 198-200.

Haskell, Dennis. 2002. Rhythm and Resonance in Poetry. Pp. 157-163 In Brenda Walker (ed), The Writer's Reader: A Guide to Writing Fiction and Poetry. Halstead Press. Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Pound, Ezra. 1913. "A Few Don'ts by an Imagist." Poetry Magazine. 1(6): 200-206.

Friday, October 17, 2014

One of the Tools You Need To Be A Writer

One of the things I urged the attendees in the workshop I taught last weekend is to read about writing. Too many new writers plunge right in writing without arming themselves with the tools of the trade. It would be mighty nice if we could decide to write, then step right up to the batter's box and hit a homerun. (Sorry, but with the Royals in the World Series, baseball is on my mind!)

Artists and craftsmen need tools of some sort. For the writer, one that can be ongoing is to read as much as possible about writing. I suggested three books in that workshop that I particularly like. Here's a list of those three and two others for you. I've added links to their Amazon page so that you can scroll down the page and read the reviews and summary. Check your local library or purchase at your favorite bookstore, whether that is a local one or online.

1. On Writing by Stephen King The man knows what he's talking about. His long list of published books should tell us that immediately. Best part is that he writes about writing clearly and has some excellent information to give a new or intermediate writer.

2. Writing Alchemy--How To Write Fast and Deep by Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett  Editors of a womens' memoir website, these two women have written an award winning book for writers. This is a memoir edition, but the lion's share pertains to all kinds of writing. It kept me occupied and interested on an overseas flight a couple of summers ago.

3. Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott  You may notice the publication date being a bit old on this one, but don't let that deter you. Anne LaMott is an entertaining writer with good advice.

4. Beginnings, Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress  I read this book a number of years ago, and I read it again a few years later. This newer edition will help the novelist, short story writer and those who write personal essays, memoirs and more. Part of the Writer's Digest series.

5. The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron  A highly acclaimed gift book to give to aspiring authors, this one has plenty for a writer to absorb about the writing life and the emotional side. Her famous Morning Pages section is worth a read all on its own.

There are so many others to choose from but these are a few that I especially liked. There are many that are geared to a certain genre. If you specialize in writing for kids, google to find a list of the many books on this subject. Do the same with whatever part of writing interests you most but also read the ones that are a more general all about writing refernce book.

I'll close today with a great poster I found on my facebook page.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sometimes Writers Have To Make Hard Choices

This woman looks perplexed. I have a writer friend who must be having the same expression on her face, even though she lives on the other side of the world from me. She recently had to face an unexpected tragedy in her extended family. She wrote about it and asked for feedback.

Those who read her personal essay were all of the same mind--it was powerful and needed to be submitted for publication somwhere. I agreed at the outset but a question from the wirter made me step back and think a bit more. The piece has names and points fingers to the writer's family members, but it is not done in a malicious way. It's seeing the situation for what it is. I think she wrote it as a beginning to a healing therapy for herself but it could be hurtful to others in her family.

The writer asked if she should change the names or if it should even be published at all.

Writing difficult things about family and friends creates a dilemma. Even if it is one of the best things you've ever written, should you risk alienating family members by publishing? Do you take the chance that they would probably never read it if it's published in a small magazine or an online website? Do you tell them that you have written an unflattering essay about the family and that you really meant no harm but wanted to tell the story as you saw it? Do you write the story and change the names even though they'd probably recognize themselves anyway?

Does she risk losing some members of her extended family? Should she keep her written therapy in a file to publish much later when the wounds are not so fresh?

I've been in a similar situation with a few of the family stories I've written. I grew up with a father who could be extremely difficult to live with but who also loved his family deeply. He hurt so many people and he left me with so many stories to be written as to the how and why. I chose to not write anything about the difficult times until after he, and also my mother, had passed on. I still loved him enough that I wouldn't risk hurting him by telling the world what I thought of him. Nor could I hurt my mother by doing so either.

I did write a poem while Dad was still living that allowed me to begin some personal therapy over some things that happened long, long ago. But I put it in a file and have never considered publication for what turned out to be a powerful piece of writing. That was my choice. My writer friend must make her own choice, even while considering the advice others might give her.

If you find yourself having to decide whether to publish a fine piece of writing and risk hurting or alienating family or friends, you'll waver back and forth before you decide. It's far from an easy choice. The list of pros and cons might be short but important. What's also important to consider is how much relationships with the people involved means to you. Others can give objective advice but no one can make the final decision but you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Triple Birthday Day

I know three people who celebrate birthdays today. One is a longtime friend who is a few years younger than I. One is a Czech exchange student at Kansas State University who spent her first week in the USA in our home. The third is my granddaughter, Jordan, who turns eleven this 15th of October, 2014.

I love birthdays! It's your one very special day of the year. Even if you don't do anything huge to celebrate, the day has a bit of personal glow for you. Not every family makes a big deal of a birthday but a large number do so.

My mother made the day special for me and my siblings with a special birthday morning greeting. It might be Here's the birthday girl! as I got out of bed. Or It's a perfect day for a birthday!  She always either made or bought a cake to have at dinnertime. Those cakes that she purchased were from a bakery called Dressel's--three delectable layers of cake surrounded on top and sides and between the layers with whipped cream. Sprinkles or some decorative edging as well.Mom always said that birthday cakes tasted better than any other cake. The special was baked right in. 

The birthday person had the added pleasure of choosing the dinner menu, a tradition I carried on with my own children. Our favorite foods appeared each year. After we'd eaten our meal, made a wish and blown out the candles on the cake, then devoured that sweet treat, we opened our cards and gifts. I hated waiting all day long yet liked the anticipation that built through the day.

Our gifts were never anything huge or expensive but they were selected and wrapped with love. I often got new summer clothes or pajamas because my birthday falls the end of May. Toys and games were reserved for Christmas gifts. Mom saved the cards that had arrived from aunts and uncles for us to open at our birthday dinner.

What were your family birthday traditions? Did you ever have an exceptionally special birthday? Or one that turned out to be the gloomiest day of the year? Or one that brought an unexpected surprise? Write about birthdays for your Family Stories Book. Include your own, your parents, your siblings--perhaps even cousins or special friends, as well. Make the stories exciting because that's what birthday should be.

One added note about writing your family stories--a woman who had been at the workshop I taught last weekend stopped to talk to me afterward. She said her kids have been after her to write the family stories and she's done some. Her son, she told me, said she needed to make them more exciting. I suspected that she was reporting the facts not telling the stories. I made the comment to her and she nodded her head and smiled. I hope she'll rewrite her stories and make them more than a report listing details only.

The Three Birthday Girls

Vicki Rice Jarboe

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

One Tiny Piece of Advice For Novelist

You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed.
- Larry Niven

Larry Niven is a science fiction writer but the tiny piece of advice he gives in the quote above is one that every would-be novelist should take seriously. It only makes sense that you need to be able to write a good short story before you can write a novel.

After all, when we learn to walk, we take tiny, toddling steps long before we begin to run. We go to grade school to learn basics before we venture into high school. Athletes work their way up the ladder before they're ready to play in top competition. 

In the workshop that I taught at Kansas Authors Club convention this past Saturday, I expounded a bit on this idea. We need to work on the small projects before attacking the big ones. We need to submit our work to small publications before reaching for the big name publishers and magazine editors. 

Why? One reason is that we may not be ready for the bigtime until we've spent a lengthy period working on smaller projects and submitting to smaller publications. It is my belief that we need to write shorter works and submit to the smaller places for a long time before considering jumping into the deeper waters. 

We learn to write by writing. It is hoped that the more we write the better we write. But just writing alone is not going to help us write better. We need to read other writers' work but do it with the writer's eye. Enjoy the reading but evaluate as you read. We should read books and articles about writing whether online, in books you purchase, or those you borrow from your local library. We can't help but absorb some of that information. 

Next, we need to apply what we've learned. If you start having some success in the smaller markets with shorter pieces, then you're ready to move on to bigger things. It might be time to begin that novel you've always wanted to write. 

Lastly, Mr. Niven mentions that the money is in novels but that writing the short stories has its own benefits. A big controversy in the writing world is whether anyone should write for no pay or pitifully low pay. We can find pro and con arguments for each side, and both have some valid points. I am of the opinion that it's OK to write for no pay in the beginning. If nothing else, it gets your foot in the door. I did so in the beginning and am not sorry. It was publication and gave me exposure. I still occasionally submit to one of the places I sent to many years ago. They had the grace to publish my work so I can return the favor now. 

Mr. Niven gives us a tiny piece of advice that might become something you'll be happy you heeded. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Attending Writing Conferences and Conventions

I spent the weekend at the Kansas Authors Club annual state convention in Hutchinson, Kansas. The convention began with the Friday evening Youth Awards Ceremony. Children from around our state enter a writing contest, both prose and poetry, in hopes of winning some recognition for their work. I enjoy seeing these young, and often talented, people given an opportunity to showcase that talent. I couldn't stop watching the joy on those little faces  as they walked forward to receive a certificate, a medal on a ribbon and a print book filled with the work of all the winners. Writers for the future!

Saturday flew by as several workshops were in session throughout the day. I taught The Basics of Writing--Building A Strong Foundation in the morning and again during an afternoon session. Prior to my own workshops, I was able to attend some others. One was on writing songs, lyrics and melody. I'm no songwriter and never will be but found the topic fascinating. I came away with a much greater appreciation for those whose talent points to this kind of writing. 

A final session in the afternoon proved to be a fascinating history lesson about the salt mines that surround the Hutchinson area. Two local men have gathered many historical photos and delievered a powerpoint presentation with commentary. 

Sunday morning brought business meeting, a short church service and a time for memorials to the members of the organization who had died within the past year. The final workshop of the convention involved the writing and self-publishing route of a children's book author. I didn't it expect it to be as fruitful and interesting as it was. The author held her audience in the palm of her hand throughout the presentation. Self-publishing is such a biggie today that all writers want to learn all they can about doing so. Her book falls into the Easy Reader category, a picture book that a new reader can read on their own. Tight writing is a must. Too many think wriiting for kids is an easy task. Having done it, I know it is difficult. That old write tight admonition comes into play here. By the time the author and her illustrator/husband had published the book, they had invested $5,000. You'd have to sell a lot of books to make a profit. She showed us another book they'd published on CreateSpace which was an investment for them of only $200. I kept wondering about that adage that warns You get what you pay for.

Saturday evening, we had a dinner and program given by a Wichita TV news anchorman. Awards for authors who have written books of special merit and another for service were announced. Awards for the state writing contest were announced after the Sunday luncheon. I noted that many of the writers were winners of more than one category. I could almost see the neon sign blinkng above their head that said Here is a good writer

The final awards given were for the Poet of the Year and Prose Writer of the Year. Ronda Miller, whose poem I had featured here one day last week, was the Poet of the Year. A well-deserved honor. If you would like to read more of Ronda's poetry check out this page. 

Throughout the weekend, attendees wandered through the Book Room, where many of the authors at the convention had books for sale. I wish I could have purchased all of them, but I settled on two, both autographed by the authors.

Besides all that I learned at the convention, I managed to interact with dozens and dozens of other writers which is one of the top benefits of attending a writing conference or convention. If you've never attended a meeting like this for writers, give it a try. I don't think you'll be sorry. Ours is relatively small next to those happening in larger population states, but big or small, you'll come away with more than you had when you arrived.

The Kansas Authors Club is 110 years old and is the oldest writing club in the nation. That says something positive. Check and see if your state has an organization similar to this one.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Chicken Soup for the Soul Deadline Coming Soon

Are you like me? You sometimes delay writing a story for many good reasons, then suddenly panic as the deadline to submit is drawing mighty close. Note that I said 'sometimes' so I'm not guilty of this all of the time. Yesterday, something triggered a memory that there was a Chicken Soup for the Soul book deadline for stories coming up. 

I went to the website and then clicked on Submit Your Story in the list at the bottom of the home page. Once on the next page, I clicked on Possible Book Topics where I found the one with the looming deadline. The book is Thanks To My Mom and the deadline to submit is October 20, 2014. Panic set in!

I've been mulling a story that would work for the book quite a long time. It's been swirling in my head but I hadn't tried to put it in print. Pushing all else aside yesterday afternoon, I wrote a first draft. I read it over again this morning, then sent it to my criique group to get an initial reaction. So far, one person has responded and her words were supportive enough that I knew I needed to continue working on this story. 

The book will have stories by sons and daughters who learned something from their individual mother. It's a time to show readers why you're grateful to your mom or stepmom. I've pasted the call for submissions for this book below. Please note that they don't want general tributes or biographies or eulogies. They seek specific anecdotes. Read the copy carefully to see if you have a story to tell that would fit this book. Then get busy on it as you have only ten more days. 

Yes, I know that I normally encourage writers to plan ahead and not get caught up in these last-minute events. I still think that's the best way to do it, but now and then, we all break our own rules. Ten days is enough time to get a story written. So how about it?

Thanks to My Mom 
We are collecting stories of thanks written by sons and daughters of all ages about their moms and stepmoms. Tell us what your mom has done for you and why you are grateful to her. Is she always right? Do you still turn to her for advice? Have you turned into your mother even though you vowed you never would? Share your best stories-ones that will make us laugh, cry, or nod our heads in recognition. We are not looking for general tributes (we know your mom is terrific) nor are we looking for biographies or eulogies. We are looking for specific anecdotes about what your mom or stepmom did for you-something you want to thank her for. The deadline for story and poem submissions is October 20, 2014.(from Chicken Soup for the Soul website)