Sunday, November 18, 2007

Monday Poetry Train #12

I'm going to kill the proverbial "two birds with one stone" (I hate that saying, I have got to think up something better, like feeding two starving cats with the same fish).

I was tagged by the lovely Michelle Johnson over at Poefusion to list at least 4 things a beginning poet should attend to and four mistakes you think a poet should avoid.

In an added twist and challenge, I will incorporate the five words from her weekly Friday Five list into my answer. This is an advanced poetry move. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. You may pull something, perhaps an adverb.

Attend to:

1 - Writing groups are great. If on-line is your only option, do that. But nothing beats getting together with other writers in person to read - loudly, with pride, as if performing theater - and talk about your work. Have one person host each week who finds a warm-up exercise, which you can then rewrite as your "homework." Share your rewritten poems each week and give constructive feedback (see #3 in the AVOID section).

2 - Read your work out loud. To yourself after you write it, while editing it, and to your writer's group. Hear and feel the rhythms. Even if your poem is not a metered poem, it will still have a rhythm and the rhythm should work. Read other people's poetry out loud.

3 - Also, read books about poetry. In particular, read Jane Hirschfield's wonderful book Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry if for nothing else then the first essay "Poetry and the Mind of Concentration." It's extremely accessible and quite lovely. I promise you she's not overly erudite. One of my other favourite essays on poetry is Frank O'Hara's "Personism." It's quite funny, actually.

4 - Play in ALL the forms. experiment. try writing rituals (like waking up at 3:15 AM every morning for a month to write, right Gwen?). HERE are a few examples of some of my rituals and experiments. Try cutting up other people's poetry (I once made a fabulous Shakespeare - e.e. cummings sonnet). make collages! Fill up a journal page, place a leaf over the words, and trace the leaf. Take everything INSIDE the lines as your poem. experimenting yields the most surprising work. And poetry should surprise both the writer and the reader.

What to AVOID:

1 - It drives me crazy when people write in flowery language, using thees and thous, as if the language of poetry (and language itself!) hasn't changed like every other art form over the years! We don't speak that way, so why would we write that way? Poetry is to connect, you'll distance your audience if you can't communicate with them.

2 - Don't insist on sticking with (predictable) rhyming poetry... there are other forms out there. Rhyming can be fun (hey, I love a good rap or villanelle and I'm a total sucker for a surprise rhymed couplet), but it can be quite limiting. I mean, seriously, try to come up with a good rhyme for malaria while keeping the intent of your poem.

3 - I find it amusing when I get students in my writing workshops who present their work, and then get defensive when I critique it. I start to wonder why they're there - for me to simply pat them on the back and say well done? Shut up and LISTEN in workshop situations. Take it all in, think about it, use what makes sense. Be open to making your poem better! If it's not working for your audience, it's not working for them.

4 - Whatever you do, DO NOT enter the poetry writing contests on (aka the International Library of Poetry, the International Society of Poets and the International Poetry Hall of Fame) - it's a total scam and a shame that they got to that url first. They tell everyone who enters "you're a semi-finalist" and you can buy the anthology with your poem published in it for $59! Then it comes in a 600 page book with 10 poems per page. You do the math. (even Wikipedia lists it as suspect). Do not support them, they have scammed many unsuspecting poets over the years. My incalescent blood boils just thinking about it.

In case you were wondering, Michelle's words were:

The poetry train has left the station...

I TAG the Art predator (because she's a new blogger and hasn't been tagged yet). You now must list at least 4 things a beginning poet should attend to and four mistakes you think a poet should avoid and tag someone else (if you want).


Rhian said...

Danika Baby - what a terrific post!
great advice and watch-fors.

Gina, Book Dragon said...

Whoa, that's a lot of information. Too bad about but thanks for letting us know!

Rhian's train has started me thinking I want to write poetry. Maybe after algebra...

Thanks for the comment on my blog. One thing I should have mentioned (and have fixed that error) is that my son took the photo also.

Yeah, proud mom :)

Christine said...

Thanks for these great tips. I've been following this meme, and each time I learn more. Great stuff.

gautami tripathy said...

This is one good meme!

BTW, I followed your advice and sent my poem to Paul Nelson before I had time to think. Hope he does not slay me.

Michelle Johnson said...

I love your post today. I especially liked the way you incorporated the Friday 5 into this meme. Kudos to you. I especially liked number 4 on the attending side. I might have to try that. Keep up the good work.

Have a nice day, Danika!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

It's a good week to kill two birds with one stone, though. A turkey for you and one for ... the food bank, maybe?

This is most excellent advice, Danika. I really wish I had a local writer's group to sit and be goofy with.

Or any kind of group to sit and be goofy with...

julia said...

My favourite bit:

'This is an advanced poetry move. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. You may pull something, perhaps an adverb.'

I'm STILL laughing!

Ann said...

I'm with Julia, that is my favorite part. I laughed so much I strained my prepositions. :)
Good advice,too, I got the feeling they were scamming people, I'm sorry I was right (I'm always willing to be proven wrong).

P.S. my word verification is xideco (a variant of zydeco?). :)

Danika / OpenChannel said...

Gina - your son is awesome and so are you!

Re: - I've had adult poet friends fall for it and feel like idiots and chalk it up to experience. But one time I was teaching a workshop in a 6th grade classroom and this girl came up to me with one of their books saying that she had won a contest and gotten published.

She was so proud of herself that my heart broke. Of course, I didn't tell her they accept anyone in their book who will pay for it, I just let her feel proud of herself.

Danika / OpenChannel said...

Gautami - he won't at all, he'll be happy you sent it. Paul's a good guy.

Michelle - absolutely, play, play, play!

Susan - LOL! What if I'm a vegetarian? Can I kill two tofurkeys with one stone? BTW - You DO have a group to be goofy with, at least a virtual one. :-)

Danika / OpenChannel said...

Julia / Ann - glad I made you laugh.

Actually, that would be my #5 no-no to beginning poets and writers... avoid piling on the adjectives and adverbs. Use them sparingly. Ha ha. My young students like to write stuff like: her bubbly, shiny yellow eyes danced spiritedly as she walked merrily across the lovely, fresh green grass.

Cumbersome, to say the least.

Economy is best in poetry.

Tod said...

yo baby! long time reader, first time poster! while i am in entire agreement about point 4 (give me fifty bucks and I'LL publish your poem), i think more to the point, new writers should stay away from competitions -- at first. build up your craft, read journals and write poems you would like to see published in that journal, work out your voice, share your work with your writing group. and when you get comfortable writing poetry, THEN look to contests, although i would recommend getting published over entering contests any day. while contests are great ego boosters and look good on your CV, nothing speaks like a published poem. write consistently and the incalescent heat you create in your poetic theater will yield leaves of verse infectious as malaria.

Danika / OpenChannel said...

Oh, SNAP! Nice job on that last line... and I know you wrote that entire comment JUST so that you could finish with it.

Tod's an advanced, poet, folks. Zing. And a wonderful supporter of literary folk through his small press poetry books.

And, I concur. You have more chance, probably, of getting published (for real published, not's vanity publishing), and it will cost you less than entering contest after contest (a legit contest usually costs money - but not always). There's nothing like seeing that poem in print.

Hey, Tod, how come you're not on the train?