Monday, April 23, 2018

The Six-Room-Poem: Flamenco


Writing poetry does not come easy for me, but that does not mean I don’t occasionally try my hand at penning a few verses.
My poetry collection numbers close to 100 books.  It intrigues me so some of those books are on the craft of writing poetry.
This week’s “how to write a better poem” suggestion comes from Georgia Heard’s Awakening the Heart.  It is a technique she uses with students called the Six-Room-Poem that I found amazingly helpful.
You take a sheet of paper and fold it into six boxes and position the paper landscape, three boxes on top and three boxes on the bottom.
In box 1: describe thoroughly an image or a memory you want to use as the subject of your poem. You are not writing a poem yet, so just fill this box with description. If you are stuck, hold on, since you might get more ideas as you fill the other boxes.
In box 2: describe the quality of light or shadow or colors about your topic.
In box 3: describe your topic/image using the following senses: smell, taste, sound or lack of, and touch.
In box 4: what questions does your image elicit, or what questions might it ask you? You could also use this square to note quotes or verses from other sources that fit your image/topic.
In box 5: what feelings/imagery come from observing or describing your topic?
In box 6: go over the five boxes and find an image, word, verse, sentence that stands out.  Write it in this box three times.
Go back over the six boxes and fill in more descriptions and images, build imagery using similes and metaphors or other figures of speech.
If you have been successful, you now have enough material to write your poem.

I have included a sample of what my six-room-poem looks like.

Flamenco
The sun gathers her skirts
          pinks and purples.
Her song over  
          she steps off the stage.
Blinding brightness
          shafts of light
          cling to the end of her dance.
A magnificent spectacle
          Her beauty on mute.
She throws her arms into the air,
smiles,
And darkness follows.
         


Monday, April 16, 2018

A Found Poem Using Psalm 91



 In my previous two blogs for the month of April about poetry, I gave two suggestions: trying your hand with a “found poem” and imitating a favorite poem or poet by copying one example and substituting its form with your own words to practice “writing a better poem.”

To illustrate how a found poem works, I took a favorite Psalm from the Bible and did the following:
1.     I copied words, phrases, or verses from the psalm that I really loved unto a sheet of paper, one example per line, then I cut them into movable pieces with a pair of scissors.
2.    In a found poem, you are not allowed to add or change ANYTHING; you can only work with the words, phrases, or verses you have chosen. You cannot punctuate differently or add punctuation where it might be needed, but you can repeat words, phrases, or verses to create a refrain or make transitions or to emphasize images.  It will look very “modern.”
3.    I took my bits of paper and moved them into different positions, paring phrases down to single words if necessary and creating line breaks where I wanted.   
It is always best to show an example so below is my version of Psalm 91. I hope it inspires you to try your hand at a found poem. Happy April is Poetry Month!

Psalm 91: I Will Be With You
I will protect those who know my name
You will not fear the terror of the night
I will be with them
When they call me, I will answer them
command angels
                     find refuge
                     bear you up
          no evil shall befall you
guard you in all ways
                     from the snare of the fowler
You will tread on the lion and the adder
You will not fear the terror of the night.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Writing a Better Poem



Do you want to learn how to write a better poem?
1.     Read poetry.  Immerse yourself in it.  Find and sift through until you find the poets and the poems you like and admire.
2.    Imitate their poems.  I do not advocate plagiarism; I advocate practice and study.  Imbue yourself in the form, the spacing, the use of line and rhythm – all the elements that interest you. 
3.    Copy your poems into a journal or notebook, or copy and paste it into a digital folder, and also keep ideas, lines from favorite poems, figurative language, vocabulary, pictures, and practice, practice, practice.  Keep finished and unfinished poems in one, easily accessible place.
4.    Hunt, search, research for new poets and poetry.  No need to spend money.  Use libraries, bookstores, the Internet.  Use recommendations from Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble.  Remember there are thousands of novels available, but we only read the few genres we like; likewise, with poetry, there are thousands of poets and poetry out there waiting to be discovered, read, and enjoyed.
5.    Join a group of poets who write, share, and critique each other’s work.  So much can be learned from those who understand the genre best.
Looking for ideas? Try:
1.    Julia Alvarez.  Homecoming
2.    Niki Giovanni. The Women and the Men
3.    Trinidad Sanchez, Jr. Why Am I So Brown?
4.    Tupac Shakur. The Rose That Grew from Concrete.
5.    Alice Walker.  Revolutionary Petunias.

Monday, April 2, 2018

April is Poetry Month: THE Found Poem


One of my favorite teaching units when teaching middle and high school students was The Poetry Unit.  
The kids would groan; the poet beaten out of them in elementary school, what with haikus, and tankas, and diamantes forced upon them by well-meaning teachers, year after year.
I allayed their fears, promising them I would take their concerns to heart and maybe teach them something new, something innovative, something that would change their minds about April is Poetry Month that would not be too painful.
I started off by brainstorming on the white board everything everyone knew already about poetry. 
“It rhymes.”
“It sometimes doesn’t rhyme.”
“It’s short.”
“It’s sometimes long.”
“It follows conventions.”
“It sometimes breaks conventions and rules.”
And so it went until we had covered the white board with everything everyone offered.  During lulls, I would ask questions to get more ideas.
“Why do some poems rhyme and others don’t?”
“How does a short poem get its message across?”
“What are some poetic conventions?” and if that didn’t work: “What are some rules you have seen a poet break?”
When the white board was covered with all of their ideas, I showed them a quick way to write Poem #1 (and copy notes off the board).
THE FOUND POEM
Take a sheet of paper and number 1-20, skipping lines in between your numbers.
Copy twenty ideas from the white board that stand out to you the most.  Maybe they are new ideas or contradicting ideas or ideas that you feel a need to remember most. At this point just copy twenty ideas, one per line. Copy them exactly as written on the board. 
Do Not Change or Add Anything.
When you are done, double check that you chose the twenty ideas you want to remember the most about today’s lesson. Scratch out one you do not want to keep and replace it with one you do want to keep.
Read your list of twenty.
Reorder them in any fashion you prefer; renumber the list out in the margin: most important to least, or least important to most, or mix one of each per line, or short line followed by a long one, or the reverse, clump together in stanzas, or clumped together in stanzas but the final line ending each stanza has the most importance.
Remember a poem does NOT have to rhyme, so have fun with this.
This is your rough draft, so when you are ready, rewrite (or if working on a laptop, move) your lines into their new positions, adding spaces between lines or stanzas.
When finished, there should be twenty “lines.”
Some follow up lessons to this were lessons on enjambment, refrain, and punctuation, but one look at their finished products always lend themselves to other ideas.
HAPPY APRIL IS POETRY MONTH.
  

Monday, March 26, 2018

Getting Good at This: Losing a Loved One


Odd, what some people say when offering their condolences.  In an attempt to say something meaningful, they stumble out what they think is kind and well-intentioned but sounds rude instead.  At my mother’s funeral, one stark comment that stayed with me was, “You’re getting good at this.”
Good at this?  What did that mean? Losing my family? Managing a funeral? Penning eulogies? I would rather be good at anything else but this. I know those who said this to me did not mean it to be rude, so instead of being offended, I try to understand why they think I am “good at this.”
I was in my early 30’s when my grandfather was dying from cancer.  In their grief, my grandmother, mother, and aunt hadn’t thought about getting him a priest to give him “Anointing of the Sick,” what non-Catholics like to call Last Rites. I called my mother’s parish priest and he came immediately. My grandfather died soon after. I like to think he found comfort in this rite.
A few years later, I did the same for my dear grandmother.  As a matter of fact, I got her two priests.  One came immediately after she was admitted into the hospital after her heart attack, and the second one came later in the day.  At her bedside, I joked with her though she was in a coma.  She probably thought we heathens had forgotten our obligation and she would face eternity without her last rites. She too passed away soon after the second priest left, probably relieved that we hadn’t forgotten our Catholic upbringing.
Years later I did the same for my dad, my grandson, and my brother.  I asked for priests or chaplains to come pray with us so we could keep God and His angels close as our dear ones met their ends on this earth. I know it gives those left behind comfort for I have seen the sense of relief prayer gives them in their grief and loss.
Yes, I am getting “good at this.”  I could see my mother was losing her battle here on earth the day she died, and as difficult as it was to be strong and grown up and resolute, it would have been unforgiveable to be anything but.  If I truly believe in Jesus Christ and life everlasting, then I had to be like Him at that moment: committed to my task and mission, kind and compassionate, afraid but brave. I only hope that when my time comes, someone does the same for me.