Monday, January 15, 2018

Why a Wordsmith Should Read Poetry

My father was a poet.  He wrote amazing, long, rhymed poetry for all occasions – birthdays, weddings, holidays – and gave them away as presents. 
He read Shakespearian iambic pentameter and Neruda’s long, laborious odes (in the original Spanish) to me before I knew who these poets were.     
During the day my dad was an accountant, but his real love included music and poetry.  I did not inherit his musical ability (you do not want to hear me sing or play the kazoo), but I did inherit his admiration of poetry.
My own poetry is forgettable so I prefer to relish in the poetry that isn’t. 
My Catholic elementary school had a tiny library.  It fit in what used to be the janitor’s closet, but right there tucked among the hundreds of books on the saints and martyrs was Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  She was neither a saint nor a martyr. Her Sonnets to the Portuguese made me break out in goosebumps. Her profession of love to Robert Browning made me wonder if something so bold did not break a Commandment or two.
In high school I discovered e. e. cummings.  Poems did not have to rhyme.  They could take liberties with convention.  I ate up every poem of his, delighting in his puzzling lyricism.
For years I taught Frost and Dickens and Eliot to reluctant readers. I tried to infuse them with the thrill those great, famous poets gave me.  I may have failed but I had fun trying.
For my own pleasure, I read Billy Collins and Nikki Giovanni and Naomi Shihab Nye, and I pretended to like Silverstein and Prelutsky only for my children and students’ sake, but I still have their books of hilarious poetry on my shelves.  
As a novelist, reading poetry is a daily brain exercise, a study of ideas and images, an interesting formation of sentences and lines, all using an economy of words.

All of this may be why my father was fascinated with poetry. There is a common base to mathematics, music, and verse.  They all have an internal beat, a systematic form, a message to be portrayed.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Finding My Zen in Writing


One of the perks of spending more than half of my life teaching secondary school was the amount of reading I had to do to keep up with the students’ curriculum.  The secondary reading list (grades 6 -12) had been vetted on so many levels that by the time it got to me, it was a guaranteed must-read.
I read hundreds and hundreds of books. Some authors were not my favorites, but then others changed my life.
Ray Bradbury was one of those. “All Summer in a Day,” “A Sound of Thunder,” “The Small Assassin,” Something Wicked This Way Comes, Fahrenheit 451.  All deliciously creepy, sad, or shocking.
“To keep a muse, you must offer it food.” He wrote and read daily from childhood until his death – poems, essays, anything and everything - especially other authors who did not think or write like he did.
“Not to write,” he states in his book Zen in the Art of Writing, “is to die.”
Truth in those words.
He perfected a writing process that worked for him, making daily lists of word associations.  He delved into childhood fears and personal nightmares, writing down everything he could remember of each, and from there created short stories that might later become novels.  He said a writer should be excited about the work he or she creates; he suggests “burning down the house” or “standing on a land mine.”
When asked if he wrote prophetically, warning his readers of the future, he stated he only wanted to prevent it.
About the benefit of literary criticism or creative writing degrees, he stated that the only degree or direction a writer needs is to find his own “Zen,” a mindful DAILY writing practice, a routine by which the author comes to an honest understanding of what works and what doesn’t on the page in front of him or her.  Write until at ease with the writing.

Some people call it voice or style; Bradbury called it Zen. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reap What You Sow


When I walk into a grocery store, I avoid what does not appeal to me – the pet food aisle, the baby goods, the canned foods.  When I walk into a department store, I have no use for the men’s department, the petites, the evening gowns. When I go to a craft show or an antique sale, I avoid any and all that doesn’t appeal to me – jewelry, pottery, paintings.
Likewise, with social media.
I have no tolerance for foul language, graphic videos, and opinionated slander. I have no use for hate, anger, and bullying.
Social media “sells” to me, so I have the choice to avoid them, “unfriend” or “block” them, or erase them all together from my feed.
“Persons reap what they sow,” so I will feed my soul and mind what I aspire to be.
I refuse to be bullied into accepting what others (who are no better than I) think is cool, trendy, or viral.

I keep abreast of the news, I check sources, I keep an open mind, but I also want to live a healthy, happy, hospitable life. 
And that is how I will start 2018. I hope you join me in this venture.