Shelley Widhalm

Archive for April, 2015|Monthly archive page

Poetry Readings (live)

In Poetry, Poetry Readings, Writing Poetry on April 26, 2015 at 11:00 am

Fitting with National Poetry Month, I’ve had poetry on the brain.

National Poetry Month, started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, is held in April as a literary celebration of poetry and its place in society.

To help celebrate the month locally and at a personal level, I participated in the Lo-Co Poetry Slam on Saturday, April 18, an open mic the third Saturday of the month at the LoCo Artisan Coffee House in downtown Loveland, Colo., where poets can slam or read their poetry.

The coffee house was packed, and six people volunteered to slam their memorized work or read it off printouts, in notebooks or on their smartphones. I was the fourth reader, and we each read three poems.

I’d prepared a little in advance, so was embarrassed when I started reading my first poem, “Old man in a coffee shop,” which I wrote in December 2014 when I saw a homeless guy, drunk with his head dipped, sitting in a chair at the same coffee shop, and I imagined his back story. I had trouble reading the first stanza, because I was getting teary-eyed, and then I had to stop for a few seconds and catch my breath. I said I felt for the homeless, got the tears back in and stuttered through the second stanza.

I said I wouldn’t cry when I read the second poem, “Wrecked,” about a dystopian society. Nor did I cry when I read “Dad’s Swing Sets,” about how my dad built several swing sets for my brother and I and how his hands felt pushing our backs as our feet touched air.

Before I read, I said I didn’t know how to do slam poetry, but a poet who calls himself Booger and leads a poetry slam in Fort Collins, said what I read was slam, because it expressed real, raw emotion. He and a couple of the other poets who I talked to after the slam said they liked how I was willing to show that emotion—the emotion couldn’t help but be expressed because it spilled over, causing my heart to shake at my own words.

I again read “Dad’s Swing Sets,” during the “Battle of the Bards” poetry reading and contest Friday, April 24, at the Poudre River Library District. My poem, a finalist in the adult category and the other winning poems, will be printed in the 2015 Battle of the Bards poetry chapbook and a free library district e-book.

During the reading, which was in the Front Range Community Library, I got nervous when it was my turn, because it was a larger audience than I was used to. I suddenly became teary-eyed when I read the poem, stopping in the third stanza to catch my breath before I could continue reading.

Afterward, a few people told me they liked how I captured the story of my dad building swing sets for my brother and me in a few words and showed love for my father.

I won third place, a great honor. There were 140 entries for the adult and young adult categories, which encourages me to enter more of my poetry in contests and readings.


Giving a good poetry reading

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry, Poetry Readings on April 19, 2015 at 5:00 am

(Photo by Steve Stoner/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Reading my poetry in front of an audience twice in one month is a lucky deal.

But before I read my poetry, I had to do some preparation work to make sure I made the best use of my mic time.

On Saturday, April 18, I participated in the Lo-Co Poetry Slam, a new open mic the third Saturday of the month at the LoCo Artisan Coffee House in downtown Loveland, Colo., where poets can slam or simply read their poetry. I read a couple of my longer poems that had the rap rhythm but weren’t actually slam poetry with the fast rhythm and words spilling out rapid fire.

I participated in a more official poetry reading Friday, April 24, as a finalist in the adult category of the Poudre River Public Library District’s “Battle of the Bards” poetry contest. I read my poem, “Dad’s Swing Sets,” about the swing sets my father built for my brother and I in the two homes we lived in as children. My poem, along with the other winning poems, will be printed in the 2015 Battle of the Bards poetry chapbook and a free library district e-book.

When I read my poems, I thought of my reading as a performance, remembering to look at the audience to make eye contact and making sure I didn’t read too fast or in a monotone.

To give a good reading, here are some other things to do:

  • Select poems that relate thematically, but pick out a few that vary in pace, tone or content.
  • Mark up the poems to indicate where to change voice or emphasize certain lines or ideas.
  • Explain the context of what’s being reading, such as the inspiration for the poem or the story it tells without giving away too much.
  • Rehearse, reading the work out loud and enunciating clearly. Practice in front of friends.
  • Time practice readings to know what to expect for the public reading.

Lastly, make sure to publicize the reading via social media, flyers and emailing friends.

The form and inspiration of poetry

In Inspiration for Poetry, Poetic Forms, Poetry, Writing Poetry on April 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

Writing poetry is a matter of art and inspiration.

April is National Poetry Month, an annual celebration of poetry started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996.

The art of poetry can take many shapes from free verse to fixed form, such as sonnets, sestinas, villanelles or haikus that have specific meters, syllable counts and rhyming schemes. Or it can combine poetry and prose through a prose poem that is a block of text filling part of a page with poetic language.

Poems, no matter their structure, are about feeling, emotion, stories and moments. They have tempo, rhythm, color, sound and movement as they move across or down the page.

With or without structure, poems can employ various poetic devices to add musicality to the words, such as alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance, the repetition of internal consonant sounds; and assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds.

Other devices that add music to language include onomatopoeia, or words that imitate the sounds they stand for, such as hiss, buzz or squawk, and slant rhyme, the similar sound of two words that are nearly identical.

Free verse poetry doesn’t have a specific meter or syllable count or a consistent rhythm and sound. The form is open but still engages one or more of these poetic devices.

Poems typically fall into two categories, lyrical or narrative. A lyrical poem is a snapshot or a fixed moment of time; it is a poem of a single image, thought or emotion. A narrative poem tells a story and has a plot with beginning, middle and end.

To write a poem, here are some things to think about.

  • Think of the intent of the poem and what it is you want to express.
  • Use the senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting—to capture your thoughts, ideas, feelings and observations.
  • Play around with words and descriptions, or simply put words on the page and rearrange them.
  • Avoid using clichés, generalities and vague concepts, like love, hope and war. Avoid overusing trite words, such as tears and heart, opting for comparisons and concrete language instead.
  • To get to the concrete, describe the specifics, such as how a sunflower lowers its seed-filled head to show change from day to night.

Once the poem is written, reread it to cut excess words to get to the heart of the poem. Explore what your poem is really saying and look for ideas that can be further explored. Your subconscious may have made connections your conscious mind doesn’t readily see. This can happen as you surrender to the writing and the beauty that comes out of the unfolding of words.

Picking the best writing contests to enter (and overcoming the fear to try)

In Staying Motivated, Writing, Writing Contests, Writing Processes on April 5, 2015 at 11:00 am


I have a slight fear when it comes to entering writing contests, or actually two fears—will my writing be thrown into the reject pile and will I be wasting my money?

The answer to the first is practical and philosophical—I can’t win if I don’t try, and, as a friend told me, I basically lose by not trying.

What can be “won” can include publication in a magazine, journal or anthology, prize money, an all-expense trip to a writer’s conference or a meeting with agents and editors.

As for my second fear, I have to remind myself that not all contests require an entry fee, and those that do can provide a return on investment, if not a win. The ROI is the feedback you receive in the score sheet or written comments beyond the form letter rejections that will help you improve your writing for the next time.

The ROI in a win or an honorable mention, such as for a short story, nonfiction or poetry contest, is a demonstration to agents and publishers that someone other than family and friends sees merit in your work. You earn an accolade to mention in the query letters you submit to literary agents for longer work.

But before you even enter a writing contest, realize winning or not winning isn’t personal or a reflection of your writing quality and originality. It can be a matter of the publication’s style, the editors’ personal taste and a high number of entries from other talented writers.

Also, it’s important to:

  • Be selective on which contests you enter, and only enter those where winning guarantees publication in a reputable journal. Avoid contests that lack a website or mailing address or that have large entry fees and low payouts to the winners.
  • Follow the contest guidelines, themes and rules for entering.
  • Get a sense of the taste and style of the magazine, journal or anthology.
  • Research the final judge and read his or her work.
  • Avoid entering simultaneous submissions; save them for non-contest entries.
  • Keep track of your submissions on a spreadsheet, including contest name, entry date and deadline, title of the work and the entry fee, if required.
  • Submit early and, if allowed, often.

Most of all, make sure what you enter is your best (and polished) work. Realize that contests are one of many paths to publication. Submitting to a journal or magazine during regular submission periods also can earn you those publication credits.

(See Zoey the Cute Dachshund’s blog at