Shelley Widhalm

Archive for May, 2015|Monthly archive page

Poetry Slams vs. Reading Poetry

In Poetry, Reading Poems, Writing Poetry on May 31, 2015 at 11:00 am

I’ve been to both poetry slams and poetry readings, and I haven’t quite figured out slam poetry: what it is and even how to write it.

To figure it out, I researched slams by starting with the Meetup page for the LoCo Poetry Slam that meets the third Saturday of the month at the LoCo Artisan Coffee House in downtown Loveland. The slam isn’t a pure slam but is an open mic where poets can slam memorized poems or read their work.

“If you use poetry as an escape, as an idea-bouncer, as a coping mechanism, whatever, please come out and join us sometime,” the writeup states.

Slams, a poetry movement that began in the 1990s, revitalized an interest in poetry as performance through spoken word poems. They are a way to bounce around ideas, start conversations and reflect on personal lives, the poet’s soul and social injustices.

Slam poems can express raw emotion and large ideas and often are presented rapid-fire in a vocal delivery style comparable to rap music.

The performances are done in a competition format, judged on a numeric scale by the audience or a selection of audience members chosen by the MC or host. The poems are scored to determine a winner, usually through multiple elimination rounds. The performances typically are limited to three minutes—the LoCo Poetry Slam limits poets to three poems of any length.

Slam poets are judged on how they perform and the content, voice and style of their poetry. Their delivery can use theatric devices, dance and movement as they recite, or they can rely solely on the words.

The audience chooses who advances to the next level and to the final round.

I participated in an official slam a few months ago and didn’t make it out of the first round. I read my poem, trying to act it out, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m more familiar with reading my poetry, letting the words and the emotion I put into them tell story through the rhythms I evoke in my way of using language. Slam will be a way to learn how to perform those words.


Journaling (and moving onward)

In Journaling, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Processes on May 24, 2015 at 11:00 am

After losing part of my journal earlier this month, I thought again about the journaling process.

Journaling is a casual form of writing that is pre-writing, like artists sketching in sketchbooks to figure out or practice drawing certain objects or parts of things. Journaling is a free form of expression and a way to play around with language and ideas.

My favorite type of journaling is freewriting, or writing nonstop for a certain period of time, say five to 10 minutes, without constraint or a specific goal in mind. I like using a line of text, a quote or an image to give me a starting point, not caring what I write as I let loose with the words.

Journals can be used for writing down ideas for first lines of stories, ideas for stories or capturing snippets of overheard conversation. You can use them to record details observed in the environment, such as how a building looks in the setting sun or geese with one foot up as they stand near a pond.

Here are some other uses for journals:

  • A diary, or a place to capture daily experiences and reflections and keep track of daily activities.
  • Writing exercises you want to try.
  • Notes about the writing process.
  • Notes from what you’re reading or the things you want to look up later, such as words, phrases and ideas.
  • A list of the books you read and what you liked or didn’t like about the storytelling, plot or other elements of writing.
  • Character sketches with magazine cutouts, found objects and written descriptions.
  • Photos of settings and the buildings and places in your story.

The key to journaling is to write without expecting anything. Don’t worry about quality or grammar or style. Just worry about wanting to write and loving doing so while the words spill off the end of your fingertips.

On Losing My Journal

In Journaling, Journaling Emotions, Losing Things on May 17, 2015 at 11:00 am

In the wake of what has been the worst year of my life, I lost my journal.

My first thought was why? Why would Life, with a capital “L,” waste all of my experiences that I carefully captured in daily writing by erasing the file? I’ve been planning to turn those experiences into a novel, and so I became more detailed in my journaling in the past few months.

When the file went blank, I called my brother, who works in tech support, and he tried to retrieve the file. I called my mother, and I cried, mourning the loss of what I’d written, because even if I try to recapture the memories, it won’t be the same as the first time I wrote about what happened day by day.

I debated, as I awaited my brother to work his magic, if I wanted to go through my planner, my texts and my Facebook messages to try to recapture what had happened from December 2014 to April 2015, the months I lost from my journal (and hadn’t backed up). Or should I just leave it blank and go on?

I still am not sure.

Because I journal daily, I started a new journal and lamented in my entry for the day, May 1 and the day after my birthday, the loss of my journal. My mother hesitated as she started to say, “Maybe losing your journal is a way for you to write about your experiences in a new way from a different perspective.”

One of my friends said something similar. “Maybe writing about losing the file, and reflecting on what you’d written (and the nature of loss) might result in seeing the events of these last few months in new and interesting ways.”

I think they may be right, even though it is hard to accept.

Losing my work may become a way to process what happened, write about it and recall it from the vantage point of having lost and moving on. It may then represent an interesting five-month gap of decades of journaling, something I’ve done since I was in second grade. The words may be lost, but the question becomes what will I find?

Poem Inspiration

In Poets' Booth, Writing Poetry, Writing Processes on May 10, 2015 at 11:00 am

Typically, I write poems on scraps of paper or on my laptop—but when I tried typing a poem on a typewriter, I felt halted and also inspired by the process.

I attended a People’s Market earlier this month in downtown Loveland, an artisan fair of white tents and booths around the Foote Lagoon, a geese-filled pond with the city’s civic center as the backdrop.

One of the booths featured the Poets’ Stop with an open mic and games to spark poem creation. The games included a set of word tiles that can be arranged into a few words or one word to give a starting place to write, blank paper to leave or take a poem, and paper in the typewriter to manually type up the verses.

“You should write a poem,” one of the poets, who I know from poetry open mics, said to me as I was gathering material for a news photograph (i.e. for my day job). I figured I could sneak in a poem while on the clock, so I sat down at a foldout table in front of one of the two typewriters there.

My fingers felt stiff and awkward on the keys, unable to glide from letter to letter, because I had to press down each one. I had to think about the letters of the words I wrote, when normally there is little connection. I’m not conscious of the keyboard or placement of the letters, something that’s become automatic from practice.

This disconnection slowed my thinking and creation process as I thought about each line and each letter in the lines and what I wanted to type next.

As I typed, I had to move the bar to move the type to the next line, pulling me, for a few seconds, out of the poem and into the sounds of the geese and rumble of conversation. I entered and re-entered the poem, as if I was going over multiple speed bumps, chopping up the flow.

After I wrote the poem, the poet asked me if I would read it, and I did, finding it difficult to see the faded letters from not pressing hard enough on the keys. She said she liked it for showing how typing it made me reflective on the process of writing a poem.

Here is what I wrote:

I am unmoored by the

s tiff fore ign type writer

my thought s slowed by the mistakes of ke ys

that require pushing

hard like the book bind perfection in

grammar my fingers become insecure in the one hand

movement of this falling apart peom

the tool new but old in story

as I miss letters, slow paces,

no poem here. no. stop.

back to my comfort I returnn.

back to my comfort I returnn.

Poem: Dad’s Swing Sets

In Poetic Inspirations, Writing, Writing Poetry on May 3, 2015 at 5:00 am

Entering poetry contests is a risk, but I was glad I took it when I entered the “Battle of the Bards” poetry contest hosted by the Poudre River Library District in a neighboring city.

My poem, “Dad’s Swing Sets,” which I wrote in 2013, was a finalist in the adult category. The finalists in all the categories, based on age, read their poems at a poetry reading, Friday, April 24, at the Front Range Community College library.

The finalists’ poems will be printed in the 2015 Battle of the Bards poetry chapbook and a free library district e-book.

Here’s the poem:

     Dad’s Swing Sets

      Shelley Widhalm

Under an oak tree

is where Dad built the swing,

two ropes and a board.

Dad’s hands on our backs,

feet touching the sky,

or seeming to,

matched with giggles

“More, more,”

Dorothy’s red shoes

lighten my feet.


At our next house

when we’re too big for pushing,

he gave us two swings,

cross bars, a rope, a trapeze.

Hours we laugh,

sunshine to our growing.


Dad digs all of it out,

four yellow grassy spots a reminder

of his building, fixing

swings wherever we live

to take us up to the sky

and back again to his hands,

long fingers, calloused,

strong, beautiful

to me.