Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Poetry Readings’ Category

Really, A Poem a Day?

In Poetry, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration, Writing Poetry on August 13, 2017 at 11:00 am

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The poem-a-day challenge is something to mentally schedule to get inspired to write.

Starting in September, I’m going to take on the challenge of writing a poem a day for 30 days.

I’m not original in this idea—I attended a poetry workshop Saturday, Aug. 5, presented by Placerville, Colorado, poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, where I learned about her 30-day poem challenge that has since extended to more than 10 years.

That’s at least 3,650 poems—and I thought I was clever for being like Emily Dickinson and writing 1,000 poems since my childhood. I began my effort in elementary school with “poems” on pink paper covered in drawn hearts before I moved on to napkins, laptops and paper bits.

“All day long, I’m available to poems,” said Wahtola Trommer, Colorado’s Western Slope Poet Laureate and author of “Even Now: Poems & Drawings,” “Holding Three Things at Once” and “If You Listen.”

Wahtola Trommer spoke at a 2 ½-hour workshop, “Rigorous Willingness: Writing from the Unconstricted Throat,” giving poetry advice and offering prompts at the Loveland Public Library in Loveland, Colorado.

“I found her presence—in person and in her poems—both open and passionate, and I was delighted with her calling her workshop a ‘playshop,’” said Veronica Patterson, a Loveland poet who helped organize the workshop through the Regional Poets based in Loveland. “Play is so essential to freeing our imaginations.”

 

The Daily Poet

To become a daily poet, Wahtola Trommer had to do two things: lower her standards and realize that writer’s block isn’t something she could afford. Thinking each poem had to be good got in her way, so she had to let some poems go.

“They’re not all precious to me,” Wahtola Trommer said. “I think poetry is practice.”

Wahtola Trommer took on the challenge with two friends, who agreed to read, send and receive each other’s poems but not make any comments, because then it became work, she said. She and her friends reached their one-month goal and extended it to three, but then her friends dropped out. She continued … and continued.

Why? Wahtola Trommer had “rigorous willingness,” or the radical availability to show up for poems. She has four rules for writing poetry:

  • She will write.
  • What she writes doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be true, both to the poem and to the writing.
  • She will not know the ending, because then there will be no surprises. If she does, she will get out before things get serious or the poem can offer up its lessons. The best approach she has found is to write past the known ending. “The poem knows more than you do,” she said.
  • She will share her poems.

Loveland poet Lynn Kincanon, a member of the Regional Poets, took Wahtola Trommer’s advice to heart.

“I found her saying that a poem does not have to have an answer and probably should not to be the best thing I came away with,” Kincanon said. “Also, I am writing a poem a day, and that is really challenging and keeps me active in writing.”

Poetry as Process

Poetry is a process and a way to engage with curiosity, discovery and meeting the world anew, Wahtola Trommer said. She recommends using the senses to access the world and paying attention to the small details. To do this, she suggests trying metaphor, which helps the poet make connections, since poetry is the language of connection and a bridge to the world.

Metaphor, a poetic device comparing one thing to another, can be used for any two things, because anything can relate to anything else.

“Start with a question and allow the metaphors to teach you, though the poem may not come up with an answer,” Wahtola Trommer said.

Poems also have opposition and tension. They are “in stress,” in the process of pressing on the poet the things of the world, and “in-scape,” presenting the aliveness of those things, such as through landscapes or escapes.

Writing Prompts

After Wahtola Trommer gave her presentation, she had the workshop attendees write poems from three prompts. In the first, she told everyone to take out a sheet of paper for a poem game: write a partial statement, followed by “is like,” fold over the paper and pass it around the table, continuing down the page. I said things like, “Baby ducklings in a lake in July are like …” “Going to a bar on Monday is like …” and “Eating a dandelion for breakfast is like …”

We got a different sheet back from the one we started with and chose one of the prompts. I chose “Driving a bicycle on I-25 is like …”

Our other two prompts were beginning a poem with the statement, “I thought I was a …” (I said “princess,” because I was back in my childhood on my red trike …), and writing a list poem. Again, I went with the princess theme and let the poem lead me to writing about a poet, an accountant and a singer, all who want things they don’t have.

I left the workshop with three poems and encouragement, plus a goal: 30 poems in 30 days. Maybe I’ll continue if I find my own rigorous willingness to show up, do the work and let go.

 

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Comparing Blogging with Poetry Readings

In Blogging, National Poetry Month, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Poetry on April 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

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I am reading some of my poems during a previous poetry reading at the Loveland Museum/Gallery.

Listening to and writing poetry doesn’t seem to fit into the fast-paced business world of SEO, key words and tracking analytics.

A poem has rhythm, pacing and structure, while blogs and business writing aim for a certain voice, objective and spin, all to capture attention. A poem exists on the page, the lines and spacing giving it shape, while blogs use optimized headlines, bullet points and short written content to provide the structure.

Another way to put it is a poem is quiet, existing in a book or chapbook or even on a piece of paper. A blog is loud and out there trying to get clicks.

Capturing the Audience

Both capture audiences, but in different ways.

A poem wants readers and to give expression to the internal, to memory and to observation.

A blog wants followers and to increase numbers to build toward marketing a business or attracting advertising to further promote the blog.

Like blogs, poems can become loud when they are given physical voice, such as in a poetry reading or poetry slam.

I’ll be reading two of my poems this week in two separate readings, both a part of National Poetry Month in April. National Poetry Month is an annual celebration of poetry started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 as a literary celebration of poetry and its place in society.

Two Poetry Readings

The first reading is “For Spacious Skies, celebrating early American poetry,” on Thursday, April 20, at the Loveland Museum/Gallery. I will read a poem in the style of Edward Taylor, colonial America’s foremost poet and a minister and physician. I wrote two poems after studying Taylor’s biography, a few of his poems and his approach to writing, including his tone, voice and word usage.

I’m trying to decide which of the two poems to pick for the invited poetry reading, where local poets selected an American colonist and wrote a response, such as in the same style or using similar subjects. One of my poems is more fun in tone and takes place in the kitchen, while the other is serious and reflective.

The second reading I plan to attend is Poudre River Public Library District’s Fifth Annual Battle of the Bards on Friday, April 21. The 10 finalists of the poetry contest will be reading their poems at the Harmony Library, and the first- to third-place winners will be announced. My poem that was selected, “Flower Centers,” compares various emotional states to different types of flowers.

A Final Thought

To further compare poems with blogs, I wanted to add a couple of notes:

Poems have titles on top (sometimes) and lines of text that aren’t necessarily aligned with the right margin.

Blogs have headlines scattered throughout and lots of the previously mentioned bullet points.

I’ve yet to see a poem with a bullet point:

Roses are red

  • Violets are blue.
  • Sugar is sweet …

I hope to see you at the readings.

Poetry readings and vacations

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Poetry on December 18, 2016 at 11:00 am

PoeticGeography6 2016Reading poetry aloud is like taking a mini-vacation.

I read two of my winter-themed poems Thursday during “On a Snowy Evening,” a seasonal poetry reading at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colo. The 1 ½-hour event featured poetry, storytelling and song during an open mic and a reading with nine artists presenting their work.

Their work focused on the winter solstice and the cold, ice and snow—liking or waiting for it—and getting Christmas cards and presents. Two of the poems on the solstice called it the darkest and the longest night of the year. Two more poems focused on a meditation on December and a meditation on winter. And one of the poems called the season “winter dessert.”

There also was a story about a local townsman’s dream of creating a one-horse opened sleigh and a story about getting the wrong Christmas present that ended up causing envy among schoolmates.

The poems, stories and songs were beautiful, descriptive and imaginative, giving delight to the feel of winter. They expressed so many different perspectives on winter I felt the season could be as wonderful and dashing as the holiday pop songs present it.

I read two of my poems, both about my not liking winter (though the snow is pretty, and getting and sending Christmas cards is joyful). The poems are “Fall Back, Winter” and “Just tell me about the wind.”

Before I read, I took off my scarf, saying, “This is not a performance,” and got a laugh. As I read my poems—we each got five minutes—I got a vacation-like escape onto the stage, where I focused on the audience and the words I’d written. It was a form of acting, or outward showing of the words, after they’d been written through internal reflection and observation.

Going on vacation is an escape from regular routines, gives a time to reflect on those routines and, hopefully, offers a time to experience beauty and difference. It’s a time to observe landscapes, people, environments and buildings and to think of ways to describe them, even if those descriptions aren’t written down.

I concluded my “On a snowy evening,” feeling like I traveled to a winter place, where I could write home saying, “I’m having the time of my life,” “Wish you were here” and “Greetings from far away,” just because I could see winter in a new light.

It’s not my longest, darkest day or season, but something that I can enjoy now that I found new words to describe it. That’s what vacations do, add stamps to a passport, experiences to put in a journal or photo album and new ways of seeing the world.

Poetry reading (all about winter)

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry Readings, Reading Poetry on December 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

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My cute, darling dog, Zoey, is unsure about the snow, just as I am!

I will be reading two of my winter-themed poems Thursday, Dec. 15, during the seasonal poetry readings at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colo.

The winter reading “On a Snowy Evening” will feature poems, storytelling and songs from local artists that celebrate the season of snow and the winter solstice. I will read my poems “Fall back, Winter” and “Just tell me about the wind,” both about how I really feel about winter. Let’s say, I like summer best!

I love reading my poetry to an audience for two reasons: to share what I’ve written and to get on stage—that’s because reading poetry aloud is a form of acting. Reading aloud requires the poet to slow down and experience and express the words, so that the audience can catch everything that is said.

Reading quickly (and nervously) causes those words to be lost, because poetry needs to be absorbed line by line to get the full meaning of what’s being said and the full feel of how the words come together.

For me, that means lots of practice and putting my poems in large print, so that I remember to keep the right (and slower) pace.

Here are the details of the reading, organized by poets Lynn Kincanon, Caroline Orman and Veronica Patterson:

When: 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15.

Where: Foote Gallery Auditorium, Loveland Museum at Fifth Street and Cleveland Avenue.

For additional details, visit http://www.lovelandmuseumgallery.org/poetry.

The “cake” of reading poetry aloud

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry, Poetry Readings, Reading Poems on November 6, 2016 at 11:00 am

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I’m being dramatic as I talk about my poetry in “Sunrise Summits: A Poetry Anthology” during a reading, Wednesday, Nov. 2, in Fort Collins.

I felt the greatest honor when I had the opportunity to read three of my poems to an audience of about 50 people last week.

The poems, along with two to three poems from 25 other poets who are members of Northern Colorado Writers, were selected for Sunrise Summits: A Poetry Anthology, edited by member Dean Miller. Miller helped organize a launch party Wednesday in Fort Collins, where poets could invite their families and friends to attend.

My brother and his fiancé and a couple of my friends came as my guests, and my friend, Sarah, took photos of me reading.

When I got up to the mike, I was a little too quiet, so a member of the audience told me to use my diaphragm, and I said I didn’t know where it was, throwing in some humor and getting a small laugh. I tried to take deep breaths and raise the volume of my voice, but I was nervous. I tried to read slowly, pronouncing each word and putting emphasis on the last line, but I think I read too quickly.

I read a twitter poem, a form I think I might have made up, but, as I told everyone there, wasn’t sure. It was 140 characters or less, or 22 words. Next, I read a haiku about Nebraska, where I came from, and asked everyone not to hold it against me. That poem was 13 words, following the 5, 7, 5 syllable format.

Finally, I read a free verse poem comparing writing on a notebook page to the wings of hummingbirds.

I might have been at the mike for three or four minutes, but it felt like 15 minutes. My heart beat too fast, and I forgot to make eye contact. I tried to look up at the audience here and there, but I went back to the words, focusing on pronouncing everything correctly. I think I got that part right.

After the reading, where about 13 poets read, there was cake (and appetizers). I ate the frosting off of two pieces of cake (I can’t eat gluten) and felt like I had my cake and the frosting, too, because reading your poetry to an audience is that special extra after having written something in a few sweet words. I got a sugar high and a poetry high, too.

Giving a poetry reading (comfortably)

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry, Poetry Readings, Reading Poems on July 3, 2016 at 11:00 am

PoetryMuseum 2015Reading poetry aloud creates a different experience than reading it on the page.

The poet should read the poem slowly to emphasize each word and to give it space and time, so the listeners can take in the sounds and meanings.

Reading a poem too quickly causes those nuances to be lost, as well as what the poem says. It just becomes a string of words.

That’s what I learned to prepare for my participation in a public poetry reading.
I read three of my poems about summer a few days after the solstice during Poetry at the Museum: Summer Solstice Poetry, A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Sunday, June 26, at the Loveland Museum/Gallery. The two-hour event featured poetry, music and storytelling, all around the theme of summer.

Three local poets organize seasonal readings around the change of the seasons for summer, fall, winter and spring. They invited half a dozen poets and artists to present their works about summer and Shakespeare’s play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.:

I scoured my poetry for seasonal poems, finding only two, and wrote a new one to get to my three. Though I love summer, I realized I had few poems about summer, but had many about spring and fall and even a few about the starkness of winter.

When I read the poems, I wasn’t shaking and nervous, but felt comfortable. I’d practiced at the mike and read my poems several times out loud, getting to the point of memorizing a few lines.

Here are a few more tips for reading poetry in front of audience:

  • Put the poems in an extra large font.
  • Move your finger along the page as you read.
  • Look up at individual members of the audience.
  • Don’t overdramatize or try to be cute.
  • Emphasize the last one to two lines.

And lastly, practice because that’s what provides that comfort factor. It’s doing what you did before, but with a few more people in the room.

 

A (theatrical) poetry reading

In National Poetry Month, Poetry, Poetry Readings on April 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

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I just love poetry readings—not only the sharing of my own work but hearing the work of others.

It’s exhilarating to find out how other poets approach the same subject or format and see how they perform their words.

During the first ever Poetic Geography: Mapping Loveland poetry event April 14, I read one of my poems, “Cranky Town.” Nineteen poets read one poem during the hour-long event at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colorado.

Poets submitted their poems, which three judges selected for the reading and a booklet, about Loveland’s buildings, streets, art and places to visit to help create a poetic geography of Loveland.

That night, I realized I love being on stage—something I suspected before—and acting out poetry. The written, literary art, for me, became a sort of theater.

The poem is about a 20-something woman writing home to her mama about her change in direction. She went from drinking too much in the big city to doing espresso hopping, working at the library and walking quarter-mile laps around the city lagoon.

My poem basically was a letter and a story. As I read, I saw poetry isn’t just the words but can be embodied with gesture, pacing and tone, so that the words have stage presence. Act it, be it, tell it.

Afterward, a few people asked me if I had theater experience.

Not at all. I grew up incredibly shy and didn’t know I liked to give life to my words. I thought I just liked writing them.

But as I do more and more readings, I’m realizing that a poem isn’t just for the page. It can be a dialog between the poet and the audience, a way of expressing what’s internal into a conversation. It can be turned from one form of art into another through performance.

The performances we all gave returned back to the page. Some of the poems that didn’t get selected and one or two poems from the poets who read that night became part of a poetry booklet called Poetic Geography. Both of my poems “Cranky Town” and “Snow Cougar” are included in the booklet.

So, it was poetry on the page, poetry on stage and back, full circle, representing a neat kind of celebration of National Poetry Month in April.

(Note: the photo is posed after the event, because the lighting was poor.)

Mapping a poetry reading (April 14)

In Giving a Poetry Reading, National Poetry Month, Poetry, Poetry Readings on April 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

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I am reading from some of my writing in a public venue.

Before I read my poetry, I have to do some preparation work to make sure I make the best use of my mic time.

I will be reading one of my poems, “Cranky Town,” on April 14 during the Poetic Geography: Mapping Loveland poetry event at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colorado.

Poets submitted their poems, which three judges selected for a final reading and booklet, about Loveland’s buildings, streets, art and places to visit to help create a poetic geography of Loveland. The idea is to make connections to place through poetry.

The reading will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Loveland Museum/Gallery, 503 N. Lincoln Ave.

Both “Cranky Town” and “Snow Cougar” will be included in the booklet, which I’ll be excited to give to my parents and brother (I have a large fan club!).

The reading and booklet together help honor National Poetry Month, an annual celebration of poetry started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 as a literary celebration of poetry and its place in society.

Anytime I give a reading, I think of my reading as a performance, remembering to look at the audience to make eye contact and making sure I don’t read too fast or in a monotone.

To give a good reading, here are some other things I’ve learned poets need to do:

  • Mark up the poem to indicate where to change voice or emphasize certain lines or ideas.
  • Enunciate all of the words in the poem, so none of the images and ideas get lost.
  • Put the poem in a large font and make the last two lines even larger to remember to not let the poem drop at the end.
  • Rehearse the poem several times, reading the work out loud and timing it to keep a good pace.
  • Remember to look up and memorize a few lines, so it is easier to connect with the audience.
  • Put emotion into the reading voice and spoken words. Make sure gesture when appropriate to add some drama to the reading.

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

A (very fun) poetry reading

In Poetry, Poetry Readings, Reading Poetry on March 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

PoetryMuseum 2015I read my poetry in an invited poetry reading, “Come Rain, Come Shine”—A spring equinox celebration in poetry and music, on Sunday, March 20, the first day of spring. It was a great preparation for National Poetry Month in April.

The reading, which was held at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colorado, started off with a half-hour open mic, followed by a scheduled reading from 10 local poets.

During my seven minutes, I read half a dozen poems focused on spring, specifically, “All About Things That Fly—Even Swings.” Most of my poems were short, so I read several, while the other poets read one to three poems.

Before the reading, we had a practice session, where I learned how to stand in front of a microphone and how to read a poem before an audience—slowly, annunciating each word and making sure to not let the last line drop into mumbling. Emphasize those last words, I was told.

I loved being onstage in front of about 50 people, including my brother and his girlfriend. I acted out the words and frequently looked up, smiling as much as I could. I had fun, and because I was having fun forgot to be nervous.

I read two poems about dandelion puffs (they fly when they catch the wind) and poems about butterflies, hummingbirds, geese and swing sets my father built.

Here is the one about hummingbirds:

I saw a hummingbird

Busy wings circling

Into a blur –

The mitochondria of its cells

Burning out candles.

It does not rest

With a long beak a steady sword

To drink in nectar

From flowers that let in

Those that can reach far,

Move fast

And try, try

Without ever tiring.

Spring and poetry (or springing into poetry)

In Poetry, Poetry Readings, Reading Poetry, Writing on March 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

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Writing poetry is a solitary act of inspiration or discipline or both, while reading poetry aloud is a matter of acting and stage presence.

Reading poetry is about the poet’s image and voice and is an expression of the self externally.

I will be reading my poetry in an invited poetry reading 1-3 p.m. Sunday, March 20, the first day of spring at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colorado. The reading is called, “Come Rain, Come Shine”—A spring equinox celebration in poetry and music.

I will be reading half a dozen poems focused on spring and will have five minutes, along with the other poets, who also will be focusing their expression on the season and the equinox. The reading is about spring but also a springboard into National Poetry Month in April.

I find it interesting how the process of writing is internal. It’s word play and memory and reflection. It’s a drawing inward.

Alternatively, staging poetry is going outward.

I wonder if you can have one without the other.

If poems are kept to the writer, are they a form of personal journaling? When does a poem become a poem? When it’s written or read? It has the shape of poem in written form, but it becomes a conversation and a message when it’s read aloud.

That’s why I like going to poetry readings with the freedom to give voice to what, up to that point, had been internal. Poets who share their poetry in a reading or slam are engaging in communication, expressing emotion and getting feedback for what they’ve written.

Poetry becomes a necessary language that communicates what cannot be said in other forms, compiling emotion and experience and observation into a few words. It uses form to give a message.

It is a way to add beauty to a moment, or to a large experience.

It expresses, tells, gives, takes and lives.

The words. Magic.