Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Prepping for Poetry’s Arrival

In Poetry, Poetry Workshops, Writing Inspiration, Writing Poetry on August 19, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Waiting for the poem to arrive is like waiting for a butterfly to land and stay still.

Writing poetry is all about form and discipline, or is there more to it, such as invitation, invocation and imagination?

After attending Loveland poet Bhanu Kapil’s workshop earlier this month on “Writing the Poem Before It Arrives” at the Loveland Public Library, I realized I’d been leaving out an important aspect of my poetry practice.

I write a poem a day. I write poems when I feel inspired. And I write poems to practice form from short haikus to odes and the occasional sonnet.

But I never thought about prewriting poetry, engaging in exercises of the imagination to set the stage for a poem’s arrival.

“You’re receiving whatever comes. This is your writing. This is for the poem,” said Kapil, who decided to become a poet in 2003 and now works as a part-time instructor at the Naropa University and Goodard College’s low-residency MFA program. She is the author of several full-length poetry/prose collections, including “The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers,” “Schizophrene” and “Ban en Banlieue.”

Poetry Meditation

Kapil began the 2 ½-hour workshop with a meditation and exercise. She asked that the lights be turned out in the library’s community room and the 30 or so poets close their eyes and imagine that it’s nighttime in the middle of the daytime.

“We’re in a space with other poets who have a desire to write, a feeling to write before (the poem) arrives,” Kapil said. “Make contact with your imagination. Shift time with your body. Make contact with the notebook life.”

Kapil asked the poets to imagine changing their time and location to that of a sea cave, while still keeping their eyes closed. To get there, she had them visualize being somewhere in the plains and grabbing the desire to write and tucking it somewhere, while also noticing the sounds, feel and shape of things and the birds, vegetation and flowers in the environment. She mentally took the poets into a sea cave, and then had them open their eyes, draw a circle with what they thought about placed inside the circle, and then write a poem. The result is what has arrived, she said.

“It’s a connection with a near image and something you’ve been carrying with your writing,” Kapil said.

I drew a lopsided circle that ended up looking like a clock with a swing flying from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and my flip-flops flying off with ocean waves at the bottom lifting off at 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. At 8:30 a.m. is my sun with my notebook at 10 a.m. and a bird in flight that also looks like a cross at 11:30 a.m.

I wrote a poem that starts off: “Jump onto swings/ lose flip-flops/ ready to go to the sea’s edge/ no time clocks or check in …”

After writing, we traded poems with a writing partner. Mine said that all off my images are off the hour, the way childhood play is. The last lines of my poem are about letting go of the sea cave to fly on my swing, “my feet reaching to that sun.”

Poetry Pilgrimage

Kapil had the poets engage in a second exercise, but I had to go to work, doing the opposite of my fun, childhood play. She called it the “Completely Imaginary Experience in the Library,” the idea of bringing together fragments or pieces of notes and ideas into poetic form.

One way to do so is by taking a pilgrimage in your own environment—Kapil has 12 questions she travels the world with and keeps asking and answering. She asked the poets to find a book in the library and use lines from the book to respond to one of the 12 questions.

“Ask a question and let your hand drift to a book,” Kapil said. “The poem you write is a response to one of the questions. Include one word or fragment from your notes. And also attend to that message from the book you open. You really have to commit, and then integrate it that way. Write toward that line.”

The poem that comes cannot be entirely controlled but comes out of the process, Kapil said.

“It’s something that wants to be written,” she said.

The workshop and a reading the evening before were sponsored by a number of poetry groups known as the Community Poets, including the Columbine Poets of Colorado, Northern Colorado Chapter; the Friends of the Loveland Public Library; The Writing Lab; the DazBogian Poets; and several community sponsors. The workshops are held twice a year in April and August.

“For her, there’s a whole ritual doorway into the place from which we write from,” said Veronica Patterson, Loveland poet and a member of the Community Poets. “She was describing it from the sea cave, where she writes, which I loved. It’s not writing from the surface, but how to get to a deeper place in ourselves.”

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Poetry Bandwagon + Poetry Reading = Poetry Fun!

In Poem a Day Challenge, Poetry, Poetry Readings, Writing Poetry on December 3, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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Writing/finding a poem is just like getting a coffee shop gift card for Christmas. Oh, the joy!

I fell off the Poem-A-Day Challenge bandwagon and want to get back on, so I made a deal with myself—two daily poems until I catch up. To do so will take 14 days of double poem dipping.

The Poem-A-Day Challenge is something I undertook Sept. 1 to write a poem a day, and for the first month-and-a-half, I did a good job—I wrote poems every day, but then I made excuses—I’m too busy, I’m not inspired, I don’t want to turn my laptop back on, or I don’t want to take out paper and pen (because then I’ll have to do double work of writing the poem and then typing it up).

As I get back on the wagon with my poetry, I have to come up with some new poems about winter. Though I love Christmas, as you can see by my joy over gifts and coffee shop gift cards, I am not so fond of January and after the Happy New Year when it’s bitter cold with overachieving snow piles.

The poems will be for a poetry reading, “Seasonal Poetry: A Winter’s Night,” on Dec. 17 with the tagline “in celebration of the winter solstice, where poets will celebrate the darks and lights of winter.” The reading, which celebrates the winter solstice, will be 1-3 p.m. at the Loveland Museum/Gallery, 503 N. Lincoln Ave., presented by The Regional Poets.

I have a tiny collection of poems about winter, mainly about barren tree branches and leaves scuttling along all broken and stuff, but they won’t work. I need to write about the theme.

To wait for inspiration to write the poems is unreliable—and for me, poems arrive very infrequently if I sit around and think, “Come here, Poems!”

Alternatively, showing up for daily poem writing results in a few bad poems and even more good ones. As part of the daily poem challenge, I’ve written a lot of haikus, because they’re short. At first, I thought I was “cheating,” but now see that I’ve improved in a couple of ways. I can write them quickly and count the syllables as I do so—it’s harder than it seems the whole-5-7-5 formula.

Here are a few tricks I use to be show up for poetry:

  • Use the senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting—to capture 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 or war.
  • Avoid overusing trite words, such as hearts and tears, opting for comparisons and concrete language instead.
  • Be specific in descriptions.

Once the poem is written, cut excess words, such as “and,” “the” and extra descriptors. Give the poem a title that fits with the message that also is intriguing and draws in the reader.

And write another poem. Keep the momentum going.

Finding Hope in the Poem A Day Challenge

In Poetry, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline on September 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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The Poem a Day Challenge provides a simple method to accumulate a large number of poems.

Writing a poem a day sounds easy.

Just sit down and make up rhymes, rhythms and line breaks—and fill the page, because a poem is just a few words.

Right?

But for me, it isn’t that simple.

During the month of September, I’m taking on the Poem A Day Challenge, an idea I learned about from Placerville, Colorado, poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. Ten years ago, she decided to write a poem a day for one month but extended her effort to a daily, lifelong practice, so far producing more than 3,650 poems.

Wahtola Trommer, Colorado’s Western Slope Poet Laureate, gave a 2 ½-hour workshop, “Rigorous Willingness: Writing from the Unconstricted Throat,” in early August that included poetry advice and writing prompts at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colorado.

Not Good, But True

Wahtola Trommer said her poems don’t have to be good but do have to be true. For the challenge, she lowered her standards in order to produce a large volume of writing, seeing her poetry as practice.

“You get in your own way thinking it has to be good,” she said.

So far, I’ve written 18 poems and have 12 to go—or thousands if I make writing poetry a daily habit. I, too, lowered my standards, but unlike Wahtola Trommer, I didn’t let any of them go. They all ended up in my long poem file where poems unfold chronologically as I write them, waiting for me to organize and put them into collections for chapbooks—something on my projects list that I keep avoiding.

Share the Poems

In other words, the poems are that practice because they haven’t become product. I haven’t followed through with Wahtola Trommer’s great, yet simple advice: share the poems.

But I will—soon.

I’ve learned that writing daily is a way to get past the fear of rejection that comes with putting work out there, because within the not-so-great poems, there will be those good ones. Produce a lot to find the good poems through being available to them and what they have to say.

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.

 

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.

 

Poetry forms and inspiration

In Inspiration for Poetry, National Poetry Month, Poetry, Writing Poetry on April 24, 2016 at 11:00 am

Poetry is an art and a discipline that ranges from whatever goes to the very specifics of form and use of language.

It can take many shapes from free verse that is open in structure to a fixed form that follows specific rules to the semi-fixed form of prose poems. The fixed forms include sonnets, sestinas, villanelles or haikus that have specific meters, syllable counts and rhyming schemes. Prose poems combine poetry and prose through a block of text written in poetic language.

Poems, no matter their structure, are about feeling, emotion, stories and moments. They have tempo, rhythm, color, sound and movement as they capture an experience, thought, idea or observation.

This capturing is done in language of beauty, awe and difference. To make that capture different than that of writing prose, poems employ various poetic devices that add musicality to the words.

Some of those devices include alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance, the repetition of internal consonant sounds; and assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds. There also is 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. This form is open but still engages one or more of the 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.

Poetry, no matter its form, shape or the devices it uses, becomes art as it uses language to create something of beauty, and its craft through the employment of those devices to make that beauty.

Poetry, in essence, is art, craft and a bit of magic that comes from inspiration, word play and discovery.

 

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.