Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Reading Poetry’ Category

Work and Poetry (a reading)

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry Readings, Reading Poetry, Writing Poetry on September 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm

GeeseSummer8 2016

The ducks at the local lagoon, no matter the season, is one of my favorite topics to write about when I engage in poetry.

Poems about autumn and work go together with the autumnal equinox and Labor Day falling in the same month.

The Community Poets will host a poetry reading, “Good Work!—A Post-Labor Day Celebration,” on Sept. 23 at the Loveland Museum in Loveland, Colo., and I’ve been invited to be one of the 10 readers. The Community Poets, a group of local poets and organizations that organizes poetry readings and workshops in Loveland, gives seasonal readings, but this one will have a twist by bringing in that thing we all have to do.


“Work has so many meanings,” said Lorrie Wolfe, a member of the Community Poets president of the Northern Colorado Chapter of the Columbine Poets of Colorado. “It’s how we build our lives, spend our days and fulfill our dreams. We will reflect on the shortening days, the autumnal equinox and heading back to school.”

The Poetry Reading

To prepare for the reading, I scoured through my poems over the last year—I started the Poem-A-Day Challenge on Sept, 1, 2017, that encourages the writing of a poem a day—and found dozens of poems about work, making it hard to select two or three.

My topics include working at a grocery store, doing dishes, taking out the trash and getting pink slips, but nothing about writing articles for newspapers—my main career, maybe because I’d be writing about writing. I also found several poems about fall, which is helpful for the reading’s secondary theme of autumn. Among my fall poems were a few about ducks at a nearby lagoon but observed all year round, probably because I run by there every day as part of my daily run.

The benefit of daily poetry is generating enough poems about topics for a variety of readings and to have enough for a book or two. In my own work, I saw half a dozen common themes for chapbooks, just within a year.

For those who want to try a poem, there are no hard rules except for the forms, because free verse allows for a looser structure. Poems, at the most basic level, have rhythm and pacing without excess words, such as “and,” “the,” adverbs and filler descriptions. They are shaped by lines, spaces and word breaks.

Writing Poetry

To begin writing poetry, and this may sound repetitive, just write. To wait for inspiration to cull a poem is unreliable.

Do not expect all poems to be good—I have plenty of bad and OK poems in my daily collection, but each one has a line or two or even a rhythm that makes me think, “Oh, I have something here.”

To write a poem, here a few tricks I use.

  • 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, give it a title that fits but also is intriguing and draws in the reader. And then read it out loud, possibly before an audience.

That’s the aim of the Community Poets, to give poets voice. The group includes the Northern Colorado Chapter of the Columbine Poets of Colorado; the Friends of the Loveland Public Library; The Writing Lab; the DazBogian Poets; and several community sponsors.

The poetry readings are held every season, and the workshops are held twice a year in April and August.

Poetry reading (all about winter)

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


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

Comparing poetry to eating cake

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Reading Poetry, Writing, Writing Poetry on October 30, 2016 at 11:00 am


I celebrated my birthday in April with cake and a solitary candle.

Getting published and getting to read what you publish is the reward at the end of the long road of hard work.

But the work, too, is worth it, especially writing poetry that captures the moment. Without the poem, the moment gets lost into memory, amorphous in shape. Words give that moment grounding.

Reading a poem aloud allows the poem to have reality in time, so that it becomes a living, breathing thing. It becomes the what and where and how of a poet’s inspiration.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, I’ll read three of my poems selected for Sunrise Summits: A Poetry Anthology, during the launch party in Fort Collins.

Poets and their family and friends are invited to the event, where there will be cake (and appetizers).

I think cake is a perfect way to celebrate poetry. It’s sweet, an extra to a meal. It has so many varieties from lemon to poppy seed to chocolate to birthday cake with the colorful sprinkles.

A quote selected for the celebration fits perfectly: “I collect words—they are sweets in the mouth of sound,” writes Sally Gardener in “Maggot Moon.”

Poems are like cake, the frosting adding an extra layer both to the taste and packaging. They are the dessert to writing, a necessity for pleasure and experience beyond just the main meal. Without the flair of metaphor and simile, comparisons, descriptions and analogies, poetry is simply the prose or the dinner of writing. Instead, it’s the dessert, the thrill and the fun of crafting words into meaningful expression in beautiful, variant form.

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

PoetryLibrary 2014

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.

Daring to expose myself (in words)

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

When I write, I take my clothes off.

Not literally, but I get rid of the embarrassment I might be saying something that exposes how I deal with life and perceive the world.

The easy part of writing that way is I sit alone in front of the computer and do the digging, letting the words rip. I don’t plan, as I write, to read the words in front of other people.

But, duh, that’s why we write, to give audience to our way of telling a story, reflecting on a moment or expressing an emotion.

Though I knew I’d be stripping down to my shame and guilt over a bad life experience, I read a poem at the LoCo Poetry Slam Saturday, July 19, in a coffee shop in downtown Loveland (one of four poems I read).

The poem is called “Ball-Wrecking” and is about dating a very awful man, and I felt like I was saying, hey, I let someone do bad things and I hung around—well, until I woke up, acknowledged the untruths I told myself and left. I was afraid to expose what I’d let happen, but it was a poetry reading, and poetry can be personal.

One of the other poets—four read their poetry that evening—said the more you read a poem about an awful experience or emotion, the less power what you wrote about has over you. It becomes more art and less about what had happened and your emotional and physical responses to it and, in some cases, the recovery process you had to take on to move on … and return to a sense of having a solid self.

All of the poets that night read poems about how they emotionally handle life and its experiences, many of the words going inward. It was obvious we all are dealing with pain and aloneness, doubts and fears, and a multitude of other emotions. We are not isolated in having to confront all the stuff going on in our heads.

Our styles are vastly different, from more slam- and rap-like with great word play to comparing our inner world to a crack in the windshield to evaluating why we have to move to another city.

The poetry slam, which is more of a poetry reading, is supposed to be laid-back, said Ben Means, who organized it in fall 2014. He said poetry can serve as therapy for the poet and the listener, and I found that to be true, realizing I wasn’t the only one exposing my internal life and what’s happened to me. I realized my emotional responses to life, love and feeling out of sorts are things other writers experience.