Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Poetry’ Category

The Work (and Poetry) of an Assisted Living Facility

In Community Poets, Poetry Readings, Writing Poetry on October 7, 2018 at 5:00 pm

PoetryFall5 09-2018

Shelley Widhalm reads some of her poetry at the “Good Work” poetry reading Sept. 23 at the Loveland Museum in Loveland, Colo.

Every time I visit my mother at her assisted living facility, I walk down the halls, feeling wonder at the corkboards filled with cutout magazine pages.

One of the residents, Deloros, considers it her job to fill the white walls with images of wildlife, birds, historic ruins and travel—and sometimes people at work. She cuts out the images, tapes them to construction paper and highlights the text, turning routine magazine articles into art, education and entertainment.

Deloros says she needs to finish her work before lunch as I stop to talk and let her pet my dog, Zoey, a long-haired miniature dachshund. I commiserate, because I know I would want the same thing in my retirement years—some sense of work and purpose. She tells me it helps her get up and going with her day.

“Some feel lost until they have work,” is a line from a poem that perfectly fits our weekly encounters.

Good Work! Poetry Reading

The poem is about life at an assisted living facility and one of 15 that poets read Sept. 23 at the seasonal poetry reading hosted by the Community Poets in Loveland, Colo.

The poetry reading, “Good Work!—A Post-Labor Day Celebration,” featured an open mike and the reading of poems focused on the autumnal equinox, work and going back to school. The poems were on subjects as varied as working in a mailroom, doing a long list of random jobs, going to a job interview, questioning choosing college over steady work, disliking repetitive factory tasks and seeing the act of pushing a pencil across the page as heavy work. My poems were about doing dishes and taking the trash to the trash room.

“It’s easy to get lost in your career,” was a line from one of the poems, and I related.

I find that working too much pushes out real life and fun if the hours become too many—and then I realize I need to work less to be a little more balanced. I wonder what I will do when I retire and how I’ll fill my days. Will I think I have to work, just like Deloros does? Will I be writing my novels and journaling because I believe it’s incredibly important? Will I be published and have “my work” continue bringing in money? Or will the work be something that gets me up to be doing something, anything, just as long as I keep busy?

One of the poems was about Bud, whose job is listening to stories—and it turns out Bud is a dog. Zoey’s jobs involve going on walks, doing tricks and offering comfort to her human companions and those she passes by, like Deloros. She stops to visit Deloros and listens to her stories about her work, wiggling her body at the excitement of being included. I always smile, fascinated by the Deloros’s artwork and the love she gives Zoey.

Taking Poetry Notes

During the poetry reading, I didn’t take very careful notes. I scribbled on tiny yellow and orange piece of papers with poems on them, writing on the back sides of “The Real Work,” by Wendell Berry and two copies of a poem by Gary Snyder, “Hay for Horses.” I forgot my work of being a journalist, absorbed in being a poet and a listener of poetry, marveling at the beauty of the lines and images the poets presented. In other words, I forgot to work.

“It was so much creativity and beauty and heart and soul put into versions of work,” said Lynn Kincanon, a member of the Community Poets, adding that the poets sharing their work was “a community gift.”

The Community Poets, a group of local poets and organizations that organizes poetry readings and workshops in Loveland, will hold the next seasonal reading Dec. 16 on Frosty Nights and the Pleasures of Winter, inspired by the poetry of Robert Frost, at the Loveland Museum. The poetry readings are held every season, and the workshops are held twice a year in April and August.

 

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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.

“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.

Prepping for Poetry’s Arrival

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

ButterflyMuseum 04-2014

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.”

How a Daily Challenge Improves Writing (and makes it fun)

In Poem a Day Challenge, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Poetry, Writing Tips on July 15, 2018 at 5:00 pm

GeeseSummer5 2016

The ducklings at a neighborhood lagoon provide poetic inspiration.

Writing on a daily basis is like committing to running or some other form of exercise.You start to need it and don’t feel as energetic without that routine. Plus, practice improves skill, and experience builds knowledge.

In September 2017, I committed to the Poem a Day Challenge, an idea I learned about from Placerville, Colorado, poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer . The result is I’ve written 318 poems since then, but I also learned some valuable lessons about writing.

The Results of Daily Writing

First, writing comes easier and the skills learned in one format are transferable to other types of writing from fiction to nonfiction.

The crisp simplicity of poetry—leaving out unnecessary words like “the” and choosing nouns over adjectives—can be employed in blogs, articles and other writing. Poems typically aren’t wordy and don’t wander from subject to subject but need to tell a story or display an image in a few words. The same goes with blogs and articles that need to have a clear focus, be concise and have transitions, so that the writing is smooth and appears simple but can be complex.

Also:

  • Daily writing doesn’t actually have to be daily—days can be skipped and the blanks filled in. For me, poems seem to pile up and wait for the writing—I make sure to have time for them, even if I skip two weeks. I don’t want to get too far behind and have to play catch up, so that it feels like a chore. I make sure to do the poems, because I don’t want to break the commitment.
  • Writing can become more present in your life. Now, I am looking for poems, and when I see something that I could turn into a poem, I describe it in my head and remember it for later. I write the poem based on that memory and call up visual impressions to add even more detail. Or, I take a few notes and use them later to prompt the writing.
  • Poetry can make you think of how to use language in other places, such as in details and paragraph breaks. A poem changes in meaning or rhythm by altering where the lines end.

The World as Poem

With daily writing, the world becomes a poem—I am constantly describing nature, sunsets and other things as I observe them, not simply in the seeing but in hearing how the words feel in my head.

I essentially look both outward and inward to the world and within myself. The poems cause me to turn my emotional responses and thoughts into language that normally would be kept inside. By writing daily, or nearly so, the inner world becomes more outward in a more automatic way.

Writing daily poetry also is a way to practice poetry. It doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be real to the moment. I let my mind go and start writing, letting the poems come as they want to.

Sometimes, I produce good work, and sometimes, I have sketches—the starts of poems with a good line that can become more if I play with it later. Within the not-so-great poems, there will be those good ones.

Plus, I’m writing more than I would have without the challenge. I’m feeling like I need it, just like I need my one hour of daily exercise of running alternated with weight lifting to get my day going. Poetry does that for me, too.

An Example

Here’s an example of one of my daily poems about one of my favorite topics and observation points, the ducks at a neighborhood lagoon.

        Duckling Safety
              By Shelley Widhalm
Ducklings at the sculpture
sailboat sings off the middle
jump toward Mom
bedtime home in the stone
two already made it
four swim
stretching necks toward
safety.

 

Odes, Elegies and Workshops (and making writing poetry fun!)

In National Poetry Month, Poetry Workshops, Writing Poetry on April 15, 2018 at 5:00 pm

PoetryWorkshop2 04-18

Fort Collins poet Lisa Zimmerman hosts a poetry workshop, “Odes, Elegies and Raptures, Oh My!” on April 6 in Loveland, Colo., to help celebrate National Poetry Month.

Poetry used to be so archaic and foreign to me until I started writing it.

Of course as an English major, I studied #Poetry but also found it to be intimidating, especially as I learned about sonnets, sestinas, villanelles and haikus, each with their specific meters, syllable counts and rhyming schemes. And then I found out about free verse, but that, too, has its rules: get rid of the extra words while providing artistic expression in the open form.

As I practiced free verse, the other forms became easier to incorporate in my daily poem habit—I’ve been writing a poem a day since September 2017. I now like writing haikus—they’re short and all you have to do is count out syllables of 5-7-5 in three lines of poetry.

Odes and Elegies

I added two other forms to my likes list thanks to a local poetry workshop, “Odes, Elegies and Raptures, Oh My!” presented earlier this month at the Loveland Museum/Gallery by Fort Collins, Colo., poet Lisa Zimmerman. The workshop was part of a series of readings, workshops and writing events for Loveland, Colo.’s celebration of National Poetry Month that aims to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in April.

“I love we have a whole month to celebrate poetry,” said Zimmerman, associate professor at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colo., and author of six poetry collections, including “The Light at the Edge of Everything.” “Poetry speaks to beauty. … I write poetry because it’s beautiful and terrible.”

Zimmerman said she can feel weighed down by the world and then will notice something that inspires a poem, keeping her in the present time.

“You can’t look in the eyes of horse and be bummed about things,” she said.

Poems about Anything

Zimmerman said she has one rule about poetry, and that is poems can be written about anything. When she teaches a workshop, she likes to give a quick description of the form and then offer poetry prompts to encourage immediate writing.

“When I go to poetry workshop, I want to get a poem out of it. If you’re anything like me, you want a poem,” Zimmerman said.

I got three poems out of the workshop—I only could attend the odes part and missed the “sad” elegies to head off to work.

Zimmerman explained that odes are a tribute to an object or event and can be to anything and everything. They can be a thank you, a poem of praise or an expression after the fact, “an oh, or yeah,” as she stated in a handout about odes with samples of poems.

We read the samples and got to work writing our own odes. I wrote three, an ode to books, to my laptop and to my dachshund (Zoey the princess).

I missed the elegies bit, but asked Zimmerman to send me a write-up about it. She wrote, “Elegies are not always about death—sometimes an elegiac poem is about sadness or longing.”

She said many of us carry around a sadness and have not been able to write about it, perhaps for years. During the workshop, she suggested “we can ‘write around it,’ or, as Emily Dickinson advises, ‘Tell the truth, but tell it slant.’”

I was sad I missed the rest of the session due to work. But then I was happy when I had my breaks to think about all that I had learned, Oh My!

 

Top 10 Tips for Writing Poetry

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Poetry, Writing Tips on January 28, 2018 at 6:00 pm

PoetryAnthology2 2016

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services reads her poetry during a poetry reading in November 2016 to launch “Sunrise Summits: A Poetry Anthology.”

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.

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 that add musicality to the words.

Some of the poetic 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.

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

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.
  • Decide if you want your poem to be 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.
  • 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.
  • Avoid overuse of the words “and,” “that” and “the,” which often are not needed. Cut unnecessary words to tighten the poem’s language.
  • 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.

One Final Thought About Poetry

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 Bandwagon + Poetry Reading = Poetry Fun!

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

Shelley-gift card1

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.

Am I a Lazy Poet? (daily poem challenge a little too revealing)

In Poem a Day Challenge, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Poetry on September 24, 2017 at 5:00 pm

Writing a poem a day, instead of waiting for magical inspiration to swoop in, showed me I’m kind of a lazy but also a good writer.

I’m lazy because I don’t want to write a poem a day.

I’m good because that’s how I have to think about myself (it’s my career and my passion)—plus, there are a couple of gems within my daily poetic forcedness. I found if I wasn’t too tired (I often procrastinated until the end of the day) and let the poem take over, I lost the words I typed and fell into the images, hanging on as I wondered, “What’s next?”

Poem A Day Challenge

Yep, I took on the daily poetry challenge to write a poem a day for one month, which I started Sept. 1 for the month of September. I’m going to continue the challenge in October, but I also know, at this point, I can’t commit to more than 30 days at a time. To see a vast endlessness of a daily poem requirement is a bit daunting—that would mean 365 poems in a year and writing a poem Every. Single. Day.

Instead, I have to shrink my view of the daily writing commitment into something I can mentally handle before I can turn it into a habit. It remains a chore some days, instead of something to look forward to, excited at what will happen.

So far, I’ve met the challenge, or mostly, in that each day has its poem, though I skipped a day or even two days three or four times and had to backtrack to fill in the poem slots.

Some days I wrote poems because I had to show up, writing bad poetry just to fill in the blanks. Other times I had things to get out, whatever I had stored up in my poetic soul, awaiting inspiration. I had a spot for the words in waiting and was surprised at the layers of thoughts I have about things.

I wrote a few poems with similar titles—what’s going on in my head, really? And a few about the same subjects. I tried on new subjects. I started a few with “The poem goes here,” because that’s how I have my fill-in-the-blanks set up with the title in bold and the typing in normal font. I called one “Poem Date,” and another “My poem asked me on a date.”

I wrote a few haikus thinking poems with 5-7-5 syllables could be whipped out, and I could get to bed. I also wrote about writing about poetry. I called one of the poems, “Lazy Poet.”

 

Poem Examples

Here a few examples of my bad poems, or semi-okay poems—I’m not even sure. I wrote them sleepy.

Showing Up, written Sept. 7:

To be honest,

I didn’t show up today.

I wrote today’s poem tomorrow

When tomorrow became today.

I skipped.

Not rope,

Not class,

Not even hope.

I just didn’t write a poem.

I was too tired.

I didn’t feel poetic

Or soulful

Or helpful.

I went to bed.

 

Two Haikus

Missed Date, written Sept. 9

I missed my date with

Poems called Haiku and Lune, Can’t

Find my Cameo.

 

Too Hard, written Sept. 20

Writing a poem

day, too hard like counting syl-

lables: need short words.

Really, A Poem a Day?

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

2017planner

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.

 

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.