Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Poetry’ Category

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.

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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

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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.

 

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.

Comparing poetry to eating cake

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

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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.

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.

 

Proud Poem Owner

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing Poetry on September 26, 2015 at 11:00 pm

My father is hanging out with my cute dog, Zoey.

My father is hanging out with my cute dog, Zoey.

This past weekend, I visited my father and saw the poem I wrote for him and had framed was displayed on a bookshelf on the top shelf.

I’d won third place in the Poudre Library District’s Battle of the Bards poetry contest earlier this summer and for Father’s Day bought a frame to show off a pretty version of the poem with fancy fonts. I gave it to my father a week later when my brother and I visited him in Northeastern Colorado. On our second summer trip, the poem got a special place, and I felt honored.

While we did some stuff around town, I ran into a couple of my father’s friends, and they both said my father was proud I won and that I’d written a poem for him. That, for me, was the real honor, having my father being proud of me.

Here’s the poem:

          Dad’s swing sets

          Shelley Widhalm

Under an oak tree

is where Dad built the swing,

two ropes and a board.

Dad’s hands on our backs,

feet touching the sky,

or seeming to,

matched with giggles

“More, more,”

Dorothy’s red shoes

lighten my feet.

At our next house

when we’re too big for pushing,

he gave us two swings,

cross bars, a rope, a trapeze.

Hours we laugh,

sunshine to our growing.

Dad digs all of it out,

four yellow grassy spots a reminder

of his building, fixing

swings wherever we live

to take us up to the sky

and back again to his hands,

long fingers, calloused,

strong, beautiful

to me.

(See Zoey the Cute Dachshund’s blog at zoeyspaw.wordpress.com)

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.

Poetry Slams vs. Reading Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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