Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Poetry’ Category

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.

Poem Inspiration

In Poets' Booth, Writing Poetry, Writing Processes on May 10, 2015 at 11:00 am

Typically, I write poems on scraps of paper or on my laptop—but when I tried typing a poem on a typewriter, I felt halted and also inspired by the process.

I attended a People’s Market earlier this month in downtown Loveland, an artisan fair of white tents and booths around the Foote Lagoon, a geese-filled pond with the city’s civic center as the backdrop.

One of the booths featured the Poets’ Stop with an open mic and games to spark poem creation. The games included a set of word tiles that can be arranged into a few words or one word to give a starting place to write, blank paper to leave or take a poem, and paper in the typewriter to manually type up the verses.

“You should write a poem,” one of the poets, who I know from poetry open mics, said to me as I was gathering material for a news photograph (i.e. for my day job). I figured I could sneak in a poem while on the clock, so I sat down at a foldout table in front of one of the two typewriters there.

My fingers felt stiff and awkward on the keys, unable to glide from letter to letter, because I had to press down each one. I had to think about the letters of the words I wrote, when normally there is little connection. I’m not conscious of the keyboard or placement of the letters, something that’s become automatic from practice.

This disconnection slowed my thinking and creation process as I thought about each line and each letter in the lines and what I wanted to type next.

As I typed, I had to move the bar to move the type to the next line, pulling me, for a few seconds, out of the poem and into the sounds of the geese and rumble of conversation. I entered and re-entered the poem, as if I was going over multiple speed bumps, chopping up the flow.

After I wrote the poem, the poet asked me if I would read it, and I did, finding it difficult to see the faded letters from not pressing hard enough on the keys. She said she liked it for showing how typing it made me reflective on the process of writing a poem.

Here is what I wrote:

I am unmoored by the

s tiff fore ign type writer

my thought s slowed by the mistakes of ke ys

that require pushing

hard like the book bind perfection in

grammar my fingers become insecure in the one hand

movement of this falling apart peom

the tool new but old in story

as I miss letters, slow paces,

no poem here. no. stop.

back to my comfort I returnn.

back to my comfort I returnn.

Poem: Dad’s Swing Sets

In Poetic Inspirations, Writing, Writing Poetry on May 3, 2015 at 5:00 am

Entering poetry contests is a risk, but I was glad I took it when I entered the “Battle of the Bards” poetry contest hosted by the Poudre River Library District in a neighboring city.

My poem, “Dad’s Swing Sets,” which I wrote in 2013, was a finalist in the adult category. The finalists in all the categories, based on age, read their poems at a poetry reading, Friday, April 24, at the Front Range Community College library.

The finalists’ poems will be printed in the 2015 Battle of the Bards poetry chapbook and a free library district e-book.

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.

Poetry Readings (live)

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

Fitting with National Poetry Month, I’ve had poetry on the brain.

National Poetry Month, started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, is held in April as a literary celebration of poetry and its place in society.

To help celebrate the month locally and at a personal level, I participated in the Lo-Co Poetry Slam on Saturday, April 18, an open mic the third Saturday of the month at the LoCo Artisan Coffee House in downtown Loveland, Colo., where poets can slam or read their poetry.

The coffee house was packed, and six people volunteered to slam their memorized work or read it off printouts, in notebooks or on their smartphones. I was the fourth reader, and we each read three poems.

I’d prepared a little in advance, so was embarrassed when I started reading my first poem, “Old man in a coffee shop,” which I wrote in December 2014 when I saw a homeless guy, drunk with his head dipped, sitting in a chair at the same coffee shop, and I imagined his back story. I had trouble reading the first stanza, because I was getting teary-eyed, and then I had to stop for a few seconds and catch my breath. I said I felt for the homeless, got the tears back in and stuttered through the second stanza.

I said I wouldn’t cry when I read the second poem, “Wrecked,” about a dystopian society. Nor did I cry when I read “Dad’s Swing Sets,” about how my dad built several swing sets for my brother and I and how his hands felt pushing our backs as our feet touched air.

Before I read, I said I didn’t know how to do slam poetry, but a poet who calls himself Booger and leads a poetry slam in Fort Collins, said what I read was slam, because it expressed real, raw emotion. He and a couple of the other poets who I talked to after the slam said they liked how I was willing to show that emotion—the emotion couldn’t help but be expressed because it spilled over, causing my heart to shake at my own words.

I again read “Dad’s Swing Sets,” during the “Battle of the Bards” poetry reading and contest Friday, April 24, at the Poudre River Library District. My poem, a finalist in the adult category and the other winning poems, will be printed in the 2015 Battle of the Bards poetry chapbook and a free library district e-book.

During the reading, which was in the Front Range Community Library, I got nervous when it was my turn, because it was a larger audience than I was used to. I suddenly became teary-eyed when I read the poem, stopping in the third stanza to catch my breath before I could continue reading.

Afterward, a few people told me they liked how I captured the story of my dad building swing sets for my brother and me in a few words and showed love for my father.

I won third place, a great honor. There were 140 entries for the adult and young adult categories, which encourages me to enter more of my poetry in contests and readings.