Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘National Poetry Month’

Poems Can Be About Anything (a workshop with poet Pattiann Rogers)

In National Poetry Month, Poetry, Poetry Advice, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Poetry on April 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

0415 PattiannRogers1

The Regional Poets present Castle Rock poet Pattiann Rogers in a special reading and workshop April 5-6 at the Loveland Museum, “The Poetry of Earth is Ceasing Never/Wild Has Its Skills.” Rogers gives local poets advice to help them improve their craft.

A poem can be about anything, from something mundane like soda crackers to something a bit bigger like the stars.

“That’s what’s fun about it. Nobody can say, ‘That’s not right,’” said Castle Rock, Colo., poet Pattiann Rogers, author of 14 poetry books, including her latest, “Quickening Fields.”

Rogers presented a 2 ½-hour workshop April 6 about poetry techniques and ways of entering the poem as part of the Regional Poets’ effort to bring state and national poets to Loveland, Colo. The four poets, including Veronica Patterson, Lynn Kincanon, Lorrie Wolfe and Caroline Orman, organize biannual readings, followed by a workshop the next day, in April and August.

National Poetry Month

The April reading and workshop coincide with National Poetry Month, a celebration of poetry organized by the Academy of American Poets with daily suggestions for reading, writing and engaging with poetry. The idea is to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry.

“Part of what she brings in is the stir, chaos and grandeur of what’s going on around us,” said Patterson, Loveland’s poet laureate, about Rogers, a nature and environmental poet. “The clarification and magnification of being is what Pattiann Rogers does with all of her work.”

Rogers’ reading and workshop, “National Poetry Month Brings Pattiann Rogers to Loveland: The Poetry of Earth is Ceasing Never/Wild Has Its Skills,” made engaging with poetry fun, interesting and accessible.

“You have that freedom. That’s what drew me to poetry,” Rogers said, adding that even with fixed forms, there is freedom as long as you entice and engage with the readers. “Poetry is communication. You have to give your readers something to call them back to the poem, to engage with it.”

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Poetry Discipline

The freedom, however, requires discipline, Rogers said

“Because of the freedom, you have to discipline yourself in different ways, so you have a piece of music,” Rogers said. “When you are writing without a fixed form, you have to pay attention to accented or unaccented syllables and will it be one with your subject? You have to make the judgment yourself if you’re not writing with a fixed form to guide you.”

Rogers presented four poetry prompts for the 35 poets attending the workshop and gave them a handout with advice on titling a poem and figuring out where and how to make line and stanza breaks. She said she taught workshops for years and found students had trouble with the title.

“It can totally make a poem,” Rogers said, explaining that readers will read the title, the poem and the title again. “It can tell something important that you can’t work into the poem.”

Titles and Breaks

Rogers suggested the title shouldn’t just announce the subject but add something to the poem, indicate another level of meaning and stimulate the reader’s curiosity.

“You have to offer your readers something to pay them back for their attention and time,” Rogers said.

As for line breaks, Rogers suggested ending on a strong word in sound and meaning and in a way that enhances the poem’s tone.

“What’s it going to look like on the page? You have to have a reason for breaking the line. Where is it that you want a pause or a word to be emphasized?” Rogers said.

Stanza breaks establish “a space of silence within a poem” and can be used to set the poem’s pace, Rogers said.

“You never quit learning about craft,” Rogers said. “You make your own decisions. That’s part of the freedom.”

Spring into Poetry during National Poetry Month

In National Poetry Month, Poem-A-Day, Poem-A-Day Challenge, Poetry, Poetry Advice, Poetry Tips, Reading Poems, Writing Poetry on April 7, 2019 at 11:00 am

GeeseSummer6 2016

Ducklings huddle with their mother at the edge of a lagoon in Loveland, Colo, last year during spring.

April is the best month for three reasons: baby animals start coming out, it’s my birthday and … it’s National Poetry Month.

Each day of the month, the Academy of American Poets suggests ways to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry. Today’s suggestion is to buy a book of poetry from a local bookstore.

Poetry Suggestions

Other suggestions include reading a poem at an open mic, starting a poetry reading group (I also think a poetry writing group is a great idea), reading about different poetic forms (or try writing them), signing up for a poetry class or workshop, attending a poetry reading or chalking poems on sidewalks.

April 18 is a special day, Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day, encouraging the selection of a poem you love (including ones you’ve written) and carrying it with you to share with coworkers, family and friends.

“I like the fact that for one month, people are more sensitized and aware of poetry,” said Windsor, Colo., poet Lorrie Wolfe, president of the Northern Colorado Chapter of the Columbine Poets of Colorado. “There’s lots of ways to incorporate poetry into your life, and having a month that celebrates that is fun.”

For Poem in Your Pocket Day, Wolfe hands out copies of a poem to the people she encounters that day, including her neighbors and her local barista, and puts them with any bills or mail she sends out.

“That’s a fun one,” Wolfe said.

Poem-A-Day Challenge

Loveland poet Lynn Kincanon, a member of the Metaphors, a Loveland-based poetry group, celebrated the month last year by writing a poem a day in a different form, selecting from the 500 that are available, she said. She’s doing the same thing this year.

“It lets me learn so many different forms of poetry. I’ve never heard of half of the ones I’m writing,” Kincanon said.

Kincanon, along with several other poets in Loveland, writes a poem a day as part of the national Poem-A-Day Challenge. They attended a local workshop Aug. 5, 2017, presented by Placerville, Colo., poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, “Rigorous Willingness: Writing from the Unconstricted Throat” at the Loveland Public Library. Wahtola Trommer suggested poets write and share a poem a day, and I, too, joined in the challenge. Those of us who have kept with it have written about 600 poems so far.

I like the result—not only more poems in my pocket and on my laptop, but I have a closer eye. Being attuned to poetry puts me on the hunt for things to write about each day, though I do find I repeat subjects—such as the ducks and geese at the lagoon I run past on my way to the gym, my days at work and my inner landscape. I also find that my output has increased from zero or a half-dozen a month to 28 to 31.

Keeping up with Poetry

A few times along my poetry path, I, however, wanted to give up, because my daily challenge would become a week of catch-up. I would do some poetry dumping and short haikus, filling in the poem blanks. I told other poets about my poem guilt and learned that I can look at it as practice and commend myself for showing up.

At times, I have to wade through some sloppy bad poems to get to a few good ones. I find a line or two that seem like a treasure to take out and use elsewhere. I also have tried new forms and deepened my understanding of poetry’s conciseness, rhythm and ways of expression.

Lastly, my daily life from the challenge has become more about observing the little details, remembering them and crafting a poem out of my sense impressions. I’m more observant and aware. I’m searching as I live instead of just letting my environment lie still. I see, feel, hear and sense more of my world, and I’m more alive because of poetry.

As Loveland poet Maria Maldonado-Dunn, also a member of the Metaphors, said, “I think it’s so awesome we have an entire month focused on one of my passions. … It’s the best month in the whole calendar year. Poetry is not dead.”

I wrote about “Loveland poets take up Poem-A-Day Challenge,” for the Loveland Reporter-Herald. Check it out!

Poetry inspirations (plus some writing discipline)

In National Poetry Month, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Inspiration on April 3, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writing poetry is like getting a little gift in the mail, a sending of words from something felt, seen, observed or known.

At least that’s what it seems like—the raw version of a poem that comes from fast writing. And then it’s time to revise, look for word echoes and get rid of the clichés and the simple descriptions.

That’s where the crafting comes in, or the hard work of writing.

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

To wait for a poem can be unreliable, as if expecting inspiration or the right feeling or right circumstances in order to start writing. To make a poem happen, here are a few tricks to turn discipline into that inspiration, such as:

  • Using the senses—seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting—to capture thoughts, ideas, feelings and observations.
  • Playing around with words and descriptions, or simply putting words on the page and rearranging them.
  • Avoiding using clichés, generalities and vague concepts, like love, hope and war.
  • Avoiding overusing trite words, such as tears and hearts, opting for comparisons and concrete language instead.
  • To get to the concrete, describing the specifics, such as how the colors of a particular flower look in the changing light of day or how love is like the foam on a latte, light on top but deeper underneath in the cup.

Once the poem is written, read it several times to cut excess words to get to its core. Think about what the poem is really saying and look for ideas that can be further explored. Think of the intent of the poem and what it is you want to express. This may expand the poem out after the former cutting.

And then give the poem a title, or maybe make the first line the launch into your words.

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.

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.

Giving a good poetry reading

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry, Poetry Readings on April 19, 2015 at 5:00 am

(Photo by Steve Stoner/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Reading my poetry in front of an audience twice in one month is a lucky deal.

But before I read my poetry, I had to do some preparation work to make sure I made the best use of my mic time.

On Saturday, April 18, I participated in the Lo-Co Poetry Slam, a new open mic the third Saturday of the month at the LoCo Artisan Coffee House in downtown Loveland, Colo., where poets can slam or simply read their poetry. I read a couple of my longer poems that had the rap rhythm but weren’t actually slam poetry with the fast rhythm and words spilling out rapid fire.

I participated in a more official poetry reading Friday, April 24, as a finalist in the adult category of the Poudre River Public Library District’s “Battle of the Bards” poetry contest. I read my poem, “Dad’s Swing Sets,” about the swing sets my father built for my brother and I in the two homes we lived in as children. My poem, along with the other winning poems, will be printed in the 2015 Battle of the Bards poetry chapbook and a free library district e-book.

When I read my poems, I thought of my reading as a performance, remembering to look at the audience to make eye contact and making sure I didn’t read too fast or in a monotone.

To give a good reading, here are some other things to do:

  • Select poems that relate thematically, but pick out a few that vary in pace, tone or content.
  • Mark up the poems to indicate where to change voice or emphasize certain lines or ideas.
  • Explain the context of what’s being reading, such as the inspiration for the poem or the story it tells without giving away too much.
  • Rehearse, reading the work out loud and enunciating clearly. Practice in front of friends.
  • Time practice readings to know what to expect for the public reading.

Lastly, make sure to publicize the reading via social media, flyers and emailing friends.

The form and inspiration of poetry

In Inspiration for Poetry, Poetic Forms, Poetry, Writing Poetry on April 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

Writing poetry is a matter of art and inspiration.

April is National Poetry Month, an annual celebration of poetry started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996.

The art of poetry can take many shapes from free verse to fixed form, such as sonnets, sestinas, villanelles or haikus that have specific meters, syllable counts and rhyming schemes. Or it can combine poetry and prose through a prose poem that is a block of text filling part of a page with poetic language.

Poems, no matter their structure, are about feeling, emotion, stories and moments. They have tempo, rhythm, color, sound and movement as they move across or down the page.

With or without structure, poems can employ various poetic devices to add musicality to the words, such as alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance, the repetition of internal consonant sounds; and assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds.

Other devices that add music to language include 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. The form is open but still engages one or more of these 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.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Cluttered Inspiration

In 52 Writing Topics, Poetry, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on April 14, 2013 at 11:00 am

I’ve let things and clutter get in the way of poetic inspiration and writing discipline.

Two things I let slip: my third revision of my novel, “The Fire Painter,” and my goal to write a poem a day for National Poetry Month.

I wanted to set aside my novel for two weeks after the second revision, which I finished in mid-March, and do another revision before attending a local conference at the end of April.

And I wanted to be a poetic genius able to write sparkly, beautiful poems at my own bidding.

But I guess I don’t work that way, especially when I have clutter in my head and in my life.

When I write poetry, I get this feeling – usually caused by music, a memory or an observation – and have to grab a napkin, receipt or newspaper scrap and start writing. The poem unravels out of something within me, almost uncontrolled except for the words playing off one another and some central idea I begin to grasp as I write.

This method of writing poetry is in direct opposition to how I approach physical stuff.

I have to have everything in my environment, organized, clean and in categories. (I hope I don’t have OCD, but I am admittedly a neat freak).

My neat freak-ness got disrupted.

A family member is moving and some of my stuff is mixed in with hers, plus she has given me boxes and bags of things she thought I might like or could use. I reorganized my pre-existing things to fit and make room for these new things, plus spring cleaned through my own belongings, getting rid of what I no longer wanted or needed.

The result was three boxes of books for trade-in and four boxes of stuff to donate. The cleaning out and getting rid of stuff, while bringing in new stuff, took up my free time and energy, leaving nothing for writing. I needed space, time and inner quiet to write, while time was all I needed for editing.

As I sorted, I got so focused on objects and the stories associated with some of them that I became too close to process those feelings. I didn’t have room for anything else, as if the clutter of my personal life cluttered my mind, leaving no room for anything but thinking about physical things.

I simply let things cause a form of writer’s block.

Going Poetic: National Poetry Month

In 52: A Writer's Life, Poetry, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on April 7, 2013 at 11:00 am

The idea of writing a poem a day is a bit daunting.

First, where does the inspiration come from, especially if you write poems as they come, even when the writing space is awkward on napkins or receipt tape? Do you have to try poetry exercises to get the spark started? Or do you just sit down and write whatever spills out?

Second, where do you find those special sparkly moments to condense into a few magical words if you’ve got work, chores and life? Or do those things feed into experience that in turn gives you ideas, thoughts and emotions to smooth like peanut butter into cadence and meter?

It’s National Poetry Month, when poetry is celebrated and poets undertake the challenge to write a poem a day during the month of April.

To write poetry, I listen to music or observe something around me, such as the way a budding tree (I can’t identify the type outside the coffee shop window) zigzags its branches across the street, a skeletal umbrella against the fading blue night.

When I’m listening to music, I filter out some of the words for a starting point, or I match the rhythm of what I hear into the feel of language as I write. The words rumble through my chest, causing my heart to speed up as if I were running, when all I’m doing is chasing beautiful language.

Sometimes what I write is nonsense, though I try to find a line or an idea to play with later.

I don’t pick a form to follow, unless I’m writing from an exercise or trying out the directions for writing sonnets, haikus and sestinas and the like. I might write in blank verse, a type of unrhymed poetry written in regular meter, which is the stress on syllables. Or I might write in free verse that does not contain a consistent meter pattern or rhyme.

These various forms I will try during my poem-a-day challenge, as if sorting through a pile of clothes in the dressing room.

As I do this, I will take five to 15 minutes from my busy, pushy life to notice what I haven’t before, searching out inspiration, hope and poetry love.