Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Poetry Readings’

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.

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Reading Poetry at ‘In Just Spring’

In Giving a Poetry Reading, In Just Spring, Poetry Readings, Reading Poems, Uncategorized on April 8, 2018 at 5:00 pm

PoetryMuseum1 2016

Shelley Widhalm recites poetry at a seasonal reading in 2016 at the Loveland Museum/Gallery.  She will be part of a reading there April 15.

April is my favorite month for three reasons—it’s spring, it’s the month of my birthday and it’s National Poetry Month.

To celebrate the celebration of poetry, the Community Poets in Loveland, Colo., will present In Just Spring with a poetry reading, music and storytelling at the Loveland Museum/Gallery on April 15. National Poetry Month was organized in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry during the month of April.

The Community Poets chose the name for the reading to reflect E.E. Cummings’ poem [in Just-] about mud, puddles and the springtime. The reading is part of the seasonal equinox and solstice readings the group hosts four times a year. The group organizes the readings and other poetry-related activities, including visits from poets and poetry workshops, to get the local community interested and engaged in the poetic discipline.

The Poetry Reading

The reading, which will be 1-3 p.m., will feature 45 minutes of an open mike, where the public will be invited to read one poem, followed by the regular reading with 10 invited readers.

The Community Poets invited me to be one of the readers who will recite two springtime-themed, lighthearted poems. I’ll be reading a poem about sparrows and the second about The Squirrel Man who feeds the squirrels near the lagoon where I like to run and walk my dog. The two poems come from my Poem-a-Day Challenge.

Since September 2017, I’ve written a poem a day—not literally, because I have to do lots of fill-in-the-blanks and catch-ups, but it equals out to a daily dose of poetry. From this challenge, I have learned a few things about daily writing that makes it fun and not feel like a chore.

Writing Poems

To find a poem (especially daily), here are a few things you can do:

  • Pay attention to the one thing from the day that strikes you—an interesting happening or something you notice. Describe it to yourself and say you’ll write it later.
  • Write the poem even if you don’t feel like it, not worrying about quality.
  • Write haikus of 5, 7, 5 syllables. The more you do them, the easier they are to do, and you can do them quickly and still get in your poem for the day.
  • Write a crappy first poem and maybe a second and then let the good poems show up.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration or the right circumstances to right the poem, just write it.
  • Use the senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting) to describe an observation or experience. Thinking about them will allow you to access better descriptions.
  • Play around with words and descriptions, or simply put words on the page and rearrange them.
  • Be specific in your descriptions, avoiding clichés and general terms, instead favoring concrete terms, such as red-twig dogwood over tree. Here’s a line from one of my poems about dogwoods: “Red-twig dogwood/ crayon marks across/ gray winter light.”

One Last Thing

Lastly, have fun with the writing. Writing poetry makes you a better writer in other genres, such as fiction, blogs and articles, because it makes you think about description and language while also getting across what you want to say about the topic.

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.

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.

Poetry reading (all about winter)

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

zoeysnow

My cute, darling dog, Zoey, is unsure about the snow, just as I am!

I will be reading two of my winter-themed poems Thursday, Dec. 15, during the seasonal poetry readings at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colo.

The winter reading “On a Snowy Evening” will feature poems, storytelling and songs from local artists that celebrate the season of snow and the winter solstice. I will read my poems “Fall back, Winter” and “Just tell me about the wind,” both about how I really feel about winter. Let’s say, I like summer best!

I love reading my poetry to an audience for two reasons: to share what I’ve written and to get on stage—that’s because reading poetry aloud is a form of acting. Reading aloud requires the poet to slow down and experience and express the words, so that the audience can catch everything that is said.

Reading quickly (and nervously) causes those words to be lost, because poetry needs to be absorbed line by line to get the full meaning of what’s being said and the full feel of how the words come together.

For me, that means lots of practice and putting my poems in large print, so that I remember to keep the right (and slower) pace.

Here are the details of the reading, organized by poets Lynn Kincanon, Caroline Orman and Veronica Patterson:

When: 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15.

Where: Foote Gallery Auditorium, Loveland Museum at Fifth Street and Cleveland Avenue.

For additional details, visit http://www.lovelandmuseumgallery.org/poetry.

The “cake” of reading poetry aloud

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry, Poetry Readings, Reading Poems on November 6, 2016 at 11:00 am

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I’m being dramatic as I talk about my poetry in “Sunrise Summits: A Poetry Anthology” during a reading, Wednesday, Nov. 2, in Fort Collins.

I felt the greatest honor when I had the opportunity to read three of my poems to an audience of about 50 people last week.

The poems, along with two to three poems from 25 other poets who are members of Northern Colorado Writers, were selected for Sunrise Summits: A Poetry Anthology, edited by member Dean Miller. Miller helped organize a launch party Wednesday in Fort Collins, where poets could invite their families and friends to attend.

My brother and his fiancé and a couple of my friends came as my guests, and my friend, Sarah, took photos of me reading.

When I got up to the mike, I was a little too quiet, so a member of the audience told me to use my diaphragm, and I said I didn’t know where it was, throwing in some humor and getting a small laugh. I tried to take deep breaths and raise the volume of my voice, but I was nervous. I tried to read slowly, pronouncing each word and putting emphasis on the last line, but I think I read too quickly.

I read a twitter poem, a form I think I might have made up, but, as I told everyone there, wasn’t sure. It was 140 characters or less, or 22 words. Next, I read a haiku about Nebraska, where I came from, and asked everyone not to hold it against me. That poem was 13 words, following the 5, 7, 5 syllable format.

Finally, I read a free verse poem comparing writing on a notebook page to the wings of hummingbirds.

I might have been at the mike for three or four minutes, but it felt like 15 minutes. My heart beat too fast, and I forgot to make eye contact. I tried to look up at the audience here and there, but I went back to the words, focusing on pronouncing everything correctly. I think I got that part right.

After the reading, where about 13 poets read, there was cake (and appetizers). I ate the frosting off of two pieces of cake (I can’t eat gluten) and felt like I had my cake and the frosting, too, because reading your poetry to an audience is that special extra after having written something in a few sweet words. I got a sugar high and a poetry high, too.

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.

Giving a poetry reading (comfortably)

In Giving a Poetry Reading, Poetry, Poetry Readings, Reading Poems on July 3, 2016 at 11:00 am

PoetryMuseum 2015Reading poetry aloud creates a different experience than reading it on the page.

The poet should read the poem slowly to emphasize each word and to give it space and time, so the listeners can take in the sounds and meanings.

Reading a poem too quickly causes those nuances to be lost, as well as what the poem says. It just becomes a string of words.

That’s what I learned to prepare for my participation in a public poetry reading.
I read three of my poems about summer a few days after the solstice during Poetry at the Museum: Summer Solstice Poetry, A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Sunday, June 26, at the Loveland Museum/Gallery. The two-hour event featured poetry, music and storytelling, all around the theme of summer.

Three local poets organize seasonal readings around the change of the seasons for summer, fall, winter and spring. They invited half a dozen poets and artists to present their works about summer and Shakespeare’s play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.:

I scoured my poetry for seasonal poems, finding only two, and wrote a new one to get to my three. Though I love summer, I realized I had few poems about summer, but had many about spring and fall and even a few about the starkness of winter.

When I read the poems, I wasn’t shaking and nervous, but felt comfortable. I’d practiced at the mike and read my poems several times out loud, getting to the point of memorizing a few lines.

Here are a few more tips for reading poetry in front of audience:

  • Put the poems in an extra large font.
  • Move your finger along the page as you read.
  • Look up at individual members of the audience.
  • Don’t overdramatize or try to be cute.
  • Emphasize the last one to two lines.

And lastly, practice because that’s what provides that comfort factor. It’s doing what you did before, but with a few more people in the room.

 

A (theatrical) poetry reading

In National Poetry Month, Poetry, Poetry Readings on April 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

PoeticGeography4 2016

I just love poetry readings—not only the sharing of my own work but hearing the work of others.

It’s exhilarating to find out how other poets approach the same subject or format and see how they perform their words.

During the first ever Poetic Geography: Mapping Loveland poetry event April 14, I read one of my poems, “Cranky Town.” Nineteen poets read one poem during the hour-long event at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colorado.

Poets submitted their poems, which three judges selected for the reading and a booklet, about Loveland’s buildings, streets, art and places to visit to help create a poetic geography of Loveland.

That night, I realized I love being on stage—something I suspected before—and acting out poetry. The written, literary art, for me, became a sort of theater.

The poem is about a 20-something woman writing home to her mama about her change in direction. She went from drinking too much in the big city to doing espresso hopping, working at the library and walking quarter-mile laps around the city lagoon.

My poem basically was a letter and a story. As I read, I saw poetry isn’t just the words but can be embodied with gesture, pacing and tone, so that the words have stage presence. Act it, be it, tell it.

Afterward, a few people asked me if I had theater experience.

Not at all. I grew up incredibly shy and didn’t know I liked to give life to my words. I thought I just liked writing them.

But as I do more and more readings, I’m realizing that a poem isn’t just for the page. It can be a dialog between the poet and the audience, a way of expressing what’s internal into a conversation. It can be turned from one form of art into another through performance.

The performances we all gave returned back to the page. Some of the poems that didn’t get selected and one or two poems from the poets who read that night became part of a poetry booklet called Poetic Geography. Both of my poems “Cranky Town” and “Snow Cougar” are included in the booklet.

So, it was poetry on the page, poetry on stage and back, full circle, representing a neat kind of celebration of National Poetry Month in April.

(Note: the photo is posed after the event, because the lighting was poor.)