I am here. Writing awesome poetry.
So, it’s April again. Last year around this time, I was sick, planning a wedding, and working hard to rearrange my life in preparation for a move to the Midwest. There was no way I was going to get any poetry written last year.
This year, I’ve got an office mostly to myself during the day, I’m healthy, lawfully wed, and have no plans to move again for at least 20 years, if not longer. It’s a happy place. I have no excuse to not write a poem. Every. Single. Day.
And, on April 4th, I’m happy to say that so far, so good. I’ve been focusing on writing fiction this year, so it’s a nice change of pace to start writing some poems for 30 days.
I am still working on the David Foster Wallace/ 3 Dollar Word poems project, so I’ve got lots of fun words stocked up as prompts. But I’ve got a lot of life experience from the past year or so to draw from as well. Of the four poems I’ve written so far, only two are big words, the other two are pure inspiration. I can do this. Yes, yes I can.
And so can you! Go out there, get writing!
Sometimes we have an idea for a story, and we research it, we outline it maybe, it’s a great idea. We get ready to write it, and then something happens in real life that gives us pause.
This happened to me within the last 6 months. When we moved to Michigan, I began learning all I could about the history of our newly adopted state. One event that really fascinated me was the Bath School Massacre, in which a local farmer and school board member blew up the school as well as his house. He then blew up his car, killing himself and the school principal in the process.
What drew me to this tragedy the most was the fact that I’d never heard of it before. In a world where Columbine and Virginia Tech have become bywords for senseless violence against students, why were commentators and historians not mentioning a school killing where over 40 people died?
There was also the question of the killer, Andrew Kehoe, who seemed to be very friendly with the children, and yet had no problem murdering them. There’s a disconnect between the act itself that has never been fully explained by any of the books or articles I’ve read on the subject.
So, I planned to write a story, both to bring attention to a disaster that deserves to be remembered, considering it’s the largest mass school killing in American history, and as a way for me to try and get into the mind of Kehoe.
Then, the day after I decided that I was done with the research and knew in which direction I wanted to take the story, Newtown happened.
For at least two days, I was physically ill about this latest senseless killing in a school. I’ve been to Newtown, I have friends in Newtown. The children murdered were the same age as my middle child. There wasn’t the distance of history to allow me, or anyone else, to absorb such an appalling act.
I shelved the Bath story. For months. My husband told me I should get back to it, that it might help me explore my own sorrow, as well as possibly help others. He himself had a story come out shortly thereafter that got people talking further about gun control. The interesting thing about his story, The Proper Name for Killing Birds, is that it was written at least a year before Newtown. The act of a six year old child pretending to shoot a gun in the backseat of a car was just something we’d seen children do for years. There was no hidden meaning, no foreshadowing that the child in the backseat might grow up to become a sociopath.
But that’s how, in a post Newtown America, many people chose to interpret it. They missed totally the theme of a father realizing his son knows more than he thinks he knows, that the child is no longer a baby.
I didn’t want something similar to happen to my story. I wanted people to acknowledge the Bath Disaster for what it was, and not use my story to bring further attention to Newtown, a community still raw in mourning.
I’ve finally written the story, four months after Newtown. While some of the members of my writers’ workshops think it’s brilliant as is, some don’t think I’ve gone far enough. That I could push further into the horror. But I don’t know if I can. I’ve submitted the story to a few places, and as of today I haven’t heard anything back. So, we’ll see.
The question is, when is it too soon to write or publish a work of fiction that mirrors in some way a national tragedy? Is it the right thing to do, or would you feel about such a story that it tries to take something away from those grieving in the wake of such a massacre?
To read Gav’s story The Proper Name for Killing Birds, click here:
The Orange Chorus (Photo credit: FreeWine)
To read the poem, click here:
My poem Greek Chorus was recently published in The Potomac Journal’s winter issue. It was great to see this poem in print for two reasons. First and foremost, it’s been awhile since I’ve gotten something published. Life has been pretty hectic with the big move to Michigan and a new routine, so I haven’t been submitting as much as I have in years past. So it was a big help to jump start my motivation to get submitting and writing again to see this poem up at the Potomac.
This poem also reminds me a lot of what I left behind. I wrote it after a particularly bad episode during my illness last year kept me in the hospital for the weekend and prevented me from attending a Dire Literary Series event in Cambridge Mass. Joking with friends who attended, I said next time I’ll just have them escort me in an ambulance and I can read from a gurney before being wheeled back to the ambulance. A close friend of mine replied, “That seems doable, they have hospitals in Boston, right?” It was a line too good to NOT put into a poem!
Greek Chorus reminds me how far I’ve come personally, and how much I’ve been able to overcome in a short period of time. As difficult as the past few years have been, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s given me plenty of inspiration, as well as the strength and patience to be a better person than when I was diagnosed. I thank the Potomac Journal for picking it up when they did, and giving me the opportunity to reflect upon it.
Pericardium goes put put patta patta ping!(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Every poet has one, that filler poem you send out just because the guidelines say at least three poems, but you only have two that you really feel are a good fit for the journal. The one you never expect to have published, that, secretly, you admit to yourself isn’t very good. The red headed stepchild of your repertoire, as it were.
For a long time my filler poem was one called Poetry Odetry. It was written in about fifteen minutes as an example of alliteration for my students. These guys were members of my after school poetry club, and ranged in age from eight to thirteen, so I wanted something very basic, not fraught with a lot of metaphor or heavy meaning. I just wanted a lot of words that started with the letter P, just like my last name, since the exercise I was going to have the kids do would be to write an alliterative poem around their own last names. It wasn’t something I wrote with the intent of having it published, except for removing a section of the poem where I had a list of P words, I did very little editing before sending it out as my plus three. And that was OK with me.
So imagine my surprise when Every Day Poets not only accepted P.O. and published it in November, but used it as an example in Every Day Inspiration. Reasons for the acceptance were cited as it being a fun poem that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Which, of course, it doesn’t.
That makes me want to take a second look at the poems that haven’t found a home yet, that I think are far and away better than my alliterative exercise. Do they take their themes too far, and border on the melodramatic? Am I saying something in them that’s been done to death?
It’s amazing what you can learn from filler poems. Not least of which, that you’re not always the best judge of what in your poetry works, and what doesn’t.
Have you had a poem or story accepted that you never thought would ever find a home? Tell me about it in the comments.
To read Poetry Odetry, click here: http://www.everydaypoets.com/poetry-odetry-by-helen-r-peterson/
To read the Everyday Inspiration post, click here: http://www.everydaypoets.com/every-day-inspiration-51/
It’s time to get writing! (Photo credit: mbgrigby)
Depends what your expectations are. If you expected me to be golden every single day, then I’m not doing great. If you think any improvement is better than none at all, then I’m fantastic, thank you very much.
In the past week, I’ve written two pretty decent short stories, and I’ve edited about five others as well as two poems. This has given me, all told, about 3000 words. I also do a lot of copy writing for my Etsy store, so that’s given me about 100 words an item, so somewhere between 200 and 500 a day. My freelance work can get me another 500 words or so. This means that some days it’s really easy to meet my goals; I can do it without having to start a new story or poem. Other days, I have to add a project to the list. I find that if I have a specific idea or something I want to edit that day, it makes it easier to stick to my writing schedule. Lists are our friends, people. Learn to love the list.
I’ve submitted material to four places, two of which are new to me, one that’s a contest. I’ve always looked down my nose at literary contests, thinking they were just easy ways for magazines to gain revenue while getting up the hopes of desperate writers who could use 1000 extra bucks in their pocket, thank you very much.
But I know people who have won contests. I’ve received submissions to Waterhouse that included wins in the writers’ bio. It makes me think, shoot, if this person can win something, surely so can I. So, here and there, I’ll enter something.
I’ve also made the decision this year to only submit to markets that pay. Which pains me, it really does, because there are a lot of really great places to publish out there that don’t pay. That can’t pay. At this point in the game though, my dues have been paid. It’s time to move to the big leagues, or so I’ve been told.
So, there we are. I’m getting it done, but I’m not beating myself up about it. Bravo 2013, let’s keep this up.
The time has come to get writing! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
And so another year is over, now is the time I sit back, look over what I’ve written this past year, where I’ve submitted, and, more importantly, the things I did not write or submit.
2012 was not very productive when it came to my writing. The poet who is famed by her friends for submitting material an average of 600 times annually barely cleared 100 submissions. The novel which I began in 2011 has been sitting dormant most of the year, with maybe 500 words added.
In my defense, I did remarry and move 800 miles last year, two events that took up not only a lot of time, but a lot of physical and mental energy. I also did a lot more reading than I had done in 2011, researching for new writing projects as well as giving my brain a chance to soak in something a little less stressful than the reality of court dates and lease signing.
But it’s a new year, all of that is behind us now, we’re happy in our new home, with room to spread out, a sunny yellow office and a table fit for two laptops, plus printer and lamp. The time has come to jump back on the horse and get some writing writ.
I resolve to write at least a thousand words a day. That should give me at least one gimme day, when I write the three blogs I’m responsible for n a weekly basis. It may even give me a day and a half. If I start with those in the beginning of the week, not only will it free up my creative juices for other projects, it will give me a chance to warm up my typing fingers and my brain, still soggy from the weekend.
I will submit something at least once a day. Just one thing a day won’t be as crazy as five a day, which was what I was doing right before I got sick. Even if life throws us another curveball, I can send something once a day. Giving myself this goal will not only give my work visibility, it will also help spur me on to write new stuff, to edit edit edit, and to reach out to others in the writing community.
Paul Bunyan and his cradle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The first piece of advice I give any aspiring writer is to read. A lot. Every day. Read a variety of things, fiction, nonfiction, books, magazines, blogs, whatever you can get a hand on, for at least an hour a day.
Why? Because even if the writing isn’t very good, you can learn something from it and become inspired in your own writing. If the sentence structure is poor, if there are misspelt words, if the plot is lacking, you’ll probably sit there and say, “I can do better than that!” Hold on to that thought, and once the hour is done, go for it! Write on the same topic, make it better, make it yours.
When the writing is good, take notes. Ask questions of the piece. What makes you enjoy the writing? Try to mimic these techniques. Don’t plagiarize the content. Ever. Play around with the style and themes, try to build on them and make them your own.
And, finally, it’s good to research and read on topics you’d love to write about. This is just as important in fiction and poetry as it is in nonfiction. For example, I never know when I’ll stumble across a new unique word that I can use as a poetry title. I’m currently reading Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s new novel, The Long Earth. In it, one of the characters uses the word tracklements, which are the accompanying foodstuffs used on or around the main course. It’s a fantastic word, and I wrote it down immediately on my vocabulary list.
I’m also reading up on the folklore of Michigan and the surrounding areas, especially the tall tales relating to Paul Bunyan. I have an idea of a story deconstructing Paul Bunyan’s myth in light of modern issues such as deforestation and global warming. I’m always looking for folktales I’ve never heard of before, or to learn something new about the ones I thought I knew, both for my own enjoyment and to use as springboards for new short stories.
What about you? What are you reading, and how does what you read affect what you write? I’d love to hear from you!