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Welcome to another installment of Write After Reading: Writing the Life Poetic, a  weekly online book club with poetry participation. It alternates between my blog and Laura's blog. Last week, over at Laura's blog, we talked about song lyrics as poems.

This week I wanted to touch on two chapters.  Don't sweat it too much. :) They're short. Chapter 30 really hit home with me as Sage discusses the idea of redefining "real work". It took me back to March, when I took a month off to just play with no pressure to produce any writing at all. I did write, some, but it was writing for fun, for me and I enjoyed it a lot. I wrote snippets of poems that may grow longer or may linger in a journal. I wrote pages that don't belong in any book I'm working on, at least not yet. But I admit that I still felt guilty for not working on a work-in-progress. I felt like I was cheating on myself.

In this chapter Sage says, "For the most part, the writing I do for love exists in the very small margin of the writing I do for money."  This is the way it is for most of the writers I know, especially the poets, because there's not a lot of money in writing poetry so you ought to be doing it for love too. Or as Sage puts it, "Because it is rare to be paid for poetry, especially early in one's journey, you do not owe anything to anyone but yourself"

What this chapter helped me to remember is that I came to writing by way of poetry back in the 7th grade, with no idea that I would ever publish poetry. Sometimes I pull my verse novel (Hugging the Rock) off the shelf and still feel that surprise that it was published. Because when I was writing it, I wasn't thinking about the publishing, I was working out my life the way I best knew how to do it, with words and poems. My real work was in the writing of the book, the answering of internal questions and the putting many things to rest. This is what poetry does for me, it helps me sort out who I am at a particular point in my life and how I feel about that moment in time. I think that's my real work when it comes to poetry.




Okay, on to chapter 38 which brings me back to junior high in a different way, Mad Libs. Remember them? Those goofy fill-in-the-blank word games? Sage doesn't talk a lot in this chapter, it's all about the exercises. The idea is to take the structure of one poem, remove some of the words, and following that structure, fill in the holes like you would have with a Mad Lib. Having much of the poem in place already makes this a quick exercise yet one with a lot of impact, especially if you keep playing with it. Somehow the idea that you only have to come up with one word here or another word there gives you a bit more confidence to push yourself outside the comfort zone you might normally write in. She shared three poems turned into Mad Libs. I chose one to play with.

Here is the original poem.



From Inside Great Distances
By Walid Bitar

From inside great distances (don’t call them dreams)
midnight is smaller than usual,
as are the ponies. Inside great distances,
unlike airplanes, are not seats
and the people far away enough
to shout to (at least the talk isn’t small)
have no laps or throats when they sit beside
their donkeys and Don Quixotes, pretending
to be mirages in a cold climate. The scenery
sharpens like a pencil in my ear.
It sketches itself, and I hear of this
a bird you can color with the whites
and marbles of villas back home, bird otherwise
invisible as the price of land.
An hour, too, is invisible; why are
you feeding it at your breast, growing
it into days, months, years?
Leave it alone; visit me a little to
the North; people shave their heads
into mirrors here; I
remain (on the outside) myself.

 

*****

Here is the template for the revision. My poem is below. Give it a try. Don't think too much.


From Inside Great _______________


From inside great ______________ (don’t call them _____________)
________________ is smaller than usual,
as are the ______________. Inside great ______________,
unlike ______________, are not ______________
and the people ______________enough
to ______________ to (at least the ______________ isn’t small)
have no ______________ or ______________ when they sit beside
their ______________ and don ______________, pretending
to be ______________ in a cold climate. The scenery
sharpens like a ______________ in my ear.
It ______________ itself, and I hear of this
a ______________you can color with the whites
and marbles of ______________ back home, ______________ otherwise
invisible as the price of ______________.
An ______________, too, is invisible; why are
you feeding it at your ______________, growing
it into ______________?
Leave it alone; ______________ me a little to
the ______________; people shave their heads
into ______________ here; I
remain (on the outside) ______________.

* * * * *



Okay, here's my version:

From inside great families  (don’t call them ancestors)
the sun is smaller than usual,
as are the stars. Inside great families,
unlike friendships, are not individuals
and the people don't care enough
to save you  (at least the memory isn’t small)
have no hope or dreams when they sit beside
their sons and daughters, pretending
to be happy in a cold climate. The scenery
sharpens like an icicle in my ear.
it melts, and I hear of this
a tragedy you can color with the whites
and marbles of grandmother's parlor back home, tragedy otherwise
invisible as the price of love
a stray dog, too, is invisible; why are
you feeding it at your back door, growing
it into something you will love, something that will still die?
Leave it alone; remember me a little to
the future; people shave their heads
into crystal balls here; I
remain (on the outside) alone.
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.



Comments

( 15 comments — Leave comment )
(Deleted comment)
susanwrites
May 19th, 2011 03:12 am (UTC)
Re: Wow
Thanks, Laura. I really had fun with this one. I might come back and play with it some more and see if I can make it more mine.
(Deleted comment)
susanwrites
May 19th, 2011 03:17 am (UTC)
Re: Ch 30
It's interesting because I think if (WHEN) you get a residency you will actually give yourself fully to the writing, as you do when you go on retreat. I hope you get the chance soon.

I hear you on the wanting to share the poetry. That's my favorite part and I confess, the ego feeding that I really need.

I think it's an interesting idea for you to consider changing your thoughts around publishing/making money with your poetry. Perhaps it is a case of what we were talking about today, write it to your authentic best, and the success you want will fall into place.
(Deleted comment)
susanwrites
May 19th, 2011 03:23 am (UTC)
Re: Chapter 38
ooh, Laura, smart to just fill in the template. I bet that was a lot more freeing.


I LOVE this image:

Because I am not crystal, I have the skin of a pinecone


Wow!

also love this:

Inside the snow I am complicated and layered like a Chinese puzzle box.

and

Sometimes
a wren will bring the morning song into my corridors.


And yes, it reminded me of the imitating we did recently. I'd like to play with more of these sorts of things as a warm-up exercise. I am going to look for some poems to "liberate."
(Deleted comment)
susanwrites
May 19th, 2011 03:10 am (UTC)
Thanks, Jenn. It was an interesting exercise.
(Anonymous)
May 19th, 2011 02:03 am (UTC)
Don't tell Walid Bitar, Susan, but I liked your version much better than his original. Guess I don't have time or patience for poems that don't seem to make sense. Yours had a flow that I could follow.

Cindyb
susanwrites
May 19th, 2011 03:09 am (UTC)
Oh Cindy, thank you. I have a hard time too, with poems that just don't seem to make sense. And this one didn't make a lot of sense to me but that sort of helped. I was able to toss out the "rules" and just play.
(Anonymous)
May 19th, 2011 02:57 am (UTC)
I marvel at Susan’s and Laura’s meaningful and beautifully-worded poems, even more so after I tried this myself. It was much harder than I thought, especially to carry meaning from beginning to end within an established framework. That’s my excuse for posting near-nonsense. :)


From inside great minds (don’t call them brains)
envy is smaller than usual,
as are the gossip centers. Inside great thinkers,
unlike lazy people, are not idle thoughts
and the people uninspired enough
to stagnate to (at least the complaining isn’t small)
have no dreams or goals when they sit beside
their superiors and don smiles, pretending
to be useful in a cold climate. The scenery
sharpens like a thorn in my ear.
It repeats itself, and I hear of this
a revelation you can color with the whites
and marbles of Ancient Greeks back home, philosophers otherwise
invisible as the price of air.
Anger, too, is invisible; why are
you feeding it at your core, growing
it into sin?
Leave it alone; cast me a little to
the side; people shave their heads
into skulls here; I
remain (on the outside) watching.

ellie
susanwrites
May 19th, 2011 03:09 am (UTC)
Oh Ellie,

This is wonderful. Don't sell yourself short. You carry the idea of great thinkers to the philosophers to the skull which made me think of Hamlet.

My favorite lines are:

From inside great minds (don’t call them brains)
envy is smaller than usual,
as are the gossip centers


the people uninspired enough
to stagnate to (at least the complaining isn’t small)
have no dreams or goals when they sit beside
their superiors and don smiles, pretending
to be useful


Anger, too, is invisible; why are
you feeding it at your core, growing
it into sin?


Wow!

I really liked this exercise and I want to try it with the other templates she shared in the book.

(Anonymous)
May 19th, 2011 10:31 am (UTC)
You are too kind, Susan. Here's where I had so much trouble - positives followed by negatives:


From inside great ______________ (don’t call them _____________)
________________ is smaller than usual,

GREAT, DON'T, SMALLER


Inside great ______________,
unlike ______________, are not ______________


GREAT,UNLIKE, ARE NOT


That pattern made it hard to get started.

Don't you think it is interesting that the passage you liked of mine, and everyone liked of yours including me fit into the same template (no negatives here)?

"a stray dog, too, is invisible; why are
you feeding it at your back door"

Anger, too, is invisible; why are
you feeding it at your core, growing
it into sin?

Food for thought for you pros, I hope.

ellie

susanwrites
May 19th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
Ellie,
What a terrific observation. I confess, I didn't even look for or see a pattern until you pointed it out. I looked at the blanks as just missing words and tried to make my kind of sense when I wrote mine.

I think patterns are quite often an important part of poems but my brain doesn't go there first so I forget about them until someone points them out. :)
dorireads
May 22nd, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC)
What great poems you all came up with from this exercise! I'm so impressed.

A small phrase in the first lesson really spoke to me today-- to believe in the value of my own creative process. Although I think there are flaws in my process, hence the lack of actual poems on paper, (OK, I know I'm contradicting myself here in relationship to chapter 30), I do realize that I need lots of time to ruminate. Usually on a walk or a bike ride things start to gel. So I'm trying to give myself permission to enjoy that time. I just need to remember to come home and put some words on paper!

I tried an to put myself in the skin of one of my characters in a new book I'm playing with. Notice that I'm not writing it yet, just fooling around with the idea. I don't think I worked with as much freedom this way, but maybe I inched toward it.

So here is my mad lib:

St. Petersburg, Russia

Because I am not battle-brave, I have the skin of a desert
that has spent its life awaiting Cossack horses.
Inside the ice I am silent.

I cannot tell when an idea reaches in and breaks
the atoms of my fear. Sometimes
a snowstorm will bring the yearning into my bones.

Or the yellow whispers falling on the floor
are barges beginning to pass each other
out of their drifting discontent. All the dreams I have known

have been swallowed by fog and the dark crossing the taiga at night.

St. Petersburg, Russia
(Deleted comment)
dorireads
May 24th, 2011 10:22 pm (UTC)
Hmm. That's funny because I was convinced you were writing about Minneapolis. You in Minneapolis. I think our physical setting naturally informs our inner landscape, at least our description of them. Your lovely poem is a great example.
(Deleted comment)
dorireads
May 25th, 2011 01:08 am (UTC)
Thanks, Laura.

You went from Florida to Minnesota? I can't even imagine that climate change. However, my son, born and raised in Georgia, is now a Minnesotan and loves it. And I have a couple of precious grand babies up there! Brrrr.
susanwrites
May 25th, 2011 06:11 am (UTC)
Dori, sorry I missed this the other day. I'm so glad that you are carrying forward the lesson to believe in the value of your own creative process. Yay you! I am really working toward that same end myself. It seems to be an ongoing battle for me.

And realize that your process may change over time and with each different project. My poetry process is evolving.


Love these lines:

Because I am not battle-brave,

Inside the ice I am silent.

And this one is my favorite:

Inside the ice I am silent.


I love the idea that you are playing with poetry through your character.
( 15 comments — Leave comment )
WHO AM I?



Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.






Susan Taylor Brown

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"Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties."
--Bonnie Friedman

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--Anne Rice

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