Saturday, February 11, 2017

Prompt #274 – Where the Painting Stops and the Poem Begins

 
Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog 
By Caspar David Friedrich (c. 1818)

Every now and then, I like to revisit ekphrasis (using other art forms as inspiration for poems)—we’ve done it before on the blog, and I thought it might be a nice time of year to relax and to write an ekphrastic poem.

Derived from the ancient Greeks, Ekphrastic poetry began when students learned to write poetry by focusing on the architecture and art in museums or grand public places. The form has interested poets of the past and has made a comeback in the last decade. Right now, it seems to be especially popular.

Ekphrasis usually includes, but is not limited to, the use of enargia. This term comes from classical rhetoric. It means to make an object appear lively before the reader’s eye. This usually happens through careful recreation of the visual artifact through verbal means, such as detailed description, use of sensory information, imagery, etc. In other words, ekphrasis normally attempts to visually reproduce the art object (i.e. painting) for the reader so the reader can experience the same effect or reaction as the poet. This is sometimes called “painterly” poetry.

Importantly, Ekphrastic poetry is more than mere textual description or verbal interpretation of visual art. Making an object (painting or other work of art) lively before the reader’s eye involves, in the best Ekphrastic poems, an emotional and perhaps even spiritual response to the work of art—achieved through written language.

Through the centuries of literary history, such poets as John Keats, in his poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (ceramic art rather than painting, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”), have experimented with Ekphrastic poetry. Robert Browning, in his poems “Fra Lippo Lippi” and “Andrea del Sarto,” created dramatic monologues in which painters muse to themselves about their paintings. Other poets who have worked with Ekphrastic poetry include:

William Carlos Williams – “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”
Maria Rainer Rilke – “Archaic Torso of Apollo”
Frank O’Hara – “Why I Am Not a Painter” 

Guidelines: 

1. Use the image above (click on it to see a larger view) or choose a work of art on your own (painting, sculpture, musical composition, photograph, etc.) and write a poem based on it.

2. Be sure to acknowledge the artwork somewhere in your poem (I like to do this at the beginning of the poem, just under the title).

Tips:

1. Don’t just describe the artwork you’ve chosen; let the artwork be your guide and see where it leads you.  Relate the artwork to something else (a memory, a person, an experience, a place).

2. Some ways to approach your poem:
  • Speak directly to the artwork; that is, address the subject (or subjects) of the art
  • Write from the perspective of the artwork, or adopt the persona of the artwork itself (i.e., write as if you are the Mona Lisa.  
  • Write in the voice of the artist who created the artwork.
3. Work with strong images and, if you tell a story, be sure not to overtell it.

4. Think about including some caesuras (pauses) for emphasis, and leave some things unsaid—give your readers space to fill in some blanks.

5. Pose an unanswered question or go for an element of surprise. Let your poem take an interesting or unexpected turn based on something triggered by the artwork.

6. Look at the “movement” of the artwork you’ve chosen and try to represent that movement in your line and stanza breaks. For example, if a painting “moves” across the canvas, find a way to suggest similar movement in the way you indent and create line breaks.

Example:

Here’s an example from my book A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing at All:

Just Perhaps

(After Ophelia by John Everett Millais)

Buoyed by her dress, she barely breaks the water’s surface—arms outstretched, palms upturned. Pansies float above her skirt. There are daisies on the glassy stream, and, there (to the left, above her head), a bird on the pollard from which she jumped or fell. Broken willow, broken bough.

And just perhaps, as Hamlet’s mother said, she’s still alive and singing—see, her mouth is open, and her eyes; and just perhaps, she doesn’t know how close to death she is—or why this painting makes me think of you. Your death was not offstage the way Ophelia’s was (the ladder placed, the rope around your neck); nor was the way you parted from yourself, the silent swinging—only air beneath your feet.

Copyright © 2016 by Adele Kenny. All rights reserved. 
From A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing at All, Welcome Rain Publishers

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Prompt #273 – Building Bridges: The Puente


I've never been a very enthusiastic fan of most "form" poems, but I recently came across a form of poetry that really appeals to me. I thought I’d share it with you this week and hope that you like it as much as I do. It seems easy at first blush, but it’s really quite sophisticated and wonderfully challenging.

Called the “Puente,” this is a 3-stanza form created by James Rasmusson. The first and third stanzas have an equal number of lines, and the middle stanza has only one line, which acts as a bridge (puente in Spanish) between the first and third stanzas. The single-line stanza in the middle serves as the ending or closure for the last line of the first stanza and as the beginning for the first line of the third stanza. The first and third stanzas are related (they share a topical or thematic thread), but there can be a shift in content and emotion from the first to the third stanzas. There are no rhyme or line length requirements.

In the examples I found online written by James Rasmussen, the third line begins and ends with a tilde (~), but you may prefer to use either an en dash (–) or a longer em dash (—). Remember that with en and em dashes, there should be no space either before or after them.

Keep in mind that your first and third stanzas may have any number of lines as long as the number of lines in each is the same. There will always be a single line stanza (a "bridge") between them.


Guidelines:

1. After you have some idea of topic and possible content, free write for a while. Jot down images and phrases as they occur to you.

2. Then, look over what you’ve written and begin to write a poem.

3. Because stanzas are integral to this form, work on creating two stanzas (1st and 3rd) that have the same number of lines.

4. Now, here’s the fun part: write a  second stanza in a single line that will serve as the closure line for your first stanza as well as the “opener” for the third stanza. Think in terms of how the one-line stanza relates to the 1st and 3rd stanzas and connects them in some way. This may be a bit tricky, and you may want to try several lines before deciding upon the one that you will include in your poem.

5. Capitalize and punctuate as you would in prose throughout your poem. Don’t use a capital to begin your middle line, and don’t end with a comma, semi-colon, colon, or terminal punctuation mark. (Please see the examples below.)


Tips:

1. Remember that each of your two stanzas may have as many lines as you like as long as the line number is equal in both. Make sure your second stanza (one-line stanza) is powerful, evocative, and meaningful.

2. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form, and meaning.

3. Challenge the ordinary, connect, reveal, surprise! And … remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains.

4. Understand that overstatement and the obvious are deadly when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t ramble on, and don’t try to explain everything. Your stanzas don’t have to contain a lot of lines. Often in poetry, less is more.

5. Bring your poem to closure with a dazzling dismount. (Be careful not to undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.)


Examples:

Following is an example from the form’s originator, James Rasmussen, and then four samples from my own work. Take special note of the way the second stanza (middle, single-line stanza) creates a "bridge" (puente) between the first and third stanzas.

  
1.

To Find a Better Life
By James Rasmussen


“I can’t read or write
but experience taught me
wrong from right”
were grandpa’s final words as Roberto
began his journey on the migrant trail

~to find a better life~

he’d suffer hunger, thirst
and blistered feet to
leave the Mixteca world
of the Zapotec to become
a stranger in a strange land.

Copyright © 2008 by James Rasmusson. All rights reserved.
Source: http://www.shadowpoetry.com/resources/wip/puente.html



2.

Something
By Adele Kenny


I have seen it in the small hills of a sleeping child's eyes,
in the pond after rain when water filled the edges with
something like light. I have felt it in the yellow petal
of a daffodil that touched my face like a tender palm;

—I have heard it in a sighing somewhere, gentle—

like my mother's breath in my ear before I was born.
And sometimes, when spring comes easy, I hear it in
something high, in a soft soprano, in the weeping
and warbling of something with wings.

Copyright © 2017 by Adele Kenny All rights reserved.



3.

Seeley Road
By Adele Kenny


More rust on the iron gates, but here on the hill
things are mostly the same. A milk snake still
twists through the weeds; the thorn apple scratches
a side of the sky. As a child I came here often.
Once, I lay with a tombstone at my head and tried
to feel what death is like,

—my shadow lengthens across these stones—

and I think how shadows hold us, sober us,
tease memory with what refuses to be forgotten,
and bring us back to places we started from or
slept through. I think how shadows are cut from
another side of light like a string of paper dolls,
each one unfolding another.

Copyright © 2017 by Adele Kenny All rights reserved.


4.
 
Tonight the Wind
By Adele Kenny


Tonight the wind huddles, murmuring
through pines that deepen and fringe
the sides of the valley. On the distant
hillside, a stand of poplars lifts the
tree line into stars. The creek's last
rush takes the maple grove, whirling,
flinging pieces of brighter seasons over
the falls. There is a faint or perhaps
remembered scent of wild mint.

 —a lingering sadness for what has gone—

It’s like this with change: none, innocent
or calculated, quick or slow, is easy.
Something is always left behind or washed
away; something lost remembered. But from
the great and gathering dark of every winter
there comes an unwary light that nothing will stop.
And I smile, not minding this cold rain that by
morning will thicken into snow, covering the earth
with a white and shameless expectancy.

Copyright © 2017 by Adele Kenny All rights reserved.


 



Saturday, January 21, 2017

Timing Is Everything


I'm sure you've heard the old saying "timing is everything." Do you have a more-or-less specific time of day or night that you find most conducive to your writing? According to Agatha Christie, “The best time for planning a book is when you're doing the dishes.”

Circadian rhythms aside, I thinks it’s safe to say that our life situations, our responsibilities, and the constraints of our daily schedules dictate when (and where) we’re going to write. Motivation and inspiration also figure strongly in our individual creative processes.

I can’t say that I get many ideas while washing the dishes, but spurts of inspiration do seem to come more readily during certain times of the day. My muse is fickle (big sigh here). She takes three-martini lunches and vacations in the south of France for long periods of time. When she does show up, I know her visit will be brief. A poem, for me, almost always beings with a single image (idea, line, phrase). I try to write that down as soon as I can before my wayward muse takes off again. Working that initial impulse into a poem is usually a long process during which morning is my best time for developing and refining ideas. (However, when I do have a poem in process, I sometimes go back to it again and again over a period of many days, nights, and various hours in between).

Science seems to point toward morning as the “best” time to write.

“Bouts of creative writing might be easier to come by just after waking as this is the time of day when the prefrontal cortex is most active.  A scientific study of brain circuits confirmed that this creative activity is highest during and immediately after sleep, while the analytical parts of the brain (the editing and proofreading parts) become more active as the day goes on. The study looked at morning and evening MRI scans and observed that mornings showed more connections in the brain.”

(blog.bufferapp.com/the-best-time-to-write-and-get-ideas)
 

In Claire Tomlinson’s biography of Charles Dickens, I read that Dickens (at his peak output) worked on his writing for approximately five hours each day, beginning roughly at 9 AM and continuing until about 2 PM. He sometimes returned to what he’d written earlier during the evening, but those five hours were his most productive. 

I think it’s safe to say that we’re all different as poets and writers. Are you a lark (up and writing with the birds) or a night owl (writing into the wee hours)? Following are some thoughts on the subject from ten of my poet friends, all of whom wear many hats (journal editors and publishers, teachers, professors, award winners, fiction and nonfiction writers, poetry series directors, bloggers, husbands, wives, moms, dads, and pet owners). For all of them—and I’m sure this is true for you too—finding time to write poetry isn’t always easy.
___________________________________


The dark before dawn is my favorite time to work. There are no interruptions, few distractions, and nothing says possible like the sun coming up. 

Cat Doty

___________________________________


My time of day has varied over the years. As a young poet I wrote almost always at night, at a kitchen table, when no one else was up. Sometimes I'd write from 10 at night until dawn. I'd love that tired but elated feeling I'd get, the ink on my hands and face (I wrote long hand then and sweated a lot) the static electricity that made the hairs stand up on my arms. I'd take a long walk and treat myself to a sweet roll or a kaiser with butter and a coffee light and sweet. Sometimes I was the first one at the candy store up my block, just as the owner was pulling up its coat of mail, so I'd help him put together his daily papers, and then get a free roll and coffee. Now, having forsaken divine afflatus (which seems to be always on the night shift), or having been abandoned by same, I write in the early morning or the late afternoon. I often write when I'm supposed to be doing something else, or just before I have to rush out. I love saying, "Wait a minute, I'm almost done!" to my wife, just as I once said to my parents, "Wait a minute, the games almost over." Of course it was never over. I write every day, but certainly not always poems, and I give myself permission to neglect many things for the sake of writing (except my wife and children). Still a writer must practice constructive neglect or the world will always find 100 things else he or she should be doing. Should be will kill you either way—should be writing or should be doing the dishes are both killers. Just write.

Joe Weil

___________________________________


When I was working full-time, I realized that generating new material worked best for me in the early morning. The closer I was to sleep, the closer I was to subconscious material.  And even if I just got fragments, I could tease them into fuller material later.  Music can also have the same effect. My favorite part of writing is revision, if it's not self-torture. Regardless of the time of day or night, I can become obsessed revising, and I consider this essential part of the writing process too. It's not about fixing a poem.  It's about the journey to the poem's essence, to liberate the poem to tell me its shape, its sound, its heart. Sometimes silence is key. I hear the music in the language against silence.  That's why I love winter days when I'm snowed in to revise. Something about the stunned stillness of the landscape where I can hear my own breath helps me hear the poem.  Any false note or syllable shows itself. Letting go of the poem is the hardest. Deadlines help or I'll revise for months, even years. But I’m okay with that. Less is more for me though I envy those of you who are prolific with your gifts.

Priscilla Orr

___________________________________


I don't have a particular time of day when I write poetry. I never have; and now that I'm retired from my "regular" job, I haven't found a "routine" time to write. My daily routine is a work in progress. I'm curious what others will say. Maybe I can learn from the other comments you receive. It seems I'm thinking/doing four or five things at a time. It's pretty special when I grab a pen and paper to write down something. I don't plan to write, unless it's a press release or some other prose project that has a deadline.

Tom Plante

___________________________________


I like to write at night after everyone has gone to bed, when it seems the world has fallen asleep and I am the only one listening for what needs to be said to that world before it wakes in the morning. But, I’m a father of 2 with a corporate job, so between waking and sleeping there is very little time to write. Instead, I write when life allows and that is typically on my lunch breaks at 1pm every day. They are my only regular, private time and I’ve accommodated my writing to that time of convenience. I’m on such a lunch break right now, writing these thoughts.

Michael T. Young
___________________________________


Most of my poems start at semi-unexpected times, such as sitting in a parking lot before an appointment or when I’m out walking or biking.  Later, I go through a stack of “starts” and hope that one strikes a chord or seems worth pushing toward being a poem. That usually is in the morning, when I have the emotional energy to wrestle. 

John McDermott

___________________________________


I wake up very early. Usually around 4:30 or 5. I make a pot of coffee & attempt to write. If nothing comes, I read (and try not to peek at FB).

During the day, if an idea, or line, or interesting word comes to me, I make a note of it to look at the next day. 

I almost never write in the evening. By then, my energy's been spent. 

Deborah LaVeglia

___________________________________


When I write, I need time and space alone. This is not oft, as I have two young children that need ample attention much of the time, and numerous domestic responsibilities, as well as teaching responsibilities outside of the home. In that respect, the time of day that I can accomplish some real writing varies, according to whether my kids are at school, quietly entertaining themselves, or taking a nap, and my husband is preoccupied or at work. I can say that this time usually happens in the late afternoon, on Tuesdays or Thursdays, or when I have an office to myself during my teaching hours. Being a mother and wife with a demanding schedule, I am ever grateful for that gloaming hour when I can espouse myself to that sacred solitude.

Emily Vogel

___________________________________


I'm primarily a morning writer. On an ideal day, I wake early, meditate and exercise, and proceed directly to Go at the current writing project on the computer. There are dangerous distractions along the way -- email, Facebook, coffee, playing with my dog. I am most productive if I forego those distractions and begin to write. Early morning time, when others may be sleeping, feels like it offers a quiet sanctuary where I won't be disturbed. It's best if it's before the regular 9-5 workday starts, too, because I won't feel guilty that I'm not working on Tiferet or other projects. The main challenge is not starting other work thinking I'll have time to do my creative writing later in the day. I really do like to feel, even if it's an illusion, that my to-do list has generally disappeared. That's why early morning, before the tasks of the day begin, works best for my psyche. It also works best if I make it a habit. Once I get out of the habit, it can be hard to dive back into it, like diving into a very cold water pool. Whereas if it's a habit, it's less intimidating. I even have Write for at least 1 hour on my habit-building app on my phone.

Donna Baier Stein

___________________________________


At this point in my life I write most often in the early morning. This is a change for me because when I was still teaching I usually wrote late in the evening after I had graded papers and prepared my classes for the next day. Now in retirement and my late 60's, I have the most energy and attention in the first hours of the day, usually between 6 am and 9 am with my first cup of coffee. I may sometimes return to a poem later in the day that I had begun that morning but most of my new work now happens right after I get up. When the muse is kind and I can get some words flowing a new poem is a wonderful way to start the day.

Edwin Romond
___________________________________


My sincerest thanks to all the poets who shared their “writing times” with us!

I hope you'll click on the links below the poets' names and visit them online.

As, always, dear blog readers, you’re invited to share your ideas as comments.





Saturday, January 14, 2017

Prompt # 272 – Remembering an Old Love



Happy New Year, blog readers! I hope 2017 has gotten off to a great start for you and that it will bring you good health, much joy, and wonder-filled inspiration. As we begin this New Year, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back. We all have regrets, as well as happy memories, so here’s a prompt for reflecting on what's been as we move forward.

Do you ever think about old loves, people who were once very important to you maybe even from high school or college? This prompt challenges you to write a poem addressed to an old love. You may choose to take a humorous approach or you may be serious. Either way, you’ll need to recapture the old feelings and write them into a poem.

Guidelines:

1. Make a list of old flames and then select one. You may choose to skip this step (listing) and simply choose an ex-lover, ex-partner, ex-husband or wife.

2. Now make a list of that person’s qualities of character and behaviors.

3. Think about how the person you’ve chosen to write about treated you, and how you treated that person.

4. Is there anything you regret or would change if you could go back and relive the past?

5. Write your poem in 15 lines or less. Be sure to be specific but avoid becoming sentimental or “sappy.” If you have residual anger, write that into the poem. If forgiveness is part of the past, let your poem express that. Just be careful to show and not tell.

Tips:

1. The first line of your poem should be inviting, shockingly interesting or comforting, luring your readers in.

2. Write with an authentic voice—the way something is said is infinitely more important than the intellect of what is said. Be aware of your attitude toward the subject matter and how your attitude becomes part of the subject.

3. Find the right balance between clarity and mystery. Leave your readers with a question here and there.

4. Create a sense of intimacy in the poem, a revealing of something you’ve never “told” before.

5. Experiment with line and stanza breaks. This will help expose weak spots as well as unnecessary repetitions and wordiness.

6. Work from the personal toward the universal. Think about how your poem will invite readers to relate to your experience (even if the details are different from experiences of their own). Create a resonance for your readers that goes beyond the ending of your poem.

Example:

The Chapter Between 

                          By Linda Radice

       Perhaps love is the process of my gently leading you back to yourself.
                                                          
                                                                            –Antoine de Saint Exupery

There was fresh bread on the table the night
we broke up. You leaned against the counter,
wouldn’t meet my eyes, and I held my handful
of un-cooked spaghetti until the pot boiled dry.

All these years later we connect on the Internet.
You send me pictures of your house and the three
dogs you call your “kids.”  I send you wedding
pictures, and one of my granddaughter in her pink tutu.

We trade e-mail memories, vignettes released
from their suspension in time. You tell me you
 “Googled” me and found I was a poet. I tell
you about publications and readings, but not

that I’d never written a poem about you.
You held the car radio in your hands, its wires
dangling, insides half visible and exposed to
the fall afternoon. You watched until I noticed

you, then bent to reconnect each wire with its mate
before you slid it back into place and looked up to
smile at the woman whose eye you wanted to catch. 
You were the chapter between a bad marriage and the

rest of my life.  You put Stephan Grappelli on the stereo
and turned up the volume.  You stood behind me until I
stopped looking over my shoulder.  You were all the
things I’d forgotten without repercussions, and oh –
                                      
You were black silk stockings and making love on the
living room floor. You were my healing pages. 
And if you read this poem – your poem –
I cannot recall the discussion the night you

left, but I remember the first words you said
when we met, how safe you made me feel, and
how the moonlight made shadows on the curve
of your jaw as you slept.  


(Reprinted with the permission of the author.)