Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blog Talk Radio Interview

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Last night (September 26, 7-7:30 PM EST), I was interviewed with Deborah LaVeglia by Melissa Studdard for Tiferet Talk on Blog Talk Radio. Tiferet Talk is a bi-monthly radio show hosted by TIFERET: A Journal of Spiritual Literature. Melissa is a superb interviewer, and I really enjoyed sharing thoughts about poetry with her and with Deborah (a long-time friend and colleague). 

Here's the link for any readers who might be interested ...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Poetry Prompt #72 – Stuck in the Middle

Have you ever started the day with a tune that pops into your head unbidden and repeats throughout the day as if it’s stuck on a continuous loop that won’t quit? Yesterday morning, an old song called “Stuck in the Middle with You” popped into my mind and stayed with me well into evening. It was never a favorite of mine, I don’t know all the words, and there was no good reason why that song spent so much time haunting me. 

(Here's the song if you'd like to give it a listen.)

This morning I did some research and learned that the “offenders” behind songs getting stuck in our minds are earworms (ohrwurms, as they’re called in German). Earworms! Egad! Sounds like earwigs, but they’re not parasites that crawl into our heads through our ears and plant song-eggs. Earworms create a kind of compulsive experience (some say “brain itch”) that causes a tune to repeat in our minds. Various theories explain why this happens and, whatever the cause, it’s a common occurrence. In fact, Mark Twain used it as a plot device in his story "A Literary Nightmare."

All of that notwithstanding, yesterday, between choruses of “Stuck in the Middle with You,” it occurred to me that a poetry prompt about being “stuck in the middle” might be an interesting idea. So, this week, let’s make some poetry-music that will stay in our readers’ heads!

Think about:
  • being in the middle of a relationship gone sour
  • being in the middle of a family conflict
  • being in the middle of a loss, a grief, or an illness
  • being in the middle of a divorce
  • being in the middle of making an important decision
  • being in a middleman/middlewoman (intermediary) situation
  • being middle aged

Has there been a time in your life when you felt "stuck in the middle" of something? Use that time as the "historical" background, and tell the story in a narrative poem. (Caveat: Be sure not to get so caught up in story-telling that you neglect poetic techniques: imagery, figures of speech, line breaks, and sound quality.)



In literature, in medias res (in the middle of things) is a technique in which the narrative starts in the middle of the story rather than at the beginning. This allows the writer to open with “dramatic action” and/or flashback to establish setting, characters, and situation. For an added challenge, you might want to try this technique in your poem about being in the middle of something.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Poetry Prompt #71 – The Sonnet

Following the recent loss of her beloved cat Shakespeare, one of my poet friends adopted a beautiful little calico kitten, which she named “Sonnet.” Thinking about Shakespeare (the cat) and Sonnet (the kitten) turned my thoughts to literary sonnets, traditional and modern. 

Any kind of formal poem can be a challenge, but the sonnet is relatively simple. So … this week, let’s have some fun writing sonnets. We’ll focus on the Shakespearean sonnet, but if you’d like to experiment with the Petrarchan (Italian sonnet that consists of two sections – one eight-line section, the octave, and one six-line section, the sestet) or other forms, here’s a link that should be helpful: http://www.sonnets.org/basicforms.htm. Of course, you may want to depart from the traditional altogether and create a  sonnet form of your own!

Shakespeare is perhaps the most famous of all sonnet poets, but many others have used the form over the centuries, and some interesting experimental forms have evolved. A conventional Shakespearean sonnet is comprised of fourteen lines (three stanzas of four lines (quatrains), and a fourth of two lines, or a couplet at the end). In each of the first three stanzas, rhyme the first and third lines and the second and fourth lines (a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d, e, f, e, f); and rhyme the lines of the concluding couplet (g, g). Sonnets have a musical quality, usually achieved through use of iambic pentameter and rhyme. (Did you know that when we speak naturally, we often speak in iambic pentameter?) To learn more about iambic pentameter, here’s the link to an informative site: http://iambicpentameter.net/. To get a practical sense of iambic pentameter and the sound quality of a sonnet, read some Shakespearean sonnets aloud. (Be aware that in sonnets exact rhymes aren’t absolutely required, and off-rhymes occur in some of the best sonnets.)

Shakespearean Sonnet:

Additional Sonnets by William Shakespeare:

Modern Sonnets:

Some contemporary poets have stretched the traditional sonnet into a form that barely remembers its history and bears little resemblance to conventional form other than the presence of fourteen lines (and, in some cases, only the word sonnet in the title). These and the so-called American sonnets have been written by Gerald Stern, Wanda Coleman, Ted Berrigan, and others.


After you’ve written your sonnet, read one by Shakespeare aloud, then read yours aloud. How do the poems compare in terms of sonic impression?

Top Photo: Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Poetry Prompt #70 - The Villanelle

The French brought the villanelle into literary form during the late 1500s (a fragment by Jean Passerat (1534-1602) is one of the earliest known examples). Before Passerat's time, the villanelle existed in Italy as the villanella – an Italian folk song with accompanying dance. 
Although the “rules” may seem complicated at first, villanelle form is an interesting, and perhaps entertaining, challenge for the poet. It requires a special kind of concentration, as well as careful attention to the details of structure. Yes, you guessed it: this week's prompt is to write a villanelle.

A villanelle has 19 lines and uses repeated rhymes (which means that, despite a certain obsessive quality, villanelles have wonderful sonic impression when read aloud). The 19 lines are organized into six stanzas: the first five stanzas have three lines, and the last has four lines. The rhyme pattern is aba for the first five stanzas and abaa for the last. 

A villanelle only uses two rhymes, while also repeating two lines (refrains) throughout the poem.  The 1st, then the 3rd lines alternate as the last lines of stanzas 2, 3, and 4, and then stanza 5 (“dismount”) as a couplet. Admittedly, it sounds confusing, but it really isn't once you begin.

The form according to Turco:

A1  (refrain)
A2 (refrain)

A1 (refrain)

A2 (refrain)

A1 (refrain)

A2 (refrain)

A2 (refrain)

The most famous villanelle is Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." To begin, take a close look at the Dylan Thomas poem (note the boldface and italics to highlight rhyme and repetition). Then read the additional examples. Study format as a “template” for your own villanelle. Choose end-words that have several, strong rhymes. Don't be afraid to experiment. 

Do not Go Gentle Into That Good Night 
by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Additional Examples:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Poetry Prompt # 69 – Gratitude

During the last days of August, people living in my part of the country felt tremors from an earthquake several states away, and Hurricane Irene blasted our area with enough force to cause severe flooding, long power outages, and considerable property damage. Coming through with just a little water in the garage and a few branches down in the yard, I found myself reflecting upon gratitude and how blessed I am. That led me to think about how we express our gratitude for the obvious (food, shelter, clothing, family, friends) but what about the not-so-obvious and the profoundly personal? This week, let’s spend time thinking about something specific and special for which we’re grateful as the inspiration for a poem. Concentrate on using imagery to express emotion without "telling" and to create mood and atmosphere. Work with images that are “new-struck” and resonant.


And … by way of sharing, here’s a “gratitude” poem from What Matters

We Don’t Forget

Tonight you heard my
footsteps in the room

above and called to me.
I didn’t answer. There
was only the movement of

air my body made when
I turned to your voice.

Later, in what might have
been a dream, a little boy
played stickball in the street,

the moon shuffled home.
Grace is acceptance –

all of it, whatever is – as
in we live for this: love
and gratitude enough.

We don’t forget
how it feels to rejoice.

(from What Matters , Copyright © 2011 by Adele Kenny, Welcome Rain Publishers)

Friday, September 2, 2011

2012 Poet Stamps

In 2012, the United States Post office will honor ten poets with their likenesses on postage stamps: Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, E. E. Cummings, Robert Hayden, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. These stamps will be issues as Forever ® Stamps (always equal in value to the current First-Class one-ounce rate).