Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Poetry is Energy, or Six Quick Tips to Put Some Poetry in Your Prose

This week Araceli Esparza* gives us her top six tips on incorporating poetry into prose.  Whether you're looking for some serious advice to push your writing forward or a light-hearted bit of fun, this post has exactly what you're looking for.  And if you like her take on it, be sure to check out Bill Kennedy's post from earlier this month.

Art shows us what we do not know in ways that we had not considered. Poetry tries to say more and more in a language that is ever becoming more precise. Poetry is about learning about success, triumphs, failures, secrets, and teachings. Poetry is meant to inspire our next generation. Poetry can’t just be an afterthought in your prose. It’s an essential strategy for you to communicate the POV of this generation- your audience.

Your audience is fully engaged in the arts. Through visual poetry or audio, youth know about poetry without ever really studying it.

Poetry in our prose is the hope, laughter, vision, and the mirror of our audience. Poetry challenges the world they cannot control, and when you are writing for them, you have to understand this. Poetry can help you get there.

Stuck with your chapter? Try the following poetry tips.

Tip 1: Pick a character and write their backstory in one sentence verses by hitting the enter key at the end of your margin or sentence. Make each sentence a brave statement of the character. Give voice for their hopes and dreams; get vulnerable with your character. You are not meant to explain it all in that moment. A good phrase will awaken your senses to places that you never gone, smell things that you have never tasted.

Take a risk, let go and write like you just don’t care.

Tip 2: Use a container. Draw a circle and write only in that circle. More practical choice is to contain the emotion in one hard and fast sentence. Don’t let meter intimidate you, it’s algebra for words. It’s a container used to make your words work.

Free verse isn’t free, it’s the air that we breathe, it’s the fullest potential of our wit and wisdom. I chose free verse because I have found that tagging one sentence is easier than to reveal it in a paragraph. So it does have a container, but it’s one that is invented on fly, it may or may not follow a pattern and can break from that pattern.

Tip 3: Use a prompt. Get off the keyboard and grab a couple of sheets of paper and a pen and write long hand. A personal fav’s: I remember when…. (keep the hand moving for 10-20 minutes)

Tip 4: Now write with your non-dominate hand for 5-7 minutes. HA! I told you this was fun! When you write poetry, you write on your own wave of writing. Which is why timed writing works. Write until you find your aha metaphor.

Viola you are a poet!

Tip 5: Drink a bottle of Merlot! And try to write! Guaranteed proven results!

Tip 6: Read a lot of poetry, and then write. Here is an exercise I did for my poetry and yoga class: First, I read the following poem out load.

Still I Rise - Poem by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise

Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise

Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Final Act: Then I followed up with the following prompt; How do I rise up?

Write down this: You may write me down in history as ______________.

Finish this sentence and allow yourself to be taken to the sky where you can look at your inner beauty from afar, admire it, describe it, indulge in it, dance with yourself and write yourself out so we can see you too. Write without apology, filters, or explanations for 15 minutes. Think about what normally might be seen as nuances can actually be a place of resilience and strength.

Much of what I wrote I gleamed or was inspired by this lovely poetry workshop video I found on YouTube.

*Araceli Esparza is 2014 alum, poet, teacher, and future picture book author. You can follow her at @WI_MUJER.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Flags, Enemies, and Fried Chicken

Greetings Inkpot readers!  This week MFAC alum *Polly McCann writes to us on the joys of writing - and the struggle to let a little misery in.  Read on to hear her take on the challenge of adding antagonists into your story.

The washing machine runs in the room above me. Everyone is finally tucked in for the night. I left the kitchen somewhat clean, and it smells like fried chicken I didn't have to cook. The dog is asleep on his trundle bed (long story) comatose from allergy medicine (another long story). I put my ten dollars of gas in my car tonight so I could get home from my new art studio downtown - enough until I get paid on Wednesday. It's almost midnight and I'm writing to you from my little blue den in the basement of a big house at the top top of Kansas City. My desk was put together by my 10 year old and me. On it, a mason jar full of cold filtered water on a coaster marked with the letter "P." Life is dreamy now at night, with cars driving past in a street filled with rain. Life is a like a "sweet little egg" as Jackie Briggs-Martin wrote in her Louisiana picture book, Chicken Joy. My kids keep it upstairs on their shelf. 

Sweetness only goes for so long, maybe a paragraph and then what happens? As a writer I struggle most with "antagonists." In Chicken Joy, the hero is about to become quiet rooster stew. His nemesis is the farmer who wants to eat him. Then there is his own self doubt that has cost him his voice. Without these enemies, we'd only have the first two pages of the book. Fabulous, but not as memorable. In fact that is why I title of each of my worksheets for every story, novel, chapter book, "Antagonist List." Claire Rudolf Murphy got me into this habit. I love it. She told a class once the antagonist represents what the main character desires and also prevents them from getting it. On my worksheet, I make a list of idioms, word plays, associations, folk tales, and questions. I place all sorts of educated and trendy little notes to help me write a good manuscript.

Problem is, I can never get to the antagonist. I paddle around in little boats with no where to go. I sit in the sun and nothing happens, not even a ripple. Writing without an enemy doesn't work I guess. One wise advisor told me this week, you can't be a writer unless you believe in enemies. Well I said something rather teary back. The trouble is, I hate to say anything bad about anyone, real or imagined. I hate to tell my story, what I have overcome, if it means I have to drag someone else through the mud. What if my enemy were to change? What if my enemy didn't mean to do those terrible things? What if my enemy was someone I hoped to love? What if they did something incomprehensibly horrible enough that I don't know where that kind of evil comes from? That's not your problem, she answered. They are part of your story.
The Welsh flag reminded me of this quandary again last night. As I tucked my little guy into bed, the flag is pinned to the wall above his sea turtle bedspread. A white ground, green grass and a very red dragon make up the flag from Wales. Why? It's a flag about the enemy they overcame. Flags aren't covered normally with daisies or paddle boats or even fried chicken, though I think I'd like one like that. No flags are fierce. They prove what we've conquered. They show us how far we've come. I think from now on I'll add a new section to my antagonist worksheet: A place to draw my character's flag of choice. Yes, that may be one more section to keep me from choosing an antagonist, but maybe, just maybe, I will finally put on those big author pants then tell the story I needed to tell the whole time.

*Polly McCann, artist, writer and mother, earned her MFA in writing from Hamline University. Tea with Alice is the working title for her first collection of autobiographical poems; three generations of stories retold in free verse. She has been published in Naugatuck River Review and Arc 24. She is the owner of NewThing Art Studio in Kansas City. She loves to grow basil and explore unexpected surprises in her free time.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Smashing Watermelons

Greetings Inkpot readers, today we have a blog post from MFAC alum(January 2015) Leah Hilsabeck-Lowrey.  In this true story, Leah shares the dangers of "holding your tongue" and how keeping things bottled up can affect your productivity and well being.

I see a cranial sacral specialist for my shoulders. That’s what I tell people, anyway. In truth, I see Wendy because I leave feeling lighter and more at peace than I do leaving a $200 therapy session. The pain relief is just a side benefit.

“Your jaw is tight.” Wendy’s English accent somehow always makes her words seem that much wiser. “You’ve been holding your tongue.” I didn’t pay her much mind. My jaw hadn’t been bothering me, and besides, I was there for my shoulders.

A month later found me at my dentist with complaints of shooting pains through my teeth every time I took a drink or bit in to something juicy. “Your jaw is tight. You’ve been grinding your teeth.”

I should have known better than to doubt Wendy.

“It’s what happens to us good girls. There are certain things good girls just aren’t supposed to say. We keep our mouths shut.”

This was not a problem I was familiar with. Maybe back in middle school, before my debate coach taught me to verbally obliterate any schmuck who stood in my way. Maybe before that. But holding my tongue? Now? It seemed unlikely.

night I sat in front of my computer, new mouth guard in place, staring at the manuscript I had been too paralyzed to touch for four months. I had not been holding my tongue.

I bought the biggest, roundest, greenest watermelon ten dollars could buy, and at six o’clock in the morning, my husband met me outside with his sledgehammer.

With the first swing, I smashed the boy who compared me to Stephanie Meyer. With the second, every person who ever told me my master’s was “nice”. With the third, the voice that still reminded me I could have gone to law school. And finally, over and over again, the demon that wouldn’t let me write a word. That told me, over and over again, none of them were good enough.

I handed my husband the sledgehammer and left the pulp for the birds. We had a five hour drive to make. The whole way there, I wrote.

I no longer wear my mouth guard.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Prose into Poetry

This week's post if from Hamline alum *Bill Kennedy, who is ready to teach us about turning prose into poetry.  Straight from his own classroom, get ready for some great insights on how to boil 60,000 words down to a few essential, emotional points of connection.

It has been almost fifteen years ago to the day that I took my first writing class. The teacher was Natalie Goldberg, the author of "Writing Down the Bones,' arguably, one of the best books on the craft of writing ever. I learned very quickly that writing and teaching depends on connection. She connected to the twelve or so students in the class by having us walk slowly around a spacious room overlooking a park in downtown St. Paul, MN. "Feel your heels, then your toes. Listen to the sound of your shoes. See the cracks on the walls, the corners of the room, the window sash, don't look outside, stay inside." After we sat down, sensitive to every little tingle or brush of air, she told us to "Knock that monkey off your shoulder that tells you everything you write sucks. Pick up your fast pen or pencil and write what you are feeling. Don't think, don't worry about spelling or syntax, just write, don't go back, don't cross out, just write." She called it "fast writing." I felt free and started to pull scenes out of my heart that had been there for a very long time.

This lesson and others, including an MFA at Hamline, led me to teaching a class called Prose into Poetry in 2009 that I have repeated whenever I have had the opportunity, in between day jobs.
I   5 minutes on prose:
My opening prose line went something like, “Prose is describing the interior of a birthing room, repeating the spoken words of the doctor.”

I read the line “Lucidity is the wound closest to the sun,” from poet Rene Char, then   asked the students, 8 year olds to 98 year olds, to “Replace the word ‘Lucidity’ with their own word and write from their heart about that incident” following the Goldberg rules.

II 10-15 minutes on poetry:
My opening poetic line went something like, “Poetry is standing at my wife’s shoulder, watching my son born.”

Now, “Circle the words that rise from your paper, the words that hit you in the chest. Create a poem out of those words.”

III 30-35 minutes of sharing:
“Read your prose. Then read your poem.” Nobody is forced to share.

Invariably, whether from eight year olds, eighteen year olds or eighty-eight year olds, responses were almost immediate from both the reader and the listeners.  If in a classroom, the first reaction sometimes came from the teacher sitting in the back of the room. More often, the first emotion came from the reader describing a pet, a family member, themselves. Shaking, tears, “Oh my God, what did you do then? Are you ok? Hurrah, way to go,” came from the audience  followed by applause.


My prose example is my MFA Creative thesis, a 39,000 word intermediate novel with a lot of death and magical realism. I did not include the whole novel in this Inkpot offering, just a brief recap of character and plot.

The Boy, The Giant and the Crow 

Nine year-old Lucas Logan can control the movement of inanimate objects.  His new found sense of confidence leads him to his next challenge, flying.  His test run leads to his mother’s death.

Twelve year-old Ivan Still is eight feet tall and the strongest person in the county. His father blames Ivan for the loss of his wife and Ivan’s twin brother who died at birth while Ivan survived.

The leader of the local murder, Corvus Denouement, speaks four human languages that he learned by listening to people talk to the dead in the cemetery.   He spends his quiet hours there to escape the gnawing suspicion that he could have saved his parents from a farmer’s shotgun.


The Boy, The Giant and The Crow

Lucas Logan

The porch has wings
In my dream
Lean left
Circle the trees
Lean right
Rise over sunflowers

“Lean right”

You were gone as I flew
You said I could
The earth opened
You were gone
Into the vacant hole

“Where are you?”

Grave marker shifts at my feet
Smoke climbs,
Circles the stone
Your hand rises
Touches mine

“Come back”

The magic is mine
My eyes move
The hole to the side
As I fall, you catch me
And hold on

“Don’t go”

Ivan Still

Shards of glass lie
In the sink
Fallen from the kitchen window
I watch my brother’s
Hand pull back, uncut

He says nothing
Retreats into the trees
Pulled by a cord
I want him to say
“It’s not your fault”

I reach for him
Glass in my fingers
Red drops in the sink
Glass falls away, rub my eyes
Afraid to look again

I grew faster than he
Took food meant for two
Left him none
She couldn’t know I was
The only survivor

He is gone, twelve years gone
Alive in my dreams that he
Invades, enticing me to ask him
Again and again
“Was it my fault? My fault?”

Corvus Denouement

I know the story
Unable to stop a cold gun’s fire
Falling feathers
Cover sunflower’s aisle

No words
Of theirs
Reach my ears
Just human’s talking to the dead

Who am I
To hear their souls
Reach out and touch
What is gone?

A change in the dream
Is all I have
To take us where
We’ve never been

* Bill Kennedy started writing stories as a child. He graduated from Spalding Institute in Peoria, Illinois, received his BA in Political Theory from the College of St. Thomas and his MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. He spent many years researching fashion trends around the world for department stores and apparel manufacturers. He and his wife have taught creative writing to students ranging from 3rd grade to 93 years old. The lesson plan doesn't change much. He now focuses his writing on intermediate grade novels that feature Tramp, the world's best dog detective. He lives in Jamestown, North Dakota and raises funds for the James River Valley Library System, the best small rural library since Ptolemy founded the Alexandria Library in the 3rd century BC.