A Challenged Poet

Being poetic can be hard work.

My hands smell like Lysol. The washing machine is churning. A child is recovering from Influenza and coughing so deeply I cringe with guilt. In the back of my mind are the other items on my to-do list waiting for me: dusting, dinner, vacuuming.

But, writing poetry is not on that list. It’s never on my list. Scheduling poetry seems counterintuitive to me.

But, maybe it shouldn’t.

Dreaming isn’t working.

I used to dream about sitting near the seaside with a notebook, scribbling random pithy thoughts that I’d later form into a lofty poem.
person-802075_1920Even though I live only minutes away from several lakes and a half hour from one of the greatest lakes–Lake Michigan, I have never sat on a pier and dangled my feet in the water and written a poem. Not even close. I wonder why. It seems so easy. I imagine phrases and cadences springing onto the notebook with grace and sophistication and intrigue.

Isn’t writing poetry that simple? Just escape to your favorite nature hideaway with a worn moleskin notebook. Watch the geese, feel the breeze, then scrawl your pen or flex your fingers over your keyboard and voilà . . . a refreshing sculpted poem.

Reality check.

Most of the time, for me anyway, it is not that simple. I doubt my word choices. I wonder if I’m leaving out something. I wonder if I’ve over written. Did I chose the wrong point of view to tell this poem? Nine times out of ten, I’m dissatisfied and I toss away the verse.

Poetry is not my bread and butter. It’s a hobby, as my husband likes to remind me. But, if it’s a hobby, why does it cause me grief? Why do I struggle to write one pure line of poetry?

Simple is hard work.

Dejan Stojanovic wrote: “The most complicated skill is to be simple.”

Like the ballet dancer who practices until her feet bleed but her performance looks effortless. We watch in awe of her talent not taking into account her trials. Or the pianist who plays scales for three hours every morning in preparation for a concert. We listen and hear beauty but we don’t see the struggles.

I have to believe that writing poetry is challenging to me because I want the end result to read simply and effortlessly. Not choppy. Or at least not incomprehensible. To look simple takes a great deal of work. I have come to realize that  my challenge to myself has been to write truth with purity.

That means I need to continue to learn and to grow as I seek to be simple but elegant. Simple but profound. Simple but captivating.

And that takes work.

Scheduling poetry practice isn’t such a bad idea after all. If I can schedule my laundry, I can schedule a few precious moments musing over Robert Frost or William Butler Yeats to learn my craft better.

Other challenges:

Speaking of challenges, the April Poem-a-Day Challenge is a few short weeks away. Last year’s April PAD results have recently been posted. What a surprise to learn that two of my poems made it into the top ten. I challenge you to join me next month. Maybe we’ll win one this time.

Also, take a peek at this month’s blog post on MouseTales Press. Thank you to Carol Early Cooney for interviewing me and to Linda Hatton, managing editor, for publishing Carol’s interview. It was fun. (And challenging. I’m not a spotlight type of gal, so this truly was a challenge.)


The Arrogance of Poetry

“Every work of art is, in one sense, a self-disclosure.”

You ‘ve heard the term metapoetry–poetry about poetry.  It’s a poem about the poem itself or some aspect of poetry: feet, iambs, couplets, etc.

Billy Collins has written a sonnet about sonnets that I can’t post for copyright reasons but you can read here: Sonnet by Billy Collins

In ModPo we learned that all poetry is to some extent meta. If there is any literary art form more narcissistic, I don’t know of it. (Well, except for maybe selfies, which could be, I suppose, a form of art at times.)

I grinned when I found this tweet:” Can the conceit of metapoetry avoid becoming poetic arrogance?”

Isn’t that the epitome of metaphor? The poem about the poem, which hasn’t been written by the poem, is considered arrogant. (Cue the chuckling irony machine.)

But, then what about the poet?

Poems are often about the poet. They are often soul-bearing, utra-personal, and shall I say, often whiny in nature and overloaded with self-disclosure.

Self-disclosure: the process by which one person lets his or her inner being, thoughts, and emotions be known to another.

Even if we write about concrete or the winter storm or wrinkly feet, the poem is reflective of the word artist and their narrators, disclosing  multiple facets such as:

  1. Depth of simile ideation
    Example: My thoughts are as slimy as wet concrete.
  2. or weather prejudices
    Example: I abhor the romance of spring.
  3. or the abnormal
    Example: He dreamed about her foot fungus with anticipation.
    Poetically gross.

So why do poets allow themselves to be so overtly vulnerable?  What need do they have that is served by writing short works of art about their deepest longing or observations or perspectives?

The art of poetry is to evoke emotion. That’s hard to do if we don’t connect with our own emotions.  “Poetry uses forms and conventions to suggest differential interpretation to words, or to evoke emotive responses.”

Even when we write a poem that says nothing about how we feel, the poem is still about the poet. The choice of subject, form, words, spacing, tone, etc.  is revealing.

In the very least, you reveal what you are thinking about at the moment. I’ll admit, sometimes even that feels too exposing for me.

But, it is arrogance that drives us to write poetry?

The criticism that poetry is arrogant, I believe, comes from the thought that we are essentially pointing a finger at ourselves and saying, listen to me.

Then, we blindly assume that someone, somewhere will actually want to pay attention.

That’s not arrogance.

I’d call that human kinship.


November PAD

2015 November PAD Chapbook Challenge

Poets, prepare yourselves. Buy yourself a fancy notebook. Fix a snack. Turn off your phone. Turn on some Duke Ellington or the Bee Gee’s or The Doobie Brothers or whatever floats your boat.  It’s time for another poetic challenge from Writers Digest!

November PAD2

This is the PAD CHAPBOOK challenge. It’s a little different from the April challenge in that you will write a poem each day based on the posted prompt, then you’ll compile the best of the bunch into a theme with the idea of creating your own chapbook and then submit the whole kit and caboodle.

Many poets will daily share their first or second draft on the challenge site in order to participate in poetic community. But, it’s not necessary.  More fun, perhaps. And more neighborly. But, it won’t win you any points with the judges.

Generally, I don’t read any of the shared poems before I post mine. If I did, I’d never post. If you are prone to jealousy or comparison, I suggest you don’t either. For myself, I’m prone to intimidation. I read three posted poems and I want to quiver in my blanky and scold myself for even attempting this annual event.  (I left out the part with my thumb in my mouth. TMI)

What I like about this challenge is that participating poets have the month of December to revise their poems and get them in order before submitting. This gives you some thinking time which comes in handy because the month of November is notorious for being overly busy with a certain holiday consisting of family, feasting, and football frolicking.

So, find your happy place, your writing nook, your lucky pen, or your solitary shadowy retreat.


Then find your groove and come poem with us crazy poets.

When are you a Poet?


“In the eyes of others a man is a poet if he has written one good poem.
In his own he is only a poet at the moment when he is making his last revision to a new poem. The moment before, he was still only a potential poet; the moment after, he is a man who has ceased to write poetry, perhaps forever.”

― W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand

Platform-It’s for Poets, too.

Beginning  on October 1, 2015, Robert Lee Brewer (Writers Digest) is once again offering a Platform Challenge. 

“This challenge will help writers through the process of improving
their writing platforms by providing one task to complete for each
day of the month in October. I will share tips and advice related to
the task. By the end of the month, writers of all skill levels should
have a better grip on their platforms.”

If it were not for Robert’s first Challenge, I wouldn’t know a smidgen about blogging or WordPress or Twitter chats. I learned more in one month than I thought possible. Wordsmith Studio, my writers’ group, evolved from that first challenge.

I don’t know what this new challenge will entail, but I’m sure it involves social media. Writers need to be on top of the digital world where things change rapidly.


If you are a poet and want to showcase your work or get more involved in the worldwide poetry community, go straight to the October Challenge and sign up by leaving a comment.

He is even dangling a few trinkets you could win.


Great books!

This challenge can change your entire success as a writer and open your world.

The best part-it’s FREE!

Go for it!

5 Keys to Memorizing Poetry

I eat my peas with honey.
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny.
But, it keeps them on the knife.

This is the one of the first poems I remember memorizing. My mom used to recite it us at dinner when she served peas with our meatloaf.

(We did not paste our peas to our knife with honey. Actually, my brothers secreted their peas to our salivating Schnauzers under the table.)

Most of us grew up reciting ingrained nursery rhymes to music:



Memorizing little ditties came easy to us in those days. Especially if they came with a tune, or hand movements, or a jump rope.

But what good is memorizing anything after we graduate high school?

After the time’s tables are fixed in our brains, and we can recite the Preamble to the Constitution, and maybe some of the Gettysburg Address, we think we’re done jamming information into our cerebellum or hippocampus or wherever we stuff our memories. Or if we get advanced degrees, we study for the tests and (some of us) promptly release that info into the atmosphere and wave goodbye as it meanders on the windwaves and then temporarily leeches onto someone else’s brain for another test at another school.

Heck, we don’t even have to memorize phone numbers anymore. We live in an I world with information at our fingertips. Who needs to memorize?

Not so fast.

This week Barbara O’Neal at Writer Unboxed wrote about The Powerful Nutrition of Poetry acknowledging that memorizing poetry is healthy. As healthy as taking your daily Robert Frost Gummy Vitamins.

Hallelujah! Memorizing poetry can make us smarter by enriching our gray matter. Which translates into making us better problem solvers, increasing our creativity, elevating our-thinking-on-our-feet ability, and frankly, making us more interesting.

But, honestly . . .

I don’t know anyone who likes to memorize. I don’t remember the last time I memorized a poem. Memorizing is fatiguing. Boring. And seemingly without reward.

But, on the flip side, if it will nourish my brain then I’m all in. (Four aunts and mom with Alzheimer’s. I’m looking for the cure and if poetry is it . . . I’m not that naïve.)

But, I will try.

I like tools. I like step-by-step game plans. I like easy. I like learning from the pros.

So I asked myself, who would know more about memorizing than actors?

In this article about the secret to actor’s memories, Michael Pennington insists that “Repetition, repetition, repetition.” works best.

Lesson: write out the poem on an index card. Read the poem. OUTLOUD.

He recommends acrostics and mnemonics that associate troublesome passages with a memorable story. Try to correspond lines of poetry with the story of the poem instead of learning word by word.

Lesson: Don’t focus on learning it word by word.

We memorize best “through chunks, phrases and patterns, often hammered into place by metre or by rhyme.”

Lesson: Learn chunks, phrases, and patterns.

Actor Lenny Henry advises to write down your lines, at least 10 times. Moving around also helps to fix the words.

I can attest to this. I once tried memorizing a large chunk of Greek literature. I wrote it on index cards and paced the basement, recalling a tidbit of something from a Kinesiology class. Some of us learn better when we fiddle or jitter and move around and fire up the neurons in our brain.

Lesson: Get Kinetic.

If you can, set the poem to music. Remember how we learned nursery rhymes? Make up actions, hand movements, get out your jump rope or hula hoop. If you know sign language, utilize your skills. If the poem doesn’t rhyme, try to find the patterns and connect them visually, orally, and audibly.

Here are the 5 Keys:

5 keys to memorizing poety

Encouragingly, Pennington notes that the actor Dame Gwen Ffrangeon-Davies, who lived to the age of 101, never ceased to commit fresh lines to memory.” She would learn a new piece of poetry every day until she died. It has to be good for the brain.”

If memorizing a poem a day has been helpful for a dame . . .  that’s good enough for me.

I’ll start Monday.

After my diet.

What about you? Do you memorize poetry? Have any other tips? How has it helped you?


Additional Reading: Poetry by Heart competition