“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,
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.
This challenge can change your entire success as a writer and open your world.
The best part-it’s FREE!
Go for it!
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:
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
One thing we can all agree with . . . poets are observers. Of people, patterns, and paradox. Of emotion, enigmas, and ethos. In silence, sleep, and seclusion we ruminate and reflect. We roll around in the spring pansies and willow boughs and write their joy. In winter, we examine snowflake designs and compose similes. On the street, we trade sighs with strangers, mirroring life’s struggles, and we sculpt slant rhymes to save for a sonnet or cinquain.
Our hearts are often saturated with emotion. Our minds are like Spirographs. This sometimes makes it difficult to honor our craft. We feel what belongs to others. It’s impossible not to. Is this intuition? Or instinct? Empathy? Insight?
William Wordsworth said,
“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”
For me, digging into this avalanche of emotion can make it difficult to unearth the tranquility necessary to whittle a poem with artistry and skill. Even in seclusion my mind often races. I struggle to burrow through my mind’s Spirographed agitation (inspiration?) to expose versed thoughts.
When this happens, I turn my rough-hewn poetic thoughts into prayers.
My mother is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s. Sometimes she doesn’t know me. One thing she does know, however, is that something is not right. She just doesn’t know what.
Yesterday she asked me to pray for her.
Today she prayed to die.
I need to do something with the overflow of emotion in my heart. I cannot write a poem to express the powerful sorrow and pain I feel for her. I cannot write of my grief. I am unable to dig through the sands of sentiment to even find a poem inside me.
So, I turned to prayer and other poets to do what I cannot.
C.S. Lewis writes of death after prayers. I find it comforting. Even in his despair and after his death, he has connected with me through his poetry and prayers. Isn’t that what poetry is supposed to do? Isn’t this why we write it? This season of my life, I’ll hold onto my faith and the poetry of others to express what’s hidden in my heart.
“After Prayers, Lie Cold” by C. S. Lewis
Arise my body, my small body, we have striven
Enough, and He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Arise small body, puppet-like and pale, and go,
White as the bed-clothes into bed, and cold as snow,
Undress with small, cold fingers and put out the light,
And be alone, hush’d mortal, in the sacred night,
-A meadow whipt flat with the rain, a cup
Emptied and clean, a garment washed and folded up,
Faded in colour, thinned almost to raggedness
By dirt and by the washing of that dirtiness.
Be not too quickly warm again. Lie cold; consent
To weariness’ and pardon’s watery element.
Drink up the bitter water, breathe the chilly death;
Soon enough comes the riot of our blood and breath.
Maybe tomorrow, after my prayers, I’ll feel inspired to write my mom a poem.
Now that April is over and we can all sigh and try to form coherent sentences, it’s time to move on.
Poetry never rests.
The Phoenix Rising Poetry Guild has challenged us to take one of the poems we wrote for PAD and revise it by exchanging some of our words with synonyms. I chose a poem I wrote for the Shakespeare prompt for PAD. That prompt was to use words created by Shakespeare and write a poem. I ended up deleting many of those words. (Sorry, William) It is striking how changing a few words can heighten (or lessen) the impact of a poem. Revision is the best friend of a poet. Although I know some poets who never need to revise.
I have learned I am not one of them.
“A Noiseless Grovel”
I think of you Only of you
Standing long the boulevard
Lightly in a sprinkle of lattes
and lemonades In and out
of flattery and smiles.
I think of you Only of you
Not as a misfit or the thief
of my lips Not to win or woo
like all our yesterdays, but
to read the color of your
moods I could live without
them Shake a fist at them.
But I can’t disbelieve them.
I think of you Only of you
noiselessly dwindling in
the shallows of my blue
apologies like a bandit
before dawn But, I’m a
flawed critic My aim is
for falling strong together
in the weeds of our love.
The revised version
“A muted plea”
I think of you
Only of you
Lingering along the avenue
Lightly in a shower of lattes
and lemonade greedy for
sweet talk and flattery
I think of you
Only of you
Not as rebel or the swindler
of my lips Not to shame or attain
our yesterdays, but to interpret
the shade of your moods There
are so many that slowly burn
a hole in my soul But I don’t
have faith in your moods. I
have faith in you.
I think of you
Only of you
Fading behind the shallows
of my sad little defenses like
a bandit in the night. My
judgment may be naive
but my intent is that we fall
strong together into the
yesterdays of our young love.
I think so.
Try it with one of your poems.
Revision is worth the wait. And effort.
Three years ago this month, with a touch of amusement and curiosity, I committed to participating in a Writers Platform Challenge hosted by Robert Lee Brewer (Writer’s Digest/Poetic Asides) on his My Name is Not Bob blog. I remember the month as a whirlwind of online activity. Truly, at the time, all I knew how to do online was search, email, and Facebook. Daily, Robert walked us through how to set up a blog, how to join Linked In, how to participate in a Twitter chat, how to think like a writer, and . . . basically anything and everything else we needed to know about branding and connecting as writers.
(I like to kid that it’s Not Bob’s fault that I’m addicted to social media.)
Out of that challenge arose Wordsmith Studio, an online writer’s group. We share information, host weekly Twitter chats, challenge each other, critique each other’s manuscripts, cheer each other’s victories, and lament the defeats. Many of us have forged friendships and met in person. I love our bantering about pantsers and liners. I love the easy-going sass and wit. I love that there is always someone to kiss our boo boos then tell us to get back on the horse.
For me personally, in the past three years I have had dozens of poems published, finished one novel, began a chapbook, began taking copyediting classes, and created a handful of websites and blogs for myself and others including my church and a few businesses.
This is something I never thought I’d be able to do. Nobody else knows more than me how technically inept I am. (I had to get today’s PAD prompt in there!)
But, without Not Bob’s challenge, I’d would have never known what I could do. So, I want to take this moment to personally thank him.
And to thank all my Wordsmith Studio partners and friends.
Three years down.
Here’s to thirty more!
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