Poetry at the Miss America Pageant

Sunday night, 9/9/2018, I tuned into the Miss America Pageant a little more than half-way through the program. There was POETRY! Ellery Jones, Miss Colorado, performed an original spoken word poem in the talent portion of the show! My geeky poet heart SQUEE’d!

As usual, the talent portion of the show was a mixed bag. There were singers and pianists among the 10 performances with various degrees of talent. There was the obligatory ballerina, and one contestant gave a Ted Talk-esque original monologue. The other top performance for me was Miss Connecticut. She wowed the audience with her Irish step dance/moonwalk combo.

Was Miss Colorado’s performance the best spoken-word piece I’ve ever heard? No, not by a long shot. But it was good and America got to see poetry as entertainment that requires talent. (Now if we can just get the Washington Post entertainment journalists to understand that spoken work poetry is NOT a “monolog!”)

Just for fun, I looked up “weirdest talents at the Miss America pageant.” In 2016, Alayna Westcom, Miss Vermont, mixed chemicals on stage during a science demonstration. Check out the bit on YouTube. The one that really took takes the cake, though not the crown, was Carol Jennette, Miss Maryland, who in 1955 packed a suitcase as her talent. I have already checked. It’s not on YouTube darn it.

Beyond my snarky critique of the talent competition I feel compelled to touch on the snarly political aspect of this beauty pageant and it’s almost 100-year turbulent history. The civil rights movement, the rise of feminism, and even the MeToo movement have taken their toll and the pageant has lost popularity. They are struggling to remain relevant in today’s aggressively competitive media market, hence the launch of the Pageant 2.0 with no swimsuit competition.  I have not been a regular viewer in a long time, but I had to check it out.

At first the changes I saw all seemed to be in the wardrobe area. Contestants wore more casual clothes for some of the interviews. Then I realized, there was a lot more talking. That’s a good thing, as is the continued, though gradual, increase in ethnic diversity.

I’m no longer the starry-eyed little girl that watched faithfully all through my formative years. Neither am I the budding, self-righteous feminist railing against the tyranny of this barbaric practice. I’ve long since settled into a neutral pragmatism. I never had the high ground and despite my cheeky assessment of talent and gown choice, I will not judge these women for choosing to be part of this event, and this life. I support women. If a girl or woman feels empowered by this environment, whether she does it for fun or for a shot at the prize money, then she should go for it! There’s nothing wrong with putting on a pretty dress and stepping out with your best foot and face forward. Congratulations to all of the ladies and especially to Nia Imani Franklin, our newest Miss America.

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Union and Reunion

About a year ago I wrote about a beautiful and talented friend of mine who had just passed away.  Judy and I connected where words meet the page. (She was my favorite and best editor.)  She had a big family and lots of friends that I didn’t know, except for Lee, who I had met just a few times. At the memorial Lee and I exchanged email addresses, although I admit I have only used it twice.  Last month Lee put the call out to her book club, which Judy had been part of, to gather and celebrate Judy’s birthday and she graciously invited me to attend.

Those that know me well, know that I’m chronically late. In my defense, this time I can blame my late arrival on the cable company and an hour long call (most of it on-hold) with tech support. In any event, I finally made it and despite not really knowing anyone except Lee, I was greeted warmly.

Given my physical limitations and  social anxiety, it takes a lot of physical and psychic energy to get me out the door. But once I’m there, I’m there.  I make the effort to talk to people and listen to them. Almost every social event has something to enjoy, and certainly this was true last week with these lovely folks who are bright and educated and engaged with the world.  By the way, Lee is the charming and lovely spitfire seated in the middle of the first row.

I was at this gathering because I was lucky to find someone who shared my love of writing and learning.  One connection makes another. It’s how networks are grown and life is enriched.  Find your kindred souls and share your gifts. Wishing you great connections today and everyday.

Poetry Critique Checklist

Even if it’s been years since you’ve been in school and learned the basics of poetry, anyone can write poetry and learn to do it well. A great place to start is to read a lot of poetry. Read poems in diverse styles by dead poets, well-known living poets, and unknown writers.  Read form poems (sonnets, cinquains, villanelles, and haiku), blank verse and free verse.  And of course, write! Beyond that, the one tool that has been the most helpful for me to improve my poetry craft is regular poetry critique sessions.

Do not be afraid of the word or concept of critique. It is simply a detailed evaluation and review. Bring an open mind and heart.

I started out with a writing buddy. We met once or twice a month, to read and discuss each other’s work. I was fortunate to find someone who was a better writer than me, and who was also a teacher. But you can learn and grow with anyone who has a sincere desire to improve their writing.  When life and circumstances broke up our sessions, I found my way into a vibrant community of poets on Meetup called Living Poetry. From there I began attending monthly poetry critique workshops run by LP’s fearless leader, Bartholomew Barker.

I highly recommend the process. If you can’t find a group to meet with in real life there are virtual options online. I promise you will learn a lot, make friends, and become a better poet.

“Yeah, but how do I evaluate a poem?”

I’m glad you asked. One of the long-time members of my critique group, a wonderful poet named Chris Abbate, (check out his website!) left us to start his own group. He created a list of questions to guide his group members. I loved the idea, so, with permission, I stole the idea and a few of his questions and created a checklist just for you.

The checklist identifies the main components of a poem and gives you questions to consider for each one: Title, Opening; Language; Imagery; Line breaks; Stanzas, and Conclusion.  In addition to these objective terms, you will also learn to identify Hot Spots and Cold Spots.

Click here to download my Poetry Critique Checklist.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments. Happy Writing!

Poetry News

Hello! How are you?! (pant, pant) Don’t mind me. I’m just catching my metaphorical breath after a very busy five weeks.  Actually, April was busy.  The first week in May was  only metaphorically busy. There was of course May Day, but I skipped the pole dancing festivities. I did watch a lot of Star Wars movies though because, May the 4th be with you. And yes, I ate a few tacos on Cinco de Mayo.

But let’s get back to April poetry news. I successfully completed the Poem A Day Challenge! Of the 30 poems I wrote in April, about half are just fluff and fun. The other half are solid and are either done or in my queue for the next three months of critique workshop.

The month was filled with poetry events in the area celebrating National Poetry Month, as well as … drum roll please … the roll-out of the Heron Clan V poetry anthology. I’m very happy and honored to have two of my poems included in the fifth book in this popular series (page 148 and 149 respectively). There were several readings in the area to give as many as possible of the poets in the book a chance to read. I will be one of the readers on May 10th, 7:00 pm at the Pittsboro Youth Theater, Center for the Arts. Thank you Doug Stuber and Katherine James Books!

As much as I’ve loved the poetry saturation, I’m glad for the break. I’ve been thinking that it’s time to stretch myself a bit and do some fiction writing. Stay tuned for more thoughts on writing. Until then, let me leave you with this poem I wrote on April 23, after attending the Poetry on Your Plate event at the Carrboro Town Hall.

 

Poetry on My Plate

three poets reading
dessert and friendship
an evening well spent

we are what we eat
dessert is around my waist
poetry is in my veins

Squashing the PAD Challenge!

Five days into the April Poem A Day challenge and I am on track. In fact, I’m a little bit ahead, thanks to Bartholomew Barker, my pal and the fearless leader of Living Poetry. Tonight I attended his Poetry Germination Workshop and wrote to several prompts. I rarely get poems right on the first try, so everything is subject to editing. But I’m pretty happy with this one that came from the prompts tonight. So, without further ado:

Zucchini Squash Flowers

They’re edible you know.
Dredge the orange flowers in flour.
Pan fry, lightly.
I’ve seen it on the Food Network often enough.
But I’ve never eaten one.
It’s hard enough to get me to eat vegetables
when they look like they’re good for me.
Don’t force me to eat the decorations as well.
I can’t imagine Pretty tastes better than Practical.
Perhaps that’s why I only date ugly men.

It’s April: Happy National Poetry Month!

When I mention this to my non-poet friends, they look at me blankly and say, “Uh huh.” But I’m excited, as are all of my poetry friends and colleagues living:

Madly and haphazardly
writing and editing
Living poem by poem

There are special events in addition to the usual workshops and open mics in the area. There are also stealth poetry programs happening such as Poem in Your Pocket. Simply select a poem you love, carry it with you, then share it with coworkers, family, and friends. And don’t forget the mother of events, the Poem-a-Day challenge.

The real purpose of this month is to spread the word about this wonderful art form and encourage people to dip into the well. Why should we care about poetry? Poetry expresses the truth in a way that a textbook never can.

Poetry will never pay the bills,
feed the hungry,
or stop a war;
unless, it does.

So before I go, I encourage you to write or read a poem this month. Perhaps you will like one of my favorite poems.

After A While, by Veronica A. Shoffstall, written 1971.  I first read this poem in an Ann Landers column. This lovely and enduring poem about growing up and becoming a strong independent adult has touched many people and been published over and over again.

Autobiography in Five Chapters by Portia Nelson (1920 – 2001) from the book: There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery.  For many people this is the quintessential poem of recovery for those in 12 step programs. But I just think it’s good advice for everyone,

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953).  I like this poem, not just because it’s a great way to approach life, but it is a perfect example of a villanelle form poem.

What does that mean?

Although I’m a second generation Italian, with Italy on both sides of my DNA, I do not speak the language. So when a friend asked me what it means I had to tell her what I found on online translation. Ovunque Siamo is Italian for Wherever we are.  Fortunately the translation site I found offered this lovely example of the term in use.

Ovunque siamo, le nostre azioni avranno effetti su tutta la Terra.
Wherever we are, our actions have repercussions on the whole Earth

I know what you’re thinking. “What’s with the language lesson?” Well, it’s my not subtle way of telling you that one of my poems has been published in this fine online magazine!

Remembering Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s House — I hope you take a moment to check it out as well as the other wonderful pieces they’ve published.