Working It Out with Poetry

One of the biggest reasons why people are encouraged to write by therapists and perhaps why so many people keep a journal, is because writing helps clarify thoughts. By translating all those brainwaves into words and grammar and syntax, we can make sense of the confusion, understand things or relieve the pain. I used to write poetry in a very offhand way for entertainment, but upon finding a vibrant community of poets and writers when I moved to North Carolina 10 plus years ago, I went from dabbling in the shallows to the deep end of poetry. Poetry helps me work stuff out: illness, sadness, happiness, confusion, and grief.

The act of writing is the act of discovering what you believe. ~ David Hare

Last month a good friend of mine passed away. I met her when we both answered an ad on Craigslist for a writing group.  The organizer disbanded the group after 2 or 3 sessions which is just as well because I didn’t like anyone in the group anyway, that is, except Judy. Judy and I clicked, which is funny when I think about it because we are opposites in so many ways. ‘Were’ opposites? I don’t know the proper verb tense to use when talking about someone who is dead.

Judy was a vegetarian, Nature loving, Earth Mother. I am a meat-eating, city girl who believes Nature is something you drive by and look at. She was athletic and out-doorsy. I like air-conditioning. Always active, she hiked the tallest peak in 48 of the 50 states, and biked across country, some of it while in her 50’s and early 60’s. And she was a wonderful writer and poet!

For years we met every month to talk writing, inspire each other to write, and critique each other’s writing. We started with short stories or essays and then moved into poetry. Even when life got in the way of monthly visits, we still met regularly with papers in hand. A life-long educator in the Montessori school system, she taught me hugely valuable lessons in writing, and in life.

Last week I attended a Celebration of Life for her. Her family hosted the event at a large park and historical site, which was the perfect setting for this special lady. She had a huge impact on a great many people. The gentleman who spoke first, I think it was her brother, said that she had about six solid networks of people in her life, a blessing indeed. After the family spoke, many folks went up to speak. The night before I wrote a poem about her, but perhaps more about myself. I had to, because that’s what I do. I work things out with poetry. I checked my inner compass to see if it would be ok for me to speak. After all, I “do” open mics all the time, but this wasn’t exactly the same thing. But the answer came back yes, and I’m glad I did because many people came up to me and thanked me for the poem afterwards.

So, to share it one last time, here is my poem for Judy Martell. All of her books are available on Amazon.

You

When you lie beside me you will feel
beneath us both, the heaven I believed in.
Judy Martell, July 1950 – June 2017

Tomorrow I will attend
your Celebration of Life
but you won’t be there

or a cake with candles.
This is my first time
standing in the church of Nature
to say goodbye

A decade of friendship
spent in coffee shops and bookstores
writing, reading, learning

our lives unfolding for each other
with coffee and poetry.

Who will read my poetry now
and tell me I’m not done?
I still need you.

You had the smallest carbon footprint
of anyone I know, yet your life
was as big as the whole outdoors

Your legacy is as big as the sky,
the only heaven you believed in.

Catching Up

It’s me! (She runs in, metaphorically, panting, literally.) I’m here! I’m here! It’s been a while and I have much to tell you. While April was chock-a-block full of poetry, May was as empty as the crumpled wax paper that was wrapped around the burger I just ate, the only thing in it, a limp fold of mayonnaise soaked lettuce. I missed the second Thursday poetry open mic for reasons I can’t remember. I missed the second Sunday open mic because it was Mother’s Day and I was busy feting the one who brought me into the world. And the monthly poetry critique workshop was cancelled because a workshop requires a group, and two people make a line. Fortunately however, two people can work virtually so I was able to salvage some  bacon from the almost-empty burger wrapper.

June brought another afternoon of Poetry on Demand, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite things to do. I and the Living Poetry crew gathered in the main exhibit space of the Museum of Natural Sciences, Nature Research Center for the Rhythm of Race event.  If you missed the event, don’t worry.  Just leave me a word in the comments and I’ll reply with a poem for you.

“Great JeanMarie! But what about the dollar?” Yes, it’s true, Poetry on Demand is not free. It costs $1. For this blog post only, I’m waiving the fee, on one condition. Pay it forward. Put a buck in a charity collection jar, or hand it to someone holding a sign at a street light asking for help. You’ll be glad you did.

And finally, the best update of the bunch. Last year I submitted three poems for consideration for a new book of modern poems about the timeless subject of mythology. It was to be an international, bilingual book out of India. I got the news in December that two of my poems were accepted, (Jump! Jump! Squee!) but unfortunately they didn’t have room for the screenplay. Hmm… Which two poems were accepted? And I don’t write plays.  I was invited to attend the book launch and open mic but as it was held in New Delhi, India and I am a non-travelling American, I passed. I did wonder occasionally which of my poems got published, but life is busy and time moves quickly. However, perhaps it was because May was a slow poetry month, but I finally sent an email asking about the book.

For all you aspiring poets out there, I hate to break it to you, but there’s not a lot of money in poetry. Shyam politely informed me that they couldn’t afford to send me a complimentary contributors copy, but that I could purchase one, which I was happy to do. He did the dollars to rupees conversion and told me that I could pay him after I got the book. Trust.  As you can see from the picture, I got my book: Mythos: An International Bilingual Antholog by Poets, Artists Unplugged. It is really lovely, and I’m not just saying that because they published all three of the poems I submitted! It is 370 pages, half in English, half in Hindi, and with over 20 pages of beautiful full color artwork. I can tell you that I’m as pleased as Jenny Lou Carson must have been when she became the first woman to write a No. 1 country music hit, in 1949!

Keep on writing folks. Get connected with Calls for Submission group on Facebook, or sign up for one of the many free email newsletters promoting writing and poetry markets and contests. Then send your babies out into the world!

 

 

 

April showers brought poetry

April 2017 is officially over and so we put to rest another National Poetry Month. Don’t know about you, but I had a very good run this year. Let’s review.

Not quite one a day, I wrote a total of 29 poems. That was due in large part to the wonderful fundraising event, Tuxedo Cat Ball, for Safe Haven for Cats, where I and 3 other poets, plus one terrific poet wrangler from Living Poetry wrote Poems on Demand. POD: $1 (or $5 if the event is held at a country club) and 1 word buys you a completed poem in 3 minutes.  Between pestering my friends for words to practice on and the event itself I wrote 21 poems. Two of my “customers” at the Ball liked the poem I wrote for them so much they said they would put it up on the wall. (Squee!) The rest of the poems came from spontaneous prompts.

Other poetic events of the month included the monthly poetry critique workshop run by a fellow poet and friend, Bartholomew Barker, and performing at two open mic events.  I submitted poetry to four different poetry journals, and, last but not least, I read lots and lots of poetry!

By the end of the month, I started finding poetry everywhere! Beyond the red roses and violets of blue, poetry can be found in an image, or a turn of phrase by someone in conversation, or a document, or even, as shown below, an article about the revival of the Cornish language.

If it cannot spread, Cornish may be trapped in eternal reawakening, not truly asleep, but never making it out from under the covers into the world.

Lovely! So much nicer to think of a language as sleeping than dead.

So what’s your takeaway here? Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in what you love! Find your art. Create it. Purchase it. Share it. Art can be visual, literary, dance, culinary, gardening, bird watching, the list goes on and on.  It’s good for your heart.

And speaking of sharing, here is one of my more successful poems on demand, from a word requested by a good friend of mine. Enjoy.

Buttocks
high and tight
or low and lumpy
everyone’s got ‘em
even humpty dumpty
they give you a place to sit
and fill out the back of your pants
they’re fun to have and to hold
shake ‘em when you dance
whatever you call ‘em
booty, bum, tush or butt
wherever you go be sure
to make your buttocks strut!

From Open Mic to Stand Up

I’m funny. My friends tell me that when they laugh at me, and I often get (appropriate) laughter when I read at open mics. Note: If I’m lucky, perhaps someone I know will post confirmation of this in the comments section of this article, but for now, you’ll just have to believe me. Since I like making people laugh, I’ve been considering for some time now, trying out stand-up comedy.  This past Saturday I took my first tentative step in that direction at No Shame Theatre in Carrboro, NC.

A friend of mine attended and performed at one of their shows. She told me all about the variety of acts they have. A self-description from their Facebook page: “No Shame Theatre is a forum for original stage performance work.” They are mostly theatre but they have singers, dancers, and poets perform, and when my friend attended, there was a marriage proposal on stage.

Anyone who buys a ticket can sign  up to perform; although, it became apparent that there is a regular troupe of performers for this venue as several people were on stage multiple times in various groupings. First up was an improve duo; then, yours truly. More on that later. I saw three one-act plays, one funny reading, and a dramatic monologue. I don’t think they had enough performers because one half of the improve duo got on stage and just chatted about wanting to go on vacation. Most of his 5 minute slot involved soliciting ideas from the audience for great vacation spots.  Hmmm…

My decision to lean into the comedy came from an idea I had about combining some of my quirky, showy poems with some shtick and some patter. Since I know the foundation material by heart, I didn’t give myself more than half an hour to practice the rest. The loosey-goosey approach seemed to work; I got plenty of laughs. The friend I mentioned above was in the audience. She’s seen me read several times and she assured me when I got back to my seat that it was my best delivery yet. Thanks K! Three of the regulars, including the host, complimented me after the show.

So, I think I’m on my way. I just need to write some more material! Got a banana peel I can borrow for inspiration?

What to Do and Not Do at an Open Mic

Just got home from another great poetry Open Mic in the Triangle. The two featured poets were great, as were most of the 17 poets, including yours truly, in the open mic. One young man in particular stood out to me. His poem was so poignant and tender it made me cry (which is a good thing with poetry). Unfortunately, when he got to the mic, the first thing he said was, “This is one of my early poems, so I apologize if the quality is not very good.”

He and I had a little impromptu coaching session during the after-mingle, and I decided that I would share my tips with you as well. Besides, it’s been a while since I posted. Holy Crap! My last post was October?! Wow. But I’m not going to apologize; and that so happens to be the number one piece of advice I have for you tonight.

When you take the stage to read a poem, sing, play an instrument, give a speech or perform comedy, Do Not Apologize. Most people, myself included, are their own worst critic. It takes years of honing one’s craft, and receiving feedback to work it all out. If you are a newbie poet, singer, speaker, you probably don’t know how your performance is going to land with your audience until you deliver it.

You may have a really good poem (song, whatever) that has won an award or been published, but the audience that night doesn’t like it. You can tell because the applause you receive will be short and polite. The reverse is true as well. You may have a poem that would be completely dismissed by experts in the field but the audience loves it and responds enthusiastically. Finally, you can perform the same piece in front of different audiences and get completely different reactions. Trust me, the audience wants to be entertained. I know I do when I have my butt in that hard folding chair. Please don’t give me a reason to not like you before you even start.

Now that you know what to not to do, what should you do? Be confident. If you are smirking right now and thinking, “easier said than done,” smirk no more. Create confidence by doing your best work; get feedback from people you trust if you need it. Create confidence by preparing, and rehearsing. Create confidence by putting your best, non-drunken, foot forward, like a BOSS!

You can do it. I believe in you.

How to Write Female Characters

A hundred years after women earned the right to vote, and fifty plus years after Betty Friedan wrote the Feminine Mystique, and the Equal Pay Act passed in1963, women are still fighting for representation and equality in society, on celluloid screens and the pages of novels. So, kudos to every writer who creates strong women characters!

Now, in order for characters to be multi-faceted individuals with realized identities, they need to do more than run and fight. They need an emotional life. Many writers find it easy to write action scenes, but they fall into clichés when it’s time to explore the emotional life of their characters. Before you can fill your character with depth and believable emotion, you have to remove the cheap stereotypes. Here are a few of my personal pet peeves.

Stop making her cry!
Her eyes well, fill, hover with tears. Tears flow silently, slowly, steadily. Tears slip, spill, and track down cheeks. She sobs and weeps with a quivering chin or mouth. Shoulders shake. If there are tears for fear, sadness, joy, beautiful moments, anger and jealousy, I’m not going to like this woman.

Addendum: A reader asked me what I had against people who cry. Nothing. I cry myself. It is the amount of crying that I find disturbing. More than 40 references to moist eyes in a 300 page manuscript is too much. Also, if you are using wet eyes as a synonym for emotion, please try again. Thank’s B.

Stop making her blush!
Blushing happens when someone is embarrassed, flustered, or shy. It happens to everyone at some point; but kick-ass women, who fight, carry guns, think and strategize to save the day, are probably not easily embarrassed, flustered or shy. For the sake of your readers, current and potentially future, do not make your heroine blush, flush, slightly blush, redden, or pink up on a regular basis.

If she must blush, remember that blushing is physical and behavioral. The sympathetic nervous system causes blood vessels to open wide, flooding the skin with blood and causing the skin to redden. In some people, the ears, neck and upper chest may also blush. Physically the skin gets warmer. A blushing person may look down or away, smile or put their hands to their face. Put some emotion into your action scenes, and some action into your emotional scenes.

And by the way, don’t think I didn’t notice that all those blushing characters in your book are all white. Black people blush too, although darker skin color often hides it. But their cheeks get warm, and they are subject to the same ticks mentioned above. Diversity. It’s a thing.

Allow her to mature.
When she is young and inexperienced in the ways of love, she might blush at a mere glance from the boy – or girl – she likes. I’ll buy that. But after the first tender kiss, subsequent dating, making out, heavy petting, etc., please have the decency to let the character grow from the experience. If you are going to include romance in your novel, please note that even the shyest, sweetest girl should be allowed to gain confidence, knowledge, and understanding in matters of the heart.

PS: This advice applies to male characters as well.

Bonus:
He said, “You’re driving me crazy.”
She said, “You’re driving on the wrong side of the street.”