Go where the prompt takes you

The LP Monday Poetry Prompt has taken me down the rabbit hole. I wrote a version of a poem for it then decided to write a blog post. That was hours ago. You see, I needed to look up lyrics to “I Am the Walrus” by the Beatles, then I had to find out what the hell the song means, then I had to find a walrus image, check Facebook, check email, take a quiz, check Facebook where I found a page full of memes that are all about my life. Where was I? Oh yeah, following the prompt.

I need a title for this weird little thing.

The fattest bodies move ̶
clumsy on land 
streamlined in water
The whale and walrus
the sea lion and seals
Air and water are fluids
We are also aerodynamic

I am she 
as you are she 
as you are me
and we are all together
See how they fly
I am an egg woman
I sizzle!

Now to the quiz. I hate to say this but I missed two. I’m getting rusty. 😦

Merriam-Webster Test Your Punctuation Skills

The Award Winner

In my March 8th post, Poetry News and Notes, I mentioned that I took second place in the NCPS annual competition, Bruce Lader Poetry of Witness category (current events). Now that the annual anthology of winning poems, Pinesong, has been published, I am free to share the poem here on my blog.

Assume the Position

First position: stand in line
Learn this in kindergarten. Do it to death.
Try not to do it in a police station.

Second position: hands in the air
Use one hand if you’re a student.
Use two if you’re in front of a gun.

Third position: head between your knees
Essential for turbulent flights and hangovers.
It may also be necessary in hostage crises.

Fourth position: kneel
Do this to propose, or protest police brutality.
Do not do this on someone’s neck.

Fifth position: bend over
Touch your toes for a light stretch.
Take a deep breath for the strip search.

Microsoft is changing the default Office font and wants your help to pick a new one

I notice fonts. Do you? I’ve done my share of newsletter design and layout, and I stare at MS Word everyday so this is a big deal. Click the link above to see how you can give Microsoft your 2 cents.

Dear Diary…

Today is day eleventy-twenty of being quarantined exiled for the good of the kingdom. My enemies may be invisible, but I know they are still out there, lurking. I cover my face and dress in rags when I venture into the woods for substance. So far the disguise is working but I miss my people and long for my crown, now rusting in the pantry.

Princess JM

emoji disappointed

Oh, hey there! How are you doing? Where are my poets at?  Congratulations if you are currently still swinging in the April Poem A Day challenge. We’re past the half-way point. Keep up the good work, whether you’ve got one for every day or not.  The rest of you still have over two weeks to write a poem. I believe in you!

I am happy to report that I have finally written a few non-plague poems! I mean, everyone knows we’re living in bizarro-world right now. The time has come to look up.

I’m mostly following Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides  prompts, but after years of this, I’m getting bored with the repeats. Luckily my poetic colleague, Lisa Tomey, has been offering alternative daily prompts. The first non-plague poem I wrote was to her wake up prompt. Click here to read it. It’s in the comments of her post for that day.

And, just for fun, here’s the poem that I wrote to the April 13th prompt, “write a purpose poem.” Yes, there’s no imagination in the title I choose but then again, the poem is not that imaginative either, as this item actually exists in my home. I’m open to suggestions for a new title. Please leave them in the comments.

Purpose

A place for everything ̶
everything in its place ̶
everything else in the junk drawer.

A tidy home is not the same
as a clean home. I know
where everything is;
just don’t look close at my floor.

Everything has a purpose
except the quarter inch of plastic
I found on the floor one day.
It might be a screw,
but it has grippers on it,
although it’s too small to hold a picture.
The hole on top
is for an allen wrench
if I had one that small.

Where did it come from?
What does it do?
Can I afford to toss it away?
These unanswerable questions
keep it in my drawer.

odd nut 1

Bio-logy

At the beginning of the month, I led a workshop for members of Living Poetry on how to submit poetry to journals. I felt that as a poet who submits my work, and as a poetry reviewer/editor on the other side of the desk for the Heron Clan anthologies, I had something to offer.

It was a very small group, but it’s been years since I’ve done this, so it was good practice. According to my friend, associate and provisional sidekick, Bartholomew Barker, L.P. Head Wrangler, I probably talked too much, so if we do this again next year, I’ll change it up a bit. But even with all that talking, I never got to the subject of Author/Poet bios, so let’s talk about it here.

Author bios serves several purposes. The first is to connect with readers and share a little of your personality. It’s also a marketing tool for selling books or highlighting causes you work for. Most journals have requirements for bios. Follow their directions. Typical guidelines are: 100 words, 50 words, or “2-3 sentences.”

Shorter is better. Even if they give you 100 words, don’t feel compelled to fill it. Write tight. Long bios are boring and can come off as pretentious. You can write as much as you want about yourself on your personal blog, or in your memoir, or annual Christmas card. Here are a few more tips:

  • If you’ve been published more than three times, or received more than two awards, pick the two or three journals or awards that are the most prestigious or well-known. More than that is boring, and readers don’t care.  
  • Put your name first and write in third person. Not only is it the preferred style, but it will help you be objective about yourself. 
  • Gentle humor is good. Sarcasm, while fun, is not appropriate for this venue.
  • Write multiple versions of your bio. And review it periodically for changes.

Do you like your bio? Does it need work?

Here’s the 40-word bio I use most frequently. Note, I include my blog address with no preamble. There’s no need to write “Follow her at …” as it’s understood. 

JeanMarie Olivieri, of Hillsborough, NC, a former corporate writer, now applies her knowledge of words and grammar to freelancing and poetry. She believes poetry can change the world. She has been published in several anthologies and online poetry journals. https://jeanmarieolivieri.wordpress.com/.

A couple of years ago, Button Poetry had a poetry contest for Tweet-sized poetic bios. 240 characters. I didn’t win but I like what I wrote, and since we’re talking about me, I mean, bios, finally, someone to read it!  

I haven’t forgotten my old life
but what came before
my mid-life reinvention
is a blur.
I quit my cushy corporate job
and moved 1650 miles to start over.
But it wasn’t until I got to the steamy south
which overflows with creativity
did I find my people and become a poet.

 

In personal news, the streak of bad luck (see last post) has continued. This month the problems have all been in my head — well, specifically my mouth. After several attempts to save a molar it ultimately had to be pulled which left me with an infection. All tears and pain aside the incident brings to mind the first poem I wrote for someone. In this case, it was my stepdad who had just gotten dentures.

Dentures, dentures everywhere
Mix ‘em. Match ‘em. Make a pair.

He was not amused.

I’m not that kind of …

… poet, writer, artist, cook, tailor, ___ fill in the blank.

In a world of almost 8 billion people, everyone wants to be unique, and stand out in a crowd. I get it, but that statement is vague and dismissive. Not only does it raise more questions, it’s a way to end a conversation before it even gets started. I’ve been thinking about this since a poet I was talking to a few months ago, about writing to prompts, said to me, “I’m not that kind of poet.”  Really? Have you tried it? Why? But that was the end of the conversation.

“I’m not that kind of cook,” could mean two things. Either you prefer to cook by winging it and you never follow a recipe, or, that you are not comfortable cooking unless you have a recipe to follow. Both are valid points of view, and each one tells us a different story about you.

“I’m not that kind of poet,” could mean you only write free verse, or it could mean that you stick to classic poetic forms. Either way, I want to know more about your poetry.

These are only two meager examples. There are so many art forms and avocations that people aspire to. Everyone has a story. Be brave. Tell me yours.

~//~

And now in the category, TIWIW (Things I wish I Wrote):

“We poets are a passionate bunch. I don’t go in much for poet stereotypes, but I think this much is true, at least as it applies to our feelings about poetry itself. We care a lot about language and we’re always looking for the best way to do what we do—it’s one of the things I enjoy about us.”  – Camille Rankine

This great quote by Camille Rankine, is from her blog post,  “The Known Unknown: Persona, Empathy, and the Limits of Imagination,” on the Poetry Foundation website. The article is about poetic identity, cultural appropriation, and “the murky moral territory that is writing in persona.”

It’s Poetry Month Again!

It’s time again to celebrate poetry. Inspired by Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), the Academy of American Poets established National Poetry Month in 1996. This month we celebrate the legacy of poets and poetry for their contributions to our culture and lives. It’s also a great time to encourage people to read and write poetry.

I wasn’t always a poet, but when I stepped into the water, I never looked back. I’m lucky to live in a place where writers and poets abound. For me, poetry is always alive and well; so, it’s with great appreciation and gratitude that I have seen this annual celebration of poetry continue to grow. Now more than ever we need poetry.

If you’ve been following my blog, then you’ve heard me talk about the annual Poem-A-Day challenge. Honestly, I don’t know if he started the whole crazy thing, or if he’s just the most well-known proponent, but Writer’s Digest blogger, Robert Lee Brewer, has been encouraging (pushing and  prodding) poets across the country to write a poem every day during April for almost 10 years now.

For the last five years I’ve had varying degrees of success completing the challenge.  Last year was my most successful year with 30 poems written in 30 days.  It was rewarding and satisfying, but it wasn’t easy. Will I be able to do it again? Do I want to try? Frankly I’m undecided. But I couldn’t resist writing one today, April 1.  If you want to try your hand at this, check out Robert’s blog, Poetic Asides, for daily prompts. This is the poem I wrote to his first prompt:

For today’s prompt, write a morning poem. Maybe you’re a morning person, maybe not. Your poem can be about a morning. Or it can be set during the morning. And those who’ve done this before probably already know that I have no problem with you interpreting this as a “mourning poem.”

Morning

The twelve hour clock is as cruel as April
for the night dweller.
Did Airy know his Greenwich Mean Time
would be my undoing?

My eyes do not open until noon
with is neither a.m. or p.m.
The truest meridian is midnight.

Time is a state of mind.
Morning is when I make it.
Brunch is at always at two.
Where is my coffee?

 

Two weeks left!

I am, as many of you know, chronically late, so let me be the last to wish you all a Happy New Year! The good news is that there’s still two weeks left in January to give up or set aside your new year resolutions!

“What?! JeanMarie, that’s not very encouraging! That’s why I read your blog!”

I understand. And thank you for reading. I do want to encourage you and support you in all of your writing and life endeavors, today.  Today, let’s just work on the everlasting moment of now and let the year take care of itself.

Don’t be afraid to start something because you are worried about the result. Everyone has a different approach to their projects, but personally, my writing happens in the editing process.  Not quite as rare as a coin landing on it’s edge, but more rare than a horoscope coming true, it is a wondrous thing to get a poem just right the first time the words hit the paper. The other 98% of the time, it takes work.

I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sand castles. ~Shannon Hale

Take a deep breath and (when you’re done with this blog) write something down. A paragraph, a page, or perhaps, just a sentence. Congratulations. You have started!

In other news:

Today, January 21, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  Americans as well as people around the world, honor this man whose life and words continue to inspire us.

If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward forward. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

In addition to this important remembrance, today is also Squirrel Appreciation Day. You can read more about it here: https://nationaldaycalendar.com/squirrel-appreciation-day-january-21/

You swerve to avoid a squirrel. Unknown to you, the squirrel pledges a life debt to you. In your darkest hour, the squirrel arrives. ~Unknown

I like squirrels because they’re clever, agile, resourceful and cute. They make me happy.  Find what makes you happy in life and have more of that.

Life is gritty. Find the beauty anyway.

Holiday greetings to you and yours. As I write this post we are a mere day away from the arrival of Santa Clause. The Hanukkah candles have been lit and latkes consumed. Solstice is over. Kwanzaa is next week and then New Year’s. Whatever or however you celebrate I hope you are finding some joy and peace in this marathon season of good will.

Those gold and silver ornaments and red and green trim sure do brighten the place up. I don’t want to harsh your mellow, but you know that sooner or later, the decorations come down, the routine goes back to normal, and life is just a little bit less pretty.  The key there is “a little bit.” There’s always something beautiful to be found if one knows how to look.

Recently the online journal Politics/Letters put out a call for their annual run of car poems. It’s hard to describe this journal. They publishes essays, critical reviews, poetry, art, media, all with a liberal and intellectual bent.

Just this week, they published two poems for the car series by my dear friend Mary Elmahdy.  Please check out her beautiful work Eugene to Berkeley and Last Bus on the Last Day of 2017 Her language is rich and vivid. These poems are full of reality and grit, and depict locations and activities that I have not personally experienced, yet I feel as though I am right there in the action. I was privileged to read several early versions of them and offer suggestions and thoughts; but I am blown away by the final result. If you like her work, smash the Like button and support the arts.

By the way, one of my own poems will be published in their car series in January. Stay tuned for the link when it goes live.

Let’s Sestina!

Wake up sleepy head! It’s sestina time, not siesta time!

From the Italian word for six, the sestina form of poetry has been around for several hundred years. The poet selects six core words that are rotated and repeated throughout the poem. Each 6-line stanza repeats the end words on each line of the first stanza, but in a different order. Then the final 3-line stanza, called an envoy, repeats those six words again, two per line.

It was invented  by traveling troubadours and was a popular form of verse, which makes sense if you stop to think about the fact that people were largely illiterate then. By building repetition into the poem, your audience is more likely to remember it, and you. Keep your audience coming back for more. It’s all about sales!

And speaking of sales, I’m pleased to tell you that my poetic colleague and friend, Aruna Gurumurthy, has just published a lovely collection of sestina poems called Puppet Dolls. With an emphasis on art, love, travel and children, the poems are a welcome relief from all the bad news on the nightly news. In full disclosure here, I will tell you I edited the book, and may be a wee bit biased. However, I am also impressed with Aruna for taking on the challenging yet venerable sestina format and making something beautiful!

Check out Puppet Dolls, now available on Amazon

Drop me a line in the comments and tell me what your creative jam is. If you are a poet, writer or other artist, share  your preferred style and genre.

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!