For when 140 characters are not enough.

Tag: creative writing

Chapbook Challenge

One outcome of my having a weekly po-biz time is that I rummage around different sites to see what’s going on. I was planning on promoting NaNoWriMo to my Literary Publication students as a way to get a lot of writing done very fast. In […]


So much of my time seems to be taken up with organizing and prioritizing tasks. I still use a combination of iCal and Todo, although when I read on Facebook that uber-productive Cheryl Ball uses Things, I checked it out. It is much like what […]

Why I’m password-protecting my PAD Challenge poetry drafts

I am doing the PAD (Poem a Day) Challenge this year. I’ve done it before, and the result has been very good for my publications list and for my growth as a poet. There’s nothing like renewing the habit of daily writing. I can’t sustain it forever and am not sure I’d want to. However, this month can lead to a renewal of a more reachable goal, that of one fresh poetry draft a week with one revision worked on each week. That is the cycle I aim for, the cycle that my academic writing and teaching responsibilities can at time derail. April is a way to get the rhythm back.

I am posting drafts to this blog, but posts move to password-protected once I add the draft. This is a very odd choice for me, but one forced onto me by the marketplace. I prefer to be an open blogger, but the current trend in literary journals is to side-step the whole prior-publication issue and weighing the difference between an onllne journal and a blog by calling any web presence prior publication. Here is what Poetry‘s website states about their prior publication policy:

Does Poetry accept previously published material?
No. We cannot consider anything that has been previously published or accepted for publication, anywhere, in any form. Work that has appeared online is considered to have been previously published and should not be submitted. We do not consider simultaneous submissions.

So what is a blogger and poet to do? These are not poems yet, you understand. For most drafts, I revise intensively in multiple session, sometimes over years, and the draft I submit to journals in the end can (and often is) incredibly different from its ambitious yet off-kilter beginnings. In fact, one tremendous advantage to doing this challenge is what it brings to the classroom. Poetry students can see the work in progress, thus gaining more than abstract assertions about revision. I can point out, for example, where I slide to the close too soon because the I ran out of draft for the night or to the warm-up writing that got the poem started, but will be mercilessly cut once I get a handle on the real focus of the poem.

An easier solution would be to simply “play along at home,” to do my drafting in a word processor document that remains private. I do keep that document because my fingers just won’t draft poetry into a text box with the same ease that they draft a blog entry. I also am scared silly about losing drafts, so that document is my backup. However, the PAD Challenge is about making poetry visible, about many, many people sharing their daily attempts at an art that refuses to die. The password is my compromise. I may not get poems into Poetry, but I will start sending out packets again in May. I don’t want the possibility taken away.

So if you know me and are interested in seeing the drafts, I can give you the password off-site. This makes the blogged drafts similar to papers passed to another’s hands in workshop and then passed back again with scribbled notes, an act that is increasingly hard to have now that grad school is long over and the poets I know scattered over several thousand miles. Also let me know if you are doing this, even if you don’t share your drafts. That, too, is the point of this challenge–the knowledge that others are taking a part of each day in April for poetry.


The Multimodal Poem Assignment

I’ve done a multimodal poetry assignment successfully for Intro to Poetry for quite some time now, and once students see what can be done with multiple modalities in poetry, some good things can happen. Sure, there is less reliance on text, but the goal is […]

Formal Verse and the Unexpected

This weekend my summer poets are busily drafting two poems at once (nature poem and free choice), so the next poem assignment, The Form Poem, may not be on their radar yet, but it is Poem 5 in their quest for 8 Poems in 8 […]

About Invention in Poetry (and a few prompts)

Sometimes the muse takes a vacation. Sometimes the poet doesn’t really have a muse, which is a fairly strange, gendered concept that is especially problematic for female poets. For most poets, using and sharing invention exercises with others is a part of po-biz. Here are some of my favorites. Versions of some of these prompts have been circulating for years, and some have been adapted to use for fiction writing as well.

The invention deck. Versions of this have been around for a long time.I first encountered it in a fiction workshop as an MFA student, but this is my poetry adaptation of that concept. Start with a stack of 3×5 index cards and a bunch of writer friends (fiction or poet, doesn’t matter). Have everyone do a cards for each of these categories: First line, last line, title, metaphor, image, phrase, and repeton. I haven’t done this yet, but I think it would be good to add in some cards, maybe five or six, with common poetic forms on them.

Starting with a group of three friends, you get  a starter deck of 21 cards. After that, always keep some 3×5 cards with you. That way, when you meet another writer, you can get them to fill out a card for each category. Don’t be afraid to ask–most writers love this idea and have fun contributing.

What is this deck for? That’s the good part. Shuffle the deck and draw two cards. If you get two of the same category, put them back and try again. You now have two elements to build a poem around. Say you get a title card that reads “The Jabberwocky Walks It Off” and a phrase card that reads “no one pays it any mind” (that may sound a bit regional to some of you, but let’s go with it). You now begin drafting a poem that has that title and somewhere in it, uses that phrase. I’ve seen some brilliant work come from this exercise in class and not surprisingly,  it works best if you don’t spend time agonizing about how you’re going to fit those things in and instead, just do it.

Pick a form you haven’t done before. Form can spark invention. The constraints of a form, especially one that is new to you, can spark growth in a poet. A recent example I love is from Night of the Grizzly (Moon CIty Press 2012) by Michael Burns. The title poem is one of the most moving and complex poems in the book, a book which is possibly Burns’ best in a career filled with masterful work. What most readers won’t see is that “Night of the Grizzly” is a crown of sonnets. Burns knew how to write sonnets of course, but a crown of sonnets is quite an achievement, one that few poets attempt. A crown of sonnets is a sequence of several sonnets, in this case, seven Shakespearean sonnets, which are fourteen lines each with the rhyme scheme ababcdcdefefgg. Just to make it even harder, the last line of the preceding sonnet is the first line of the next. Here is the first in the crown:

A man-killing grizzly is on the loose.
It’s 1966, and we don’t know
much yet about the war. We’ve called a truce
here in the living room so Don can go
to the bathroom and we meanwhile can move
the furniture back. Someone gets Harrison
another beer. This is the part we love:
Clint Walker growls; the bear is Gentle Ben,
but not today, and so he rears and snarls,
and soon they’re locked in a dangerous embrace.
Here at home, hands on the other’s shoulders,
the brothers circle. One’s scratched the other’s face
and now they’re really fighting. Years ahead,
they’ll drug and drink themselves till both are dead.

The flawless blending of the Vietnam War, the “Gentle Ben” television show reference, the tension between two brothers, and the drinking and drugs that hunt these men down just as surely as the Viet Cong in the 1966 Vietnam jungle, this would be achievement enough, but to continue on through a crown of sonnets webs-in a complex narrative and attention to detail that would not have happened otherwise, that is extraordinary.

Enquiring Minds Want to Know. Take a look at a recent or past National Enquirer or other gossip tabloid. Select a story and use it to build a narrative poem. In it, also take flight– don’t be afraid to speculate on the cute or construct an alternate reality within the narrative. I’ll give an example that is fairly spontaneous. I just visited the Enquirer site and found a story on How Grandpa Walton Saved Grandma’s Life. I didn’t think too deeply about this. I just picked it and didn’t wonder about why. If I were to draft, I would try out layers between the reality of the Walton’s show, the artificiality and fake folksiness involved, and the relentless characterizations– how hard it must be to be that homespun all the time. I almost hate to plan any more. The draft needs to start at that point, but I hope you can see how this prompt could lead to some really good narrative poems about U.S. culture or personal relationships.

Thinking about Online Creative Writing Workshop Pedagogy

[ENG 203 students: this is about teaching theory. You will probably be more interested in the entry I wrote specifically for you about workshop etiquette] The traditional writer’s workshop with creative writers placed in a circle of desks, one hopes having read the work in […]

The Rules

This summer I will be blogging for my English 203: Introduction to Creative Writing/ Poetry class. It is online-only, so I want them to have as many streams of information and interactions possible, so why not go to the beginning of social media (at least […]