Tuesday, April 26, 2011

so what?

Yesterday I bought Billy Collins's newest book. He is one of my favorite contemporary poets, but I cannot recommend horoscopes for the dead. Only two of the poems, "Grave," and "Memento Mori" are worth mentioning. Most of the poems read like rough drafts or random journal entries. Many of the lines are wordy, unspecific, and just dull. Where is Collins's zest for the word? I found myself asking "so what?" as I read through them. For example, in the poem "Straightener," Collins writes about his penchant for straightening objects. He takes us through a list of things he likes to straighten, and the order in which he uses them. As he describes his parents' photogragh the reader hopes Collins will give us the kind of snapshot he did in his earlier masterpiece "The Lanyard, but this poem just continues listing more objects. If you or I had offered this selection up for publication, the rejection letters would paper a wall. But like his other books, this one will sell, too because of WHO he is. I just hope in a hundred years if aliens visit our planet and find only this from Collins's collection they don't scratch their antennae and and mutter to one another," THIS guy was a poet laureate?"

I COULD put this book in my giveaway contest, but I think the recipient would be disappointed.

Exercise: Imagine you are a strnger coming upon a colection of your poems. Read them, and see if you can answer the "so what?" question. How will a reader be moved after reading your work? Yes, poems are about seemingly small things, yet what underlies them is a universal truth. That BIG TRUTH reminds us we are alive.

Happy Writing.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

“Stay Drunk on Writing" Ray Bradbury

I’m baaack! Here is my blackout log.

Day one of the blackout. Since I am still using my phone I see numbers in red next to my Facebook app icon that tell me I HAVE ALERTS. It’s a bit like having Christmas presents under the tree. I want to know what’s in them, but I have to wait a week.

Okay, there are no more dispatches because I didn’t write any. I found I didn’t really get much more writing done during my enforced blackout. Various reasons: work, grading papers, social life, and overall, other things I let distract me. What did my partial blackout teach me? I can’t blame my unproductiveness on Facebook. It’s MY fault.
Here it is National Poetry Month and I have yet to write a poem. Lots of lines that might be found in poems, or possible titles, but no poems.
But I digress.
Is it possible for someone who is ADD to write? Yes, but it takes discipline and motivation, and, hey, that cloud looks like a giant blue fish.
Oh yeah, writing.
I am re reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in The Art of Writing because I may use it as summer reading text for my AP class. I had been having my kids read On Writing by Stephen King, but I like to mix things up. When one teaches a long time it’s best to change things so as not to get bored. Anyway, I have been writing down some lovely tidbits. He asks,” What does writing teach us?”
“… it reminds us we are alive ….and writing is survival.” He reminds us “while art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.” What Bradbury confirms is that writing reminds us we are alive, and as humans each story has importance because it IS the human story. YOUR (seemingly) benign life is a magnificent tale, and if you have the gift of storytelling or word crafting, it is your responsibility to do so because “not to write, for many of us, is to die.”
Find an old picture of yourself and write an ode about the event surrounding the picture, the people in the picture with you, or what happened right after the photo was taken.

Here is the beginning of an ode I am working on:
Ode to Other People’s Clothes

When I see her wearing my castoff clothing
I feel momentary giver’s remorse.
The black leather jacket that once hugged
My body two sizes and several years ago.

Happy Writing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I plan to go semi screen free beginning tomorrow. I can't go totally blank since my day job requires use of several computers and e-mail, but I can make my house go dark for a week. In The Winter of Our Disconnect the author and her three teenagers went dark for SIX MONTHS. A good read. One of my students is reading it at my recommdnation.
so I will hand write my blog next week, and post the best of it next week.

Happy Writing.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Kingdom of Silver Doubt

What was I thinking when I decided to write a blog? I don’t write every day, much less blog. I COULD post everyday and tell you I ate oatmeal with nuts for breakfast and describe the cute funny things my cats did last night, but that’s what Facebook is for. So, yes, I know I SAID I was going to blog every day, but poets aren’t all that reliable. (They keep changing Poem in Your Pocket Day. I thought it was the 28th. It was LAST year!) so there will be gaps.

Poems, like stories, have an apparent level and an underlying, simmering one. Take for example the draft of a poem my friend Elizabeth wrote, a brave and lovely poem seemingly about her belly(which I will NOT be sharing with you. Drafts are like Vegas. And I want to still be friends with her,) yet what shimmers under the surface of the poem is an ineffable link to her mother.

A poem works when we can pull back the layers and think, ahhh, yes. For example, Billy Collins’s poem The Lanyard. What kid over fifty doesn’t remember making lanyards at summer day camp? On one level, the poem presents itself as a simple childhood memory with its gentle humour, yet we walk away realizing NONE of us has lived up to the valiant act of our mother’s giving birth to us and facing the daily grind of raising our self centered selves. The poem asks, Do we ever repay that?

So if a poem is to be successful, most of which mine aren’t, the reader will walk away with a universal question, and that question could be what sparks your own poem.

Here are the first few, very crappy lines of my response to Elizabeth's poem:

I have become my mother.
wide hips, bruise to the touch
“I can think about food and gain weight.”

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Happy National Bookmobile Day

I love the bookmobile: the ice cream man for nerds.

Yesterday afternoon (well into evening) my friend Elizabeth met for coffee and poetry. Neither of us has managed to write a poem a day, and Elizabeth devised a good reason why. During nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month,) where crazy people write 50,000 words during the month of November, one is working toward a large, unfinished product. Yet the container for that project is large. It’s 50,000 words, (or more) most of which are lousy words. In all of the nanos I have done, I delete tons of text.
Poetry, however, requires exact, specific words, and the containers for them are small. So they require focused attention to detail. Poems need to be written slowly. Even the drafts. Poems are deceptive. Because they are usually short, poems seem "easier" to write, yet a poem can take years to write.

I responded to a poet friend of mine’s Facebook posting about trying to write a poem a day. I have been writing lines of poetry, but not actual poems. Perhaps these lines will accumulate and become a poem,. Maybe not. But they rest like seeds in a packet, waiting to be planted in a more temperate climate.

So today’s exercise is: don’t try to write a poem today . Feel free to write lines that could become poems, but NOT make a poem.

Happy Writing.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Breakfast of Champions

I started thinking about my advice from yesterday to REAd Every Day. As a kid, I used to read the cereal boxes my mother set on the table the night before. She was night owl, and did most of her housework and breakfast prep after we kids and my dad were in bed and out of her way. She always played music on the hi fi (stereo for those of you under forty), and I think that enabled my early interest in jazz. Each morning, as she slept late, my brothers and I were greeted with a table full of cereal boxes, a child's version of the morning paper. There were often interesting science facts on the backs of the "healthier" cereals like Cheerios and Wheaties. Captain Crunch, crack for elementary aged kids, had nothing but useless text.
Sometimes there were offers for "free" stuff for sending in box tops, and the three of us siblings would fight over who got the box tops. My middle brother Paul usually won. I think he just wanted the stuff more.
Yet we read every day. Now when I read a cereal box it's for calorie, carb and sodiumcounts.
The assignment today is to read the cereal box, and use text from it to create a poem. The box itself may evoke memories of childhood. Perhaps you imagine yourself on the cover of the Breakfast of Champions.

Happy Birthday Cindy!
Happy Writing.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Throw a Mouse Into a Poem and Read Billy Collins

I was the guest writer at a workshop for young dult writers, and I thought I would share some of my notes with you.
Read Every Day- books, eBooks, magazines, newspapers. Interact with some sort of text that engages you.

Carry a Journal and pen(s) OR get an app for a smart phone that helps you record ideas. I use Moe’s Notes. No, I didn’t invent it, I bought it because of the name, but have found it useful.

Learn a foreign language- this helps you develop verbal flexibility AND gets you inside a new voice. Our local library has Mango Languages for free access with a valid card.

Read Every Day

Read outside your comfort zone. If you read only romances, try a thriller. Better yet, Poetry.

Rsearch- (This tip was met with a groan.) Research gives you information to flesh out details, and makes your details credible. The poiet Rita Dove once talked about a poem she wrote that invoked a childhood memeory. She researched the weather of the day in question to make sure her description of the day was accurate.
Experience Life- writers don’t just sit at their keyboards all day “creating”. Creation of stories and poems happens as a result of a life lived.

Share your writing with trusted critics. “Criticism” does not mean finding errors. It encompasses praise along with suggestions for improvement.

Read Every Day

Follow your instincts- write in your authentic voice, ye be willing to experiment in order to find your voice.
And finally
Read every day.
I did not tell them to write every day because I would be a hypocrite. I don’t write every day. Life gets in the way, but reading is part of th writing process. It keeps my writing muscles ready.

Happy Writing.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Drunk, And In Charge of A Bicycle

I wish I could take credit for the title of today's blog, but I owe those honors to Ray Bradbury. In Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, and he writes as a step for preparing to b a writer: “Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, you’re your tongue, your hand. And, above all poetry is compacted metaphor or simile. Such metaphors , like Japanese paper flowers, may expand outward into gigantic shapes, ideas lie everywhere through the poetry books, yet how rarely have I heard short story teachers recommend them for browsing.”

Today's exercise: read a poem and respond to the poem with a poem.

Happy Writing.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Stretching Your Writing Muscles

This question was posed by one of my followers. (Sounds like I am leading a writing cult.)
“If a writer is writing every kind of genre, how do you know what genre your writing falls under and how do you perfect that? …I wrote a novel, [and] what I have always written and truly loved poetry. I have met writers who write sci-fi, mysteries, poetry, children's books, plays, songs, short stories, romances, etc. I want to get published and write great works, so can this happen if I am a Jack-of-all-writers?”

That's a huge, and timeless question. I’d like to open this up to YOU, and get YOUR feedback. Here is MY response.
First, write what you love. If you don't read sci-fi, or even like sci-fi, don't write it. It will never feel like it comes from a "real" place inside you. Most likely your writing will be formulaic, which might be marketable, but not satisfying to write.
The way to find your genre, or writing niche, is to write. Try writing something "out of your comfort zone." I used to regard myself strictly as a fiction writer, and I only wrote poetry for language practice. But then a funny thing happened; people liked my poetry, and I started getting a lot of it published.
I think of writing in a variety of genres is like cross training for a sport.
I never recommend writing just for market unless you write nonfiction

This was the complex answer. Of course the simple answer is: Read and Write. Then write some more, then read in the genre for which you write.


Happy Writing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

“The word was born in the blood and flew through the lips and the mouth…” Pablo Neruda, The Word.

Words are the basic tools for writers and poets, and the more skillfully we use them, the better our writing. In novels and books, writers can get away with occasional lapses of language, but in poems, every word counts. What doesn’t play a role shouldn’t exist, and passive diction should be annihilated. One misconception about poetry is that, since they are usually short, poems don’t take long to create. Sometimes it takes months and years for that draft to simmer. The real writing begins on revision. Think about the word itself re-vision- a means to see your work all over again. Sometimes the best thing you csn do for a poem is stuff it in a drawer for awhile and not look at it for several days or weeks. You will look at it with a fresh set of eyes.

Today’s prompt will show my age. Take an old record album (you can find these at Goodwill, yard sales, library shops), preferably a double album, and randomly select the titles(about 10-12) that jump out at you. Then use these titles inside lines of your poem.
Here is my example.

Henry Mancini’s Greatest Hits:

A happy barefoot boy hums
The love theme from Romeo and Juliet
As Nicholas and Alexandra leap
Across the continental bridge
Over troubled water. “El condor pasa,”
Says Mrs. Robinson, interrupting
The sound of silence at Scarborough Fair,
Thinking her own life would make a great love story.

A shaft of magnificent seven stars
Glow misty as a Hawaiian wedding song. A baby elephant
walks under a sweetheart tree with a midnight cowboy
as Peter guns the engine toward Moon River.

Michelle, the girl from Ipanema, doesn’t buy into the charade.
Dear heart flies like a shot in the dark out of Norwegian Wood
With all my loving, and I love her like a hard day’s night,
Even as raindrops keep falling on my head.

By the time I get to Phoenix the entertainer
Has played the Pink Panther theme on seventy six trombones.
It was good, bad, and ugly. Mr Mancini, how soon you left,
At high noon, during the days of wine and roses,
Leaving behind the windmills of your mind.
Laura Moe ©2006

Happy Writing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Poetry Contests and the Punctuation Olympics

I recently sponsored a poetry contest at my middle/high school, and this year my judges were vocal about the punctuation, or lack thereof. Many beginning poets have this misconception that poetry is free, and the rules of grammar don’t apply to it. Guess what? You STILL GOTTA USE COMMAS AND PERIODS IN POEMS. Yes, enjambed lines do not need to be stopped, but if you write a line that in prose would use a comma, PUT A COMMA IN YOUR POEM. Otherwise you risk confusing the reader. A line like : This poem reminded me of running into an old friend years later the conversation picked up where it dangled thirty years before. is a run-on sentence

For clarity, I punctuated (and tightened)it ;

This poem reminds me of running into an old friend,
the conversation picks up where it dangled thirty years ago.

Today's Exercise, visit :
link to chomp chomp.com (Grammar Bytes) and do some interactive grammar practice.

If you live in Ohio, you may be intereted in the follwoing poetry festival:
Please mark your calendars for April 15 and 16 for the 10th anniversary weekend of Power of Poetry. After last year’s remarkable event, we are once again bringing great poets, music and surprises to the scenic Hocking Hills.

Please visit our updated website at www.powerofpoetry.org

All donations are tax-deductible. Please make checks to:


26488 Starr Rt.

Logan, OH 43138

We would appreciate your sending us names of anyone you know who would enjoy getting these newsletters. Please send to owl@ohiohills.com(I like his newsletter, so I recommend signing up for it even if you miss the conference.)

Happy Writing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Metaphors Can Reduce the Distance." A line from Kafka On The Shore.

Former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser designs with writing exercises on metaphor. Here is one of his favorites. Following these steps will build bridges between dissimilar things.
1: Brainstorm a list of totally dissimilar things (This can be objects or concepts)
2: Pick the TWO things from your list that are the most dissimilar and try to figure out if there are ANY relationships between them at all. Make a list of similarities.
3: Draft a short poem that shows the relationship between your two disparate subjects. Make sure each detail works logically on both sides of the metaphor.

When I did this exercise the first time I happened to be sitting in a library where I saw a book entitled How to Remodel a Man, and here is the poem I created:

How to Remodel a Man
I find a library book
called How to Remodel a Man,
an instruction model for love, as if a man is constructed
of hollow rooms, rooms only we can fill
with our desires and dusty knick knacks,
as if he is a prefabricated bookcase made of flimsy wood,
filled with used paperback novels, as if a man
is a weekend cabin, and we are the new addition,
as if he is a mobile home and we are the newly laid foundation,
and he is a stinky old refrigerator in the garage full of Budweiser,
or the one car garage and we are the crimson red Porsche;
he is stained concrete and messy metal shelves and we are the mop and bucket, as if his cabinets are missing the hardware and we are the brass,
and he is a sink full of dishes caked in dried food, as if a man
is a stove with a broken timer or a water heater on the fritz,
the lumpy futon with mismatched pillows and cat piss stains,
as if he is a bathroom with leaky pipes and moldy fittings,
a washing machine that catches fire and you are the extinguisher,
as if a man is a set of rickety steps that lead to a spider filed attic,
and he is the doorknob that keeps falling off when you enter his rooms,
as if he is a bedroom window painted shut and you are here to scrape
the edges of his frame, as if his frame is nailed shut and you are the only one who can extract those nails with the claw end of a hammer, and he is the door that dangles on its hinges, screeches in protest each time you
open it another inch.

Laura Moe ©2009

Happy Writing.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Even Poets Need a Plan For Marketing Their Work

I feared the Marketing Your Writing workshop I attended today might be a dry MBA talk, or worse, an infomercial for the writing career coach, Tiffany Colter. (www.WritingCareerCoach.com) The workshop was engaging, practical, and at times, funny. Tiffany provided us with interactive workbooks where each participant identified what he or she wanted and the steps needed to achieve those goals. She discussed business plans and reasons why writers need this as much as any small business, particularly “Indie” authors who don’t have the benefit of an agent or large publishing house. Yet even writers who publish with mainstream publishers need to manage their time and money while promoting their books. She helped me identify my own roadblocks to getting writing done: TV, housework, my job, and most of all, not having specific goals. Now that I have it on paper, I have a reference point to check up on myself. Writing the stuff is easy, it’s marketing that hangs me up, but now I have some tools to help me increase my readership. “Dream big, but have small goals.” What Tiffany means is to have a large goal, divide it into manageable chunks.
This can apply to writing as well. Sure we’d all like to publish a book, but start by getting poems or articles published in journals. You won’t get rich, bur you will have an audience.

Exercise of the day: rewrite an existing poem(possibly failed or one that are on the fence about) using a different point of view. If the poem is in third person, redo in first or vice versa. Take it up a notch and write it someone else's voice.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Poem a Day Keeps You ... Writing a Poem a Day

I started to do the 2011 thirty days of poetry exercises from http://ofkells.blogspot.com/

Given the odds, if I write thirty poems, chances are at least one will be submittable. (Word is telling me that’s not a word.) But maybe not. I won’t jump off a bridge if they’re all lousy. That’s the nature of writing. You write some, you massacre some.

Here are my eleven words. (Yes, I’m an overachiever.) The closest book to me on my desk is my novel in progress Chasing The Dragon since I am adding last minute edits. Sophomore, Day, Ace, Bitch, Heart, Jam, Long, Bus, Meeting, Excuse, Woods.
Here is the crazy thing I came up with:

My Ten words from page 29 poem

A long meeting on a sunny day merges
into Sophomore jams in the woods, escaping behind the school bus
with Dawn Boles, forging our excuses
in well practiced replicas of our father’s signatures.
I was good at forgery. I should have become
a forger. They don’t hold meetings do they?
Where they bitch about the price of ink?

Laura Moe©2011
Okay, it's no masterpiece, but we've only just begun. I seem to be full of cliches today. full of something anyway.
Here is the prompt of the day:
The Following exercise comes from Stephen Lloyd Weber:
Fill-in-the-Blank Poem
Below, I provide some words to use in a five-stanza poem. Build text around the words using a variety of phrase structures.

Example stanza:
keep So keeping some of the pearls
hoarse for yourself, hoarse-lunged with heavy breath,
whole devour the pink swine whole.

Stanza 1
Stanza 2
Stanza 3
pledge allegiance
Stanza 4
Stanza 5

to sign up for his online exercises: comments@writingimmersion.com

Happy Writing

Poetry Will Save Your Life

It is National Poetry Month, and I can’t think of a better way to begin than a PABLO NERUDA poem.


To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
In house or office, factory or woman
Or street or mine or harsh prison cell:
To him I come, and without speaking or looking,
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
And a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
A great fragment of thunder sets in motion
The rumble of the planet sets in foam,
The raucous rivers of the ocean flood,
The star vibrates swiftly in its course,
And the sea is beating, dying and continuing.

So, drawn on by my destiny
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
The sea’s lamenting in my awareness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
And gather it up in a perpetual cup
So that, wherever those in prison may be,
Wherever they suffer the autumn’s castigation,
I may be there with an errant wave.
I may move, passing through windows,
And hearing me, eyes will glance upward
Saying, “How can I reach the sea?”
And I shall broadcast, saying nothing,
The story echoes of the wave,
A breaking up of foam and of quicksand,
A rustling of salt withdrawing,
The great cry of sea-birds on the coast.

So through me, freedom and the sea
Will make their answer to the shattered heart.

From Neruda: Selected Poems (1970), translated by Alistair Reid

Poetry exercise: Take an old failed poem, cut it into pieces, word by word, and rearrange the words in a new order. Eliminate words that don’t belong. Cutting the excess baggage may help you find the heart of the poem. Or it may end up being another failed poem.

Happy Writing.