Writers, poets and other artists are often the change agents in a world that seeks the balance of reason to counter violence, injustice or stagnation.
On Saturday, 27 September, 100,000 Poets (and Writers, Musicians, Artists and Activists) will join in cities and towns around the world to explore and inspire positive changes for issues of human rights, poverty, hunger, climate, and peace-making. You can learn more about that effort and see what’s happening in your area by linking HERE.
The Bardo Group is hosting a virtual event as a vehicle to facilitate blogger participation and also for those who may not live near an off-line event or who may be homebound. Tomorrow, we are jump-starting our participation with our traditional Writers’ First Wednesday prompt. Novelist, poet and writing coach, Victoria C. Slotto will host Got Change? and you are invited to share your thoughts and work by linking in through Mister Linky or by leaving comments or links in the comment section.
Please join us on The Bardo Group blog tomorrow for Victoria’s Writers’ Fourth Wednesday.
Details on our virtual participation with 100,000 Poets for Change event are HERE.
With the help and support of talented bloggers and readers, I founded The Bardo Group because I feel that blogging offers a means to see one another in our simple humanity, as brothers and sisters and not as “other.” I am the poetry liaison and a member of the Core Team. Terri Stewart (Beguine Again) is in the lead position and the Beguine Again collaborative and The Bardo Group are coordinating a consolidation of the two groups.
“Good work, like good talk or any other form of worthwhile human relationship, depends upon being able to assume an extended shared world.” Stefan Collini (b. 1947), English Literary Critic and Professor of English Literature at Cambridge
Starting August 31 at The Bardo Group, we are celebrating Wilderness Week (details HERE) hosted by Pricilla Galasso(scillagrace). We thought that this would be a great leaping off place for Writers’ Fourth Wednesday invitation to creativity. We hope you link in your related work here and during our International Wilderness Week celebrations.
Think of how many poets and writers have been influenced by what I would call raw nature. Thoreau fled to Walden, Basho walked the shores of Japan, Gary Snyder and John Muir touted the environmental cause in the uninhabited regions of the Northwest, while Mary Oliver revels in the beauty of Massachusetts and the Northeast. Wordsworth, Audubon, Emerson…the list could go on and on.
So, today, I invite you to join your voice in poetry or prose to that of so many who have turned to untamed nature for inspiration. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
• Choose a photo or painting of a nature artist and write an Ekphrastic poem about the work of art. (Ansel Adams, Bierstadt…)
• Go into the wilderness and let your surroundings speak to your pen. • Choose specific flora or fauna about which to write. • Take a classical myth that has a wilderness theme and write about it.
• Read the work of a wilderness poet or writer and let their words inspire yours.
• Write of an undeveloped area in your own country or region, a place you’ve visited or would like to visit.
• Perhaps you would like to contrast urban and rural living or develop a patch of the wild in a city. • Write an environmentally themed poem or short essay.
• Write a children’s poem to open them to the wonders of nature.
• Oh, and did I mention, take yourself into the wilderness?!
If you would like to share your work with us (and I hope you will) use Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post, or add your link in the comments.
To access Mister Linky (below in green):
• Write your submission and post it on your blog.
• Copy and paste the URL to your submission along with your identifier in the spaces provided by Mister. Linky.
• Visit and comment on other participants, as time allows.
• Enjoy the process. It is not a challenge, but rather an invitation.
I’m fortunate to live in a mostly rural area in the Sierra Nevada, about 30-40 minutes from beautiful Lake Tahoe. And I’m ashamed to say I’m lucky if I get there once a year. I’m glad for this opportunity to change that in the near future.
Writers’ Fourth Wednesday prompt is hosted by Victoria from January through October. Victoria’s next Fourth Wednesday writers’ prompt will post at 12:01 a.m. PST on September 24. Please join us. Mister Linky will remain open for seventy-two hours so that you can link your response to this blog. If you find Mister Linky too cumbersome to use, please feel free to leave your link in the comments section on Wednesday. Victoria and Jamie will read and comment and we hope you will read each other’s work as well, comment and encourage.
The great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is best known for his Divine Comedy, an extensive poem in which the reader, guided by Virgil and Beatrice, journeys on a pilgrimage to hell, purgatory and heaven. This vast work, in poetic form that is divided into Cantos, is one of a number of literary gems that we categorize as an allegory.
Put simply, an allegory is an extended metaphor. As we all know, metaphor is a commonly used device in our poetic toolbox—an image that stands in for, or symbolizes something else. In choosing to write an allegorical poem, Dante recognized that everything in his poem needed to be metaphorical.
His skill may be seen in the subtlety of his use of these representations. In the Middle Ages, playwrights, painters and other artists turned to allegory. Biblical scholars recognized passages of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament as allegorical. Characters named Lust or Greed inhabited the stage of morality plays.
Dante was not so obvious about it. He introduced us to lust, for example, in the characters of Paolo and Francesca, who share the story of their fall into adultery with the pilgrim. In addition, Dante created punishments for each circle of hell that fit the sin leading the lost soul to damnation. For example, in his hell, those who sinned by lust spent eternity whirling around in a dark wind.
Artists in all genres have turned to allegory. Consider such contemporary works as “Star Trek,” “Avatar,” or the “The Lord of the Rings.”
To give an example of an allegorical poem, I am choosing one of my own in order to escape accidental copyright infringement. You may remember it from a previous post on my blog:
Alternate Uses for a Steak Knife
I know better than to dig blindly in the tool box.
The knife— sharp as it was the day he died
ten years ago. A bit of rust next to the handle
crusted with dirt. I can see him digging
beside the Sago Palm, uprooting stubborn weeds,
opening boxes, slicing through years of crap
to get at truth. Then he would sharpen the blade.
Listen carefully, hear the song of steel meeting flint.
That last time, could he guess that I would bleed?
In writing this, I could have chosen the title “Grief,” or “Mourning my Father.” Instead, I elected to trust the reader to figure out for himself the meaning hidden within the symbolism that I offered.
For today’s prompt, let’s visit allegory. Here are a few ways you might approach it:
• Write your own allegorical poem or short prose. Remember: extended metaphor. But I suggest you keep it briefer than Dante’s!
• Write about an already-written allegory. You might check out Dante or do a Google search on allegory.
• In our age, many have different understandings of what the hell or heaven means. Or purgatory, for that matter. Maybe you’ll enjoy writing your own allegory about this topic.
• Find a piece of allegorical art—they’re out there—and write an ekphrasis about it.
• Try a short piece of poetic, allegorical narrative.
• Check out the Bible or another sacred text for allegory and use that as a starting point.
If you’re able to join us: Write your poem or prose; Post it on your blog or website; Click on Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post and enter your name and the direct URL of your post; Visit other poets’ work if you like and offer a comment while you’re at it. Have fun.
Writers’ Fourth Wednesday prompt is hosted by Victoria from January through October. Victoria’s next Fourth Wednesday writers’ prompt will post at 12:01 a.m. PST on August 27. Please join us. Mister Linky will remain open for seventy-two hours so that you can link your response to this blog. If you find Mister Linky too cumbersome to use, please feel free to leave your link in the comments section on Wednesday. Victoria and Jamie will read and comment and we hope you will read each other’s work as well, comment and encourage.
When introducing school-age children to the world of visual art back when I was a docent at the Nevada Museum of Art, I used to like to ask them, “What tools do artists use?” Typical answers include, “Paint, canvases, clay, ink…” and, indeed, it’s logical that these are the first things that come to mind for most of us. But then, standing before a painting or sculpture, I invited the children to take their responses a step further and, in so doing, we entered the sphere of the elements and principles of art.
As a would-be artist, I’ve learned that the elements and principles of art are tools can serve poets and writers, as well as visual artists. These tools include color, line, shape, space, texture, perspective, balance, contrast, movement, form, pattern, value, emphasis, rhythm and unity. Can you see how visual artists reach into their tool boxes and grab one or more of these to produce a painting or sculpture that will appeal to the eye and will elicit an emotional response? And how they might enrich your own work?
Today, I’d like to discuss Texture.
Texture refers to the surface quality, whether actual or implied, of artwork. Actual or tactile texture is present when, if you were to touch the piece, you would feel its roughness or smoothness. Implied texture is achieved through illusory techniques that allow your imagination to tell you how an object in the painting would feel.
To create rough texture in a painting, the artist uses heavy applications of paint with a brush or palette knife and layers it on the surface of the painting. This process is called impasto. Simulated or implied texture occurs when the artist creates the impression of smoothness or roughness. To do this he uses color and value contrasts, a dry brush technique, or broken lines. Collage is an art form that emphasizes texture through use of contrasting materials such as fabric, paper, wood, paint, fiber and natural objects.
For this Writers’ Fourth Wednesday, I invite you, as word artisans, to create textural poetry or prose.
You may choose to focus on texture as the subject of your poem, exploring and reproducing the rough texture of tree bark or wood, the smooth feel of a baby’s or lover’s body, the cool gloss of ice or the warm fuzz of a cuddly kitten.
Or select words that are textural when spoken, perhaps including a recording of your spoken verse.
Another option is to select a piece of art that is textured and write to that. Some artists known for texture include the masters Rembrandt and Titian, Impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh, or abstract expressionists such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.
Perhaps you have a painting, sculpture or photograph of your own that you would like to showcase.
I hope you enjoy bringing the sense of touch to your writing and look forward to reading your contributions, should you chose to share them. Above all, have fun adding texture to your creative tool box.
To link simply write your piece and post it on your website or blog, then copy the direct URL of your work into Mr. LInky.
2014, essay, Victoria C. Slotto, All rights reserved; photographs as indicated
Writers’ Fourth Wednesday prompt is hosted by Victoria from January through October. Victoria’s next Fourth Wednesday writers’ prompt will post at 12:01 a.m. PST on July 23. Please join us. Mister Linky will remain open for seventy-two hours so that you can link your response to this blog. If you find Mister Linky too cumbersome to use, please feel free to leave your link in the comments section on Wednesday. Victoria and Jamie will read and comment and we hope you will read each other’s work as well, comment and encourage.
Have you ever visited a museum or found yourself and your camera lost in the beauty of nature and sought to describe your feelings and the experience in words?
Perhaps the art was one of the great classical works of a Rembrandt or the impressionism of Van Gogh. Maybe it was a piece of abstract impressionism or a Warhol print. Or a photo by a famous photographer such as Ansel Adams or Annie Liebowitz. Or the work of a fellow blogger, a friend, or even your own picture that you managed to capture there in the backyard, the forest, the desert, or city. Portrait, still life or landscape…all have the possibility of tickling the muse.
Ekphrasis is a term for writing that is inspired by a work of art, whatever media or subject that may be. A familiar example is Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn.
Ode on a Grecian Urn
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, Thou foster-child of silence and slow time, Sylvan historian, who canst thus express A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape Of deities or mortals, or of both, In Tempe or the dales of Arcady? What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? (Excerpt: Public Domain)
A much lengthier poem, Keats goes on to describe this unknown work to us, but even more so, to share its effect on him, the poet.
Since we are in the midst of celebrating International Photography Month, I thought for today it would be appropriate to use some of the photographs offered up by our fellow Bardo authors and readers as an inspiration for today’s prompt. Consider, as well, using one of your own to get that pen or pencil to paper engaged, or your fingers dancing on the keyboard.
Should you choose to share your work here, here’s how to do it:
• Write your poem, flash fiction or essay and post it to your blog or website. • Copy the direct URL of your post and paste it into the Mr. Linky at the bottom of this page. If you prefer, simply add the link to comments. • Include the photo that gave you inspiration or the link in your post. Also credit the photographer.
Here are a few photos to choose from, if you like:
Many thanks, Terri and Naomi, for sharing your talent.
– Victoria C. Slotto
2014, essay, Victoria C. Slotto, All rights reserved; photographs as indicated
To join in today just click on the MisterLinky button below to add a link to your work or you may just leave the link in the comment secion below. You have seventy-two hours to link something in. Victoria and Jamie will visit and comment and we hope that you will visit others and provide support and comment as well.
Writers’ Fourth Wednesday prompt is hosted by Victoria from January through October. Victoria’s next Fourth Wednesday writers’ prompt will post at 12:01 a.m. PST on June 25. Please join us. Mister Linky will remain open for seventy-two hours so that you can link your response to this blog.If you find Mister Linky too cumbersome to use, please feel free to leave your link in the comments section on Wednesday. Victoria and Jamie will read and comment and we hope you will read each other’s work as well, comment and encourage.
As a would-be artist and a former museum docent, I enjoy playing with the elements of art in my writing–both in fiction and poetry. A favorite is to use color to create mood. In art, abstract expressionists often use color as the primary tool to convey their “story.” There are many interpretations of the meaning or symbolism accorded to each color. I’m offering a few of my own: Yellow is a happy color and can be used to liven up a scene–to make it joyful, while Redsignifies anger, passion, love. Think about it: when you’re feeling intense emotions, such as rage and close your eyes, sometimes your visual field appears red. Blue and Green convey calm and peace Black represents the unknown or fear while Brown is a grounded, earthy color. Violet or Lavender speak of spirituality while White is used to represent truth and innocence.
My interpretation is gleaned, in great part, from a book I use for dream interpretation and it seems to work well for me. Perhaps you will see it differently. Consider that, in Asian countries, red is used for funerals and white for funerals. Both culture and personal life experience influence how we see color. (Reference: The Dream Book by Betty Bethards) I’m including a short description from my novel, Winter is Past, that strives to convey a mood using color. In the dim light, the church, clothed in red, marked the joyous season of Pentecost.The altar was covered in an abundance of flowers—gold, yellow, orange and red gladioli—tongues of flame marking the climax of the Pascal season. Helene’s mood, however, was somber, spiraling into blackness. The red surrounding her spoke to her of blood and death—the death of her spirit. She suppressed a sob…
Do you have an example from your own writing you would like to share? How do you see color as it influences mood? We invite you join in, if you like, using Mister Linky at the bottom of this post or simply add your link in the comments secion if you prefer.
VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~ is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past,published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012, is Victoria’s first novel. A second novel is in process. On Amazon and hot-off-the-press nonfiction is Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s ebooks (poetry and nonfiction) are free to Amazon Prime Members. Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page. Editorial note: Congratulations, Victoria, on that the long awaited publication of print copies of Jacaranda Rain, Collected Poems, 2012, Beautifully done.Writers’ Fourth Wednesday is hosted by Victoria from January through October and posts at 12:01 a.m. PST. The next Writers’ Fourth Wednesday is scheduled for May 28. In (unofficial) concert with the American Academy of Poets, Corina Ravenscraft (Dragon’s Dreams) will host A Poem in Your Pocket on Thursday, April 24. You are invited share your own work or that of a favorite poet. Instructions for sharing will be included in the post, which will go up at 12:01 a.m. P.S.T.
Poet, novelist and writing coach, Victoria C. Slotto is host. The prompt is about writing with color and it will go up at 12:01 a.m. PST on this blog. We hope you link in your own work – you have seventy-two hours to do so – and share it with us and that you will visit and support other participants.
Photo credit ~ Victoria Slotto, All rights reserved
Those of us who write fiction or poetry often struggle in choosing the most appropriate person for our narrator. I chose the first person when I began the initial draft of my first novel. A few years later, when the first draft was all but completed, an agent at a writer’s conference told me that agents and publishers no longer wanted first person, that I would get nowhere with it. Being a naive newbie, I spent a year or more changing it to third person, and then began the arduous task of submission. The feedback I got with my many rejection slips was that the protagonist lacked feeling, was not sympathetic. One morning I woke up with the keen realization that I needed to change it back to first person in order to allow the reader a more intimate and emotional connection with my protagonist. So, one again, I revised. These shifts of person probably cost me three years…perhaps more, because in the meantime I put it aside and wrote another novel in first draft.
My story is to remind us all of the importance of making a careful choice when it comes to first, second or third person. As you know, second person point of view uses the pronoun “you” and its variants to address the protagonist, the reader or a specific person or object. First person point of view allows intimate insight into the mind and emotion of the protagonist but limits the same for secondary and minor characters. It also confines the writer to a specific time and place. Third person, on the other hand, presents the story from the writer’s point of view, allowing her or him to comment on the story and giving omniscience into all the players. A downside is that it restrains the reader from a deeper emotional connection with the protagonist whose reactions always seem just a bit beyond our reach
As for second person point of view in fiction, there are authors such as William Faulkner who may include short sections or chapters in the second person, but I can’t remember reading an entire novel in this voice, although I suspect it has been done. A few years back, an MFA student in my writing critique group wrote quite effective short stories in the second person. Her stories gave me the impression, as expected, that she was speaking directly to me and, at times, instructing me.
It is less rare to encounter poetry in the second person. As poets, we love to address our “audience,” celebrity figures, other poets or teachers who have an influence on us, people we love (or hate), God, mythological figures, people from our past. Consider this poem by the well-known 17th Century poet, Robert Herrick.
TO THE VIRGINS, TO MAKE MUCH OF TIME
GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer ;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry :
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.
– Robert Herrick
The poem is written in the imperative form, instructive to the reader or listener. I read it recently under the title “To Young Virgins,” which gives a sense of his intended audience, though his underlying message applies to everyone, reminding us that time passes quickly. Another example, this one by Walt Whitman, addresses a city.
CITY OF ORGIES
CITY of my walks and joys!
City whom that I have lived and sung there will one day make you illustrious,
Not the pageants of you–not your shifting tableaux, your spectacles, repay me,
Not the interminable rows of your houses, nor the ships at the wharves,
Nor the processions in the streets, nor the bright windows with goods in them,
Nor to converse with learn’d persons, or bear my share in the soiree or feast;
Not those, but as I pass O Manhattan, your frequent and swift flash of eyes offering me love,
Offering response to my own–these repay me,
Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me.
– Walt Whitman (from the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, it became City of Orgies in the 1867 edition)
And so, for March’s prompt, I invite you to write a poem, flash fiction or even a paragraph in the second person. Many of you do this routinely, so I challenge (not confine) you to a more specific prompt. Consider addressing: • Your favorite poet, one who has influenced your own writing; • A celebrity you would invite to dinner if you had a choice; • An inanimate object; • An entity such as time, a holiday, an event from history; • Rewriting one of your own poems from 1st or 3rd person into second. If you would like to participate in the community opportunity: • Write your poem or prose and post it on your blog or website; • Access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post and add your name and the direct URL to your submission; • Enjoy your time writing and reading poetry. I will look forward to reading those who drop by. And if you would rather not be a part of the public forum, I hope you’ll try anyway. This is not a contest; it’s only to tickle your muse!
Please share YOUR work in response to the prompt by clicking on the Mister Linky sign (below in green) and then enter your name and paste in the URL to your post. Victoria will visit and comment and so will Jamie Dedes. We hope you’ll also visit one another to read, comment and encourage. Thank you!
I am a visual, hands-on learner. My husband is more auditory. If I’m sitting through a lecture, I need to take notes in order to incorporate the key points being delivered. David will just sit, listen and absorb. It’s disconcerting to both of us when he starts discussing things such as the stock market or how to improve my golf swing and I don’t follow…(and it’s hard to take notes when you’re already in bed.)
People do differ in their favored modes of sensory perception. You may want to touch or taste, while your friend will associate sounds, colors or aromas with a place or event. That’s why it’s important to evaluate descriptions in terms of the senses. Make sure you haven’t just focused on those things that speak to you.
Last Thursday at dVerse Poets’ Pub, I offered a prompt, asking those who wished to participate to really pay attention to an object, to dissect it with their senses, to let it tell a story or tease out a long forgotten memory.
Here’s what I suggested:
You could begin by enlisting the help of your senses. How does it smell, taste, feel to touch? Describe what you see or hear. Does it make you feel a certain way or engage a memory? Where did you find it? Give some environmental details if appropriate. Are there any verbs that pop into mind when you see this thing?
Go ahead, take it a step further. Is it possible that this artifact can be used metaphorically? Does that stale bread remind you of a relationship, or the gravel beneath your bare feet the pain you find along life’s journey? Does it, perhaps, remind you of someone or something in your own life? Personify it, if you like.
I’d like to share with you some examples from the opening chapter of my novel, The Sin of His Father. The protagonist is at the deathbed of his mother. Here’s how I’ve tried to incorporate the senses:
Sight: “The dim light threw his mother’s profile into an eerie silhouette. It was as though someone had let the air out of a grotesque balloon–the parody of an Irish washer woman paraded down Columbus Drive in downtown Chicago on St. Paddy’s day…”
Taste: “…the taste of bitter coffee he’d sipped a few hours earlier crept up his esophagus and caused him to gag.”
Hearing: “Ellen’s roommate breathed slowly before turning in her sleep. That was the only sound Matt heard, aside from his mother’s raspy breathing, the bubbles of the oxygen humidifier and the gentle hiss of the gas escaping around the small prongs sticking in her nose.”
Touch: “He fondled the smooth bowl of the pipe that waited for his attention in the pocket of his jacket and longed to step outside to indulge his habit.”
Smell: “His mother’s fetid breath stroked his cheek. He wanted to flee the close air of the room and take off into the night.”
Attention to sensory descriptions throughout the process of rewriting is an excellent way to enrich your manuscript. Perhaps you will select a key scene from one of your stories or a poem and rewrite it, utilizing as many senses as you can. Or write a new paragraph or poem that focuses on sensory detail. Check out the post at dVerse if you like for some samples of poetry, including Neruda, Keats and myself.
To Participate as a Group:
Write your poem or short prose and post it on your blog or website.
Access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post and add your name and the direct URL to your post.
Visit others, if you are able, and see what they came up with. Reading each other’s work is, for me, a great way to learn.
Many writers, myself included, are in love with words. In some traditions, words acquire a sacred dimension. Creation comes into being through God’s word in the Hebrew scripture. The Word became flesh in Christian belief. I often use the letters of the Hebrew alphabet to lead me into meditation as they are considered to hold the power of creation and are full of symbolic meaning and creative energy.
A few years ago I read a book by Rabbi David Cooper titled “God is a Verb.” His understanding is that God has not ceased the work of creation and that God asks us to become co-creators with him. Rabbi Cooper calls this activity of God God-ing and refers to our participation as, for example, David-ing in his case, or, in mine, Victoria-ing. As each of us uses our talents in art or writing or photography we continue the work of creation. So take your own name, add that –ing and go to it!
For today’s post and writing prompt, I’d like to take a look at the role of verbs. When I first ventured into the world of creative writing, one of my major flaws involved an abundant use of passive voice and boring verbs, hyperbolic adjectives and taxing adverbs…perhaps because so much of my early writing emerged in the context of business. Although I haven’t yet “arrived,” participation in critique groups and reading about the art of writing, offered an important insight: active verbs give life to prose and poetry. My earlier attempts to create character and description often fell flat.
Adverbs and adjectives are part of our language for a reason—to add color, texture and other artistic elements to our verbal armory, but discriminating use of these words, peppered with verbs that rock, do make a difference. While there is a role for telling and judicious use of passive voice, success lies in knowing how to achieve balance.
Here are a couple of examples/definitions of what I’m trying to say:
Passive voice—when something is done to the object: The child was bitten by a bee.
Active voice, the subject is the doer: The bee bit the child.
And overuse of adjectives and adverbs: The hefty pass-kicker adroitly kicked the ball between the goal post in spite of the blustery wind.
I’d like to share a poem posted by fellow poet, Jane Hewey on her blog:
Scar Hopping Copyright: Jane Hewey
Glacial divides bypass
the dusty canyons thrusting
their will. Moons crawl
through midnights; I want
to touch your singular hurt, wrap it with my hands
and light-soaked cloths.
I would warm it through
your thick white skin, force myself
into its cold-singe. I want
to evoke you out of the scar
like arctic char augured
from an eight inch ice hole.
I’ve added italics to some of the singular verb and verb derivatives (such as gerunds) Jane chose. While she does use descriptors, the verbs add so much to the flow and strength of the poem.
I hope this inspire you to write a poem, flash fiction or essay incorporating a rich use of verbs. You may want to select something from your archives that never quite satisfied you and try to spice it us a bit. Maybe it’s heavy on adverbs and adjectives, even bordering on “purple prose.” Or grab a dictionary and discover a verb or two that’s new to you.
Feel free to share your results, if you like. To join in:
Write your poem and post it on your blog or website;
Copy and paste the direct URL to your poem to Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post, adding your name or identifier where he prompts you;
I’ll visit you and comment and we hope that you will visit and encourage one another
Above all, have fun and remember—you are a co-creator!
Special thanks to Jane for allowing me to share her copyrighted poem
(Portions of this post were recently offered at dVerse Poets’ Pub, another site for which I write each month. If you write poetry and are not familiar with this poetry community, it is a source of excellent articles about all things poetic and offers several prompts each week, including a night for Open Links!)
I suspect that each of us can identify poets and writers who have had significant influence on our writing. Perhaps some of these who mentor us, whether or not they are aware of their influence, enjoy renown—Poet Laureates, Pulitzer or Nobel Prize winners, for example. Others may be more obscure poets or even those we have met in our blogging communities.
Those of us who have not had the advantage of higher education in our art still have the opportunity to learn independently by reading books on craft of writing and, above all, by drinking in the work of those we admire. Read, read, read is perhaps the wisest advice offered to writers of all ilk. My addiction to the intoxicating world of literary art is supported by the ease of access offered by the Internet and through my Kindle which offers free downloads of so many of our predecessors.
I invite you to take a moment, a pencil, and a piece of paper. Now, sit back and list a dozen or so wordsmiths whose art has helped shape your own. Here’s a sampling of those whom I’ve come up with: Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Stanley Kunitz, Basho, William Wordsworth, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jane Hirschfield, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Ted Kooser, Dorianne Laux,…oh, and I haven’t even started to think about you who I’ve encountered on the Internet.
A literary allusion in poetry is, simply put, a reference to another literary work. This can encompass sources such as mythology, the Bible, performance art, a novel, visual art or a poem. Think of it as a sort of hypertext, linking the reader to another piece of literature, art, or any form of creative expression. Examples of literary allusion also include ekphrasis and response poetry. Perhaps you are familiar with ekphrasis, when a work of visual art serves as the inspiration for a poem. A response poem is written, as it implies, in response to another poet, a sort of answering-back.
I will use a couple of my own poems as an example so that I don’t mess with copyright infringement.
Editorial note and reminder: Next Wednesday, September 25, at 7 p.m. we will host a second writing challenge (Writer’s Fourth Wednesday) featuring Victoria C. Slotto, novelist and poet. The subject of next week’s challange is Literary Allusion. So writers read on, enjoy, write and mark your calendars for next week’s event. Mr Linky, which enables you to share your work with everyone, will remain open for seventy-two hours. Victoria will visit all participants to read and comment.
Here British poet, author and poetry teacher, Myra Schneider offers some thoughts on the possibilities and pitfalls of narrative poetry …
Narrative poetry is so different from lyrical that in many respects it is like another medium. A narrative poem needs to be structured as carefully as a novel and is likely to be less dense than a short poem yet it must still carry a sense of poetry, be more than condensed prose. What excites me most about this form is the chance to use voices very different from my own, to explore character, viewpoints and situations over a period of time. A narrative can express an idea in graphic action rather than in presenting it as an argument. Importantly, this medium can offer a route to writing about material which couldn’t be tackled in any other way.
Narrative poems are often rooted in difficult childhood and family experience. The great pitfall here is the danger of simply relating events as they happened intermixed with an outpouring of feelings. Releasing every detail of a painful memory on paper may be essential as a starting point but of course raw writing needs to be transformed to communicate to others. Selection, structuring and sometimes a measure of fictionalizing are necessary to convey the underlying truth to the reader. Widening the context beyond the narrator’s own reactions is likely to be a valuable contribution to the poem.
Donald Atkinson in his semi-autobiographical book-length A Sleep of Drowned Fathers and Kate Foley in her much shorter poem The Don’t Touch Garden have both written brilliant narratives with lively dialogue and sharp imagery showing different viewpoints in telescoped scenes which feature key moments or situations. Atkinson presents family life and traces his relationship with a violent and abusive father to a climactic incident when he is in his teens. His mother, who is trying to stand up for the children, calls him to help when her husband attacks her. The boy punches his father who collapses and it comes home to the reader that in reality the brutal man is very weak. The last sections show him as rich, isolated, sad and dying by accident in an appalling sex parlour. Yet what emerges is the narrator’s compassion and love for his father.
In The Don’t Touch Garden the narrator is an adopted child trying to make sense of the feeling that she didn’t fit with her mother. The climax of her story is the discovery of a bundle papers which reveal her identity. The adoptive mother is as much a focus as the child and there are graphic scenes which depict sympathetically the story of her background, marriage, and longing to have a child. Foley’s father, with whom she had a much easier relationship, is characterized in telling scenes. Important too is the wartime period in which the child grew up. There are very poignant moments in this many-stranded narrative which is told with wit, humour and economy.
The memory of childhood and relationships with parents can bring up such a welter of material it is difficult to find a route to a poetic narrative even though there is a strong urge to do so. This was my experience. I wanted to write about the way I was dominated by my father during my childhood and adult life and decided to create a fictional parallel with a main character whose life was very different life from mine. However, I couldn’t keep the fictional equivalent of my father under control. He ‘demanded’ sections in his voice which showed him behaving exactly as my father did. The result was he blotted out the daughter character and the poem didn’t develop properly. Discouraged after six months, I almost abandoned the poem but Mimi Khalvati gave me some encouraging feedback and I saw how to proceed. Looking back I realize I needed to write these ‘father scenes’ to clear an overwhelming anger out of my head. When I began again I confined the father to a few short scenes and fleshed out the narrative, widening the canvas with characters all of whom had difficulties to face in their lives. After about eighteen months the compressed novel Becoming found its shape.
Of course childhood and difficult personal relationships connected with it is only one source of personal subject matter for poems with a narrative element. Many poets (and non-poets) feel the need to write about the death of someone close and such poems often have a narrative drive. Understandably there is a desire to record every detail of a last illness but, as magazine editors and poetry judges are all too aware, writers often fall into the trap of offering a sad but drawn out story in which the material hasn’t been transformed.
Douglas Dunn’s moving book-length sequence, Elegies, about his wife Lesley’s illness and his own life after she died has a narrative thread but it is worth noting it barely touches on medical details and it doesn’t hammer out the harrowing day to day decline of his wife’s strength. What Dunn does is to make skilful shifts in chronology so that poems which recall incidents when Lesley was well are juxtaposed with graphic moments during the illness such as the couple looking at a hanging mobile of three seagulls made by a friend, the night before she died. These poems are sad yet celebratory and reveal the kind of person she was. The later part of the book traces the stages of grief and mourning which Dunn goes through as he re-lives events and finds ways of continuing to connect with his lost wife. Very controlled language and different kinds of strict form counterpoint the overwhelm of grief in this very moving sequence.
Many different kinds of personal material can trigger narrative poems. Gwyneth Lewis’s book-length Hospital Odysseywas inspired by her husband’s serious cancer illness and the frustration and fear she endured while he was undergoing treatment in an NHS hospital with all its inadequacies. Lewis turned the experience not into a painful account but a hugely inventive epic in nine books. She drew on the quest tradition, in particular Dante, but also created an extraordinary world in which matrons and consultants turn into creatures, diseases are personified, and microbes hold a manic ball. Maris, the heroine, is accompanied by two helpers rather as Dorothy was in the Wizard of Oz. Her search for her husband, Hardy, and for a way to find a cure that would save his life, takes her deeper and deeper into the underworld of hospital which perhaps is also a metaphor for the space in the human body. Lewis, following the literary tradition, sometimes addresses the reader and she is speaking for herself when she says the odyssey is one of healing that takes place in the head:
…….I won’t feel well
till this poem’s finished and I find what I mean
about health and loving. It’s a hospital,
this place I am constructing line by line.
There is satire and burlesque, as well as extremes of feeling in this complex and ambitious story. The whole, written in five line rhyming stanzas, is an extraordinary achievement and a wonderful illustration of how trauma can be transformed into a work of art which universalizes it.
Life experiences which have no direct connection with personal difficulties can also be the basis of narrative. I found it exciting to draw on my years of teaching disabled adults in writing Voicebox. The poem is entirely fiction but the trigger for the pivotal character, William, was a composite of clients I worked with, each of whom was wheelchair-bound and had speech problems. William, frustrated by his disabilities and his over-protective mother, is intelligent but antagonistic towards his mother, generally obstreperous and he lives mostly in fantasy. His outlet for self-expression is via his computer. Inventing him was liberating, great fun and extended my writing. Here is a brief excerpt from a poem he wrote after he’s seen a heron in a local park he went to with Katie, a neighbour and teacher, who’s taken an interest in him.
At middnight when the moon
berns whitely in the sky
William kreeps out to kiss his grilfrend
and heron snaps his beek at Mum
awders her to come to the park…
The thirty page poem is written in the voices of the four main characters, one of whom is Millie, William’s mother. All of them are in one sense or another finding their voices. I had already delved into this subject which has been an issue in my life. In Voicebox I found a new way to explore it.
Drawing on myth or fable also offers possibilities for narrative poems. In her book-length sequence, Meadowland, Louise Gluck harnessed the Odysseus story in a remarkable way. She interweaves poems in which Penelope, Telemachus (the son of Odysseus and Penelope) and Circe, in particular, put forward their own views. These offer a modern interpretation of the legend which connects with the story, also told in voice, of two contemporary un-named characters, whose marriage is falling apart. There is cutting humour as well as tenderness and pain in these poems which clearly reflect on personal experience. Gluck often draws on myth. In her book-length sequence Vita Nova, which has a strong sense of mourning, she turns to the Orpheus and Eurydice story. Classical stories, when used effectively as a base, heighten and universalize subject matter. Anne Cluysenaar makes the narrative of The Epic of Gilgamesh a frame for Clay, a long poem with different strands of reference including a strong meditative element.
I found re-telling the Orpheus story in contemporary terms and placing it in the London Underground offered surprising opportunities. With its many escalators, corridors and dark tunnels the Underground always fills me with a sense of drama and often seems to equate with Hades and other metaphorical underworlds. Details about the buskers, the dreadful suicides on the line, individuals I’d observed such as a thin pale girl with syringe marks all the way up her arm, gathered in my head. I pictured Eurydice following Orpheus up a long escalator before collapsing and envisaged him as a flute-playing busker who falls for a drug addict. Then I saw the drug pusher on whom Eurydice had been dependent, as the underworld king who would separate the couple. Other parallels suggested themselves. The myth seemed to strengthen my story and it allowed me to treat contemporary material I would not otherwise have dared to touch.
Historical characters and events can also be potent subject matter for narrative poems. It is crucial, however, in using this kind of material or classical stories that the poet brings something new to it. If there isn’t a re-interpretation or if the poet hasn’t found in the original material a driving point which gives the poem an illuminating focus the result is likely to be little more than a re-telling and will fail because it has no life of its own.
Elaine Feinstein was drawn to Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart’s librettist, because she identified strongly with his sense of always being an outsider. His story was a strange one. The son of a poor Jewish tanner he was assimilated into European culture by the accident of family baptism and education, managed to move from a profligate life in Venice to the Emperor’s Court in Vienna and then, when out of favour, he made his way to New York. Amazed by his nerve and his ability to live on his wits as much as his talent, she conceived the narrative as a dramatic monologue, making da Ponte look back over his past with all its ironies at the point when he is living a humdrum life in America. The skilfully written poem, a salute to the librettist’s survival, points up the ironies of his ever-changing fortunes. It moves swiftly through his story but with graphic detail and the teller sometimes steps out of chronological order to make comments. The five line rhyming verses in iambics are a marvellous counterpoint to the subject matter. Form, of course, whether strict or free is as crucial in a narrative poem as any other.
Dilys Wood’s poem, The South Pole Inn, was triggered by a desire to write about early Antarctic exploration but she knew she must find an indirect approach to this well-documented subject. She hit on the idea of a dramatic narrative set in Ireland long after the main expeditions, intending to show the heroism of the men through the eyes of a woman. She chose Nell, wife of Tom Crean one of the participants, set the action in the Creans’ inn in Ireland and interwove the expedition material with references to the Irish troubles. She also invented a love-affair between Nell and Frank Worsley, another member of the expeditions, presenting him as a man who was more understanding of women than Tom. Combining fact and fiction was a challenge. There were others, in particular researching into the Irish Troubles and life in Western Ireland in the 1920s and later. She went to Ireland to see the South Pole Inn and the area round it. She also had to make sure the voices of its characters, were authentic. Nell was perceived as a capable woman frustrated by the way her husband sidelines her from ‘male’ action and as her story developed the theme of woman’s role became a major one. It was a tussle to control the plot and integrate the themes but after several drafts a remarkable poem emerged.
Research, which is often essential when using known sources for a narrative poem, can also be a pitfall. It is all too easy to be carried away by fascinating information and include it without considering whether it is really relevant. Driven by anger that 150 years ago women were so powerless and that many women in the world still are, I wanted to write a poem about Caroline Norton. She was the first person in Victorian times to gain some rights for married woman and my intention was to highlight this as I felt she should be much better known. The problem was how to select details from her complicated life which would show how much she had to fight against and endure so that the reader would recognize the significance of her achievements. To do this, however carefully I selected, many facts needed to be included but the danger was the poem would read simply as an account. It was only when I hit upon the idea of a repeat with variations such as “What she did”, “What she didn’t do” to give a rhythm and act as a hook for selecting material, that I could begin.
In the last twenty years or so narrative poetry has reassumed its place as an important genre for some leading poets writing in English, including Derek Walcott and Les Murray. There isn’t space here to examine the wide canvasses of their epics, Omeros and Fredy Neptune. Omeros is set mainly in St. Lucia and Walcott weaves together fictional narratives based on the island’s present, past and his own experiences, creating some parallels with the Iliad. The island has played a crucial part in Walcott’s life and in this poem, among others, it features as a dominant character. I should mention that place often plays key role in narrative and this applies to several of the poems I’ve written about in this essay – Hospital Odyssey, for example. In Fredy Neptune Murray writes in an alter ego as a rough and ready Australian of German origin to produce a verse novel written as Fredy’s fantasy adventures. These take him to many parts of the world and incorporate the history of the period from the end of World War 1 to soon after the end of World War 2. Early in the story the shock of seeing Armenian women burnt to death by a mob makes him his lose his sense of touch, a condition which has metaphorical implications. In the later part of book he rescues a mentally disabled German boy. This strand of the story, which is haunting, was a way for Murray to write about his autistic son.
Omeros and Fredy Neptune are among the highest poetic achievements of our age. There are many pitfalls to be faced in writing poetic narrative but I hope I’ve shown the possibilities of the mode are unending.
A Sleep of Drowned Fathers, Donald Atkinson, Peterloo 1989
Migrations, Anne Cluysenaar, Cinnamon Press 2011
Elegies, Douglas Dunn, Faber 1985
Gold, Elaine Feinstein, Carcanet 2000
Night & Other Animals, Kate Foley, The Green Lantern Press 2002
Meadowlands, Louise Gluck, Carcanet 1998; Vita Nova, Carcanet 2009
A Hospital Odyssey, Gwyneth Lewis, Bloodaxe 2010
Fredy Neptune, Les Murray, Carcanet 1998
Becoming, Myra Schneider 2007; Multiplying The Moon (Voicebox, Orpheus in the Underground), Enitharmon 2004, What Women Want, Second Light Publications 2012
Omeros, Derek Walcott, Faber 1990
Antarctica, Dilys Wood, Greendale Press 2008
The illustrations were not included in the original article and were added here by me. The portraits are the property of Myra Schneider and Dilys Wood and copyrighted. Book cover art is copyrighted and used here under fair use. J.D.
A while back, I attended a writer’s conference session about character development. The speaker suggested using astrological signs as a means to create believable, consistent characters. My knowledge of astrology is scant, but I tried to apply it to the characters in my first novel, Winter is Past. The results weren’t what I’d hoped for.
When I worked in the area of nursing education, human resources and spirituality, I had the opportunity to delve into Myers-Briggs…a personality evaluation tool that assesses behavior based on four areas of response: Introversion versus extraversion, Intuitive versus sensate, Thinking versus Feeling and Perceptive versus Judgmental. The latter may not be so self-explanatory but I use the example of my parents: my dad would be ready to go somewhere 20 minutes ahead of time, while my mother would change her mind a few more times about what she wanted to wear. Think: structured versus easy-going.
I returned to my draft manuscript, and applied the Myers-Briggs, using this tool to help me re-create the major characters with the result of more consistent, believable players. For my second novel The Sin of His Father, I wrote out character profiles before I even began to write, again using the Myers-Briggs. It has made it so much easier.
There is an old book called Please Understand Me that explains all the possible profile combinations and how they play out in real life. If you can find it, it’s been a godsend.
I’m addicted to The Learning Company‘s Great Courses, university level programs presented by the highest quality professors. One of the courses, The Art of Reading is taught by Professor Timothy Spurgin of Lawrence University. The lectures are well-organized, clearly presented and as applicable to writers as to readers.
An important point from the lecture on characters addresses developing round characters. The concept of a round character, as opposed to a flat one, was presented by E. M. Forster in his book, Aspects of the Novel. Simply put, a round character is one who will capture the reader’s interest because of his unpredictability, his complexity and the changes he undergoes during the course of the story. And this is key: “The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.” (Forster)
While a protagonist needs to draw the sympathy of the reader, he should have some character flaws. Inversely, your antagonist should have something that makes him, if not attractive, at least capable of being understood. Just like us–no one is all good or all bad.
As you write, reflect upon your own reaction to the key characters in your manuscript. Are you able to identify with them to some degree? Are there things that, if you were that person, you might be ashamed of or want to change? Are there events or reactions which are surprising without being totally out-of-character (unconvincing)? Is your character someone you would want to know, or avoid?
One thing I find helpful when writing fiction is to base my characters on a composite of people I know or with whom I have been acquainted. You can even take someone who is in the public eye. I try not to use one person because I would never want anyone to say to me, “That’s me, isn’t it?” My mother once thought a character was her because I set a scene in a room in her house! And this secondary character was not, initially, a nice person.
I hope this brief reflection on characters will be helpful to those of you who have an interest in writing fiction. In a future post, I’ll share a character development worksheet that I prepared for a character in novel #2 to give you something to hang your words on!
We’d like to invite you to share a brief paragraph or poem of your own presenting a character you’ve created or known somewhere along the road. There are two ways you can do it:
Preferably, post your description on your own blog or website, then copy and paste the direct URL into the Mr. Linky, which is included at below at the end of this post. He will also ask you to include your name or another identifier.
If you prefer, add your character sketch to the comments section.
It’s nice, though not required to read others and leave a like or comment. I will visit all of them.
Happy writing; enjoy the process!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Linky is below Victoria’s bio ~