Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Studying poetry will make you a better writer, no matter what genre you aspire to master. Poetry uses a number of techniques that I believe are quite transferable to other kinds of writing.

Today, I'd like to share a technique to "steal" from poets--using the sound device assonance (repeated vowel sounds) to ramp up the emotion in your fiction. The thinking behind sound devices is often onomatopoetic; the sound and meaning are linked.

morguefile.com

Consider these examples. Say them aloud. How do they make you feel?

1. John groped for his coat in hopes the Tylenol bottle hadn’t dropped through the hole in his pocket.

2. Lisa worried they'd think her rude if she cooed at their cute baby, so she chewed her lip while brooding on his tiny blue shoes.

3. Wading deeper into the creek, Ross felt the coldness seep through his sneakers. Shining eyes seemed to peek through the reeds. A cheeping frog sent a shriek of fear streaking up his spine, but he ground his teeth. Must stay silent. Must not be weak.


In my first example, Can you feel John's inner ache? The repeated oh, oh, aah, ahh,make the passage seem to moan and groan on the page. The repeated O sounds (both short and long) make you verbalize John's pain response.

In my second example, Lisa's entire inner monologue does coo at the cute baby, even if she refuses to do it aloud. The repeated long U sound carries it. This is an excellent, subtle way to add layers of meaning to your character's thoughts. Characters might consciously deny something while the sounds in their words convey a deeper, hidden, unconscious desire for the denied thing.

In my third example, the creepy feeling is reinforced by a series of little shrieks, like one might hear upon having a bug scurry over bare skin: Eeek! Ross is screaming inside, even if he's being tough and silent on the outside.

Your turn:
Chose an emotion you want to convey and think of the most primal sound you associate with it, such as Os for groaning with pain, Es for screaming with fright. Write a sentence, paragraph or scene in which you repeat the sounds.

Hint: a rhyming dictionary will help you identify words with the vowel sounds you need.

How might you use this technique today to improve your writing?
5:00 AM Laurel Garver
Studying poetry will make you a better writer, no matter what genre you aspire to master. Poetry uses a number of techniques that I believe are quite transferable to other kinds of writing.

Today, I'd like to share a technique to "steal" from poets--using the sound device assonance (repeated vowel sounds) to ramp up the emotion in your fiction. The thinking behind sound devices is often onomatopoetic; the sound and meaning are linked.

morguefile.com

Consider these examples. Say them aloud. How do they make you feel?

1. John groped for his coat in hopes the Tylenol bottle hadn’t dropped through the hole in his pocket.

2. Lisa worried they'd think her rude if she cooed at their cute baby, so she chewed her lip while brooding on his tiny blue shoes.

3. Wading deeper into the creek, Ross felt the coldness seep through his sneakers. Shining eyes seemed to peek through the reeds. A cheeping frog sent a shriek of fear streaking up his spine, but he ground his teeth. Must stay silent. Must not be weak.


In my first example, Can you feel John's inner ache? The repeated oh, oh, aah, ahh,make the passage seem to moan and groan on the page. The repeated O sounds (both short and long) make you verbalize John's pain response.

In my second example, Lisa's entire inner monologue does coo at the cute baby, even if she refuses to do it aloud. The repeated long U sound carries it. This is an excellent, subtle way to add layers of meaning to your character's thoughts. Characters might consciously deny something while the sounds in their words convey a deeper, hidden, unconscious desire for the denied thing.

In my third example, the creepy feeling is reinforced by a series of little shrieks, like one might hear upon having a bug scurry over bare skin: Eeek! Ross is screaming inside, even if he's being tough and silent on the outside.

Your turn:
Chose an emotion you want to convey and think of the most primal sound you associate with it, such as Os for groaning with pain, Es for screaming with fright. Write a sentence, paragraph or scene in which you repeat the sounds.

Hint: a rhyming dictionary will help you identify words with the vowel sounds you need.

How might you use this technique today to improve your writing?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spoken word poetry is meant to be experienced as a performance, heard rather than read silently. The piece I'm sharing below is a segment from a longer TED talk by spoken word poet Sarah Kay. More of her work can be found on YouTube.

)

Absorbing a spoken word poem is a very different experience from reading it on a page. If you miss a turn of phrase, it's simply gone. You can't easily "reread" and consider your interpretation. You have to take it in, interpret on the fly, absorb what you can. I think that being a listener rather than a reader also takes away some of your sense of controlling the text. You're instead a passive recipient. You can't work for the understanding, you have to let it come to you.

What strikes you about Kay's poem? In what ways do you find it better and worse than reading a poem silently?
5:00 AM Laurel Garver
Spoken word poetry is meant to be experienced as a performance, heard rather than read silently. The piece I'm sharing below is a segment from a longer TED talk by spoken word poet Sarah Kay. More of her work can be found on YouTube.

)

Absorbing a spoken word poem is a very different experience from reading it on a page. If you miss a turn of phrase, it's simply gone. You can't easily "reread" and consider your interpretation. You have to take it in, interpret on the fly, absorb what you can. I think that being a listener rather than a reader also takes away some of your sense of controlling the text. You're instead a passive recipient. You can't work for the understanding, you have to let it come to you.

What strikes you about Kay's poem? In what ways do you find it better and worse than reading a poem silently?

Monday, April 21, 2014

By Deborah Guzzi
Photo credit: Gracey at morguefile.com

randomly I stare into
each reflective surface
forever pondering the
lines of age, pain and joy
each one a splendid testament
culled from a full life
teased endlessly, eternally
into distorted images
of the soul of me
never quite
seeing...I

surely, I am
not this shallow
only time can plane my cheek
insight my eyes to fade
turn the plumpness of lip to
crinkles of mirth
enlivening the gray
languishing in silver
forever seeing but parts of the
ecstasy I
reflect

Source: poetrysoup.com

You might have observed, through my use of color, that the first letter of each line, when read downwards, forms a word. This is a poetic form called an acrostic, and was used frequently in ancient poetry like the Hebrew book of Psalms. What is particularly clever about this piece is that the poet recreates the word backwards (or in mirror image) in the second stanza, reinforcing the sense of reflections.

Acrostics are a somewhat slighted form, in part because it's often one of the first forays into poetry writing for early elementary students. But as Guzzi shows, the form can be quite sophisticated in the hands of an experienced poet. Even within the confines of form, she has some striking sound patterns, like "culled from a full life" and "plumpness of lip."

What lines or images strike you?

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5:00 AM Laurel Garver
By Deborah Guzzi
Photo credit: Gracey at morguefile.com

randomly I stare into
each reflective surface
forever pondering the
lines of age, pain and joy
each one a splendid testament
culled from a full life
teased endlessly, eternally
into distorted images
of the soul of me
never quite
seeing...I

surely, I am
not this shallow
only time can plane my cheek
insight my eyes to fade
turn the plumpness of lip to
crinkles of mirth
enlivening the gray
languishing in silver
forever seeing but parts of the
ecstasy I
reflect

Source: poetrysoup.com

You might have observed, through my use of color, that the first letter of each line, when read downwards, forms a word. This is a poetic form called an acrostic, and was used frequently in ancient poetry like the Hebrew book of Psalms. What is particularly clever about this piece is that the poet recreates the word backwards (or in mirror image) in the second stanza, reinforcing the sense of reflections.

Acrostics are a somewhat slighted form, in part because it's often one of the first forays into poetry writing for early elementary students. But as Guzzi shows, the form can be quite sophisticated in the hands of an experienced poet. Even within the confines of form, she has some striking sound patterns, like "culled from a full life" and "plumpness of lip."

What lines or images strike you?

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday Mourning
by Sr. Genevieve Glen, OSB

The fisherman had aged, they saw, when dawn
at last broke through that endless night.  He had
no words to strengthen them, his bluster gone
to silence. One by one they came. Grief bade
them gather there. The shadowed room was clad
in memories. Furtive eyes sought out the spot
where He had stood.  The big man’s shame burned hot.
The One with whom he’d sworn to die was dead.
And he was not.

©2011, Abbey of St. Walburga, http://genglen.blogspot.com 

painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch
This poem shows us Simon Peter in the time following Jesus' crucifixion. All his hot-headed desire to create an uprising has been quashed. He is a revolutionary quelled, struggling to come to grips with what has gone wrong.

Knowing what we do about Peter's actions in the preceding days, I can only imagine the depth of his grief and his even deeper confusion. Peter adamantly opposed Jesus every time he spoke of his death. He attacked one of the guards who came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He then followed to where Jesus was being held, hoping for news, but perhaps also staking out the place in order to try another violent rescue.

But bravery fails him. He denies Jesus, we're told. But perhaps there's some truth in his declaration: "I never knew the man." Because Jesus didn't turn out to be the fiery revolutionary many were hoping could come and overthrow Rome. As Peter came to grips with the truth of where his hopes really lay, he was devastated.

This Jesus wasn't going to foment a rebellion. He had another plan entirely. A completely insane one: To lay down his life.

Holy Saturday is a good time to sit in this space with Peter. To come to grips with the frailty of our plans and dreams. To let the wrong sorts of dreams die so that God's dreams for us in the world can be awakened.

Wishing you all a blessed Easter!

What about Peter's life and story resonates with you?

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5:00 AM Laurel Garver
Holy Saturday Mourning
by Sr. Genevieve Glen, OSB

The fisherman had aged, they saw, when dawn
at last broke through that endless night.  He had
no words to strengthen them, his bluster gone
to silence. One by one they came. Grief bade
them gather there. The shadowed room was clad
in memories. Furtive eyes sought out the spot
where He had stood.  The big man’s shame burned hot.
The One with whom he’d sworn to die was dead.
And he was not.

©2011, Abbey of St. Walburga, http://genglen.blogspot.com 

painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch
This poem shows us Simon Peter in the time following Jesus' crucifixion. All his hot-headed desire to create an uprising has been quashed. He is a revolutionary quelled, struggling to come to grips with what has gone wrong.

Knowing what we do about Peter's actions in the preceding days, I can only imagine the depth of his grief and his even deeper confusion. Peter adamantly opposed Jesus every time he spoke of his death. He attacked one of the guards who came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He then followed to where Jesus was being held, hoping for news, but perhaps also staking out the place in order to try another violent rescue.

But bravery fails him. He denies Jesus, we're told. But perhaps there's some truth in his declaration: "I never knew the man." Because Jesus didn't turn out to be the fiery revolutionary many were hoping could come and overthrow Rome. As Peter came to grips with the truth of where his hopes really lay, he was devastated.

This Jesus wasn't going to foment a rebellion. He had another plan entirely. A completely insane one: To lay down his life.

Holy Saturday is a good time to sit in this space with Peter. To come to grips with the frailty of our plans and dreams. To let the wrong sorts of dreams die so that God's dreams for us in the world can be awakened.

Wishing you all a blessed Easter!

What about Peter's life and story resonates with you?

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Friday, April 18, 2014

by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)


inset from a medieval painting, artist unknown

The brown enormous odor he lived by
was too close, with its breathing and thick hair,
for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung.
Light-lashed, self-righteous, above moving snouts,
the pigs' eyes followed him, a cheerful stare--
even to the sow that always ate her young--
till, sickening, he leaned to scratch her head.
But sometimes mornings after drinking bouts
(he hid the pints behind the two-by-fours),
the sunrise glazed the barnyard mud with red
the burning puddles seemed to reassure.
And then he thought he almost might endure
his exile yet another year or more.

But evenings the first star came to warn.
The farmer whom he worked for came at dark
to shut the cows and horses in the barn
beneath their overhanging clouds of hay,
with pitchforks, faint forked lightnings, catching light,
safe and companionable as in the Ark.
The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored.
The lantern--like the sun, going away--
laid on the mud a pacing aureole.
Carrying a bucket along a slimy board,
he felt the bats' uncertain staggering flight,
his shuddering insights, beyond his control,
touching him. But it took him a long time
finally to make up his mind to go home.

This piece is an extended allusion to the biblical parable of the prodigal son, a story Jesus tells in the Gospels about a son who leaves home, squanders his inheritance and ends up in poverty, taking work as a swineherd, the worst possible profession for a nice Jewish boy. In Jesus' story, the son "came to himself" and decides to return home to reconcile with his family. This piece stays at that dark period before the decision is made.

The author Elizabeth Bishop (winner of the Pulitzer and the National Book Award for poetry) generally wrote poems that seem unrelated to her life, in contrast to her contemporaries, the "confessional" poets, including Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and W.D. Snodgrass. Yet if you read about her life, you can quickly understand why she would choose to explore this particular Bible parable. Like the prodigal son, Bishop experienced a sense of dislocation. She lost one parent, then another. Was bounced among relatives in Nova Scotia and Massachusetts. Missed a great deal of school because of bouts of asthma. Though a New England native, she spent large chunks of her life in France and Brazil, made possible in part because of a substantial inheritance from her father.

Bishop's poem is a great example of literary borrowing that's quite common in poetry. You don't need to dream up narratives on your own to explore some aspect of human nature--you are free to take existing narratives and characters and explore them in your own way.

What lines or images stand out to you? If you were to write an allusion poem, what story would you enjoy exploring and rewriting?


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5:00 AM Laurel Garver
by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)


inset from a medieval painting, artist unknown

The brown enormous odor he lived by
was too close, with its breathing and thick hair,
for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung.
Light-lashed, self-righteous, above moving snouts,
the pigs' eyes followed him, a cheerful stare--
even to the sow that always ate her young--
till, sickening, he leaned to scratch her head.
But sometimes mornings after drinking bouts
(he hid the pints behind the two-by-fours),
the sunrise glazed the barnyard mud with red
the burning puddles seemed to reassure.
And then he thought he almost might endure
his exile yet another year or more.

But evenings the first star came to warn.
The farmer whom he worked for came at dark
to shut the cows and horses in the barn
beneath their overhanging clouds of hay,
with pitchforks, faint forked lightnings, catching light,
safe and companionable as in the Ark.
The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored.
The lantern--like the sun, going away--
laid on the mud a pacing aureole.
Carrying a bucket along a slimy board,
he felt the bats' uncertain staggering flight,
his shuddering insights, beyond his control,
touching him. But it took him a long time
finally to make up his mind to go home.

This piece is an extended allusion to the biblical parable of the prodigal son, a story Jesus tells in the Gospels about a son who leaves home, squanders his inheritance and ends up in poverty, taking work as a swineherd, the worst possible profession for a nice Jewish boy. In Jesus' story, the son "came to himself" and decides to return home to reconcile with his family. This piece stays at that dark period before the decision is made.

The author Elizabeth Bishop (winner of the Pulitzer and the National Book Award for poetry) generally wrote poems that seem unrelated to her life, in contrast to her contemporaries, the "confessional" poets, including Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and W.D. Snodgrass. Yet if you read about her life, you can quickly understand why she would choose to explore this particular Bible parable. Like the prodigal son, Bishop experienced a sense of dislocation. She lost one parent, then another. Was bounced among relatives in Nova Scotia and Massachusetts. Missed a great deal of school because of bouts of asthma. Though a New England native, she spent large chunks of her life in France and Brazil, made possible in part because of a substantial inheritance from her father.

Bishop's poem is a great example of literary borrowing that's quite common in poetry. You don't need to dream up narratives on your own to explore some aspect of human nature--you are free to take existing narratives and characters and explore them in your own way.

What lines or images stand out to you? If you were to write an allusion poem, what story would you enjoy exploring and rewriting?


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Thursday, April 17, 2014

by Donald Justice (1925 - 2004)
Papier-mache body; blue-and-black cotton jersey cover.
Metal stand. Instructions included.
   --Sears, Roebuck Catalogue
Photo credit: jeltovski at morguefile.com
              O my coy darling, still
              You wear for me the scent
         Of those long afternoons we spent,
               The two of us together,
    Safe in the attic from the jealous eyes
                 Of household spies
    And the remote buffooneries of the weather;
                         So high,
    Our sole remaining neighbor was the sky,
              Which, often enough, at dusk,
    Leaning its cloudy shoulders on the sill,
Used to regard us with a bored and cynical eye.

              How like the terrified,
              Shy figure of a bride
         You stood there then, without your clothes,
                  Drawn up into
         So classic and so strict a pose
      Almost, it seemed, our little attic grew
Dark with the first charmed night of the honeymoon.
         Or was it only some obscure
      Shape of my mother's youth I saw in you,
There where the rude shadows of the afternoon
         Crept up your ankles and you stood
         Hiding your s-x as best you could?--
         Prim ghost the evening light shone through.


Source: poets.org

An ode is typically an elaborately structured poem praising or glorifying an event or individual. Among English poets, Keats is considered the master of the form.

Justice, however, isn't glorifying something glorious. By writing an "ode" about a man's bizarre relationship with a dressmaker's dummy, he satirizes love poems generally. This is another instance of form/content dissonance that makes you pause, raise an eyebrow, and perhaps laugh.

What silly thing do you think would make a good topic for a satirical ode?

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5:00 AM Laurel Garver
by Donald Justice (1925 - 2004)
Papier-mache body; blue-and-black cotton jersey cover.
Metal stand. Instructions included.
   --Sears, Roebuck Catalogue
Photo credit: jeltovski at morguefile.com
              O my coy darling, still
              You wear for me the scent
         Of those long afternoons we spent,
               The two of us together,
    Safe in the attic from the jealous eyes
                 Of household spies
    And the remote buffooneries of the weather;
                         So high,
    Our sole remaining neighbor was the sky,
              Which, often enough, at dusk,
    Leaning its cloudy shoulders on the sill,
Used to regard us with a bored and cynical eye.

              How like the terrified,
              Shy figure of a bride
         You stood there then, without your clothes,
                  Drawn up into
         So classic and so strict a pose
      Almost, it seemed, our little attic grew
Dark with the first charmed night of the honeymoon.
         Or was it only some obscure
      Shape of my mother's youth I saw in you,
There where the rude shadows of the afternoon
         Crept up your ankles and you stood
         Hiding your s-x as best you could?--
         Prim ghost the evening light shone through.


Source: poets.org

An ode is typically an elaborately structured poem praising or glorifying an event or individual. Among English poets, Keats is considered the master of the form.

Justice, however, isn't glorifying something glorious. By writing an "ode" about a man's bizarre relationship with a dressmaker's dummy, he satirizes love poems generally. This is another instance of form/content dissonance that makes you pause, raise an eyebrow, and perhaps laugh.

What silly thing do you think would make a good topic for a satirical ode?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

by Laurel Garver

Photo credit: o0o0xmods0o0o at morguefile.com
Yesterday
all my troubles seemed so far
across the street my best friend
or close enough stepped on her
gerbil squish
She was walking it on a leash
like a dog pretty dumb I think
probably she forgot everything else and
burst into Tomorrow
I love ya tomorrow you’re
only a day
around the block
the Bartelli boys who like to stick
crawly things into people’s lunches
bought the gerbil guts for 50¢ &
2 red rubber balls & a swirly
marble all stuffed into
her hand too late for me
to yell cooties she smiled toothy
and wiped scritch scratch
her bloody shoe in the grass.

Muddy-Fingered Midnights, p. 20.

I wrote the initial draft of this piece for a poetry class in graduate school. As you might guess, I was experimenting on a number of fronts here: interpolating song lyrics, breathless stream-of-consciousness style, tone/subject dissonance and finally, voice. You could say my choice was somewhat in reaction to the mop-pushing megalomaniac in my poetry class who loved to use allusions to the Gilgamesh epic, among other pretensions. Being around him made me want to write real, to get past all the grad school trying-to-sound-important BS. What could be less important-sounding than some silly kid story?

I worked from of a true childhood tale a high school friend had shared about one of her neighbors who thought it would be fun to walk her hamster on a leash, then inadvertently killed it. I vaguely recall that money had been exchanged to use the rodent remains for some ghoulish purpose.

My initial inclination for telling this had been to take a knowing tone, looking on this scenario with adult eyes. But it felt entirely wrong. I realized that if I was going to be true to this story, I needed to enter into the child worldseeing the neighbor girl as the kid I imagined she was, impulsive and apt to burst into song. I mined memories for details, like what the truly evil kids did for fun. Instead of 30 pieces of silver, the beloved pet is sold off for kid treasuresthe sorts of things I admired from my parents' desk drawers or my siblings' closet floors. By using onomatopoetic words, I tried make the gore concrete but not sensationalized.

The title, by the way, refers to the lyric snippets that in the original, both included the word "away." But in this context, when we're small, our world shrinks. Troubles are across the street. Tomorrow is just around the block. Not quite away.

If you've always wanted to try poetry, but don't know where to start, dip into your well of memories, and not just the shiny-happy ones. It's in the sandbox we discover some of the startling truths about life.

What lines or images strike you? How might you experiment with stream-of-consciousness or tone/subject dissonance?


Like this poem? Enter to win my collection!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Muddy-Fingered Midnights by Laurel Garver

Muddy-Fingered Midnights

by Laurel Garver

Giveaway ends April 17, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
5:00 AM Laurel Garver
by Laurel Garver

Photo credit: o0o0xmods0o0o at morguefile.com
Yesterday
all my troubles seemed so far
across the street my best friend
or close enough stepped on her
gerbil squish
She was walking it on a leash
like a dog pretty dumb I think
probably she forgot everything else and
burst into Tomorrow
I love ya tomorrow you’re
only a day
around the block
the Bartelli boys who like to stick
crawly things into people’s lunches
bought the gerbil guts for 50¢ &
2 red rubber balls & a swirly
marble all stuffed into
her hand too late for me
to yell cooties she smiled toothy
and wiped scritch scratch
her bloody shoe in the grass.

Muddy-Fingered Midnights, p. 20.

I wrote the initial draft of this piece for a poetry class in graduate school. As you might guess, I was experimenting on a number of fronts here: interpolating song lyrics, breathless stream-of-consciousness style, tone/subject dissonance and finally, voice. You could say my choice was somewhat in reaction to the mop-pushing megalomaniac in my poetry class who loved to use allusions to the Gilgamesh epic, among other pretensions. Being around him made me want to write real, to get past all the grad school trying-to-sound-important BS. What could be less important-sounding than some silly kid story?

I worked from of a true childhood tale a high school friend had shared about one of her neighbors who thought it would be fun to walk her hamster on a leash, then inadvertently killed it. I vaguely recall that money had been exchanged to use the rodent remains for some ghoulish purpose.

My initial inclination for telling this had been to take a knowing tone, looking on this scenario with adult eyes. But it felt entirely wrong. I realized that if I was going to be true to this story, I needed to enter into the child worldseeing the neighbor girl as the kid I imagined she was, impulsive and apt to burst into song. I mined memories for details, like what the truly evil kids did for fun. Instead of 30 pieces of silver, the beloved pet is sold off for kid treasuresthe sorts of things I admired from my parents' desk drawers or my siblings' closet floors. By using onomatopoetic words, I tried make the gore concrete but not sensationalized.

The title, by the way, refers to the lyric snippets that in the original, both included the word "away." But in this context, when we're small, our world shrinks. Troubles are across the street. Tomorrow is just around the block. Not quite away.

If you've always wanted to try poetry, but don't know where to start, dip into your well of memories, and not just the shiny-happy ones. It's in the sandbox we discover some of the startling truths about life.

What lines or images strike you? How might you experiment with stream-of-consciousness or tone/subject dissonance?


Like this poem? Enter to win my collection!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Muddy-Fingered Midnights by Laurel Garver

Muddy-Fingered Midnights

by Laurel Garver

Giveaway ends April 17, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win