Tag Archives: Social Media
When You Write is as Important as What You Write
When you write is as important as what you write, but as many writers know, time is often an elusive commodity in the writing life.
I’ve read a couple of writing books that address the issue of time, and the one thing that always annoys me is that the author is writing from a place of success, i.e., he/she is financially stable enough to do nothing but write. And that’s great for him/her.
The rest of us, however, still have regular jobs as spouses and parents, not to mention careers that take us outside our homes. Of writers who comprise this group, I extend much grace to the parents, especially if their children are still young. But hear me, O Potential Writer parenting babes: those little ones won’t be little for long, so enjoy them now.
In the meantime, jot your fabulous story ideas into a notebook to be revisited upon your child’s/children’s growing independence. Right now, the best thing you can do is raise them with love and devotion. This also applies to the writer caring for elderly parents or children who will always be with you due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Grace and peace to you as you set aside your dream for just a little while. I promise it will be waiting for you when the time is right.
Probably everyone who reads this post is old enough to remember his/her childhood when the days seemed endless, and sometimes, they even became boring because we exhausted all the great, fun things we wanted to do. Of course, we also know that the days aren’t any shorter now. We’re just busier with all the activities vying for our time and attention.
Gaining time at this stage of the game is a matter of prioritizing activities. I find that a calendar helps. Start by blocking off chunks of time when you’re required to complete non-writing activities (outside-the-home job, shopping, mowing, laundry, bills, cooking, etc.) and see what’s left. Analyze how well you’re doing some of these tasks and strive to do them better. Example: instead of running to the grocery store every time you need something, make a list and shop all at once. It really is that easy, and the minutes you’ll gain add up.
You’re going to have to sacrifice to make time for yourself, too. The first place you can do this is by cutting the amount of time you spend on social media. It’s crazy how much time we give to scrolling through nonsense that adds nothing of any value to our lives. Yes, it’s fun but pay attention to how long you’re actually on social media. It follows us everywhere, and like slaves, we attend every beep on our cell phones as if we absolutely must respond to that cute kitten picture or comment on the recipe for a triple-stack burger with peanut butter and jelly.
In fact, because writing is such hard work that requires a large amount of focus, you may need to separate yourself from technology for awhile until you have established good writing habits.
Giving up television is another way you can gain large amounts of time. TV has become as invasive as social media in that it’s possible to watch your favorite shows everywhere. I include the endless quantity of videos watched on YouTube in this category. Now that we live in the age of on-demand viewing, TV/YouTube/any streaming service needs to be monitored lest it continue to consume our lives.
Another time saving/time gaining measure is the ability to say, “No, thank you.” By this I mean choose what invitations you allow to take you away from your writing. This one requires some tactful maneuvering on your part, especially when the invitation is to a family function. Grandma’s 99th birthday party? Yes, you must go. Uncle Jimmy opening the pool for the season? You can miss that.
You may need to be strong with friends who don’t understand your commitment to writing. Multiple coffee dates, long phone chats, and just hanging out can chew through your writing time faster than hungry teenage boys through a pizza. Instead, schedule a dinner date with a group of friends to maintain your relationships.
So, you’ve bought back some time for yourself, but guess what? There’s still more to be had!
I find travelling with a single-subject, college-ruled, spiral-bound notebook and pen to be a lifesaver. This is especially true when I must leave the house in the middle of a fabulous writing session and I don’t want to lose the flow of the story. My husband drives and I write.
I also keep pens or pencils and notebooks around the house for the same purpose. While working in the basement, I’ve maintained the flow of my story by jotting down details in between folding t-shirts.
Enlist the help of others toward building your writing time. Politely explain your need and work out times when you can create uninterrupted. Even fifteen minutes a day can go a long way to building your writing confidence. To minimize the amount of time it takes to get back into the groove for your next session, quickly note the next idea in your chain of thought. You can use it as a launching point rather than scrambling to remember what you intended to write next.
There’s always getting up half an hour earlier or going to bed half an hour later, but I urge caution here because sleep is so essential in our 24/7 world. Then again, if you’re at the age where you’re awake for long periods of time through the night, grab that notebook beside your bed and jot something down. Remember to be considerate of the person who may be sleeping next you to.
Make good use of the recording feature on your cell phone while walking the dog or rocking the baby to sleep. Your speaking voice will soothe both.
Ask someone to take dictation when you’re elbow deep in a sink full of dishes or while your grease-stained hands are working under the hood of your vehicle. This is a great way to get words on the page as well as draw loved ones into your writing process. Not only will they come to understand your vision, but they’ll also get to spend time with you in a way that is productive rather than interruptive.
So, you see, there are many ways to accumulate time for your writing passion. Again, writing is hard work, and one way in which you may feel as if you’re wasting your own time is when you find yourself staring at the blank page or computer screen without having produced a single word. In this instance, you’re going to have to extend yourself some grace. It happens to every writer.
I will caution you against believing that it’s writer’s block. In truth, you haven’t found your groove yet, the muse isn’t speaking, or you’re a little unfocused. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t stop writing. Try again the next time you’ve scheduled yourself to write or the moment presents itself.
Is #TBT Still a Thing?
I usually come late to a trend because I’m off doing my own thing. It’s not because I’m an amazing trailblazer but more because I’m in my own little world.
Still, #TBT crept into my peripheral social media vision, and while it was cute at first, I soon found the trend annoying. I played along a few times when tagged in various games, but I rarely finished.
So here we are, eleven years after the first use of #ThrowbackThursday according to Time, and I still don’t participate in the trend. Until now when I started thinking how can we use #TBT for something worthwhile?
Rather than share a picture of me from kindergarten with my barrettes sliding down my hair and what my husband refers to as my shifty smile, I decided to dig up some of my past writing. That’s what I do, so why not reveal a picture of myself through my chosen art form? So many authors have claimed that they don’t write themselves into their work, but that’s simply not true. We’re in there, somewhere, somehow.
My first goal is to catch the interest of Facebook friends by reposting some of my initial pieces. I won’t share all of them because a few are cringeworthy. Still, one can find them, which is my second goal of encouraging readers to poke around at HL Gibson, Author, especially under the Read & Relax heading where you’ll locate my short stories and flash fiction. If you want to find the dirt, you’re going to have to dig.
My third and most important goal is to draw out other writers. We need to build the writing community, so let everyone know where you can be found. The fourth goal in this process is to give permission to those reading my work to leave feedback. Dear Reader, you never truly needed that permission in the first place because if my writing is out there, it’s understood that feedback is desired, required even. It’s what writers live in fear of and crave at the same time.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a writer yourself, but since you do have an opinion, please express it. Be kind and constructive, refrain from insult.
Some in my writing community will no doubt think I’ve gone mental and/or opened a horrible can of worms with my offer. One writing friend is fond of saying, “Let the blood-letting begin.” While I find his misapplied comment humorous, I don’t believe that’s going to happen, and it certainly isn’t necessary. Still, it’s funny when he exposes his wrist at writing group.
Communication is the ultimate goal here. Let’s have a chat in our 21st century coffee house that is social media. Leave your feedback in the comments section and let’s have a conversation.
It’s been a while since I posted, but please don’t believe that I haven’t been busy because I have. I took the plunge some time ago and pulled back from social media. What an amazing advantage that proved to be when I shook off the fear of walking away. I realized quite quickly that my life wouldn’t implode if I wasn’t connected to social media twenty-four hours a day. Furthermore, my value as a person and a writer didn’t diminish in the least. The best part about that whole endeavor was when I connected with real people in real time. Go figure.
I may sound as if I’m welcoming you back, which I am, but I’m hopeful this will be an opportunity for you to welcome me back into your life. There’s a lot out there on the Internet and choosing to read what I create and post is appreciated more than words can say. But I’ll say it anyhow. Thank you!
However, this post is not an apology. As mentioned above, I needed the time away to craft better fiction of which I am extremely proud. I trust you will be, too, as I work to get it into the hands of my followers, whether I publish traditionally or independently.
As you come to know me better through my blog, one thing you’ll probably notice is that it’s different from other writing blogs out there. There’s a heavy personal touch to my posts. I did this in an effort to create openness and honesty. You’ll see the real me.
I’ve left everything intact since I started my blog, so please don’t hesitate to poke around. The first reason I did so is because I haven’t discounted the other novels I’ve written. They may still be published someday.
The second reason is because I’m not afraid to show a progression of growth in all aspects of my life on my blog. There are some things I posted that make me cringe but being vulnerable doesn’t compromise my strength. I’m open to discussion, so let’s have a conversation.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments about the creative endeavors are you pursuing. All artists are welcome here but kindly refrain from marketing and selling.
Find Your Tribe
The first writing group I ever attended was at the library where I used to work. I had written for pleasure my whole life, but I never did anything with it. Not that one has to do anything with his or her writing. However, when my friend and co-worker mentioned that she was starting a writing group, I was intrigued.
I joined the monthly meetings without any expectations and a lot of desire and nervousness. No one had ever heard my writing beyond my parents and husband. Now I was being asked to share my work with strangers. Reading aloud in group did not come easily to me, and I didn’t do it as much as I would have liked. Even submitting through Google Groups intimidated me.
I kept going to the group but constantly came away frustrated and angry with myself. Then came the day when I realized the writing group wasn’t a good fit for me. I’ll refrain from listing the reasons why so I don’t sound petty or judgmental. The group still exists at a different location, members have come and gone, but the group is solid and I wish them every success.
I joined another writing group that seemed like what I was looking for, followed a few members from there to a new group, and tried two other groups on a hit or miss basis. I kept writing, editing, querying, and blogging, but I felt unsettled. I’d made wonderful friends in the writers I’d met, so what was missing?
A fellow writer from one of the earlier groups invited me to an informal meeting for writers at her home. She writes mysteries as do the majority of the attendees. The invitation to talk about craft and industry was too tempting. I went mostly to observe, listen, and learn especially since I don’t write mysteries.
If memory serves me correctly, that was close to two years ago. In that time an amazing thing happened. I remember the moment it dawned on me that the seven of us had come to trust each other. Every month we sat around the dining room table talking craft, industry, and so much more. Maybe it was the fact that we were all facing each other. Perhaps it had to do with sharing about our families, jobs, fears and joys, failures and successes. Maybe it’s because the group is small, consistent, and all women. Whatever the reason, I know that each of us looks forward to the monthly meeting with the same excitement and anticipation as one would a trip to Disney World combined with a visit to a great therapist.
The connection the group established spilled over into occasional e-mails, then a weekly check-in, and finally the need for a private means of communication via social media for questions and comments not requiring immediate attention or lengthy conversation. The group is a success because we know we’ll be there for each other. The support is invaluable.
I’m sharing this to stress the importance of finding a writing group that works for you. If you have the desire and initiative, create one. Only you can decide what makes a writing group work for you, so don’t stay in one that isn’t beneficial to your writing life. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be because I hate for the meeting to conclude, I miss my fellow writers/friends before I’m even out the door, and I can hardly wait until we’re together again.
Go forth fearlessly and find your tribe.
Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 26
It’s time to take a deep breath and mentally prepare myself for one of my least favorite challenges in my writing life: querying. I remember the first time I queried my novel. I labored over my letter, presenting it to members of my writing groups and submitting it for a paid critique, as if I was writing the Declaration of Independence. Every word had to be perfect. Nothing less than exceptional would do as I crafted this key to unlock the doors to the world of publishing. But never mind the doors; I must first get past the gatekeepers.
Researching agents is a full-time job unto itself. I found literary agencies that represented my genre, and then I located specific agents within the agency. After choosing an agent, I looked to see which authors they had worked with and which titles they represented, hoping to find a title comparable with my novel. Using tips I’d picked up from webinars, I hunted for any connection between myself and the agent. (Did we have similar hobbies and interests, did we grow up in the same state, do they have pets?) All this was before I even sent the letter. Crazy, isn’t it?
Just today my husband wished for me the kind of writing life where I didn’t have to worry about publishing. And what is the concern, really? Can I not create art for the sake of art? Trying to have my work published was my idea. No one forced me to do it. But then I struggle with the question of why write if I’m not going to try to publish, and I start thinking maybe I should find a job. I hate the way money always pops up in my thoughts.
The truth is, I have a supportive husband who isn’t insisting that I find work or publish to bring in a paycheck. When combined with the abundant amount of free time I have, you may wonder what my complaint actually is. Sometimes, I do, too.
There are days I wish I’d never sought publication because I remember how it felt to write freely without that pressure hanging over my head. Don’t think for one minute, though, that I don’t want to be published. Because I do. I’ve invested in my blog and I maintain social media toward the endeavor of publication. My problem is that my two desires are at war in my mind and my heart.
There are also days when I wonder if I’m creating this drama for myself, and I laugh thinking at least I’ll get a good blog post out of it. Because really, it’s better to let this stuff out than it is to hold it in. So again, deep breath.
I am aware of the emotional toll querying can take on a writer, but I’m not ready to abandon my dream. I’ll balance it by realizing how good I have it in that while I’m waiting for replies, I can write freely to my heart’s content. I’ll fill notebook after notebook with words the world will never see. Writing just for me. And once again I’ll…
Rewind to the Future
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: there are advancements to technology, but they aren’t always advancements to the quality of our lives. Yet every day I find myself more dependent on some form of technology, and I must admit that a few have become quite the convenience. Take my laptop, for example.
About six years ago, my parents surprised us with a laptop because our son had reached the stage of his schooling where he needed one to complete his homework. Then there was the fact that the school insisted communication with students and parents be conducted mostly, if not solely, via e-mail and homework sites. We had an old desktop model, but it just wasn’t cutting it anymore.
Since the generous gifting of the laptop, I have come to enjoy it for online banking, communicating with friends (although I still argue that social media makes people who once met for socializing somewhat lazy), watching movies, and my favorite, ripping CDs into custom-made playlists. And then one horrific day, the DVD/CD drive thingy stopped working.
At first I couldn’t open it. Not even with the cool trick using a paperclip the guy at the store showed me. And when I placed a DVD or CD inside and shut the drawer, the laptop no longer read it. Imagine my dismay. My playlists would grow no more, and worse, it may be time to look for another laptop.
There was the option of an external drive, but even the sales clerk thought the price his employer was charging to be a little outrageous. He suggested I try shopping online if I absolutely needed one. At least he didn’t try to sell me a laptop I wasn’t prepared to buy at the moment. Our finances aren’t ready for that commitment yet.
I’m not exactly technologically challenged, but I’m not savvy either. Perhaps with all this streaming, DVDs and CDs were going by the wayside. One day while running errands, I consulted our in-house IT geek also known as our son. When I posed this thought to him, he agreed that an external drive would simply be a convenience for old-schoolers like me.
“You could rip all your CDs, Mom. They even have external connections for those other things you and Dad have.”
“What other things?”
He cupped his left hand with a U-shaped slot between his thumb and fingers and inserted his other flattened hand inside, mimicking something.
“You know, those square things.”
Images of 3.5-inch floppy disks sprang to mind, but they had nothing to do with our discussion.
“What things, Joshua?”
Again, and with much exasperation on his part, he mimicked some bizarre function by rotating his index fingers in circles going the same direction.
“Those things that are square and go ‘round and ‘round.”
Let the laughter begin. I rarely get one up on this kid these days. He’s a titch smug from time to time with all he knows technologically, so when I have the opportunity to laugh (and I’m talking Precious Pup, wheezing type laughter as I’m driving) I take it. Joshua is a good sport, though, and after turning beet red, he joined in the hilarity. Still, he’ll never know the satisfaction of saving a favorite cassette from destruction by rewinding it with a pencil.
Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 25
The life of a writer is a long and lonely path fraught with amazing highs and debilitating lows. You have to be more than a little crazy to continue the journey, and if you can channel that craziness into passion, you’ll succeed. Keep in mind that your success is not measured by your status in the world of publishing and/or how much money you make at writing. If you’re writing, you are a writer.
The great part about writing is that every now and then you’ll make a connection with someone who thinks and feels exactly the way you do about the writing life. When that happens, you’ll experience a surge of encouragement that keeps you going despite your belief that writers play it close to the vest, no one wants to read what you’ve written, you’ll never be published, or whatever the voices of doubt are whispering in your ear.
It would be so easy to hoard the energy you feel when you strike gold and make that all important connection that leads to a writing relationship. A better thing to do is be the inspiration someone else needs by providing the shoulders for them to stand on even if that means you’re giving back to the person who just encouraged you.
Such was my experience recently with a fellow writer turned great friend. We met to discuss her upcoming interview on another fellow writer’s blog, but the discussion turned personal as we shared our beliefs, experiences, fears, and desires for our writing lives. It was incredible, but the writing high didn’t stop there.
I’d forgotten that my husband had attached a love note proclaiming his support for my writing to the cover of my laptop, and I inadvertently shared his sweet message with all of Starbucks. A young man who had noticed the sign approached me to inquire about my writing. We had a lovely conversation during which he shared his aspirations for writing. I responded with the positive statements I’d received when I began my journey. By the time we shook hands and wished each other a Merry Christmas, I was jittery with excitement.
It would be wonderful if every day in the life of a writer could be like this especially since staying positive is quite a challenge. My personal goal is to continue seeking such instances as well as providing them. More and more I’m encountering this sentiment across social media, so I know I’m on the right track. Giving back, paying it forward, or whatever you choose to call it will never be wasted when the investment in is another person.
The Artist’s Corner – Talking Poetry With Poet Carrie Tangenberg, Part 2
Welcome back to The Artist’s Corner for the second portion of my interview with poet Carrie Tangenberg. Today, we’ll continue with Carrie’s amazing insight into poetry as well as enjoy one of her original poems.
Why is poetry important?
A literary question for the ages. I can only look through my biased poet’s lens, but I think it’s valuable not just because academia tells us it is.
For me: Poetry gave me a way to express myself early in life that did not demand absolute clarity or lots of text. I could write what I felt or wanted to feel. I could focus on rhythm and the sounds of words. It didn’t have to make sense to anyone but me, and even then, it took me a long time to be so kind to myself. I used to be quite experimental, moving from puns to invented words and concepts, creating sense out of nonsense. Poetry lets me stretch linguistic connections, explore different word combinations and uses of any given word or phrase, and discover new routes to meaning and beauty.
In general: Poetry offers a shortcut to evoking reader emotion, making us feel deeply, recalling our humanity. Poems explore, celebrate, articulate, and enhance life, death, love, art, nature, and human connection. Poems invite different ways of seeing everyday things, different ways of thinking about life. Poetry is lyrical, musical, rhythmic, with creative phrase order, language use, lines, and “paragraphs.” Poems present puzzles and riddles to solve and enigmas to wonder at. Poetry can add a touch of class, beauty, spirit, weight, or emotion to more logical or pragmatic ceremonies, presentations, and texts.
Poetry can be challenging, not lying down easily before you just because you showed up to read it. It makes you work by being in stanzas and by making readers pay attention to details to gain meaning. It’s a useful form to renew our concentration abilities, recovering them from Tweet and sound bite, back toward longer literary forms. Among literary modes, poetry pre-dates the novel, the news article, and the textbook. It has longevity. Poetry lets readers and writers approach the depths of meaning to find a way to shine a light and share. Poetry offers greater variety of form than fiction or non-fiction does. It is a diamond of many faces. Poetry offers a niche to fit into when your work or interests don’t fit neatly anywhere else. For instance, poetry lets non-visual artists, listeners, and readers penetrate and fill the spaces between too-reasonable words and wordless music. Songs are poems, and they lend insight into and mark the passage of our culture’s generations.
Beyond that, I refer you to The American Interest online article “Why, Poetry?” by David Kirby (2007). Great stuff. Addressing poetry’s value, he asks, among other things, “Why is there a poet laureate but not a novelist laureate or playwright laureate?” It must mean something to us. Poetry is easier than it used to be, more accessible, and more diverse. New forms are invented on the Internet, and poetry culture moves forward.
As with any art or literature, not all poems work for everyone, but poetry is a unique form with so much mileage that there really is something for everyone.
What do you see as the role of humor in poetry?
As with many aspects of poetry, humor in poetry is often subtle, but there’s no rule against including the comical in a poem that doesn’t also apply to the rest of the poem or non-humorous ones as well. As long as a poem can breathe, that is if it’s of sufficient length, there can be room for humor in even the most serious. The tension between opposing emotions is something that makes art great.
Billy Collins is the perfect example of a poet who has woven humor masterfully into much of his work. See “Paradelle. Silly and/or psycho form from Billy Collins.” – from the Writer’s Digest article “List of 50 Poetic Forms for Poets.”
Humor’s role in poetry varies and can be manifold. It can be an effective method of emotional contrast for emphasizing a concept or point, or for deepening a dramatic effect. It can help some readers better relate to a poem’s message. It can be pleasurable in its own right. Then, there are the forms of poetry designed for or generous to humorous content: limericks, rhyming couplets, parody, and others.
There are also poetic forms, such as the elegy, that are meant to be serious. In the end, the poet should aim to match form to content and mood. For a simple example, if a humorous shape emerges from a concrete poetic image, the reader expects funny content.
What is the relationship between your speaking voice and your written voice?
We both tend to be long winded. I’ve always been a formal speaker and an even more formal writer, using words often beyond the understanding or comfort levels of readers and listeners, who in my experience tend to be young or struggling students. But because I dabble in so many different genres, forms, and purposes with my writing, I’m still trying to find a cohesive voice for each. In some ways, just as novelists must put themselves in different frames of mind to get into different characters, a poet can use the poetic space to explore different perspectives and different voices from different characters. The narrator/speaker is not always the author in either poetry or fiction, and they should not be equated. Qualities of an author’s history or personality may echo through his or her work, but not all poetry or fiction is fully or even partially autobiographical.
I think, though, that it is a rare person who is able to speak the same way to every other person encountered in life. Because of this, even our speaking voices are not internally consistent, let alone matched up perfectly with our written voices. On one hand, you wouldn’t want to speak to a stranger the same way you speak to your child or partner. On the other, even when we try to “be ourselves,” we unconsciously hide and reveal, emphasize and downplay, different parts of ourselves depending on who we interact with, our comfort levels, intentions, vulnerabilities, experiences, habits, and modes of being—recreational versus professional atmospheres, for example. People not only can change but do, quite often from moment to moment, in how they represent themselves. It may be dishonest at times, but just as truth can be subjective, so can our identities be flexible. People rarely walk around unfiltered. There’s always a hidden and a visible self. Self-control, invaluable to civilization, means suppressing our first impulses, and that’s a kind of lie, too.
Do you belong to a writing group or community of poets with whom you share your work? Has this been beneficial?
I’m in a writing group, but it’s multi-modal and focused on fiction. Luckily, there are a few members who are also poets, which can add a layer of insight that those less familiar with poetry may not be able to offer. It’s always good to have an outside perspective to consider during revision. With the group, I learn things that apply to all my writing, including poetry.
What do you believe is the measure of success for a poet?
That’s an excellent question. The short answer, unfortunately, is the unsatisfying “It depends.” In this day of self-publishing at the drop of a hat, it’s not the ability to self-publish or be “published.” It’s not solely the ability to get the words on the page with confidence. It’s not necessarily being held in high esteem by authorities with clout, or receiving poetry awards. It’s neither self-defined nor externally defined alone. I suppose it could be a blend of self-perceived success, some degree of circulation of one’s poetry amidst the masses, and some acclaim as a result of that.
If you don’t feel successful, that doesn’t mean you aren’t, but success in poetry can rarely if ever be defined by financial reward or income sustainability. It’s a long-standing sad joke among poets that this just doesn’t happen with poetry alone. A writer has to diversify. Focus on non-fiction of various kinds, including researched biography, instruction books, a cultural niche, or journalism than to rely on poetry for lucrative ends. Once the poet accepts this reality and still commits to the work of writing verse as part of the repertoire, the aim is to continue to develop as an artist, to advance your craft beyond what it was yesterday. If you can do that, and know that you have, you are succeeding as a writer.
What advice do you have for aspiring poets? Do you believe writing poetry can be taught or is it strictly an inherent ability?
Certain principles and several specific forms of poetry must be taught, but writing good poetry also requires innate orientation to the music, cadence, rhythm, sounds, imagery, lyricism, phrasing, or forms of poetry. It requires a thorough understanding of the effective use of language to communicate, to suggest, to imply, and it requires knowing what not to write and how not to write. It requires study, whether self-driven or received in a top-down fashion, as in college or an MFA writing program. True poetry rarely just happens, though I suppose it has occurred and remains possible in that rare individual.
I come from a verse writing education where my professor encouraged further study of certain aspects of my work beyond the scope of my courses. However, I believe a poet can emerge without formal higher education. Poetry is one of those modes of writing with so many variations in approach and form that experimentation and innovation may actually be more readily achieved in poetry than in long-form fiction, for one.
Consistency and cohesion within a poem are key. You can break the rules, but do so across the poem without restoring them at any point. For example, if it’s going to be a poem with end rhymes, you must carry that through to the end. If the first lines are not rhymed, suddenly starting to rhyme part way through is jarring to the reader. If you don’t apply techniques consistently across a piece, you’ve probably written at least two different poems or parts of poems, thinking they’re one when they’re not.
Poetry is all about patterns and the communication of the parts with each other. This is more important in a short form of writing, including short stories, than in longer forms, though novels still do better with some discernible shape—the rising action, conflict, climax, etc.—than without it. If a poem is poorly organized or incoherent or disjointed, it’s really, really noticeable. You can more easily get away with a little nonsense or minor error in a fiction manuscript.
How would you recommend someone reading poetry for the first time approach a poem?
Any poem of significant length, complexity, or difficulty should be read in phases for its layers. First, read it for the basic idea, and then read aloud to listen for its music. Poetry is designed to be read aloud. Next, read it over and over again with a different focus each time, including: (1) prosody, or the elements of versification and metrical structure, (2) meter-related rhythm, (3) form, including stanza division and line breaks, (4) rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and other sonic devices, (5) use of literary tools such as personification, metaphor, and simile, (6) point of view and speaker vs. author, (7) relationship of title to poem, etc.
Form should reinforce meaning, support and not work against it, so the more you learn about how a poem is constructed, the closer you come to understanding its message. Sometimes, form can be a large part of message. Poetry is a mode not infrequently used in a self-reflexive way, with poems about poetry, to express poetic principles in structure and words. Finally (or first!) and most important of all, try to pinpoint what you like and dislike about a poem and why. This will inform your reading choices, increasing your enjoyment in the future, and help you learn more about poetry and how to write it.
How important is accessibility of meaning? Should one have to work hard to “solve” the poem?
A poet should not make it her primary or even secondary aim to impede the reading of her poem. I don’t believe in purposely self-defeating behavior. If you’re reasonably intelligent and you’ve read a poem repeatedly, discussed it, studied it, and still can’t figure out the major strokes, it’s not worth any more of your time. It’s probably unnecessarily difficult.
However, because there are layers to any good poem that’s not a couplet or simple Haiku, most poems can be appreciated at multiple levels. Something I enjoy most about poetry and any art form is the richness that allows the audience to discover something new with each return to the work. In academia, poetry reading and study involving sustained, diligent effort markedly increase your chances of fulfilling whatever analytical requirements your instructor has assigned. In pure enjoyment especially, however, poetry is in the eye of the beholder. Like all art, it is subject to matters of personal taste. It’s a subjective enterprise and a personal study. If you’re not required to work hard to solve it, why strain?
What do most poorly-written poems have in common?
A bad poem can be bad—or have bad sections—for many reasons. It states the obvious, confuses concepts, turns personal grievance into whining, stops at surface-level emotions and ideas, employs clichéd imagery, demonstrates careless word choice, uses length as a crutch to seem important, applies techniques inconsistently, ends after the first draft, abandons form for content, or, conversely, abandons sensible content to show off a certain structure—or all of the above.
If you start with free verse, let it remain free. Start with metered verse, and it should probably conform to the meter your first lines set, though some poetic forms deliberately shift meter across the poem. Unless your specific purpose is to explore the different effects deliberate shifting between formalism and free verse has on the structure or ideas, pick one or the other and stick to it.
Examples of excessive structural worship include using rhyme in a forced way, writing a sonnet with hackneyed imagery and stale word choice, writing in meter with awkward rhythm (i.e., bad meter), breaking lines in awkward places just keep lines neat, or only ever breaking lines at sentence endings.
There are still other ways poems can be poor in quality, but I think those are the main ones.
What do most well-written poems have in common?
The bottom line is that quality poetry, and any writing, is earned. Achieving quality in most things demands study, careful craft, practice, revision, and polish—and those efforts show in the final product. Beyond the opposite of all of those traits described in the previous answer, freshness and originality, masterful vocabulary, applied nuance, and skilled balancing of all aspects set great poems apart from the herd.
Who is your favorite poet?
Too many to list, but here are the main ones: Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Judith Wright, John Keats, Walt Whitman, W. B. Yeats, William Wordsworth, Amy Clampitt, Philip Larkin, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Billy Collins, Sylvia Plath, Wallace Stevens, Wislawa Szymborska, Matthew Arnold, Wilfred Owen, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, e. e. cummings, Robert Frost, Louis MacNeice, Marianne Moore, Rita Dove, Theodore Roethke, Adrienne Rich, Derek Walcott, Hugh MacDiarmid, W. H. Auden, Christina Rossetti, Robert Burns, Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and many 20th- and 21st-century songwriters.
Other poets I enjoy: William Matthews, Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Hirschfield, Carolyn Kizer, Mary Jo Salter, D. H. Lawrence, Henry David Thoreau, Dylan Thomas, Robert Pinsky, James Merrill, Richard Wilbur, Kenneth Koch, Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Donald Hall, Ted Hughes, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Blake, and Elaine Feeney.
What is your favorite poem?
That’s a bit like asking someone to pick a favorite moment in life or art. Some of those I’m most passionate about, which I highly recommend everyone reads, would be:
American trailblazers: “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman; Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death,” “A Route of Evanescence,” “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers,” “My Life had stood a Loaded Gun”
Best war themed: “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen (WWI) and “First Snow in Alsace” by Richard Wilbur (WWII)
A downright favorite: Amy Clampitt’s “Beethoven, Opus 111” and “The Sun Underfoot Among the Sundews” (love, love, love Clampitt!)
Quintessential Romanticism: “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth and “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats
A. E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young” and Countee Cullen’s “Heritage”
Love breaking the rules: “since feeling is first” by e. e. cummings
Pure contemporary, comic enjoyment: “Forgetfulness” and “I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of Three Blind Mice” by Billy Collins
Self-reflexive poem about what poetry should be: “Ars Poetica” by Archibald MacLeish
A good feminist spin-off: “Eve to Her Daughters” by Judith Wright
20th-century metrical verse: “The Sunlight on the Garden” by Louis MacNeice and “One Art” (a villanelle) by Elizabeth Bishop. Most poems by Elizabeth Bishop.
Comparing fish: “The Fish” by Marianne Moore and “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop
Oh, the sounds: “Root Cellar” by Theodore Roethke and “Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W. B. Yeats
Avant-garde, nature, ephemeral love & line breaks: Book I of Asphodel, That Greeny Flower by William Carlos Williams and “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens
A favorite Scots poem: “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns
Epic post-colonial poem: Omeros by Derek Walcott (having some French will help)
Best (only?) nonsense poem I know: “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll
Philip Larkin: “Church Going,” “For Sidney Bechet,” “An Arundel Tomb” & “Talking in Bed”
Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying,” “Tulips,” “Ariel,” and “Daddy”
Men of Ireland: “When You Are Old” by W. B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney’s “Punishment”
What kind of work are you most drawn to reading yourself? Do you find yourself reading work similar to your own or completely different?
With writing, I think like attracts like. I seek out what I want to emulate, and I try to emulate what I find most precise, original, musical, and beautiful.
What book are you reading right now?
A book club book: The Good Earth, itself written with lyrical, rhythmic prose by Pearl S. Buck. I’ve recently collected some books of poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Wislawa Szymborska, Judith Wright, and Elaine Feeney. I received A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver as a gift, but I haven’t been as impressed with her work. Also on my bookshelf are almost all of Billy Collins’ poetry, an old complete works of Emily Dickinson, poems by Rumi, and the Norton Anthology of Poetry, 4th edition, along with many other books of and about poetry.
Do the Internet and social media contribute to the well-being of poetry?
I believe so, though I couldn’t say how at the moment. Or, rather, I can’t tell whether the net effect is positive or negative. But like any major cultural force, it does have impact on art. So much is more readily accessible than before this digital information age. Quoting is a pastime for many. And yet, the impulse to speak constantly to others, to comb and scroll and scan through endless talk must also diminish the preciousness of words. We increasingly employ the short form in communicating with one another—the sound bite, tweet, Facebook shout-out, Instagram posting—but that doesn’t make it poetic, any more than reading print copies of novels makes us necessarily more poetic.
Where can one find you on the Internet?
Facebook: Carrie Tangenberg
LinkedIn: Carrie Tangenberg, Writer, Tutor
Do you have any non-poetry/writing creative outlets?
My most prevalent non-writing hobby would probably have to be photography. I like to draw occasionally. I’ll paint a picture every once in a while, but not without guidance; I’ve enjoyed a couple of those wine and painting events. I love color in general, so I dabble in home decorating, gardening, coloring books, and the occasional craft project.
Please share an original poem.
“Ode to Cantwell” by Carrie Tangenberg © 6/9/01, revised 4/10/16, 11/3/17
First composed at Cantwell Cliffs, Hocking Hills State Park, south central Ohio
Ferns cry up the greenest
moss-kissed stones I’ve seen.
Fellows dress in fringe,
and cascade merriment.
Velvet mats outdo
a frond-sprawl of delight—
in one vale, fresh spinach,
another, shamrock shake (or
is that lichen?), then lime
green Jell-O, young
in rained-soaked shade.
If trees are chefs and servants,
then falls of ale ensconce
a vast buffet, inviting
calls to Cantwell Cliffs.
No hearth yet in view,
we walk, my love and I,
grasp at crags and creases.
A share of these replaces
clasping hands—too fraught,
despite appeasing warmth.
Plump rock faces, deep-
set stoned eyes, cliff chins,
talus noses, unkempt
joyful, bearded jaws
of giant height (or depth),
bouldered, flaunt their black-
and-green tartan patterns,
like heady Guinness pints
wrapped in Beltane bands.
We lurk the upper lip
and scarce escape the teeth.
One walking stick—scepter-
shaped, a hovering torch—
guides a canty man
askance our emerald path.
Swift, glad and keen,
earthen steps from rod to
root, his wordless cant:
“I am the fateful ambler,
chief of my migration,
god of my life and strife.
I come here to be, to pass,
to climb, to stir green trails
to sight and sense, imbibe
and feast in any weather,
hearth or no, till I’m full
and satisfied. I’m noble
but free, for I leave it all
here, fulsome as before.
“Though I look not behind,
I know return is rare.”
Serrated plumage wags
at slightest breath of man.
Untrod, the mosses cling.
Ebullient, verdant things.
The Artist’s Corner – Talking Poetry With Poet Carrie Tangenberg, Part 1
I met Carrie Tangenberg several years ago in a writing group for poets and authors. Right from the start I could tell she was an intelligent, well-read, and well-spoken woman. The best part was that Carrie never came across as haughty or unapproachable. On the contrary, her elegance and calm reserve combined with her intellect positioned her to make the most constructive critiques. I have also witnessed this in the classical literature book club to which we both belong.
When I realized I needed a poet for The Artist’s Corner, Carrie immediately sprang to mind. I only wish you could hear her answers in her own sophisticated voice. I know you’ll enjoy reading them as they are deeply informative, openly transparent, and incredibly encouraging for anyone who has ever had a passion for art.
Tell me a little about yourself.
Creative writing has been part of my life since early childhood. In kindergarten, I wrote a story about a stick of personified butter in its trials and travails. I think that was my first story. Then, it was poetry in elementary school, which has persisted to present day.
After college, I applied my writing talent in office settings of the publishing and higher education fields. Later, I switched focus to teaching English and writing, along with other humanities subjects. Now, I blog about non-fiction, poetry, and novel writing, as well as nature, travel, and film and TV storytelling. I also tutor writing and career help online.
Other ways I stay connected to the writing world include participating in a classic literature book club, a local writing group, and our region’s National Novel Writing Month program. I took a course in memoir writing earlier this year, and I won a local poetry contest in spring 2016.
I also garden, bird-watch, practice photography, and hike in the area’s metro parks. In reading, I favor Outlander, literary fiction, adventure, contemporary realistic fiction, and sci-fi, poetry, and non-fiction works of memoir, writing about writing, and satire. My film preferences are eclectic, but many of my favorites happen to be space/alien sci-fi adventure such as Star Wars.
See the “About me” page of my blog for more philosophical and literary hints to my personality.
What prompted you to begin writing poetry?
I’ve always had a strong sense of rhythm and musicality, so after dancing jazz in first grade and lip-syncing to tunes in the living room, I started writing rhyming poems about birds in fifth grade. Most of my life’s poetry is about nature or wildlife, from the first to the most recent attempts. I also love language and playing with the sounds words make.
Who or what is your inspiration for writing poetry?
Number one, as I said, is wildlife or wilderness, often birds, trees and flowers, landscapes, waterways, and even insects, soil, and rocks, or as broad as the cosmos. I’m fascinated by predator-prey dynamics, the beauty and indifference of nature, and I love all sorts of animals. Favorites include wolves, foxes, African wild dogs, otters, all sorts of birds, chameleons, and meerkats. In an alternate life where I’m better at math and science, if I couldn’t be an ornithologist, I’d be a wildlife or canid biologist.
Other inspirations are existential or spiritual contemplation often intersecting with language and meaning—in other words, the nature of life, death, perception, reality, motivation, and how we express and understand those. Occasionally, I’m inspired by current events such as the death of Leonard Nimoy, for which I wrote my first elegy.
How does a poem begin for you, with an idea, a form, or an image?
It varies. Sometimes I’m attempting to capture an image with description. Other times, I like a phrase or concept and want to see what I can make of it. Mainly, spare impressions guide me forward, and the end result can often remain rather impressionistic. I long ago developed the habit of gravitating toward nature imagery for my similes and metaphors.
I suppose I enjoy the challenge of urging fresh ways of looking at nature, since it’s been done so much by so many poets and songwriters for so long. Nature poetry is typically the first kind that non-poetic types think of or attempt to write, usually a piece of verse about autumn leaves, celestial bodies, or weather. I often aim to upend those expectations or write the usual in an unusual way. So, the prominent starting points are ideas and language, but I might set out to fill a form such as a sonnet, blank verse, or even a limerick—for added, puzzle-solving challenge.
What conditions help you with your writing process? Where do you write? When do you write?
Optimal conditions are the ongoing puzzle I have yet to solve. If only I could figure this out, I’d be in so much greater shape artistically, if not also in terms of publishing. I write mostly at home, but I also find inspiration in local parks, other green spaces, and the occasional cafe. Sometimes I’ll start on the computer, but I keep in touch with the fact that handwriting can boost my creative flow. I write in cursive as often as in print letters, and that lends its own enjoyment of beauty to the exercise. I can write at all hours, whenever the mood or idea strikes, but I’m most productive late at night. I’m not sure when I write best, though.
What is your creative process? Do you have any routines?
Typically, I’ll draft a poem long-hand, then either mark it up or type it up for revision. Next, I’ll try to apply my revision ideas. Often it helps at this point to set the poem aside and come back after a few days or even weeks to see if I still like it enough overall to polish it in its current basic structure. If not, I’ll file it unchanged. If so, I’ll put my best foot forward in finalizing the poem.
I once chronicled my verse writing process on my blog in a series of 4 posts. I learned a lot by doing that, but I don’t know if it helped me set any particular approach in stone or make significant changes to my routine. The posts are cross-linked, and the first one is “On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation.“
What books (of poetry or the creative process) or poets have influenced your writing?
Emily Dickinson was my initial influence for imagery, rhythm, and the combined sounds of words. She wrote a lot about death and loss, as well as nature, in her reclusive solitude. As a child, I had few close friends, so I could relate to some of that desolation and loneliness. Those feelings linger with me, but they’ve also evolved as I’ve adjusted how I write about nature. I have become accustomed to melancholy and used it to my artistic advantage.
Other works I find myself imitating are the nature poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Amy Clampitt, Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, W.B. Yeats, and Judith Wright. I also love poets Philip Larkin and Billy Collins. Derek Walcott’s epic poem Omeros, which I read in college, is simply stunning. Beauty drips from this post-colonial Caribbean take on Homer’s The Odyssey.
How often do you create a new poem? What style or form do you choose for your poems?
I write half a dozen or so poems a year, sometimes working on them for long periods and coming back after a break to revise further. The rest are brief impressions jotted and then affectionately released from my attention into the archives. Most often I write in free verse using internal or near rhyme.
Are there any forms you haven’t tried but would like to?
Let’s see. I’ve written one poem in blank verse, a few sonnets, a syllabic, an elegy, a sestina, a villanelle, couplets, limericks, a handful of concrete poems, free verse, songs with refrains, and I tend to play with line and stanza breaks. If I thought more about it, I would probably find lots of forms I’d like to try. I have a poster with a reference chart of poetic forms on it at home. Some of them are very difficult, though, and it takes real dedication, regular practice, or teaching poetry to be primed for those challenges. I tend to dabble and seldom tutor poetry writing, though I have enjoyed a few sessions.
How much of yourself do you write into your poetry?
That’s a good existential question if I ever saw one. For me, the way I’ve written myself into poetry has progressed in different stages, but sometimes I return to earlier ones. I used to write a lot of confessional poetry about feelings, anxieties, depression, situational impressions, my experiences during study in France, and some poems about playing soccer or about ideas in stories I’ve read.
Nowadays, I still write occasional complaints in poetic form, but I don’t consider those serious or publishable samples. I have a strong aversion to writing, or reading, political poetry. I prefer the essay form for that purpose. I find a lot of slam poetry and poetry focused on political viewpoints to be too whiny, with off-putting ideas or, most frequently, simply incomplete and unpolished. People tend to take liberties with form, clarity, and content when motivated by outrage or ennui.
I’m always somewhere in my own poems—as the speaker and observer, as a character made of shades of myself and my way of thinking and speaking, and sometimes as the subject. I think every writer is to some degree.
Do you find yourself returning to a particular theme in your poetry?
The most prominent themes include natural elements as expressions of mood, marveling at some specimen of the animal kingdom, struggles for personal freedom and comfort in my own skin, or a combination of these. I’ve also focused a lot on nature poetry in my blog, along with book and arts reviews, emphasizing Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander book and the STARZ TV series. I recently added travel writing about our wonderful trip to Scotland inspired by Outlander. My blog title is a throwback to my philosophy roots, a nod to part of a nickname for me, and a portmanteau meant to capture that blend of writing topics: “Philosofishal.”
Word choice in poetry seems so important. Do you write with a dictionary or thesaurus next to you or make words choices in the editing process?
I periodically refer to dictionary.com or thesaurus.com and research using the Internet. Word choice is extremely important—one of the most important aspects of poetry in particular and, I believe, any good writing. Precise meaning, the right sounds, the right shapes and lengths for optimal rhythm, and careful phrasing, punctuation, and line breaks all have to work in concert for the best effects.
Punctuation choice is highly under-appreciated as a conveyor of nuanced meaning in writing. In poetry, if it is to be used, which is not required, punctuation must be precisely and consistently applied. That was one of the most memorable lessons my verse writing professor had for me in college: “You really must study punctuation.” As an English teacher and poet, I pay close attention to grammar and mechanics standards. When you know the rules, you can more effectively bend, break or uphold them to fit a poem’s purpose and style.
What is your revision process like?
In a poetry reading event at the Akron-Summit County Public Library last year, former U. S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, of whom I have been a long-time fan, said his writing process is nearly effortless. This comes with experience, of course, but he also makes a point of intentionally abandoning the task early if it gets too unwieldy, cumbersome, or sticky. I haven’t learned that trick, or earned that freedom, yet.
As I mentioned earlier, if I think I have a good enough start, I’ll draft and revise until it’s finished or until it’s changed too much to salvage. This speaks to the importance of saving versions. It can be unavoidable to struggle, though, and to be disheartened by ruinous results. Revision is the fine art of learning when good enough is good enough, which is very subjective, especially for new or amateur poets or poets without good editors. Perhaps I also feel a sense of urgency to put out a product, abandoning my drafts only after a hefty, strenuous effort, long past the wisest point of letting go.
Writers need to learn to become comfortable with what we call sh**ty first drafts, to expect snags and detours, and to know when it’s time to switch focus to a new or different project. Several factors may need to come together to make a piece work well, so that means a lot can go wrong, too. First, you have to know what the different aspects of a poem are. Then, after carefully assessing each factor and addressing each as needed, you can get a more realistic sense of a poem’s or a painting’s potential.
It’s always going to be something of a process, but we’re better off if we can recognize when we’re courting futility. The key at that moment is not to view this as a failure, which can be quite hard for artists, me included. Instead, finishing may be a simple matter of using a different form for the content, pinpointing that missing language or concept, or waiting a while for it all to coalesce, but that doesn’t necessarily make finishing any quicker or easier.
Is poetry your only type of writing? If not, what other types of writing do you indulge in? What is the relationship between your poetry and other writing?
I write a lot of different things, but not as many as I should or could if I were publishing my verse regularly. I write essays and articles on my blog about creativity, book reviews, TV shows, travel, and nature. I write novels during NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo. I write political manifestos I never publish, just to get things off my chest. I recently began trying my hand at memoir and may do more of that in the future. My main focus right now, though, is the non-fiction on my blog.
Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?
My standards for what makes a good poem have definitely risen with education, my own reading, and writing experience. I’ve also found poetry in the prose of certain novels and learned to appreciate different poetic forms and outlets as I’ve aged, realizing how rare poetry really is.
Do poets experience (mental/writing) block (or fear) the way a writer of novels or short stories does? If you have, how did you handle it?
Writing is writing. Working with words or any creative material, in whatever form, brings with it challenges and rewards, as with any job. Furthermore, good writing and holding oneself to a standard of good writing means that, chances are, there will be anxiety. Pressure is useful up to a point. It’s when my own internal pressure to perform and produce becomes too much that I have the most trouble writing.
For me, it’s a periodically recurring problem. I feel as if I’m always searching for ways forward, but that’s also my nature: I’m a seeker. I’m very interested in the “how” of life and writing, so I experiment a lot, resist routine, and tend to suffer the inevitable consequences: interesting process, fewer outcomes, more worry. It’s mentally and emotionally taxing, but it can be creatively fruitful, too, because I’m already slightly outside the box in my thinking sometimes.
What do you hope to achieve with your poems? Do you ask questions in your poetry? If so, are they open ended questions or do you resolve them?
I have several different aims that can either cooperate or compete with each other in a poem for both my audience and myself. Beauty is one. Insight is another. Cleverness and novelty, yet others. Sometimes I write my journaling in verse, but I may not realize it’s just artistic journaling until later. In those cases especially, one of my aims is to convey a certain message or answer a particular question.
With nature poetry, as I mentioned earlier, a typical aim is to upset expectations, to open minds and hearts to new ways of seeing things. Along with these purposes, I’m mindful of craft and improving it. I might focus on developing a keener feel for line breaks or achieving tighter phrasing or using a different literary device than I might typically rely on.
As for solving or leaving unsolved, it depends. I think I often try my best to answer a question my poem poses, but more often than not, it’s only partially resolved or the question has changed or has been revealed to be missing the point by the end.
~~Part 2 of Carrie Tangenberg’s interview continues tomorrow at The Artist’s Corner