This Week’s Reading

Ashenden — Elizabeth Wilhide

The Lemon Orchard — Lonnie Rice

Trains and Lover — Alexander McCall Smith (from last week)

Mini Book Review: Instructions for a Heatwave & The Orchardist

I just finished two good books, Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell and The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. Oddly, however, they both had unsatisfying endings, leaving me wanting more.

Instructions for a Heatwave follows an Irish family living in England in 1973. It begins the morning the husband goes out for the morning newspaper and doesn’t return. His disappearance and its aftermath forces his grown children and their mother to confront the secrets they have been hiding for their entire lives. It was very, very good, but the ending comes abruptly, and left me wanting more — to find out what happened next.

The Orchardist is also excellent, although a very different book. Set in the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth in central Washington state, it is about a a man who lives alone in his apple and apricot orchard and what happens after he allows two runaway pregnant teenage girls to stay on his property. Hunted by a man who would take them back to his brothel, they are desperate not to return there. A powerful book, the ending was somehow unsatisfying and seemed a little hurried. I wish the author had expanded a little bit on what happened to the main characters after the main part of the story was over.

All in all, I enjoyed these two books very much. Four out of five stars for both of them.

Writing Poetry

Note: This is a talk I gave at a writing group in 2010 on my poetry writing process. I’ve made some minor changes for publishing here.

First Draft

Getting the Words Down

How I write poetry: I always start a poem with an image. Sometimes, I see something that strikes me. Sometimes an image just pops into my mind. Sometimes I use a prompt. I prefer picture prompts or short, two or three word prompts. Looking at the striking object or the prompt, a phrase and a general feeling will come to me. I usually use that first phrase as the first line of the poem. Then I build on that line with more lines, using the general feeling as a guide to them. Usually, for longer poems, I’m telling a story.

After a line or two, I have a sense of which form I want to use for the poem. I want to mention here a few things about forms. I have a set of forms I like to use. If I read a poem in a new form I like, or read about a new form, I usually try to write a poem of my own using the form to see if it fits my style. Using forms really improved my poetry, because a form is a pattern, and provides patterns that are pleasing to the reader. I’ll talk more about specific forms in a moment.

Occasionally, I won’t pick a form after the first couple lines. I’ll write the whole poem in free verse, then go back and fit it to a form. I usually do this when I’m not sure right away what I’m trying to do with the poem. I’ll discuss a little more about how I do this later.

I often go back as I write and change already written lines to fit the further lines, and how the poem is developing. This is a little tricky sometimes, because with or in addition to the form, I always try to have a syllable or meter pattern going on. Some forms are defined by these patterns, some are not, and if I’m using a form without a pattern, I try to make sure I create one of my own.

Once I have a poem, I read it again as an editor, making sure that it flows the way I want it to. Sometimes, especially if I’m just dashing something off for practice, I’ll leave it here. Otherwise I’ll keep working on it. If I’m not happy, I set it aside. I don’t always finish a poem in one sitting. I write notes to myself about where I see the poem going, and what I hear in it already, and then I set it aside. I’ll come back and work on it more later.

Punctuation in Poetry

Just like Prose

A period is a full stop, a comma is a pause before a new phrase or idea. A long dash is used as a pause, but not a full breath like a comma. Or think of it like this: A period is to start a new idea entirely, a comma is to insert a new idea without finishing the old one and a long dash is to add a comment to the idea. And just like prose, colons set off lists, and semi-colons separate the items of the list if commas are used within the items. These last two are used rarely. Also, avoid the temptation to punctuate the end of every line. The end of a line (and a stanza end, too) is a natural break, and a pause, so you don’t need to add anything unless it fits naturally.

Form and Meter


First, a little about meter. Mary Oliver explains it much better than I can,  so this is from page 36 and 37 of her book, A Poetry Handbook. Emphasis hers.

  1. In metrical verse, each line of the poem can be divided into feet, and each foot into stresses (syllable sounds), to reveal the overall rhythmic pattern.
  2. The process of dividing a line into its metrical feet and each foot into its individual parts is called scansion.
  3. An iamb, or an iambic foot, is one light stress followed by one heavy stress.
  4. Five iambic feet strung together create an iambic pentameter line.

Be sure and read the book for the wonderful examples — when I read them, the lightbulb just went off.

Poetic Forms

The forms I share here are just my favorite forms that work best with my writing style. There are lots of other forms out there, some of which I have tried. Each poet needs to work out for herself which forms work best for her. You can find forms by searching on the Internet, or in books. I particularly like Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms by Babette Deutsch and A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry by Mary Oliver. Both these books have lots more information on poetry than just the forms, and I highly recommend both of them.


Three lines, using syllable count. I like it for writing short descriptions of an object.





A repeating form. It’s a French adaptation of a Malaysian form. It’s good for telling stories, particularly ones with repeating themes. Each stanza is four lines. After the first stanza, each stanza’s 1st and 3rd lines repeat the 2nd and 4th lines of the preceding stanza. The final stanza uses the 2nd and 4th lines of the preceding stanza and the 1st and 3rd lines of the first stanza, as couplets, either the lines of the preceding stanza and then the lines of the first stanza, or vice versa. I letter the stanzas, and number the lines, so I can keep it all straight. There are usually 4 or 5 stanzas, but there can be as many as the author likes. No rhyme or meter is necessary, but I often try to use a meter (either the same one for all lines, or alternating. Using an alternating meter pattern means the pattern will reverse in each stanza, e.g. tetrameter/trimeter in the first stanza becomes trimeter/tetrameter in the second, and so on.) You will see variations on this form, particularly in the final stanza. When repeating lines, you can change a word or the tense, or change punctuation, but each repeated line needs to be essentially the same as the original.





B1 A2


B3 A4


C1 B2


C3 B4


D1 A3 or D1 C2

D2 A1 D2 C4

D3 C2 D3 A3

D4 C4 D4 A1


A nine line poem using syllable count in a pattern:










The first and last lines are identical. I like rictameters for describing a scene, or a brief story.

Syllabic Verse

From Mary Oliver: “The number of syllables in each of the lines in the first stanza is exactly repeated in the following stanzas. . . . Because of the strictness of syllable-count, and the inevitable variety of stress-pattern, syllabic verse creates a music that is highly regular and at the same time filled with engaging counterpoint.” I like syllabic verse for subjects that do not lend themselves to repetition and yet I want a regular pattern to fit the story to.

Writing a Poem

I want to walk you through my process of writing a poem with an actual example of a poem I wrote in response to a specific prompt: a photo of a blue lake among sand dunes and it was supposed to be a four line poem.

It started out:

Cool water, shaded

A blue gem hidden between sand dunes

What a precious treasure.

It was only three lines and a little dissonant and without pattern. I decided to use a meter. Changing the first line to

Cool water, shrub-shaded

was more descriptive and in iambic trimeter (three feet per line). The middle line was in iambic tetrameter (four feet per line) and I decided that would fit the rhythm I wanted better. So I rearranged the lines, looking for tetrameter, resulting in:

A blue gem among sandy dunes

Sky reflecting, shrub shaded,

Cool water for thirsty drinkers

What a precious desert treasure.

But ‘precious’ is too long, so I changed it to ‘lovely.’

A blue gem among sandy dunes

Sky reflecting, shrub shaded,

Cool water for thirsty drinkers

What a lovely desert treasure.

You’ll note that the poem goes straight from disorder to tetrameter. I couldn’t have done that a year or so ago, but when I started trying to use meter and syllable count in my writing, the easier it became. Now I just need to have a meter or syllable count in mind, and the lines will usually match what I want, or be very close.

Guest Post: The Big List of Different Types of Poems by Kenney


Poetry (Photo credit: Kimli)

From Lizbeth: The following is a guest post by Kenney Myers. It originally appeared on his blog. I already wrote about poetic forms in modern poetry, and I thought this was a nice summary of many of the formal types of poetry.

When it comes to poetry, there are more formal types than the casual reader may realize. There’s definitely more to poetry than the rhyming sentiments in greeting cards, though many of those verses do adhere to one of these style forms. The poetry types listed here are a mere sampling of the many different forms out there, and can serve as an interesting starting point for a deeper study of poetry and its many styles.

  • Haiku – Comprised of three unrhymed lines with rigid syllable requirements, the Japanese haiku poetry form generally contains a season word and often focuses on nature. The syllable scheme of five morae for the first line, seven for the second and an additional five in the final line can present an interesting challenge for new poets.
  • Limericks – With five lines and a standard verbal rhythm, limericks are almost always humorous and are known for being quite bawdy. Vulgar limericks are certainly not uncommon, despite the fairly rigid format of five anapestic lines.
  • Sonnets – Immortalized by the classic works of William Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay and other masters of the form, sonnets are fourteen-line lyric poems that typically have one or more conventional rhyme schemes.
  • Villanelle – With nineteen lines, five tercets and a final quatrain on two rhymes, the villanelle is a challenging poetry form. The first and third lines of the first tercet also repeat alternately as closing refrains on the succeeding stanzas and the final couplet of the quatrain.
  • Epics – The sweeping poems detailing the heroic exploits of a strong figure are called epics, and are generally quite long and very serious. The Odyssey, Beowulf and Mahabharata are all examples of famous epic poems.
  • Couplets – Couplet poems are made up of two-line, rhyming stanzas. Couplets are commonly used in greeting card verses, though there are also some famous literary couplets.
  • Elegies – Melancholy in tone, elegies are poems written in remembrance of a particular person after their death. These memorial poems are thoughtful and respectful, generally detailing the accomplishments and good qualities of the departed subject.
  • Free Verse – Free verse poetry, or vers libre, can be written with or without a set rhyme scheme, have no fixed metrical pattern and no style requirements. Modern poetry publishers tend to favor free verse styles over the more rigid, formal formats of the past.
  • Lyric – The word “lyric” doesn’t just refer to the words of a song, though song lyrics are usually considered a lyric poem. The true definition of a lyric poem is that it expresses the feelings and thoughts of the writer, and focuses largely on emotion or opinion.
  • Ode – Long in length, meditative or thoughtful in nature and almost always in a serious tone, lyric poems feature an elevated style and the structure of stanzas is formal.
  • Quatrain – The format of a quatrain requires that the four lines adhere to a specific scheme. The second and fourth lines must rhyme and contain roughly the same number of syllables in order to retain the metrical style and verbal rhythm associated with the quatrain.
  • Rondeau – French in origin, the rondeau contains ten or thirteen lines with two rhymes, and the opening phrase is repeated twice within the poem as the refrain.
  • Sestina – Six stanzas of six lines each and a three-line envoy are the stamps of a sestina, with the last words of the first stanze repeated in a varied order in the other stanzas and also recurring in the envoy.
  • Romanticism – Poetry focused on the concept of love with an emphasis on the poet’s personal experience in love or romance falls under the “romanticism” style of poetry.
  • Pastoral – Poems that celebrate a rural lifestyle in the bucolic wonder of nature are referred to as “pastoral” poems. Nature untouched by the encroachment of modern civilization is the focus of a pastoral poem, with Milton’s pastoral epic Paradise Lost being one of the most famous examples.

Be sure to let me know if I missed any!


Another note from Lizbeth: I do like a pantoum, myself, a Malaysian form adapted by the French. Perhaps I’ll do a follow-up post about my favorite poem forms.

Breath: A Poem #poetry

Out driving with my girl
In the hills east of town
Through the glowing afternoon
The sunlight reflects from storm clouds
Gathering over the mountains
Over the hills invisibly flowing and crumpling
Higher, ever higher. When we are gone past memory,
Mountains will rise here.
Sunlight slides into storm,
Our time here is as fleeting as a breath.
Crow lifts off from a fencepost,
Dives into the wheat field, and is gone.

This Week’s Reading #books

Father Unknown — Fay Sampson
The Great Escape — Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Empress of the Seven Hills — Kate Quinn
Big Stone Gap — Adriana Trigiani

Book Review: Annie’s Special Day

Note: Usually, I receive no compensation for my book reviews — the books come from the library or I purchase them. However, for this book review, I accepted a free review copy. This book review is part of a blog tour promoted by Lightning Book Promotions.

Read to the bottom of the post to enter to win a copy of Annie’s Special Day!

Annie’s Special Day, by Clara Bowman-Jahn, is a very special book. Sweetly illustrated, it follows Annie throughout her birthday, showing all the special things that happen to Annie, from her brother playing a birthday song to planting tulips with her mom, to her slumber party with her friends that night. A different clock is shown on each page, marking off the hours and helping kids learn to tell time.

I liked it very much, especially the different clocks. The little girl I read it to also liked it very much, asking for it to be read over and over.

Five out of five stars.

A note about the book & blog tour:

Everyone knows the importance of reading in a young child’s life. Clara understand this importance and that is why she has asked her publisher to donate one copy of Annie’s Special Day for every copy sold during Annie’s Special Day blog tour to Kids Need To Read at Help make a child’s life brighter with a book!
Let’s support kids and reading!
Last but not least, the Giveaway!
Click here to enter the giveaway for a copy of Annie’s Special Day.

This Week’s Reading

The results of taking unwanted books to the used bookstore for credit and the library book sale:

Get Off the Unicorn — Anne McCaffrey
The Death of Sleep — Anne McCaffrey & Jody Lynn Nye
The Tomorrow Tamer — Margaret Laurence
The Senator’s Wife — Karen Robards
The Cat Who Brought Down the House — Lillian Jackson Braun
The Mermaid Chair — Sue Monk Kidd
Knockout — Catherine Coulter

This Week’s Reading

The Beginner’s Goodbye — Anne Tyler
Copper Beach — Jayne Ann Krentz
The Taste of Salt — Martha Southgate
The Best American Short Stories of 2011 — edited by Geraldine Brooks
Birds of Paradise — Diana Abu-Jaber

There were lots of great books in the New Books section at the library today. I had to leave (enough books for a while) before I had looked at all the ones that caught my eye. Next time, I guess.

Mini Book Review: State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett is accurately named. Having finished it, I find myself in a state of wonder at the way things all turned out. The phrase is also an apt metaphor for many of the characters’ states of mind throughout the book. I think I am left with more questions than answers at the end of this book. It is excellent, and I find myself liking it all the more for the lack of a ‘Guide to this Book’ that you find at the back of books so often nowadays.

I know the ‘Guides’ are there to make the book more desirable to book clubs (which the publishers of course wish to encourage — what seller doesn’t want to sell a dozen copies at a time?) but they (the ‘Guides’) often seem so simplistic — asking basic questions about the characters’ motivations and feelings. It reminds me too strongly of the essays I had to write in high school.

Somehow, when I find a book lacking a ‘Guide,’ particularly a book as incomprehensible as this one, the lack says, ‘I don’t need to tell someone how to read me, I can stand on my own, even if no one really understands what that means.’ It has a dignity all its own, beyond the explanatory questions.

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