Wondering how to get more poetry in your life?

National Poetry Month Display @ Forest Hills

National Poetry Month Display @ Forest Hills (Photo credit: mySAPL)

Try these tips from Melissa Wiley at Geek Mom. 5 websites and books to explore and read over the course of a year until National Poetry Month rolls around again in April. (Which I totally missed celebrating here on this blog) Most of the tips are geared to families with children, but are still great suggestions even if you don’t have kids.

And one more tip I have used: Pick a favorite poem and find a book of poems by the author. Read one poem a day until you finish the book.

Book Review: The McCloud Home for Wayward Girls

Judging by the author blurb in the back of the book,The McCloud Home for Wayward Girlsis Wendy Delsol’s first book for adults, as opposed to young adults. It shows, particularly in the first couple chapters, as Ms. Delsol lays the groundwork for the book’s mystery and begins to build suspense around the tissue of lies the characters have created for themselves. But as the novel gains speed, Ms. Delsol gains confidence, and the writing becomes less clunky and much smoother.

By the end of the book, the reader realizes that the main character, Jill, and those closest to her have been living in a world of lies for decades. Nothing is as it seems, and the entire house of cards comes down when Ruby, Jill’s mother and family matriarch, begins acting very strangely. All’s well that ends well, but it is an emotionally wrenching journey to get there.

I do recommend this book — stick with it through the first couple chapters and you will be well-rewarded. Four out of five stars.

On Writing Monday’s Poem

Robert Frost Cabin

Image by origamidon via Flickr

On Monday, I posted a poem written in the style of Robert Frost. This post is about the process of writing that poem.

It’s harder than it looks to write in another poet’s style, and keep the poem on track — true to mood and rhyme. My first draft of the third stanza veered away from the mood I was trying to achieve as I worked around the rhymes I wanted to incorporate. The voice of the poem was no longer aiming for Frost’s style.

I changed the rhyme scheme and steered the poem closer to what I wanted the voice and mood of the poem to be. Coming to the final two stanzas, I struggled to do what I feel Frost is so capable of — show the madness and passion hovering just below the surface of the female character. Examples of this in Frost’s work are Home Burial and The Fear.

And struggling with the very end of the poem, realizing the inadequacy of my words to match Frost’s genius, I found an unrhymed couplet that, while not genius nor wonderful, at least was an adequate end to the poem.

In the style of Robert Frost

I’m trying something new — reading a poet & then writing one or a few poems in his or her style. Today I want to share some lines in the style of Robert Frost.

We went to Bozeman in the green valley
Past the canyon where the river doesn’t shilly-shally
But leaps and roils in great passion
Carrying the huge logs and trying to refashion
The banks.

Poetic Forms in Modern Poetry

On the internet, many poets use rhyme, and meter, and the old poetic forms. In the poetry journals, it’s all (or mostly all) free verse and the over-use of images for their emotional impact. (Thank you, Mary Oliver, for helping me realize that with your book, A Poetry Handbook.)

The question becomes, do the internet-posting poets use the old forms because they are not experienced enough to do otherwise, or does the internet, as a fleeting medium, meant to be read quickly, if not skimmed, lend itself to the old forms that were meant to be spoken, the most fleeting medium of all? (Personally, I would argue the latter.)

And do the poetry journal poets, the poets of academia, use free verse and much imagery because that is the next evolution in poetry, or because they have not read enough poetry in the old forms to know how to use it and how to use rhyme and meter correctly? (Mary Oliver would argue the latter, but I am not sure. Perhaps there is another answer.)

Another interesting point is that the easiest place to find rhyming poems today is in children’s books.  Is this an attempt to educate our children in an important aspect of our history and culture, or are children’s books the last refuge of the old-fashioned poet who can use rhyme and meter to write about sunsets?

I know this post is full of questions. I welcome your ideas and comments. Let’s start a discussion about the place of rhyme, meter, and form in modern poetry.

Confirmation that my poetry is not about to be published

This column states more clearly than I ever could how poetry that does not fit inside ‘the box’ is not going to be published.

From the article:

Typically there are two types of aesthetics (following the MFA division of poetry into two major camps): the narrative/formally uninventive/epiphany-based confessional or memoiristic short poem, and the experimental/avant-garde/language poetry camp, which takes its inspiration from deconstruction and makes a fetish of the insensibility of ordinary language. A judge from one camp is never going to pick a book from another camp; it just doesn’t happen. The screeners know it, and hopefully the submitters know it too (unless they’re really stupid). Already a great deal of self-screening has taken place, and rapidly amplifies during the early stages of screening.

My poetry doesn’t fit within either of those two camps, and I don’t have an MFA (nor the time or opportunity or desire to get one).

I have been working on a chapbook for a few months now, and was planning on submitting it to some contests. Will I, now that I’ve read that article? Maybe, but with the awareness that it probably won’t get published.

When it comes right down to it, what I want is for people to read my writing. I would write even if no one ever saw it, but it’s a lot more fun writing to be read. Sometimes I consider self-publishing, but it seems like a lot of effort just to not be read — I don’t know if I could promote my book enough to get it into the hands of enough readers to be worth it.

Edited to add: Honestly, I’ll probably still enter contests. I wrote this feeling depressed, yet again, about my chances. But I do wish there was another way. Actually, there is another way, sending individual poems to poetry journals. I tried that. My poetry wasn’t good enough, and the journals highly recommend (sometimes require) you to read the journal ahead of time and/or have a subscription. I can’t afford multiple poetry journal subscriptions and the wasted paper makes me cringe. Living in the back of beyond (okay, not really, just hundreds of miles from a major metropolitan area) means that the local bookstores and library do not carry poetry journals. Anyway, enough of my rambling. If you’d like another perspective on the article I quoted above, here it is.

Have any of you been published? Was it by a traditional publisher, or self-published? Was it worth it?

Book Review: Love Letters

Love Letters, by Katie Fforde, is a sweet story of a shy bookstore clerk, Laura, meeting her favorite author and falling in love with him. The story is improbable at times, as it relies on happenstance and Laura’s amazing ability to suddenly be in just the right place at just the right time, but also believable. Who among us has not managed to be right there, in the moment, at the right moment?

I was rooting for Laura, as she navigates the tricky waters of overcoming her shyness and finding a new job after the bookstore where she works closes, along with meeting and persuading her favorite author to come to the literary festival she has fallen into organizing.

A good book, with a believable romance, yet not cheesy. I liked it very much. I wish I could read Ms. Fforde’s books as soon as they come out, but since she is a UK writer and I am in the US, I think that is not to be. I see on her website that she has a new book out in the UK, and her preceding book is now available in hardcover in the US. I read the one before that, Love Letters, in paperback from my library’s new book section. I sense a long wait before me for her other books.

Five out of five stars.

Book Review: Fly Away Home

Cover of "Fly Away Home: A Novel"

Cover of Fly Away Home: A Novel

I just finished Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner. It was a good book. I don’t really have anything to say about it except that I enjoyed it very much and it certainly made me think about the choices I have made in life, the choices every married woman makes, and that are magnified ten times over for the wives of politicians.

And since I don’t write about my personal life online, that’s about all I do have to say about it. I wouldn’t be writing this review at all, because one paragraph hardly makes a book review, except it came to my attention (reading the comments on a post over at Uppercase Woman) that one is not supposed to like Jennifer Weiner. Somehow, her books are not considered Literature.

I want to make it clear that the commenters over at Uppercase Woman were disregarding this, and even found it somewhat ridiculous. But it occurs to me that, in the list of books that one is supposed to be ashamed of reading, are an awful lot of women authors.

Why should we be ashamed of reading authors who make their characters come alive, who present real people with real problems to be solved, and make us interested in the solutions? Why should we be ashamed of reading women authors who write about women, for women? And there, I think, is the key. Just as women’s voices have been marginalized throughout history (Oh, they have nothing to talk about except family and home) now we see women’s voices being marginalized in Literature. Oh, they only write about other women. Oh, they don’t write about real issues.

And while others have said these things before, and better than I can, I want to say it again. Because it is only by bringing these thoughts into the open that we can fight them. No one can fight shadows, and so we need to bring our lights and shine them on Literature until all good writers are included, not just those who won their battles already, or never had a fight at all.

How do you know good poetry?

The Bookaholic is asking how you recognize poetry and how you know it’s good. I said:

Good poetry gives me chills. Bad poetry just makes me sick. But when the rhyme, the rhythm and the words are perfect, then I feel taken out of myself into a place where words are the creation and the creator, and the word is the action is the image.

What do you think? How do you know good poetry? Tell me here or head over to the Bookaholic and add to the discussion there.

Book Review: The Mistaken Wife

Having finished The Mistaken Wife, by Rose Melikan, I must say that it’s not as good as the first two books in her series about Mary Finch. In the first two books, The Blackstone Key and The Counterfeit Guest, I got a sense of Mary in accidental danger, of secrets hidden and discovered without intention, of danger blundered into. This is not to suggest that Mary was an idiot or prone to taking too many risks, but rather that Mary seemed an innocent young woman who had a talent for finding secrets and tumbling into danger. I enjoyed this sense of accident, and felt that anyone could have Mary’s adventures. Ms. Melikan also did a superb job of setting the scene in the first two books, and dropping little hints to help the modern reader feel at home in the eighteenth century.

But in this third book, I feel cheated. Ms. Melikan’s specialty is eighteenth century England, and English law of the same period. The Mistaken Wife is set almost entirely in France, and Ms. Melikan’s lesser familiarity with that country shows. The book is still researched in depth, but not to the same exhaustive degree as the first two books.

And even worse, the plot of this book feels contrived. Mary does not accidentally step into danger, but willfully accepts it, even if she is pushed into it slightly by her spymaster friend, Cuthbert Shy. It’s all explained well enough in the book, but I think that sending Mary to France at the height of the Napoleonic Wars smacks of an author’s desperation to find another hair-raising situation for her heroine.

The other books had a grace to them, a sense that the whole thing had an over-arching beauty to it with a form that the author, at least, understood. But this one lacks that grace, and feels more pushed together and plodded through.

Still an excellent book, but only 3 out of 5 stars.

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