Friday, April 29, 2016

Moonlight Musings

Surviving April: 

NaPoWriMo and all that 

Well it could be worse. It's not NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) where would-be novelists must churn out thousands of words a day (not necessarily with much attempt to make them good words). 

I did that one year; which was, well, educational – but never again. After all, I am no novelist; I just wanted to get more idea of what writing one would be like, for the sake of my writing students. I managed it with lots of coffee and chocolate, weight gain, sleep deprivation, and a very obliging husband who did everything else that needed doing. I produced an incredibly bad novel and a great lack of interest in trying to improve it. That was actually my second attempt at a novel. The first, years earlier, soon bored me so much that I abandoned it. If your writing bores YOU, not much hope of it interesting others.

It happens that – for no particular reason – I've never actually done NaPoWriMo, meaning the site of that name from whence prompts issue daily for the month of April. But there are other, similar sites which I have tried. April is National Poetry Month in the USA, which means that online it becomes international (just as NaNoWriMo does, later in the year). Everyone signs up to write a poem a day, at that site and/or various others. For some years I participated at Poetic Asides, but so many people joined in over the years that it became too unwieldy for me. Nowadays I play in much smaller groups, where there is some chance of finding time to read other participants' gems and them read mine – on top of finding time to write a new poem every day.

The aim of NaNoWriMo is not polished work but the completion of fifty thousand words. (Amazingly, some people do produce publishable books.) I suppose it's the same with Poetry Month: the requirement is simply to produce a poem a day. However, we poets do like to make our pieces as good as we can in the time available. It's not the length, it's the poetics! In fact, at Poetic Asides, there are now acclaimed poets judging each month's offerings, and an annual anthology of the winning poems.

I know a number of you do participate in April Poetry Month, at one site or another (or several!) while a number choose not to. I have been making resolutions that this year is my last. I always start off well enough, pleased with new, exciting prompts. Then there comes a time, somewhere past the halfway point, when I find myself writing stuff that seems like drivel. Of course, at a poem a day, they must all be regarded as drafts anyway, but even so.... Readers don't seem to agree with my low estimation of those poems, but The Disempowerer in my head says, 'They are just being kind and polite.' At that point every year I make the same resolution: this is the last year I'll do this.

But then, every year, as we near the end of the month, some gear shifts and I start producing things that I am, to my surprise, very happy with. I even start getting inspired to extra poems that aren't prompted! So then I wonder – what if I just kept on forever, writing poems every day? Would I get really, really good at it? And I put the decision to stop on hold again until next April, by which time I am once more raring to go.

I don't, however, continue writing every day – by the end of the month I am ready for a break and keen to do other things, such as clean the house and weed the garden. Perhaps even get out and about a bit. A month-long commitment, even if it's not for thousands of words of prose, tends to interfere with the rest of life. 'We need some life to put into our art,' I used to tell my writing students, advising them not to chain themselves to their desks. After seven decades of living, I have many memories which I can surely use in my writing, but it isn't quite the same. 

And what about revision? Everyone says it's vital, and I agree. When I'm producing a poem a day, I don't spend much time on revising. Even creating just a few new poems a week, as I respond to the slightly less frequent prompts that happen in other months, leaves little time to revise. Luckily, the problem is the solution. (Well, almost.) Because of writing to prompts – not to mention having been engaged in the making of poems for roughly six decades so far – I get progressively quicker at matters of craft. 

I guess we all do a bit of immediate revision at the point of creation; they are not really FIRST drafts we post. We get adept at producing quite decent poems quite fast. Some enviable people seem always to be outright brilliant! 

All the same, there is delight in returning to an old draft years later – or even a piece one had thought 'finished' – and seeing at a glance just what it needs to become as good as it can get. Or, if it's really in a desperate situation, finding a completely new approach to revive the poor thing. There's even satisfaction in the worst-case scenario, deciding to let some die quietly.  (You know they then become compost for new growth, don't you?) 

Well, it's only one month in the year. Why not go for broke, just one month of the year? (No, don't tell me about November at Poetic Asides, where they not only write a new poem a day all over again, but this time weave them around a theme so as to produce a new chapbook, with the possibility of getting it taken up by a reputable publisher ... I told you not to tell me that!)  

But what is one to do with all those April poems? All those years of April poems? Make chapbooks? Collect them as Christmas presents for friends and family? (The ones who want to read my poems have probably seen them on my blog already.) Just leave them on the blog, letting that be my magnum opus? Take them off the blog soonish (to avoid accusations of prior publication) and/or revise, then submit to prestigious literary journals and anthologies? 

Maybe what to do with them is a different question; anyway it only applies if we do keep producing hundreds of poems every year. The question I am trying to explore here is about the value or otherwise, to us as poets, of participating in Poetry Month. And there is the further question of whether we should – or could – keep up that pace of creation all the time.

I don't know. Perhaps it would be good for me to take a long break from writing new stuff and start some serious revising, even some culling. Perhaps I could make a whole lot of collections around themes? Or forms? (I really fancy the idea of a book of haibun, when I have enough of them.) And yet, not writing new poems at least sometimes would get boring, I think. Creation is exciting!

April Poetry Month is thrilling, challenging, daunting, inconvenient, impractical ... and, unquestionably, productive. This May I do plan to ease off on the writing for a bit. But has it swiftly become such a habit that I'll have withdrawals? We shall see.

And then in June.... Well, you see, some weeks back, before April began, I accepted an invitation to be guest poet for a month at a blog of Aussie poets, where the idea is to post a new draft every day. I must have been mad! At least I have given myself a month in between. And at least they are only supposed to be drafts. (In the habit of quick composition, will I be able to leave my posts as actual first drafts, I wonder, or will I be impelled to tinker?)

I'm glad anyway that we at Poets United have no plans to start hosting our own poetry month. Midweek Motif and the Poetry Pantry, interspersed with articles about poetry and poets, allow for a nice balance between frequency of writing and leisure to craft the work – particularly as we can dip in and out as we like, according to what else is going on in our lives. It allows for those sweet moments when the Muse may whisper in our ears, unprompted.

What do you think, United Poets? Is Poetry Month a blessing or a curse, a chore or great fun? No-one twists our arms, so I guess if we do it, we must really want to.

Feel free to share your thoughts.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Open / Openness

“. . . Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. 
Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.” 
― Rainer Maria Rilke

“It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas.  

Midweek Motif ~ Open / Openness

According to Wikipedia: 

Openness is an overarching concept or philosophy that is characterized by an emphasis on transparency and free, unrestricted access to knowledge and information, as well as collaborative or cooperative management and decision-making rather than a central authority. Openness can be said to be the opposite of secrecy.

Whew!  That's a lot of information.  I love that the root of the word is "open," which means much more than transparency. 

What do the motifs of open and openness help you to think about?  What's the first thing that comes to mind?  

My first thought was of Whitman's "Song of the Open Road," excerpted below, which now seems like part of a past golden age, no longer possible.  And it was no golden age at all in the USA, with so many enslaved as if they were not equal.  I may "open" that idea further.

Your challenge: Make your new poem an ode to openness or to something which is open-able in some way. 

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
. . . . 
Read the rest HERE

:  Speak to me.          Take my hand.            What are you now?
   I will tell you all.          I will conceal nothing.
   When I was three, a little child read a story about a rabbit
   who died, in the story, and I crawled under a chair    :
   a pink rabbit    :    it was my birthday, and a candle
   burnt a sore spot on my finger, and I was told to be happy.

:  Oh, grow to know me.        I am not happy.        I will be open:
   Now I am thinking of white sails against a sky like music,
   like glad horns blowing, and birds tilting, and an arm about me.
   There was one I loved, who wanted to live, sailing.

:  Speak to me.        Take my hand.        What are you now?
   When I was nine, I was fruitily sentimental,
   fluid    :    and my widowed aunt played Chopin,
   and I bent my head on the painted woodwork, and wept.
   I want now to be close to you.        I would
   link the minutes of my days close, somehow, to your days.
. . . . 
Read the rest HERE

They turn the water off, so I live without water,
they build walls higher, so I live without treetops,
they paint the windows black, so I live without sunshine,
they lock my cage, so I live without going anywhere,
they take each last tear I have, I live without tears,
they take my heart and rip it open, I live without heart,
they take my life and crush it, so I live without a future,
they say I am beastly and fiendish, so I have no friends,
they stop up each hope, so I have no passage out of hell,
they give me pain, so I live with pain,
they give me hate, so I live with my hate,
they have changed me, and I am not the same man,
they give me no shower, so I live with my smell,
they separate me from my brothers, so I live without brothers,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
who understands me when I say I have found other freedoms?
. . . .
Read the rest HERE.


Please share your new poem(s) using Mr. Linky below and visit others 
in the spirit of the community

(Next week Susan's Midweek Motif will be Secrecy.)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Poems of the Week ~ Our Staff : On Poetry

This week, we have something a little different for you, my friends. This site is all about celebrating our love of poetry, so I thought it might be nice to ask each staff member at Poets United for a poem on the topic of poetry. It gives me great pleasure to offer, for your enjoyment, poems by Sumana Roy, at  Vision,  Rosemary Nissen-Wade, our very own Passionate Crone, Mary, the captain of our little ship, at  In the Corner of My Eye, Susan Chast, at Susan's Poetry, and myself, at Stardreaming With Sherry Blue Sky, since we have all, at one time or another, written on this topic. We hope you enjoy these offerings!


Sherry: Sumana recently wrote a gorgeous poem, full of the most beautiful imagery. I don't know if she set out to write a poem about poetry. But her closing lines left me in no doubt that that is what she did. Let's take a look.

Take Me to the Ocean

Once upon a time

I took my soul

To seaside

The lonely shore

Lay quietly

In the fading night

We sat there

Face to face


All on a sudden

My soul stretched its hand

Plucked the pink pulsating sun

From dawn

“It’s God’s heart.

Keep it inside you” said my soul

“I will scoop a handful of stars

From the night sky

And the evening breeze too” It continued

But…for what?

“They are keepsakes. Don’t let them out.

Except if they want to come out on their own”

They were indeed

A very different sunrise

And evening breeze

And unusually twinkling stars

They live in me

Occasionally they come out

As words

copyright Sumana Roy February 2016

Sherry: The imagery in this poem is just gorgeous, Sumana. I love the scooping of a handful of stars, and adore "Occasionally they come out as words". This poem shimmers. It is a wonderful example of the beauty to be found in poetry. Tell us about how it came to be, my friend.

Sumana:  I love to frequent various poetry sites and look for inspiring prompts. One such was at dVerse Meeting the Bar. Victoria C. Slotto was hosting. The topic was Me, Myself and I….or is it? She even gave the option of assuming an alter ego to write the poem in the first person. It was so inviting. I knew how to write yet lines were simply not coming. And I had to wait for another prompt at A Dash of Sunny hosted by Sanaa Rizvi for the words to flow. Her topic was Take Me to the Ocean. It was a picture prompt and there was a marvelous photo of probably a sunset that really triggered some happy memories. I decided to combine both prompts but was a bit late. So I did not link it with dVerse.   

Two beautiful prompts gave me this poem though I had some thoughts and images used here already in me. Like that ‘evening breeze’. In summer after a scorching day the southerly breeze that rises from the Bay of Bengal carrying the moisture simply cools the feverish skin. It is often laden with the scent of night blooms. People here die to have at least one south-east facing room in their house/apartment. The breeze infuses the dead spirit with life and is a true blessing of the Indian summer. Songs and poems in Bengali abound in eulogizing the southern breeze.

Tofino sunrise ~

Sunrise is a rare sight for many. I consider each sunrise a miracle. Light births. So births our sense of awareness beyond self. An extraordinary moment! Only the fortunate ones can be witnesses to such glorious sights. Like the outside world, there is so much peace and calmness in our mind at dawn. Such moments have been given to us to listen to the soul in tranquility. It's good when we can translate these precious times into words.

I believe that words can truly keep everything unblemished. Thousands of years ago, Sanskrit hymns were sung in praise of Aditya (sun). The sonorous words still vibrate in our soul, blessing us with peace and restfulness. 

Sherry:  Thank you for such beauty, Sumana. I can feel the tranquility of dawn, through reading your words.

Mary wrote a delightful poem about finding ourselves inside our poems. Enjoy!


If you enter your own poem
you will find yourself
somewhere there

you may write about birds
but birds sing only
your chosen song

you may write about rivers
but rivers flow
only through you

you may write about the sun
but the sun shines
with your light

you may write about spring
but it is you who
comes alive

you may write about a garden
but it is you who
plants all seeds

you may write about dusk
but darkness comes from
your soul

If you enter your own poem
you will find yourself
somewhere there.

copyright Mary Kling March 2015

Sherry: We do find ourselves - and others may find us, too - within the lines of our poems. Thank you, Mary. Will you share your thoughts about this with us?

Mary: Sherry, I am of the belief that every poem expresses something of the poet. Even if a poet doesn't consciously put herself into a poem, she is there. Whatever one writes a poem about, the poet is there too. Each poem written is very personal to the poet, part of her autobiography, whether she realizes it or not. Even if written in a third person voice, it is from the poet's consciousness that the images and the words flow. 

I think a poet can learn a lot about himself if he looks within his words immediately after writing, or even four or five years later. I also think that those who read someone's poetry over the years, (as in the blogosphere here), one gets to know individuals pretty well through their words. In my poem I said, "If you enter your poem you will find yourself somewhere there." I believe that if you enter the poem of another, you will find them there too!

And another thought I have is that if a poet seems to work very hard not to let himself be known in his poetry, if he always keeps himself at a distance through his words, that also tells something about the poet. I wrote this poem to express my belief that a poem really is a good mirror!

Sherry: This is very true. I often say my fellow poets know me at a deeper level than my real-life friends and family, because they read the deepest thoughts I share, in my poems. 

My poem is about how writing a poem can lift the poet out of his or her funk, and remember the Bigger Picture. Just expressing our emotions is a release, after which we often feel better for having put into words what we sometimes can't say out loud to the people around us.


When life has worn you into
an unthinking shell
without words
and you sit, blinking into space,
in a place of No Thought,
tap the lifeline of poetry
that lifts your heart
out of its everyday concerns,
into the realm
of midnight moons
and hungry ghosts.
Look up into the raven sky
and chart the silver moon goddess
as she trails mystery
like a gossamer cloak
across the heavens.
Remember that life
is more than bread and worry.
It is beauty and aliveness
and gilt-edged miracle.
It is the suspension of disbelief
and the belief in quiescence.
It is the lifting of one's eyes
above the "raveled sleeve of care"
to remember
music and poetry  and love
and the silver shining sea,
forever ebbing and flowing
upon a shore lined with old growth,
and fastening one's heart
       and vision
            and belief
firmly upon that.

copyright Sherry Marr May 2012

Poetry does many things, but one of the things it does best is remind us that life is more - much more - than the daily routine. Poetry allows us to lift our eyes to the mountaintops, watch an eagle in flight, dream.....then dig deep and somehow find words to lift our spirits, both in the writing and the reading. Poetry gives us shining horizons, big hope, brilliant dreams, and the ability to capture our deepest moments in words, and thus keep them, immortalized, forever.

Now let's look at Susan's wonderful offering,  "About Alice-In-Wonder", part of a larger work. This was posted at Susan's second site, Susan, continued.......


A page lingerer, not a page turner
such is the plan, and the outline is done—
green ivy growing diagonally
up the cement block wall—adjusted
for a higher climax to come before
the vine finishes all of its leafing

I can see its tendrils uncurling in
my mind’s eye, slow motion I say, so I
can follow through on every detail, catch
questions—anticipate them before you,
first reader, climb too high hand over hand,
gripping each page for its dear life.

Visit my vibrant Alice’s domain
allow Alice to show home, mind and heart
meet Miracle Kitty and the full cast
of characters she keeps on shelves, in frames
and buried deep in closeted boxes.
Know this old one has always had wonder.

copyright Susan Chast March 2016

Sherry: This is a wonderful look at the writer's mind, composing, speaking to her readers. I especially love "Know this old one has always had wonder." Me too, my friend. Tell us a bit about this work in progress. We are all ears.

Susan: At an arts and spirituality workshop last spring, I talked about mo novel-in-progress and said that I was writing as my protagonist led me, but was hoping that it grew into more of a page-turner than it was so far. One woman responded that it might be a fine page-lingerer. I've been thinking ever since about books that made me want to linger on the page. Quite often the ones that move me so are poetry - from the power of the image to the depth of truth. My novel has not yet become that, but as Artist-in-Residence recently, the space I worked in became a place to linger in as a sticky-note outline inched its way up a wall. And the decor included opened boxes as I pulled out journals from various parts of my life to add to my research. I am awed by how much a person can live through - even in the most sheltered of lives. I hoped to capture some of this process and reflection in this poem.

Sherry:  And you succeeded very well, my friend. We will be wanting to hear about your time away at Pendle Hill soon, I am thinking.

I saved Rosemary's poem for last, because it speaks eloquently about how poetry companions we poets throughout our lives, how it grows with us, encompasses our changes, allows us to give voice to our journeys, and is still with us , as we find ourselves aging,  but still, as Rosemary says so wisely, "inventing new steps."


A Long Marriage

We were promised to each other
before I was born.
Perhaps I understood this
even in the cradle. I knew it
when I was seven and,
in my infantile way, embraced you
as one who had the right.

There were some who told me
I could not aspire so high.
By my teens they suggested
you were fickle, and would never
be a good provider –
I would do better to treat this
as a mere casual flirtation.

But I knew it was a true betrothal,
a deep affair of the heart.
I knew that I was incapable
of ever forsaking you, no matter
what other loves might intervene.
As I knew that you, despite mysterious
absences, would always return to me.

And so it has been. We've both
had other paramours, even other
true loves. There are times, still,
we need our space apart – for play
or solitude. We no longer consume
each other lustfully. We are old friends.
Yet we are all in all, faithful unto death.

Take my hand, Muse of Poetry.
Press your lips to my heart.
There are still some songs
to sing to each other,
some dances in each other's arms.
How surely, now, we move together,
closer than ever, inventing new steps.

copyright Rosemary Nissen-Wade, February 2016

Sherry: Your poem truly speaks to me, Rosemary. Like so many of us, poetry has companioned me all my life. I can't imagine what my life would have been without it. And how I adore your closing lines, you and your Muse, "closer than ever - inventing new steps". How wonderful!

Rosemary'promised ... before I was born' – it's in the genes. My Dad, his father, and several of his siblings scribbled verses. Quite good verses! But they didn't regard themselves seriously as poets. When my Mum tried, late in life (because she was staying with me and joined in with a writers' group I held in my house) she proved to have a natural gift for it too. But she had no vocation, so did not pursue it on her own.

I began writing poems at the age of seven. My Dad used to read my brother and me poems as bedtime stories. Yet, when I declared my intention to be a poet when I grew up (somehow not registering the fact that I was one already) my parents explained it was not a way of earning a living. I proved them wrong for a while, but it was a very frugal living and included other, related activities such as reviewing, editing and running workshops. In the poem I say, 'they suggested / you ... would never / be a good provider'. They were right! But that didn't stop me, then or ever. I was the one who had the vocation. It's the thing I can't not do (whether or not anyone else ever sees it).

The 'mysterious absences', of course, are my times of writer's block; thankfully few and brief. I have learned to keep showing up myself, at page or screen. Sometimes I thought (mistakenly) that poetry had forsaken me, but I have never forsaken it – even when it took time from loved ones, sleep, exercise, etc. It is the most enduring thing in my life; in non-monetary ways perhaps the most rewarding; and very likely the most necessary.

'We no longer consume / each other lustfully' – I don't write with youthful 'fire in the belly' any more. The inspirations are seldom so urgent; they don't hit like lightning strikes. It's a quieter process after so long, but I think it's deeper. 

'How surely, now, we move together / ... inventing new steps' – the craft comes easier now, after all the years of practice. And it's good news that there is always somewhere new to go with poetry.

Sherry: Good news indeed. Thank you for this, my friend. And thank you to my fellow staff members, who came through with such wonderful poems for this feature. You are the best!

Well, kids? I do hope you enjoyed this look at poetry from the inside out. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you! For certain, it will be a poet!

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