The reinvigorating cliché

Tonight I sat down to write, but all I could think about was my crap day. Not wanting to write about that, I jammed on the idea “when it rains, it pours.” I know, I know, clichés are about as fun to read as a blogger’s sob story, but I may just have some new ideas for you here.

  • At their best, clichés do impart quick meaning and association. They connect those who know them. When you read, “when it rains, it pours,” you probably imagined exactly what kind of day I had. So there’s that.
  • As a stand in for a writing prompt, a freewriting tool or a research session, clichés can have some value: they give a writer a place to start. I tell my students to use them if they must, and then figure out how to replace the language that came easily with something more beautiful and unique.
  • A cliché can delight. Even though the phrases are old hat (haha!),fun placement can still pack some zing.

To illustrate a few of the ways I’ve played in the puddles of my mind tonight, here are a few of my findings based on a web search of “when it rains it pours.”

Rain poems
I didn’t want to run with this most common phrase, “when it rains it pours,” but I needed something to sop up my emotions this evening, and I knew poetry could help. So I Googled “poetry magazine rain.” Despite its problems in 2020 with Michael Dickman’s poem, the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Magazine is my go-to for poetic inspiration online.

First up, “Rain,” by Kazim Alli and this image: I am a dark bowl, waiting to be filled. / If I open my mouth now, I could drown in the rain. How perfectly this line captures the essence of being consumed by something. Could it be love? Hate? Sorrow? Joy? All of those emotions? Sure. When it rains, it pours.

Next up, “To The Rain,” by Ursula K. Le Guin. I love Le Guin’s fiction and non-fiction, but I’ve not read much of her poetry. This poem did not fully provide what I needed as I read it, but I did come away from it with an appreciation for the beauty and promise of rain.

Finally, “The Beggers,” a poem by Ranier Maria Rilke. I’m no expert on Rilke’s works, but I love the lyricism of his writing and the impassioned power of his words. It’s not lost on me that I’m always reading someone ELSE’S words because his poems as I read them have been translated in English. Here, however, I am giving credit to Rilke. It’s not unlike Alli’s poem in that readers peer into the darkness of a mouth and explore what it means to be consumed by something, but the line that stood out most to me was the phrase They sell the hollow / of their hands.

New perspectives
After reading the rain poems (and skipping over others) I Googled just the word “rain.” There were several news stories, my forecast (45 degrees and rainy), videos of Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande singing something that had to do with rain, and rainymood.com, which bills itself as “the internet’s most popular rain experience.” I scoffed as I read this line– by what metrics? Are there other less popular rain experiences online? What makes them less popular?– but an hour later, the page is still open in the background, my “rain experience” still spattering away. Normally, rain does not calm me. I see it as a barrier to time outdoors and an inconvenience. But there is something nice about letting rain spill down on me aurally and knowing it won’t ruin my day.

Fun facts
My final foray into finding new ways to express the idea of what it is to experience a deluge led me to a page on the US Geological Survey’s website: a chicken-or-egg bit of trivia that asks visitors to select where they think our planet’s water cycle begins. I said “atmosphere” and did a mental face palm when I read what scored higher. Play along and you’ll see why!

So there you have it. A dreary day and a familiar phrase gave me something to write about in a new way.

No one wants their writing to be littered with tired phrases, but if you can pick up that trash and use it, as a writer, you should. Happy hunting for your own ways to use the cliché!

Another prompt poem

Well, I’ve continued to fall behind in my National Poetry Month prompts, but today I tried to combine poetry with a WordPress prompt. The folks at the WordPress Discover blog are offering a prompt a day throughout the month, and today’s prompt was “curve.”

I started out imagining the curve of my boy’s rump as it pushed against my belly when I was pregnant, then saw my husband holding the baby in his hands. He’s growing so fast now (as when I was pregnant!), and it seems as if someday soon he will be off and exploring the world away from our farm on his own. That’s both exciting and sobering, and good inspiration for a quick writing session.

To give this poem some structure, I threw in a four-syllable line count. And voila!  This isn’t anything special, but it was fun to follow a line of thought through to the end and come back from that musing with this.  Ooh, another curve that became a circle!

Horizons

Cupped and curved,
in his hands,
our boy, the world.
Life comes back ‘round
time and again,
with each season,
with each new dawn.
The horizon
isn’t curved
from my spot here,
the family farm —
and yet I hope
my boy, the world,
always returns.

2020 poetry challenge days 2 & 3

I just didn’t have time make time yesterday to check in on my poetry challenge, so today’s post includes two poems.

Day 2

Thursday’s form was the novem, which is a tercet with three words per line. Each line requires two monosyllabic words and one disyllabic word for a total of four syllables.

One of the things I love about forms is that they force me into structure. Free verse is fun and “easy,” but following patterns and rules makes for an delightful challenge — at least in poetry! Now, further complicating this poetic structure is guidance for where the 2-syllable word goes within the stanza:

  • In the first line, it is the last word.
  • In the middle line (line 2) the middle word.
  • In line three, the first word.

The final kicker is that each stanza needs to repeat one of the consonant sounds four times, minimum.

I wanted to write something all serious and strong (something about rules feels serious and strong) but because I’m behind, I wrote the first thing that came to mind.

Novem 1

Let me number
all endings
grateful for you

You can see I didn’t go beyond one stanza, and I do not have the four repeating consonant sounds. This was a tricky one! I find that when I write a villanelle or ghazal I need to spend some time thinking about the rules before I can come up with an idea that fits within the structure; seems that’s the case with this form too.  I’d like to come back to this structure at some point and play around with it when I’ve come up with an idea that “feels right” for it.

Day 3

Today was “free verse Friday,” and our prompt was “broken light bulbs.”

I’ve had this annoying wisp of a scratch in my throat all day, and the prompt gave me some room to put it into words.

For every idea
flashing bright
atop my head
in my throat
sharp shards
of broken glass

With the prompt and the real-life circumstance of the scratchy throat, this one was easy to write. Is it inspiring? No. But not every day will yield a gem, a form to play with or even an idea to further refine. And that’s OK. At least I’m writing!

If you are participating in a #NationalPoetryMonth challenge of some sort, how is your work going?

Poetry challenge 2020 – day 1

Finally! April is here and the Facebook poetry challenge I participate in each year is back on. It’s called Poetry Fun time (search for it if you want to join us!), and each day the group organizer posts a writing prompt and a form to follow. Sometimes the form is just free verse, and poets can always choose to follow both the prompt and form or one or the other.

The organizer often uses forms from Robert Lee Brewer and Writer’s Digest to guide our scribbling. Today’s form is the tricube. The prompt was “sunrise.”  I’ve had this idea for a poem kicking around in my head for a few days, so I ignored the sunrise prompt and put the idea into tricube form.

Magnificent leader

He wanted
to be God
so he chose

what to say
about death
and to whom

The streets
are full of
his silence

It’s National Poetry Month, and this group is a wonderful way for me to generate at least a few new poems during the month. Even if they suck, I’m still writing!

If Facebook isn’t your thing, Writer’s Digest run its own Poem a Day Challenge, drawing on Brewer for prompts.

It keeps the fire going

In 2018, I attended a local writing conference and heard one of the speakers say she had set a goal of submitting 100 pieces of writing a year. With that many submissions out there, she said, she was bound to score some publications.

I was floored. Here was this amazing poet, someone with books published, telling me that she aims for this large number and is happy if a small part of it is fulfilled. But it was a good nudge, and later that year, after a few years of not submitting much creative work, I dusted off the Submittable account and got busy submitting poetry and hybrid pieces. I did not hit the 100 subs mark (nor had I set mine that high), and I got more rejection notices than acceptance letters. But I landed three pubs, and the momentum pushed me into 2019.

Last year was such a blur that when, over Christmas, I got an acceptance letter from Lethe, an international journal in Istanbul, I didn’t remember submitting work! But a hybrid piece flash piece about my mixed heritage is out in print and will be online soon.

And just last week, another acceptance letter came in, this one from Graphite Interdisciplinary Journal of the Arts, a journal sponsored by UCLA/ TheHammer Museum. 

I don’t typically submit to themed calls for submission, but this one put forth by Graphite, on the topic of “fruit,” inspired me. I was teaching 100 Year of Solitude when I read the call for subs, and we had just entered the banana massacre timeline. Bananas are fruit, I thought, and my research for class led me to some interesting telegrams between the U.S. and Colombian government. So I spun them into a poem. It was one that got accepted, and I’m excited to share it with the world.

Writing is hard work. Finding time to write is hard. And then writing something that’s good enough one wants to submit it? Also difficult. These small pubs are not Poetry Magazine or The New Yorker.  But they still reach people. And because my poetry is almost exclusively about social justice, the publication of my work makes me feel like perhaps some distant reader might be spurred to find a cause of their own, make time for it, and run with it.

Seeing each other

Photo cred to my honey, Sean.

May 1. Finally.

After a tough semester, wherein I started out with 122 students in four composition I and II classes, I am finally done grading. I am done with submitting grades. I am done with students…at least until May 6, when my next term starts. It is a small break, but a good one, and it will allow me to send out some submissions I’d neglected in April.

I had hoped to do more writing last month but had to put my goals aside to focus on my students. One of the things I DID accomplish for myself last month was submitting a poem and a picture of my eyes to a project put together by Yoko Ono.

The exhibition is part of a project called “Growing Freedom, the art of John and Yoko.” It features music, written word, images, and I think even more interactive events like yoga and talks. It’s been featured in Iceland and Germany so far, and went up in Montreal on April 25. According to Yoko’s call for submissions, it will continue to make its way around the world.


THE INSTALLATION ARISING WILL CONTINUE TO GROW
AND WILL BE EXHIBITED IN MANY COUNTRIES.

I VERY MUCH HOPE FOR YOUR PARTICIPATION.

– Yoko Ono


Focused on giving women a chance to share “a testament of harm done to you for being a woman,” it sounds like such an interesting way to draw audience participation and raise awareness about a current topic in a new way.

My understanding is that anyone who submits material will have their writing and photo added to the installation. Today I received an email confirming they’d received my work and thanking me for “participating” in the exhibition. I think that means I’m in, but I replied and asked if they could confirm that my submission had been added and maybe even take a picture for me.

If you’d like to submit to the exhibition, you’ll find instructions in the link I shared to the exhibition.

If I hear back, I’ll post an update with the picture. If not, I’ll post an update about the project. Or, if you’d like to learn more, check it out!

The nonet

I’ve been buried by rough drafts of persuasive essays this week, so I’m behind in the poetry writing challenge I’ve been writing about. I’m working to get caught up because I really like the idea of ending the month with 30 new poems.

Bam! That is some serious productivity for me!

One of the recent posts I missed featured the nonet, and the word of inspiration was “cousins.” The form itself gave me a fun idea to play around with, but cousins…meh.

Instead, I wrote about a spontaneous trip with a hostel-mate to Buenaventura, Colombia.

Buenaventura

I took a leap and rode off with him
to the coast, where fish still had eyes
on our dinner plates. It was
brash and risky, but I
felt so free, like I
was diving in
without fear
and no
net

It was fun to incorporate the form name into the poem while playing around with coastal/water-related themes, but perhaps it’s just too cute?

Does it matter?

Not a part of Chicago’s subway system, but fitting. Credit to Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

When I lived in Chicago and would tell people at a party that I was writing a memoir, there would always be one person who’d ask, “What makes you think your life is so special that anyone would want to read about it?” It was almost always a guy, and although this person wasn’t trying to be a dick, it was clear that he really believed that a random person’s story probably wasn’t that special.

I’d tell my inquisitor that I had survived a stroke just a few years before; learning to walk again, do math, drive, FUNCTION, had been a challenge. I wanted to offer hope to anyone who had gone through some similar setback, I’d say. A “Whoa,” or a “Hmm, I’d probably read about that,” would often follow.

Creative writers, especially memoirists, can be labeled as navel-gazers for writing about themselves. Any one of us who writes about life’s experiences could be seen that way, I suppose, if we impart our own spin or understanding on the experiences we’re writing about.

But I’d argue that even if it is not as polished as it could be (like this blog!), writing about the human condition and one’s experience can shed light on something in a new way for a new reader.

Today is day 6 of the poetry challenge I’m participating in, and I’m thinking about all this because of the poem I wrote for our prompt. Descort was the form, and “downtown” was the word of inspiration.

Here’s my crack at it:

Downtown

My favorite schizophrenic
rode the Red line
with me Mondays and Wednesdays.
 The people around us,
the many voices,
added
 to the cacophony of the city.
Oh, how I loved that Chicago grit,
that
you could be
alone in togetherness with so many.


After writing this, I started thinking about “my favorite schizophrenic.” This man would often be on the train when I’d get on in the morning, and he’d ride downtown with me. Somehow, we frequently rode in the same car, and fascinated, I’d watch him have conversations with himself.

Today, I feel so naive whenever I think of him.

Until my time in Chicago, I didn’t understand the depths of mental illness and its correlation to the homeless population.

My only experiences with the homeless were in Bogota, where my mom would always yank me away from staring or trying to give a homeless person a few pesos. Even though she would become a mental health counselor, she never offered any lessons on why the person conducting an invisible orchestra might be homeless.

So as I think about the man, a character in real life, and a person in a poem now (I also wrote about him in grad school), I hope that anyone stumbling across this post takes a minute to learn more about mental health, homelessness and their connections.

These resources are a good place to start
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Healthcare for the Homeless Council
Mental Illness Policy Org

Posting a few websites is not much, I know. And drawing on my memories to write a poem to fit this “purpose” of completing a challenge could probably be looked on as appropriation by some. But I believe that art can make a difference for others while also allowing the artist to gain something new.



Skeltonic verse

This fun image reminds me of something one might see in Cartagena, Colombia, around the new year. It was also a fun play on the form type I write about below. Credit to Bianca on Pexels.com

In today’s poetry challenge, participants had a couple of things to work with as inspiration. Joe, our “leader,” always gives us a word of inspiration and a poetic form to attempt. We can use one, or both, or neither. I LOVE challenging myself to write to a form, even if I often bastardize it.

Today’s form, however, was a rhyming one. I am not a rhyme-y writer.

So the idea of working with the Skeltonic verse was a little uninspiring. But I liked the idea of working with our word: “countryside.”  Because I’m further challenging myself to write a poem that could work in either of the collections I’m crafting, that word offered a lot of possibility.

I could write about Colombia and all of the landmines buried in the countryside, and/or all of the bodies also buried there.  Or I could focus on something else related to the Colombian countryside. Or I could write about living in rural Minnesota and how I’ve returned to a rural lifestyle despite hating farm life as an adolescent.

Rhyming about land mines didn’t really make sense, and I’m not feeling any wifely or motherly angst today (phew). So I decided to just write about Colombia in general and see what happened.

It rhymes, but I don’t think it works in the way it is “supposed to.” At least I squeezed out a few lines!

Colombia

It’s a foreign, far countryside
with scars that run deep and wide.
It’s a legend that never ends,
a home to Spanish villains
intent on their Dorado
and the gold runs they thought of
as theirs for their heirs
and their kingdoms to come.
But it’s more than a legend,
With its misconceptions.
Land of varied degrees,
It snows in the Andes
and blisters your skin
just to tease.

National Poetry Month

abstract black and white blur book

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

April is National Poetry Month, and the Academy of American Poets has a lot of tools available on their site to help you celebrate. One of those tools offers “30 ways to celebrate” poetry throughout the month.  Check it out!

There are some good options in the list;  numbers 3, 7, 8, 12, 15, 19 and 29 are my faves. Which ones interest you?

My own methods of celebrating include leading a poetry workshop later this month, attending a poetry night and open mic, and participating in a “write a poem a day” challenge with 100+ other poets. We’re on day 2, and so far I’ve cranked out two poems.

As I wrote in my previous post, I’m not a fan of “prompts” to help me write, but so far, the two prompts put forth in the group have spoken to me.  I’d share them here, but I actually think they could become something publishable, so I’ll refrain, at least for now.

I hope National Poetry Month treats you well and turns you on to some new words, forms and poets!