It Doesn’t Work

I recently read a blog post that suggested if you needed to remember your creative ideas that come in the night while you are sleeping, just make up a song about the idea and since song lyrics are stored in a different part of the brain, your idea will stay safely stored there until morning when you can get back to you writing.  This sounded like a great idea.  The next time I’m having trouble sleeping because in my head I’m working out the next plot device, I can just start writing a little song, a sonetta, or a ditty.  It certainly sounds easy enough.  I love the idea of all my creative thoughts packing up their suitcase to move to a new and different part of my brain.  Just like finding a clean and relaxing hotel room.

BUT, wait!  I’m a children’s poet.  I’ve tried writing poems at night in bed while I’m trying to sleep.  Wouldn’t my creative projects be stored in the same place as that song?  Wouldn’t the rhythm of the song be the same as the rhythm of my poem? I already know this doesn’t work.  There are thousands of nights when I’ve had an idea for a poem and spent time in my dream state working out the rhyme and meter–a strong marching cadence.  I’ve even congratulated myself on the elegant rhymes, the excellent word choice, the stunning verbs, the fantastic images I’ve been able to pack into a few short lines.  I chuckle at the funny twist I’ve been able to roll into the last line.  I feel so good about what I’ve been able to accomplish in the tight little verse, that I’m able to lull myself back to sleep.  When I awake, I remember the good time I had putting together my children’s poem.  I might even remember what the topic of the poem was, but I’m usually not able to retrieve my end rhymes, or the funny twist at the end.  This drives me crazy.  In fact, in the light of day, my little poem doesn’t sound so funny at all and the twelve lines I had in my sleep, now only comes out as four or eight.

This is why I have a handy little device by my bed–a note pad with a built in pen.  The pad lights up when I remove the pen.  This lets me jot down my ideas in the night.  It doesn’t make my rhymes better, but it does store the thought until I can get up and work on the verses.  It gives me peace of mind so I can go back to sleep until I’m ready to get up and play with the words and poetic lines.  Of course this might be part of the reason my best working time is between 3 and 5 in the middle of the night.  When the words want to come out to play, I want to be there to party with them.

Ah, the life of a children’s poet is a very strange lot.

Monday Morning

MONDAY MORNING

Making coffee,
feeling the day is too early,
looking out winter windows
into gray, bare trees
rising behind them
in the skyline
bubble gum, rosy, radiant
sun coming, energy kick,
morning glow.
I say, thanks God,
for small miracles.
You always provide
what I need.

I was busy working on a poem this morning for my children’s poetry blog and when it came time to save the poem, I saw that I had already saved a poem with the title MONDAY MORNING. I looked at this poem written at an earlier date (when I still lived in NC) and I liked the way the poem made me feel. So, I thought I’d share that poem with you today. I hope you are having a sunny day too.

Little Prepositions

     I was reading a friend’s poem posted on her blog. A free verse poem, and there it was. She ended a line with the word “to.”
     I read the stanza again and omitted the “to,” the poem read as well. The line break gave the pause. So omitting the word made for a tighter poem, sure. But as often happens, this did get me thinking.
     I remember being in a workshop led by Dana Wildsmith where we submitted poems to all critique. When it came time to look at my poem, I had ended a line on a preposition. By this time, I did know the first and last rule. The first word and the last are the ones a reader should remember.  Some poets even adhere to this rule for their contest entries.  I can remember Melissa Morphew claiming her first winning chapbook entry was mailed on the last possible day, since she wasn’t able to be first; she wanted to be last so her poetry would adhere to the judge’s memory.

     So, Dana Wildsmith looked at my preposition ending a line and pointed out this was a fairly risky thing to do–to end the line on a preposition.  Was the word really that important to me and to the meaning of my poem?  I was giving a lot of real estate in the poem to a word that may have just been a throw away, a little preposition.  It took me a long time to understand the importance of this little rule.  I now look closely at the first and the last words of each line.  I try very hard to end each line in an action, or more likely, with an image.

     Just for fun, find a random poem and check the first word of each line and the last word or each line.  What do you find?  Then can you use these words to write your own poem?  Can you find stronger images or actions?  (I just did this with a Mary Oliver poem and wow can she pack in the concrete images and great verbs.)  

     Have fun writing. 

Muscular Writing

I get a lot of WRITERS DIGEST ads in my mailbox and I find them fascinating.  Usually they are so well written, they hook me in.  A recent one taunted me to spend my money to “put more muscle into your writing”  As their ads usually do, it got me to thinking.  Do I really want muscular writing?  Do I want more force and power behind my poetry? 

My answer is NO.  I don’t want more muscle.  I don’t want strong, forceful writing.  I want the quiet, subtle writing which lets the reader stumble upon their own meaning.  I want, expect my reader to bring something to the writing and if they discover something in the reading, something of their own, then my writing is a success.

What makes for successful writing for you? 

10,000 Poems

Every morning I take a two mile walk with my husband and our dog Spot. This week I’ve taken along the Walkman and have been listening to music along the way. This is fun for me because my husband set the walkman up. He put all the albums on it. The machine shuffles all the songs and I get a random mix. For me, this is important. I don’t want to know what the next song is going to be. I want to be surprised.
Most of the songs are just music without words. And what an eclectic mix it is. The Zydeco is next to the classical, the slack key just after the concert chello. The Celtic harp is next to the reaggae.
One song got me thinking, probably because there were lyrics. Joan Baez was singing 10,000 miles. I started to think about how far 10,000 miles is. I thought about how far I walk in a week, a month, a year. Considering that 2 miles isn’t the only walking I do every day, I probably put in at least 4 miles a day. Multiply that by the two and a half years I’ve lived in Tucson and have walked every morning and my husband says, I’ve walked “half way across the country.” Durn, too bad I didn’t do that literally, or should I say laterally?
But then I got to thinking about the poem-a-day I post on my blog http://www.poetryforkidsjoy.blogspot.com and I’ve been doing this for almost two years now. And doing my rough math, I figured in three years I could write over 1,000 poems. So it would take 30 years to write 10,000 poems. Not a bad career for a children’s poet. I honestly think this is do-able before I die. What a fun challenge.
But then again, I was never very good at math, which is why I like writing poetry instead of working in a bank.

Excuse Me?

    I was reading my Dec. 3 issue of the New Yorker with my morning coffee and piece of toast on Friday and came across an ad for Mary Oliver’s latest book, A Thousand Mornings.  The ad for the book, included a poem I GO DOWN TO THE SHORE.  It is a simple little eight line poem and I really liked it, so I thought I’d memorize it.  
     I love memorizing poems.  Perhaps it is my love of theatrics that encourages me to memorize things I can perform.  I love telling stories to an audience and reciting poems.  So this one seemed easy enough to do.
   But in memorizing the poem I discovered the brilliance of Oliver’s craftmanship.  It has three ing words to supply lovely music, good use of assonance, great verbs for action and a rhyme at the end.  The punctuation on the poem was very straight forward and made it easy to interpret, until I got to the last line.  “Excuse me, I have work to do.”
    Written with a coma that “Excuse me,” means to me–get out of my way.
    But everytime I came to it, I would say the line with a question mark, as in “Did I hear you correctly?”  and some how I imagine Oliver sitting at her desk, studying over that line putting in the coma and taking it out.  Putting in a question mark and taking it out.  Since she already had one question in the poem, I think she decided to go with the coma–but for me, I’m still going to read/perform it as a question mark because it is just too much fun for me to say it this way.  
   Because I do not have Mary Oliver’s permission to print her poem here, I hesitate to violate her copyright. But, you can find the poem here<a href=”http://www.amazon.com/A-Thousand-Mornings-Mary-Oliver/dp/1594204772#reader_1594204772″>I GO DOWN TO THE SHORE</a>