The Blog of John Hewitt

Use an inspiration tool

The Search for Inspiration

 

Sometimes I get stuck for ideas to write about. It is easy to get stuck in a rut as a poet. Staring at a blank page or a blank screen can be intimidating. Here are a few ways, presented in the tried and true list style, which can help you get started.

Call a friend and talk about old times
Collaborate with another poet
Exercise
Give yourself a deadline
Give yourself permission to write badly
Go someplace new
Interview yourself
Just start writing anything that comes to mind as fast as you can
Listen to your favorite music
Look at old photographs
Meditate
Read a magazine or a newspaper
Read someone else’s poetry
Read your own poetry
Review your old work
Start with a title
Take a swim, bath or a shower
Take a walk
Try another medium such as drawing or painting
Try something new

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Use one of the methods from the list above as inspiration for your poem. If you post your poem, be sure to write down which method you chose.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

If you truly want to get the poetry world all riled up, write a book of prose poems. If you don’t believe me, just read some of the reviews of Karen Volkman’s work. Better yet, go read the work yourself and see if YOU get riled up. What do you do to follow up your prose poems… sonnets!

Interview with Karen Volkman
Karen Volkman: Poetry’s Latest Punchline
Karen Volkman – Vacancy’s Ambassador

Books

 

Write the first draft of your poem in paragraph form and then change it into a free verse poem

Trading Safety for Freedom

I’ve touched on the subject of free verse before, most notably in the article about the pros and cons of meter. Free verse is poetry that does not use a regular meter or rhyme. While poetry without rhyme dates back many centuries, the practice of using neither meter nor rhyme was a poetic movement that began in French and Europe during the 1800s. The first popular American poet to write in free verse was Walt Whitman.

Free verse does not mean that there are no patterns or rhythms at all. Instead, the rhyme is determined, sometimes subconsciously, by the poet. The lines come in the form of thought patterns, breath patterns, visual patterns, and syntactic patterns. More to the point, the form tends to mirror the voice of the poet.

While in some ways, free verse does not require the discipline of metered and rhymed poetry, it creates new requirements. The poet must determine, without the crutch of form, when the line ends and what makes for the best line. They must find a way to make the poem still feel poetic without relying on some of the most accepted tools. With free verse, you cannot defend the use of a word or phrase simply because it fits the meter. You must determine where to end the line because there is no set length to fall back on. Even the length of the poem is now completely up to you. So, while you have less limitations and restrictions, you have more responsibility.

While free verse is ultimately freeing, it is not for the lazy of for those who think it will be easier than writing metered or rhymed poetry. There is no safety net without form. There is no literary excuse for a mistake, because you have all the power. If you choose to write in free verse, you sill have to learn to be confident in your own voice, because that is what you will be relying on.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write the first draft of your poem in paragraph form and then change it into a free verse poem. Don’t be surprised if you have to change lines, words and phrases. That will probably be a part of the process.

Today’s Recommended Poet

Bruce Bond is a highly respected poet, teacher and the poetry editor for the American Literary Review. In this interview, he explains part of his poetic philosophy. “white space is one way of suggesting a kind of silent listening, an openness to the strange and what the language longs to accommodate, how words are taken to their limits. I like poems with silence in them, both the formal resonance of literal silence, and silence as a metaphor for the unknowable, the erotic, the sublime.”

Poems on the Web

Books of Poetry

Write a poem that begins and ends with the same word

You May Already be a Winner

There is nothing wrong with entering poetry contests. It is one way of taking part in the larger world of poetry. It also gives you the motivation to write well and to keep writing. If you win a legitimate contest, it is a great honor. Unfortunately, many contests are not legitimate.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. There is no quick or easy route to get rich as a poet. Even making a living as a poet is a difficult task. The masses do not buy books of poetry. Exceptions to this rule are rare, and generally involve someone who is famous for something other than poetry. Keep this in mind at all times, because there are people out there looking to take advantage of you.

Poetry contests are one of the methods that unscrupulous people use to take advantage of poets. They offer a substantial prize, $5,000, $10,000, $25,000, $100,000 to the winners of their poetry contests. All you have to do is submit your poems – along with a fee. Even if they don’t ask for an upfront fee, they still have ways of making you pay. In fact, if someone is offering you $100,000 for a contest you pay nothing to enter, you’d better be extra careful about entering.

Be prepared to become a finalist. An unscrupulous contest promoter’s goal will be to get you to attend a convention at which the winner will be named. The convention will probably be at some pretty locale that is easy to get so, such as Las Vegas or Miami. The fee for the convention won’t be too unreasonable, because they want you to come, but make no mistake; you are paying for a trip along with many, many other people they named as finalists. It may be a nice vacation, but you didn’t get there on talent. I don’t mean to say that you aren’t talented, just that talent is irrelevant to the contest promoters.

As a finalist, they will also publish you. Your poem will appear in a nice thick book along with a bunch of other poems. The book will be attractive, possibly leather-bound, but the poems will just be a collection of whoever sent something in. The book will cost you at least twenty dollars, maybe more. They’ll be counting on you to buy several so that your family and friends can see your “accomplishment”. They’ll probably also offer to sell you a nice plaque, perhaps one with your poem engraved on it. Whatever the case, they’ll keep trying to find a way to get your money.

There is nothing wrong with entering contests, but it pays to do a little research before you enter. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t enter contests if the sponsors seem unwilling to share the details of how the contest works. Look for contests that are sponsored by schools, newspapers, magazines, major corporations and reputable publishers. Understand that any fee you pay to enter is going to be used to fund the prizes. If the fee seems excessive, don’t enter. Five dollars is one thing, but as the price grows so do the chances that you are getting ripped off. It is better to make a five dollar mistake than a hundred dollar mistake.

Never pay an additional fee once you have entered a contest. Don’t pay to have the poem published. Don’t pay for a plaque. Don’t pay for a trip. If you are the one paying them, then you are not a winner.

Sorry for this fairly cynical post, but people need to be warned.

Today’s Assignment

Write a poem that begins and ends with the same word.

Today’s Featured Poet

I wanted to take this chance today to formally promote Rosemary Nissen-Wade’s recommended Australian poets. I have already discussed John Kinsella, who I found much to my liking. I haven’t had time to delve as deeply into these three poets, and I would appreciate hearing other people’s opinions about them.

Include a verb in every line of your poem – 31p31d

Day 24 of 31 poems in 31 days

Let the Reader Decide

On October 15th, 1995, when the Internet was first getting noticed, I sat down and wrote a list of tips for poets. This was long before poewar.com, when I had a little spot on a newspaper’s server and dial up access that went out whenever it rained. I don’t quite know what made me think I was qualified to give advice. I was five years out of college with a degree in Creative Writing and I guess I thought I knew a thing or two.

The funny thing was how popular that article got. It was soon after I wrote that little article that my site started getting noticed. When I transferred my pages to poewar.com, the article stayed popular. Since 2005, (a full ten years after it was published and well after its peak popularity) the article has generated 215,000 unique page views.

Twenty years after writing it, I still pretty much stand by my advice. I was young and a little too sure of myself, but I was on target for the most part. I may have been a little too strident about unnamed poems (I still get angry comments about that) but overall I think the tips were helpful and I have reinterpreted a few of them for this project. One of the best pieces of advice that I gave was this:

Say what you want to say and let your readers decide what it means.

The advice was so good that I eventually turned it into a whole article. The essential point though, is that you can’t spend all of your time worrying about what the audience will think of your poem. They may love it or they may hate it. They may understand what you are saying or they may interpret it in an entirely different way. You need to accept that and let it happen.

You also need to respect your audience. Don’t waste precious lines by trying to make things obvious. Don’t be purposely vague, but don’t try to tell people what to think about what you write. If you do, be ready for them to disagree or worse, wonder why you thought they wouldn’t get it. A poem isn’t an essay or a manual. It is an attempt to capture a piece of the universe and save it on paper. That piece of the universe may be beautiful or ugly, amazing or mundane, but chances are it can’t be explained. If that sounds too philosophical, so be it.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Include a verb in every line of your poem.

Write a poem that discusses a real moment in your life without discussing its larger meaning

The Personal Postmodernist

The current era of poetry is commonly referred to as the Postmodern Era. Postmodern thought is a complex series of philosophical and literary responses to the post World War II changes in world view and the acceleration of society. It isn’t the sort of thing you can explain in a blog post. I’ve taken entire classes on postmodern thought and I still can’t really explain it. The important thing to remember though, is that postmodernism is greatly concerned with challenging the traditional conventions of thought and communication.

One of the poetic movements that rose to prominence in the Postmodern Era is confessional poetry. Confessional poetry is about the writer. The poetry is about the writer’s life and the world around them. While confessional poems often touch on universal themes, they do so from the personal perspective.

The concept of poets writing about their own lives is not a recent development. You can go back through the ages and find poets discussing elements of their lives. What changed in the Postmodern Era was their approach. The language became more direct. The subject matter became more personal and the limits to what poets were willing to discuss evaporated. If a human being does it, chances are there’s a poet out there writing about it. The boundaries of sexuality, drug use, violence and other morality issues were the first and most obvious to fall, but the movement extends far beyond that.

Poets were writing about their role in society. They were writing about all of the things that were changing around them. The rise of commercialism, technology, social awareness and discontent were all subject matter for the postmodern era. In confessional poetry, all of this was related from the personal point of view. Problems weren’t presented as being out in the world at large, they were presented in the way that everyday people faced their problems.

The key to confessional poetry is an honest assessment of the poet’s life and experiences. Confessional poetry is written in the first person. While it can still be poetic and beautiful, it is often more direct and common in its language. It presents the poet’s point of view and relates strongly to the realities of the poet’s world. In many cases, no conclusions are drawn and no philosophy is discussed. Instead, the poet conveys their point by presenting life as they experience it. In other cases, the poet lays their point out directly, telling the reader exactly what they want them to think about things.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write a poem that discusses a real moment in your life without discussing its larger meaning or attempting to lead the reader to a conclusion.

Today’s Recommended Poet

Terrance Hayes poetry is both personal and sociological. It comes wrapped in pop culture references and discussion of the world around him. He often mixes very real images with surreal touches.

Poems

Books