Write a poem that begins a negative and ends with a positive – 31p31d

Day 20 of 31 Poems in 31 Days

The Other Kind of Stress

Poets can be a sensitive lot. In a way, that’s what poets are known for. Unfortunately, it can be a poet’s undoing. Writer’s block, in most cases, is simply a lack of confidence. A person gets so wrapped up in negative self talk, that no matter what they put on the page, it never seems good enough. When it reaches the point that the poet can no longer put words on the page at all, it has become a severe problem. Try to recognize when you are being overly self critical. Here are some ways that all people, including poets, sabotage themselves. Please note that I am adapting material from Walt Schafer’s book, Stress Management for Wellness.

Negativising: Focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation. For example, if someone reads your poem and has mostly positive things say, but you focus only on the criticism, you are negativising.

Awfulizing: Focusing too much on a problem or obstacle until you build it up into a disaster. For example, you decide you can’t write today because you can’t find your favorite pen and without that, you won’t produce anything good.

Catastrophizing: This is when you go into a situation expecting the worst. For example, you decide not to submit your poems to a poetry magazine because you “already know they are going to turn you down.”

Ovegeneralizing: This is when you take a single negative event or piece of data and apply it to a much larger situation. For example, if you write a bad poem, you decide that you must have “lost it” and you might as well give up. Plenty of good poems get written right after bad poems.

Minimizing: This is when you downgrade praise or an accomplishment. For example, if you get published by that magazine you thought would never publish you, you decide that it must have been a fluke or they didn’t get very many submissions.

Perfectionism: Setting impossibly high standards for yourself or for a situation. For example, deciding that you have to have the perfect word to finish a line and you can’t move forward until that word comes to you.

There are other ways to sabotage yourself but I think you get the point. Don’t focus on the negative aspects of your writing. Its good to want to improve, but don’t paralyze yourself with unreasonable expectations or poor self image. Just write.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write a poem that begins with a negative image or statement and ends with a positive image or statement.

Today’s Featured Poet

Sherman Alexie is a Native American poet, novelist and stand-up comedian. He is a prolific writer who probably doesn’t know the meaning of the words “writer’s block”.

Books of Poetry

Write a poem that has a variable line length rather than a set meter

Day 19 of 31 poems in 31 days

Get in Line

The first and most recognizable difference between poetry and prose is the line. Poetry is written with line breaks and prose is not. While it is possible to write “prose poetry” without line breaks the reason it is called prose poetry is because it is written in a prose style. All other types of poetry rely on the line.

There are many ways to play with and manipulate the line in poetry. The most established way to define your line is the use of meter, which we have discussed several times already. Even when you use meter, it is far from the only consideration in the creation of a line.

One of the primary considerations in the use of the line in poetry is to determine the line break. Even if you use meter, you have to determine the number of feet in the meter you choose. Pentameter (generally a ten syllable line depending on the length of the feet) is going to have a much different feel than trimeter (generally a six syllable line). The first is around the length of the average sentence while the second is closer to the length of a phrase. Each creates a much different feel and rhythm.The line is open to other sorts of manipulation beyond meter. One is the use of the enjambed line versus the endstopped line. An enjambed line breaks in the middle of a phrase or thought. An endstopped line finishes at the end of a sentence or a thought. The use of enjambment changes the rhythm of a poem and gives it a feel that is more like prose. It often results in readings that ignore line length entirely.

Other line tools

Another way that poets manipulate the line is through placement. They indent or otherwise displace a line, often to emphasize that line or to show a progression. These placements can often get quite intricate, with lines appearing in all sorts of locations on the page.

A final way to manipulate the line is length. With meter, there is generally (though not always) a consistent line length. When meter is not used, line length can be much more variable. Some poets manipulate this, following short lines with long lines, or combining line length and line placement to create shapes on the page. These poems are often called shape poems or pattern poems.

The key point, in my opinion, with any sort of line manipulation is that it should be done for a reason and it should enhance the reading of the poem. If a poem uses lines in a disruptive way, it can harm the overall experience of reading the poem and often says more about the poet than the poem. There is often a fine line between art and artifice. The more manipulative you get, the more you risk creating the latter.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write a poem that has a variable line length rather than a set meter. Use either enjammed or endstopped lines.

Include the words “formal” and “casual” at some point in your poem

Take your Place

One of the great things about this poetry project so far is that we have started to develop a community. We have regular contributors, occasional contributors and readers. A sense of community is important in poetry. Because the market for poetry is so small compared to the fiction market, it needs constant support to keep going.

There are many benefits to joining or creating a poetry community. You gain the support of your peers. You have the opportunity to compare yourself with and learn from other poets. You encourage each other to keep going. You meet the people who can help you down the road.

The people who publish other people’s poetry do it because they love it. There is no great financial benefit, and it is certainly easier to make money publishing something else. The best way to get noticed by these people is to get out in the poetry community and start introducing yourself. Attend poetry readings. Take poetry classes. Attend open mic nights and poetry slams. Get up on stage if you can. Support other people’s poetry by buying their books and magazines. The more you support poetry the more it will support you.

Today’s Assignment

Include the words “formal” and “casual” at some point in your poem.

Write a poem using a random source – 31p31d

Day 17 of 31 poems in 31 days

Wild Assignments

Towards the end of my undergraduate education, I stumbled into Peter Wild’s poetry class. I hadn’t actually intended to take a poetry class that semester. I had signed up for Literature in Film and I had even attended the first session of that class, but then the University made a mistake (not that they would admit it) and dropped me from all of my classes. I managed to get my other classes back, but not Literature in Film. I had to round out my schedule and Peter Wild’s class was the latest to start, so I chose it. I was cursing my bad luck, but it turned out that luck was on my side. I was about to enter my favorite poetry class ever.

By this point in college, I was a veteran of many poetry writing classes. Most of them were, you might say, free form. The instructor tried to guide you in your work, but most of you assignments were general “bring in a new poem this week” assignments. There is nothing wrong with that approach. It allows people to work in their own way and their own style. Peter Wild’s approach, however, was totally different. Peter gave assignments. He would tell you how many lines to write, what subjects to pick, whether to write in the first person or the third. At one point he gave both the first line and the last line of the poem we were to write. I still remember them.

The first line was:

For centuries lovers have looked to the stars

And the last line was

And the three-legged dog chased the beer truck out of town

Not all of his students liked this approach. It was too hard. It stifled their creativity. It made them write about things they didn’t care about. The other students complained, but I didn’t. I loved having the constraints and challenges. I may not have always produced my best work, but I learned to become more resilient as a poet. For the first time in my life, I felt like poetry was something I could control and shape at will.

One of the benefits of constraint is that it gives you something to start from. If you know what your last line has to be, you start to think of ways that you can get there. If you know that you have to write a poem about the constellation Orion, you go out and stare at the stars. You are no longer dealing with a blank page. You know that at least one of those words is going to be “Orion”. That’s a place you can start from.

We have, of course, been dealing with constraints throughout this project. Form and meter are constraints. Style and tone are constraints. It is important to realize a constraint is a tool. It helps bring focus to a poem. You won’t always want restraints, but when you are stuck, a constraint is a good way to get the words flowing again.

Today’s Assignment

Wikipedia’s random link is a great and magical thing. Click the link and it takes you to a random article. Click it a few times, and you will find something that can inspire a poem.  Here are some items I found:

Click the link for yourself a few times to find some inspiration, or choose one or more of the entries above.

Write a new poem an old subject – 31p31d

Where you came from

Trees from a trip to Montana
Trees from a trip to Montana

Reviewing your old poems is an important way to grow as a poet. Because I am not always the most organized of people, I keep finding more poems that I have scribbled down somewhere or saved in inappropriate places. At one point in my life, I had a file cabinet full of poems, but after a dozen moves over the past fifteen years, it has long ago disappeared. Many of those poems would be over twenty-five years old now. That’s a trip through time I would still like to take at some point.

As I read my old poems, I have varying reactions. Some poems I clearly remember writing, while others are a mystery to me. Some even make me cringe just a little. When that happens, I try to tell myself that they can’t all be winners.

Overall, my old poems tell me about where I have come from. I have ventured in and out of poetry over the years. My old poems definitely show signs of their age, at least to me. I can almost immediately see the difference in life experience between then and now. That doesn’t make the old poems bad, just of a different time.

Changes in Focus

In reviewing my more recent work, I can spot a certain narrowing of focus. My life is spent in hotels, offices, hospitals and on the road between them. These are the places where the events of my life happen, and it shows in my work. While I like many of the new poems, I feel as if my poetic world has gotten a bit too small, and I need to open it up again. This project is helping with that.

I don’t have specific advice for how you should review your old work. I can tell you that the process isn’t about editing (though you are free to edit). It is about assessment and growth. By reviewing your old poetry, it is possible to spot patterns and habits that you may want to break or bring back. You can also track changes in your point of view. If nothing else, reading your old work is an interesting personal journey, and one that I suggest you take at some point.

Today’s poetry assignment

If you like, reread some of your old poetry. Write a new poem about a subject from one of your old poems. See how revisiting it feels.