I knew it was too good to be true. I was floating on a cloud all day, feeling my life was perfectly, miraculously, in balance … my hairdo was behaving, my writing was humming along, my garden was beckoning, healthy food awaited my children in the fridge (NB: the food was in the fridge, not the children). Could this really last?
Apparently not. Because at about four o’clock I suddenly realized that I had totally forgotten to write my blog post this week. Tudor carries the bag on Saturdays, and (technically) I am your faithful correspondent on Thursdays.
So, given that ‘Thursday’ is fast coming to a close, especially for our eastern readers, I will simply offer you another fun writing challenge that crossed my desk today. For more, see last week’s post on literary cross-training exercises.
Here’s the goods from Vancouver’s subTerrain magazine. You don’t have to live in Vancouver to participate; perhaps you have an outsider’s view of our fair city that would provide a unique slant to your piece:
Call for Submissions
subTerrain magazine is accepting poetry submissions for its Special Summer Issue celebrating Vancouver’s 125th Birthday.
We are seeking poems that explore Vancouver’s history, geography, and varied ethnicity. The issue will be comprised of 125 poems and several essays on the topic of poetry & politics in Vancouver.
Please try to address your subject in unique, fresh, and surprising ways.
Poem length: maximum 50 lines (including stanza breaks)
Line length: maximum 56 characters (including spaces)
Poems should be typed, single-spaced, on 8.5 x 11 paper
Authors of work selected for inclusion in the issue, will receive $25 per poem plus publication. As well, all contributors will receive 5 copies of the issue and a one-year subscription to subTerrain.
Deadline for entries: June 30, 2011 (postmarked)
We require hard copy, mailed to the address below. Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you want your submission returned. All submissions not accompanied by a SASE will not be returned (so keep a copy for yourself!).
Send entries to:
po box 3008, main post office
Filed under Contests, Markets & Events, From Peggy, Poetry | Comments Off
For those of you who may not know, Vancouver has been deluged with rain this ‘spring.’ Records have been broken, seedlings have rotted, and snow has flown later than most of us can remember.
So you can imagine how delighted we are now that the sun has made an appearance. Strangers are greeting each other cheerily on the street, dogs are gambolling with ecstasy, and the populace are taking their work outdoors whenever they can just to catch a few coveted rays while they last.
On these days, it feels like the world is rife with benevolence and opportunity. Anything is possible. (No wonder the Vancouver Sun Run times its 10K event for the springtime!)
In that spirit, now is a great time to exercise your lesser-used literary muscles. Why not shake off the winter doldrums by trying something new in your writing life – just for fun. Not for money, or fame, but just for the joy of it.
There are two challenges happening right now that might give you some inspiration. First is the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival’s Haiku Invitational competition, which boasts entrants from all over the world. It’s a great excuse to push back from your desk, take a walk and muse on the natural wonder of these spring blossoms in all their varieties. Have a read of some of the past winning entries to get a feel for what makes an effective haiku. (Entries are composed of three short lines, but they don’t have to conform to the strict 5-7-5 syllable count that you find in traditional Japanese haiku.)
As with any exercise that involves a very limited amount of words, you’ll really need to pick those that pack a big punch – a skill that stands you in good stead for all your other writing projects. Have fun with this, and get your entry in by May 31, 2011. Winners will see their work celebrated in all sorts of creative ways over the year ahead, a special period in which the city of Vancouver is celebrating its 125th anniversary.
Another opportunity to do something different is presented by the Mothership Stories Society, founded in 2008 by a New Westminster writers, actor and daughter. People are invited to write the story of their mother’s life in 2,000 words or less, and, if desired, post them on the My Mother’s Story website. Some past stories have been collected into anthologies and adapted into theatre presentations; all are available for public view on the site.
As a special inducement for North Vancouver writers, the local theatre company at Presentation House will be picking nine of the North Van entries to transform into a play to be performed next year. How exciting would that be! Entries for that challenge are due on May 30, 2011.
So why not let the sunny weather beckon you to some new writing adventures? Be like the dogs I saw on my walk this morning – chasing a thrown stick with no idea where it will lead, only the knowledge that it will be awfully jolly finding out.Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, Memoir, Poetry, Sites We Like | Comments (2)
I know I said I might make this week’s post about alliteration but then I realized in last week’s glosa post I talked about stanzas without exploring what they actually are.
Most of us prose writers probably know stanzas as the paragraphs – or maybe even the scenes or chapters – of the poetry world. I’d actually be interested on the feedback of any poets out there as to what stanzas mean to you; are they paragrahpy or chaptery or does it depend on the poem?
At any rate, according to M.H. Abrams’ A Glossary of Literary Terms (of which there should be a dusty copy on the bookshelf of every English Lit major), stanza is the Italian for “stopping place”.
Mr. Abrams goes on to say many interesting things about stanzas but, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to stick to the different types of stanza. Here we go:
1) First you’ve got your couplet - two rhyming lines equal in length. Easy right? However there can also be octosyllabic couplets (lines of eight syllables) and iambic pentameter lines that rhyme in pairs are decasyllabic or heroic couplets (ten syllables). Abrams points to Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” as a good example of the use of octosyllabic couplets.
2) Tercets, or triplets have – surprise, surprise – three lines, usually with one rhyme. The lines can be the same, or differing, lengths. A type of (very difficult, if you ask me) tercet is terza rima in which tercets are joined one to the following using a pattern such as aba, bcb, cdc, etc.
3) Now for the quatrain (four-line stanza, of course) which, apparently, is the most common. When written in rhyming iambic pentameter, this type of stanza is called an heroic quatrain.
4) Stanzas of other lengths include a seven-line iambic pentameter stanza called rime royal, the eight-lined ottava rima and the longer, and more complicated, spenserian stanza which is nine lines long with the first eight in iambic pentameter and the ninth in iambic hexameter.
This is by no means a complete list of types of stanzas, however, I’m exhausted just thinking about all these different types. I have a particular admiration for poets who devote themselves to not only writing creatively and beautifully but to following all these rules…
I don’t think there’s any escaping Iambic Pentameter as next week’s post do you?Filed under From Tudor, Language & Usage, Poetry, Tips on technique | Comments Off
While the”Hoarders” producers aren’t likely to come knocking at my door, I also can’t claim to be very good at throwing things out.
So when my son was cleaning out his closet a few months back and tossed aside his belt hanger – a large metal ring on a hanger hook, onto which belts can be threaded – I couldn’t bear to see him ditch it. I knew it would come in handy for … well, something.
For once, I was right. Frustrated by the knowledge that all my earmarked poems and favourite quotations and much-loved prayers were widely scattered in various books and journals, I thought of a way to make them more accessible.
I copied and glued each favourite poem onto a coloured index card, or postcard, or the back of an old photo. Then they were hole-punched and threaded onto to the belt hanger. Now my ‘wheel of wisdom’ hangs beside my bed, where I can grab it and flip through the words that most warm my heart or stir my mind.
It includes poetry by Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver, quotes on the writing life from Annie Dillard, essay excerpts from Thomas Lynch, and the spiritual musings of Richard Rohr. And, of course, my very favourite… Let Evening Come, by Jane Kenyon.
I’d like to make memorizing poetry part of my practice, but for now, it’s nice to have these wonderful words close to hand. So, if you’re looking for a way to celebrate Poetry Month, you might want to consider creating your own “Wheel of Wisdom”!Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, Poetry, Quotations, Tips and Tricks | Comments Off
This is the time of year in which many of us make grand resolutions, forgetting (yet again) that some of us (and by that, I mean me) don’t have personalities that lend themselves to discipline and structure.
I am almost certain to fizzle out on my solemn promissory declarations by Week Two; by Week Four I am not even feeling guilty about it, because I have forgotten the earnest resolutions all together.
All the same, into every life must fall times of self-examination; a time to ensure that we are headed in the right direction and doing so as well as can be expected. This can be extra important for writers, whose lives lack many of the external carrots and sticks that serve to keep others on track. We can’t expect that even our best work will necessarily be published; we’d better not await a phone from an editor who just happens to be wondering what we’re writing these days. No, a writer is in charge of his or her own motivation and accomplishment, and just in time for New Year’s resolutions comes along a new book by Oregon poet Sage Cohen called The Productive Writer.
I’ve used Sage’s poetry how-to, Writing the Life Poetic, in my workshops before, as I like how the book beguiles those who wouldn’t necessarily label themselves ‘poets’ into experimenting with a genre that’s new to them.
In the same way, The Productive Writer won me over even though I’m not the type of person to gravitate toward books that include time management charts, lists and ‘questions to ask yourself.’ Before I’d even finished the first chapter, though, I was mentally developing a new system to collect inspiration and ideas. The second chapter went on to expand my understanding of what a ‘platform’ means to a writer, and why you should consciously develop one regardless of the kind of writing you do.
Further chapters don’t just help you achieve success in terms of page count or publication; they help you build a writing life, with all that entails: finding community, sharing your work, keeping your momentum going, and honing the practicalities of your work, from filing systems to submission tracking.
Sage is an amazingly prolific person herself, juggling life as a poet, teacher, author, business writer and mother while maintaining her various websites and other self-marketing pursuits. I’m hoping her book will help me emulate even a portion of her accomplishments – so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to finish drawing my writing goal chart.
Happy New Year to all, and may you make all your dreams come true!Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, On Books, Organizing our Writing Lives, Poetry, The Writer's Path, Writing as Career | Comments (3)
Peggy: As I write this (Thursday, April 29), people in the U.S. and hopefully here in Canada, too, are celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day. This is a day on which we are invited to carry a favourite poem in our pocket to share with friends, colleagues and strangers alike.
It’s a grand way of capping off Poetry Month, which is marked every year in April in both our fair lands. And it’s a way to remind us that poetry isn’t the preserve of a certain ‘type’ of creative writer or reader; poetry, is in fact, all around us – in song lyrics, in a beautifully expressed turn of phrase, in in contemplative prose snippets, in prayers and speeches and greeting cards.
Robert Frost said that “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” True enough, but where it ends up is anyone’s business. A poem can be expressed in a formal poetic structure or as prose, in elevated language or in street talk, can offer interpretive challenges or be as accessible as a phone call from a neighbour.
Former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins embarked on an ambitious project to bring poetry off dusty high school shelves and into the hearts and minds of students when he launched Poetry 180, a program that offers up a poem to be read on the school loudspeaker on each day school is in session. All of the poems are listed on the website, and are a splendid place to begin exploring what modern verse can offer.
Up here in Canada, I enjoyed attending a reading/salon with poet Billeh Nickerson, whose book McPoems has just been published by Arsenal Pulp Press. Talk about poetry for the masses: it consists of short prose poems inspired by his stint working as a manager in a famed fast-food franchise. Knowing how deeply fast food has encroached into our diet, Billeh couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been addressed in our nation’s poetic works. Well, now it has, and you can read excerpts on the Arsenal website linked above.
I’m trying to remind myself to keep poetry alive in my life all year through, not just in April. I’m writing a poem right now, which is a wonderfully fun thing to do when you don’t have any aspirations to be a capital-P ‘Poet’. I’m enjoyed Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen, a friendly and helpful guide to reading and writing poetry (much of which applies to all creative writing). And for Mother’s Day, I’m asking my three strapping, gizmo-loving, Subway-guzzling sons to make me tea and then read aloud their favourite poem.
Tudor, like me, you don’t consider yourself a ‘poet.’ What role does poetry play in your reading and writing life?
Tudor: Peggy, you didn’t have to be nice and say I don’t consider myself a poet; you could have just come out with the truth that I’m not a poet. Full stop.
For whatever reason, I’ve spent a lot of my life surrounded by commerce grads (my dad), MBAs (most of my friends at university) and engineers (the rest of my friends at university, my husband and too many of our friends to count). Not surprisingly, many of them think of me as “artsy”. They probably think I looove poetry. They probably think I get it. They would mostly be wrong.
However, just because being a writer doesn’t automatically make me a creator or regular consumer of poetry, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate (some) of it. Here are the ways poetry fits into my life these days:
(1) Through my kids. I’ve recently started posting a new one of Kenn Nesbitt’s poems on the bulletin board in our kitchen every week. My boys really, really like reading them. The poems are easy to read and they’re extremely silly which greatly appeals to kids (and adults too).
(2) Through music. Good lyrics can be touching, inviting, interesting, storytelling and – yup; that’s right – poetic.
(3) In my prose writing. Every now and then I write a sentence, or even a paragraph and I think “wow, that is fantastic, that flows; that is (wait for it) poetic.” It feels good for a while until I also realize it probably needs to go because, as Mary Kole so aptly points out in her great “When to cut something out of your manuscript” post, if you think it’s that clever it should probably go. Sigh…
Finally, of course, there is some poetry I like just for the sake of it being poetry. While I admire their mastery, I’m not so much into the romantic poets (although I studied the heck out of them at Queen’s). I have to give a nod to Shakespeare – the things that man could do with iambic pentameter – but, apart from that the poetry I like tends to be more recent and more Canadian.
Some of my favourites are Leonard Cohen, Alden Nowlan, Gary Geddes and (ignoring the derision this will bring me) I really have quite a soft spot for Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow which, I fully admit, is fired by my soft spot for Gord Downie.
Oh wait, because now I’m remembering so many more. I love Yeats, especially “Adam’s Curse” and who can’t like W.H. Auden; if you’ve seen “Four Weddings and a Funeral” you’ll never forget “Funeral Blues”. And there are more.
So maybe my commerce and engineering friends would be right; maybe I like poetry more than I think…
Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Inspiration, Poetry, Sunday Special
As writers, we have to be very, very good at loving ourselves. We have to believe we have stories worth telling, convince ourselves we have the ability to tell those stories, and remain faithful to our Writer Self despite wrestling with doubt, rejection and unpaid utility bills.
So in honour of the day, we’d like to offer up this little ditty from Peggy, to remind you that each of our voices is unique and well worthy of celebration (and chocolate, and a fresh notebook, and a fancy new pen…) Happy Valentine’s Day to writers everywhere!
A Writer’s Valentine
Look at her; she got published.
Look at him; he made the grade.
Look at them – they write for money.
When’s the last time I got paid?
Look at him, he scored an agent –
Now there’s a lucky break.
Look at her on the festival circuit;
Please tell me those boobs are fake.
Look at the bio on her dust jacket:
She “divides her time between two homes.”
“It’s lovely to escape the rat race,” she purrs,
“When I’m penning my popular tomes.”
Who needs her seafront cabin, I sulk,
I can find wide, open spaces.
But tenting in the rain is losing its charm;
Admittedly, I’d love to trade places.
But suddenly I hear someone saying:
“Look at her – the one holding the pen!
Wouldn’t I love to be just like her?
Wouldn’t my life be wonderful then?”
I strain to listen closer;
Who could my admirer be?
Wait, it sounds like – no – is it?
Could that voice belong to me?
I for thought a moment and smiled
As it all became quite clear:
My goals aren’t impossibly distant;
All paths lead right back here.
If I really wanted to be Bob or Frank,
Or Sally, Beth, or Lee,
I’d have worked a whole lot harder
To stop being the person who’s Me.
But no, I didn’t, did I?
I kept each of my quirks and traits,
So maybe I’m my own masterwork,
Even if I never hang with the greats.
I’ll be the best that I can be,
Since no one else can do it;
And if anyone says “Hey, I wanna be her,”
I’ll say “Sorry, I beat you to it!”Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Inspiration, Poetry, Sunday Special, The Writer's Path | Comments Off
Peggy: In preparation for a new course soon being offered by the Lynn Valley Literary Society, I’ve started to read John Fox’s Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poetry. It’s reminded me of the satisfaction one gets from encapsulating a feeling or impression or longing with just the right words in just the right combinations.
Typically people put themselves into one of two cateogories: A Poet, or Not a Poet. But it’s worth remembering that the genre doesn’t just belong to a chosen few. Putting our usual work aside in order to write a poem is not only rewarding in itself, it’s a great way to exercise some of the skills we need to bring to our prose: an observant eye, a knack for detail, the ability to find refreshing images to convey our thoughts, and a determination to search out robust words that sing, not mutter, their way through the piece.
If you haven’t written a poem since elementary school, don’t worry. They don’t have to rhyme, and they don’t have to be on deep, broody topics. You can even write them with a friend. This week, Tudor and I gave up our usual hi-how-are-you email correspondence and decided to substitute a back-and-forth poetry conversation that unfolded as the days went on. I started out, and Tudor’s replies are in bold….
Epic rainfall in Vancouver, have you heard?
Bullets of water attack my skylights,
I fight back with turkey soup, golden beeswax candles and flannel jammies.
Propped on the couch, I tuck a blue plaid duvet around my knees;
Gaze at the tools of my trade arrayed about me:
Half-empty lined notebook, laptop, research materials.
I have, after all, said today was my day to Write.
And there is nothing to stop me. Nothing…
I avert my eyes.
I reach for my library book.
I am doomed.
Time. Not a jot unaccounted-for.
Not. One. Jot.
Writing a novel (in my head) while doing the groceries,
Loading the washing machine while writing a novel (abandoned cursor blinking on my laptop).
A day packed to the gunnels with big and small gestures of love;
Feeding children, clothing children, transporting children.
Volunteering in my son’s class to show I care,
Reading him the book somebody else had time to write, and get published
While at home the abandoned cursor blinks on my laptop.
He will not always be a child but the cursor will always be there
So I will continue to choose him over it.
I push through the wind and the dark and the dinnertime commuters
to donate blood at the mobile clinic.
Inside, all is cookies and dripping umbrellas and furrowed brows
As people ponder the blunt inquiries into their sex lives.
No, I tell the nurse, I haven’t taken money for sex in the past six years.
More fool me, I want to add, but I don’t want my grey mood to spill over to the nearby young woman .
She has a ‘first-time donor’ tattoo on her bare shoulder.
She is sunny and blonde and wide-eyed at the nobility of her mission here today.
We are laid out on adjacent gurneys and the blood streams from our outstretched arms in quarter-inch plastic tubes.
Mine looks just like hers; no hint of bleak thoughts or dampened dreams.
I think of the person who will receive my blood in a week or a month;
What are they doing now?
Putting on their slippers, updating their Facebook page, wishing their shift was over?
They don’t know what tragedy lies in wait,
The event that will ensure our lives will cross.
But none of us know where our path will lead, do we?
I close my eyes, and send this stranger a blessing
While my blood runs free and raindrops hammer the window by my head.
I love November, I think, as I walk home in the dark.
I love November, I think again, this time running through the light puddle of a streetlight on the nighttime street.
I love November as my three boys (two sons and their dad) sit on the back porch and stargaze. Jupiter is to the left, they tell me, pointing with eager fingers.
This cannot happen in August;
There is no chance to get to know my city, my neighbourhood, my streets, our sky, by night in August.
Summer nights don’t fall until long after little boys need to be in bed.
There’s adventure in walking alone in the dark, feet scrunching through long-fallen leaves, scarf pulled tight against the chill; nose and ears and senses tingling in the absence of the sun.
And then what a treat to step into the warmth and bright of home and find it’s only 7:00 p.m.Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Inspiration, Poetry | Comments Off