I’ll be giving two presentations at the 32 Annual Central Coast Writers Conference September 29-October 1st. My first presentation will will engage participants with a lecture and discussion of how the choice of persona and perspective can help shape a poem’s tone and content, and the second will present strategies intended to help poets use rhyme and sound to deepen –rather than distract from—a work’s lyrical complexity. I’m looking forward to working with poets from the central coast region, so this should be fun.
Who doesn’t like getting poems in the mail?
I participated in Paul Nelson’s Poetry Postcard Fest this year, and it has been both inspiring and refreshing. When I signed up, I joined a list of thirty other poets, most from the United States, but one from Canada and one from Australia. I had to buy, make, or find thirty postcards and write impromptu epistle poems to each person. I purchased a set of Pantone color chip postcards made by Chronicle Books and used each color as the inspiration for a different poem/recipient. Each poem was an exercise in stream-of-consciousness; I had a rough starting point (with the color) and specific restrictions (in the size of the postcard), and while it took me a few postcards to get in the groove, I eventually settled on a coherent style, which you can see in the images below. Each recipient found two poems, one on the front and back, which was double the fun for me. I recommend all poets partake in this fest; it’s great for exercising the poetic muscles, and it’s been a joy to see what people have come up with via their own combinations of postcard and poetry.
Too often, writers can find themselves at a loss for words or ideas (the ol’ writer’s block) or stuck in a rut repeating the same ideas (the ol’ writer’s rut). One strategy for moving past these obstacles (of the self) is to borrow a strategy from the surrealists and use chance, chaos, and the randomness of fate. One specific method is to incorporate different card decks to help inspire, provoke, and generate thought. Many writers have turned to the tarot for such inspiration, and Jessa Crispin has a fantastic book titled The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life that details how a writer can use such a deck. Three decks that I have used for myself and my students are Corina Dross’s Portable Fortitude, Neil McCann’s Artot Vision Cards, and Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. When I find myself blocked or in a rut, all I do is pick a card, any card…
My creative writing students often find it difficult to compose effective titles. In an attempt to get them to think emotionally and find their story’s emotional center, I had them draw visual representations of their stories. Some students chose to draw literal objects, such as a pair of hands, while others chose to use abstract shapes and colors. After they finished their artwork, I had them give these representations to their fellow students and had their classmates compose prospective titles for the short stories based on the images alone.
The moral of the lesson: when it becomes difficult to step outside the text, think in terms of images, of color, of shape and texture. These images can often provide a new way of thinking about a story and allow you to find a title that otherwise you might not have been able to “see.”
For today’s creative writing class, I started my students off brainstorming “green” with the rhetorical modes. In other words, I had them define green, describe green, divide and classify types of green, give examples of green, compare and contrast greens, discuss the causes and/or effects of green, analyze the process of how to green, tell the story of green, and present a green argument. Then we discussed Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill” and Tom Waits’s “All the World Is Green” before moving on to analyze Jericho Parms’s “Red“; their assignment is to write a work of creative nonfiction investigating a color of their own choice, examining it from angles of memoir/autobiography, history, science, psychology, religious thought, philosophy, and sociology. We’ll see what they come up with . . . or up with what they come.
In my ongoing attempts to turn each of my creative writing courses into a Donald Barthelme story, I walked into class last Thursday and wrote this on the board:
“This is death.” The man reaches into his chest pocket, extracts a black balloon, places it to his lips, and begins to blow. As the latex inflates, a white skull swells and begins to take shape. “This is death,” the man repeats, tying the end. “Be back in twenty minutes.”
I then pulled from my chest pocket and inflated seven black balloons printed with white skulls (surplus from Halloween), divided the class into seven groups, gave each group “death,” and sent them out of the classroom with the instructions to be back in twenty minutes. When they returned, I had them finish the story…
Many thanks to Deborah Sherman and the editors and staff at 580 Split for giving a home to my poem “Orientation by Nightlight” in Issue 18, which centers on the theme of Transcendence. The journal is filled with works of brilliance and beauty, and I was especially struck by two poems by Terry Ann Thaxton: “Mud Song” and “In Memory of Me.” Those poems rock.