August Poetry Postcard Fest

FullSizeRender copy.jpgWatercolor postcard painted by me!

I just finished taking part in the 11th August Poetry Postcard Fest. It was the second time I signed up to send original poems on postcards for every day of the month of August. That’s 31 days, 31 poems! For a poetry project, the postcard fest is a bit rule-bound. There was a Facebook page for making connections during the fest, some people loved it, others felt it hindered the pure snail-mail experience. I checked in every once in a while and posted some pics of cards going out. The major ‘rule’/suggestion which I was unable to adhere to both times I’ve taken part in the fest involved composing directly onto the postcard. It’s not that I worry about my handwriting, though the few cards I wrote out by hand were near illegible. I did compose directly onto the first few cards this time around, but abandoned it in favor of getting some real poetry-writing done. A personal and artistic decision. I just couldn’t waste an opportunity to produce a handful of poems that might live to see the light of day. This may be antithetical to the Fest’s aims, but it’s what worked for me. Here’s an example of how subsequent cards went out, my post solar eclipse card and poem:

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Every morning I composed an original poem directly into a Word document, no revising. I printed each poem in 9 or 10 point font and taped it to the back of the card. I took a photo of each day’s card front and back, but the poems are saved in a future chapbook file. Here’s the thing, about a year ago I began a project I called ‘Missives’; a collection of prose poems written as letters. I had about eight poems in that file going into the Fest. I woke up on the third or fourth morning realizing that the Poetry Postcard Fest would be the perfect opportunity to write more poems toward ‘Missives’. I chose this rather than producing a few throwaway (for me) handwritten lines. I approached my first postcard fest a few years ago in the same way. A handful of poems from that year’s cards made it into my second collection. I find the matching of poem to postcard image or vice versa to be profoundly generative. Some days I wrote the poem first and searched my copious postcard collection for the perfect image. Other days I wrote a poem specifically for the card.

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After all was said and done (or printed, taped and posted) I had 10 to 12 poems I felt were strong enough to add to my ‘Missives’ project, which has changed focus slightly and been renamed. A theme emerged through my month-long writing exercise, so even the poems I don’t feel are strong enough to hold their own seem to be in dialogue with the others. Of course, this is the beauty of poetry. The themes dominating my psyche and spirit would have remained shadowy or subterranean. The writing made them real and I believe it was the meditative writing practice that achieved this. For me, dwelling on the themes that began to emerge was the only way to participate in the Poetry Postcard Fest. The Fest, as it did the first time around, gave me the reason and motivation to write poems. Being a sender and recipient of poems kept me on task. I understand the immediacy of handwriting directly onto a card, the logic, connection and aesthetic behind it. But, overall I think poets taking part in any lengthy writing project (MFAs included!)  should make the project work for them. Rules are malleable and writing poetry isn’t like learning a language or writing code. What works one day may not work the next. And what works for 1 or 100 poets may not work for you! Finally, a big thank you to my Group 5 compatriots. Thank you for your poems and cards, so many of them handmade. ‘Til next year!

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Postcards I received from Group 5 participants

 

 

 

 

Four Writing Prompts from Queen of Cups

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One feature of my mini lit mag Queen of Cups is a weekly writing prompt. Sometimes I base the prompt on the week’s tarot card, other times I’m inspired by the featured writer, or I come up with something out of left field. As a poet, I’ve found prompts invaluable in generating new material. Here are four of my favorite from Queen of Cups back issues, all are accessible to poets and prose writers alike.

 

1. Write a piece that takes place in a structure, dwelling, or shelter. Think of Shirley Jackson who suffered from agoraphobia and wrote ghost stories and psychological thrillers where houses are not only haunted but become malevolent main characters imprisoning their inhabitants. Conversely, look to Rumer Godden who wrote at least five novels with the word ‘House’ appearing in the title. Godden’s dwellings also rise to character status but are more benevolent, becoming meaningful because of the accrual of inhabitants over the course of history. Like a beloved and ancient oak, Godden’s houses take on personalities of their own and tend to stand both within the passage of time and beyond it. Houses symbolize safety, nurture, and personal and family identity, but can also work in the opposite direction and quickly convey danger, imprisonment, and stultification. Your job is to write something with a physical structure in it, see where it takes you and what your structure reveals to you through the writing of your piece.

 

2. Write a piece titled “Grief Hallucinations” which incorporates the sentence: “You are a little soul carrying around a corpse.” (Epictetus)

 

3. The tradition of lachrymatory dates to Greek and Roman times, but was popular around the Civil War. Wives and sweethearts would collect their tears in small vials, called lachrymatories, in hopes of showing their returning soldiers how much they were missed. Lachrymatory was a common ritual in the elaborate Victorian mourning process which also included: ‘deep mourning’, ‘half mourning’, and, my favorite, ‘slighting the mourning’ the moment when scratchy crepe dress trimming could be removed. Mourning in dress was observed right down to the smallest detail: I own a small box of antique stick pins with black heads labelled ‘Mourning Pins’. Women collected tears shed over death into lachrymatory and would leave the uncorked vials on loved ones’ graves; uncorked so the tears would evaporate over time. Write a poem or prose piece where lachrymatory (or ritualistic mourning) appear.

 

4. Write a micro essay/story (about 500 words), or a prose poem about consciously throwing something special away, or about getting rid of something in a bizarre or unique way.

 

 

 

Last Call for ‘Found Poetry Project’ at Squam Art Retreats

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The last day of registration for June 2016 Squam art Retreats is May 12th! If you’ve considered going, have always wanted to check out the Squam retreats, or are on the fence about going, I’m here to push you off! I first experienced Squam two years ago when I gave a reading and held the book launch for my first poetry collection in the camp’s playhouse. It was a great crowd of knitting women, encouraging me with their warm smiles and clicking needles. Last year I went back to Squam as an instructor. I led The Found Poetry Project with another great group of women (there are men too, really). Each left with a handful of poems she’d written during our six hour workshop, a binder filled with goodies, plus a nifty mini magnetic poetry kit (see above) which each woman decoupaged with cool vintage ephemera included in their kits. Sooooo, it’s nearly May and I’m ramping up to teach The Found Poetry Project for a second year. This year’s retreat is held June 1-5 on beautiful Squam Lake in Holderness, NH. Let me just say, if you’re not from the woods or blessed to be living in a beautiful New England landscape, the experience will be a spiritual one. I watched it happen to many Squamies last year. Not only are the lake, woods, the flora and fauna (swimming deer, yes, true!) a calming tonic for body, mind and spirit, but the place just has great energy, due, in large part, to founding director Elizabeth Duvivier. Squam Art Retreats are retreats in the true sense of the word. You’ll relax, create, take your time by the lake and on the paths, eat good food and make friends. It’s summer camp for adults, with all the fun and none of the awkwardness of being 12. Join me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corrupting the Form, Techno-Creativity

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I like to play around with poetry prompts, approaching the muse with averted eyes and veiled intentions as I do with my cat when I need to catch him for any reason. Whenever I post a writing prompt, or open up a discussion about the usefulness and fun of writing prompts, the classicists, fountain pens in hand, claim it’s a form of cheating. A real poet (fiction writer, essayist) shouldn’t need prompts to be creative. A real writer just sits down and distills brilliance from all the daily verbiage vying for prominence. Well….. suffice it to say, I disagree. I love writing prompts and I use them regularly. I don’t use writing prompt collections, a prompt a day for instance, as much as I seek out unique ideas, project-based ideas, prompts that get my creative blood pumping. I have no interest in dredging up memories of kindergarten and writing a sonnet about the colors, smells, sights. The prompts I’m drawn to are little poems in their own right. I often create my own, combine two or more prompts, change a prompt to suit my needs. And, this is the most important facet, I never stick religiously to a prompt, I never end up with a prompt-poem. The minute I know a particular prompt is likely to spark a poem, I go where the poem leads. This is probably why all my poems in form have the disclaimer: ‘deconstructed pantoum’, ‘loose pantoum’, because if I sense the poem would be better in a ‘broken’ form, I’ll break it. I imagine this will also infuriate the classicists. So, if I’m using a prompt that has a word list and the poem gains momentum away from it, I’ll throw the list out the window, the prompt already served its purpose. The other day, I discovered this thing called The Text Mixing Desk, which cuts and ‘echoes’ a piece of text when it’s pasted into the generator. I began writing on the generator itself, intending to mix up my ‘poem’ from the original and see what I got. For fun. I took the first lines, moved them into a document and wrote a full poem. I then took the poem, put it into the generator and ended up liking some of the repetition created. So I went back to the original poem and targeted those few lines I wanted to repeat, but I altered them slightly through repetition. I revised several times and only used the generator one time. It allowed me to see the poem in a different way and that altered view was invaluable as I went forward. The process wasn’t vastly different from writing a poem without any ‘intervention’. I think the key to writing a poem that has legs from a prompt, a poem you want to keep and claim as your own, is to use judgment as you would in any writing process. Writing to a prompt is no excuse for bad writing. But bad writing can be generated by an online poetry generator, or can spring whole from your consecrated poet-brain. So beware!

This is all a very long-winded preamble to a few cool sites I’ve stumbled across and want to share. Check them out, even just for fun.

Text Mixing Desk

Poem Generator

Sonnetizer

Text Clock (this isn’t a prompt, it’s just a cool invention)

Fiction Generator

Heretical Rhyme Generator

Write a Cento (the classic prompt)

Bigram Generator

Story Generator (This one has a twist: it garbles your coherent original)

Erasure (I’ve listed this one before, but just in case you missed it…)

Rewilding Language (A great article from The Guardian. This could be classified as a ‘prompt project’)

Found Poetry Review (A blog article, but check out the entire Found Poetry site. It’s one of my go-tos)

General Writing Prompts

Genre, Plot and Story Prompt Generators