Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

My head is full, this time of year,

with mucus and with Christmas cheer.



LUKE 1:26-27

The angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

Silent Serendipity

After posting Silent Night yesterday, today brought a serendipitous encounter with a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “Keeping Quiet.”  It was posted on the Brainpickings website (which I very much enjoy).  The recording leaves out a bit of the poem, so follow the link to get the full text, as well as Maria Popova’s post.




Along with the post on Neruda, BP posted an item on Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Indicator Kit.”  This showed up on my Facebook feed, just a few spots down from a “New Age ‘BS’ Generator.”  Perhaps it’s the season for that, as well, as religious-y and science-y people become involved in the ongoing and ridiculous battle, based on the logical fallacy of the False Dichotomy (or False Dilemma), of who is wrong.  I say who is wrong because the battle is usually fought using strategies that involve attacking the other.  I love critical thinking, logic, rational thought.  I really think it should be used more often.  I also think the following caveats ought to be observed:

  1. That it be applied across the board, not simply as a tool to attack or shut down the opposition.  That is to say, that we do not while demanding only logical argumentation on the part of the opposition, allow ourselves the luxury of relying on rhetoric or emotion to support our stance.  It should go without saying that likewise we do not demand absolute adherence to logical rules while we, ourselves, employ fallacies.
  2. That it is understood not to be the sole method of discussion, and certainly not of gaining understanding or knowledge.

What does this have to do with cookies?  I found another Generator at WAPO that I thought would be less apt to suck us into the aforementioned battle: A Hoilday Cookie Generator!  So if we can’t all walk in quiet with Neruda or speak civilly and rationally of the many and wondrously varied thoughts and feelings of the human race, at least we can share cookies!  [To my diabetic, vegan, gluten-free, etc., friends, no offense intended.  Please take this in the spirit it was offered.  And, btw, this generator has vegan and gluten-free cookies, too!!]


Cookies, by DerGraueWolf


World Nativities

One of my favorite Christmas-y things is nativities.  I collect them.  I also enjoy finding things of beauty in cultures other than my own.  So, it stands to reason, that I would love a site that blends the two, and does some good besides.  From their Project page:

Along the way, we started buying extra Nativities from artisans around the world. We sold the extras to our interested friends. We thought it would be a small project, but the response has been so high that we have sold thousands of Nativities from hundreds of artisans since 2005. Profits are given 100 percent to charitable causes and micro-credit projects in Third World countries that benefit the poorest people on the planet.

A few of my favorites from World Nativity




Negative Blue: Selected Later PoemsNegative Blue: Selected Later Poems by Charles Wright

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first Charles Wright collection I’ve read. I appreciated the natural imagery, the interesting mix of backyard and international vantage points, the reaction pieces to his reading material. There were many “moments” as I read, and a few full poems that really spoke to me. There were also times when I thought “there’s that arborvitae, again….”

What appeals to me most is the recurrent theme of internal spiritual/religious struggle and Wright’s facility in connecting the natural with the supernatural in a realistic, non-fantastical way–from the recurrent references to the titular “Blue” that ties the Heavens with the Earth (e.g., Blue Ridge Mountains) to the constant use of images of winter-barren plant life. The Man (Adam?) I see throughout this collection is one who, after a youth of religious devotion and fervid expectation, has experienced a life that challenges that Springtime passion. At the end, he sees rather an absent God, one who has lost interest in His creation. But even then, the Man cannot deny God’s existence, though at times it appears that this is his desire. It seems that the essence of God remains, but the Edenic rupture has yet to heal. Throughout the poems, there is a thread of anger, frustration, abandonment, and doubt as to whether that rupture can heal. But always there remains a sense of reality, even if that reality is difficult to put into words; the spiritual/religious elements are rooted in solid ground, not flitting about in ether.

A bit of the poem “Ostinato and Drone” speaks to this:

“It’s reasonable to represent anything that really exists
by that thing which doesn’t exist,
Daniel Defoe said.
and that’s what we’re talking about, the difference between the
voice and the word,
The voice continuing to come back in splendor,
the word still not forthcoming.
We’re talking about the bush on fire.
We’re talking about this quince bush, its noonday brilliance of light.”

This book is not a skimmer. It deserves consideration. My observations are limited by my knowledge of Mr. Wright and my single reading of this collection.

View all my reviews

I was doing a little research on an obscure poetic form, the Hsinku, today.  I found two sources that were somewhat helpful in understanding it beyond the basic definition I’d been given by the South Arkansas Poets of the Pines chapter of PRA: “Line count 4, syllable count optional; Lines 2 and 4 rhymed; line 4, twist or surprise ending based on subject.”

The first source is a translation from an address by the innovator, Dr. Fan Kuanling, of this Neo-classical Chinese form.  Apparently Hsinku also involves an element of oil painting, although I have no idea how the two actually interplay.  In my ignorance, I limit myself to the poetic form and hope more information will come with time.  Dr. Fan gives this definition:

“What is Neo-classical poetry? Neo-classical poetry is written in verse; a modernization of ancient Chinese poems.  Basically four lines each poem. There’re foot rhymes on both the second and fourth lines. But rhymes can be in a natural sense of music. To copy ancient sayings and verses are not encouraged.

The entire address, including his own example of the Hsinku, can be found here.

My second source was Nathaniel Hellerstein’s blog, Paradox Point, in which he mentions his first experience with Hsinku and Dr. Fan, himself, in 1993.  Hellerstein includes a group of his own compositions.  One, in particular, prompted me to write a response in form.  The original renders praise to the clam for being the creator of the pearl.  (I looked it up–although the preponderance of pearls come from oysters, they occasionally develop inside mussels and clams as well.)  My response, and my first Hsinku, follows.

Why praise the clam?
Little Reactionary secreted nacre
thoughtlessly. Pearl: choice creation
unchosen by its maker.


Black Pearl and shell by Brocken Inaglory (I know. It’s not a clam. But it’s gorgeous!)

In his New Republic article, Adam Kirsch agrees–and disagrees–with Jeremy Paxman on the relevancy of poetry.

It raised some questions in my mind that I would LOVE to get a discussion going on.

  • What makes poetry “relevant”?
  • What does “relevancy” mean?  Popular?  Important?  Applicable?
  • Must poetry be “accessible” to be relevant?  To whom?
  • Should the poet write to the average reading level or attention span in order to be relevant?
  • Must poetry appeal to the masses (be commercial) to be relevant?
  • What elements of poetry exactly does relevancy involve?
  • Is it possible to have universal relevancy?  Is relevancy relative?
  • Do the universal themes feel relevant or must the subject be current political and social trends/philosophies?
  • Does relevance involve technique as well as topic?
  • Must one adopt current popular styles (such as slam or rap) to be relevant?  Does employment of traditional styles (sonnet, epic) increase irrelevancy?
  • Should the poet really be concerned with relevancy?


Last weekend (June 6-7) I attended the Arkansas Writers’ Conference in Little Rock.  The conference celebrated its 70th year in 2014.  It was small, but there were some worthwhile elements, including 15+ presentations, 35 contests, and a visit from Governor Beebe.  I missed out on the last two items in that list, but I did glean some useful information from the speakers I attended.  Here are a few of my favorites.

“There are no ‘special snowflakes’ in publishing.”  (Sandy Longhorn)

The Published Poem: How to Write It, How to Get It Published, Sandy Longhorn

One of Longhorn’s main points is to do your research, find out submission requirements, and follow them!  You may have written THE great American novel (poem, essay, short story, screenplay), but that does not give you a pass in the publication process.  At the conference, Longhorn discussed poetry publication specifically.  Poets begin publishing in literary and regional journals and she suggests identifying potential matches in Poets & Writers Tools for Writers section and indices of Pushcart Prize anthologies.  When you’ve reached the point when you are ready to publish a book-length work, Sandy suggests checking out Small Press Distribution for likely fits.  Regardless of where you choose to submit, remember to follow the guidelines.  Not only is it a sign of respect, it also lets the publisher know you are willing to work with them throughout the process.

Longhorn also suggested some useful books for those who are still honing their skills:

E-Publishing Tips & Tricks for Beginners, Heather Sutherlin.

Walking beginners through the steps of epub, Sutherlin brought up some points worth noting including the unnecessary isbn, a brief discussion of DRM, ACX, and the importance of checking chapter breaks, headings, table of contents, etc., for all formats in which you are publishing.  Along with this, she discussed different available tools for formatting ebooks, particularly KDP/KDP Select, Smashwords (she wasn’t a fan), and a newcomer to the game, Draft 2 Digital (she was a fan).  David Gaughran provides a good, unbiased comparison of the two on his blog.  (This was published in August, 2013, and according to Heather, D2D has made some improvements.)

 Impulse + Structure = Productivity  (Phillip H. McMath)

Three speakers discussed characterization.  Tamara Hart Heiner gave a severely abridged version of her talk, managing to squeeze enough information about Establishing Voice with Multiple Main Characters to make me regret that circumstances beyond her control had forced her to condense 45 minutes into 15.

Jan Morrill gave a hands-on (my favorite kind!) workshop on Interviewing your Characters.  The concept seems pretty self-explanatory and simple, but I found it useful and intend to use the method again.  Some of the keys to success:

  • Before you being, write down several questions you want to ask.
  • Envision an interview setting in which your character will be comfortable.  (Writing down the description may help you get in the spirit of the thing and give you a nice warm-up besides.)
  • Carry on a conversation.  Ask your question, and listen to the answer.  Don’t try to force your character’s response.  Ask further questions based on answers rather than sticking adamantly to the agenda.
  • Record the conversation without lifting pen from paper or fingers from keyboard.
  • Don’t censor or edit.

The Seven Characters Needed to Tell a Story, Del Garrett

Garrett opened with the assertion that a Hero is a reactant character, one that needs something to react to.  He emphasized strong development of the villain.  His seven characters fulfill the demands of the Hero’s Journey structure and include:

  • Hero (protagonist)
  • Sidekick
  • Villain
  • Minion
  • Damsel in distress
  • Mentor

[Yes.  There are only 6 listed.  I got a little distracted, apparently, and my notes are incomplete.  Sorry.]  Something to remember–that “damsel” does not have to be a female or feminine, nor does the hero have to be male/masculine.  These are roles, but how they are filled is up to the author.  Garrett also suggested a couple of books:


“If you were the last person on earth, could you get the lid off that pickle jar?”  (Cara Brookins’ dad)

 Building Your Dreams, Cara Brookins

Brookins presentation was definitely of the motivational ilk, a “genre” I’m not particularly fond of.  But her approach to dream-come-true-ing is rooted in hard work, hard experience, and hope.  Because of this, she turned out to be one of my favorite speakers.  I’m not going to retell her story, but if you get a chance to hear her, take it.  I will share a few of the nuggets from her talk.

  • Dream big.  I admit, I hate this line.  But add to it a purpose and it moves beyond pie-in-the-sky positive thinking.  Wimpy dreams are the stuff of fearful hearts.  Be honest!  Set real goals, things you really want, not goals you know you can reach because you are afraid of failure.
  • Your effort must match your goal.  Recognize that you are going to have to work extremely hard to make that big dream happen.  It may shock you when you first realize what building your dream will take; it will certainly require more than you originally expected.  Don’t let it overwhelm you.
  • “Use a Sharpie.”  Be committed.  Set the goal, face the reality of the effort required, and do it!  Be all in.  No pencils allowed.  Once you have a dream/goal, exhaust everything in you to reach it.
  • “Your future is an achievement, not a gift.”

One of the great things about writers’ conferences is the opportunity they provide to move a little further from the fantasy of writing and a little closer to the reality of it.  Brookins’ and the other presenters at ACW 2014 did a great job of making that happen.

copyright Cleeo W. Wright

Yellow stars blossom
against rain blackened tree bark.
Ephemeral joy.

I have a weakness for reading lists– all those fabulous titles laid out neatly, all those stories and perspectives and styles, all the possibilities.  Truth is, I’ll never read everything that’s been written.  I don’t even want to.  Reading lists give me some guidance, impose some order on the overwhelming quantity and scope of literature available today.  Of course, reading lists are subjective just as literary taste is subjective.  Hence, I will not presume to suggest that I present here THE reading lists you should follow.  These are simply a starting place.  See if you agree with what is listed, based on your past reading, or try a few of them out and you might find something new.  Other great places for finding reading lists are through your public library or through universities (these may yield wildly divergent suggestions).

I’ve put together a few internet sources for reading lists of various genres.


  • Bookspot–a general reading website with links to multiple reading lists
  • Goodreads 2012 Choice Awards–Readers’ choice awards for the year
  • Brain Pickings–Best-of 2012 lists covering non-fiction topics such as art, history, food, science
  • Library of Congress–2 here: Books That Shaped America (not necessarily a “best books” list, but intended to promote thought and discussion) and (links to reading lists, and a lot more!)
  • Modern Library–This is 2 classic 100 Best Novels lists in one, a board’s list and a readers’ list.


POETRY–Because sometimes it’s harder to know where to start with poetry than with fiction.

  • Poem Hunter Top 500–Admittedly, I have not read everything on this list and cannot attest to its quality.  This is, again, just a jumping-off point.  Another good way to get into poetry is simply to pick up an anthology.
  •–a great site where you can find out about the poets as well as sample their work.  They do have lists as well, like these.

SHORT FICTION–similar to the poetry situation.  There’s too much to really know where to start.  Anthologies are a good way here as well to sample and find your favorites.

  • John Horner Jacobs–I don’t think I’d come up with the same top 10 as his, but there are some good ones on this list.  There are others I haven’t read, but I might try them out.
  • 50 Best Short Stories of All Time--I’m a little embarrassed at the source for this one, and I’m not promoting earning your Doctorate online, but it’s a pretty good classics list.
  • 1001 Short Stories–Don’t panic!  Remember you don’t have to read them all.  This is only a list of options.  Currently, there are only 334 stories on this list anyway.  It’s a work in progress.

Happy reading!  Hope you find something new and wonderful somewhere in these lists.  If you have any lists you particularly like, I’m always looking for a new one.