The Beautiful Writers Workshop #23: “Snap To! Let’s Get Organized!”

Disappointed I can’t find an image of the scene when John Gavin shouts this line while fumbling with a live chicken and coming out of a tranquilized haze. Apparently, the internet DOES NOT have everything.

I’m not immune to the fact that this blog has tripped around in the dark a bit lately. Let’s be honest, all of us are probably tripping in the dark. We’re in unprecedented times, facing stresses and noise that we’ve never dealt with before. It’s easy, in the dissonance, to lose our path.

So for the next three to four weeks I’ll be getting organized and coming back to the basics. No, I’m not going to make you deconstruct your sentences into diagrams, circling your subject, double scoring your gerunds, slashing through your adverbs (or will I? Could be a fun practice in the lost art of sentence diagramming AND tortuous. I’m a girl who likes it a little rough).

For the love of all that is good and holy…if this doesn’t make you hot…you’re not my kind of nerd.

First, we’ll be taking a few weeks to explore the basics of each type of the most prevalent submissions for authors: poetry, flash fiction, short story, and novel.

Following that, and into the fall, I’ll start breaking it down further into genre work, dialogue, plot building, scene construct, story structure and the basics of good editing.

That’s not to say I won’t occasionally throw in a “stop being assholes to each other” rant. I like to keep it exciting after all.

It’s been a while since we dabbled in the lighter word count and heavier hand of poetry so I thought…why not start there?

(Hold on to your asses, she’s about to ADULT over here!)

Poetry used to be the sole conveyer of great stories, epic tales, and the meat and potatoes of religious creed. The first believed poem, author unknown, was called The Epic of Gilgamesh. Besides this epic, there was Rig Vedas of Hinduism, and The Song of The Harper from Egypt. Centuries before we first heard a Greek throw down an ode to an urn, people were writing poems.

Poetry was borne in the heart of burgeoning cultures and empires. As we move west across the world, we have The Iliad, Beowulf, 154 shout outs to Will Shakespeare’s best girl(s), and eventually, on to the new world with works like The Song of Hiawatha.

From these epic and structured beginnings, poetry has evolved and moved, like a river around obstacles, constant but ever-changing. One of the reasons I love poetry is its ability to capture the heartbeat of time-periods through the use of its language and form, as well as the ideas that it holds.

Poetry records history. From the simplest nursery rhymes (“Mary, Mary Quite Contrary” was actually based on Queen Mary I, aka Bloody Mary, who tortured and killed hundreds of protestants. Silver Bells and Cockle Shells aren’t perennials, they’re torture devices.) to Walt Whitman’s descriptions of the horror and decimation from America’s Civil War (“O Captain, My Captain” was written about the assassination of Lincoln just before the close of the ‘storm’ of war) poetry is a powerful conveyer of humankind’s journey through time.

Poetry connects. It’s visceral and often uncomfortable. It paints pictures with the deepest hues of language. Poetry is vital to song writing, memory retention, and a host of other deep-seated neural mechanisms humans use to survive. (the ABC song, “Thirty days hath September…”, “I before E except after C–and about a dozen other exceptions because the English language is a bastardized torture device for anyone learning it”)

So how do you write a poem?

Well, that’s the beautiful thing. We are no longer shackled to the 15 line iambic pentameter, nor are we beholden to ends that rhyme. Poetry can be written in just about any form you can conceive. You can write it, you can rap it, you can sing it, you can paint it across a street in bold letters. There are no rules but one.

Poetry should be true to your soul.

It should never be half-way. It should fling open the shutters of your close-held heart and expose it to the light. Poetry should reflect the thoughts and the feelings, the commiseration and worry, the anger and peace, the joy or the sadness that fills your head and your community.

When I think of poetry, I think of catharsis and a means to work through big and hard emotions (a girl’s favorite kind?) I think of finding meaning and perspective, shrinking down the large imposing impossibilities to moments I can do something with. To feelings I can direct towards change.

To write a poem is to be truthful about what hurts most in that moment.

I’m sure you can guess this week’s exercise. Write some poetry. In any form you want. Send it to me, let me know if you want it to have a little spot here on The Beautiful Stuff, or if you rather just share it with another soul. I don’t have a preference for form or length. Just get to the darkness, poke around in there, tickle the tender underbelly of what drives your biggest emotions and tug it out into the light.

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Happy Writing.

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #15: Poetry and An Easy-Sleazy Exercise

As we are in the last week of National Poetry month I have a couple to share from last week’s exercises before we get into some fun little distractions from your current pandemic confusion.

But first…some Verse…

 

LESSONS

 

The children must be taught

But why?

So they can “grow up”?

So they can feed this horrible and unequal shipwreck of a country?

This continuous machine that steals their joy

and forces them into tiny boxes of pre-approved paths?

Paths that continue to feed the privileged?

who ride, like great white kings, on the backs of former dreamers?

Dreamers forced to live on the crumbs of cake that fall

from their slovenly white jowls?

The children MUST be taught

A new lesson.

A new way…the way of their heart.

The way their soul already knows.

The way that shouts out,

“You don’t get to tell me what my potential is–

You don’t get to standardize my worth by tests and deficient wages.”

The lesson of straightening spines

To topple the oligarchy from their shoulders

and down into the mud, to take their turn in wallowing.

Lessons must be learned.

The children must be taught.

 

–J. McLaughlin (Fort Collins, CO)

 

And from Miss Elliana (past contributor) :

 

IMBALANCE

 

And so it is,

Not one damn word in my head,

While the world rolls and sways,

Constantly tipping the balance point

Now to humanity

Now to the hungry gnash of teeth.

And I can’t remember the last words I said to you.

I can’t remember if

I was human that night

Or gnashing.

I must have felt the full and oceanic spectrum

all the love

and the hate

desire

and regret

Heart and mind, a mirror of the worldly indecision.

I like to imagine I was kind.

Even though I’m well aware,

of the splendid mess I am

for that boy.

A stammering, uncontrolled fool.

But these are stammering, uncontrolled and

foolish times.

 

–Elliana Byrne (Boulder, CO)

 

Finally, because I cannot ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself I decided to experiment with storytelling/dialogue in poetry:

 

TRUTH

 

“The truth–“she breathed. “The truth is that love changes.

In ways we don’t expect when we first fall.

It grows and festers, or it cools and softens.

It recedes and fades.

Sometimes it aches,

like a bone that healed wrong.”

 

His thought crashed out loud.

Thick skinned rhino parting reeds.

“How did you love me?”

 

Heavy stillness settled

Hot, lazy, savanna swelter

hanging over, waterhole dried.

Air so thick, she could cut it

With the truth.

 

“The festering, aching way.”

And, since it’s still Poetry Month…here’s some ideas to squeeze in a few more exercises in the art for this last day of April!

You’re welcome.

  1. Write about something that will always be out of reach (everything from the cookie jar to the corner office)
  2. Write a poem where each line/sentence is about each day of a week (maybe last week, maybe an alternate universe week)
  3. What does your favorite color taste like?
  4. What it feels like when you don’t belong in a group of others. (do you want to belong or are you trying to stay an outcast? Play with the difference in those emotions.)
  5. Start the first line of your poem with a word or phrase from a recent passing conversation between you and someone you don’t know. (it can be a simple, “how’s your day going?” from the clerk at the grocery check out line, or more intrusive like a “Have you found Jesus?” concern from a person on your front door step. Maybe it’s the “It’s called a blinker, jackass!” you hear from behind you in traffic (back in the day when we sat in traffic).

Happy Writing!

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week #6 Character Development

 

Good Morning! Quick announcement for those of you following such things. The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology of 2019-2020, “No Small Things” will be released this coming Monday the 17th of February! Appropriately just past Valentine’s Day. That means you can buy it for a belated gift, because everyone knows the actual day is just a commercial driven, chocolate and sex-fest. (if it were just a chocolate and sex-fest, without the commercialism, I’d be totally for it.)

But a stunning book of poetry is the gift that keeps on giving.

Stay tuned for pictures, samples, and book giveaways happening this month and thru March. Also, be on the lookout for a book signing to happen this Spring in Fort Collins. I will let you know the date and place as it solidifies.

AND NOW THIS:

First off, where in the hell are your haiku’s?

None? Psh…cowards.

Okay, here’s a few from some brave souls out there.

Miss. Elliana Byrne from Boulder, Colorado sent me this lovely and thought worthy collaboration of five.

He said, I can’t help

With all your mental raving

You’ll have to sort it

 

He said, I was sweet

A juicy peach to bite, hard

But I talk too much

 

He said, breathe deeply

When I’m not so insecure,

He might give a fuck.

 

He said, I wouldn’t

Not with you, and your baggage

Stacked higher than sin.

 

They all want to taste

But none want to swallow me.

Jagged edge sweetness

 

 

Here are a few of my own in “honor” of the upcoming holiday.

 

1.

Silence stole my heart

You are gone, and I am lost

You were my constant.

 

2.

February lies

In drifts of heart-shaped candy

All love is false hope.

 

3.

Mechanical heart

Pumping without feeling love

Empty valves digress.

 

4.

She carried it well

Cancer of melancholy

consumed heart tissue.

 

There’s no time limit on these exercises and no order so if you want to send me anything from The Beautiful Writer Workshop, feel free.

 

NOW, ON TO THIS WEEK’S BEAUTIFUL STUFF:

This week’s exercise is short and sweet (not 17 syllables short, you’ll need some time on this one.)

Take ten to thirty minutes (together or in pieces) and pick either one of your favorite characters from a work in progress OR a favorite character from an already published book.

Write their backstory.

Where were they born? What was the name of the hospital? What time of day was it? What were they like in kindergarten? Did they run track or dole out drugs in high school? What’s their most defining internal characteristic? What strange thing do they do when they think they’re alone? What’s the worst thing about them, external or internal? What’s the best?

If you’ve already done this, then kudos to you. The writer that knows their character will have a much easier time telling their story. If you haven’t done it, get on it!

If you don’t have a character of your own, pick one of your favorite characters from literature (or dime-store novels, it doesn’t matter) and rewrite them as the anti-hero/opposite and be sure to have the backstory of why they turned out that way.

What defining moment in their life changed it all?

Okay. Go. You don’t have to send anything in on this one, but keep in it your file for your WIP. If you like it and find it helpful, do a similar exercise with the other characters in your book/novel/short story. Even the “sidekicks”. Everybody’s got a story.

Until next week, Happy Writing.

 

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #5: Haiku, can you?

Good Thursday morning, writers! I hope your week has been productive and your mental coffers are overflowing with ideas.

Today I’m going to be featuring some awesome first lines from the “Ten First Lines” exercise, as well as a few of my own. But first, down to business.

I realize we aren’t all poets here. I know that some of you have more the mind for long and involved stories. But, sometimes when time is limited a quick little scribble of something is better than nothing at all. Often, I find that these little scraps of creativity can lead me to a good short story or even get me over a plot problem in something I’m working on.

So today, your exercise is to experiment with the dreaded 9th grade (probably earlier nowadays) assignment of writing 2 to 3 haikus, alternately and if you are of the mind, you may write limericks (but no pilfering the dirty ones that still remain stuck in your head long after algebra has disappeared).

If you need a refresher, the haiku is a form of poetry, originated in Japan, following a syllabic structure in three lines. 5, 7, 5.

example:

“A World of Dew” by Kobayashi Issa

A world of dew,

And within every dewdrop

A world of struggle.

(Hey, wait, that first line only has 4, Sarah!)

Yep, that’s the thing, sometimes poets will play with the rule as long as they stay in the general confines of brevity for big ideas. such as this:

“In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

If we make a break after ‘apparition’ it works in format, but Ezra’s point was to keep that flow of the first 12 syllables of ideas all together.

So, see?
It’s not so rigid as your English school marm might have made it out to be. We’re adults, we can play.

Give me some good ones and I’ll share mine next time.

Speaking of sharing…here are some fantastic lines, the first two from our good friend and down right amazing human being, sid sibo:

  • It’s frickin’ hard to turn the page on a petroglyph story panel.
  • Stars brushed their gleaming fangs and the air itself glittered with frigid crystals.
  • WorkEatSleep was no life at all, not for a black rhinoceros, her skin slicked with ancient dust from a glorious continent.

No matter how you spin it, that lady is brilliant.

Here’s a few bites of the odd from my own homework:

  • My inflatable kiddie pool was infested by porcupines, high off my neighbors discarded edible gummies.

  • The toy monkey clapped at my ability to darn my own socks, still on.

  • Two, bonded-for-life redtails mocked her and her single membership gym card.

Okay. That’s all for today.

Go haiku.

Hell…if you’re a romantic, work on something for your significant other early before that made up holiday hits us next week.

OH AND…

LOOK FOR AN ANNOUNCEMENT HERE FOR THE RELEASE DATE OF “NO SMALL THINGS, A BEAUTIFUL STUFF POETRY ANTHOLOGY 2020” NEXT WEEK!!!!

(I’m so exited I could join those porcupines.)