Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I'm back once again


Well, here I am posting again on my blog. This past year I've gotten more involved with my writing and less with volunteering at the Plains Conservation Center, which has now been shut down. I volunteer occasionally at Rocky Mountain Arsenal and every Wednesday at La Cache, a consignment store whose proceeds go to support Children's Hospital Colorado. This year I've extended my writing projects to include teaching a poetry class for seniors. And I've pulled together a book of my poems, A Death at Tollgate Creek: Songs of the Prairie. which I'll publish it in mid-January, 2017.

As writers we all seem to face two major problems, not enough time and not enough motivation, or put another way, too few visits from the muse. Personally, I think those problems are facets of the same problem. I don't find the time when I don't have a good poem cooking on paper or in my mind. The time is there, I am just not motivated to find it. I find time for lots of less important things.

Two ideas have helped me be more productive than any year since 2008, when I got serious about writing poetry. The first was a simple phrase William Stafford told his students at Lewis and Clark College when they were "stuck." His advice, "Lower your standards and keep writing." I have that pinned above my desk. The second was the weekly exercises I had my students do that I did along with them. I got the idea from Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook. It was to take a poem I like and use it as a prompt for a poem.

I find a poem I like and read it several times, figuring out what I like about it. Then using pen and paper, I copy the poem out four or five or six times until its rhythms and images and words are singing to me and I'm feeling them. At some point, I'll suddenly feel the urge to leave that poem alone and write about it in my journal. So I write for a page or two or three, explaining what I like about the poem, its images, its tone, what feelings it evokes in me.

I will start to feel images, words, ideas coming to me that I might use in my own poem. I continue to write in the journal, but now writing lines and stanzas of poetry, at times completely out of sequence, trying to capture them as they came to me. Most of the time, this process takes about an hour from the time I start reading the poem, copy it out several times, write about it in an almost free-writing style, and then move into my own poem.

Once I have the poem in very rough form, I move to the computer, write out what I have and start the long revision process. The poem might not be anything like the poem that was my prompt in subject, style, rhythms, images, but it is my poem. I've liked each poem that came from this process. I'm not sure why, but for me, the single image or single word prompts often used in workshops don't work. My process starts with lots of mulling things over and the time constraints of workshops often don't do me well.

In my revision process, I think about the poem while I'm driving, folding laundry, walking the pup, at times fall asleep thinking about it. I pull it up on the computer every day or so to work on it.


I now lower my standards, keep on writing. That motivates me and gives me permission to find the time to work on the poem. Then my muse often comes to sit on my shoulder and whisper sweet nothings in my ear.