Poem Tryouts: Eat This

7:47 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Sink the Bismarck sung by Johnny Horton

Hello, all. I almost forgot, I am so busily running errands through my head. My brother and his wife arrive this evening. However, you before sheets and towels.

Every year, during NaNoWriMo, I talk about the importance of eating for character development. Then I try to do a variation on what is basically: ‘Describe a scene where…’. So, let me talk a minute on the subject. It is not easy to show a character’s personality without a string of adjectives. The easiest way is through actions and interactions. One of the best of these is a scene where the character is eating, either alone, or with someone, or at a party. Think about it a moment. Think of different meals and what someone might learn about you were they to watch your approach to eating. Think of other people you know and how they eat and what you learn. Heck, go sit at a coffeehouse and watch people. What judgments do you make based on how they eat and drink?

As Skip and I were just in New Orleans, and I was thinking about this prompt, I noticed the differences in the way we approach food and drink. If you were with us when we hit Felix’s Oyster House, and you ordered a half-dozen of these briny delicacies, what would we have seen? Do you jab a fork into the oyster, dunk it in sauce and move it to your mouth before it falls? Or do you pour sauce on the oyster, lift the shell to your mouth and slurp? When drinking a Bloody Mary at Maspero’s, where they believe in a varied assortment of condiments, do you ignore the toothpicked vegetables until your drink is done or do you eat them first, one by one, before your first sip? When eating beignets at Cafe du Monde, do you try to remove as much powdered sugar as possible, before taking a bite of the hot and crispy pastry, or do you bring the heaping whole to your mouth, powdered sugar be damned (along with your face and clothes}.

You get my point. NaNoWriMo-ers, you know what to do. Poets, pick a scene you remember, or envision, of a single person eating. Don’t tell us what the scene depicts about the speaker, or character, but allow us to know through your description. The scene can be a part of a larger story or the sole focus. First, or third person. You can even wait until Thanksgiving, if you are celebrating, and see if there is a likely candidate for your poem.

I’m giving us Thursday off and I will see you next Tuesday for an image prompt (which this would have been in the normal course of things).

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours whether you celebrate or not. Happy writing, all.


Posted by on 24/11/2015 in exercises, poetry, writing


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Poetics Serendipity

7:40 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Robbie Williams singing Me and My Shadow (Yes, that Robbie Williams — he has an entire album of Frank Sinatra, and similar singers’, songs. Brilliant.)

Hello. I am returned from New Orleans beigneted and Bloody Mary-ed enough to keep me going for a few months. Lordy, the food is good in that city. Perhaps more on that with Tuesday’s prompt. On to today’s business. Nanos, coming down the home stretch!

1] NaNoWriMo-ers, I have a link that keeps on giving. Poets, you will enjoy reading just as much. Back in 2012, The Atlantic published an article titled 6 Writing Tips from John Steinbeck (a master of narrative structure, among other things), written by Maria Popova. How could I resist a statement like: The legendary author explains why you should abandon all hope of finishing your novel?

Within the piece are several links to other useful articles, such as David Ogilvy’s 10 No-bullshit Tips and Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments, You’ll be able to lose yourself, happily.

2] This next is in pdf format and will need to be enlarged, unless your eyes work better than mine. The Poetry School is London-based, but has courses around England and online. Everything I have seen from them is first-rate. The link takes you to their 2016 schedule.

3] While we are at The Poetry School, read an interview with their digital poet in residence. The interviewer is Will Barrett and the poet, Clare Shaw. Read what she has to say about a poet’s voice. It’s a fascinating description.

Right. I’m off to my second cup of coffee. I will see you Tuesday for a prompt and Thursday for more links.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 19/11/2015 in links, poetry, writing


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Poetics Serendipity

8:33 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Istanbul sung by They Might Be Giants (who have a fascinating repertoire)

Hello, there. Everyone good? Nanos, still breathing? Let’s see what we have today.

1] The first place we will visit is short but fun. Kath over at For Reading Addicts gives us How to Write Fiction: Tips From Ernest Hemingway. In her introduction Kath says: Unlike other authors, Hemingway never wrote a book on writing, but he did give good writing advice and some of this is immortalised in correspondence and articles he wrote during his life.

2] TED Talks, anyone? Yeh, I knew you’d like that. I chose a playlist that focuses on narrative: 10 talks by authors. The talks range from ‘The Politics of Fiction’ to ‘What Fear Can Teach Us’.

3] Narrative structure being the framework that holds and unfolds the story, I push it every year. While looking around this year, I found an excellent article on Wikipedia (had to be written by an author, or teacher): Plot (narrative).

4] While all the above might be of interest to the poets,here’s one just for you: The Seven Types of Poetry, by Robert Peake. We haven’t had a piece by Robert in a while, and his is an interesting viewpoint.

Okay. I mentioned I will not be around Tuesday. I will be in New Orleans. Depending on the time of day, I will be sipping coffee, or a Bloody Mary, and eating beignets, or oysters. I will see you again next Thursday for more links.

Happy writing, all.


Posted by on 12/11/2015 in links, poetry, writing


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Tuesday Tryouts: The Modes

8:32 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Hanohano ‘O Maui sung by Keali’i Reichel

Hello, everyone. We have lovely autumn weather (for San Antonio). I’m in a long sleeved shirt, three layers, and my wooly socks. Yay! With coffee in hand let us peruse. Today’s exercise is adapted from Jack Penha’s adaptation of Richard Jackson’s “five easy pieces” from The Practice of Poetry.

  • Think of people you know well. – for the sake of the exercise, you need to have someone you can easily visualise. Pick someone.
  • Imagine a place where you can picture the person. This does not have to be a place the person has been.

Whether you are a NaNoWriMo-er or poet, we are going to write five sentences taking us through the four modes of writing: description, narration, reverie, and dialogue.

1. Describe the person’s hand or hands in one sentence.

Description takes place in no time; i.e. time stands still for description. So do not let that hand or those hands move. You can describe what they look like or how they are poised or where they lie. But time in description does not move.

2. Narrate something she does with her hands, in one sentence.

Narration takes place over time. That’s what distinguishes it from description. So let time move. Describe the person eating a crab, or shaving, or tending to a plant.

3. Reverie takes place in the mind of a character or a narrator.

Your person is thinking of something that, although he may not know it, is a symbol for something he experienced in the past. Or something he dreams of experiencing in the future. In one sentence, write about the metaphor in the person’s mind–without telling us what it stands for. Indeed, you do not even need to know what it stands for.

4. These next two are examples of dialogue—the rhetorical mode of drama.

a. (probably relevant to numbers two and three above,) Write the question you would love to ask this person. Just the question—as a sentence. Not, I would love to ask. Just the question. As if it were in quotation marks.

b. The person looks up or toward you, notices you there, gives an answer that suggests she didn’t entirely hear or understand your question. One sentence.

NaNos, you can stop there or expand on what you started. Poets, find the poem in your sentences. Feel free to make changes—small or radical—that seem to make it a better poem. Feel free to leave out bits.

I don’t usually show examples, but this exercise might cause furrowed brows, so here’s my take:

1] Her hands are translucent with age, her skin leafy to the touch.

2] Spidery fingers poke the earth around the bottom of the plant.

3] Once a deep purple, now faded to pale blue, veins like spikes of delphinium.

4] It’s cold; are you coming in?

The weather has changed; I must prepare the bonsai.

The poem:

Her Hands

Spider fingers
poke the earth
around the bonsai’s base.

Once a deep purple,
now faded
to pale blue,
veins like spikes
of delphinium,

hands translucent with age,
her skin leafy to the touch.

Go forth and write and I will see you again, Thursday for links and then, my friends, not for a week. My husband, having decided we need a break, booked us into a hotel in New Orleans. Who am I to argue?

Happy writing, all.


Posted by on 10/11/2015 in exercises, poetry


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Poetics Serendipity

7:46 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald sung by Gordon Lightfoot

Hello, all. Happy Guy Fawkes. NaNoWrimo-ers, you should be settling into your stride. Let’s see what I have of interest.

1] At first, I wasn’t sure whether to post this. After all, it’s just results of surveys. Then I realised I was reading through the results, and I don’t participate in NaNoWriMo. The website, Galley Cat, has published what they term an infographic by the team at Stop Procrastinating that features the results of “A Survey of 2000 NaNoWriMo Writers”. One of the reasons I kept reading is that they have made the graphic attractive and easy to inhale quickly.

2] The Writer’s Circle is a wonderful resource. One of the things they do is find lists such as words used to describe hair. They found the list at a website titled Writing With Color. If I could have found this list there, I would have given you a direct link. I searched, really I did. I’ll give you the link to TWC’s Facebook page instead.

3] This last is an essay by poet Audré Lord, posted on the website On Being. ‘Poetry is Not a Luxury‘ discusses why women need poetry. I rather think men need it for many of the same reasons.

4] Courtesy of the always amusing Debbie Ridpath Ohi

nanowrimo ohi2

See you Tuesday for a prompt and Thursday for more links.

Happy writing, everyone.

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Posted by on 05/11/2015 in poetry, writing


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Poem Tryouts: Turn, Turn, Turn

8:O6 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to a medley of The Scottish Fight Song and Amazing Grace — I found it so uplifting to watch the video of this being played that the heck with the prompt, here’s a link, go watch and listen

Okay, okay and a prompt, but I’m going to take breaks to go back and watch the cellist. Hi, everyone. Settling in NaNoWriMo-ers? Have your plan in hand? For those new to Wordgathering, in the past year, I spend November talking to the novel writers. Sometimes I will have a prompt they can work on within their novel; sometimes I will discuss things to keep in mind. I always have a suggestion for the poets.

Some of you will be leaping in for the first time. Several of you have been participating for years. A few of you will be using the time to revise a novel in hand. No matter which, somewhere in your brain you’ll need to be conscious of the structure of the whole, and within the whole, each chapter. The same goes for poetry, but unless we are writing epics, we have a much smaller area within which to work and only one turn to consider. For both, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. The key component is the turn, the moment when the story stops moving forward, but instead heads to a resolution.

In a novel, there are many mini-turns because there are sub-plots. If you are panicking about the novel as a whole, focus on the sub-plots. As in poetry, the first draft is getting stuff down on paper. It’s not writing until the revision happens (except for one or two people who have a gift — we aren’t sure we are speaking to them). For today, be conscious of the forward movement of your narrative, and thinking of where the several plots will eventually turn, in particular, the main plotline.

Poets, write a poem where the turn is particularly obvious. The best form for this is the sonnet, which sets up the problem in the first eight lines, and then comments on the problem as a way of resolution (not, necessarily solution), in the final sestet. Don’t panic. I’m not asking you to write a sonnet, although you certainly may. But, be more conscious of laying out an observation, or a problem, of where the poem turns and how you reach the end.

If you need something more specific by way of a spark, check Quickly’s House of Curiosities.

I shall see you Thursday for links and such; and Tuesday for another of my prompts.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 03/11/2015 in exercises, poetry, writing


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Poetics Serendipity

8:11 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Train, Train sung by Blackfoot

Hello, all. We finally have autumn-like weather. At least we do until the afternoon when it’s still climbing into the eighties. We’re getting there. In a couple of days, NaNoWriMo starts. For new people, during November I’ll post some links more directed to the writing of prose, and the Tuesday prompts are for prose writers but easily adaptable to poetry.

1] First up, Robert Lee Brewer. There was a momentary panic amongst participants, last week, when Robert had not posted regarding his November Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge, but it’s official: Robert is providing his usual forum. Head over to read the guidelines.

2] The second find sounds interesting. Novlr describes itself as built by writers for writers, a place to safely hold your words, workable on any computer. They offer a free trial period for the whole of November. It sounds worth trying. You’ll know if you must have it or not.

3] The next is from The Writer’s Circle. They have many good things; you’ll be seeing a lot of them this month. This first offering is to remind you to relax and laugh at yourself this month: Writing a First Draft: The 8 Stages Writers Go Through. (Ignore the stuff around the poster)

4] Grammarly kindly asked whether I wanted to share Which Literary Monster Are You?  Well, of course, I do. It’s Halloween weekend coming up. Have some fun. I found the questions asked, interesting, although I’m not sure about the conclusion. When you arrive on the page, hit the Let’s Play button. (Yes, it would be better if I embedded the link — let’s not go there)

5] A last second addition. Tawnya Smith asked me to post a call for The Mayo Review. The deadline is this weekend, but you just might have something that fits.

I will see you Tuesday for a prompt; and Thursday for links.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 29/10/2015 in links, poetry, writing


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