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Tuesday Tryouts: A Poem on Then and Now

7:52 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello! I hope all is well with you. One half of us is looking forward to an approaching Autumn, and the other half to an approaching Spring. What lovely times of year for a writer to look forward to. But, then, so is winter. Summer = vacation.

Yes, I was going to introduce you to a form, but on researching, I discovered there is a fair amount that goes into explaining how this form works. It’s not that the form is so difficult, but rather, that explaining it is. Give me another week to absorb what I am reading.

This week, instead, focuses on place. Place is a topic no poet can ignore, and I will write more about it in one of the Thursday Thoughts. We have had several prompts, in the past few months, on place and on memory. I’m going to ask you to combine the two.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent ten days in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It is one of my favourite places in the world, because I spent concentrated amounts of time there, growing up. Every third year of my twenty years growing up, in Hong Kong, we went on a six month vacation. One of the places we always went, and where we spent a month each time, was Rehoboth Beach.

Because the visit was long and repeated, my memories are indelible: the boardwalk, salt water taffy, sand dunes, shelling, Coin Beach, the WWII watch towers, Funland, the shell shop, Pop [who came around selling fresh vegetables], our housekeeper Mary [who brought scrapple for us children], Rehoboth Avenue [the Main Street], and the porch at 6 Park, where everyone gathered during the day and evening.

I see each of these things, not just as an image, but as a running scene, a movie short, complete with sensory details. This trip, as I walked down Rehoboth Avenue, and along the Boardwalk, while I saw much that has changed, I saw many things still in place from fifty years ago. As I saw my childhood coming back to me in short scenes, I thought: there is a poem here.

I want you to list specific [you want micro like a pond, or a beach, or an ice cream shop, not macro, like a town] places you were in, or visited, in your childhood, that have left strong memories. These places need to be ones you have visited recently and can draw a strong picture of in your mind, then and now. You can use photographs to help, after you have tried your mind on its own. Choose one of the places to work with.

Reach for the childhood memory first, so the newer one does not blanket details. Let the place you have chosen inhabit your mind. Remember what it looked like, what it smelled like, the sounds you heard, things you touched, tastes maybe. Jot all the sensory details you can remember down [if you aren't sure about one, write it down anyway].

Now freewrite what you remember happening there when you visited. Write about how you felt when these things happened. And, while nostalgia often implies happy, your memories might be of something traumatic, or fearful, or you might have had an epiphany. These memories do not have to be in any kind of order. You might choose details from three different visits, when you come to write a poem.

When you have mined your memory for everything it has of the old days, bring yourself back to the present. Take a break to clear your mind.

Follow the same procedure, for what your place is like now, jotting down sensory details, what happened when you visited, how you felt.

Once you have everything jotted down, write a poem about the place in the past, or write a poem about the place now, or write a poem which includes both. Make sure to include some of the sensory details you have listed.

We have been given several forms in the past weeks. Before writing your poem, check to see if conveying the experience is suited to a form, or to free verse.

I shall see you Friday for the roundup of prompts; and next Tuesday for the form, which I will have conquered.  Thursday Thoughts is now an as needed post. If I think of something I want to write about, or you send me a topic you wish me to write about, we will have a Thursday Thoughts.

Happy writing!

 
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Posted by on 27/09/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing

 

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Tuesday Tryouts: Picture to Poem

10:12 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello everyone. My, I have missed you. If you have hung in there, waiting for my reappearance, thank you.

A wonky computer + a malaise + traveling + a time lag = a longer than intended absence. So, let’s get right to an exercise. I will keep it simple, as I am easing my way back into computering.

This comes from something my daughter said when she talked with me last night. She was trying to get me out of the house and suggested a walk with a purpose. I know that over at We Write Poems, we are being asked to walk this week. My walk has a sightly different twist but, if you have not walked yet, the two can be combined, walkwise, if not poemwise.

I am setting us a time limit of forty minutes, give or take five. You might consider your route before you leave the house, or let your feet take you where they will. Carry with you a camera in whatever form you have one, or a paper and pencil on which you can sketch [no one will see it -- don't worry about whether or not you can draw. The sketch only needs to make sense to you.].

Here’s the tricky part: you may take only one photograph/ sketch one thing. Once that photograph, or sketch, is done, finish the walk, but no more pictures, or sketches. It will be surprisingly difficult, as you will immediately spot six things you want to record. No!

Like the walk, you can make the picture-taking serendipitous, or set out with a plan, such as, you are going to photograph something pink, or a sign, or an animal, or a flower. You may wish to jot down notes on sensory imagery, other than visual, you might not remember. But remember: once the picture is recorded, that’s it. No cheating! One thing you can do is to mark what you want to record and take the picture on you way home. This may save you seeing something else you want.

When you return home, upload the picture, or tidy up the sketch and decide what it is about what you have chosen you want to write about. It can be the whole picture, or you may notice one aspect you want to write about.

I have missed your poems almost as much as I have missed you, so do post what you write and leave a link, or post in comments. Remember, that you can post at any time. There is no late.

I am still easing, so I will give Thursday a miss, but do send me a topic if you have something you want me to discuss. That option is always open, especially as I’m not sure which direction to go in next with my Thursday Thoughts. I will see you Friday for a roundup of this week’s prompts; and Tuesday might be the next form — no panic. It’s a piece of cake.

I am so glad to be back among you. Happy writing.

 
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Posted by on 16/08/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing

 

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Prompt and Response to We Write Poems

pulled for revision

 
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Posted by on 18/05/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing

 

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Tuesday Tryouts: Ballads [Where the Money Is]

8:39 am — Atlanta

Hello everyone. I hope all is well after the weekend. My title is a little tongue-in-cheek but, when I told one of my colleagues, last year, that I was retiring to write poetry, he replied with great seriousness: “Write lyrics. That’s where the money is”. And, if you have a musical ear, the ballad is as close as you can get to lyrics.

Many of our favourite songs are ballads, especially in the folk and country genres. England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia and the United States, all have long histories of ballad writing both as poetry (Robert Burns and Walter de la Mare) and song (Gordon Lightfoot, Springsteen, The Beatles, today’s power rock ballads). If you watch American Idol, or any of the other competitions, you know many ballads are sung.

Ballads have a specified form, but from what I have seen with all the ballads I have read, it is a rare poet who follows the form strictly, so it is forgiving in nature. After all Rule Number One is break the rules.

Ballads started as narrative songs with a recurrent refrain. In literature they became narrative poems, often sentimental, tragic, comic, or historical, written in short stanzas, and full of sensory imagery. Think The Ballad of Casey Jones, or John and Yoko, or Davy Crockett.

The word comes from the Old French balade, a song accompanying a dance, from Late Latin ballāre, to dance.

A ballad is a composition written in metrical feet forming rhythmical lines. They are written in ballad stanzas or quatrains (four-line stanzas) of alternating lines of iambic (an unstressed followed by a stressed syllable) tetrameter (eight syllables) and iambic trimeter (six syllables), known as ballad meter. Usually, only the second and fourth line of a quatrain are rhymed (in the scheme a, b, c, b).

That looks and sounds scarier than it is. The brackets make it seem complicated. What you want is a topic. Choose a folk hero, or sentimental topic, say the loss of something. You can look to history for subject matter. Then write a four line stanza. Lines 1 and three have eight syllables and lines 2 and 4 have six. The iambic means every second syllable is stressed, as in the word “announce,” or the line “I eat my peas and honey with a knife”. If you go through, you will note every second syllable is stressed. Iambic is our natural speech pattern, in English.

The good news is that you can have different line lengths, different rhyme schemes, no rhyme scheme, a different stress pattern, so long as there is a discernible rhythm to the stanzas when read.

Here is an excerpt from “Barbara Allen,” a traditional ballad:

In Scarlet Town, where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwellin’
Made every youth cry well-a-day
Her name was Barbara Allen.

All in the merry month of May
When green buds they were swellin’,
Young Jeremy Grove on his deathbed lay
For love of Barbara Allen.

And, an excerpt from one of the most famous of the literary ballads “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” by Oscar Wilde:

He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.

He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby grey;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.

Note that Wilde decided he wanted six lines rather than quatrains, but if you read it you will feel its rhythm. Once you have the rhythm in your bones, and I suggest looking up ballad texts if the idea of writing one intrigues you, you will find it surprisingly easy to reproduce. Try at least for a quatrain or two on more than one topic, because, if you decide ballads are not for you, the quatrains can serve as a resource for when we tackle pantoums. But you might surprise yourself: ballads can be addictive because of their rhythmic quality.

Have fun with this and post your results on your blog, or here in the comments, even if it’s a lone quatrain, but you know you nailed the rhythm.

Thursday, I promised you a break from no no words, so will be sharing with you some sites worth taking a look at; Friday will be our usual roundup, back to its normal listing, now that April is done; and next Tuesday, perhaps another form, perhaps a small break and a general exercise. We shall see, dear readers.

Meanwhile, share this with anyone you feel would enjoy it, by clicking on the buttons below. Happy writing, everyone.

 
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Posted by on 03/05/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing

 

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Thursday Thoughts: More Words That Have to Go

8:57 am — Atlanta

Hello dear readers. I hope everyone is well and writing. Today, I shall speak about a group of words and then we will take a week’s break from my telling you what you should not be using. Next week I shall talk about some internet resources I have found worth bookmarking. Then, it’s back to words that should be used sparingly.

The grouping for today:

this is,
is when,
is where,
here is/are, there is/are

The main problems with these phrases are their blandness, lack of specificity, and use of verbs of being, which contribute to the blandness. They say nothing. I said in a blog about active versus being verbs: This is not to say never use being verbs. Sometimes we want to have a state of being, but too much being leaves the reader with a fuzzy, and often dull, image. There is nothing to see when something is, as opposed to something running, singing, breaking…When you use being verbs, do so with deliberation and an awareness of the effect.

You read: “Look. There’s John.” Or you read: “Look. John is standing over by the fountain.” Which gives you a picture?

You read: “Where’s the bread?” “It’s here.” Or you read “The bread is on the cutting board.” I am still using a being verb in the second example, but I am talking about the state of the bread’s location. I am being specific about “here”.

In poetry your phrasing will be less stilted, but the rules of specificity and sensory imagery still apply. You need to give the poem and your readers something to hang onto: active verbs, specific whens and wheres.Your objective is to engage the readers’ senses.

Be aware in your own reading, not just of poetry, but of newspapers, magazines, and novels, of how often these phrases appear and how much the writing lacks because of them. Be aware, too, of the writing that does not use these phrases and how much richer and more concrete what you are reading about becomes.

Short and sweet today. I am in recovery mode from having a temporary crown put on a molar yesterday. I shall see you back here tomorrow for the last of the short roundups. Next week we are into May and I shall return to the regular roundup list. Tuesday will be ballad day, and next Thursday, bookmarkable sites.

Happy writing.

 
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Posted by on 28/04/2011 in poetry, writing

 

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Tuesday Tryouts: Blazon It!

8:33 — Atlanta

Hello all. I decided to show you the BLAZON. The form is not stressful and can be fun.You will need to think metaphorically, much like the delight song I asked you to write some weeks back, or surrealistically, as we did some months back. I have provided links for both posts, as we have new readers, and my long time readers may need a refresher. I know I would.

Here’s an excerpt from a BLAZON, a poem that itemizes the qualities of something or someone beloved:

Free Union
a 1931 poem by Andre Breton

My wife whose hair is a brush fire
Whose thoughts are summer lightning
Whose waist is an hourglass
Whose waist is the waist of an otter caught in the teeth of a tiger
Whose mouth is a bright cockade with the fragrance of a star of the first magnitude
Whose teeth leave prints like the tracks of white mice over snow
Whose tongue is made out of amber and polished glass
Whose tongue is a stabbed wafer
The tongue of a doll with eyes that open and shut
Whose tongue is an incredible stone
My wife whose eyelashes are strokes in the handwriting of a child
Whose eyebrows are nests of swallows
My wife whose temples are the slate of greenhouse roofs
With steam on the windows
My wife whose shoulders are champagne
Are fountains that curl from the heads of dolphins over the ice
My wife whose wrists are matches
Whose fingers are raffles holding the ace of hearts
Whose fingers are fresh cut hay

If you wish to read the entire poem, you can find it here. Note that Breton starts at the top and is working his way down the form of his wife. That is one of the conventions of a blazon.

Shakespeare, in his Sonnet 130, wrote a blazon, but did so by listing what the attributes of his speaker’s beloved are not.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Your Blazon

I am going to broaden our options by suggesting that we can pick a person, or an object, or even a concept and that we can write a blazon where we dislike rather than like something. For one of the things/persons you love/hate, itemize the qualities this thing/person has.

To help you create images of the surrealistic kind, consider, as you list, how each quality affects you and your senses (touch, taste, hearing, smell, sight) and your emotions and your imagination.

List at least fifteen qualities and next to each, jot sensory associations. In case you have not gone back to the postings, I have copied an example of metaphor associations: Patience: turtle, stone, the colour grey, glaciers…they are your associations so don’t worry if others might think them odd. You will only have the metaphors and imagery, in the end.

Pick the ones you like and model your lines after Breton, or Shakespeare, or come up with your own way to list the attributes. You want specific images, sensory associations where possible.

Once you have about fifteen lines, arrange them in an order that makes sense to you, and reads well. Eliminate lines that don’t ring true, or don’t fit. Figure out how you want to end your poem. Finally, post the poem and post your link in comments, or post the poem in the comments here. Most of all, have fun with this.

I will see you Thursday for more words to avoid, and Friday for the week’s wrapup. If you know anyone who would enjoy blazoning, feel free to share. Happy writing.

 
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Posted by on 19/04/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing

 

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Thursday Thoughts: To Be or To Do

9:09 am, Thursday — Atlanta

Verbs. No part of speech communicates as effectively as a richly active verb. Whenever you come across a dull being verb (am, are, is, were, was, be, being, been), try to reorganize your poem so as to employ, instead, a better and more active verb. You want the reader to interact with the poem and that happens with active verbs.

Here is what Moat and Fairfax, from The Way to Write, have to say: “Imagine you were around at the moment the rudiments of language were being discovered. First came the grunts in the shape of names — MAN. WOMAN. FIRE. Then from outside, MAMMOTH! One big name, speaking danger. But with it a new need, the need to name something entirely different. ‘What’s that mammoth up to?’ The verb was born.

Dependent on nouns, but powerful.

Not so powerful when the mammoth is merely being, when for instance he’s sleeping; but when he’s acting, when for instance he tosses you over his head, very powerful indeed.

Nouns may be the most loaded words, but verbs are the most dramatic.

‘The mammoth is asleep under the tree.’ That expresses a state of being; a calm observation — you might say it gives a false sense of security.

‘The mammoth sleeps under the tree.’ That’s more powerful. You get the feeling that the mammoth is putting his back into it. His sleeping has almost become an act. The reader is put on the alert.

‘The mammoth has gone to sleep under the tree.’ More powerful still. That really does suggest action. It also points out that the mammoth was awake beforehand. Now the drama’s creeping in. He might wake up.

All three statements are in the present. They all say the same thing — to the untuned ear. And that’s the point. The tuned ear detects the difference. A difference of meaning, and a difference of power. The writer must have an ear; and by discipline he must tune it to register where the power, and so the meaning, lies.”

Active vs. Being

This is not to say never use being verbs. Sometimes we want to have a state of being, but too much being leaves the reader with a fuzzy, and often dull, image. There is nothing to see when something is, as opposed to something running, singing, breaking…When you use being verbs, do so with deliberation and an awareness of the effect.

A friend, Kaspalita, who is part of a duo who created a network for writers, Writing Our Way Home, wrote a poem this morning that illustrates my point and he kindly allowed me to use it as an example.

I snort up the letters in your poem
enjoy the soft edges of your vowels
your consonants draw blood

I’m spraying ink onto the page
nothing is wrong/nothing is right
the paper skits under the speed of my hand

in the morning
illuminated in a pool of dawn
I see a heap of broken words, and
on the floor, dark letters cast aside in last night’s frenzy

the only things moving are motes of dust
caught by the sun

by Kaspalita, March 17, 2011

Note the active verbs and how they set the tone and drama of the poem. Be conscious of the images they give you. Find the being verbs. The speaker is speaking of a state of being in all cases. The being verbs are necessary, but are, as they should be, a small percentage of the verbs.

Go through one, or more, of your poems and highlight the active verbs and the being verbs. See how many being verbs you can make active and if you leave a verb of being, do so because you know it is the right verb.

Thank you if you stayed through to the end. There was no way I could shorten this [and I could have made it longer!]. If you have questions, or something you wish to comment on regarding verb use, please do comment.

I will see you tomorrow for the Friday roundup of prompts and exercises and Tuesday for the next phase of dialogue poems.

 
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Posted by on 17/03/2011 in poetry, writing

 

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Thursday Thoughts: It’s All About the Nouns

8:12 am, Thursday — Atlanta

Good Day to all. If you remember, last Thursday I set an exercise to prove a point about the strength of nouns in writing. In case you haven’t read last Thursday, here it is. You might revisit the post anyway to remind yourself how dreadful my adaptation is, before reading the poem below.

When you read Masefield’s poem “Cargoes,” note the specificity of nouns. Ask yourself how those nouns affect your reading of the poem. How do they affect the mood of each stanza? How does the imagery affect you sensorily?

 

ocal

CARGOES
John Mase field

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

microsoft

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

 

ocal

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smokestack
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

A book I think everyone should own is The Way to Write by John Fairfax and John Moat. It is a slender volume on language. They say this about nouns:

“The word noun comes, one way or another, from the Latin word nomen which means (here we go again) a name. ‘The name of a person, place or thing …’ Knowing what we do about names and the power they command we can surmise that nouns are important. They are, in fact, the most important, and for one good reason. Of all the parts of speech, only nouns are independent. All the rest, directly or by implication, depend on the existence of nouns for their own existence. Nouns depend on nothing.
TIGER. Bang. It stands all on its own.
But, ‘RAN’ or ‘PUNY’ or ‘INTO’ or ‘MOREOVER’ or ‘STEAD­ILY’ — they just don’t figure. Not on their own.”

Notice in your reading of poetry, when you like a poem, whether the writer uses strong nouns and verbs; if you don’t like a poem, ask yourself what is missing…

Next Thursday, a little on verbs and a final thought on adjectives and adverbs; tomorrow is the prompt roundup for the week; and Tuesday, more dialogue poems.

 
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Posted by on 03/03/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing

 

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Tuesday Tryouts: Your Metaphor

9:05, Tuesday – Atlanta

I was going to start a new series of exercises with dialogue poems, but wrote a metaphor poem last week, in response to a We Write Poems prompt, that I enjoyed so much and feel is too good an exercise not to share.

By: doraelia ruiz

 

The first thing you need to do is visit the original poem on which I based mine, N. Scott Momaday’s “The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee“. I will post mine below, so you don’t have to leave the page a second time.

Jot a list of qualities you associate with yourself. Next to each quality write things you associate with that quality.

from microsoft

 

Patience: turtle, stone, the colour grey, glaciers…they are your associations so don’t worry if others might think them odd. You will only have the metaphors, in the end.

Pick the ones you like and write a line beginning with I am + the thing you are + a place, or action, or time. That will be much clearer on reading the two examples. You want specific images, sensory associations where possible.

Once I had about fifteen lines, I rearranged them in an order that made sense to me, and read well. I eliminated a couple of lines that didn’t ring true, or didn’t fit. Finally I figured out how to end my poem, because following Momaday for his ending would have been difficult.

 

from microsoftMy Delight Song

I am the words I write
I am a dragon swimming the ocean’s depths
I am a stone waiting to be picked up
I am a stand of evergreen bamboo
I am a grain of dust carried on the wind
I am the smoke of incense spiraling skyward
I am a cloud through which the sun shines
I am the border between night and day
I am the red berries of the winter ash
I am the grey heron hunched against the cold
I am the cry of a train in the night
I am a photograph fading out of focus
I am a scrap of paper left as a bookmark
I am a fingerprint on the minds of students
I am all these things and
I am the words I write.

After “The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee,” by N. Scott Momaday

Enjoy and do post a link in comments, so I can enjoy too. Thursday will be Revision: Verbs and Nouns and I know you won’t want to miss that! Friday is our roundup of sites. Next Tuesday will be Dialogue Poems.

 
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Posted by on 22/02/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing

 

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Thursday Thoughts: Revise, Redraft, Revise

8:56 am, Thursday – Atlanta

Good Day – I realized for some of my readers it is good evening rather than morning.

I am going to try and spread revision out, as there are not a lot of  pretty images that go with discussions of parts of speech, with which to break up the text.

Dig out the poem you wrote from the building, or body of water metaphors. Or, the freewrite, if you don’t have a poem yet. Or, your latest poem draft, if you haven’t yet had a chance to do the metaphor exercises.

Read through your choice. Every time you see an adjective, underline the adjective and the noun it describes. Every time you see an adverb, underline the adverb and the verb it qualifies.

What are adjectives and adverbs?

Modifiers
Qualifiers

BUT

modify: to make less strong
qualify: to limit, restrict

Is that what you want to do to your nouns and verbs?

Hierarchy of parts of speech:

1.    Verbs
2.    Nouns
3.    Adjectives and adverbs

Before committing yourself to an adjective-noun combination, consider using a better noun by itself. Or, consider using a simile or metaphor. If you want to use an adjective, make sure it is specific. What images do the words magnificent, wonderful, great, fabulous, fantastic, beautiful, ugly put in your head? Specific images, or a jumble of possible things, or a blank? Do you want your readers to be unclear? You need to show the magnificence, the ugliness, the specific beauty. Your words are the reader’s eyes to the images you want them to see.

Wherever possible, replace an adverb-verb combination with a better verb. While there are places for adverbs, in the English language verbs are our richest words. Adverbs weaken verbs: She ran quickly. Well, how else would she run? Instead, how about loped, galloped, sprinted, cantered, raced. Now, if she is running slowly because she is looking for her dropped keys, then the qualifier has a job.

If you need the practice, over the weekend [or whenever you have the time]:

Write a one-page description of any thing, place, or person, in your usual style. Rewrite it, without modifiers [adjectives/adverbs]. Now go back and look at it. How are you going to give the reader a specific sense of the place? Mood? Ambiance? How are you going to craft a word picture of the person, so we read a portrait? How are you going to convey the object and its context? How can you use sensory imagery, strong verbs and nouns, similes, and metaphors to convey your truth.

Tomorrow is the Friday roundup, Tuesday we’ll move onto a new series of exercises, and next Thursday: nouns and verbs!

 
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Posted by on 17/02/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing

 

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