Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sonnets and Static

I wrote twenty sonnets this month. No, seriously, twenty (and I will be deleting them from Poets.org soon, so read them while you still can). I read somewhere that when artists want to learn something, they draw it 100 times. I wanted to learn how to write a sonnet. I'd been writing free-verse with the occasional foray into forms for years but I want to be a writer, not a one-hit-poem wonder. In my life I've written technical manuals, insurance books, safety manuals, letters, resumes, stories, poems, and done a slew of other writing-related things, yet there is always something more about writing that I don't know. I suppose there always will be, for which I am profoundly grateful.

About sonnets:
Some people asked me how I did it. How did I write so many sonnets in a row? I have a system. I decided to study cloud forms at the same time which provided a framework. I already know I like to talk about relationships and emotion; that provided subject matter. When I sit down to write, I open up one thesaurus in my browser and two rhyming dictionaries. I choose the last word of the lines based on how many other words rhyme with them, and how interesting the words are to me before I write the line, with a few inspired exceptions.

I chose consciously to enjamb most of the lines, saving end-stopped lines for when I truly wanted to make a point because I think that fundamentally changes the traditional nature of the sonnets, bringing it into the modern era and making it more palatable to the modern ear. I say to everyone who asks: follow the punctuation, not the lines when reading aloud; follow the lines only with the eye. I also stuck mostly to iambic feet, with the occasional trochee substitution and in one poem, an amphibrach at the end, for my meter. When I begin, I chant a fake iambic pentameter line to myself and settle down to work. That's basically it.

About static:
I recently bought Jack Gilbert's new book, "The Dance Most of All," and on first glance it seems to be more of the same. He's one of my favorite poets and I'm certainly looking forward to reading his new poetry (it's all so comfortable), yet I can't help feeling as though he discovered one way to do something and hasn't varied since then. His poems all look the same: like a herd of horses, they're different colors and even breeds and beautiful, but still, all HORSES. I've noticed that other poets tend to do this, never changing that one style that works, that brings them recognition and awards. It's a trap.

Both beginners and old-hands fall into this trap, in which there are two sides. On one side you write only for yourself, on the other you write only for other people. The best work of any poet straddles the sharp line in-between: where you understand how much information a reader needs to relate to your poem and you also understand that you must push the boundary of sameness and move into artistry. Most of the stuff I've read in journals now, respectable journals and respectable poets, is so random that comprehension is also random. These poems do not even pretend to speak to a reader. Most of the other stuff I read is all too conscious of the reader and fails to provide that spark of difference that moves the poem from ordinary into innovative. Boring, boring, boring, both sides.

I don't want that. I don't want to write the same kind of poem over and over for the rest of my life. I don't want to write only for myself and I don't want to write what is fashionable right now. So, I wrote twenty sonnets and learned how to manage iambic pentameter and rhyme and to my amazement, twenty was enough. I moved on to a type of stream-of-consciousnes poem whose form I invented for myself in a burst of sheer joy one night. It will be another chapbook, yet another unpublished chapbook. I have three finished so far, and one full-length collection, all still unpublished. And now, when this new set is done, I will have four. Absurd. Still, at least they are all different (except in voice, which you can't run away from and is another topic completely).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wow. I am again reminded how much I love English.

Not because I speak another language and therefore have the ability to compare, no, because I don't. Not because other languages are substandard (I'm sure every language has its beauty), no. I am reminded because the alphabet and the way we use metaphors allows English speakers to combine words and ideas in a way that allows for an insane amount of variation and individuality. Of course, the idea that individuality = good is a bit of a cultural trapping, but still, to my knowledge, we don't have this problem:

Name Not on Our List? Change It, China Says from the NYTimes.

Can you imagine being told you must change your name because the computer cannot read it? I can't. What would happen here if all the Shahyla's and Meaghan's and Kristyn's were told to standardize? There would be an uproar.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Autumn Sky Poetry 13 now live!


The thirteenth issue of Autumn Sky Poetry is now online.

Read poems by Mary Alexandra Agner, Ed Bennett, Kay Cosgrove, Dennis Greene, Arthur Leung, Corey Mesler, Burgess Needle, Faith Watson, Gail White, and Kelley White.

—It's all about the poetry.

Christine Klocek-Lim, Editor

So yeah, headlines are often amusing

I've found that to be the case for a long time, though with the advent of online news and the rise of search engines, the headlines haven't been as illuminating, but hey, there's still time, right?

Stanley Fish: Headline Art from the NYTimes

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2009 Ellen La Forge Poetry Prize

So hey, I've recently been informed that I'm the winner of the 2009 Ellen La Forge Poetry Prize (formerly the Grolier Prize). I entered six of my astronomy poems from last year's NaPoWriMo and I'm still a bit shocked over the whole thing.

The editor of the Ellen La Forge Poetry Prize Annual informed me that my poems were a "unanimous choice," which is, apparently, unusual. Everything about this has been a surprise to me. Needless to say, I was thrilled. And I get money, which is astonishing for poetry. I'm trying to work out how much I made per poem, but any sort of math that involves numbers larger than two confounds me. Which is why I became a writer in the first place, of course. ;-)

PS- several friends were kind enough to do the math for me and one informed me that I earned a repeater number per poem. Which is cool. This is why I have friends. I would never be able to tip properly if I didn't.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Trying to do too many things at once

So, this week my head may explode. I just finished reading and choosing the poems for the next issue of Autumn Sky Poetry, I'm participating in NaPoWriMo and have just written the 13th sonnet of the month (and yes, I know it says "Cloud study number fifteen," but I wrote two last month and I don't want to mess up my scheme), and I'm trying to write a novel. Oddly, writing the sonnets helped my prose writing, which I didn't expect, but I don't know how many more sonnets I will be able to write. Last night I dreamed in iambic pentameter, which was weird. I'm not certain it's altogether good for my mental health. Then again, I've never been particularly normal, so whatever.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

I lied

Well, not really. I tried to abstain from the NaPoWriMo. Then I found myself wanting to write. Okay, I say, sure go ahead if you want to, write a poem. So I did, last night. Then I woke up. Wanted to write another one. So I did. Then I realized that NaPoWriMo had infected me, like a virus. So I'll try it, but I'm making no promises to myself or anyone else. I'm keeping it low-key, no pressure. Really.

If you want to read my poems, go to Poets.org's NaPoWriMo section:

Christine's napowrimo scribbles

I'll be damned if I'm going to write at least ten pages in my novel everyday, a poem a day, and then try and post the poems all over the net, too. I'm keeping them all in one place until I give up, probably mid-month. ;-)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

National Poetry Month

Today is the first day of National Poetry Month, the first day of NaPoWriMo, and I am not writing a poem. Why? Because I am writing a novel and I cannot do both at the same time. And also, I spent all last year and the beginning of this year writing a book of poems and I need a breather from opening up my body and describing how the heart beats in meticulous detail. Because that is what it feels like for me to write a poem these days. I no longer want to write pretty things about pretty situations. Instead, I find myself exploring the darkest corners of the human psyche and that is both disturbing and exhilarating. And one cannot do it for long without shying away from both the pain and joy of it. So, not writing a poem a day this month. I will miss it, but I console myself with the latest dialogue from my novel:

“Gabriel and I talked it over when you were in the bathroom. All that’s left is for you to decide if you want this too.”

I do want it, I want to write poems with everyone, all my poet friends, but I have decided. This year instead I must watch from the sidelines.