Wordless Witness Video Poetry Readings

poetry, video
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Last year I wrote a book of poem based on incidents in the Gospels, called Wordless Witness. Here’s the blurb for it:

St. Ignatius gives some guidelines about how to pray with passages from scripture, especially the Gospels. He recommends that in order to enter more fully into a scene from the ministry of Jesus, for example, we try to imagine ourselves as one of the characters in the drama, maybe one of the protagonists, Peter, James, John? Or maybe imagine yourself as a bystander observing what was going on. But what if you took it further and imagined yourself as an inanimate object, a cup, a rock, a mountain, or an animal like the donkey on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem, or even something as insubstantial as the cloud that parted at Jesus baptism? All of these played a key role during the ministry of Jesus. What if you could see things through the eyes of these Wordless Witnesses.

The poems in this book take on this point of view and present Gospel events from a new and surprising angle, which sheds light on the nature of Jesus, and also what it must have been like to be close to the person who created the universe but humbled himself to come among us as a man.

It is fascinating to imagine what it might have been like to be one of those wordless witnesses and many of these poems delve into the circumstances leading up to the event itself, what actually happened and what the results were for the witness and the lead players.

So at the end of Lent 2020, I decided to record myself reading some of the poems – the last 6 in the book, which are “A Bowl,” “A Rooster,” “A Thorn Bush,” “A Sponge,” “A Spear,” and “A Cloth.” Each of them refers to elements surrounding the Passion of Jesus Christ and each tells its own story in the course of the poem. I created some movies to accompany my readings and these are now on YouTube on my channel under a separate playlist, HERE. I then posted the link on FaceBook and Twitter.

I think these poems are particularly helpful for Holy Week to prepare for Easter!


Shakespeare’s Daily Grind

Bard of Avon, Elizabethan poets, Jacobean poets, plays, poetry, Shakespeare, sonnets, Uncategorized, William Shakespeare
Every writer is different. Each has his or her own way of working, a method for getting words down on paper. Some are procrastinators, some are methodical, some write in between juggling a daytime job and caring for a family.
William Shakespeare (April 26 ,1564 –April 23, 1616) was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in English. His works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 38 plays, 154 sonnets, a couple of long narrative poems, and other verses, some of uncertain authorship.
Shakespeare was a genius. No rational person would dispute that. But how did the Bard of Avon achieve the fantastically inventive output that he produced between his debut in the early 1590s and his curtain call in the mid-1630s. He was an actor who understood actors and, more importantly, understood the dynamics of stagecraft and audience interaction. He was a member of a company of actors who performed his own plays many times for the delectation of the public. You might think that with such a task he would do what many other playwrights of the time did, which was to produce crowd-pleasers without any substance. Instead, what Shakespeare did was to produce plays that were stimulating on both the popular and the intellectual level. This was a choice of necessity for  him. He was in the acting and playwriting business, not just for laughs, but for some lasting legacy. He is, in fact, one of the few Elizabethan or Jacobean poets whose works are still part of the curriculum of any self-respecting English department in a university that values its status and academic standing.
The practicalities of how Shakespeare wrote his plays is lost to history, but we can assume, given the fact that he was an actor himself in his own plays, that he changed the script several times before the final version was arrived at. He would come offstage after a torrid performance of Henry V and bury his head in the text, striking out infelicities, and scribbling alternative dialogue above the main text. He would ad lib during the performance itself (how could he not, being such a dynamo of creativity) much to the annoyance of the other actors. He would elaborate, modify and fiddle with the script as the show went on, and subsequent performances would be impacted by the changes he had made, until the play was just right. It is amazing how a playwright under such pressure could still produce lines that are, at times, so sublime that they almost make you cry.
But William Shakespeare was also a poet. His 154 sonnets are a tour de force of invention. Working within the very strict formal conventions of the day, with which, in fact, every sonneteer was familiar, he managed to produce immortal lines that are quoted even now after five hundred years. Again, his work ethic and routine for writing sonnets are lost to us in the swirling mist of time. But many of his sonnets are intricate mechanisms of miraculous artistry and beauty that defy full analysis. Certainly, he must have penned some of them late at night as the mood and the ale took hold, but every one of them speaks of fine tailoring and meticulous polishing. So he must have continued to work on them during the day, in breaks from the performances, in the hiatus between writing and performing one play and beginning another.
He died at the age of 53. Not a bad stretch for somebody of the time. On the other hand, how much did the stress of juggling writing, acting, directing and the precarious business of staging and advertising plays contribute to what would be considered now an early demise? Shakespeare spent himself in writing works of genius, and thank God he did. But was the cost too great? Did the spewing forth of works of literary brilliance consume him before his time. Again, we will never know. But however he managed to produce his output we are glad he did, even if the weight of it might have felled him in the end.

 


Happy Hanukkah, Christmas or Whatever!

Christmas, Hanukkah, Holidays, memoir, nonfiction, novella, novels, poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, Yuletide
Compliments of the festive season – Hanukkah, Christmas, the Holidays or whatever other euphemism you choose to describe that most sensitive of festivals! This is the time of year, generally, when all of us slow down, abdicate from the rat-race, and begin to take stock of where our lives are going. It is a time when people begin to think about their job situations, their family circumstances, what they have achieved over the preceding months and years. For some of us – and, if statistics are to be believed, many of us – it is a time for assessing whether we are doing justice to our writing projects. Whatever happened to that novel you started writing? Where is your plan to write your memoirs? How many poems have you written over the past year? What about your plan to pursue a career as a freelance journalist in your spare time?
It’s time to take down your over-thumbed manuscript from the top shelf of the closet, dust it off, and re-evaluate whether it is a goer, or whether you need to try something different. Do you have a sliver of an idea for a new novel based on your experiences as a debt-collector for a loan shark company, or as a waste management technician, or as a teacher in an elementary school? After all, isn’t the perennial advice to novelists: “write about what you know”? Or should you do some research for your novel. How about studying the habits and lifestyles of pygmies in equatorial Borneo? Or reading up on the lot of coal miners in Wales during the nineteenth century? Or exploring the possibility of sentient life on another planet and its endeavors to find sentient life on ours?
But perhaps novel-writing is not your thing. Sure, you would love to see your story in print, but the novel is such a huge undertaking that you’re not sure you have the stamina to reach the end before old-age and decrepitude catch up with you. What about writing a short story? There are still many magazines and journals that publish short stories of up to 5,000 words. There are also short-story competitions with real prize money attached to them (some of them quite substantial). The short story is an art form that can be difficult to tackle effectively. (Nowadays, the best short stories begin in media res, right in the thick of the action where the protagonist is already keyed up for some destiny-changing task or is just about to carry out a deed that will have ripple effects through out the rest of his or her life.) On the other hand, you might start writing a short story and suddenly the narrative takes off and becomes a 30k word novella, or even longer. That’s still a viable publishing possibility.
But maybe you don’t think you have time to write stories and prefer, instead, to concentrate on poetry. One of the surefire ways in which you can inspire yourself is by reading other poets. You may have a favorite poet whose work you admire, or even just a favorite set of poems. How did the poet achieve the effects he has expressed in his or her poetry? Of course, poetry is an art form and is only partially open to analysis. But if you can break down some of the techniques used in various different poems and then try to imitate them, you are well on your way to expanding your skill as a poet and writing meaningful poetry that can touch people’s hearts and minds, or share something profound using the economy of words that only poetry is capable of.
Then again, you may have got to a point in your life where you realize that you have had enough experience to write a memoir or autobiography (although inexperience doesn’t seem to be an obstacle in many cases!). This can be a fun project to pursue: gathering illustrative photographs from the early years, researching times and dates, interviewing those who know you and are familiar with your life. However, beware. Even the most interesting people can produce unreadable drivel if their writing style is found wanting. It is not enough to have wrestled alligators, climbed Mount Everest – twice, or even at one time have been a jobbing astronaut; if you can’t write prose that captures readers’ imaginations, then the book is doomed to failure. (To that extent, one possible solution is to employ a ghostwriter to produce the manuscript.) Conversely, even if you have not led a life that scintillates with riveting detail and unusual events, you can still produce a book that will sell in the thousands if you can write well. Humorous memoirs come under this category. In this case, one of the things that attracts readers is what I call the “texture” of the writing. If you can write work that is a pleasure to read, then people will buy it.
If you have any ambition as a writer at all, Yuletide is the perfect time to re-energize your resolve and do something about it. How will you set aside time every day or week for writing? How will you make sure that you contribute some lasting legacy to humanity’s store of literature? You’ve got a few days off without the pressure of work. Go for it! You know you have it in you…

 


Poetry is Just for Sissies

decline of western civilization, Emily Dickinson, John Ashbery, nature poets, poetry, Psalms, Robert Frost, Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, Uncategorized, war poets, writing poetry
Have you ever been sitting with a group of people whom you don’t know very well – perhaps coworkers or friends of friends – and the subject of poetry comes up. You know that you yourself have dabbled in that black art but you hang fire, you’re not about to blow the gaff and “out” yourself as an aspiring poet. Instead you wait. Where is the conversation headed? Will it rush headlong towards wholesale scorn, or is the company more sympathetic? You know you’ve written a few verses in moments of intense emotion; in fact you even composed a poem for your godfather’s fiftieth birthday but which you were too afraid to read, have read, or even have discovered. The conversation turns to which poets everyone can remember from high school. Shakespeare? Emily Dickinson? Robert Frost? T.S. Eliot? Or even some more recent deities like Sylvia Plath or John Ashbery? The names swim in your head like a thick steaming soup of unattainable brilliance. But most of all they conjure up the canons of English and American Literature, which make your paltry poetical offerings seem weak, thin and decidedly juvenile. Should you suddenly blurt out, “But I’ve written poetry too!!!” or simply sit there with a vague enigmatic smile and let the moment pass, like a badly digested plate of meatballs?
If you are a woman, it’s not so bad. Women like poetry, don’t they? Well, okay, not all women; but a lot of women seem to be more attuned to the finer sentiments, such as you might find expressed in lines of verse. But if you happen to be a guy and you take the unalterable step of admitting to a penchant for poetry then you may as well smoke your last cigarette and put on the blindfold, because, my friend, your life is over.
Exaggeration? Probably – a little. But saying the dreaded phrase, “I write poetry,” can be a bit like saying, “I am infected with the SARS virus.” It has consequences. And for the poet those consequences might involve reactions like, “Would you mind (snicker) reading us some of it to us (chortle)?” – unless, of course, you stumble across a group of people who have actually read some poetry since they were eighteen and are open to the possibility that they might enjoy writing some too.
Before the twentieth century, poetry was seen as a necessary part of the refined life that civilized people strove for. It was, in fact, possible to make a moderately good living from writing poetry, provided you actually had some talent. But like so many other elements of the refined lifestyle, poetry too has become devalued. The misunderstanding about poetry nowadays is that its arguments or themes or topics are largely ephemeral, emotional or effeminate. Yet poetry has addressed and still does address the key moments of life, the depth of human experience, and the transcendence of the human spirit, and gives the lie to the assertion that humankind cannot rise above itself. In fact, like music, the best poetry has a quality about it that circumnavigates rational thought and hits home to the heart in a way that takes the breath away. It can draw us up to a spiritual level in a way that ordinary prose cannot hope to match.
Poetry is not just for fops and dandies. And if you read any of the war poets from the various different conflicts of the last two centuries, or the poets who observe the struggle for survival of animals in the natural world, or the poets who commentate on the decline of western civilization, or even the poet who composed the Book of Psalms, you realize that not only is their poetry robust and visceral but it is also true.
Poetry is not for sissies, it’s for real men and women in a crazy world who desperately need some guiding light in the darkness.

 


Humorous Verse

Belloc, Chesterton, Harry Graham, humorous verse, new yorker, ogden nash, poetry, rhyme, Uncategorized
 
One of the types of poetry that has fallen into disuse is humorous verse. It had been popular in the first half of the twentieth century but seemed to falter and die out from the mid-sixties onwards, only turning up now and then in magazines like the New Yorker as a kind of homage to the greats of the genre. In some ways, it transmogrified into the humorous songs to be found in Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies, which is a pity because often this kind of verse sounds better in its native environment, the unaccompanied human voice, where the proper emphasis can be placed of the key words to humorous effect. Some of the rhyming verse produced by such eminent writers as G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc is now so obscure that nobody can understand it anymore, because it refers to people, places and events of the time in which it were written. But most of it – at least the bulk of what has been published in book form so far – is by turns hilarious, droll, amusing and clever.
Hilaire Belloc, in particular, wrote verse that purported to be for children, but which in fact contains a level of verbosity that would stump the average nipper and even some adults, but that’s actually part of the fun. Many of these poems were cautionary tales about little children who were naughty and came to tragic ends. For most adult readers, Belloc’s poems can be a source of great pleasure especially when read aloud, because he is a master not only of rhyme but also of rhythm. Here are a few snippets from his book “The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts:”
The Hippopotamus
I shoot the hippopotamus with bullets made of platinum
Because if I use leaden ones his hide is sure to flatten ’em.
The Frog
Be kind and tender to the frog
   And do not call him names
As ‘Slimy skin’, or ‘Polly-wog’
   Or likewise ‘Ugly James’
Or ‘Gap-a-grin’ or ‘Toad-gone-wrong’,
   Or ‘Billy Bandy-knees’:
The frog is justly sensitive
   To epithets like these.
No animal will more repay
   A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
   Who keep a frog (and by the way,
They are extremely rare).
The Python
A python I should not advise, –
It needs a doctor for its eyes
And has the measles yearly.
However, if you feel inclined
To get one (to improve your mind,
And not from fashion merely),
Allow no music near its cage;
And when it flies into a rage
Chastise it, most severely.
I had an aunt in Yucatan
Who bought a python from a man
And kept it for a pet.
She died because she never knew
These simple little rules and few; –
The snake is living yet.
Then there’s the slightly darker humor of Harry Graham whose “Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes” contains some classic verse, to wit:
Weep not for little Leonie,
Abducted by a French Marquis!
Though loss of honor was a wrench,
Just think how it’s improved her French.
Billy, in one of his nice new sashes
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes
And now, although the room grows chilly,
I haven’t the heart to poke poor Billy.
Nurse, who peppered baby’s face
(She mistook it for a muffin),
Held her tongue and kept her place,
‘Laying low and sayin’ nuffin’;
Mother, seeing baby blinded,
Said, “Oh, nurse, how absent-minded!”
And G.K. Chesterton?
Of Uncle Humphrey who can sing?
His name can’t rhyme with anything,
How much superior is Aunt Harriet
Who rhymes correctly to Iscariot
But, at least stateside, the most famous exponent of the short, sharp, ditty is Ogden Nash, whose humorous verse infiltrated the popular magazines of the day. “I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old,” he stated in a 1958 news interview. Here are a few of his zingers:
Reflections on Ice-breaking
Candy
Is dandy
But liquor
Is quicker
Family Court
One would be in less danger
From the wiles of the stranger
If one’s own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.
Introspective Reflection
I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance
Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.
It is a pity that there are not more outlets for this sort of brilliance nowadays. And it is brilliance because, despite how easy it looks, it takes a great deal of skill to write convincing humorous poetry – just as much skill, I would argue, as it takes to produce serious poetry.
I leave you with a slightly longer poem by Harry Graham which is so clever you wonder how he could come up with it. It’s called “Poetical Economy”.
Poetical Economy
What hours I spent of precious time,
What pints of ink I used to waste,
Attempting to secure a rhyme
To suit the public taste,
Until I found a simple plan
Which makes the tamest lyric scan!
When I’ve a syllable de trop,
I cut it off, without apol.:
This verbal sacrifice, I know,
May irritate the schol.;
But all must praise my dev’lish cunn.
Who realize that Time is Mon.
My sense remains as clear as cryst.,
My style as pure as any Duch.
Who does not boast a bar sinist.
Upon her fam. escutch.;
And I can treat with scornful pit.
The sneers of ev’ry captious crit.
I gladly publish to the pop.
A scheme of which I make no myst.,
And beg my fellow scribes. to cop.
This labor-saving syst.
I offer it to the consid.
Of ev’ry thoughtful individ.
The author, working like a beav.,
His readers’ pleasure could redoub.
Did he but now and then abbrev.
The work he gives his pub.
(This view I most partic. suggest
To A. C. Bens. and G. K. Chest.)
If Mr. Caine rewrote The Scape.,
And Miss Corell, condensed Barabb.,
What could they save in foolscap pape.
Did they but cult. the hab.,
Which teaches people to suppress
All syllables that are unnec.!
If playwrights would but thus dimin.
The length of time each drama takes,
(The Second Mrs. Tanq. by Pin.
or even Ham., by Shakes.)
We could maintain a watchful att.
When at a Mat. on Wed. or Sat.
Have done, ye bards, with dull monot.!
Foll. my examp., O, Stephen Phill.,
O, Owen Seam., O, William Wat.,
O, Ella Wheeler Wil.,
And share with me the grave respons.
of writing this amazing nons.!

 


5 Rookie mistakes when writing poetry

emotion, plain language, poetry, purpose, rhyme, rookie mistakes, scansion, Uncategorized, writing poetry
 
 
“Poetry is like fish: if it’s fresh, it’s good; if it’s stale, it’s bad; and if you’re not certain, try it on the cat.” Osbert Sitwell
A surprising number of people like to write poetry, try to write poetry, or want to write poetry. I’m not quite sure why that is, but a growing number of people find poetry attractive. Here are five mistakes that are quite commonly made when approaching poetry for the first time. The reason I feel qualified to even talk about them is because I have fallen into these howlers plenty of times myself.
1. Thinking strong emotion produces good poetry
The first one is thinking that poetry is all about expressing emotion. In fact, many people seem to believe that the strength of the poetry lies in how intense the emotion is. Here’s an example of a heartfelt poem such as you might stumble across on any of the popular poetry websites:
I brought you apples, pears and oranges
And you threw them back at me.
So I wandered among the bluebells on the cliff.
My heart was bursting inside of me and I wondered if
I could ever regain your love,
Which came to me once like a lightning bolt from above.
Oh where can I go with my passion and pain?
I stand out here in the pouring rain.
You are my love, my heart and my soul.
You are what makes me feel whole.
A gallant effort, and the poem does use metaphor and simile to express… something, but we’re not quite sure what. It appears to be reporting an incident in which the poet, after being pelted with fruit, has a heart attack while wandering about on a cliff in the rain and is hit by a lightning bolt – a  kind of primitive defibrillator, if you will. There is obviously some deep emotion at play here, related to unrequited love, but that doesn’t make it a good poem.
2. Defective scansion
One of the most common mistakes that is made in rhyming poetry is not adhering to credible scansion or meter. Scansion can be described as “the dividing of lines of poetry into feet by indicating accents and counting syllables to determine the meter of a poem. It is a means of studying the mechanical elements by which the poet has established his rhythmical effects.” In other words – at least for rhymed poetry – the usual method is to have a set number of syllables in each line. Iambic pentameter for example has ten syllables in each line, alternating short and long, thus: de da de da de da de da de da.
The poem above doesn’t follow any of these rules. Line one has eleven syllables, line two has fourteen, line three has seven, and so on. It is a common practice to produce poems that rhyme, but don’t scan.
3. Leaving yourself difficult rhymes
The tricky thing about rhymed poetry is that you have to make sure you don’t catch yourself out by giving yourself some impossible rhyme to match. In the above poem the poet falls into this gaping hole right at the start, by giving himself the impossible task of finding a word to rhyme with “oranges.” It is a well-known fact that nothing does rhyme with that word in English, so the poet simply ignores it. The key to successful rhyming is reading ahead and working out what you are going to say and how you are going to say it, to make sure you never paint yourself into a poetical corner.
4. Having no purpose
Another pitfall is starting to write a poem in the grip of some powerful emotion when you don’t really know what you want to say. I’ve done that a number of times and what I generally end up with is a poem that is vague, confusing and rambles on and on with no destination in view. It’s amazing the amount of time you can waste on this kind of drivel!
The best way to keep your poetry fresh and convincing, I’ve found, is to come up with a theme. Can you summarize in a few words what your poem is supposed to be about? If not, you’re probably destined to be sucked irretrievably down into the quagmire of mind-numbing mumbo jumbo (which is just as difficult to say aloud as it is to read in a poem).
5. Using plain language
This may sound weird, because in most other settings plain language is what people should be striving for, but poetry is different. As mentioned, the above poem does use metaphor and simile to get across what the poet wants to say – albeit somewhat clumsily. If you don’t make use of these and other poetical techniques you can end up, not with a poem, but with an advertising slogan, a news bulletin or a simply paragraph of prose.
Here are a few lines from “Dulce et Decorum Est” written by the First-World-War poet Wilfred Owen:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

 

 

That sounds much more effective that simply saying “we were plodding wearily back to the barracks when were attacked with poison gas shells,” now doesn’t it?


Prufrock’s Pal

Detroit Writers Guild, Paul Laurence Dunbar/Maya Angelou Poetry Contest, poetry, Poetry Magazine, poetry prize, Prufrock, songs of hunger, submissions, submittable, Uncategorized
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

Last year about this time my wife and I upped and moved from Minnesota to Michigan. The move involved selling our home in St. Paul, transporting all our worldly goods across country, finding new employment, buying a new house and gradually settling down in a leafy backwater of Lansing where we could be nearer to our family. It was a maneuver that called for nerves of steel, courage, belief that everything would turn out right, and nerves of steel… I was fortunate enough to receive translation contracts (I work as a freelance translator of French and Italian books into English) one after another for about five months. That helped pay the bills and was enjoyable to do, but also drastically curtailed my writing activity.
So what I ended up doing during odd moments in a busy schedule was penning a few poems. I tried out various different forms and styles, of both rhymed and unrhymed verse, and after a while I ended up with quite a few of them. So I gradually combined them into a book-length collection which I will probably publish early next year when it is finished. The book is called Songs of Hunger, a name that I stole from a title in an ancient copy of Poetry Magazine from 1915 – the one in which T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” first appeared. I liked the sound of this title, since it captured something of the essence of what I was trying to get across in the poems.
Anyway, before I went ahead and published the book, I wanted to see whether I could get any of the poems accepted by a poetry magazine or journal, so I started sending some of them off to various different publications. Nowadays you can submit work online using an system like “Submittable.” That saves on postage, but it also makes it easier for a magazine to wade through the thousands of submissions they get and reject work out of hand if they want to without every having to open an envelope or unfold a dog-eared manuscript. Of course, there are still a number of stalwart publishers who stick with snail mail. Most of these are relatively polite when they reject your work, saying something like “Thanks for submitting. This doesn’t quite fit our needs at the moment. Good luck submitting elsewhere.” The online systems do send you an email when your work has been rejected and also change the status of your submission from “in progress” to a rather dispiriting “declined.” As you can probably tell, I mostly got rejections.
I also submitted some poems to a few poetry contests. To my surprise, I received notification last month that one of my poems had won 2nd prize in the “Paul Laurence Dunbar/Maya Angelou Poetry Contest” run by the Detroit Writers Guild. This came as something of a relief, because I was beginning to think I was on the wrong track altogether. In fact if you read any of the poetry published in the biggest selling poetry magazines, a lot of it at first glance seems to be a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes: much of it is what is generally called “difficult” and can be well-nigh incomprehensible to the average human – all of which can leave you with the impression that poets only write for other poets. I have nothing against difficult poetry, after all a poem can be all the more rewarding for the reader if they have to work at it a little. But surely one of the main aims of poetry is to communicate. If the reader has to work too hard to understand the poem, he or she will simply give up and wander off to read the sports section of the local newspaper. But that is a topic for another post.

If I hear anything back from any of the other submissions, rest assured you will be the first to know.

 


How to write a Poem (again)

How to Write a Poem, marketing, poetry, price, sales, Uncategorized
 In April, I published my book “How to Write a Poem: A Beginner’s Guide.” I released it with a price of $2.99 for the ebook version and it began to sell steadily – by steadily I mean about one or two copies a day (occasionally three, sometimes none). The average was probably about one a day. Although fairly modest, this was pretty good news for me, especially considering that I did no advertising at all other than blogging about it and then posting a link to my blog on Facebook. Out of that $2.99 I get about $2 every time I make a sale.
So I decided to do an experiment in order to find out what the most lucrative price for the book would be. I double the price to $5.99. The first day, things continued as normal and I got one sale at the new price. The next day, same thing. One sale. Then for about a week or more there was absolutely nothing. No one, it seemed was willing to fork out six bucks for a copy of the book. After waiting and waiting, I decided to adjust the price again down to $3.99. Hey presto, it began to sell again at pretty much the same rate as before.
One of the things that I am sure helped sales was the fact that one kind purchaser gave the book a 5-star review on Amazon (see above). There are a few other books on the Amazon website with very similar titles to mine, but they are more expensive, some of them are aimed at kids and not all of them have star ratings anyway. I’m sure people must be swayed by that star rating in some way. I know I would be. The main factor, though, is that if you type in “How to Write a Poem” in the Amazon search bar, mine is the first book on the resultant list.
The next thing I will probably do is to advertise the book by posting on my Facebook page and also posting on a number of Facebook groups where you can promote your book. So far all my sales of that book have been random, serendipitous events. It will be interesting to see if there is a spike in the sales figures after some marketing activity on my part.
Anyway, it got me thinking about what kind of people are, in fact, interested in buying a book about how to write poetry. The blurb for my book runs as follows:
This is a practical book. By the time you finish reading it, you will have all the tools you need to write convincing, compelling, and beautiful poetry. Whether someone has asked you to come up with a poem for a special occasion, or you have suddenly been struck by an intense emotion and are looking for a way to articulate it, or you want to express love to your sweetheart on Valentine’s day, “How to Write a Poem: A Beginner’s Guide” provides all the necessary techniques to enable your poem to be a success.
I think there must be a lot of people who like reading poetry either because they remember poems they learned in school or because it can express certain experiences better than the reader can themselves. There are also people who like writing poetry because it is a means of self-expression that prose can’t quite match. This idea of poetry expressing emotion is not new, of course, but quite often, I think, somebody can get the idea that the stronger the emotion the better the poem will be. My own view is that writing good poetry requires training of some sort. It is only after having mastered the tools of the trade, as it were, that someone is ready to express themselves adequately in poetic form. Without adequate practice, poetry – even strongly felt poetry – can fall flat on its face.
That’s one of the issues covered in the book. But, to the same extent, the book isn’t some diatribe on highly-intellectual, abstruse or academic issues. It’s meant to be a fun book to read. It’s also meant to be a practical introduction to how you actually go about writing a poem. Hence the title.

The Sonnet Game

Dalwhinnie, Laphroaig, malt whisky, poetry, Sonnet Game, The snipe in winter, Uncategorized

 

In February I published my third book of poetry. The book is entitled “The snipe in winter,” named for one of the poems in the book. Most of the poems are sonnets of one form or another – well, mostly just one form. Sonnets are fun to write. Writing a sonnet is a bit like doing a crossword puzzle, working out the rhyme scheme and the number of syllables per line etc. and it adds to the interest of the poem – at least for the writer – if you have to keep all the plates spinning at the same time.
I am fortunate enough to have several close friends and family members who are interested in poetry and for years we have been playing the Sonnet Game. This is a game we invented years ago to while away the evenings once we had finished solving the oil crisis or plotting to overthrow the government. The purpose of the game is to write several sonnets together and here’s how it works:
First of all, you decide together what rhyme scheme will be used for the game, say a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g. Each player starts off with a blank sheet of paper and writes down the first line of a sonnet in iambic pentameter. Each player then passes the sheet clockwise. Now each player has a sheet with the first line on it (written by the previous person). They now write the second line of the poem in front of them, again in iambic pentameter and always keeping to the rhyme scheme that has been agreed, and pass the sheet clockwise again. The sheets are passed round until fourteen lines of each sonnet have been completed. Each player gives a title to the poem in front of him or her and you each take turns at reading out the resulting sonnets.
Usually the results are hilarious. You end up with immortal lines like:
“I think upon the face of Ezra Pound
Those coarse, congested thoroughfares of love
That stout resist the facelift from above
Etc.”
Or unforgettable (unfortunately) passages like this:
“The woods beyond the trees beyond my dreams
Are cool and green and dark and filled with sounds
Of flatulating sheep on distant mounds
To prove that love is never what it seems”
Well they seemed hilarious at the time (the time being somewhere round about one A.M. after making prodigious inroads into the contents of a bottle of Laphroaig or Dalwhinnie malt whisky).
We haven’t played the game in a while. We really should bring it back into fashion – that and the malt whisky. It’s a brilliant combination.

How to Write a Poem

$2.99, free verse, Google Keyword Planner, How to Write a Poem, poetry, sonnet, Uncategorized

 

 

 

How to Write a Poem
 
 
I’ve just published a book called “How to Write a Poem: A Beginner’s Guide,” which currently retails at $2.99 for the ebook in the Amazon.com website. The paperback should be available in the next few days. I got the idea for the book from the Google Keyword Planner. The Keyword Planner is a tool that can be used to run ad campaigns, but it also includes a facility for evaluating keywords. Essentially, you input a word or phrase and it tells you how many times that word or phrase has been used in the past month as a search term in Google. The phrase “how to write a poem” was used around 22,000 times, so I figured this topic is something that people are interested in and the phrase seems like a popular choice. Since I’ve published three books of poetry, to date, I reckoned I had some valuable experience I could share with other people.
The book starts from the basics (as you may have guessed from the title) and explains what a poem is and where you start when writing one. I also included two very practical walkthroughs – one of a free verse poem and the other of a sonnet – and the book covers the major poetic techniques and how to use them. There are also plenty of examples from famous poets that illustrate the points I’m trying to get across.
Here’s the blurb I used for the book:
This is a practical book. By the time you finish reading it, you will have all the tools you need to write convincing, compelling, and beautiful poetry. Whether someone has asked you to come up with a poem for a special occasion, or you have suddenly been struck by an intense emotion and are looking for a way to articulate it, or you want to express love to your sweetheart on Valentine’s day, “How to Write a Poem: A Beginner’s Guide” provides all the necessary techniques to enable your poem to be a success.
It was a fun book to write and came in at under a hundred pages (in paperback), so I’m excited to find out if there is any interest in the subject.