Posted in Poetry, Writing

Thoughts On A Month of Poetry Writing

With only three poems left to write in this month of National Poetry Writing, I wish to take a breath in order to reflect on the experience.

When first it was proposed in one of the WordPress blogs that such a task be undertaken, I was pleased to see the parameters with which the challenge was posited: the point of the writing being in the task itself and not some polished, final draft to be presented each day. In fact, those who had never produced poetry before were encouraged to “give it a go” in the spirit of the thing, the fact that those who love to write owe it to words (and themselves) to also give poetry a chance.

Poetry is a highly misunderstood craft. Some think that just because a poem does not sound like a greeting card, with sounds that are the same ending each line a a pre-determined pattern, then that poem does not “rhyme,” that it is, in fact, not a poem at all. Others think that poems are merely a means for those “needing attention” to bare their souls, so to speak, to pour out on the page in the most appalling drivel the deepest secrets, the lies they tell themselves, or to mete out justice like a speaker on a soap box, pounding home the point beyond the hearers’ willingness to listen.

Some poetry is guilty of these impertinences, but not all poetry. Good poetry, really good poetry, pays as much attention to rhythm and line breaks and rhyme as any Shakespearean sonnet. Poets are masters of the minute. We take the smallest of things, notice the dust bunnies in the corners, and magnify them to reflect the truth, exhibit our humanness, make our readers ask why.

Because we work to say the most with as few as words as possible, for the poet each word counts to the utmost. “Use the right word,” Mark Twain wrote, “not its second cousin.” For the true poet, the right word is always hanging just out of reach, like the proverbial carrot. We are never satisfied, always ready to scratch out the second cousin when the right word comes along, even in our copy of our published works, reading in front of a live audience. Posting a poem each day that had had no time to “cure” in my mind, which was most assuredly filled with second cousins, was only accomplished on my poet’s part because I had accepted the premise that we were writing a poem a day in honor of poetry and to experience poetry in a new way. I look forward to taking the 30 poems that resulted from this April and seeing eventually what I might produce from them.

In trying to say the most about the state of being human by means of focusing my readers into the pinpoint of light at which I have shown my magnifying glass, you will have noticed in my poems this April a number of situations in which I have no personal experience. The only autobiographical sense to my poetry is what is given to all true writing: as my writing mentor, Dr. Walt McDonald put it, “I have survived childhood.” That is not to say that I had an unfortunate childhood. Actually, it was quite a blessed one. Still, it was childhood, and the process of passing from innocence into the knowledge of adulthood is a tricky and painful one that teaches us many lessons and gives us even more stories.

I have appreciated the readers who took time to let me know that they have liked my poetry. It has given me a bit of a boost, actually. It is always better to feel you are writing to someone and not just flinging words into the dark. If you found anything of beauty in what you read, I credit the grace of God and pray that I have illuminated Him according to His plan for the words He gives me. If what you read was disjointed or clumsy, I credit it to my own stubborn tendency to try standing on my own, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Poets may look at the world and words from smaller and more stilted angles when compared to other writers, but we, too, are human, offering what is most dear to us, our words, with every stanza we place on the otherwise empty, cold page.

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Posted in Christian Living, Living

Ear-y Truth

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We have two ears and one mouth so that we will listen twice as much as we speak, the saying goes. In this picture, taken at a natural history museum, the reproduced-to-proportion scale model of bat’s ears if they had heads the size of humans, gives us another visual image of the sage advice that listening more than we speak is an important bit of advice.

What does real listening look like? It doesn’t look like being so busy thinking about what you are going to say next that you fail to really hear what the other person is saying. It doesn’t look like raising your voice and talking at the same time as someone else as if that will somehow make yourself be heard. When you get right down to it, real listening also doesn’t look like having to be the person who is “right.”

Have you ever tried a reflexive exercise? In one of these, you sit knee-to-knee with the person with whom you would like to improve your communication skills. Each person gets a set amount of time to speak on a topic without being interrupted by the listener. When the speaker is finished, the listener reflects back what he has just heard the speaker say, without injecting judgments. The speaker verifies if what the listener reflected back is what the speaker said. Then, it becomes the listener’s turn to become the speaker.

Because most of us are not very good at listening, we are also not very good at speaking. We may think that we are saying one thing, but what people hear is something entirely different. Like a domino effect, a conversation that begins innocently enough may snowball into hurt feelings and things left best unsaid, all because we use our mouths much more than we use our ears.

The Bible is replete with admonitions to mind our voices. We will be held accountable for every word we utter, Paul tells us. I’m not looking forward to that “this was your life” flashback. Jesus admonished us to realize that not only what we say, but even what we think affects our ability to accomplish the ultimate goal of love that is the cornerstone of His kingdom.

What we say matters, and being able to listen with loving intent makes it much easier for us to watch what we say. Our words have more power than we often give them credit for. Wouldn’t you rather have your words build others up than strip them down? Yet, how can you know the God-centered words that someone needs to hear if you haven’t attended to what they say with at least twice as much effort from your ears than you used speaking with your single mouth?

Posted in Writing

Finding my writing feet

I have been writing stories and poetry since I learned to read and write. Before that, like all of us, I was writing stories in the childplay of sea-faring adventures where the living room couch became a schooner or the jungle-infested journeys where my stuffed animals were my companions.

I was never much one for the dress-up play. That was too “girly.” I was much more interested in the ideas that could be conjured from the history and culture that surrounded me in my home smack-dab in the middle of Indian Territory. There were flints and arrowheads to be found, after all. Or ghosts to discover in the attic or narrow closets of the 100-year-old home where I lived. My sister and I, entombed in the past, made secret plans to knock out the wall of the utility room, behind which we were convinced lurked a hidden room, full of treasure–or skeletons.

Was it any wonder I slept with a night light? When you are young and sometimes too smart for your own good, a great imagination can be as much a detriment as a blessing.

I learned to love the rhythm of words from the music I embraced. Old country songs, gospel hymns, and true rock-and-roll. Even though I was high school age in the 80s, I couldn’t tell you anything about the music of that era. My radio station was tuned to oldies radio, where Buddy Holly and Paul Simon taught me all I needed to know about the love of language and the ability to take people to another place through words.

In the beginning was the Word, John tells us. I embrace the full depth of that concept. For, without words, which even God used to breathe this world into existence, where would we be? How would we know anything? Define the self? Communicate the full breadth of what it is to love?

I celebrate with other wordsmiths our love of language and encourage us all to keep up the good fight of perfecting what it is to make meaning for ourselves and others through this very precious gift of language with which the good Lord has blessed us.