Seeking Last-Minute Gifts? Give Someone the Gift of Creative Writing!

Wondering what to give that “certain someone”? Perhaps they’ve seen it all or they’re notoriously persnickety and whatever you get them, you just know they’ll be returning it.

Consider giving the gift of creative writing and signing them up for a Spring 2015 class at Chatham Central Community College! And if you happen to be that “certain someone” yourself, sign yourself up.

Why?

1. The college’s unique Creative Writing program on the Chatham County Campus is the only Continuing Education program of its kind in the state. And we have something for everyone—from 10-week classes or one-day workshops in poetry, fiction and non-fiction led by celebrated authors Ruth Moose, Ralph Earle, and Judith Stanton, just to name a few. Considering what you’ll get in return, the price is nothing short of a bargain.

2. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. You’ll make new friends worth knowing! And the wisdom you pick up will be priceless. Warning: these classes are addictive.

3. You’ll have a new hobby worth bragging about. Instead of things like “I learned how to change the oil in my car” or “I learned how to julienne a carrot” (as important as those things are), you’ll get to say things such as “Just finished up a flash fiction piece about my day at work” or “Wrote a poem today about the cardinal in my yard.”

4. You’ll never look at life the same way again. If you already enjoy creative writing, you’ll know what I’m talking about. But if you’re a newbie, the opportunity to share your unique experiences with others will bring you boundless joy. You’ll feel more connected to the world and the people around you.

5. Need inspiration? Okay, here’s Warning #2. Here comes a shameless plug. Sign up for a workshop lead by yours truly!  It’s called “Jumpstart Your Poetic Imagination: Stop, Look, and Listen.”  You can find inspiration for poetry everywhere – from reading newspapers and periodicals to mining your daily life and memory. In my workshop, we’ll improvise on sample poems written by other poets and participate in fun and collaborative exercises meant to spark your own imagination.

For more information, check out the Spring 2015 Creative Writing Course List for Chatham Central Community College. Register today by calling 919-545-8044, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. M – F.

Hope to see you there!

Cold Weather Blues? Warm up with Poetry!

Here in the North Carolina Piedmont it seems winter is intent on making an early arrival. With unseasonably cool temperatures and rumors of a snowflake here or there, I’ve been shivering since mid-November.

Hot cocoa, vegetable soup, and a snuggly dog can do wonders for the winter blues, but when you add a healthy dose of poetry, you’re grateful to be inside.

Just for your reading pleasure, I’ll share 5 of the best poems to come my way these days.

Missing the beach? Read Low Tide by UNC’s own Alan Shapiro

Still missing the beach? Try Pelicans in December by J. Allyn Rosser

And on the subject of birds (sort of), try On Leaving the Bachelorette Brunch by Rachel Wetzsteon

Celebrate life, no matter where you are, with Late, in a Time of Splendor by Cate Lycurgus

And finally, just to make you chuckle, check out Tucson, Monday Love by Norman Dubie

Enjoy!

Try the Inverted Stanza

If you’re ready for something different in poetry, try the inverted stanza format. It’s basically one stanza followed by another one that repeats exactly the lines of the first but in reverse. I learned about this format from Cleopatra Mathis in one of my favorite poetry writing books, Wingbeats II: Exercises and Practice in Poetry. According to Ms. Mathis, and I concur, this exercise “encourages surprise and invention.”

Below is my attempt, which was written for my beloved doctor. Hint: Keep your sentences short and consider the first stanza as an argument and the second as a reply, which will give you reasons to re-use the same words. As you will see, I chose words that could double as a noun or verb. Have fun!

Ode to My Neurologist
A Poem for Both Sides of the Brain

Dr. Freedman requests
a poem. He shall have. Why
not? Because he’s my doctor?
Due to our friendship?
We debate literature and
travel freely, yet he cares
and offers counsel.
My doctor leads me
into a world where I dance
like an angel. I can wear heels!

Like an angel, I can wear heels
into a world where I dance.
My doctor leads me
and offers counsel:
“Travel freely!” Yet he cares.
We debate literature. And
due to our friendship
(not because he’s my doctor!),
a poem he shall have. Why?
Dr. Freedman requests.

For examples of more inverted stanza poems (and poetry prompts galore!), check out Wingbeats II.

No Time for Poetry Today

No Time for Poetry Today

The floor needs sweeping but just
like the voice of my mother on the answering
machine something keeps saying
It’s me. Where are you?

A cloud of dust sparkles in the sun
and I’m distracted by a vision of
fairies playing wiffle ball

I open the screen door to air out the
house but the peppery scent of clover
takes me back to my barefoot summers

As I tidy the books on the mantel
I think of the great aunt
in Florida who decorated hers
with poison sumac because
the red berries looked so pretty

It’s time to fold the towels—do it like my
mother, in half twice, roll over one, two, three
—and then there’s that voice again
Honey, please call me
I’m getting worried.


##### 

 

New Poetry Prompt – Fun with Random Phrases!

Seeking a new creative writing prompt? Here is a prompt I discovered for poetry but can be easily used for fiction as well. Within the course of a single day, simply make note of 5 random phrases — either overheard directly by you or contributed by friends, preferably not from movies or TV.  A poem or story devised around little snippets of the real world around you results in fresh and unusual word combinations. It’s also unbelievably fun.

Hint: It helps to start with at least a rough idea of some sort of action, if not a story, and as in the case of my poem, it can be lifted from reality or imagination. I think you’ll find that the “random” phrases you use will spark your imagination in many directions!

Let’s look at an example. Here is one I wrote last week with 5 phrases that came my way. At the very end you will see a “key” for the source of the phrases.

I Write the Book You Play the Fiddle

Do you ever close your eyes and draw
your finger down a state map—
any state but yours—and land
on a town with a name that sounds
a lot like a town in your state
say
 Jonesville or something like that
and wonder
 if the people in that Jonesville
are anything like 
the people in your Jonesville
and then 
imagine yourself strolling
down their
 Main Street and going into
a coffee shop only to
 hear those people say
things like not
 my circus, not my monkeys
or I write the book you play the fiddle,
and that’s a separate conversation
 and
looking up at you like they know you
and having the waitress slide you a latte
just the way you like it with the cream
so high you have to swirl it before
you take a sip and
 then seeing the old man
who looks just like your grandpa pat
the seat beside him and tell you
the people in this place are as thick
as the hair on a dog’s back and you
not knowing whether that’s a good thing
or a bad thing but because everyone laughs
you decide it’s a good thing and the next
thing
 you know it’s getting late so you say
See you tomorrow to your new friends
but add maybe because you’re not sure
how
 you got here in the first place?

####

I write the book you play the fiddle — conversation overheard by Ashley between two students at Lenoir Dining Hall at UNC
not my circus, not my monkeys – Melissa K., a co-worker
that’s a separate conversation – Melissa K.
people in here as as thick as the hair on a dog’s back – Brian W., another co-worker
See you tomorrow maybe – overheard by my son on a NYC subway

Fall Back To Another Hour of Writing…

Need another reason to be excited about fall? This weekend why not “fall back” into an extra hour of writing? That’s what I plan to do. I certainly won’t miss the time. What else would I be doing anyway? Laundry? Windows? Raking leaves? I can easily talk myself out of any of those chores—clothes and windows are going to get dirty again anyway and there’s certainly no point in raking leaves right now.

I’ll probably spend a little time on both prose and poetry—they are not mutually exclusive and as we’ve discussed at my writing group, a good idea can be expressed equally well in both. I’m toying with a project right now that had begun as a poem and is now nudging its way into flash fiction.

Fall is also a good time to be thinking ahead about your personal submission calendar. Many literary journals are only open for submissions during the academic year and there are plenty of annual writing competitions in progress and even more to come. My favorite source for these is the N.C. Writers’ Network (NCWN), so if you haven’t yet joined, use part of that extra hour to become a member!

I just learned that three of my own poems were accepted for publication in a special poetry anthology collection published by Silly Tree Anthologies, a publication I wouldn’t have learned about if not for NCWN.

Best of luck with your “extra writing hour!”

How to See a Ghost

Having just returned from an amazing trip to Ireland with my father, I can report that this beautiful gem of an island is indeed haunted. Haunted with ghosts you don’t need to see to know that they are there. As the victim of countless sieges, plunders, and atrocities—from the Vikings to the Anglo-Normans to the forces of Cromwell—in Ireland the ruins of fortifications abound. It is home to more than 3,500 castles in varying stages of decline. There are also thousands of abbeys and churches, many of them now in shambles, but even some of these ended up being fortified, with castellated presbyteries, towers, and stone wall enclosures.

As a writer, I prefer the ruins to the structures that have been shorn up and refurbished because these gently worn skeletons leave plenty of room for the imagination. Especially under a moody sky that will drop a gentle mist of rain to be shortly followed by sunshine, which reflects back on the dewy grass, hence the nickname, The Emerald Isle.

We spent 3 nights in Dublin but I have to say that my favorite part of the trip was the four days we spent in the counties of Kilkenny and Tipperary.

jerpoint

We spent 3 nights in a bed and breakfast in Thomastown in County Kilkenny directly across from the ruins of Jerpoint Abbey.

The B & B itself was situated by a stream and the ruins of a 13th century mill and the view to the Abbey (from the front yard, left) was spectacular.

Originally founded as a 12th-century Cistercian abbey, what you see today came from the 15th and 16th centuries, although there are many examples of beautiful stone carvings from the earlier period, especially the cloister garden.

In Ireland I had many wonderful adventures, from the people we met to yes, the history, that inspired the writer in me. I look forward to sharing these with you in the coming weeks.

I came back from Ireland to learn that my poem, ironically enough, “How to See a Ghost” won second place in the 2014 INDY Week’s annual poetry contest. The ghost in this poem was not inspired by Ireland, but fair warning, I expect many more poems to follow. Since falling in love with poetry late last year, I can’t help wondering just what have I missed out on all these years…

I’ll read “How to See a Ghost” with Jeffrey Beam, the judge, and the other winners on May 6 at 7 p.m. at a special reading at Letters Bookstore in Durham. Hope to see you there!

 

An Evening with George Saunders!

ImageTonight my friend Nancy and I had the pleasure of meeting George Saunders, National Book Award Finalist, Guggenheim winner, and a regular contributor to The New Yorker. He spoke at Duke University. My head is still swimming with the experience, but I had to share a quick picture and my overall impression of the man who was named by Time magazine as one of the “World’s Most Influential People.”

It’s a rare experience to meet someone so brilliant yet so self-effacing and humble. His wisdom to his fellow writers was simple and pithy. Push yourself over the rapids and don’t shy away from writing about things that trouble you. And there’s nothing wrong with humor in literature! If you’re funny in life, your writing should reflect your personality.

He also spoke of his writing influences, which were esoteric to say the least: Esther Forbes, Monty Python, Chekhov, even the rock group Styx! He and I chatted for a few moments while he signed my copy of Tenth of December about the importance of memory to the writer, and his ability to bring his own characters to life by recalling his own experiences in similar situations. I’ll close by saying that I’ll remember this night for the rest of my life! Thank you Nancy!

P.S. If you haven’t read Tenth of December, his short story collection, I highly recommend it. Try “Victory Lap”, a story he read tonight that is at turns both humorous and gripping.

A Poem for a Dog

Puppy 

I had intended to write a poem about the pleasures of
a lazy Sunday morning
when sweet little Puppy
who, moments ago, was peacefully dozing -
turned into a snarling, twisting mass of claws and teeth
intent on destroying his striped dog bed – 
the peculiar object of his rage.
He is Nero, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun 
rolled into one!
At all costs, the bed must be destroyed
no, eradicated!
obliterated! 

My pride depends upon it!
he would say,
if he could say
but the bed wins this time.
Its stripes are crumpled and deflated but…
it is not quite obliterated…
So Puppy stalks off, bored and sated,
and like any good conquistador
he is soon curled up on the floor
asleep again, his head bobbing with dreams
of a new conquest, a new dominion ruled supremely
by King Puppy.

Image 

Voices From The Porch is Available for Pre-Order Now!

Image

What better way to enjoy the gentle end of summer than to spend the afternoon daydreaming on the porch? Well, I can think of something even better. Sitting on the porch while reading stories, essays, and poems inspired by the porch.

Not too long ago, I learned that my short story, “His Name Is Roscoe,” had been accepted for publication by Main Street Rag for a special anthology featuring porch-themed tales. While it won’t be available until Spring 2014, you can be prepared for next year’s porch season by ordering an advance copy now.

Hint: And it’s also on sale for just $9.50! This book will feature the work of many other N.C. writers, so I hope that you’ll help us all by ordering your copy today.

Order Voices from the Porch now.

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