Tag Archives: poetry

Tantalize with a title

chekhov2We discussed first lines already, but we ought to back up a wee bit. Let’s talk about story titles.

When you finally finish that first draft of a story, don’t slap a thoughtless title on top. You’ve worked hard already, so why not invest just a little more time to hook your reader from the very beginning with a tantalizing title?

Take a look at the titles of the books featured in the picture to the left. Don’t they tempt you to at least open up the books?

As a former judge (I judged a high school literary contest for three years) and as a writing instructor, I have seen far too many stories saddled with ho-hum titles. Such as “The Table”, “The Painting” or “My Family.” While not offensive, these titles suffer from an extreme case of “run-of-the-mill-itis.” They could be the title for hundreds of similar stories. They don’t make the reader want to read them.

In contrast, take a look at some titles below, all from recent stories, most of which are available online.

“Howard’s Girl” ~ Jane Zingale, New Flash Fiction
“When Gorillas Sleep” ~ Frankie McMillan, New Flash Fiction
“Mr. Switzerland” ~ Marguerite Floyd, New Flash Fiction
“Sleepwalking in Texas” ~ Nicholas Cook, New Flash Fiction
“All the Sea in the Fish” ~ Rob Bockman, Tin House
“My Co-Worker’s Obituary Photograph” ~ Annie Hartnett, Tin House
“Christmas Alligator” ~ Reiser Perkins, Tin House

All of the above titles immediately drew me into the stories. They took me from the world of the general to the specific. Not surprisingly, the stories themselves did not disappoint. Below is a story title for the record books, one of the longest titles and most intriguing stories I’ve ever read.

“A Perimenopausal Jacqueline Kennedy, Two Years After the Assassination, Aboard the M/Y Christina, off Euboea, Bound for the Island of Alonnisos, Devastated by a Recent Earthquake, Drinks Her Fourth Bloody Mary with Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr.”
~ Michael Martone, Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

A snazzy title is even more important for poetry and flash fiction, which are defined by brevity. Every single word must pull its own weight….and then some. And an exciting title is as inspirational to the writer as it is to the reader. A writer who can write a tantalizing title will undoubtedly work harder on that story, don’t you think?

 

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Celebrate National Poetry Month!

“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance,” said poet Carl Sandburg, North Carolina’s own adopted son. And thanks to Carl’s own creative genius, can you look at the little feet of a cat without thinking of fog? I know I can’t.

How will you celebrate a month-long tribute to the cherished art of poetry? As Lu Chi advises in The Art of Writing, I plan to “draw sustenance from masterpieces of the past.” I’m re-reading some of my favorite poets as well as questing to discover new ones. My go-to source for my daily poetry addiction is Poetry Daily and Rattle.

For more inspirational poetry, check out the website for The Gyroscope Review, which is running a daily interview with a poet published by them in the past. It’s a wonderful series that gives you a peek into the minds and work habits of poets at practice.

And today, for April 8, I’m honored to be the featured poet.

 

 

Welcome Breath O’Spring!

breath of springIn spite of wintry weather, these lovely branches of “breath o’spring” are flowering. We brought these into our house when they were fat with buds, but they may be blooming in the wild very soon as well. I wish you could smell them. In my poetry, I’ve described the scent as “lemon and vanilla riding on the breeze that blows through a pine forest after rain” but my words fall far short of the real thing…..

What’s perking you up about spring?  The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory will be out in the world in just one month — March 2 — and I’ve been honored to be invited, along with other featured authors, to give a reading at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill on March 24.

And on March 3, as many of you know, I’ll be leading a workshop at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro on how to craft your own flash fiction.  The class is full, but if you’re interested, please, please keep checking the registration page to see if any cancellations arise and for a future date of a repeat event. Due to high interest, I’m hoping to give it again, perhaps in the fall.

Leading a workshop brings me great joy, for many reasons. First, I get to spend time with people who love writing as much as I do, and second, I find the experience enormously stimulating as a writer. Right now, even as I plan for the class, I’m polishing up a number of short stories of my own and submitting “late-blooming” poetry.

Last year, I wrote one poem each day in the month of April as part of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Poetry Project. A handful of these recently made it to the second round of consideration in a national poetry competition (note the positive phrasing here — I did not say rejected :), so I plan on continuing to revise and submit until they find a home.

Here’s wishing a great start to  your own spring. For inspiration, read what fellow writer, Arthur Plotnik, author of  8 books, including Spunk and Bite, a contemporary writing guide (and one of my favorites) has to say: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you.  And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”

 

Apples, Cider, and the Oxford English Dictionary

Now that most of my jam-making is over for the year, my latest obsession is the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive record of the English language. Etymology fans love it because it brings the history of a particular word and writers love it because it gives you the first known instance of that word in written English. This makes it a virtual treasure trove of inspiration. We are fortunate enough to own a hard copy but it is also available online.

apple_cider.jpgLast week, we made cider from our own apples, so of course, I was curious about the origin of the word apple. According to the OED, the early form of the word for a round fruit from a tree of the genus Malus has roots in the Old Frisian appel, Middle Dutch appel, and many more, including Old Saxon appul and even Russian, jabloko.

The word (and its countless spellings) shows up in Old English and Middle English documents many times, including a 1387 reference in Piers Plowman, an allegorical narrative poem by William Langland: “I prayed pieres to pulle adown an apple.”

Of course, one word leads to another, so then we looked up cider. This word is as old as apple (and has as many variations in spelling) and refers to a fermented beverage that came from other fruits as well as apples. It originates from Old French sidre (now cidre) and represents the late Latin sicera (medieval Latin cisara , cisera ). There are Greek and Hebrew equivalents, and it even appeared in the Vulgate, a late 4th century Latin translation of the Bible. It is mentioned in a 1464 document on the household: “He hathe ȝeven me a tone of syder.”

So how can you use etymology in your own writing? It’s obviously inspired this blog entry, but I regularly turn to it for poetry. As an example from a pro, check out how Nicole Cooley riffs on the word nostalgia in her poem Mad Money.

 

 

Happy June Bug Day!

Japanese-Beetle-PictureIn celebration of today (June 7) being National June Bug Day, I’ll post a poem about their closest cousins, the much-maligned Japanese beetle. This poem first appeared in Pinesong 2016, and for it I will always thank my friend Mary Barnard for her advice on diction, pacing, and voice.

A Widow on Chester Street

Lucie Mae Moffitt cried, God help her she cursed, the family of Japanese beetles squatting on her red hibiscus tree.

Giddy, some even swung upside down like the clip-on earring she lost
on the Ferris wheel at the state fair in 1977.

From his glider Herman would’ve chuckled now as he chuckled then. No use crying
over spilt milk. Ministers think like that. Lucie Mae does not.

Neighbors peeked through jalousies as she whooshed three beetle traps down her clothesline. Might as well hand-deliver invitations, tsk-tsked Mary Alice.

A day later someone dubbed Edna’s Rose of Sharon the Ghost of Sharon. But nobody snickered when the beetles doilied Duncan’s flowering crab.

Next they crocheted Abigail’s grape vine and just for kicks they chewed up and spit
out Bobby Joe’s pittosporum. Peter’s purple leaf plum? Pulverized.

Over a pot of tizzy tea, Lucie Mae fretted until her pin curls unraveled. A beetle
bungeed into her chinoiserie cup. She stood. Time to peel off the lace gloves.

Leave well enough alone, the glider would’ve uttered. But by then Lucie
was whirring toward Lane’s Nursery in her navy blue Lincoln Continental. 

Deliver to Chester Street! she commanded, snagging the last five hibiscus trees.
Card? Indeed. Courtesy of Lucie Mae Moffitt.

Too far? Lucie Mae wondered over a cup of mea culpa tea. For once the glider didn’t speak. No use, she half-chuckled half-trembled, crying over spilt milk.

Two days later she woke to the put-it-here, put-it-there of Eastern blue birds as
plump as pin cushions. Northern cardinals and chickadees sashayed in next.

Avian occupancy soared and people migrated to Chester Street to swoon over the
double-decker nest boxes. No binoculars needed. Umbrellas advised.

If the sky falls, Lucie Mae said to The Herald reporter, a boy far too young to
know what it meant to let go, better just hold up your hands.

#####

Poem #26 – Attack of the Fire Ants!

fire-antEver been bitten by a fire ant? If so, it is not an experience you’ll easily forget.

The tenacious tiny fire ant is my inspiration for Poem #26.

To catch up on my progress, I hope you’ll breeze through the daily list to read the poems posted so far. Just four more to go!

If you love poetry, I hope you’ll consider supporting a poet this month. Scroll  down read my work (and those of the other poets) if you can, and consider supporting me with a small donation. Supportive comments on this blog are also very welcome because they inspire me to keep going!

Many, many thanks to all of you have contributed to the cause so far — either through a monetary donation or moral support, which are equally valuable.

Please know that your contributions are going to a great cause. Tupelo Press is a prestigious non-profit press, and for 17 years their mission has been to publish new voices. They are giving my work some exposure, and bringing me into a community of over 350 alumni helping each other publish our work.