Thursday, March 31, 2011

Poem-a-day April!

Tomorrow is the first day of April, which is National Poetry Month in Canada (as well as the U.S.).  I'm excited because I'm again planning to go on a poetry binge and write a poem a day. I've done that for the last two years and know that it's doable, though as the month wears on it can be a challenge.

In 2009 and 2010 I used the daily prompts from Poetic Asides (and Robert is posting those again this year, with a chance to choose your five best poems for possible inclusion in a published book at the end of the exercise). But I've decided to use different prompts this year.

I have, within the last few weeks, discovered The Music In It - the blog of poet Adele Kenny. She posts the most interesting prompts with, often, a teaching component, samples to read, and variations on the main prompt. Last night I sat down and pasted the links to her first 30 prompts into an email which I then mailed to myself. I now have 30 ideas at my fingertips.

Let the poeming begin!!

(I will not be publishing these raw creations online anywhere. However, if it's unusually quiet here at the blog, just know that I'm probably trying to keep my April resolution.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Processing the unthinkable

How does one handle traumatic events like the death of someone close, or the crashing of planes into skyscrapers, or earthquakes and tsunamis? Why, with poetry, of course.

Since the Japan earthquake I have come across several poems that talked about this natural disaster — each in a different way.

The first one I saw was by L. L. Barkat. She couldn't bear to tell her daughters (11 and 13) about the earthquake and waited for a few days. Then, fearful that they would hear it from someone else she decided to take Emily Dickinson's advice and tell it slant.  She wrote "The News, March 2011" which begins:

I found a button,
mother of pearl
It was sitting like the last star
in a mangled universe...

Read all of "The News, March 2011."

Glynn Young in "Cherry Blossoms" found hope in "the story of one Japanese mother, who was running with her daughter to escape the tsunami when the force of the water tore her child from her grasp. The mother survived; her hope is that her child did as well and is being sheltered."

Maureen Doallas described her poem "The Roster" as writing that "conflates some of the details found in news accounts..."

It reminded me of photographs I had viewed the day before I read it, on's news photoblog The Big Picture,* where the juxtaposition of confused, sad, terrorized, weeping people with wrecked-by-water ordinary things  in the wrong places brought the immensity of the tragedy home to me.

Each poem is beautiful, poignant and healing in its own way, illustrating the power of words to help us process such an unthinkable event where the subject could just as easily have been you or me.

*Some of the photo sets of Japan on The Big Picture

March 11 - Massive earthquake hits Japan

March 14 - Japan: Vast Devastation

March 15 - Japan: New fears as the tragedy deepens

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review: A Path to Publishing by Ed Cyzewski

Title: A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book
Author: Ed Cyzewski
Publisher: CreateSpace, paperback, 186 pages, April 2010
ISBN-10: 1451580584
ISBN-13: 978-1451580587

If you’ve been going from author blogs to agent blogs, from publisher sites to editor articles, from archives to comments trying to figure out what you need to do to get a non-fiction book published, your quest is over. Ed Cyzewski has put it all together in one useful volume. In A Path to Publishing he guides readers from choosing a book idea to marketing the finished product. Along the way he discusses today’s hot issues like building a network, crafting the proposal, working with editors, publishing options, and more.

The book includes lots of instruction on how to use the internet and social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc.) to build a platform and market a book. It also explains traditional marketing methods (press releases, radio interviews, bookstore signings etc.).

Cyzewski’s suggestions are fortified with case studies including his experience with writing, publishing, and marketing his book Coffeehouse Theology (NavPress, 2008). Cyzewski ends each chapter with “Action Steps” that suggest things the reader can do to begin to implement what was just read.

The book is practical, well-organized, and easy to read. It comes highly recommended with endorsements from a variety of editors, agents and publishers.

However, it had one disappointment for me. God is nowhere to be found in the process. In fact, I was surprised that someone with expertise in theology would advise the reader to “Pray for luck….You can’t underestimate the importance of timing and luck in the writing business” (pp. 24-25).

So don’t look to this book for a spiritual perspective on your book-publishing endeavour. But do read it for timely, realistic guidance on how to take the non-fiction book in your imagination or  on your hard drive from dream to reality.

or from
© 2011 by Violet Nesdoly 

(This review was first published in the February 2011 issue of FellowScript. The book was provided as a gift by the author for the purpose of writing a review.)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Thoughts from a Decaying Planet" - a critique

Today is critique day on One Stop Pete Marshall has posted "Thoughts from a Decaying Planet" and asks for reader response.

Here, for starters, is the poem as it was posted.

Thoughts From A Decaying Age
by Pete Marshall

Let life live on a desolate shore

untouched by man and free of law

where all who live are but creature & flower
on a paradise island these dreams are our

fantasies that wont come true

for Man destroys anything who

stands in his way to accomplish a dream

with Science, War, Religion & we

who all just sit back and watch
do not try to stop as the world destructs.

Let their blood flow on through the valley
covering the land raped by the tyranny

scorching the Earth so dry & disfigured
where once stood trees & flowers & people.

hard to believe there once was life here

this barren land savaged by the years

but no river runs cold when you fight for existence
to live & breathe & laugh is resistance.


Here are my thoughts:

The title is vivid and sets the tone for this essentially pessimistic poem about the state of the earth. It does end on an optimistic and welcome note of empowerment.

You're tackling a big subject here. I'm struggling somewhat with your generalization that science, war and religion are the root of the planet's problems.  However, you've taken a passionate poetic stand, and your poem will certainly get people thinking.

Technically, I find the use of the ampersands distracting. I am also not fond of the inconsistent end rhymes. But I like the last two lines rhyming. It gives your conclusion a nail-down or punch line effect.

I'm going to make a few more comments within the poem.

Thoughts From A Decaying Age

by Pete Marshall

Let life live on a desolate (is "desolate" the right word? It has a negative connotation which you may not want here. You could use sheltered, remote, secluded, faraway, far-flung) shore
untouched by man and free of law
where all who live are but creature & flower
on a paradise island these dreams are our

fantasies that wont (won't) come true

for Man destroys anything who (suggest "anything which" or "anyone who")

stands in his way to accomplish a dream

with Science, War, Religion & we
who all just sit back and watch

do not try to stop (stop what or who?) as the world destructs.

Let their blood (whose blood - those who sit inactive watching the world destruct, or those who are destroyed, or ...?) flow on through the valley
covering the land raped by the tyranny

scorching the Earth so dry & disfigured
where once stood trees & flowers & people.
hard (You've begun other sentences with a capital; is this small case 'h' intentional or a typo?) to believe there once was life here

this barren land savaged by the years (interesting that you are introducing another element here - are you saying that the desolation here is also the result of the wear and tear of time? If so, man wouldn't be to blame for that. Or are you saying that the "savaged...years" are an accumulation of years' worth of tyranny?)

but no river runs cold when you fight for existence
to live & breathe & laugh is resistance. (I really like your last line. Though you haven't solved the problems of the world for it, you've come to a place of lighthearted passive resistance re its problems  for yourself.)

For other critiques of this poem, check out the list at the bottom of this post.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Advice for readings

Though the advice is for students reciting the poems of others, the judges speaking on this National Endowment for the Arts (U.S.) video give reading/presentation hints that are useful for all poetry readers and reciters.

Watch this video to improve your next poetry reading!

Bible Drive-Thru

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Ten ways to court inspiration

I have, since 2005, written a quarterly poetry column (called "Line Upon Line" — same name as this blog) for FellowScript — the newsletter for members of Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship. Then for almost two years (August '08 - June '10) I wrote the monthly "Poets Classroom" for Utmost Christian Writers.

I've decided to dust off some of these once-published pieces, and republish them here on my Line Upon Line blog. They will be a bit longer than my usual blog posts. But hopefully they'll help us all get on with the delightful avocation of writing more, and better, poems.

Let's begin with my first Line Upon Line column from November 2005 — "Courting Inspiration." It's a piece about how to find inspiration on your own, instead of waiting for it to sweep you off your feet.

Courting Inspiration
Interviewer: How long do you carry the “seed” of a poem before you begin to write?

Poet: The process begins with a moment of strong imaginative excitement and out of this ideas flow one upon another – often in complete verses until the inspiration passes. I rarely plan ahead. The least effective of my work (in my view) are those that are consciously and carefully developed; they easily become wooden and predictable.

I read poet Richard Hayes’ response to Nathan Harms’ online interview a few years ago and felt empathy – and disappointment. As a fledgling poet, I too had experienced the “moment of strong imaginative excitement” he described. It was a good feeling. Pity it visited me so seldom.

Was it true, as this fine poet implied, that writing effective poetry depended on the rare occasions inspiration decided to drop in? If that were so I’d probably write only a few dozen poems in my whole life. But I wanted to write more.

I determined that day I would try to prove it needn’t be so. In the intervening time I’ve discovered that, indeed, I do not need to wait for inspiration to show up before I start a poetry-writing session. Instead, writing poems has become a regular part of my life. Here are ten ways I’ve found to court inspiration and come up with poems on even the most unpromising of days.

1. Show up
Like any other kind of writing, to write poems you have to go to your desk, or your window chair, or your hot bath, or wherever you go to write. Poet Mary Oliver describes it this way in her book, A Poetry Handbook:

If Romeo and Juliet had made appointments to meet, in the moonlight-swept orchard, in all the peril and sweetness of conspiracy, and then more often than not failed to meet – one or the other lagging, or afraid, or busy elsewhere – there would have been no romance, no passion, none of the drama for which we remember and celebrate them.

Writing a poem is not so different – it is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart... and the learned skills of the conscious mind....

The part of the psyche that works in concert with consciousness and supplies a necessary part of the poem ... learns quickly what sort of courtship it is going to be. Say you promise to be at your desk in the evening, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself – soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes, and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all. (1)

So, you’ve showed up. Now what? Here are some things you can try, to get yourself primed and writing.

2. Read a little poetry to get into a poetic space.
On any given day, whom you read will depend on what kind of poem you’d like to write. Ken Nesbitt writes silly kids’ poems. Jane Kenyon’s poetry is thoughtful. Nathan Harms and David Waltner Toews use great metaphors. Have poetry books handy and poetry web sites bookmarked so you can nibble on favorite poems to get those creative juices primed for the writing main course.

3. Use poetry prompts.
Prompts may get you to think about things in ways you wouldn’t on your own. There are a multitude of these online and in books. Creating Poetry by John Drury is good. Poets Online is a favorite web site for prompts but you can find many more by typing ‘poetry prompts’ into the search line at

4. Start writing with lists, clustering and free writes.
  • Lists. List all the ideas that occur to you from the prompt you’ve chosen. Or simply generate a list from any word or idea – a color, an emotion, a memory.
  • Cluster. Begin a cluster by writing a word or phrase in the center of a sheet of paper and circling it. As an idea comes to you about that word, write that idea, put a circle around it and join the circles. Spend a few minutes noting all your ideas. In the process, what surfaces may surprise you, and hopefully what you want to say will become clear. The queen of clustering, Gabriele Rico, explains the method in her book Writing the Natural Way, and on her web site.
  • Free write. Free writing is writing continuously for a set amount of time, say ten minutes. In her book Ms. Rico suggests free writing on the subject you’ve just clustered. Free writing works best if you keep the words flowing, so if you momentarily run out of things to say, simply write the same word over and over until the next idea comes to you. Poems can be developed out of free writing by isolating ideas and refining lines from them.
5. Take a course.
There’s nothing like a little accountability to scare inspiration out of hiding. The challenge of learning new skills isn’t a bad thing either. Determination to keep up with poetry writing assignments the winter I took a course showed me I could write poetry regularly and to a deadline.

6. Enter contests.
As a variation of writing poetry for course assignments, set yourself a goal to enter contests. These have deadlines and sometimes a theme and prescribed length. Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship has a poetry category in their spring and fall contests, and Utmost Christian Writers sponsors several poetry contests every year. The deadline for their big annual contest just passed on March 1.

7. Join an on-line poetry memes, discussions or critique groups.
Reading and commenting on the work of others often sparks ideas and may well give you the desire to write new poems to have something to share. A site I've recently discovered that has lots of opportunity to post your own poems and read those of others is One Stop Poetry.

8. Find poems in your journal.
Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones says:
"Sometimes I discover poems in my notebook that I did not know I had written....As you reread, circle whole sections that are good in your notebooks. They can be used as beginning points for future writing or they might be complete poems right there. Try typing them up...(2)
9. Go in search of poems.
Visit likely and unlikely places – the beach, the mall, the playground – with a sponge-like attitude, and a notebook and pencil in hand. Note everything you see, hear, smell, feel, remember etc. Later use that raw material in a poem.

10. Write when inspiration does visit.
Recognize that times of stress, bereavement, emotional conflict, tragedy or blessing typically evoke strong emotions. Don’t waste these inspirational freebies. Write in the heat of the battle, through the sleepless night, in the warm afterglow of love.

And there you have it – ten ways to make inspiration your servant, not your master. Or, said another way:

I’ve waited too long
for Inspiration to catch my eye
wink, grab me by the arm
lead me into a poem.

The dynamics in this relationship
will change.
Now it’s my turn
to flirt, beckon
woo, pursue.

© 2005 by V. Nesdoly



(1) Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook. (Harcourt, Brace & Co., Orlando Fl. 1994) 7,8.

(2) Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones (Shambhala, 1986 ) chapter “Rereading and Rewriting”

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Public speaking

I don't do much public speaking but have been asked to give a half-hour presentation at our church's next women's encounter in early April. Because I was once a classroom teacher, standing in front of an audience doesn't scare me witless, but neither am I comfortable with talking to people in this formal sort of way. (I tend to over plan and then find myself note-bound.)

Thus when I saw the list of public speaking hints Michael Hyatt's speaking coach gave him after a recent presentation of his (he posted about it on his blog), I perked up and bookmarked it. 

The five points his coach gave him are:

1. State the benefit clearly.
2. Cut down a long introduction.
3. Use lots of personal stories.
4. Engage the audience.
5. Craft the ending carefully.

Read the entire article: "Notes from my Speech Coach."