Monday, April 21, 2008

Some April Bits

Those darned primary responsibilities keep encroaching on my blogging time. A few bits, just to remind myself how to post:
  • Diane was recently asked why she writes about fruits and vegetables. A fascinating question, what we write about. Early in my "career", I tended to rely on water as the central image in just about anything of value I put to paper. When the barriers between my selves began to drop, I started to make better use of the engineer side of me and bring concepts from science, particularly physics, into the work. I'm torn, though: is the vocabulary off-putting to the dominant interests of poetry readers?
  • We spend a ton of time in our local library. A TON. But the fine poet and educator BJ Ward has an essay up at the American Library Association site that makes me feel like a sporadic squatter in that world.
  • The Mets just make my teeth hurt, you know that?
  • Working on a new chapbook project, doing more organized research than my usual casual "Oh, that's neat, what can I do with that" approach to turning reading into writing. It's interesting. I've actually got a story to write to, which both burdens and liberates the process. It's really fascinating me. The risk for me (again, re: engineer) is to stop the research at some point and start the writing.
  • In addition to the targeted readings, I've been back into the parenting books recently. I'm still in the same place -- Most aren't useful for fathers, many aren't useful in the least to anyone with sense -- but sometimes reacting to bad ideas can create good ones. That, too, falls under "research".

Maybe if I research the Mets next....

Happy Spring!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Yeah, well...

...I did intend to be posting more frequently, but I've had to spend the past month dead for tax purposes. I didn't even try to fool myself into thinking I'd make as serious effort at NaPoWriMo, with a rather important deliverable facing my day-job-self early in May, but if you want to see someone doing it right, go see what Kelli is up to.

My kids are coming to the end of what might be the best project ever. Every child in their school is creating a poetry scrapbook, entering two poems a month with themes loosely related to their date of entry. The poems can (and in fact, must) come from a variety of sources, including Los Interwebs, actual books, and their own pens. It's been fabulous to see how this simple exercise - just reading some poems and picking a couple every month, blossomed into a keen interest and appreciation in the art and in their own writing. I suppose this blossoming was pretty well mulched, with me on the one hand and their Mom (a great scrapbooker) in the house, but the project was definitely the seed.

I judged a poetry contest last month, and I swear I wasn't too critical (for those among my 6 loyal readers who have that opinion of me), but I did learn that my engineering-influenced approach to judging was a bit distanced from my peers. I created a checklist for myself, which permitted me to rapidly screen out poems that weren't worth second reads. This isn't exactly what I used, but it makes the point:
  1. Is there evidence of purposeful application of some elements of craft? (sound, purposeful line breaks, rhyme/rhythm, etc.)
  2. If there is purposeful application of craft, is that particular element well executed?
  3. Is there consistency of voice or POV?
  4. Is word choice creative and meaningful? (that is, are latinates/germanics appropriate, are non-obvious words chosen and do those words add something to the line, etc.)
  5. and so forth...

The point of such a list is not to say that I might click a few radio buttons and let an algorithm select a "best poem". However, there should be a minimum level of compliance with some standard of craft to earn consideration as a "best poem", don't you think? I do tend to think a bit algebraically, even when watching a baseball game, but I think the principal - in this case - is a sound one.

Anyway, the disparity between my fellow judges' initial impressions and my checklist-filtered impressions was striking and I'm not sure if that accuses my approach, or just my taste in poems. So though I'm not really observing NatPoMo this year (I think I'll celebrate from May 15 to June 15), I'm pulling books I love off the shelf every night and asking myself what it is I love about those poems and poets.

I'll talk a little about what I'm learning in the next few days.