Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Publishing a Poetry Collection

The great America poet Emily Dickinson is known as one of the country’s most unique, and prolific poets. A famous recluse, Dickinson spent countless hours outdoors observing and playing in nature and countless hours inside documenting what she observed in the form of poetry. She wrote hundreds such poems.

But, she was never considered a poet, and in fact her work lay collected in a box for many years after her death until it was discovered and published into a book. Today, an anthology of her work can be found in paperback with a spine that is three inches thick.

Most poetry books, of course, are considerably smaller. But the point is that while poems are meant to be read and understood and appreciated as stand-alone “stories,” they can very successfully be published into book form.

How that is accomplished is matter of the writer and editor’s preferences; however, books of poetry are often published around thematic similarities that run through the individual poems. The themes can be actually embedded in the poems themselves. They can, for example, all address the topic of love, or greed, or the autumn or ocean tides. Or they can share a theme that has to do with how or where they were created- for example, in prison, while waking in the woods, at a seaside bungalow.

Arranging poems around a theme is an art form all its own. Ultimately, when done well, the arrangement of the poems tell a separate (though sometimes related) story all their own. For example within a book of poems on the theme of love, the poems could be arranged chronologically and tell a story of love desired, pursued, won, deteriorated, lost, grieved over, and forgotten.

Poems are meant to be unpacked to reveal the nested story or stories within; this is part of the delight they offer. Collecting poems into a book opens up even greater opportunity to extend a poetic metaphor over the course of several poems.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Writing Exercises for Overcoming Writer's Block

The bad news about writing is that it often comes with creativity blocks. The good news is that because writer’s block is such a common and frustrating experience, people have developed no shortage of ways to address and overcome it.

Some simple creative writing exercises include:

Three Famous People and a Baby: Imagine three famous people stuck in a room, or on a plane, or somewhere they cannot leave. Make the people as different as possible, either by virtue of their places in time, their religious affiliations, and their beliefs. And then put an abandoned infant in the room with them, and write about how they react. Do not worry about figuring out all the ways in which something like this could be possible. The idea is to get your mind to start finding the connections between seemingly disparate subjects.

Hidden Gems: Find the smallest thing you can, and write as much as you can about it. The classic example of this exercise is to write as much as you can about a piece of bubblegum found stuck underneath a seat in a movie theatre.

Reduction Method: This exercise is roughly the opposite of the previous one. It involves taking something or someone that looms very large, and trying to capture as much of their essence as possible with just a couple of words that are as contextually unique as possible (in other words, the word “big” would not be a contextually unique way of describing The Sears Tower in Chicago).

The Barbara Walters: Barbara Walters is famous for her interviews of famous people, and infamous for sometimes asking them the “tree” question (If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be). Choose people you know, make them trees and then craft a story about how they react to deforestation, or a wild fire, or encroaching development.

Some of these ideas might sound a little crazy, but then Animal Farm probably sounded a little odd before it was written.

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