Saturday night, my husband Peter and I decided to watch a movie. The 2021 James Bond movie, No Time to Die, currently streaming on Amazon Prime caught my eye. The write-up mentions it had received several awards, including a Golden Globe. Why not? I thought, go for some escapism, an old-fashioned spy movie with lots of action. My husband agreed. Three years ago, during the pandemic, I wrote a blog post in response to the death of actor Sean Connery, partially reminiscing about his role as the quintessential James Bond. At that time,I recommended to those looking for movies to stream during the lock-down, old 007 movies might be fun.
I should have followed my own advice, because the 2021 version, was sadly predictable, reworking tired old tropes: the isolated island where the villain resides with his weapon of mass destruction and the beautiful temptress who is the victim of her past.
The Golden Globe award was for the best theme song. And I agree it is a likeable tune, but a song does not make a movie. Other film awards were garnered for cinematography, sound and action. Yes, the film is loaded with car chases, shoot-outs and underwater scenes, but it all seemed so predictable.
I read online, another James Bond film is planned for release in 2024 or 2025. The new James Bond hasn’t been chosen—yet.
We both found ourselves nostalgically remembering the Austin Powers films. Dr. Evil was a lot more fun.
Ian Fleming penned his original series of 14 novels featuring Agent 007 in the 1950’ and early 1960s. So far, Hollywood has produced 26 James Bond movies. The very first one was Dr. No. ( 1963) It was released 60 years ago!!!
The writer in me, wants to challenge myself to figuring out a new approach to an old genre—the spy novel. Does there have to be one villain and does this individual have to be a twisted psychopath? Can our hero be an anti-hero? Do the characters need to be cisgender? And if 007 is still driving that same sports car, can’t someone come up with some new and unpredictable gadgets for the “getaway.”
Writing Prompt: Imagine a spy story and write a scene that shows the hero/heroine discovering something that might help them thwart their opponent. Surprise yourself and the reader.
Sometimes when restrict your creative options, the challenge can propel you to write something innovative. It’s always worth a try and every time you put sentences on a page, you learn something about the writing craft. Good luck.
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Waiting. Sitting in a chair, a numbered chair, I am waiting in the Jury Room at the Anne Arundel County Circuit Courthouse in Annapolis, Maryland.
Doing my civic duty, I’ve reported prior to 8:00 a.m. for Jury Duty.
We’ve all been told exactly where to sit, once we’ve given our name and signature, and received our cash and parking vouchers. I tuck three crisp ten-dollar bills into my wallet.
Bring reading material, the directions suggested. You may have to wait a long time. I’ve brought three New Yorker Magazines I haven’t had time to read. But there is a big screen video playing a few rows ahead.
These screens are distributed around the room so everyone can watch the show about the state of Pennsylvania followed by another about the state of Massachusetts. I wonder how the woman at the end of the row is managing to read her book.
I feel like I’m at the doctor’s office or the dentist’s office, forced to watch a show I don’t want to see. An energetic salesman most have sold these set-ups to every office in the country that has clients waiting, assuring them the public loves these things. I don’t. Being forced to listen to the audio of the program is annoying.
The chief bailiff makes her announcements from a microphone behind a podium. She treats us like children, asking us to repeat loudly back to her the answers to the information she has just provided. Fortunately, she gives us lots of breaks to walk around, get a snack, use the restroom. The chairs are stiff. I keep getting up to stretch.
I read despite the background noise. In addition to the video narration, there’s coughing, paper rustling and the snores of the man in the row ahead who keeps falling asleep.
We are told to stay in our assigned seats, but one woman has found a comfortable chair near the window for reading. At the one conference table a man is playing a game of solitaire with a deck of cards he must have brought with him. Many people have brought thermoses of coffee and bottles of water, chips and cookies. I brought nothing but my magazines and writing pad, convinced that being so close to Memorial Day, there will be no new trials and thus no need for jurors.
I am correct and a little past 11:00 a.m. we are released. Free to go home and told we do not have to bother checking in the remainder to the week. I clap my hands, whisper thank you, and the room breaks out into applause. Our service is complete.
It seems an archaic system, but I can’t think of any other way the county can consistently assemble a jury pool to be available when needed. If I were ever involved in a trial that required a jury, I’d be thankful people responded to their summons. A big part of life is showing up.
Thank you to everyone who has ever served on a jury.
Two great films come to mind when I think about jury trials, Twelve Angry Men (1957) and Runaway Jury (2003). The push and pull of strangers trying to work together to reach a verdict or the idea of trying to second-guess how various individuals will react to a particular case provides rich material for writers. Writing Prompt: Create one character, a juror who doesn’t agree with the others. Describe them in detail and show by their language and gestures how they frustrate their colleagues. Write a scene with them interacting with one other juror. Maybe you’ll get an idea for a story from the scene.
Thank you for your feedback. Remember you can subscribe to this blog through WordPress or Medium and follow me on Twitter at SN Maril.
One of my favorite picture books as a child was about a little girl who doesn’t understand time, seasons, or the days of the week. She vaguely recalls holidays: the flowers blooming, baby chicks , a basket with a fluffy bunny. She remember a cracking walnuts in front of a warm fire, relatives gathering and the smell of pies baking in the oven but doesn’t quite grasp the order or significance of why and when these events take place. Illustrated by Garth Williams, the title of the book first published in 1959 and written by Charlotte Zolotow is Over and Over.
I was thinking about Over and Over last Sunday on Mother’s Day. It’s not one of the holiday events referenced in the book’s story line, but like so many holidays on our calendars, it has become a regular observance evoking strong memories. I think of Mother’s Day and I think of spring flowers and spring planting, because that’s usually the gift I most desire. Everyone has different expectations. Talking to all three of my children by phone on the same day, for me is a treat. Other Mother’s want to be taken out to lunch, show, or museum. Everyone has their own idea of how the day should be spent, and that’s part of the fun.
Mother’s Day was originally created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 as a day to honor Mom and to promote reconciliation between the North and the South by gathering together former Union and Confederate soldiers and their mothers. Juliette Ward Howe, abolitionist and suffragette, began a campaign for Mother’s World Peace Day in the 1870’s and Julliette Calhoun Blakely, a temperance activist started a local Mother’s Day in Michigan in the 1870’s but it was Anna Jarvis who is the official Mother’s Day founder. In 1914, it became an official U.S. holiday.
I feel that Mother’s Day could be observed on any day we choose, so if you forgot to do something special for your mother, any time is a good time to let them know you’ve been thinking about them. In Thailand, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the 12th of August. In Norway it is celebrated on the second Sunday in February with Mothers being treated to breakfast in bed, usually fresh baked rolls and coffee.
Once Mother’s Day arrives, I know on the calendar that Father’s Day is not far behind. In the U.S. it is observed on the third Sunday in June. The first statewide observance of Father’s Day was in the state of Washington in 1910, organized by Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a widower dad. In 1924 then President Woodrow Wilson urged states to observe Father’s day but although it was widely observed, it was not until 1972 that Father’s Day became a federal holiday. A proclamation was signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon.
I think of holidays that honor the dead and those who have served our nation in wars, such as Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day and as well as other holidays that honor those who have walked these lands before us such as Indigenous People’s Day, and I wish they didn’t have to take place on just one day out of the year.
It’s interesting how these days get associated with a certain season; spring, winter, fall, summer. However, their repetition in our calendar forms certain associations.
We think back to previous celebrations and whether we carved three pumpkins for Halloween or always paste red hearts on our windows for Valentine’s Day, we may notice the circumstances in our lives have changed. While once we packed up our babies to take everyone to Grandmother’s house, perhaps this year it is you who is hosting the gathering of friends or relatives.
The nicest gift you can give to anyone is your time and attention. Not everyone has the talent to create a beautiful picture or write a verse, so picking a thoughtful gift counts, but why do gifts have to be given on certain days? If you see something that makes you think of someone, that could be the right time to make the purchase. Whether you impulsively mail the dangling earrings that reminded you of your old friend from college or wait until her birthday, it doesn’t matter.
Over and over we do the same things, repeat the same patterns. Gradually small changes are made and we evolve. But do we have to follow the same order of things? I think it’s fun to mix things up.
Many years ago, when I was selling antiques in a shop we decorated the store window for “Christmas in July.” The Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland were celebrating an “Un-birthday.” Use the holidays on the calendar as “reminders” and choose how and when you want to celebrate. How do you want remember a past event or make someone important in your life feel special?
Repetition is comfortable, but sometimes I like surprises.
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Before there were computers and artificial intelligence, there were file cards. Writers producing nonfiction used the cards to organize their facts. Writers churning out vast quantities of genre fiction, such as a series of detective novels, also used cards and charts to vary plot lines. Because often they were paid little per book, these writers figured out ways to take short cuts.
Fantasy, science fiction, horror, and mystery all have their followings, and are often published as a series. But the most profitable genre books, that have been churned out in vast quantities, are romance novels. It seems that everyone likes to read about two people falling in love. But how many different Boy meets Girl, Girl meets Girl, Girl meets Boy, and Boy meets Boy configurations can you come up with?
Long before there were computers, a prolific romance novelist named Barbara Cartland, who wrote as many as 191 novels in one year, devised a system. She wrote all the possible variations such geography, time period, and plotline as Boy is engaged to someone else or Girl is cloistered from society due to wicked aunt, on index cards. Then she’d shuffle the cards to make her choices and start writing.
How different is that from artificial intelligence, writing stories? Maybe the computer can do it faster. Maybe they can do it cheaper. The sad thing is, in our society, the predictable and the comfortable is often what people want to read and watch.
Often, when I read a synopsis or a book review, I notice how a book is easily categorized by being described as a version of a previous much loved classic. For example, I just finished reading Ann Napolitano’s Hello Beautiful, which is being marketed as a version of Little Women with basketball. If I was writing the review, I wouldn’t describe it that way. I liked the book, the characters and the setting, but what made it stand apart, was how it focused on how we process grief and depression.
Writer often take a beloved classic and retell it in a different way. It’s a well- accepted literary practice and has been done for a long time. Partly because some stories are so powerful, they deserve to be told by different voices and because as our culture evolves the way we change our stories can inform us about ourselves.
However, stealing other people’s ideas i.e., plagiarizing is never acceptable. Serious writers, acknowledge their sources.
No one wants to think a machine can create works of art better than a human, but for decades businesses have been trying to cut down the cost of producing stories, film scripts and media content. The fear is that writers will be replaced by machines, but isn’t it the consumers who are driving the demand for the predictable? Artificial intelligence writing stories and scripts, can only use the material that is already out in the world. True creativity still resides in humans inspired by the literary muse.
Someone I just met, when she learned I was a writer, asked me which authors I liked to read. I told her I try not to read books by the same author.
“I don’t want to fall into the same old rut and get too comfortable,” I said. “I want to be surprised and discover new and different voices.”
“But once I find someone I like,” she said, “I want to keep reading more.”
This is what publishers have come to expect, and it makes their job easier. Once an author becomes popular, a following is established and sales are consistent. But for creatives, maybe you’d like to try different styles and genres. Once you’ve been successfully published in one genre, historic romances for example, your publisher may be reluctant to publish your collection of science fiction poetry. This practice discourages experimentation and artistic growth.
Publishers are looking for sales and profits, in other words, a sure thing. I remember when A Perfect Storm became a bestseller and a movie, all of a sudden a dozen more books written by ship captains and fishermen dealing with unpredictable weather were released. If a trend is perceived, the common wisdom is to follow the money.
Out in the world are hundreds of stories being published each week in small literary magazines, posted as part of online blogs, and published in print by small independent presses. Wonderful creative work is being produced. But many people are too lazy to find it and take the time to read it. Certainly none of the big moguls have time to read any of those stories, when it is so much easier to read a logline ( a single sentence conveying the essence of the story).
So, if the writer’s guild strike continues….maybe instead of watching television and movies, you’ll read a copy of an independent magazine or a collection of poems or a book by an author you’ve never read before. And maybe you’ll be enlightened and entertained.
Thank you for reading this blog and for your feedback. And if you’d like to read two of my poems, recently published in Across the Margin, just click here.
Perhaps it was the illustrations that captivated me when I’d pour through the fairytale books, the dragons and the princesses with long gowns and tresses, but of all the picture books in my room when I was a young child, I liked the fairytales the best.
I can still remember many of those books, the way they looked with their ornate borders and their detailed portraits of the handsome Puss N’ Boots or the angry face of Rumpelstiltskin as he stamps hard enough to crash through a floor and into oblivion. Styles evolve and change, and the animated images of the Walt Disney studios who’ve popularized many fairy tales by converting them into cartoon movies, don’t have the same depth of detail as those old illustrations. I love the old woodcut and color plate illustrations, but many contemporary artists add new magic and perspective to an old story. When you read a fairytale or any story for that matter, the possibilities for elaboration are endless.
“Happily Ever After” isn’t always the case in some of the Hans Christian Anderson Tales, such as “The Red Shoes” and “The Little Mermaid.” But as fairy tales have been told and retold so many times, multiple versions circulate. Children today probably have no idea that the original “Little Mermaid” is a tragic story of desire and loss. The little mermaid was unable to permanently become a human. Her attempts at transformation cause her to lose her life as a mermaid. What remains, is her hope that one day she’ll become part of the eternal universe.
In the hands of the Disney writing team, however, “The Little Mermaid,” became a story about family conflict, friendship, love, and fulfillment. The result is a story with a happy ending.
But that’s okay, because fairy tales are part of our oral tradition and why not use the familiar tropes from our childhood as building blocks to create new stories or retell old ones. I think it is important to remember and learn from what went before. However, the stories of our lives keep evolving. So, what story would you like to tell?
Take a fairy tale, an old favorite or one you discover and tell the story from the viewpoint of another character. What is the Stepmother’s version of the household dynamics in Cinderella? How would the Fairy Godmother tell the story?
Change the ending. Did Cinderella really want to marry the prince? Maybe her dream was to open a shoe store.
Change the medium. Tell the story as a piece of contemporary flash fiction or as a poem.
Here is a link to my poem Rampion published in Quail Bell Magazine, inspired by the fairytale Rapunzel.
Thank You for reading and your feedback. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog on WordPress or Medium and receive an email every time I publish. HAPPY MAY.
Sundays are our Tango days. My husband and I set aside our desire to linger over a big weekend breakfast of eggs, avocado toast, salmon, and capers. Instead, we quickly eat our standard fruit with cereal. Rather than pensively reading the contents of the Sunday newspaper or tending the garden, we shower and don our dance clothes. Peter opts for a crisp button-down shirt. I decide on a graceful skirt. For our ninety-minute group lesson, we bring with us special suede bottom shoes that easily glide across the floor.
The number of couples convening at the Athletic Club varies from week to week. To take the lessons, you don’t have to be part of a pair, but it’s a serious group. Some of us, like Peter and myself, have been attempting to master this dance for years. Others have been dancing tango a few months. Knowledge of other dances can be a detriment. We also waltz, hustle and do East Coast swing. At one time we studied ballroom tango, but Argentine Tango is nothing like ballroom tango styles—American or International. Argentine Tango is very much an improvisational dance, complex and nuanced.
Like many Americans, I used to think that Tango was a Spanish dance related to bull fights, castanets, and flamingo dancing. Dramatic and romantic, the stereotype image was a couple dancing cheek to cheek, the man with a rose between his teeth, ready to declare his passion for his partner.
Tango, however, did not start in Spain or Europe. It started in South America in the 18th century, on the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo,Uruguay. The dance we call Tango evolved gradually, out of the music and dance gatherings of enslaved peoples brought to South America from Africa who then shared these dances with fellow workers and immigrants. It is literally a street dance, that eventually captured the attention of the ruling class who first banned it and then tried to copy it— taking it to Europe, the United States, and Scandinavia.
The Tango vocabulary includes Spanish words like cruzado, sanguchito, and ocho to describe various types of dance moves or steps, and if you use them you sound very professional, but we rarely use these words. And what they really mean is, “the cross”, “the sandwich”, and “figure eights.” The first time you try to complete them, you are baffled. Eventually the movements make sense. We’re novices and we frequently argue over the steps, although as the “follower” I am just supposed to follow and stay quiet.
I try to limit conversation, although I’m a firm believer in giving feedback. “I think you’re supposed to put your arm a little higher on my back,” I might say, but Tango requires 100 percent concentration. And it also requires determination and patience. My husband and I do have our private code for understanding our dance moves, however. and they include the words, “pizza” for the configuration of feet and “the cape” for the twist of the leader’s torso to open the embrace.
Historians differ as to the exact origin of the word tango, which came to be used in Uruguay and Argentina to describe a gathering of dark-skinned people. African root words associate it with the meanings “Closed Place” or “Reserved Ground.” Gatherings of this sort were also called a “tambo”. In Spanish, the word for drum is tambor and some say it was mispronounced to eventually become “tango.” Whatever the origins, and posted on the internet are many theories, the name tango, stuck.
In Finland, a very specific style of tango has evolved. And as previously mentioned, there are European and American ballroom versions as well, but Argentinean Tango has a devoted following that has resulted in Milongas (social dance gatherings) being hosted around the world. Tango takes its influences from a myriad of cultures, and therein lies its richness.
Where I live in Maryland, USA there are dance classes and milongas (dance gatherings) in Baltimore, Severna Park, Kensington, and Washington D.C. (We belong to Fàbrica Tango.) Even if you cannot do the dance, the music is unique unto itself and perhaps it is the complexity of the music wherein lies part of the challenge for beginning dancers. Tango generously makes use of accented notes and sudden changes in dynamics fueled by its jazz roots. The time signature is either 2/2 or 4/4 but the dance is full of what I’ve come to think of as “tango moments” pauses in between phrases. The interaction between leader and follower is an organic building ebb and flow. As the follower, I like to close my eyes, to feel where I should be moving next.
In other blog posts I’ve mentioned Glen Echo Park and their spectacular Spanish Ballroom when writing about Swing Dancing and Lindy hop. Sunday evenings, Glen Echo Park has a Tango and Milonga lesson followed by a Milonga (social dance) often with live music.
Suppose you entered a world where all communication was conveyed through movement and touch? How would your characters cope?
Imagine a different kind of reality and invent a story that takes place in that alternate place. Have fun with your world building. What are the positive and negative results?
Use something you’ve learned from this exercise to apply to a piece of writing you are currently working on.
Thank you for reading and don’t forget to subscribe to this blog on WordPress or Medium and follow me on Twitter at SN Maril. Comments and “Likes” are always welcome.
I was having difficulty staying asleep. The room felt hot. I kept tossing and turning. Worrying about my grandson’s upcoming surgery. Worrying about manuscripts I’d emailed to various literary journals, wondering would they eventually result in publication? Finally, I resorted to the one mental exercise I turn to when attempting to initiate slumber, which is to think of a lovely moment and describe it in just one sentence. Then take that one sentence and try to revise it, over and over again. Do that same exercise until my mind lets go and…
Just as I lost consciousness the sound of a yelp brought me back. The dog. The dog was frightened. Out the window I could see tiny flashes of light signaling a still far away storm. As with many dogs, our Labradoodle Chloe is stressed by thunder. She doesn’t understand where the noise is coming from and she pants and paces until it starts to subside.
My husband who’d been soundly sleeping, volunteered to go downstairs. He talked to her in a calm soothing voice, let her outside to relieve herself, and gave her half a pill of Prednisone, which she takes due to a diagnosis of Addison’s disease, one of the drugs to help her regulate her level of cortisol. She returned to her spot on the couch, a place she retreats to when she thinks we’re not looking, curled up and closed her eyes.
In her younger days, Chloe would have come upstairs and slept in our room. But at eleven years old, she is unsteady going down our stairs. She can chase after balls and go up the stairs, but her feet are unstable on the slippery wood. At sixty pounds, she is too unwieldy to carry.
Chloe remained quiet for a few minutes, after my husband returned to bed, and then started barking again. It was my turn.
She was pacing the living room. I moved her thick rectangular dog bed to the foot of the stairs, guarding the front door—her favorite spot. Settled on her dog bed, I sat beside her, leaning against her body covered with thick white fur. And I began to stroke Chloe from her nose across her head and down her neck, again and again. “You’re such a good dog,” I said. “Such a good dog.” Each time I stopped petting her, she butted her head against my hand to start again. It was 3:00 a.m. and I was falling asleep. There wasn’t enough room for me to sleep with Chloe on the dog bed wrapped in my cotton robe, but I began to wonder who was calming who? She was alleviating my anxiety, my reasons for insomnia. This is why dogs can make such good support animals for humans.
Dogs’ hearing is much more sensitive than humans. On average they can hear four to five times better than a person. Two breeds known for excellent hearing are Labrador Retrievers and Poodle. Since Chloe is a hybrid breed, a fifty/ fifty mix of Labrador and Poodle, it’s not surprising that she hears sounds almost a mile away as well high frequencies the human ear is unable to detect. This was evidenced the other week, when Chloe was visibly annoyed by a dimly chirping battery in the middle of the night—a fire alarm signaling a loose connection. While we could pile pillows over our heads to block out the sound until morning, Chloe wanted the problem remedied immediately. We often think about Service Dogs as primarily helping the visually impaired, but they are just as important in helping individuals with hearing loss. Not only can they hear the high-pitched fire alarm to alert humans to leave a smoke-filled building but they can signal to a deaf person when a phone is ringing, or when someone is knocking at the door.
Eventually the storm moved on and I returned to my upstairs bed. We regrouped in the morning, greeted the rising sun, ready to tackle a new day. Thinking about writing prompts, I recently heard a editor being interviewed, (Litro Magazine Flash Fiction Editor Catherine McNamara being interviewed by Becky Tuch), say she receives an excess of stories with dogs in them. Animals are important in our lives, and it doesn’t surprise me they figure in many stories, but in my adult fiction a pet is often an afterthought. So, for an experiment try this.
Was your first pet a dog, a fish, or a guinea pig? Write a scene in which you describe them. What made them endearing to you? Have a conversation with your pet. What do you tell them? Did your relationship with your pet affect your relationship with someone else in your family? Write a scene about it. What did you learn about yourself? Try the same prompt as a work of fiction. What you write might surprise you. Surprise is good. Begin with your strongest sentence and keep writing.
Thank you for reading and thank you for your feedback. If you haven’t already done so, please sign up to subscribe to my blogs on WordPress or on Medium. Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril. And if you’d like to read a story of mine with lots of animals, here’s one set in Africa:“The Perfect Picture.”
I almost threw them out. The unidentified shoots popping up in last year’s vegetable garden, not yet tilled and planted were destined for the compost pile, until I took a second look.
Lettuce, I repeated to myself. Tiny leaves of lettuce. Cilantro. I recognized the familiar leaf, the shape and the fringe edges. We hadn’t planted seeds. But the previous summer, this was the section of earth where the lettuces and cilantro had been growing.
Volunteers, is the name gardeners give for seeds that miraculously plant themselves. I like that name, volunteer, as if the plant took it upon themselves to appear, but I keep on thinking of these plants as pioneers signed on for a difficult journey. So sometimes, I call them pioneers. Whether they are called volunteers or pioneers, they are an unexpected surprise. The soil has not been cleared of the roots from the previous fall nor prepped with compost, still the seeds germinate and poke their green sprouts up to greet the sun.
Those feisty volunteer plants can come from the seeds left behind from the previous year or they can be brought in by visiting birds and squirrels. While they are an unexpected gift, gardening experts recommend that you may want to transplant your volunteers to an alternate location, particularly in the case of vegetable crops. The soil gets tired if the same nutrients are being repeated used.
While I’m thinking about whether we should relocate the lettuce, I’m also noticing that one of the lettuce heads is almost ready for harvesting. Never, do I actually pull up an entire head for use, like the ones you’d buy at the Farmer’s Market. Instead, I harvest a few leaves while letting the plant continue to grow, the way I cut a few sprigs off an herb. This can work until the weather gets warm and the plant starts to bolt vertically towards the sky, ready to flower and seed. Lettuces do best, before intense heat arrives, but last summer we continued to have lettuce that survived beneath the shade of adjacent vegetables such as radishes and corn.
I’m no expert gardener. For me, it’s all about the cooking. Fresh lettuce and fresh herbs make the best salads.
On the other side of the garden, last year’s oregano is prospering alongside last year’s sage plant. Most of my herbs made it through the winter, with the exception of the basil which cannot tolerate the cold.
I’ve got parsley, rosemary and mint. Too much mint, I might add, because mint likes to travel. But the good news is that until the new basil sprouts, mint is an almost substitute in some recipes for basil. Often in a salad, a piece of basil is laid across a sliced tomato, but mint works just as well. It’s a little early in the season for a tomato crop, but try it with some store-bought tomatoes drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
In the Garden
Whether you are a committed gardener or were once a kid who liked to put their hands in the dirt, we all have memories of growing things. What are your earliest memories of a garden? Were you planting seeds or looking for earthworms? What did the soil and plants feel like? What did you hear? What did you smell? Try this exercise writing about your experience in prose and then try it as a poem. How are the two writing experiences different?
Thank you for reading and for your feedback. Please don’t forget to follow me, if you like this blog, by subscribing to email alerts on WordPress or Medium and you can also follow me on Twitter at SN Maril.
Breaking News. Man charged with white collar crimes elects not to board plane to Maryland for his arraignment. Police search his Florida home. Wife claims no knowledge of his whereabouts.
Where is he?
The news story captures my imagination. Where is Roy McGrath, former Chief of Staff to former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, hiding? I picture him with forged identity documents chartering a private plane and slipping over the border to Mexico or to an island in the Caribbean, perhaps Aruba or Antiqua. I see him in a loud print cotton shirt sitting in a lounge chair on a deserted beach, contemplatively sipping a rum drink. I’m stuck in a trope, replaying a John Grisham story. A man framed for crimes he didn’t actually commit eludes capture. But is this man actually guilty or innocent?
Charged with theft, fraud, and falsifying records, he evidently didn’t discuss his exit strategy with his wife. She has no idea of his whereabouts. His lawyer Joseph Murtha says, according to the Baltimore Banner, “Roy McGrath never wavered about his innocence.” If that is the case, and he felt he was innocent, then why did he run?
Fugitive Found in Tennessee. Car windows blown out by gunfire, according to eyewitness reports. Man taken on stretcher with gunshot wounds. Dripping blood seen beneath white sheet. Suspect is taken to a nearby hospital. Hours later, Roy McGrath is dead at age fifty-three.
I pull up the pdf of the U.S. Marshalls wanted poster, and stare at it. Slight in size and build, he peers forward in his mug shot from behind rectangular wire glasses.
Was it worth it? The extra money the government claims he took, the unauthorized expenses paid for by the Maryland taxpayers?
Drama. Excitement. A true story TV special or a streaming video series.
And in the middle of it all, during the time Roy McGrath goes missing, the release of a self-published E-Book titled “Betrayed: The True Story of Roy McGrath” written by someone named Ryan C. Cooper, presumably based on McGrath’s own manuscript. Not warmly received by readers, the book only receives 2.8 out of 5 stars, according to the Amazon rating system. Fifty-two pages in length and selling for $4.99, the book purports to portray a behind scenes account of how McGrath was “unfairly harassed by the very government and colleagues he had faithfully served. All at the hands of a corrupt and duplicitous politician, former Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.”
Meanwhile Hogan doesn’t seem fazed by the negative opinions McGrath has of his former employer. According to the Baltimore Banner, “In a statement issued by a spokesman Monday night, Hogan said: “Yumi and I are deeply saddened by this tragic situation. We are praying for Mr. McGrath’s family and loved ones.”
Who is the injured party in this story? I remember my biology teacher in fifth grade explaining mental illness and emotional distress. “Always in life,” she said, “you will face tasks that in the moment you may find challenging, Maybe, it’s the confidence to walk alone to somewhere you’ve never been, but you need to get there, or maybe it’s making new friends. If someone gets stuck and so scared that they are unable to function—they may refuse to get up out of bed, or become unable to communicate, or become physically confrontational, that’s when they need some help.”
Using that perspective, I start thinking about this story differently. So many elements are floating around in my head: entitlement, selfishness, fear, and paranoia. Perhaps the story is not so much about white-collar crime as it is about mental illness. We never fully know or understand all that is going on inside another person’s head.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like to read a story I wrote from two different character’s viewpoints, click here. As always, I appreciate your feedback. Follow and subscribe to this blog on WordPress or Medium and follow me on Twitter at SN Maril.
I recently became a founding member of a Poetry Collective. Many people have found this surprising, not the founding member part, but the poetry part. Because when asked about what kind of writing I do, I seldom mention poetry. True enough, I write poems. The majority of these poems, however, are strictly for myself.
Poetry, for me has become a form of shorthand, a way to express and record my feelings for later reference. However, I have been successfully publishing very short Creative Non Fiction (CNF) flash, pieces that could be considered prose poems.
Definitions can sometimes be interchangeable. A poem can tell a story and often a piece of prose can be more about communicating a fleeting moment or emotion, than possessing a story arc which contains a beginning, middle and end. So maybe I have been publishing poetry all along, or maybe I’m writing in a hybrid form. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is the writing.
When I read someone’s work, I want to feel a sense of connection. And when I write, I want to create work that resonates with others.
Good writing should be read aloud. Poetry cries to be read aloud. Thank you to the teachers who insisted we memorize a recite a poem as a class assignment more than once. Thank you to all the teachers in my life who insisted we read and act out the plays of Shakespeare we studied in middle school and high school. Thank you to my mother who pulled out her college textbooks and read her favorite poems to me.
If you’ve ever read the poetry that accompanies a well written picture book like Good Night Moon aloud to your children or your grandchildrenyou know the power of words with their rhythm, alliteration and repetition. So, if it’s about oral tradition, then yes, I’ll call myself a poet.
The Poetry Collective I am part of is officially called The Old Scratch Press Poetry and Short Form Collective. It is affiliated with Old Scratch Press, an imprint of Devil’s Party Press, a small independent publisher. We are volunteering our time to help promote the craft of poetry and writing, while also helping each other prepare their work for publication. Old Scratch Press is strictly focused on publishing chapbooks, and one of our goals is to re-vitalize the love of small affordable books.
A chapbook is a very small book in terms of page length. Usually under sixty pages, it can be a great size book for a novelette, a group of short stories, poetry, or flash stories. I wondered where the name came from, so I did a little additional research beyond what I wrote about concerning chapbooks last month. The name comes from the name of the peddler who sold chapbooks, a Chapman. Chap comes the Old English or Saxon ceap, meaning a bargain or cheap. And the suffix mann or man is literally what it sounds like. The German equivalent was Kaufman. The name came to describe a merchant or trader who travelled from place to place selling small wares. The small books, chapbooks were affordable, ie a bargain when compared with the cost of books owned by the wealthy class in the 1500’s.
Chapbooks followed broadsides as early print products for people of lesser means and learning than the wealthy. Broadsides represented print for the semi-literate because they contained pictures and often featured ballads. Many of the early folksong ballads, sung in taverns or while working in the fields, were shared in the oral tradition and changed with the addition of new verses, which were then sometimes reprinted again in chapbooks. So chapbooks provided affordable reading material to the working class.
Now in the twenty-first century, books are once again a stretch for some people’s budget. If you’ve ever purchased a book lately, you are aware a paperback can cost between ten dollars and thirty-five dollars, depending on page-count and size. Libraries are wonderful places because you can borrow books, enjoy them and return them for someone else to read. However, their selection of titles can be limited. And sometimes you just want to own some books you’d like to reread and travel with and share with friends.
A chapbook, with a lower page count, can sell for as little as four or five dollars. Some publishing houses are intentionally limiting the number of chapbooks they print, in order to make them the collectibles of the future. Other presses are printing their chapbooks on better paper and adding hand stamped embellishments to make their small books unique.
In a literary collective, writers proofread each other’s work, provide leads for performance/reading venues, and help spread the word about upcoming publications. They can also recommend editors, publishers, and publications that might be interested in their colleague’s work.
By helping others to achieve their goals, you can learn a lot about the process, and grow personally and professionally unanticipated ways.
Curious about prose poetry. Here is one, Menudo ( audio reading available) published by Full House .
Please don’t forget to follow me and subscribe to my blog, if you haven’t already done so. And as always, I appreciate your feedback.
Saturday night I went swing dancing. I didn’t see any zoot suits, but being that it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I saw men in green derby hats sporting suspenders and women wearing emerald glitter headbands, full skirts and short crinolines. We weren’t just anywhere, we were at the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo located just outside Washington D.C. and two live bands were playing, The Rock-A Sonics and Natty Beau.
Due to the Pandemic, my husband Peter and I hadn’t been to the Spanish Ballroom since the fall of 2019, but I recognized many of the dancers, regulars, from years earlier. We watched the man with the beard who effortlessly swirled his alternating dance partners into successive spinning turns and the stout woman in harem pants who smoothly kicked and jumped high into the air, extending her right arm to curtsy at the end of each tune. I admired the skilled dancers and chuckled over the efforts of the newer dance converts, gratified to know the love of swing dancing continues to thrive.
On the National Register of Historic Places, located outside Washington D.C. the ballroom is considered one of the best dance halls in the United States. Mediterranean-style Art Deco, it was built in 1933 and was designed to accommodate 1,800 dancers! Restored between 2003 and 2010, according to modern building codes it can accommodate 870 people. I first discovered and blogged about Glen Echo in 2011. And this past summer I blogged about Chautauqua, which was the purpose for which Glen Echo Park in 1891 was originally constructed. It became an amusement park in the early 1900s.
During the Pandemic lock down, Peter and I frequently danced around our kitchen and sometimes watched dancers on Utube, trying to learn new routines. But recorded music is not the same as live music. What a treat to listen to a live saxophone, steel guitar, piano and drums, at one of our favorite venues. The musicians playing vintage favorites and singing new songs inspired by earlier styles, had the dancers spinning, jumping and turning.
Saturday night I had my very first Lindy Hop dance lesson, although I’ve been attempting to throw a few “Lindy Hop” steps into my East Coast swing dance moves for years, I’m strictly a poser. We arrived early, in time to take the group class, and we were excited to learn something completely new. Usually beginning large group classes focus on the triple step, rock step and the basic turn, but teachers Tom and Debra from Gotta Swing were ambitious. Tom Koerner and Debra Sternberg have been dancing together since 1987 and teaching since 1994. They taught the side by side Charleston, turns, the cuddle-up and more. IF we weren’t trying so hard to master Argentine tango, I’d be tempted to sign up for their classes.
Introduced in the 1930’s, Lindy Hop is a flying dance. It’s very athletic, but plenty of oldsters, into their eighties Lindy. Just watch Norma Miller, dressed as a dancing chef, perform with Billy Ricker in the 1941 musical “Hellzapoppin” on Utube. She died recently at age ninety-nine, the last living member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and a regular performer at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. Until I read her obituary in The Washington Post, I didn’t know how Lindy Hop got its name.
The daredevil of swing dancing styles; it is supposedly named after the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. Fairly ironic, when I doubt Lindbergh would have ever set foot in the racially integrated Harlem Savoy Ballroom. The first man to fly across the Atlantic was an admirer of Germany, the Nazi regime and a member of America First; determined to keep America neutral and out of World War II. But who said dancing is meant to be a political statement. It’s all about having fun, if everyone is welcome to participate.
Glen Echo Park, however, used to be for whites only until it became open to all races in 1961. Visit the Spanish Ballroom today, and you’ll see diversity of skill, age, and ethnic background.
Norma started dancing professionally at age 15 and she never stopped enjoying swing music. She formed troupes of her own: the Norma Miller Dancers and Norma Miller and her Jazzmen. Lindy Hop is an evolving dance style. Norma Miller became a celebrated dance teacher.
Every time I watch Lindy Dancers, I am reminded that anything goes. You just need imagination. I love the music. It has so much personality. A Swing Dance revival began in the 1980’s and it’s still going strong.
Each time I visited the restroom Saturday night, I carefully washed my hands. The Covid-19 still evolves and mutates and one must be vigilant, even without switching dance partners. Nevertheless, the Spanish Ballroom is open and the dancing is so much fun, I seized the moment. For more information about their upcoming dances you can see the schedule here.
Thank you for reading. Please sign up to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Medium or WordPress. For a short piece of prose about seizing the moment, here’s a link to my CNF flash piece “Freedom.”
Think of a moment when you acted first and thought about the affect your actions might have on yourself and your relationship with others later. Living in the moment, what happened? Describe the scene using the present tense.
Remember to use all five senses, when recalling the experience. Which senses predominate your inner thoughts? Which lines contain the most power?
Use those powerful sentences to keep writing a story or a new scene. Try it with fictional characters. Have fun and experiment. Maybe you’ll create a story you are pleased with or maybe you’ll learn something new about yourself. Writing is a process.
This year’s AWP ( Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference was held in Seattle, Washington and it ran from Thursday March 8th through Saturday March 11th. Even though I wasn’t there, I felt like I was, because my email box kept filling up with notices pertaining to everything that was going on: workshops, readings, informational presentations, a book fair.
The good news I received from the conference is that despite the number of fine publications that have closed due to lack of funding, volunteers, or a combination of both, the literary magazine and small independent publishing industry is alive and thriving.
Editors and publishers however have some new challenges: submitters who rely on artificial intelligence to help them select their words and craft their sentences. As in previous years, writers decry the acceptance and rejection process and editors are frustrated by submitters who plagiarize and send previously published work.
Much of the dialogue between editors and writers that has been shared online recently has been about where do you find your inspiration as well as what type of work various literary magazines think their readers want to read.
So how does the creative writing process begin? When you read something memorable, is it the characters, the place or the situation that most strongly resonates with your psyche?
It is different for each person and for each writer.
Often repeated to beginning writers by instructors is the adage, write what you know. This is often followed by the other popular wisdom, show do not tell. If the character is stingy, don’t rely on telling the reader, ”He was a stingy man”, show him counting his change and reluctantly leaving a tip for the waitstaff who kept refilling his coffee.
My professional occupation used to be, Antiques Dealer. The Antiques business drew upon my talents as a researcher, artist, and observer. For many years I wrote an antique column that focused on a certain type of item such as American Art Pottery in the 19th century or collectible shoes.
One thing about the antiques business was I was always learning something new, discovering objects I’d never heard of like a mote spoon. Mote is defined as fine particles of dust or extraneous bits of things A mote spoon served as a small strainer. It removed mote from your cup of tea because the mote remains on the spoon and the liquid flows through the spoon and back into the cup.
In addition to having the curious pattern of punched through stamping on the bowl of the spoon to create the strainer affect, a mote spoon has a thin pointed handle. The sharp edge of the pointed handle was used to clear out the tea leaves and mote that tended to stop up the entrance of the tea spout.
So here is a writing prompt: try starting with an object such as the esoteric mote spoon. Who made the spoon and who used it? Although they contain less silver, mote spoons are approximately four times as valuable as a comparable spoon of the same age. For this reason, sometime unscrupulous dealers may attempt to convert an antique silver spoon (they stopped making mote spoons in approximately 1780) of the same approximate age into a mote spoon by punching out a design in the bowl and attempting to flatten and roll the handle into a spear with a point. You could write about someone trying to make a counterfeit mote spoon or one that is a family heirloom.
Easier, you could write about the old battered stuffed dog you’ve held on to childhood or the hammer that belonged to your grandfather, you now use. Fairy tales such as Aladdin’s Lamp (magical lamp) or Jack and the Beanstalk (magical beans) start with an object, and the wonderful film The Red Violin, focuses on a musical instrument and tells a story spanning four generations.
The possibilities are infinite. In one successful essay I wrote, published by Open: Journal of Arts and Letters, I began by thinking about my grandmother’s silver pitcher. You can read it here. Thank you for reading. Please subscribe to my blog on wordpress or Medium. Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril.
Two of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood and Roald Dahl have lately been under siege. I don’t know what’s worse, banning books or rewriting them.
In Virginia, parents and politicians have been debating what should be taught in their public schools and which books should be read. Recently, The Handmaid’s Tale, has been removed from the shelves of the High School public libraries in Madison County.
Madison County is less than a 2 ½ hour drive from my house in Annapolis, Maryland. Pretty scary. Adapted into a highly regarded and watched series on Hulu, the school board claims the novel, is slanted against Christianity. In her essay published this month ( February 2023) in The Atlantic, Atwood says, “Wittingly or otherwise, the Madison County school board has now become part of the centuries-old wrangling over who shall have control of religious texts and authority over what they mean.”
The Handmaid’s Tale is in good company. Among the twenty-two other titles pulled off the library shelves is Toni Morrison’s , The Bluest Eye and Snow Falling on Cedars by David Gutterson, two novels on my “favorites” list. This is not the first time many of these fine novels have been banned. But the state of Texas with a whopping 713 banned books is a good distance away, so book banning hadn’t been as actively on my mind.
What I didn’t realize is that nearby Pennsylvania has banned 456 books and Florida comes in third, with 204 banned books. I learned these statistics by reading an article by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech published in the newsletter The Hill. Posted in April 2022, based on information gleaned from a just released PEN America report, the number of books banned from the shelves of public libraries is alarming. That was almost one year ago and unfortunately, I think with the growing movement towards censoring what young people read, most likely the number has grown.
Banning books is one thing, but what about rewriting books? This is what is happening with some editions of the Roald Dahl books under the guise of making them more appropriately sensitive to be understood by children. According to The New York Times, Dahl’s children’s classics “have been rewritten in an effort to make them less offensive and more inclusive, according to a representative from the author’s estate.”
According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, hundreds of words, including descriptions of characters’ appearances, races and genders, had been changed or removed in at least 10 of the author’s 19 children’s books, published by Puffin Books.
From everything I’ve read about him, Roald Dahl was not a nice man. He was overtly anti-Semitic, and since Judaism is my heritage, that alone should give me reason to dislike him, but he was an excellent writer. Childish in some respects, by his own accounts he had a miserable childhood, he has a dry wit and humor that make his stories unique.
Initially he wrote for adults and one of my all time favorites, maybe because I once was an antiques dealer, is his short story “The Parson’s Pleasure.” When it comes to depicting greed and selfishness, Dahl nails it. Included in the story collection, Kiss, Kiss, you can read it here.
Do children need to have their stories sanitized? I think not, but at least with all the public outcry, the original versions, under the Penguin label, will still be published.
But if school boards decide they only want to put the sanitized versions of Dahl books on the shelves of libraries, we have another censorship issue.
Who gets to decide what our children read and what we read?
Writers, like all human beings have flaws. They are imperfect. Should we decide not to like a piece of art because we don’t like the artist? We can certainly reject art that speaks to us in negative ways, but that’s a personal conversation between ourselves and the art.
Everyone should have the freedom to choose what they want to read. Banning and censoring books takes that right away.
Thank you for reading and for your feedback. Please subscribe to my blog on WordPress or Medium. Follow me on twitter at SN Maril.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could be paid for doing the very thing you love doing best? Suppose what you love to do is write poetry or stories? Is it possible to earn money by writing?
Anything is possible, I like to tell myself, but getting to where you’re trying to go takes hard work. Despite what snake oil hucksters will have you believe, there are no shortcuts.
Yes, you can make money writing, but the kind of writing that is likely to produce a steady paycheck is often writing marketing copy and blog content for a large business enterprise. Is that the kind of writing you want to do?
Non writers hear about book royalties and bestselling authors who own yachts and several houses and they think everyone who gets a book published makes thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties. Not true. Such success is rare.
According to Sara Nicolas who wrote an article entitled “How Much Do Authors Make?” published by Book Riot in May 2021, “In 2018, the Authors Guild partnered with 14 other writers organizations as well as some publishing platforms to conduct a survey of 5,067 professional writers in the United States. The median 2017 income of participating authors was $6,080 with just $3,100 of that being from book income alone (as opposed to speaking fees, teaching, book reviewing, and other supplemental activities). The median income of people who described themselves as full-time authors was just $20,300 when including all book-related activities.”
Just for comparison, remember that the USA poverty level in 2023 for one person is $13, 590. Thus, if an author is hoping to support themselves on generating income from one book, ($6,080 in 2017) it would not be achievable unless they find another source of income.
Economic survival, is the reason so many fine published writers teach at colleges and universities and as writing instructors. Economic stability is also the reason why many writers spend part of their day reading and editing other people’s work.
Many book authors have other jobs: doctors, lawyers, business people, waiters, construction workers, etc. I used to be an antiques dealer, and then a magazine editor and then a marketing consultant. Whatever work I’m doing, words, sentences and paragraphs are always on my mind, despite the necessity of paying the bills.
Writers are writing because they have a compulsion to write. They want to be heard. More important to writers than money, is a following of readers.
Every week or so, I write a blog post. Most of the feedback I receive is from other writers. This is not surprising, because if you are sitting by yourself at a computer or pacing the house thinking about what you wrote, you’re eager to connect with someone else who might be going through a similar process.
This is why writing communities are so important. Writing groups and professional organizations usually offer workshops and readings. These events, now frequently online as well as in person, enable writers to keep expanding their skills and also to meet other writers.
A couple of months ago I received an email from a small independent publisher, Devil’s Party Press. One of the principals, Dianne Pearce, asked if I’d be interested in exploring the idea of being part of a Poetry Collective that would foster the concept of launching an imprint dedicated to publishing chapbooks.
For anyone not familiar with the term Chapbook, it’s defined as short book, shorter in page count than a traditional book and often referred to as a booklet. Traditionally, a chapbook contains poems, verse or a novelette. In recent years, with the increased popularity of flash fiction, it’s an excellent size book for an author’s flash collection.
I’ve had a number of pieces of Creative Nonfiction Flash published, which some people might categorize as prose poems. So yes, I was interested.
Devil’s Party Press describes themselves as “Publishers of Second Acts.” All their authors are over forty years of age. The first paragraph of their mission statement reads, “Devil’s Party Press LLC began because we believed that there should be someone publishing older writers who had never been published before. We believe that the older you get, the better your stories get, and the better you become at telling a story.” You can read their complete mission statement here.
Devil’s Party Press currently has three imprints: Gravelight Press, Hankshaw Press, Out of this World Press and also digitally publishes a literary magazine Instant Noodles ( where I’ve been twice published). Initially founded in Milton, Delaware, a town named in honor of the English Poet John Milton, The company took the inspiration for their name from a William Blake quote that said John Milton “was of the Devil’s party.”
Still in its infancy, this new collective of poets and short form prose writers decided to name the new imprint Old Scratch Press. Old Scratch is a nickname for the devil, which led to it being chosen as the imprint name. The name aligns with Devil Party Press, but the name to me has the association of the senior status of the writers ( all being over forty) and the idea of scratching an itch. To elaborate on the itch scratching, I go back to my insatiable urge to keep writing, because I just have to and I suspect the other writers in our group feel the same way.
The group is calling itself the Old Scratch Press Short Form Collective. In the coming year I hope the Old Scratch Press Short Form Collective will not only oversee the publication of several chapbooks, but will also sponsor some readings and discussions about poetry and short prose. Still in the early stages, it’s a group effort. Thus, it is the group that will decide. Be assured, however, that I’ll be sharing anything noteworthy here on my blog as well. Meanwhile, there’s just one week is left to submit to Instant Noodles Spring Issue. The deadline in March 1st.
Wondering about what sort of shape and form a piece of very short creative nonfiction might take, Here’s one: “The Simple Joys of Baking Cake” published last summer in Random Sample Review.
Thank you for reading and for your feedback. Please subscribe to my blog via WordPress or Medium and follow me on twitter at SN Maril. Visit my website at Nadjamaril.com.
It is Valentine’s Day tomorrow and traditionally it’s a day when love is often expressed in the form of a poem. The one, constantly used and overused goes:
Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
Sugar is Sweet
And so are You!
The original old English version from Gammer Gurton’s Garland published in 1784 sounds a little more eloquent.
The rose is red, the violet’s blue
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou are my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou’d be you.
But maybe you’d like to step it up and print out a copy of How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning ( 1806-1861), also referred to as Sonnet 43.
The romance between Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning is one of the great true literary love stories of the Victorian era. The poem is considered a classic, although perhaps not totally in sync with the 2lst century worldview.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of every day’s Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for right. I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.
Barrett Browning’s lovely poem stays within the confines of what is called a sonnet. A fixed verse form, a sonnet must have fourteen lines and is typically iambic pentameter and has a prescribed rhyme theme.
But poetry doesn’t have to follow a prescribed format. It doesn’t have to have a rhyme scheme as in a sonnet. It doesn’t have to have a certain number of syllables per poem or per line as in Haiku ( three lines and 17 syllables) or a Nonet (9 line poem with a syllable count per line of 9–8–7–6–5–4–3–2–1).
Poetry can be so many different things to different writers, it can sometimes be elusive to define. Twenty-first century writers are blurring the definition of prose and poem, nonfiction and fiction. Personally, I like that. I don’t want everything to fall into neat categories.
Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme but it does have rhythm. When I’m writing sentences I constantly think about rhythm and I think about how the words sound, next to each other. Are the consonants hard or soft. Is there intentional repetition? Write your own poem or among all the wonderful poems out there, find one that resonates with you. Looking for a poem about love? Here is a poem (click on the link below) that approaches the subject of love from an entirely different vantage point. “when calculus is enough” by contemporary poet Robert Fleming. Here, Fleming borrows mathematical notations and uses equations. Which leads me to the subject of what is called Found Poetry. (The first in the three poems the selection link takes you to the online publication SynchronizedChaos)
I could write on and on about this subject of different types of poems, configurations and shapes, but in this blog I’m going to focus on what is generally called “Found Poetry.” Using “found material” does not have to be limited to poetry, it also works well with prose. I posted on the subject of the Hermit Crab Essay in another blog a few months ago, and the Hermit Crab Essay can easily use found materials. In a piece of Flash fiction ot Flash nonfiction, “the list” is another way to use found material. For example, the items on a shopping list can tell a story by inference. Theoretically this might be a list you found and are borrowing .
In reference specifically to poetry, the general definition for found poetry is that it takes existing texts such as other poems, street signs, graffiti, newspaper articles, letters, speeches and refashions them into poems. Think of a Found poem as a collage. In some instances, as a hybrid form, poets do a combination of found materials and original text. Perhaps you might have seen what is called Blackout poetry, a form of Found poetry. I’ve created an example below, using the How Do I Love Thee? sonnet.
Blackout poetry: is a form of found poetry in which the poet takes an existing work—an article, a short story, or even another poem—and uses a pen or marker to black out certain lines, words, or phrases to reinterpret the original work.
Erasure poetry: is very similar. Replace the black pen with white-out to completely cover the words you wish to eliminate.
Cut-up poetry: literally enables you to make a collage with other people’s words by rearranging them to create new meanings.
A more intricate and complex form of the creative use of found materials in a poem is demonstrated in “Truest Hungers” by Ellis Elliot.