Winners! Summer 21 Poetry Contest.

Winners! Summer 21 Poetry Contest.

Thanks to all the poets from all over Canada who entered our Summer 21 Poetry Contest. Today, the 21st we take great pleasure in announcing and congratulating the top three winners:

Drum roll please……

  • 1st Place: Marg Kropf – Coming of Age
  • 2nd Place: Les Robling – XXI
  • 3rd Place: Reva Nelson – Twenty-one and Done

Before you read the winning poems and why we chose them, here is what the contest asked for:

Compose a 21-line poem in any form, where the subject matter evokes some aspect of the number 21. Your poem does not have to actually contain the words “twenty-one”, although you are welcome to do so. The title is not considered one of the 21 lines.

Winner: Marg Kropf – “Coming of Age”

COMING OF AGE

They reproach, these stops and starts
Of children’s feet
My measured tread
Along a dusty street,
Along the hopscotch lines
So crazily bent
Around the jagged cracks
In the cement.
Children dash against the sun
And I can see
That they are at some game
And unaware of me.
Their looks cry out,
“Too late. It is too late!
You are the traveller
Who can pass this gate
But once, then vanish
In an angry sun.”
I feel old, old,
Immeasurably old.
Tomorrow I will be twenty-one.


Judges’ Comments on “Coming of Age”

On the cusp of full adulthood, our narrator is acutely aware that a return to childhood is not an option. The imagined admonishments of the children symbolize the vanished years, and their imagined taunts sting. The children can brave dusty streets and jagged cracks in the cement; indeed, they can dash against the sun. Fearless. And, of course, there’s an underlying reminder to any reader beyond the age of 21, that this too is no longer attainable. We’re reminded how, at our own age of twenty-one, we felt about aging; how each year passes and leaves us feeling old, old, immeasurably old.

On first reading, the ending comes as a surprise, despite the title, because the poet so accurately captures the heavy feeling of being old that we can imagine a much older narrator. In the first lines, are images and connotations of heaviness and age, of a life measured: feet and treads, numbers and prescribed routes in hopscotch, lines and roads that point to journeys made and the nod to the children’s rhyme “Step on a crack/ Break your mother’s back,” as well as the sensory details that feed the emotion: dusty, crazily bent, jagged cracks.

At the first turn, the mood lightens as we witness the children and their imagination game. Here the movement is fast and sunny and loud. And then the final turn back to the narrator, I feel old… setting us up for the kicker last line.

The poem is further supported by an intriguing rhyme scheme and rhythm that hearkens to the unbalanced feeling of the narrator, especially with the extra penultimate line that throws the scheme off just before the final statement.

2nd Place: Les Robling – XXI

XXI 

Just one topic comes to mind,
Bill Twenty One, cruel unkind.
A misaligned, nasty law,
No matter how it's written down
Causing many a facial frown,
An act around a social flaw.

Banning ethnic dress and symbol
Crosses, hijabs, turbans and all,
Casts a pall on a nation
Denied the right to free choice;
Discrimination all should voice
Not rejoice this indignation.

What a year, what a frightful age,
Covid pandemic, nature's rage,
A rampage across the land -
Fever, dry cough, tiredness,
Painful death from this virus
Undesirous deadly hand.

Yet, covid will be slayed, soon now;
But this Bill lives on, somehow,
Twenty one, merde, disallow

Judges’ Comments on “XXI”

Roman numerals in the title create curiosity about the poem to come. Rhyming couplets and metrical structure are tough to pull off in a poem without it reading like a greeting card. This poet wisely avoids a simple AABB scheme and opts to vary the rhythm and tone with an AABCCB for three full stanzas and then ties it nicely with a triplet stanza at the end.

A clever use of internal rhyme again keeps the greeting card element at bay: down, frown, around; choice, voice, rejoice; tiredness, virus, undesirous. And enjambment of some lines further helped to keep the rhyme from calling attention to itself because the content spans the lines and carries the reader with it: Banning ethnic dress and symbol / Crosses, hijabs, turbans and all, / Casts a pall on a nation

This poet is to be applauded for risking a topical and controversial subject, as good poets have done through the ages. In many ways this poet pulled it off. Reserving personal opinion, however, and merely presenting facts and images and possibilities so that the reader comes to that opinion on their own, would make this even stronger.

3rd Place – Reva Nelson – Twenty-one and Done

TWENTY-ONE AND DONE 

When my son was eleven
I was imparting some motherly wisdom
On choices and values
He questioned why
I was telling him this
Since his values were in place

“I’m done, Mom, you’ve told me
You don’t need to tell me again.”

“What do you mean you’re done
Are you a Christmas turkey?" I asked

By eighteen I thought now he’s done
Off to university and safe
But many new challenges emerged
And I wasn’t done either

At twenty-one I thought now he’s done
And I am finished parenting
Not so, not done

Now, years later, my grandson is turning one
I see that no one is done
Not even me

And parenting is infinite
roast turkey


Judges’ Comments on “Twenty-One and Done”

There is a solid progression here with touchstones of ages 11, 18, 21 and beyond and back to 1. The last full stanza brings us full circle to the wisdom our narrator gains. As much as she wanted to impart wisdom to her young son, she (and we readers) are reminded that gaining wisdom is not something that can be measured in years. Indeed, our grandmother narrator is still gaining wisdom.

Use of actual dialogue in this poem gives the reader insights into character without having to describe or filter the view. A touch of humour lightens what could have been a dry delivery, given the prosaic style. While this narrative structure offers a useful parable, and a recognizable theme to engage readers, a stronger sensory engagement through use of poetic devices or form or use of the senses would bring the reader closer to the poem on an emotional level.

Last Word

So there you have it. Congratulations to the winners and indeed, congratulations to everyone who entered. As all writers know, submitting is the hardest part.

Poetic Synchronicity

Poetic Synchronicity

Gwynn Scheltema

I never cease to be amazed at synchronicity in life.

In my county this week, The Art Gallery of Northumberland launched a collaborative project with three area libraries. They riffed off the idea of “little libraries” that has been around for some time—and which we covered in a previous post—only this time they are offering visual art rather than books on a take-one-leave-one basis. What fun!

And then what should I find, but a poem about this very same idea only with poetry. How’s that for synchronicity in action! It’s called “Poetry Caching in Spring” by Linda Varsell Smith and was posted on poetscollective.org

Poetry Caching in Spring

A realtor box
with free poems staked in yard
awaits visitors

Some walkers pick up
poems, thinking house for sale
crumble, toss poems

Rain seeps in the box
dribbles down smudging pages
Sun will curdle them

Walkers sit on wall
resting, reading poems, put
in backpacks or hands

Yanked up by the stake
to mow lawn, rests on trash cans
near camellias

Hail pelts plastic
casing, white as snow, soft ping
droned out by traffic

Stick-on, raised letters
offer poetry to all
who come to pass by

And, here’s where synchronicity really goes into overdrive: “Poetry Caching in Spring” it is a 21-line poem written in a 21-line poetry form called an Ethnographic Haiku—a perfect form for our Summer 21 Poetry Contest.

Ethnographic Haiku

An ethnographic haiku poem is made up of 7 haiku, in the usual 5-7-5 syllable line format, but the subject of the whole poem (in the case of “Poetry Caching in the Spring”, it is the box of poetry) should have a relationship with the environment.

Additionally, the poet is required to evoke at least three of the five senses and each haiku should represent one day in a full week in the life of the subject. The form is titled and punctuation is optional. That’s quite a tall order, but Linda Varsell Smith certainly pulls it off beautifully in her poem.

I cannot verify who came up with this form, but the details for writing one appear in Syllables of Velvet, a book of poetic forms collected by Linda Varsell Smith who writes in her intro:

“I found these forms in handbooks and on the Internet. I have worked on playing with forms in four previous books dealing with forms. Cinqueries: is a book filled with cinquos and lanternes. Fibs and Other Truths showed the many variations of fibs. Poems That Count is a collection of many syllabic, metric and word counting forms and examples. Poems That Count Too is a further collection of counting forms with examples. Syllables of Velvet incorporates all the forms in the previous books plus many discoveries beyond. I wrote at least one example for over 300 of them and directions how to do many other forms.”

Distorted Diablo

I was further surprised to find another 21-line poetic form, created by Pat Simpson, called a Distorted Diablo.

This form plays, as its name suggests, with the number 666, commonly known as the biblical devil’s number. The distortion comes from flipping the central 6 upside down into a 9 to get the new number 696. These numbers now become the line form of the poem: a stanza of 6 lines, followed by a stanza of 9 lines and finishing with a second 6-line stanza for a total of 21 lines.

In addition, the sixain segments are both written with 6 syllables per line and the middle 9-line stanza has 9 syllables in each line. Rhyming is optional. My instinct if I were writing a Distorted Diablo would be to make my content devilish or distorted, but apparently subject matter is not prescribed.

Here is an example of a Distorted Diablo called “Ode to Volunteers.”

Summer 21 Poetry Contest

So that brings me to a reminder about our Writescape Summer 21 Poetry Contest.  The two forms above may tickle your muse, but poems can be any form you like. Just remember that the poem must be 21 lines long and evoke some aspect of the number 21 such as age of majority, or blackjack or 21 ways to… etc. We gave you lots of examples in the contest announcement blog. The contest is free to enter. Deadline is June 30 and the winner will be announced on July 21.

Full submission details here. We look forward to seeing your poem.

Summer 21 Poetry Contest

Summer 21 Poetry Contest

Summer 2021 is just around the corner and following the success of Summer 2020’s Writescape Postcard Story Contest, we’ve decided to run another contest this summer:  Summer 21 Poetry Contest.

Where I grew up, 21 was the age of majority, the day on which you were considered a fully-functioning adult. When I turned 21, I had the traditional big party bash and with appropriate speechifying and good wishes, I was presented with a large brass key – the key to the rest of my life.

Numbers have fascinated and affected people for centuries—superstitions, numerology, feng shui, important dates, rituals and traditions. From nature to metaphysics, gambling to currency to games, the number 21 can be found in all aspects of our lives.

21 Fun facts involving the number 21

  • The total number of spots on a six-sided rolling die is 21.
  • The most commonly recognized gun salute as a military honour is 21-gun salute.
  • The English guinea, used as currency from 1663 to early 1800s, contained 21 shillings.
  • The total number of Bitcoin to be released is 21 million
  • Singer Adele released her album titled “21” in the year she turned 21.
  • “The World” is the 21st card in a Tarot deck, the final card of the Major Arcana.
  • In WW1 Japan sent a list of 21 demands to China over the control of Manchuria.
  • In the USA, the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, thereby ending prohibition.
  • 21 is the atomic number of the rare-earth element scandium.
  • 21 is a “triangular number” because it is the sum of the first six natural numbers (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 = 21) which when represented as dots on sequential lines forms a triangle of six dots each side.
  • In the famous Fibonacci sequence, 21 is the 8th number, lying between 13 and 34
  • Points required to win a game of badminton is 21.
  • According to physician Duncan MacDougal, who weighed patients just before and after death, the weight of the soul is 21 grams.
  • The USA Food and Drug Administration’s Code of Federal Regulations is known as CFR Title 21.
  • 21 is most often the date of the solstices and equinoxes. In 2021 the summer solstice or first day of summer is June 20.
  • The Kurdistan flag features a sun in its center with 21 golden rays radiating from it.
  • In the card game Blackjack, anything over 21 is a “bust.”
  • Many song titles include 21 such as Alanis Morissette’s “21 Things I Want in a Lover”.
  • Movies too: “21” (2008); “21 Grams” (2003) and “21 Jump Street” (2012)
  • In Israel, an exemption from military service is known as a Profile 21.
  • In numerology 21 is a number symbolizing inspiration and creative self-expression.

There are, of course, many other ways that 21 shows up in our lives: dates and times, sports shirts, temperature, and addresses ….. and this year 2021!

And what has that got to do with the contest…….?

Contest details

What: Compose a 21-line poem in any form, where the subject matter evokes some aspect of the number 21.

You can use the list above to spark your imagination, or come up with something entirely different.  Your poem does not have to actually contain the words “twenty-one”, although you are welcome to do so. The title is not considered one of the 21 lines.

Your poem must be in English and be your own original, unpublished work. By entering this contest you give us permission to publish your poem should it be one of the top three winners.

Deadline: Midnight, Wednesday, June 30, 2021 (12:00 midnight. EST)
Winner and runners up will be announced on July 21. 2021.

Prize: We’ll publish the winning poem and 2 runners-up here in Writescape’s The Top Drawer weekly blog, along with your bio and a friendly interview on what inspired your entry. Bragging rights!

Judges: Gwynn and Ruth. And we might invite one more judge to join us — someone to balance out the panel.

Who: Open to writers age 16 or up at any stage of the writing process: published, unpublished or in-between.

How to Submit: 

  • by email to info@writescape.ca with your entry attached as a Word document (.doc or .docx) in 12 pt. MS font. (e.g. calibri, Arial, TNR)
  • Email Subject Line: [Your last name] Summer 21 Poetry Contest
  • As this is poetry, DO NOT DOUBLE SPACE. If your poem uses a format that includes specific spacing within lines, please also attach a PDF, so we can see how you want your poem to sit on the page. 
Visual Poetry

Visual Poetry

Gwynn Scheltema

Coming out of an oral tradition, poetry leans heavily on sound and syntax to carry its message and to make it memorable. Poetry also paints word pictures through images, and creates sound patterns in your head through meter, rhyme and other sonic devices.

But how poetry is presented on the page plays a part too. Mass access to printed poetry on the page is fairly new in historical terms, but that transition opened up a whole new—or should I say additional— way of engaging with poetry and new visual forms.

Poetry in shapes

Most of us were introduced to concrete poetry in elementary school. We were asked to “make shapes” with the words on the page so that the shape gave a clue to the meaning.

Although the term “concrete poetry” is a modern term from the days of ee cummings and Ezra Pound, the concept of shaping the visual form of the poem to enhance the meaning goes way back.  In Alexandria copies survive from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Simmias of Rhodes wrote a poem in the shape of an egg, and Theocritus shaped his poem like panpipes. In 1633, George Herbert wrote (among others) “Easter Wings” in the shape of angel’s wings.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is easter-wings.jpg

Here a 1966 poem by John Hollander, “Swan and Shadow” shows how complex and rigid the form can be, and “My Lolipop” written by an elementary student shows how playful and free it can be.

Blackout poetry

Shape is also important as a statement when poetry and visual art collaborate. Blackout poetry is an example of this—and lots of fun to do.

In this form of “found poetry”, take an existing page of text, a newspaper article, a pamphlet, a performance program, a letter, the page of an old book, or even an existing poem. Identify anchor words within the text and then “blackout” the remaining words with a marker, leaving a new poetic message on the page. If the message can interact with the original text, all the better.

Of course, although the original redaction method popularized by Austin Kleon, involved using a black marker and literally blacking out text, the form has evolved now to a much wider collaboration of visual art and text. Who knows what might come next, especially in our animated digital world.

Erasure

This form of visual poetry is similar to blackout poetry, except that not just words, but even single letters are retained and left in their original place, but the rest is “erased”.

The result is a visually confusing form that forces the reader to piece the remnants together as they read and allows time to dwell on the message of the new poem. It plays with white space, allowing meaning to bubble up as much from the negative spaces as from the words. Like all found poetry, there are also endless deconstructive possibilities if the texts used are well-known or weighty in terms of issues or political or religious texts.

Haiga

Another form of poetry/visual art collaboration is the Japanese form “haiga”. In this form, a haiku interacts with a painting. The aim is not to present the same message, but to juxtapose or contradict, or create a synergy where one expands the other. Haiga enriches the already inherent aspect of the haiku tradition where the last line plays one idea or image against another.

Here is an example from the famous poet Matsuo Bashō with an image by Kawanabe Kyōsa :

on a withered branch
a crow is perched
an autumn evening

枯朶に  烏のとまりけり  秋の暮

kare eda ni
karasu no tomarikeri
aki no kure

The image was painted by Kawanabe Kyōsa (1831 – 1889) but Bashō’s poem was written in 1680, when he was living in Edo (Tokyo) and teaching poetry. How the painting interacts with the haiku is explained beautifully here.  

Graphic Poetry

In Western culture, poetry has often been illustrated, especially in children’s anthologies. Graphic poetry goes one step further, using visual images to bring the poem to life visually as an aid to understanding. Dr. Seuss immediately comes to mind.

This form is not limited to poetry for children, however. Several of Richard H. Fay’s poems in Abandoned Towers are good representatives of graphic poetry.

Motion Poems

For me, one of the most exciting new ways to present poems, is what is being called a “motion poem” These poetry films came out of a collaboration between filmmaker Angella Kassube and poet Todd Boss in 2008.  Their company Motionpoems, pairs video artists with poets to produces films, multimedia installations, pop-up programs, and television documentaries.  The process always beings with the poem.  Watch a sample at their website.

Last word

As someone who loves to dabble with visual art as much as write poetry, I hope the collaboration of poetry and all things visual will continue. I still cherish the experience of sitting quietly with a poem on the page, but opening other avenues for experiencing poetry can only be a good thing. A wider way of sharing the poetic word.

And to this end, I decided to give it a try. Here is my first feeble attempt at reading and illustrating one of my poems, titled Un/natural World.

Tasting Poetry

Tasting Poetry

Gwynn Scheltema

Taste is an involving sense, an immediate sense, a memory triggering sense, and because it revolves around something we all do—eat—we can use it in our writing to connect viscerally with the reader.

Everything Ruth talked about in last week’s post about taste applies to poetry as much as it does to fiction, so in this post, I’m going to share with you how some poets have used food and meals and the rituals around food to draw the reader into their poems.

Trigger emotions

We all have tastes we like and those we don’t: comfort tastes, bad tastes, tastes that make us fearful, tastes that remind us of childhood. Each of these has emotions attached: joy, fear, disgust, nostalgia, longing… The simple detail of food can concentrate the emotion in a poem.

In these two examples, notice the difference in emotions. “Edible Child” is full of love and gentleness; The excerpt from “Feast Days” is lonely and sad. Both draw on our knowledge of the foods mentioned and the state of that food. In the first poem, the tastes are good and sweet and fresh, like the child. In the second, the food is rotting and unappetizing.

EDIBLE CHILD
by Elisabeth Rowe

Sleeping child
I bend to breathe your
melon-scented infant skin,
I taste the soft bloom
on your plum-skin arms,
tickle my nose on the hairs
of your gooseberry legs,
nibble your fillet toes.

Edible child
once upon a time
I heard my mother’s hunger:

I love you so much
I could eat you all up.

Excerpt from FEAST DAYS
by
Annie Dillard

The apples in the cellar
are black, and dying inside their skins.
They pray all night in their bins,
but nobody listens;
they will be neither food nor trees.

Outside the norm

General opinion is often a fickle thing. People who don’t follow the norms tend to be noticed, sometimes mistrusted, or pitied or disliked: eating meat raw, dumpster diving or dumping a full plate of food. Images of baking apple pie or cooking Sunday roast point to family and security and love—unless you create a tension by turning that expectation on its head.

Excerpt from CHRISTMAS EVE: MY MOTHER DRESSING
By
Toi Derricotte

Sitting on the stool at the mirror,
she applied a peachy foundation that seemed to hold her down, to trap her;
as if we never would have noticed what flew among us unless it was
weighted and bound in its mask.

Excerpt from RETROSPECT IN THE KITCHEN
By
Maxine Kumin

After the funeral I pick
forty pounds of plums from your tree…
…stand at midnight…
putting some raveled things
unsaid between us into the boiling pot
of cloves, cinnamon, sugar:

Loves’s royal colour
The burst purple fruit bob up.

The sensory and the sensual

Ah yes! The senses and sex, an inevitable pairing. The hot and the cold.

HONEY
By Gwynn Scheltema

I want to dip you in honey
all stem and skin and juice
dripping
I want to press your flesh to my lips
feel you break in my mouth
like sun through rain

THIS IS JUST TO SAY
By
William Carlos Williams 

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Identity

Excerpt from I’M MEXICAN
By
J Arceo

I’m Mexican.

No, I’m not spicy. Or feisty. Or exotic.

I’m just not bland.

Because my culture is too rich.
Because my hips give in to the beats of a drum.
And my tongue rolls with passion.
Because I come from vibrant colours
And full skirts.
And intricate patterns in my gene pool…

…Because I come from women with rifles and food that
excites you. And the very hands that harvest the land,
hold the very hearts that harvested me.

Meals

Excerpt from EATING TOGETHER
By 
Li-Young Lee

In the steamer is the trout   
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.   
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,   
brothers, sister, my mother who will   
taste the sweetest meat of the head,   
holding it between her fingers   
deftly, the way my father did   
weeks ago.

MUTTON
By
Jonathan Swift

Gently stir and blow the fire,
Lay the mutton down to roast,
Dress it quickly, I desire,
In the dripping put a toast,
That I hunger may remove —
Mutton is the meat I love.
On the dresser see it lie;
Oh, the charming white and red;
Finer meat ne’er met the eye,
On the sweetest grass it fed:
Let the jack go swiftly round,
Let me have it nice and brown’d.
On the table spread the cloth,
Let the knives be sharp and clean,
Pickles get and salad both,
Let them each be fresh and green.
With small beer, good ale and wine,
Oh ye gods! how I shall dine.

Last Word

And to end, here is a fun poem calling you to action:

HOW TO EAT A POEM
by Eve Merriam

Don’t be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that

may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away.

Rhyme Time

Rhyme Time

Gwynn Scheltema

So here we are in Poetry Month once again and Ruth is busy doing a series on the senses, so I thought I’d marry up with that and write a poetry-based blog that speaks to last week’s blog, Can you Hear Me?  Specifically I thought I’d speak to the often heard comment: “Why doesn’t poetry rhyme anymore?”

When someone says that, they are usually referencing the kind of recognizable rhyme we think of associated with Hallmark verse or Robert William Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee.  [no disparaging here, just identification]. Of course, the debate over the merits of “traditional rhyming verse” versus “free verse” continues with no resolution in sight, but given the myriad aspects associated with poetry, it’s interesting that that debate usually centers around rhyme or the lack thereof.

The truth is, free verse is alive with rhyme. All kinds of different rhyme. Let’s take a look.

Traditional rhyme

Rhyme is based on an identity of sound between words or verse-lines, “sound echoes” if you will. Traditional verse relies largely on end rhyme or external rhyme – placing rhyming words at the end of a line:

Lets take the first few lines of Robert Frost‘s famous poem, “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep.”
The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.

In traditional verse forms, the end rhyme is usually organized into rhyme schemes. The rhyme scheme in excerpt above is ababcdcd.

Anything but end rhyme… 

Now compare that with these lines from a “free verse” poem, The Anniversary”, by American poet Ai:

…I’m not afraid of the blade ninja-877220_640
you’ve just pointed at my head.
If I were dead, you could take the boy, ….

There are no end rhymes here, but there is plenty of rhyme nonetheless.  In the first line we see an example (afraid; blade) of internal rhyme – rhyme that occurs within a verse line. As in a lot of free verse, rhyme also occurs from line to line, just not necessarily at the end. (head/dead).

Rhyme, rhyme rhyme….

These are perfect, strict, full, or pure rhymes– the last fully accentuated vowel and end consonant are identical. Be aware that we are talking sound here, not spelling. – cat/hat; tree/bee; fool/mule; tough/huff.

hands-1345059_640Perfect rhyme can be further divided: masculine rhyme, where one final stressed syllable rhymes (sang/rang), and feminine rhyme, where at least two syllables rhyme and the final syllable is not stressed (mo-ther/bro-ther; com-par-i-son/gar-ri-son).

Additionally, Ai’s poem contains slant rhyme (also known as off rhyme, near rhyme, imperfect rhyme or half rhyme) – words whose sounds are closely related but not identical. If the poet plays with consonants at the beginning of words, that’s alliteration; at the end of words, it is called consonance. If the poet plays with similar vowel sounds, it is known as assonance. Blade and head at the end of the first and second lines have the same end consonant sound, although they have different vowel sounds. Other slant rhymes would be bend/hand; home/same; trophy/daffy; fellow/fallow; kind/conned.

Rhyming choices don’t end there. Eye rhyme, for instance, plays with sight, not sound: two words that look like they ought to rhyme, but don’t. (love/move; lull/full; though/cough).

Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, “We Real Cool”, is chock full of rhyme and other sonic devices:graffiti-8391__180

We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Die soon.

I’m sure you’ve already found internal rhyme (thin/gin); and slant rhyme (real/cool). There’s also assonance (sing/sin), alliteration (lurk/late), and consonance (real/cool) and repetition (We). This piece also has para rhyme, or rich consonance, that uses consonant blends and the order of consonants to create sound echoes. (left/late; strike/straight; jazz/die-s).

Conventional verse was primarily rooted in the oral tradition, and rhyme helped us remember the lines. Free verse is largely a written medium, appreciated visually as well as through sound.

Rhyme creates emphasis and structural unity, and draws attention to the relationship between words and thoughts. In Brook’s poem, notice how the absence of repetition (We) in the last line emphasizes the thought that their lives will be truncated too. Good rhyme goes beyond the obvious.

I love rhyme, but end rhyme is my least favourite. In many ways I prefer to discover the patterns and links as I read. When used effectively, I believe rhyme adds to the sensory impact of poetry by creating a pleasing network of related “sound echoes”.

Ragged Company

Ragged Company

Today we invite guest blogger, poet Kathryn MacDonald, to share some thoughts on Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese and his take on how everyone has a story to tell. Kathryn (Kate) reviews books and poetry collections and also blogs on poetry and related topics at her website kathrynmacdonald.com where today’s blog first appeared.

Guest blogger: Kathryn MacDonald

Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese

…the day that’s all around you, is inside you too, and you think that it’s a perfect fit. But you go outside and you walk in your woe. You take it to the streets or the fields or wherever and you walk in it.

This is what you do with yearning.

A book is powerful when it captures emotion, when it stirs memory buried so deep you’re surprised when it surfaces. Ragged Company by the late Ojibway author Richard Wagamese is a powerful story.

The memory Wagamese stirred in me is rooted in a downtown neighbourhood of Ottawa around 25 years ago. Every morning as I walked the few blocks to my office along the river, I passed a man sitting on a worn grey blanket, his back to a wall. In winter, icy wind tunneled through the street. In summer, dust and debris blew relentlessly. I respected his diligence. Some mornings—not every morning—I dropped change into his hat, but whether I did or not, we nodded. Gradually over time, I think we looked for each other.

One morning, he beckoned me to squat down as he unfolded a newspaper. There on his lap was a feather. “A peregrine feather,” he told me. A man had found it—a pair were nesting high on one of the city’s hotel towers—and had given it to him. A hawk feather. A simple, thoughtful act. A smile crinkled his eyes. I felt deeply honoured to be sharing his joy.

A Hard Story

Ragged Company is a hard story told in stark language through the voices of five narrators—four “rounders” of the streets and one “Straight John.” Everyone has a story, and none are as soft as mine. One of the characters, One For the Dead (they each have street names), explains to the “Straight John” the importance stories play in our lives:

“We’re all storytellers, Granite,” I said. “From the moment we’re graced with the beginnings of language, we become storytellers. Kids, the first thing they do when they learn to talk is tell you all about what they’re doing, what they’re seeing. They tell you stories about their little lives. Us, too. When we get together after not seeing each other for a while, the first thing we do is tell each other a story about what we’ve been up to. What we’ve seen, what we did, what we felt and went through. Guess we kinda can’t help ourselves that way. It’s who we are.

I won’t go into the plot line of Ragged Company, you can check the cover copy for that, but the themes of loss and yearning and the importance of friendship and respect are particularly interesting as explored by Wagamese.

Although Granite is a retired journalist who knows something about stories, he learns more about others and about himself. He comes to realize a truth:

Beggary. It’s not the sole property of the street people or the ill defined. It’s part of all of us, part of everyone who has ever suffered loss. A handout. It meant something more suddenly. It meant more than the image and the idea of a dirty, wrinkled, weakened hand stretched outward to accept nickels and dimes. It meant every hand extended across the galaxy of separation that exists between all of us.

This is a story about loss of culture, loss of family, loss of love, and loss of self. It is also a story about finding those things within and through the company of others. It is course and tender, brutal and poetic. The sixth narrator—perhaps the voice of Wagamese—is reflective and appears sparingly in offset italic type. It is this voice that introduced the novel and the thread of movies that runs throughout creating insight, magical, empathetic insight.

For the writers among us:

  1. Movies become open doorways to understanding unspoken realities and dreams, catalysts for feeling and for discussion among the unlikely friendships. Whether you write prose or poetry, think about how you open windows and doors for your characters and readers?
  2. We write our myths and legends into our work, sometimes directly as Wagamese does with Ojibway stories, and sometimes subtly written between the lines. Think about your awareness of the stories layered in your writing and what they add to (or distract from) your theme.

Meet Kathryn MacDonald

Photo by Alber Hernandez, Cuba

Kathryn’s poems have appeared in literary journals in Canada, the U.S., Ireland, and England. Her poem “Duty / Deon” won Arc Award of Awesomeness (January 2021).  “Seduction” was shortlisted for the Freefall Annual Poetry Contest edited by Gary Barwin. “Seduction” was published in Freefall (Fall 2020). She has poems forthcoming in The Beauty of Being Elsewhere, an anthology edited by John B. Lee. Her collection, published in 2011, is titled A Breeze You Whisper.

On Chapbooks

On Chapbooks

Gwynn Scheltema

Covid messed with my creative mind back in April, bringing work on my mystery novel to a grinding halt. But the old adage of “when one window closes, another opens” proved to be creatively true for me. I dove back into poetry, which had been languishing somewhere in the back of the closet for some time.

Perhaps this short form was less overwhelming, or poetry was manageable in smaller chunks of time, but I suspect that it was more a case of emotions running higher than usual, and poetry being able to capture that state and be productive. Whatever the reason, the result is a file of 100 finished poems and a second file of about 60 poems in progress. Yay me!

My mission this year is to get an organized submission plan in play while I put together a full-length poetry collection ms. In my researching of current poetry markets, I was surprised at the number of presses that considered chapbooks. Hmmm… a chapbook would be quicker, but how would putting out a chapbook affect my ultimate goal of a full-length collection?

First Book Status

In poetry circles, you only get one “debut” book and there are contests and prizes that “debut” poetry collections qualify for. Fortunately, because chapbooks are considered not-quite-books by the publishing world, they don’t affect this status. Your first full -length collection is considered your debut book.

What makes a chapbook?

One Ticket Five Rides – anthology

Depending on the publisher, the general length runs from 15 to 30 pages of poems. Full manuscripts by comparison run on average between 40 to 80 pages of poems, but can be much longer. Full collections carry an ISBN and are marketed like any other trade book. Chapbooks can be trade books too, but often are part of the zine world, micro presses and self-published. As such, they seldom make it into the usual distribution channels.

Why publish a chapbook?

  • For the unpublished poet, it’s a chance to get publishing creds.
  • The process will prepare you for putting together a full collection.
  • A chapbook is a “safe” way to publish, because the work is not lost. You can publish it again in your collection.
  • You can take risks with a chapbook – give a chance to a new publisher, publish it yourself, create an artpiece.
  • A chapbook can keep you in the public eye in the time between publishing full poetry collections.
  • You need a home for perfectly good orphan poems that didn’t make it into a collection.

What goes into a chapbook?

If you think of a full collection as a bracelet of pea-sized red glass beads, a chapbook is not a ring-sized circle of miniature red beads; a chapbook is one magnificent red glass bead in all its glory, an orb of refracting light admired for its own beauty, whether or not it becomes part of a bracelet another time.

One poet friend embarked on a full-length collection project about a relationship in a particular Ontario locale. Although each poem stands alone, when read in order they tell the story of a summer and the growth and demise of the relationship. However, for a chapbook, she has extracted 15 poems that don’t focus on the relationship and don’t tell the relationship story, but which shed a spotlight on the geographic locale instead.

Another friend entered a chapbook suite in a contest and placed. Subsequently, he included the chapbook suite as one long poem in his full-length collection.

Yet another friend put together a chapbook of poems to raise money to help with her mother’s medical expenses. She wrote in her forward “I thought this chapbook was about my mom. It wasn’t until I put nearly everything together that I realized … it‘s about my experience of mourning the loss of my mother.”

A work of art

Given their small size and tight focus, chapbooks also lend themselves to becoming works of physical art. The chapbook I mentioned earlier about mourning the loss of a mother contained family photos, original artwork by the poet and was handstitched with red thread.

Container Books produce amazingly unique chapbooks that represent the contents: chapbooks as a View-Master reel and viewer toy, as a series of cross-stitch pillow kits, as tincture bottles with the text on the bottle labels. Other publishers offer special papers and bindings as varied and beautiful as the poems themselves.

Small but mighty

I’ve gained a new respect for chapbooks. I always thought of them as a trailer for the main event, but they are an event unto themselves. I think I’ll give it a try.

10 things poets can teach us

10 things poets can teach us

Brevity — economy of words — to say so much with so few words is far more powerful than filling a scene with tonnes of description. It works the same way that bulleted, step-by-step directions work better than long paragraphs of first set out all your tools and triple check that you have everything you need and then open the box and take out the hoozits and then you put the hoozits into the whatzits, turning all the way and making sure you haven’t…etc., etc

Sound – rhyme, near-rhyme, alliteration – our ears are engaged with words that share similar sounds when placed close together or in patterns. Amidst…pussy-willow pads of labs, a sudden set of deer tracks – Barry Dempster 

Repetition — always with a specific purpose to underscore a meaning or idea — your slightest look easily will unclose me / though i have closed myself as fingers,  e.e.cummings

Ideas have power — taking us to places in unexpected ways excites our imaginations — To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower… Wm Blake

Imagery — picture words are effective to convey far more Who made the grasshopper…who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down… Mary Oliver

Structure — the scaffolding on which a poet hangs their words — just as any genre of prose has expectations and writers work with and, often, challenge those expectations, poets take familiar forms and upend them. 

Risk — poets, like all artists, take risks with more than just structure. Cowboy Poetry is a venerable form, evoking images of the Old West, cattle drives and breaking wild horses.  But modern Cowboy Poetry can be a different story: …the bridge abutment already signed
with 4 white crosses for those who did not
quite
       make
             this
                curve
because of booze, because of snooze…Paul Zarzyski

Symbolism — it’s like holding a flash card designed to evoke meaning, a symbol instantly takes us places. Consider a flag — now make it a white flag — now a Confederate flag — now a nation’s flag upside down — it is still a flag but each time, symbolizes something different. Where the flag is placed can change the symbol it represents. Is it tattered and falling from dying hands? Is it held high during an attack? Is it being consumed by flames on a roadway?

Pacing  – Use long languid lugubrious multisyllables with loads of vowels to slow the reader or short sharp words with hard consonants to pick up the pace. Somnolent through landscapes and by trees / nondescript, almost anonymous, …P. K. Page

Breaks – line breaks, stanzas, dashes all signal to the reader to notice, to pause and let what has just been said sink in and prepare for a new thought. Writers have similar signals at their disposal: white space when changing POV, time or location; paragraphs, chapters or a statement all on its own line.

Using Facebook to submit

Using Facebook to submit

Writescape’s summer contest is over, but for writers, the process of submitting is never over. We’ve noticed on Facebook, that Writescape Retreat alumnus Lisa Reynolds has been submitting relentlessly, and succeeding! Her poem “Midday in a Café” was accepted by the online literary journal, Loud Coffee Press, and her entry was chosen by PonderSavant.com for its One-liner Abound contest.

Not just that, but she has had works published or accepted by intriguing sources: groups that fight world hunger, or support women’s issues or an international online Berlin-based arts/cultural/politics magazine called The Wild Word.

So we asked her: How do you find all these interesting markets? How do you pick the ones that work for you?

Guest Blogger – Lisa Reynolds

I used to scan the internet for hours, trying to locate reputable contests, blogs, journals and other places to send my work. This strategy was not only draining but time consuming. I ended up submitting short stories and poetry I already had on file instead of writing fresh pieces which were more in line with the aesthetic and vision of the magazines, anthologies and online publications I sought publication in.  

When rejections came back, I knew I had to change things up before my self-confidence plummeted and I stopped submitting altogether.

This is when I decided to use Facebook as a resource to find submission options.

A Wise Decision

I’m happy to say it was a wise decision. In the past three months, ten of my works have been accepted for publication. Although I am no expert, I increased my chances of success with these five steps:

  • Join Facebook Groups

I am a member of Facebook groups that post poetry and writing contests. Some of these groups are Public while others are Private, requiring three to five basic questions be answered prior to acceptance.

Although I initially found the high number of members in these groups intimidating (for instance, the Calls for Submission Group has 65K private members), I didn’t let fear of competition deter me from joining. I focused on the positive, believing the popularity of these groups meant they were credible.

  • Be Selective

When perusing markets posted in these groups, I was able to quickly eliminate those that didn’t appeal to me because of the type of literary form, theme, requirements in terms of length, and/or deadline.

After saving my preferred choices in my Facebook portfolio, I created an Excel spreadsheet so I had a tangible list on hand. Then I focused my energies on reviewing the submission guidelines for each choice in detail.

  • Do Your Research    

Reducing my longlist of submission options to a manageable shortlist was easier than I expected.

With more time available to research past issues of magazines, read previous contest winners’ works and check out blog archives, I was able to determine whether my writing fit their preferred style and had a chance of being accepted.

  • Find Your Personal Fit

It wasn’t long before I noticed my selections gravitated towards certain publishers: those that published works that related to my themes of interest, particularly social justice.

This led to self-reflection and the realization that I wanted to write about issues that mattered to me. I wanted to be a small part of supporting charities, saving wildlife, fighting hunger, feeding the homeless, advocating for children and women in crisis, and other social justice issues. When I write about these issues, I believe my voice is sincere and authentic. Perhaps that is why they been have been chosen for publication.

  • Share with other writers

Having a target list of places to submit to and constant deadlines keeps me writing regularly. But for me, the most exciting part is the domino-effect of sharing. This mindset has helped me remain humble and committed to my writing practice.

I regularly post on my Facebook page to encourage others to submit, and I am overjoyed when I receive messages from writers saying, “Did you see this one?” It’s a wonderful feeling to share and celebrate our successes together.

Using Facebook as a resource to locate contests and other markets has worked for me. I hope it works for you too.

Below are a few links to groups that you may find helpful. Good luck!

Lisa Reynolds is a teacher, writer, and proud member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region, Ontario. Her poetry and short stories are published in several print and online publications. She lives in a waterfront community east of Toronto.