Tag Archive | journaling

Poetry Part 2: So What’s Behind All Those Stanzas Anyway?

Old Letters & Quill: Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Old Letters & Quill: Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Attention all you future William Wordsworth’s and Robert Frost’s … Emily Dickinson’s and Sylvia Plath’s … Shel Silverstein’s and Amy Lowell’s – I know you’re out there! And whether or not you agree that you have it “in you” to be a great poet, let’s take a look at what comprises poetry and what draws us to it. Time spent exploring poetry is certainly enriching time spent “off the merry-go-round!”

In “Poetry Part I: What Is Poetry – Exactly?” we explored the “definition” of poetry, as well as what constitutes a poem. When you hear the word poetry, what goes through your mind? You might have a fixed idea in your head about what that means. But did you know that there is a whole world of different types of poetry out there just waiting to be explored – by you!

Here in Part 2, we will look at what draws us to certain kinds of poetry – why one poem might “speak to us” over another, as well as why someone might want to use poetry as a form of expression. We will then explore the more popular and familiar forms of poetry, and discover the first step toward composing a basic poem.

One of my favorite, albeit quirky, poets is E.E. Cummings. I think my enjoyment of his poetry stems from the memory of when he was introduced to me. The summer after I graduated from high school I had to have all four of my wisdom teeth removed – at once. Needless to say, later in the day following the surgery I didn’t feel that well. So my mother came to my bedside and read to me. She read Cummings’ poem, “in Just.” I took to it immediately and have read it many times since then. I explored and read other poems by Cummings. One I also enjoy is, “I Carry Your Heart with Me,” and it reminds me of what perhaps my mother thinks when she remembers my father who recently passed away.

I know why I like this poet and these two poems in particular. However, it is not as easy for me to express why I like Robert Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” These are two of my favorites by this poet, yet exactly what makes them so and why they are the two poems I think of when I think of Robert Frost I don’t know. I think perhaps it is his use of language – and this just illustrates that sometimes the answers to these questions about poetry are unclear. Rather, the reason may be simply “because.”

When you begin to read poetry, you will inevitably be drawn to certain styles of poetry, and authors whose work just “speaks to” you.  (Snowy Forest - image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

When you begin to read poetry, you will inevitably be drawn to certain styles of poetry, and authors whose work just “speaks to” you. (Snowy Forest – image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Many of you may have a favorite poet as well – an author whose prose simply “speaks to” you, though you may not even know exactly why. The why it does, however, is not as important as that you have found a poet and a style of poetry that you enjoy, as well as one that you can relate to as you read his or her work.

There are so many types of poetry that exist (and are still being created!) that it is nearly impossible to summarize and categorize them all, and some can be quite complex. However, there are more well-known, popular, and familiar forms you can learn to compose.

Categories of Poems

I.  Formal or Traditional

Some fixed forms such as sonnets (of which Shakespeare composed many) or limericks (remember Edward Lear?) have very specific line counts, rhythmic patterns and rhyme schemes. Other forms are classified by their use of different kinds of “constraints” – such as repeating end words, or words that repeat later in the poem.

II.  Free Verse

Free verse poems are very common today; and are less complex and easier to compose. They don’t have specific fixed rules in terms of line count, and rhythmic patterns or rhyme. In fact, most free verse poems actually don’t rhyme. Although some free verse poetry does incorporate a few traditional elements (e.g. alliteration), and can use rhythmic patterns and rhyme, there is no specific rule it must rely on to do so. Free verse poetry also relies on line breaks, which can be broken in different places to emphasize different words in the poem and create different meanings. The best part? The format of free verse poetry is determined by the author!

III.  Prose

Prose poetry combines elements of prose and poetry into one “hybrid form.” It doesn’t use line breaks, however does use a lot of the same techniques as free verse: alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme, and poetic imagery.

IV.  Experimental

Some types of poetry step in an entirely different direction and therefore are classified as experimental poetry. An example is “Oulipo” which uses different types of formulas and constraints to create new poems. For example, the author of this type of poem might take a poem that already exists, and replace each noun with a different noun from the dictionary. Pretty wild!

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The best way to get started writing poetry is to read poetry. Of course, you may find a few forms of poetry more enjoyable to read than others, yet the important thing is just that you are reading. This allows you to immerse yourself in the language and form used, and perhaps soon find that words in a certain form begin flowing naturally for you as you begin to compose.

As a lover of poetry, and a writer of poetry, I often look online for poetry websites. I recently came across a wonderful site that I think you will really enjoy checking out! Family Friend Poems is a simple, yet popular site for contemporary poetry published on the Internet. There are thousands of poems organized by themes, and the site prides itself on being different from other poetry websites. Family Friend Poems publishes contemporary poems not already posted on the Internet, though only after they know they are well-liked by their audience. Posted poems are enhanced by the stories of many readers facing similar life events. Once a poem is published, the site uses feedback from ratings and sharing metrics to ensure that published poems are meeting the readers’ needs.

What I really like about this site is that the writers are “everyday” people – who just happen to enjoy creating and writing poetry. Poetry is such a wonderful way to express everything from a simple topic that amuses the author, to some of life’s most powerful experiences and the deep emotions that accompany them. I think of writing poetry almost like making a short journal entry.

When you visit a particular subject matter on the site, it takes you to an introductory page that explains the general topic, or theme, for each poem categorized there. For example, an excerpt from the section on “Nature Poems:”

Whether one is watching a thrilling thunderstorm or looking up at a mighty tree, the experience of nature is one of awe. One cannot help but marvel at the intricate design of a single leaf, or the roar of a great waterfall. Time spent in nature is time spent realizing that you don’t know it all and that you never will…

Preceding each poem, the author then offers a brief summary as to why they wrote the poem; as well as perhaps how they got into writing poetry. I came across what I thought is a beautiful poem about nature called “May’s Spring Days” (© Hemakumar Nanayakkara). Here is the first stanza:

Over the distant mountains morning breeze blows
Humming through robust beech birch and oak trees
Evergreen pines whistle to the tune of nippy breeze
Group of songbirds sing delightful springtime Songs

Willow Catkin - Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons by Aka

Willow Catkin – Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons by Aka

Reading the writing of others will enhance your own. Reading this poem in its entirety got me thinking about nature which I enjoy most in springtime and the warmer weather it brings. For me, it is a time of renewal. The more poems about nature I read from this site, the more the writing spirit inside me stirred.

Once you have immersed yourself in the writing of other poets (and not necessarily well-known ones), the more you too will find the words to express how you are feeling … about anything that is on your mind! Another way you can get started writing poetry is to immerse yourself in experiences. Simply put – get out there! Even a quiet walk in a light, soft rain can spark a creative feeling; and what you see and feel around you can bring those descriptive words to mind.

Do you have what it takes to write a poem? We’ll find out in Part 3! In the final part of our poetry series, we will learn specific ways how to write poetry – even if you have never composed a poem before. Additionally, I will share a poem I wrote, as well as how I got the idea for my poem.

In the meantime… Share your favorite poems and/or poets with us. Feel free to offer any tips for writing poetry that you have found helpful – you may just read them in part 3!

Write Away! : “How to Journal” Part Two

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Photo Credit: Flickr.com, by buechertiger

Photo Credit: Flickr.com, by buechertiger

There are many reasons why people keep journals and it only takes a few moments to “get something off your chest,” reach a decision, record a special time, or capture a moment. You need not be a “good writer;” journaling is a relaxed activity. Our blogger, Karen, even likened blogging to a more modernized approach to writing!

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In Part One of this series (Click here to read Write Away: “How to Journal” Part One), we gathered the materials we need to get jump-started on our way to journaling. Then we looked at where, when, and how to begin recording our thoughts. Finally, we set about starting our writing from lists and “seed phrases.” ‘CCBLITTLE’ shared that she tries to write every morning before the rest of her family wakes up because it helps her start the day feeling more connected than if she just rushes headlong into her to-do list.” She also keeps a stack of favorite books nearby to “seed” her thoughts when she wants to be a bit more introspective.

Now, here is additional inspiration and suggestions for getting your thoughts flowing and down on paper! I pick up with #4 of 5 components to the journaling process.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” H.D. Thoreau, Author/Poet/Philosopher

4) More Inspiration

Looking/staring at a treasured object or an old photograph may bring inspiration. All objects have a story. You can create a ‘structure’ around which to write about them – a time period, details, people present around you. These are your memories … a link between past, present, and future.

*Your Turn: Go on a “treasure hunt” around your home – I guarantee you’ll find something to write about!

Many different stories can come from the same object, experience, or picture. Additionally, just one of those can trigger many memories surrounding it. It can further jump-start our writing on many different topics – all stemming from that one thing or experience.

Looking at objects or pictures is also a useful tool by which to trigger our memories and can even give us a great story idea. By using “clustering,” or story mapping, we can generate a list of ideas that can lead us to individual stories or one story which is a composite of those stories mingled together.

*Your Turn: Take a blank piece of paper and draw a circle in the center. Now draw several connecting lines outward from the perimeter to other circles. Leave room inside each circle to list a few words. In the center circle list the name of the object or picture you chose. In each of the outlying circles, list a word or even a few words that come to mind as you look at it. Be sure to use your 5 senses if you have an object! There it is … the beginnings of your story!

You can also create a timeline as inspiration for writing about a specific time in your life if that is the direction your journaling is taking you. Throughout our lives, we experience events and happenings that shape us. Some are dramatic – a loss, a powerful life lesson. They impact us not only in that moment but over time as well, and change us and our lives permanently, whether for better or for worse. Some are less notable – simply a brief “Ah ha!” moment that we process quickly and take with us on the rest of life’s journey. Often these experiences confront us with a decision to be made – a ‘right or wrong,’ a ‘left or right.’ And these turning points can be major or minor. They can have a big impact on our lives or a small one.

Turning Points can be categorized and broken down into three general life stages:

Childhood (birth to approximately 12 years old)

Adolescence (approximately 13 – 21)

Adult Years (21 to present)

Personal narratives can be generated from any of the ways you get your ideas. As you go through your life, you are always writing “the next chapter.” All of your experiences and interactions (no matter how seemingly small and insignificant) are part of, and have a place in, your story. All of us have a story to tell – one that is important and valuable.  If we leave our stories untold, we may never know what kind of a lasting impact they can have on someone’s life outside of our own.

*Your Turn: Choose one timeline from above to write about. Try to write uninterrupted for at least 15 minutes.

The World is a great book, of which they who never stir from home read only a page.” St. Augustine, Scholar/Philosopher

5) Some Final Seeds and Lists for the road!

Seeds:

For once in my life…                           A current obsession

A childhood pleasure …                    Once upon an autumn time

A road not taken…                              A favorite meal

Once I traveled…                                At this very moment

*By taking a Seed and “entering into the scene” we have an opportunity to expand on it. As an example, use one of the following Seeds. Remember to use vivid imagery!

My mother gave me

An old pair of shoes

Waiting

*Nouns preceded by an adjective can also serve as a Seed:

The gold leaves

The empty bowl

Lists:

I delight in…                                     I like most to…

Home is…                                          All things chocolate…

You should be off to a good start now!  

Feel free to share more of your journaling time ideas with us – we’d love to read them!

In one of my previous blogs, “It’s the Little Things That Matter,” I promised I would show you the last page of the journal I kept while at a remote ecumenical retreat center in Wyoming. As you can read, below, this was a time of great upheaval and pain in my life, yet I found that attending a spiritual retreat and journaling about my experience brought a sense of healing and closure so I could move on with the next chapter in my life.

Here it is – enjoy your writing time!

The culmination of a powerful and healing retreat

The culmination of a powerful and healing retreat