Monday, June 1, 2015

June 1 -- Starting Your New Poetry Collection

I was talking to a number of my former students who have gone out and started their careers. They all had the same complaint. They love to write, but they were having a hard time doing it because their lives were getting in the way. Without the schedule of a deadline, it was harder and harder.

I understand that completely. It's hard to find time to write, but when you sit down, coming up with something to write often takes all of your creative energy. That's why I'm taking on this project.

I have been teaching creative writing for twenty years now, and I have plenty of prompts waiting for someone to use them. We're going to work in terms of the collection instead of individual poems and stories. Poets and writers tend to produce much better work that way.

The idea is that if you follow the prompts for a month, then you will have a chapbook collection by the end of the month.

This is going to be a lot of fun, and you're going to do the work that you've always wanted to do. Send them to the magazines that I suggest, and I bet that you're going to publish some work!

Check out The East Jasmine Reivew


  1. good times!


    On a swing. Alone because
    The cousin has gone inside
    For some reason. She is my only
    Relative who is my age that
    I know about and I trust her
    Because she knows about grass
    And going barefoot. I point my toes
    To go up on the swing. Lean back
    She showed me this. And then I carefully
    Jump off… a skill I just learned.
    I have never seen night come in over
    The houses, til now. The grass grows cold
    Under my feet and there are the sounds of
    Other children playing in other yards.
    A star, two stars. Then the older cousin
    — The mother of the one I was just talking about —
    Calling me.
    I linger and wonder what it would be like to
    Play outside all the time and to never wear
    Shoes and to see time pass and be alone
    But also be

    1. Wow! That's quite a first memory of the outside. At night too. Must have really filled up your senses. This is a great poem by the way. East Jasmine might love it.

    2. nice. now I want to write about a swing - I think I could write at least two.


    3. Without having wondered why
      I reached the top gasping
      Lungs pulling, muscles burning
      Spitting lactic acid strings

      The stone dome shiny gray from countless feet
      Among them mine so many times
      Up and down the crude cleaved steps
      With uncounted breathless words

      And I have seen this path from the base at dawn
      White sun burning in sand-fire striations
      Imbuing every facet and fault with universal gravity
      Until this final climb

    4. I thought i was going to recognize yours. I don't. Is this Moro rock. Anyway, strong poem! Going into deep memory is so powerful.

  2. Dreamstate

    Every inch of
    the backyard
    has to be covered.

    It’s night, everyone
    is in bed and
    here I am

    barefoot in my PJs
    crisscrossing the

    consumed with an
    impossible task.
    Awake or asleep

    I don’t know.
    how long will
    a ten year old

    have to do this,
    The rest of my life?
    I am exhausted.

    I stop, give up
    my impossible task

    1. anxious-making! interesting how that backyard at night can be such different things to different brains.

    2. yes. interesting we chose backyard at night. I'm sure I had another outside first memory, but this one is the most powerful, and defines me the most.

    3. Yeah, that's a really powerful one. It really dredged up emotions for me.

  3. “Banishment”

    A toy set of tools
    All bright colored plastic

    Hammer and saw
    Screwdriver and hatchet

    With two or three blows
    I chopped down a small sapling

    (The hammer or the hatchet;
    Plastic saws are worthless)

    I spent a week thereafter
    Though it felt more like forever

    Looking out a back window
    As from a prison tower

    At the bare swath of green
    All that wide, open green

    Where I sowed my first seed
    Of regret

  4. good one. I like the "hammer or the hatchet" line, although I may not be objective...

  5. I like the poem and the structure you've set up here too. Really good stuff. This is a really sweet memory!

  6. First day of School

    It was the first time I had walked alone
    me and my blue corduroy dress
    the one with the embroidered red apple
    and bright yellow pencil

    I stomped down the steep concrete steps
    toting a plush Wonder woman lunch box
    the morning sun glowing in my pig tails
    and reflecting off my patent leather shoes

    The walk to the bus stop was a short one
    just over a small grassy hill
    the dew clung to my neatly cuffed socks
    and speckled the backs of my legs

    When I got to the street it was crowded
    there were four other children there waiting
    nervously lined up boy-girl, boy-girl
    and me

    I looked back at my apartment
    just one of many two-story towers
    as the breeze lifted up my small white collar
    I saw my mother waving, and smiled

    When the bus came we all piled on
    I sat near the middle by the window
    my hands wrung with a five year olds anticipation
    in the lap of my blue corduroy dress

  7. i love that image of your mother waving!

    1. I really was terrified til I saw her.... Kindergarten, the struggle is real!

    2. Great poem Molly and the details are great. Wonder woman lunch box and mom. That's great!

  8. A thousand knives stuck in me.
    How could this happen?
    The pain was frightening;
    I hurt in so many places.
    Where were my guards, my protectors?
    I screamed, and screaming made the hurt worse
    Because it made me move.

    Then my parents came and pulled me
    Out of the rose bush.

    1. Yikes. Those first memories are always extreme. Good or bad. They're magic

  9. Lucerne Valley, CA

    Rocks...dirt or is this called sand?
    Its so different than Pomona or Ontario.
    This dirt is light and gets in the eyes.
    Talk about seeing through rose-colored glasses.
    Blackey, my new or rather, recently acquired dog (I don't know who he belonged to before me) tags along behind me,
    He's so quiet.
    Why doesnt he bark?
    I wait to hear him...nothing. So I learn to be content with our silent understanding; our bond.
    I'm 6 years old so I get distracted by all the new territory.
    Blackey is so quiet that I forget he's there.
    He goes wherever I go though, so loyal.
    The air smells fresh like nothing I've ever experienced before.
    I learn the pleasant scent does in fact come from a certain kind of bush that only grows around there.
    Like fragrant fire if fire could smell green.
    I didnt know about Hell then. But everyone called Lucerne, Hell. I didn't know why because I liked it.
    I felt free.
    it was like a place where Heaven and Hell met because I hated my stupid new teacher, what a witch, the worst bitch Mrs. Smith, she was a hateful and loathed thing.
    But the place itself was peaceful and tranquil.
    It's time to go back home Blackey, I thought.
    It had started to get cold and a little scary.
    This lone feeling was new and exciting but it really was quite terrifying.
    I felt safe after I finally got inside.
    But i knew things would never be the same again.

    1. Corrina, you're really growing as a poet. I love that image of your dog too. It's a child's understanding of canine-ness. It great.

    2. That means so much coming from you, Mr. Brantingham. He was a unique little dog lol.

  10. i like "screaming makes it worse" because it makes you move!

  11. Gayle Taylor Davis

    Growing Up Sardine
    ( In a fish eat fish world)

    You've seen 'em,
    flat-topped silver cans,
    with the peel-back lid,
    and inside, packed fin-to-fin,
    slick, scaled bodies tucked head to tail,
    schooled to be wise in the sea of sharp-hooks

    'course they called it a trailer, same thing,
    if you understand fear,
    with its thin metal skin, and a flip-back door,
    we piled in each night, and locked out the world
    Go out alone?
    That was strictly forbidden,
    for outside in the day or the dark didn't matter
    there were thugs and gangsters trawling for trouble,
    a girl could get eaten, swallowed up whole
    outside alone

    But the outside I saw when I looked through the glass,
    isn't something I missed or wanted at all,
    just a patch of cement, a single old faucet,
    a thatch of scrub grass the size of a man
    But tucked safe inside, with a book in my hand,
    was a two-story house, a thicket of roses,
    cookies to bake, a piano to play,
    alone in a book

    It was that first precious book, then others that followed,
    that gave me the gift of going outside,
    alone in the air with its fragrance of jasmine,
    the sky the color of starflowers in spring
    it was laying myself in the first dust of snowfall,
    feeling its bite at the back of my neck, where
    I discovered that books, like fish in the ocean,
    swim all together in schools of their own,
    and if you are brave, you can swim out to join them,
    but first the rule of swimming is you must
    go out alone

    I'm brave now most often, at least that's what I'll tell you,
    but nature remembers the waters I swam,
    and sometimes something simple as taking out garbage,
    can bring back the fear of the outside alone.
    The dank smell of salt air, the sweet taste of plankton,
    they rise up to haunt me, then turn me to stone,
    I think of that can, flat-topped and silver, of sardines
    and fins, packed with heads to tail-fin,
    and I remember all of us, tucked inside that trailer,
    the door fastened tight to keep out the night,
    I remember sleeping, head to feet with my sisters,
    was the safest I felt all the whole of my life.

    1. That is beautiful. "first rule of swimming is you must / go out alone." I love that!

    2. The progression of this poem was a surprise, and I absolutely loved it.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Single Mother 25
    My days were long at Big Pine Lodge, where mom worked summers serving tables and hung out in the bar when work was through.
    There were no other children to play with, but I was never really alone.
    Instructed to stay close but not get in the way, I moved silently from the bar to the kitchen to the porch to the dining room, observing the adults and looking for ways to be entertained.
    One day Roy Rogers and Dale Evans rode up on horseback to have lunch, and they let me pet Trigger.
    A man in the dining room told me I could catch the deer out in the meadow by sprinkling salt on their tails. I ran, salt shaker in hand, the few feet that it took for them to spring back into the forest; oh, how he laughed.
    Mom bathed me in the giant tub of a kitchen sink, looking over her shoulder for the Health Department.
    I had two friends, Guy and Lucky, both 18, who also worked there.
    During the afternoon lulls, Guy taught me to jitterbug to Elvis Presley playing on the jukebox. I wasn’t sure who I loved more, Guy or Elvis.
    When I fell asleep by the stone fireplace that heated the bar on chilly nights, Lucky carried me to my cabin and put me in my bed. This was so my mom could stay and laugh and dance and leave red lipstick on her whiskey glass. I wasn't sure who I loved more, Lucky or Guy.
    And I cried the day they left, walking down the road, waving goodbye, on their way to enlist in the army.
    I followed them until they hollered for me to go back, but I didn’t go back.
    Instead I turned into the woods, making my way quietly across the leaf litter. I was scared, but I wanted to prove that I would be OK without them. I heard the soft buzz of gnats in my ears and tasted the air so dry on my tongue. I watched the ground for rattlesnakes the way I’d been told, but I never saw one.
    Then the soft buzz grew louder, a huge fly calling my attention up up up through the tall trees, tilting my head back, squinting against the sun, until I realized that it was a plane coming in low overhead.
    Sweating, slipping on pine needles, I ran as fast as I could back to the lodge, into the kitchen, into my mother’s arms.
    “Mom, the Germans are coming!” I panted.
    “Honey,” she laughed, “that’s a guy I know who owns a plane. Next time wave to him - he’s just flying over to say hello.”
    After that, I was not so afraid to venture out a bit into the forest. And when I heard a plane overhead, I waved.

    1. That's a really powerful short short. Lucky and guys are great characters.

    2. "the germans are coming!!!!" i love that moment!

    3. Most young people today would be like, "Huh?" But it was 1955 and the war still seemed very recent to the adults whose words stayed in my young mind!

  13. Stephanie,here is a swing poem.

    Backyard Swing

    you have to go so
    high until you reach
    the slack then fly

    and now can
    write with
    both hands

    and still can
    feel the pain the
    sweat the itch

    remember all the
    tattoo names written
    on your arm

    you smile

  14. The Lottery
    Grass spared the mower for weeks,
    Strawberries next to uneven sunflower rows.
    I approach my grandmother, a ruddy giant in a sunhat:
    “What’s that?”
    “Gathering snails,” she says.
    “You can help me with something,” she says.
    She sets me up with two rocks, the growing pile
    of empty shells and
    then goes inside to check on a cake, muffins,
    her quilt, lunch, something.
    I am alone with my task,
    my clumsy, juvenile hand grinding
    one rock into the other,
    destroying the snail homes
    so they won’t return to
    feast on her plants. Still,
    I am hesitant everytime
    the jagged rocks terminate
    a graceful nautilus.
    Everytime I breathe a sigh of relief
    when the rocks hold only shards
    and not smears of anything
    but vacancy.

    1. I love the way that ends. Powerful powerful!