Sunday, August 31, 2014

Writing Challenge: Using Synesthesia

Synesthesia is an intuitive connecting of the senses in which one sense is used  to describe another. This might be something not associated with a sense, for example, words used to excite the imagination  -- taste of sweet or sour described as a taste of green.

For each color or texture, list something not associated with color/texture:

Red wind     white memory     smooth love

1. blue                                                  2. orange
3. red                                                   4. velvet
5. satin                                                 6. turquoise
7. opaque                                             8. transparent
9. textured                                           10. rough

Use words not associated with scent

Six fragrances in the sky

11. smell                                               12. aroma
13. bouquet                                          14. fragrant

Name things not connected with sound

Hear heat

15. listen                                               16. hear
17. beckoning                                       18. calling

Use the words listed with things not seen

I looked into the sound of morning.

19. look                                               20. see
21. visualize                                        22. picture
23. gaze

Name things you can not literally touch

Embrace the shadow.

24. feel                                                 25. grab
26. embrace                                         26. caress
27. touch

I hear the wind
washing my hair with icy fingers
clearing away the weight of the day
and rinsing it in the moonlight.
n      Vicky Edmonds Verver


(Note: This was an exercise originally presented to the Guyer Barn Poets in December, 2001)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Notes from a Poetry Workshop

In the summer of 1995, I had the opportunity to take a poetry workshop with Cape poet Donald Baker. For many years, he led a successful workshop at the Brewster Ladie’s Library and was a mentor and friend to many local poets. I recently came across my notes from that long-ago summer class and thought I would share them. There is wisdom and intelligence in his questions and comments.

Questions to ask about (your, our, his, her, my)  poems:
  1. Is it a poem? Or is it an outline, a sketch, an idea for a poem that has yet to be developed?
  2. Is too much jammed into it? Can words, lines, sections be cut without loss and with improvement of the poem?
  3. Are the parts in the best order, or should words, phrases, lines, even whole sections be transposed? Should the first line be the last? Should the last line be the first? Should the first stanza be the last? Or the last the first?
  4. Is the title an integral part of the poem, leading the reader into what follows it?
  5. Are there surprises in the poem? Unexpected words, twists of phrase, juxtapositions?
  6. Is the poem coherent? Does it have a beginning, a middle, and an end?
  7. Does the poem get anywhere? Does something happen in it? Or, when it ends, are you right where you began?
  8. Should the poem be written from another point of view – third person or second person rather than first, for instance?
  9. Does the poem comprise chiefly abstractions? Or does it work through concrete particulars? “No ideas but in things,” said William Carlos Williams.

Would you like some rules? Try these:
Cut, cut, cut
Look for a better word (in pen, I had written concrete, precise)
Get rid of familiar phrases
Change the order of things: words, lines, stanzas, sections
Use images, not statements
Do not say it more than once
Try another point of view
Dramatize: make a place, an event, a speaker
Do not report: invent
Balance on the fulcrum
Keep the good; dump the bad
Listen to the sound the words/lines make
“The language of a poem should be as simple as possible, as clear as possible, and as consistent as possible.” – Donald Baker
“Self-expression is not art.” – Denise Levertov
“The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part: It is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point.” – Annie Dillard

I remember loving this workshop and polishing several poems in the aftermath of taking it. Its lessons still resonate for me to this day.