Creative Poetry Books

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I find it really sad that poetry isn’t more widely read. It was never really that popular among the general public, but it’s gotten worse over the years. Now I feel like the only people that read poetry are other poets. There are a number of reasons, but mainly I think it’s because poetry and poets are often is associated with a high level of pretentiousness. However, there are ways that poetry can be written and published in ways that are creative, fun and accessible. The following are a few examples I’ve found that I think might appeal to a wider audience.

Horror Film Poems

Words by Christoph Paul, Art by Joel Amat GĂĽell

I discovered this gem at last years Brooklyn Poetry Festival. The title really just says it all. A book of poems inspired by the horror film genre. It includes a wide variety of films including some of my favorites. As with the movies themselves some are humorous, dark, and thought provoking. It includes along side the poems illustrations. I have to admit I’m not familiar with all of the titles. But that’s a bonus since now I have a bunch of new movies I’ll have to see. I really think this is the perfect book for anybody that’s a fan of both horror movies and poetry, but could be quite a fun read for horror fans.

Poetry Comics From the Book of Hours by Bianca Stone

I’m not even sure where or how I ended up reading about Bianca Stone, the article was about an upcoming book. Always interesting in new poetry I thought it’d be a good idea to check out her previous work before investing in the new one. Curious about the idea of a poetry comic, I figured I’d give it a try. One of the things I love about poetry is the imagery that it creates so why not combine it with actual images.

The artwork is very simple and raw. In fact the whole book has a draft like quality to it.  Both the poetry and the comics are strange. The illustrations don’t always seem to be related to the accompanying text. In general the whole process of reading the book is very disorienting. But I guess that’s the beauty of it.

 

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

By Lita Judge

The minute I saw this book I was intrigued. Not only do I think she is well deserving of the recognition and should be more widely celebrated, but also the concept is interesting. It’s an illustrated novel in verse about Mary Shelley’s life.  It starts with narration from the monster itself, stating the idea that some people didn’t believe a teenage girl could write the book. (It’s accepted that he edited and assisted in it’s writing but some theorize she was not the actual author at all.) Switching to the voice of Mary Shelley it begins with her father sending her away to live with friends in Scotland. While I knew of her relationship with Percy Shelly and the mythos of the creation of Frankenstein, I learned a lot more specific details. One thing I thought was interesting was the idea that it took as much time to write the book as a woman carries a child, nine months. Though coincidental it related to the central theme of the novel, creating life. Continuing through to the end of her life the book concludes with the monster speaking again, taking us full circle.

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My Latest Obsession: The Verse Novel

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Obviously I’m familiar with the concept of narrative poetry.  Just like many others I was forced to study Homer’s epics in various literature classes over the years. I’ve also attempted and failed several times to tackle Dante’s Divine Comedy. However, the modern verse novel doesn’t seem to have the same notoriety. In fact it wasn’t until recently that I even knew they existed, much less read any. Now I can’t seem to get enough of them.

The most interesting thing I found looking into the genre is that it appears to be a growing trend in young adult literature. In fact, that’s where my obsession began. I happened to pick up a used copy of Ellen Hopkins Crank. When I bought the book I had no idea that it was actually targeted towards teens. I was a bit surprised because of the very adult topics and it’s graphic depictions. It tells the story of a young girl’s addiction to crystal meth. However, being written from a teenagers point of view and the simplistic style of the poetry, I can see how it appeals to younger readers. Hopkins has published several more verse novels including sequels to Crank. All targeted at teens, they take on difficult subjects such as sex trafficking, drug addiction and mental illness. Her simplistic poetry style makes it a pretty easy read.

The next book I enjoyed was Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Another YA book highlighting a difficult issue that can face teens The main character Will is dealing with the grief of his brother’s violent death. The narrative takes place as he descends the elevator of his apartment building on his way to get revenge. On each floor he meets somebody that was part of the cycle of violence that led to his brothers death. The story is incredibly gripping, and I’m fairly certain I finished it in one day.

I promise this is the last YA book. Sister Slam and The Poetic Motormouth Road Trip by Linda Oatman-High was actually my least favorite so far. It definitely felt more like a book intended for a younger audience. It’s a lot lighter in tone and theme. At first I wasn’t sure I would like it at all. It seemed very juvenile, in style and content. It’s a bit silly but that ended up making it a pretty fun read. In it we meet two recent high school graduates who dream of becoming famous slam poets. Their road trip begins with a poetry slam contest in New Jersey and the adventure continues to New York City. The story itself is ridiculous but the rhythm and rhymes really pulled me in.

My latest read was one of the few adult verse novels I could find available at the my library, The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth. Just looking at the first page I realized this was going to be very different. The YA authors played around with form and style. And for the most part, excluding Sister Slam, were written in free verse. Golden Gate on the other hand is written in a consistent form of sonnets in iambic tetrameter with a set rhyme scheme. It makes it no less enjoyable to read, but due to it’s style and much longer length it definitely not a quick read.  I’ve rather been enjoying the slower pace of action. The novel mainly revolves around John and Liz, a couple who met through a personal ad. The narrative then follows a eclectic group of characters connected to the couple.

I’d love to hear back about your opinions on verse novels. I will be on the lookout for new reads in the genre. Actually I already have my next one picked out Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. It’s about a pack of werewolves in LA, a supernatural horror verse novel. Now that sounds interesting. Leave a comment with your thoughts or any recommendations.

 

Words As Weapons

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I know Seether has a lot of critics, mainly because of their unoriginality. And even I have to admit when I first heard this song I thought it was a remake because it sounded very familiar. But I’m still a fan. Maybe they do borrow some elements from older songs but they usually are pretty original with their lyrics. This song in particular includes a part that I think most writers can seriously relate to.

“All I really want is something beautiful to say
To never fade away
I wanna live forever”

In fact that’s likely the exact ambition and motivation for many writers, past and present included.

In case you are wondering, “Mad World” would the the song that it’s eerily similar to. They aren’t exactly identical, identical but they are close enough that I really did think it was a cover.

But that wasn’t really my point here it was simply an observation about he lyrics themselves. Please feel free to comment with any thoughts, I’d love to hear what you think.

Book vs. Movie: The Girl On The Train

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I’d like to say that I went into this with a fresh unbiased perception, but the idea to even read the book and watch the movie was because of what I’d heard about them. While I’d only heard good things about the book, the movie was often criticized. It’s pretty common for readers to dislike and slam movie adaptations. In some cases the criticism is well deserved but many times it’s simply because of deviations from the source material. There’s also the simple truth that it’s pretty much impossible to encompass a novel into a feature length film.

In this case I think the biggest problem is that the story isn’t as exciting or interesting if you already know the ending. The book was suspenseful because it centered around a murder mystery. Personally, I loved the book. It’s a little bit of a slow start but once I got started I finished it in a matter of days. It was structured perfectly to build up to the climax. The changing point of view and back and forth through the timeline helped build the suspense.  The reader is kept in anticipation, while slowly unraveling the chain of events that led to Megan’s murder. It’s told at an excellent pace, revealing just enough to keep you interested while still leading to unexpected twists.

As for the movie, after reading the book the whole mystery aspect is lost making it harder to capture my attention and the suspense of the story. However, I do think the movie could have been better. It didn’t really maximize on the suspense aspect of the story. In the opening scene we already know most of the details of Rachel’s past. In the movie the story seems to go too fast. I also think the structure of the story didn’t translate well on the screen. The nonlinear structure and changes in point of view worked well in the book, it lent to the mystery, dropping clues here and there. In the movie it just didn’t have the same effect. I think one of the biggest problems came at the climax of the story. In the movie it was very abrupt and I didn’t see as much of the foreshadowing we got in the book. I suspect if hadn’t read the book first I might have enjoyed the movie a bit more. Attempting to put my bias aside, I still have to say that the movie could have been better.

Prompt: What Up With This Sign?

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What happened here?

I came across this sign on one of my morning walks. I couldn’t help stop and wonder how this sign ended up like this. So many questions. Was it put up that way? Did it fall? Did somebody do it on purpose? Why hasn’t it been fixed?

Help me come up with some theories. Write a story explaining how, why and maybe even who would do this.

streetsign

I’d love to see what you come up, your story below in the comments.

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When a Prompt Just Isn’t Enough

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There’s no denying the usefulness of writing prompts. They work great as a quick warm up to get your creative juices flowing. I’ve use them to generate new ideas when I have no idea what to write. I can’t count how many of my stories and poems that started as a response to a prompt. Even if you already have a project in mind they can give you a starting point, which for many people that’s the hardest part.

I have a number of writing prompt books, but have started to find them pretty boring. They’re all pretty much the same and usually very simple. I find myself spending more time looking for a prompt than I do actually writing. Lately instead of simple books of prompts I’ve been going for ones that include more involved exercises. While they can include simple prompts they also include activities that are more interactive or push you to find inspiration in new and different places. I’ve listed a few of the books I’ve found especially helpful below.

The Writer’s Lab: A Place to Experiment with Fiction

At first look this doesn’t look like a book for adults, but when you’re getting creative age doesn’t matter. I think this book would be incredible for people of all ages. It includes a range of different exercises, and some of them seem a little childish, but it’s an absolute gem when you want to get the creative juices flowing. They’re fun, different and get you thinking in different ways. I highly recommend it.

 


Now Write!: Fiction Writing Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers

This is just one in the series of Write Now books, all focused on particular genres. I love the way this book is set up. It’s broken up into sections focusing on different aspects of the writing process. The essays offer advice and lessons on a specific concept and an exercise that puts it to use.

 

The Artist’s Way

So this isn’t exactly a book of writing exercises, it’s not even focused on writing, rather it’s focused on expanding creativity. I include it because the exercises and writing tasks help open your mind to finding inspiration in new and different places. It might not directly lead to any new writing but the affirmations and reflective tasks can cause an attitude shift making it easier to focus on projects your already working on.

 

These are just a few I thought of immediately. I’ll update or post a longer list sometime soon.

If Rushdie Can Do It So Can I

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I was first introduced to Salmon Rushdie’s writing in a college course where I read Midnight’s Children. I was immediately a fan. Since then I’ve read several more of his books and attended readings and speaking engagements. I’ve always believed the old adage of learning how to write by reading. But it always felt like a very general concept until I started reading Rushdie. I feel like I’ve learned more casually reading his work than I ever did studying other writers in depth in school. I will likely go on to write more about the things I’ve learned from him and his writing. For now I want to discuss one of the simplest things that has impacted my writing.

One of the things I’ve noticed about Rushdie’s writing is how much he includes from his own life in his fiction. Some of these things are very clear, like basing a major character in Fury on his then wife Padma Lakshimi. But other’s I only realized after reading his memoir, Joseph Anton. Reading it I found several instances of people, events and even dialogue that was very similar, if not exactly the same, to what I had read in his fiction. For example when he relates telling his father he is going to be a writer. Clearly disappointed his father says, “What am I going to tell my friends?” A line that appears in The Satanic Verses. 

There are many more examples, he specifically points out experiences and the stories inspired by them, and characters based on those close to him.  He seems to have no problem using his life and those around him as source material for his writing. This is something I have always struggled with. I never felt right including people or events from my life in my writing and avoided it at all costs. Part of it was insecurity, I don’t even like writing about myself in nonfiction. But really it was self doubt about my ability as a writer. It seems too easy to fictionalize elements of my life and take myself seriously as a writer. I also worried about what other people would think. Like I wouldn’t or couldn’t be considered a good writer if I couldn’t come up with everything in a story from imagination.

It seems like a silly thing to think now. Who exactly would even know how much of what I wrote was real or made up. Well I guess my family and friends, but how many of them are even reading my writing anyway. Inspired by Rushdie I’ve learned to let go of these irrational fears. There is no reason I can’t include elements from my life in my writing. It’s more than likely to improve my writing if I draw from real world experiences and people. And I have had some experiences that would make some pretty interesting stories.

 

Back to Class: Poetry Exercises

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With all the different writing classes I’ve taken over the years, I’ve somehow never taken one on poetry. Which is interesting because my love of writing started with poetry. I very quickly realized it was pretty bad though. In my humble opinion I’ve improved a lot, mainly through reading more poetry and a few instructional texts. I still feel that some more instruction and education on the craft could definitely help me. So I enrolled, for free of course in Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop, an online course conducted by California Institute of Arts.

I’m up to the third week and so far it’s really gone down to the basics. Even with the instructional texts I’ve used in the past, I skipped over a lot of the beginning stuff. I skimmed over a lot of it and skipped almost, if not all the exercises, to get to the parts I thought were really interesting.  Participating in this course, I’m more committed to actually putting in the work, which means doing all the exercises even if they seem juvenile. Here’s a couple I’ve completed so far:

Week one–Poetic Lines

This exercise was for the lessons on lines. The following text was presented in a block of text I had to add in my own line breaks.

tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace

from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time;

and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.

out, out, brief candle! life’s but a walking shadow,

a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage

and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot,

full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The piece is an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Check it out, my version made the lines just a bit longer.

Week Two-Abstraction and Image

For this exercise we were supposed write a poem describing an object. The instructions said to be as literal and vivid as possible, and not to use any figures of speech. Not sure how vivid my image is but I like it. I’ll likely keep working it and who knows where it might end up.

 

Clear glass heavy in my hand.

Filled with dark liquid and ice

popping ever so often

as the whiskey melts it down.

A sip, cold

goes down with a slight burn.

The Mothers of Yernus–Short Story

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What if I told you there was a world where mothers were honored by feasting on a child of their choosing. The savage race of almost humanoid beings on the planet of Yernus, have developed such a tradition. It might seem horrific to advanced and civilized societies like ours. But these beings haven’t, and may never, reach our level of evolution. The toxic environment of the planet has mutated their bodies and minds. Their misshapen bodies appear to be a grotesque mix of apeish humanoid and reptile. They display very little intelligence and are very hostile, even among the small tribes they’ve formed.

Tribes tend to include few males, those not killed in battle for dominance are driven away.  Female numbers vary greatly, averaging about five times the adult males. They mate as you would expect of wild animals, polyamorously and bearing offspring in litters. Each pregnancy produces no less than three and up to six babies. The women of the tribe care for the children communally, many women die in childbirth or for any number of other reasons. Survival on the planet is not easy, many are born with life threatening illnesses, resources and food are hard to find, and their nomadic life can quickly wear down the body. Only half of the babies will survive past five years of age, and only one in five will make it to adulthood.

At some unknown point in time it appears that rather than waiting for nature to take it’s course they began sacrificing the weakest born. Though savage and primitive in its nature it does show some progress towards a cultured society, with customs dictated by a belief system. In fact, to watch as they choose the child and prepare it for the evening feast, it mimics sacred religious ceremonies. The chosen children and the mothers bathe together before the tribe gathers to form a sacrificial circle. One at a time the children are led to the middle where the dominant male slits their throat. The males, as usual, build a large fire, butcher the bodies and cook the meat. While the males attend to preparation of the feast the women perform ritual dances around the fire shrieking, while banging sticks and rocks. It’s not clear if they’ve fully developed a language yet, they communicate in mostly undecipherable grunts and screams. However, there does appear to be a recognizable word among those high pitched female screams, Car Rar. Those that study these beings are in utter disagreement about its significance. Some theorize it’s the name of some god, they are calling out for forgiveness for their beastly acts of the day. Others believe it is either the word for mother or child, as they seem to be the beings of significance on the day. And yet others believe its the designated word for the day or the ritual itself.

We may never know the meaning of anything these creature do, but we can conclude they may not be as unintelligent as we first assumed. Even if this is merely a survival tactic for the women of the world, it’s clearly evolved into a ceremonial practice. It’s hard to imagine, but somewhere in this horrific act is an honorable place for those responsible for bearing and caring for the races young.

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Feel free to leave some feedback in the comments. I welcome any helpful suggestions or critiques.

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