Friday, April 29, 2011

A Few Poetic Musings

Image: Scott Monument, Edinburgh
National Poetry Month continues unabated, as months will do. My posts, on the other hand, have something of a more stochastic nature. I am late in thanking poet Laura Stophan, of Author Amok, She has been posting a poem a day from Maryland writers, including one of mine called Shower Sprite on April 16, that originally appeared in The Newsletter Inago years ago. Her blog is a great place to find poetry that is accessible to readers of all ages.

I've had the good fortune to have lately visited the land of poet Robert Burns. I'll admit that his poetry has always been difficult for me, since parsing the dialect takes a dedication I've never applied. Visiting the country, however, does provide plenty of motivation. It's amazing to see how the Scots love their writers, particularly Scott, Stephenson, and Burns. You are probably aware that he has his own night of happy reading and revelry on January 25th. And it turns out his poetry is a bit easier to parse after a "wee dram" of whiskey.

Or two.

There is a wonderful, mournful sensibility to be found in the damp castles and misty cliffsides of Scotland. I wasn't expecting to find inspiration for my own horrific and fantastical poems, which seems obviously misguided in hindsight. Certainly on the train ride in, with the green hillsides full of young lambs and searingly bright yellow flowers, I wasn't thinking fantasy. And then you get the chance to walk through the narrow stone streets of Edinburgh, thick with fog, and your imagination starts to roll. (Even though many of those walks were a search either for afternoon tea or Indian food.)

I'm curious to know what locations you have found the most inspiring for your speculative fiction writing. Any theme - horror, fantasy, sci-fi, the weird, whatever. A specific place? City? What venues do you find get your imagination flowing?


Image: My own picture of the Scott Monument in the heart of Edinburgh.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Some Science in the Writing: Elemental Poetry

Image: Gold as an Element
You may recall I conducted an interview with scientist Andrew Rivkin a little while back.  It turns out that this scientist, like many of us, has a not-so-secret artistic bent.  Certainly part of what motivates me to write science fiction is my interest and enthusiasm for the underlying science itself.  And at the same time, being a science fiction fan makes the science more interesting - it makes me wonder what really can or cannot be done, and in what time frame.  Will I live to see humans on Mars?  Workable fusion power?  And where are those flying cars, anyway?

I've strayed a bit off topic, here.  The topic is the intersection of science and art, and the specific example is Andrew Rivkin's music blog, Imperturbable Music.  A place where he usually posts his own music creations, but for the month of April each year is the place where he posts his poem-a-day.  This year he has chosen to write each poem about a chemical element.  Part of the fun is that after the first two poems, he's decided not to put the name of the element in the title, so there is a bit of a guessing game involved.

The rest of the fun is in the poems themselves.  Here is an excerpt from "Metal and Metaphor."

You may think it more metaphor than metal:
shades of blonde and best-sellers,
and high-limit credit cards,
but most of it ends up in junkyards
inside rusting-out beaters.

As I understand it, platinum is used in catalytic converters.  There isn't much of it in one converter, and the energy to remove it from old cars isn't worth the amount of platinum you would get out.  But over time, apparently quite a lot of the stuff is being reallocated from the Earth's crust in rocks to the surface of the Earth in junkyards.  It's quite possible that if and when we get our limitless fusion energy, people will go back and mine the rusting cars for platinum, since it will be easier to find it there than to go mining for it anew.  The idea of the future mining of ancient junkyards is certainly a great idea for a story.

The poet notes here how the word "platinum" is so overused that the first visions it brings up have nothing to do with the element itself.  Platinum albums, platinum blonde, platinum Visa.  Gold is apparently just so passe.  And platinum is headed in that direction - I think titanium is going to be the new cool metal to reference.  Perhaps this underscores part of the narrator's point, that eventually the once highly prized platinum is going to end up in tiny flakes, scattered through the trash of our society.

We are already drinking flakes of gold in our Goldschlager, and we know where that ends up.


Image Credit:  gold7 by Mrs. Pugliano on flickr via Creative Commons, CC2.0

Monday, April 4, 2011

What Makes a Good Writing Prompt - Interview with Writer and Poet Amy Grier

Image: Amy Grier and a wax Patrick Stuart at 
Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, Las Vegas, NV
Writing prompts have been on my mind. I find a good prompt to be a good tool, and that is part of the reason I am creating my own archive of general writing prompts on this blog. During April, many poets post lists of daily prompts to help keep writers on their "poem a day" schedule. I had a conversation with writer and poet Amy Grier on the subject, and gleaned some great ideas, and new insight, into what makes prompts effective for any kind of writing.

Amy possesses an eclectic background that informs her many styles and platforms of writing, from plays and memoirs to poems and textbooks. She has two MA's, one in Literature and Writing from Rivier College, and another in East Asian Studies from Washington University. Her BS is in Music Education from Clarion University. Her most recent publication was the poem "The Feeling of Autumn" in Poetry East, No. 60, 2010. She has also had a short story published in Dream International Quarterly, has produced content for a series of textbooks for teaching English to Chinese middle school students, and is a certified professional resume writer (among much else). She enjoys blogging, and is planning a revamp of her successful site "Living Poetry."

Bryce: "What do you think makes for a good writing prompt?"

Amy: "A good writing prompt must spark imagination, emotion, and intellect. The prompt should make you go “Oh!” and immediately deliver an imaginative focus. It needs to prod you to start thinking organically and naturally, not something that feels like homework. Not every prompt will do that for everybody, but a good prompt should attempt it."

Bryce: "What sorts of prompts can spark that kind of engagement? What needs to be present or be avoided?"

Amy: "Prompts must be specific, not vague. A prompt that is too vague won't help you go someplace that allows you to explore where you are psychologically in this moment.  For example, the prompt "write a poem with a profession as the title" is not as helpful as the prompt "write a poem about your first experience with nursing." This immediately sparks ideas. Some people will think of breastfeeding, others about their own time as a nurse, while some people will think about their first surgery and a specific nurse that was there. This creates the opportunity to prod imagination, draw on emotion, and engage the intellect. The word "nursing" is both comfortable and threatening. The intellect might generate thoughts of caretaking, being elderly, parenthood, illness, medical procedures, and more. The word “Nursing” activates your brain in all these ways."

Bryce:  "Tell me a little more about engaging the intellect."

Amy: "Always use a word or words in the prompt with power, a word that has many associations. The prompt "write a poem about an experience you have had with a needle" might seem to border on vague, but the word "needle" is very powerful.  It generates thoughts of sewing, drug use, vaccinations, even needles of minerals in gemstones. The mind will consider the definition of "needle" as well as the historical and cultural implications. You can get an untold number of poems from that prompt, or short stories, material for a novel, or whatever."

Bryce: "Can you leave us with a few specific examples of poetry prompts that you like?"

Amy: "Write a poem with a line in a foreign language. Write a poem that starts and ends with a line of dialog. Write a poem about a nightmare you had as a child. Include a cartoon character’s catch phrase in your poem. A common prompt is to take your favorite poem and use its last line as your first line. This sounds lazy, but it can work, because it gives you a concrete place to start. It gives you something to build around. Ultimately, if that line is dropped when you edit the poem, that’s fine.

Bryce: "Thanks!"

Did you like this little interview?  Useful?  I would be happy to do an interview, guest writer, or other type of blog swap on a topic of mutual interest, just drop me a note in the comment line.

Pax, Bryce

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Alive Like Grass That's On Fire, Even

Image:  Life In Me Book Cover
National Poetry Month is upon us, and I am once again hoping to join in the madness.  I have a few different schemes in mind to get involved.  The first actually started last year - I mentioned in earlier posts that I had a poem selected to be part of a poetry anthology.  The book is now out and available as of the first day of April.  I am so very pleased and honored to be included in this project.

The book is entitled Life in Me Like Grass On Fire: Love Poems.  It was produced by the Maryland Writers Association (MWA), and edited by Laura Shovan.  More than fifty poets are represented, with over 90 poems, so there is a wonderful range of style, subject, and voice.  I have always enjoyed reading anthologies.  I know (or imagine) a concerned editor has cherry-picked a diverse collection of powerful poems, and that the odds are good I will find one that will become enmeshed inside me forever.  I had the great fortune to hear several of my fellow "Life in Me" authors give readings today, and it was the best poetry reading I have attended in some time.  There is some great poetry coming out of the state of Maryland these days.

Love poetry (without some kind of strange speculative quirk) hasn't been the top of my list for projects.  But just at the moment I was becoming aware of the MWA, they were looking for poems for this book.  And I also happened to have several poems I wrote within the last few years that were right on topic and had yet to find homes.  My poem "Officemate" has now found its permanent place of residence.

But I have no intention of straying far from my speculative genres of choice.  Last year for National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo - A Poem A Day In April), I chose to write in the theme of "the horrors of childhood."  I gleaned ten workable poems from that experience, and am two days into the same plan for this year.  Poetry seems to be a very effective platform for the subject - direct and with a strong emotional punch.

What are your plans for writing in April?  Any poetry reading or writing in the lineup?  I'm planning to push through with my poem a day plan, but also keep working on my current fiction writing project.  With that and the blogging, I'd say it was shaping up to be a very full month.