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Writing Prompt – Dickinson style

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What do I mean when I say “Dickinson style?” Well, first off, the tone and pacing is conversational and leisurely. The pace is not rushed.

Also, close the laptop and turn off the computer. This is an exercise in handwriting poems! Instead of using bold or italic or underline in Word to emphasize words, use your creative imagination to come up with a unique style to emphasize words.

Go forth! Write like Dickinson. And see what you come up with. You might just find something that’s uniquely your own. And don’t forget to share what you’ve created in the comments!

Poet #4: Emily Dickinson

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OK. Most people who read poetry either love or hate Emily. It’s rarely anything in between.

Emily lived during the 1800’s. While she was raised in a much more strict environment, she never married. Emily was reclusive, and rarely left her home. That didn’t stop her from writing, though. She would often include poems in her letters to family and friends. None of her poems were published during her lifetime.

After her death, her family found around 1,800 poems hand bound in her dresser. Emily’s family published her poetry.

Dickinson didn’t write like her contemporaries. She used markings in her poetry, vertical and horizontal lines, that were removed from the published versions of the poems. In the subsequent publishings, the markings were re-inserted as en dashes.

My absolute favorite of Dickinson’s poetry is “Because I could not stop for Death:”

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

The poem itself has a leisurely cadence to it, as if the speaker is in no hurry. The image of Death here is different from the typical description, as well. Death seems almost gentlemanly.  The speaker sets aside her life for Death and his “Civility.” What an interesting ride it must be, sitting alone with Death. But that, too, makes Death seem kinder – he takes only one passenger at a time and sits with them.

Another of my favorite poems is “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died:”

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –
There interposed a Fly –
With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed –
and then I could not see to see –

The last thought of the speaker is not on the family mourning her death, but the buzzing of a fly! Isn’t that funny? She’s no longer focusing on dying, but on a silly insect that’s intruded on her death. Can’t you imagine it? Laying there, waiting to die, with your family and friends surrounding you. And in a moment of silence, between the sniffling and the crying, a fly starts buzzing around the room. And distracted, your eyes follow the insect until your eyes, or “windows,” fail and you die. What juxtaposition – the severity of the situation with the annoyance of a fly.

This is what I love about Dickinson’s poetry. She has an unhurried tone, a rhythm that you just pick up. The en dashes are like pauses, like an emphasis we create by making something italic or bold. But back in the 1800’s when computers didn’t exist, how else could someone indicate an emphasis in their handwritten poetry?

Next up — Writing Prompt!

Prompt response: Nature poem

Hey there. It’s been a while, I know. But moving is bad for the blogging.

I’ve been working on this poem for a while now (since I posted the prompt a few weeks ago), and while I don’t think it’s done, I’m sharing the first five lines here with you:

The bush, he says, the bush he walks a mile for

– Along grass less dirt paths,

fake tree shade scraping ghostly fingers on striped reptiles.

To pull off a leafy twig of evergreen and white flowers.

So… what did you come up with?

Prompt: Nature

In the previous post, we learned about Whitman and Merwin, as well as Emerson, and their fascination with Nature. We learned how Nature, in all its grandeur, makes for a powerful and, well, easy subject.

This week, do some free writing about Nature. Take a walk and scribble down some notes in that notebook you keep in your back pocket. Write a few scenes, with full sentences. Write everything. Yes, even about the lizard that just ran into a bush, or the squirrel that you almost hit on your way to work today.

Then, when you’re done, read through everything you’ve written and pick out phrases. Pick out descriptions, actions. Play with it. Don’t worry about it being disjointed, just go for it! You’ll add in more as you go.

Once you’ve picked out your phrases, begin creating a poem. Find your rhythm. Do you want it rushed and hurried like a storm? Should it flow like the stream, mostly smooth, with the occasional bump? Do you want it to look like it’s a cloud, raining down words? Or like a flower growing up out of the grasslands?

Play with it. Explore Nature. And if you wouldn’t mind, share it here.

Nature and Poetry

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full

hands;

How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it

is any more than he.

– Walt Whitman, “A child said, What is the grass?”

CC stock photo

CC stock photo

Nature has long been a popular topic for poets. Its serenity, violence, sheer power and beauty make it an easy subject.

One of Whitman’s most famous poems, “Song of Myself,” has several sections where he interacts with nature, contemplates its very being, like the quote above. What a simple question! What is grass? How many of us could answer that? I can just imagine the child standing there, holding a fistful of grass.

The world below the brine;   
Forests at the bottom of the sea—the branches and leaves,   
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds—
      the thick tangle, the openings, and the pink turf,   
Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold—
      the play of light through the water,

“The World Below the Brine” contains beautiful imagery of water and its inhabitants. Whitman calls the underwater plants forests, and isn’t that accurate? Have you ever looked into the water and seen nothing but the seaweed waving about just below the surface?

Or how about his poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d?”

O powerful, western, fallen star!   
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!   
O great star disappear'd! O the black murk that hides the star!   
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul!

What a great way to use the exclamation device. It’s like he’s crying out to nature. How helpless and small he feels next to it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Song of Nature” is a beautiful example of Nature poetry:

I hid in the solar glory,
I am dumb in the pealing song,
I rest on the pitch of the torrent,
In slumber I am strong.

I love that last line. It’s says so much about Nature. It doesn’t matter if it’s chaotic or calm, Nature will always be powerful.

And many a thousand summers
My apples ripened well,
And light from meliorating stars
With firmer glory fell.

I wrote the past in characters
Of rock and fire the scroll,
The building in the coral sea,
The planting of the coal.

The familiar rhyme scheme of Emerson’s poem keeps a wonderful rhythm for the subject. He is able to paint a scene of Nature’s majesty, personifies it by “building” the coral sea, or “planting” the coal. Nature’s apples “ripened well.” Emerson goes beyond personifying Nature, and almost deifies it.

Deifying Nature is how many religions started, isn’t it? Personifying the power of Nature, giving it a name, a face. Zeus, of Lightning. Tiamat, of oceans. Ra, the sun…writing of Nature like Emerson or Whitman, or even Wordsworth:

My heart leaps up when I behold 
   A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began; 
So is it now I am a man; 
So be it when I shall grow old, 
   Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

– “My Heart Leaps Up” by William Wordsworth

Poetry as Mantra

So here is my response to the Mantra Writing prompt:

Mantra

Today I plant the seed of happiness.

I nurture it with smiles and hope.

In the mind it takes root.

In the soul it grows.

Today I plant the seed of happiness.

It grows within me.

It will bloom in you.

Here it is in word cloud form:

A Mantra about growing positive seeds as a word cloud, in the shape of an apple.

A Mantra about growing positive seeds as a word cloud, in the shape of an apple.

Writing Prompt — World Seeds and Visual Poetry

A friend of mine posted on an interesting topic — world seeds. I thought it would make an excellent writing prompt.

The thoughts we dwell on, with their accompanying emotions, affect our view and experience of our world.

So here’s the idea: create a positive visual mantra. According to Wikipedia, a mantra is “a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.” For example, “Don’t worry, be happy” is a mantra.

Take an already existing poem, or write a new one. It should have positive images or phrases. Turn it into a visual mantra. Draw, write, paint, or use an online program and create your mantra.

Feel free to share your visual mantra here. You never know if what helps you helps someone else. Plus, I would love to see what you come up with!

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