Writing Tip by Gerald Locklin

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Photo by Vanessa Locklin

The most important advice I have for writers is that a poem can be on any subject in any type of language (but the best for its purposes of that type).   In other words, there are no subjects that are “unpoetic” or unfit for poetry and there are no levels of discourse (slang, standard written English, Spanglish, wise-cracks, sexual,  critical, familiar, scholarly, religious, philosophical, sarcastic, etc.) which cannot serve as the vehicle for a poem.  A poem can be a letter, an anecdote, an elegy, an essay, a story, a meditation, an ekphrastic work (taking as its starting point a work from another art, e.g.  painting, sculpture, symphony, opera, athletic contest, play, novel, film, other person’s poem, rock or  rap or jazz concert, ballet, musical comedy, what-have-you), an insult, a tribute, a parody, a piece of nonsense, surrealism, an exquisite corpse (look that one up), a rant, a dramatic monologue, a love poem, a nature poem, a work intended to be spoken out loud, a work intended to be read on the printed page, a work to be apprehended conceptually (poesia concreta), a work to be illustrated and scored for the Internet, a work in which the signifiers (words) are liberated from their signifiers (meanings)—it can be anything . . . as long as it is at its core and start to finish an example of the music of language—and there are as many forms of “language music”  (poetry) as there are of “music music.”  You can find examples of the above in Horace, Catullus, Sappho, Frank O’Hara, Edward Field, Allan Ginsberg, Gertrude Stein, Lewis Carroll, Alexander Pope, Wordsworth, E. E. Cummings (he did not spell his name with lower-case letters), Keats, Marianne Moore, Charles Bukowski, Whitman, Rilke . . . well, you can find examples somewhere or other in the history of poetry.  So read them, all of them, read everything.  The only way we learn to do anything is by imitation and trial-and-error.  Get started now or you never will.  Originality, by the way, comes at the end of the process, not the beginning.

Biography of Gerald Locklin: My most recent full-length collection is Gerald Locklin:  New and Selected Poems, World Parade Books, 2008.  A collection of recent fiction and non-fiction prose is forthcoming from World Parade Books in spring of 2010.  www.worldparadebooks.com www.geraldlocklin.com www.kaminipress.com www.nyquarterly.com

Writing Prompt from Gail Wronsky

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 The Beauty of Collisions

 Sometimes you need to bang some very different things up against each other in order to make the sparks of poetry fly.   It’s a way of “by indirection find(ing) direction out” (Shakespeare’s phrase) or of “tell(ing) the truth but tell(ing) it slant” (Emily Dickinson’s).   Sometimes when you approach a thing directly, without making surprising associations, you find that it’s nearly impossible to say something new, to make discoveries about it.   For example, a few years ago I went to India.   While I was there I wrote like crazy and assumed I’d be able to come home and turn that writing into poetry.   But I couldn’t.   Once home, the material seemed to go flat, seemed full of trite imagery and predictable insight.   After several months of despairing to get a single poem from the stuff, I started re-reading Romantic poetry, mostly Keats and Shelley.   It was a random choice—I just kind of intuited that I needed to find something there, and I did.   Somehow the imagery and language of those poems showed me how to frame my India material in a way that created fresh poems.

 My advice, or prompt, is this:  look in random and surprising places for inspiration.   If you’re writing a poem about, say, sitting in the hospital with your father as he died, go (actually, physically, go) someplace new—someplace you might not ever have gone to otherwise—like, say, the zoo, or the Huntington, with your subject in mind, seeing what you see through its lens.   And read things you might not normally read—Car and Driver magazine, The Baghavadgita, Freud’s essay on the uncanny . . . .These things will bang up against each other in your head and flow out of your hands in startling poetry.

Biography of Gail Wronsky:  Gail Wronsky is the author or coauthor of eight books of poetry and one novel.  Her books include Bling & Fringe (The L.A. poems), coauthored with Molly Bendall, Blue Shadow Behind Everything Dazzling, Poems for Infidels, and Dying for Beauty, a finalist for the Western Arts Federation Poetry Prize.   She holds an MFA from the University of Virginia and a PhD from the University of Utah.   She is Director of Creative Writing and Syntext (Synthesizing Textualites) at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.   She is the recipient of an Artists Fellowship from the California Arts Council, and has published widely in journals and anthologies, including Poets Against War.  Her plays have been produced by the Sundance Institute and in theaters across the U.S.

Writing Tip by Richard Beban

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Read it aloud.

Comments:   No matter what the piece of writing, read it aloud before you consider a draft finished.

We were an aural/oral culture long before we were a written culture, and the ear is still the best way to fine-tune a piece of writing, and to hear its intrinsic music.   And if it doesn’t sing, why the hell are you wasting your time and ours on it?

No exceptions.   Poetry, prose, screenplay, grocery list.   A piece is not finished until it SOUNDS right, too.

Biography of Richard Beban: Richard Beban, author of the poetry books, What the Heart Weighs (Red Hen Press, Los Angeles, 2004) and Young Girl Eating a Bird (Red Hen Press, Los Angeles, 2006), turned to poetry in 1993 after spending more than 30 years as a journalist, and then a television and screen writer.

Beban’s poetry has appeared in more than 50 periodicals and literary Websites, and in 17 national anthologies in the US and Britain, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  He has been a featured reader at more than 150 venues, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Berkeley’s late, lamented Cody’s Books, and Shakespeare & Company in Paris, France.  His Website is <http://www.beban.org>.

Writing Tip from Pam Ward

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Write five minutes a day! That’s how I finished my first novel, WANT SOME GET SOME.   I just chipped at that evil heiffer every single day.   Don’t think page count, think effort & heart.   The kiss of death to most unfinished work is neglect.   It’s easy to ignore the work and never return.   Fear sets in or other negative thought patterns and the next thing you know, it’s in a shoebox under a mattress, collecting dust while you contemplate your toes.   Five minutes a day saved my manuscript from extinction.   It kept my ideas alive.   It made my characters grow and was as easy as watering a tree.   Just thinking about the thing gave me five minutes of invested time and the payoff was more fruit than I had yesterday and the day before.   And the real beauty to this tip, you end up writing more than the allotted five.   But if the clock’s really not your friend and you have no time to spare, you can always get in five minutes of writing, no matter what your day is like.   Everybody’s got a nickel’s worth of time.

Biography of Pam Ward: Pam Ward is a graphic artist and author of WANT SOME GET SOME and BAD GIRLS BURN SLOW.   As a native, Pam delivers a Los Angeles that is dangerous or wicked with all its flaws and fatal attractions.   Currently, Pam is working on her third novel.  Visit Pam at www.pamwardwriter.com

Writing Tip by William Archila

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Early morning, sit at the desk and read.  Read all kinds of poets, from different periods, different styles, different countries.  Listen for a voice that speaks to you, one that shows you what you normally don’t see.  When you find the poem, write your own version of it.  Follow the poem as a blue print focusing on an element you feel a strong connection with, whether it’s an image or metaphor that you’re tracking or a sound pattern that you’re trying to emulate.  For example, you can follow the changes of an object as in the changes of the moon in Robert Hayden’s “Full Moon” or mimic the rhetorical patterns in Philip Levine’s “They Feed They Lion.”  Do this, not to imitate, but to internalize the poem’s technique and the poet’s method.  When you’re done writing your first draft, put it away and come back to it later when you feel completely detached from it. Revise and shape the poem into your own, looking for moments that reveal your individual voice.  If the poem reveals something about yourself that you didn’t know, chances are that it’s a good poem.  Let the poem be your best teacher.

Biography of William Archila: Archila was born in Santa Ana, El Salvador.  He earned his MFA in poetry from the University of Oregon.  His poems have been published in The George Review, AGNI, Poetry International, The Los Angeles Review, and Notre Dame Review, among others.  In his first book, The Art of Exile, Archila asks readers to engage with a subject seldom explored in American poetry:  the unrest in El Salvador in the 1980s and its impact on Central American immigrants who now claim this country as home.  As Yusef Komunyakaa, Pulitzer-prize winning poet, said of Archila’s work:  “A poet of the heart and head, of the personal and the public, at times William Archila’s poignant poems make me hear Pablo Nerudo and Cesar Vallejo.”  Archila will be reading at Skylight Bookstore on November 8th, and at Beyond Baroque on December 18th.