Invoking the Muse

Ds IPOD 365When we sit down to write, we are prompted by our desire to create. Yet, desire alone is not enough to create in a deep and powerful way. We need to align our desire with intention. Desire is ego driven, attached to outcome. Writing with intention aligns us with potentiality and opens us to all possibilities.

Intention is about the creator’s readiness to receive; their ability to intuit, focus, allow, and experience. True creativity requires us to step aside and make room for a source beyond ego. We get out of our own way and allow creativity to come forth. Then we listen, record, collect, and gather.

Establishing intent lays the groundwork for the effortless, spontaneous, frictionless flow of energy seeking expression. How do we set intention? By inviting the source of creativity to guide our writing efforts.

Make sure you are seated comfortably. This can be at your writing desk, or anywhere you will experience little outside distraction. Focus on your breath for several minutes. When you feel fully relaxed, turn your attention inward and locate the area in your body where your heart center resides.

Imagine a ladder or stairway descending from your head to your heart center. With each breath, take a step downward until your awareness is fully focused on your heart center. Let your heart center take the shape of a flower. With each inhale, the bloom opens. With each exhale, it closes.

Now imagine a white light emanating from your heart flower. This light is pure energy. Continue to breathe deeply and follow the path of this warming light as it grows filling your entire body, then spills out through your fingertips.

Sit for a few moments feeling the sensation of warm energetic light flowing through you, then thank the light for its presence and ask it to preserve this connection with the source of creativity while you write.

When you feel ready, take a few deep cleansing breaths, open your eyes, and begin to create.

 

Happy Writing,

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Using Repetition to Enhance Your Poetry

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Repetition is often associated with comfort because it is simple and familiar. In poetry, several literary devices capitalize on the human attraction to repetition including anaphora, alliteration, and assonance. Let’s examine each of these devices, and observe them at work in some unforgettable poems.

Repetition of words, phrases, lines, and stanzas within a poem, and its sister device anaphora—the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses—establish a series of expectations for the reader that help to direct their attention and lead them through the poem. The recurrence of identical words also creates a compelling rhythm and helps to intensify the emotion of the poem.

In The Bells, by Edgar Allan Poe, the rhythm created by the poem’s repetitive meter gives it a song-like quality, as does the frequent repetition of words such as “bells” and “time,” which mimic the steady peal of a church bell. The repetition of the general structure at the beginning and end of each section also add to the unity of the poem and highlight the progression of the bell’s symbolism from a representation of celebration to one of mourning.

In Because I Could Not Stop for Death, Emily Dickinson uses anaphora to weave a common thread through the poem with the repeated phrase, “We passed.” This phrase is then altered slightly in the fifth stanza to, “We paused,” which alerts the reader to a change of direction in the poem. Repetition and anaphora provide the framework for a poem; an anchor from which the meaning of a poem can develop.

The use of alliteration, the repetition of an initial consonant sound, and assonance, the repetition of similar vowel sounds with different consonants, help to place emphasis on specific words and guide readers toward the recognition of a particular relationship between them. Both devices reinforce accentual meter and have the potential to add richness and texture to a poem.

In Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, We Real Cool, alliteration is used to establish a solid rhythm. “Pool Players,” “Lurk late,” “Sing sin,” and “Jazz June” are alliterative phrases describing the actions of the boys. The predominantly hard consonant sounds reinforce the picture of young men who are tough and defiant, and the staccato phrasing almost mimics the sound of a gun. Unfortunately, the boys’ lives end swiftly on a non-alliterative note, “We / Die soon,” suggesting the poet’s feeling that a life lived this way is a short and insignificant one.

In Alone, Maya Angelou uses assonance to echo the sense of isolation conveyed by the title of the poem. The similar vowel sounds of the words soul, home, loaf, stone, nobody, alone, closely, know, moan, and blow create and ethereal and reflective tone. The rhyming of vowels is a common practice in folk poems and blues lyrics as they appeal to the ear as part of poem’s rhythmic texture.

The repetition of phrases, words, consonant, and vowel sounds in a poem act like signposts to orient and direct the reader by establishing expectations and adding visual and aural rhythm. Try using repetition in your own verse and see if you like its effect.

Happy Writing,

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Poetry Is…

poetry-dropWe all recognize poetry when we read it. It has a look and feel like no other art form. But did you know that defining poetry for yourself can help to direct your writing in a very personal and meaningful way?

To get you started, here is the definition I’ve developed for myself:

Poetry is the art of suggesting meaning through the use of rhythmically and purposefully ordered concrete words, lines, and images.

Because writing and reading poetry is a creative endeavor it is a form of art. I choose to say that poetry suggests meaning as a poem is not a sermon or lecture, but a reflection of the poet’s experience. A poet’s primary objective is to bear witness, rather than draw conclusions or make judgments. This allows the reader to connect with the emotion of the poem and personalize its meaning. Poetry is rhythmic. Meter, rhyme, alliteration, syntax, figurative language, and line breaks are carefully chosen to give a poem its own unique heartbeat. The words and images used in poetry should be concrete and specific to allow the reader to experience a poem through their senses. Abstract ideas and concepts have no physical referents. They appeal to the intellect, but are lacking in clarity.

Poetry is the art of surprising yourself and your readers with words. Try your hand at distilling what is important to you in your writing. The results may surprise you.  :o)

Happy Writing,

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10 Tips to Help Avoid Sentimentality in Poetry

“Sentimentality is the only sentiment that rubs you the wrong way.”

~ W. Somerset Maughamchauncey boy

In writing, sentimentality is self-indulgent. It is the expression of emotion for its own sake. Sentimental poems are “tear jerkers” that aim at stimulating reader’s emotions directly, rather than communicating the poet’s experience in an open and original manner. Because sentimentality tends to oversimplify it is unfaithful to the complexity of human experience, and therefore has no place in poetry.

Good poetry evokes emotion. It surprises readers and helps them to experience something in a powerful new way. As poets, when we crowd our work with our own feelings we leave little room for reader discovery.

Try the Following:

  1. Use strong nouns and energetic verbs. Specific and robust word choices will draw your reader into the poem.
  2. Eschew adverbs. Adverbs are modifiers that rob your verbs of their power. If you feel the need to add an adverb, try re-examining your verb choice.
  3. Limit adjectives. Adjectives modify nouns. Although adjectives definitely have their place in poetry, review your nouns for appropriate strength and specificity.
  4. Look for metaphoric opportunities. The old adage applies here—show don’t tell. Metaphors create images in the mind of your reader. When done well, they add power and life to your poetry.
  5. Use fresh and unexpected language. Don’t settle for repeating someone else’s words. You want to convey your own unique experience. Find an innovative way to let readers into your world.
  6. Vary your poem’s rhythm. It’s okay, even desirable, to throw your reader a curve ball occasionally. Varying your syntax and/or choosing unexpected line breaks are an excellent way to grab your reader’s attention.
  7. Avoid end rhymes and opt for internal rhyming mechanisms such as assonance, consonance, and alliteration.
  8. If the subject is near and dear to your heart, try writing from a different persona or in the third person.
  9. Make sure that your poem relates an experience, not your feelings about an experience.
  10. Read your poem aloud. Often the ear will pick up what your eye has missed.

We all have something special to communicate to the world. Ensuring that our writing doesn’t get muddied with sentimentality will allow our message to be heard.

Happy Writing!

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What’s Your Story (About)?

As a poet, I believe that the purpose of writing is two-fold. First, to mine our inner world and reveal something of brand-storytelling-strategy-heartourselves, and second, to forge a connection with others by sharing our personal revelations. As writers, when we express our truth in our work, we create the possibility of inspiring others in a very profound and life-altering way. But, how can we clarify and refine our inner narratives in order to convey them to our audience in a meaningful fashion?

Whenever I feel stuck in my own “story,” I use a combination of visualization and coaching techniques to unearth its significance and discover its message.

VISUALIZATION TECHNIQUE

This technique is very simple. If you find you are having difficulty at first, be patient. As you continue to practice visualizing, your results will become more effortless and fluid.

  • First, make sure you are seated comfortably. If you haven’t already, jot down a few particulars about your story—whatever seems most important to you about the narrative.
  • Next, close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Count to four on your inhale, pause, and then count to four on your exhale. As you relax into your breathing, take a moment to focus mentally on the energy center of your body. The Taoists call this center the Hara. The Hara, or “sea of energy,” is located at the navel about two inches inward from the skin, and is the gateway to cultivating inner power.
  • Once you are feeling relaxed, begin to visualize the scene, story, or remembrance you are struggling with. Watch it play out as if you are watching a movie. Do not try to edit the content. Let your subconscious take you where you need to go.

COACHING TECHNIQUE

The purpose of the coaching technique is to distill the soul of your story—its true meaning. This is the sacred thread that will transform your story into one your audience will connect with.

  • As the movie of your story ends, take a few deep breaths, open your eyes and pen some notes about your experience.
  • Review your notes to identify some key words. Do these words reveal anything about the underlying theme of your story?
  • Ask yourself:
    • What is the greater truth about the situation?
    • What is the underlying dynamic that is operating?
    • What is the source of the challenge?
    • Could it be a source of opportunity?
  • What role or impact has this story had on you or your character’s life?
  • What role did you or your character play in the story?
  • What decisions have you or your character made based on the story?
  • What new perspective do you or your character have regarding this story?
  • Is there a pattern in you or your character’s life around the story?
  • Ask yourself, now that you have viewed the story, if this were the first step toward a significant change in you or your character’s life, what would that change be.

If you use these techniques to help you get to the heart of your idea, poem, or story you will not only write with greater depth and vision, you will honor its message and in doing so, honor yourself.

Happy Writing!

 

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