30 April 2012

Craft Tips Monday: Word Play

Welcome to the second Craft Tips Monday, where I'll be sharing some of the writerly advice I've received and learned from, as well as some of the themes and/or topics in the poetry and writing world I've been thinking about and working with lately!

"Word play"

Word play: When we let words "swing" there's no telling
where they'll take us. (Image: "Swing" by Derrick Collins)
This week, let's talk about word play. In the description of this blog, I discuss in a limited way the rationale behind the name "our lost jungle." I think of the "lost jungle" of poetry as the place where we let go of the strict realm of "sense" in poetry and allow the words to take over, play, dance, and wonder. At the heart of the philosophy behind this blog is the idea that word play--letting the words guide us instead of us guiding the words--is one of the essential tools for letting our creativity breathe, function, and flow.

Seeking out the word playground

The question is: How do we go about playing with words?

What makes this topic so fun is that the answer is quite simple: Any way you want. There are a multitude of activities you can do to play with words. Some of my favorites include lists: making a list of twenty-five beautiful words (words that I love the sound of as they roll off the tongue like a child down a hill or dance in the ear like a Viennese waltz) and using them all, in any order, in a poem; or making a list of words and phrases I associate with a color (for blue I might say sky or ocean or the chill of winter or a kiss goodbye) and using them to write a "biography" of color; and so forth.

Maybe for you it means starting to write and not thinking about whether or not what you have to say makes sense. Maybe you'll start a poem about rain, but once you write the word "window" you start thinking "rust." Suddenly you're writing about the rusty color of an old doorknob and you're back in your old house, remembering your favorite doll and how you would brush her hair ... Suddenly you're remembering and writing about how your mother would brush your hair, as gently as when that boy first touched his lips to your cheek and sent you soaring ... Soaring like a roller coaster? Suddenly you're writing the fair where you first learned that joy and fear could be wrapped up in one slice of life.

See where the mind can go if we just let it?

The "Rainbow Poem" Form

I'd like to share a poetry activity and form I came up with as a way of helping me "channel" the word playground. While the form itself can be viewed as quite formulaic and rule-bound, I've found that it also helps my mind make connections I otherwise wouldn't make. Maybe it will help you channel your own inner word playground.

1. Write a list of six words--the first words that come to mind, words you find beautiful, words that roll over your tongue like a sip of coffee or a drop of caramel
2. Write a second list, this time a list of words that rhyme with the words in your first list. These can be straight rhymes or slant rhymes (slant rhymes are the swing set to the straight rhyme slide; both are fun, but maybe the slant can take you in more directions). For example, if my first word was "red," the first word in my second list might be "bread" or "dead" or "dread" or "offered."
3. In a third list, write a list of words that you associate with each word in the second list. So, if I rhymed "red' with "dread" I might think of the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride and the word I associate with "dread" might be "pirate."
4. Randomly number the words in each list. Try to mix the lists so that none of the words coincide with the words they were originally paired with. These lists will create six "base-lines" for your poem: six lines with three randomly assigned words each.
5. Add some flesh to your base-lines by "filling in the blanks" between the base words. For exampl, if my first line had the word "red bean flow" I might write:

Read the red from your crushed beans, and watch the colors flow

Maybe the line will make sense; maybe you won't know where it's going until you start filling in the blanks on the next line. But a story will start to emerge, if you let it; all you have to do is follow it.

When you finish, you will have a six line poem. Play with the line breaks to lengthen the poem. Don't, however, combine lines; you poem should be at least six lines.

Here's my try:

6 Gasp
2 Wasp
3 Sting
2 Wheat
4 Heap
6 Pile
3 Rain
6 Refrain
2 Sing
5 Poem
1 Room
4 Door
1 Trace
3 Place
5 Land
4 Leather
5 Feather
1 Air

Line 1: trace room air
Line 2: wheat wasp sing
Line 3: rain place sting
Line 4: leather heap door
Line 5: poem feather land
Line 6: gasp refrain pile

What little girls are made of

Little girls trace the room
with the air of their wings,
threshing the silent space
like wheat--buzzing
like wasps as the sing
against the rain, stirring
this place with melody,
rich tunes like the sting
of a knife sharpened
on a leather swatch.

Little girls heap
on the floor,
closing the door
like a poem
that weaves a feather
from sky to land,
each one gasping
her own sweet refrain
from deep inside
the pile.

Now it's your turn! Give it a shot, and be sure to let me know what you think of this form. Or, share your favorite form of word play--How do you let words take you where they want to go? 

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Check out these related posts from Our Lost Jungle: 

27 April 2012

Fri-Write Friday 4/27: Don't look back

Welcome to the first "Fri-Write" Friday! On Fridays, as noted with my new editorial calendar, I play to share some of my own works in progress--primarily poems, but also some other projects I'll be working on.  

As many of you know, I have been taking part in Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides April Poem-A-Day Challenge. I don't often share my own poems here, but I've been thinking a lot about the importance of being part of the "poetry community," and it seems to me that to really be part of it, I need to engage in it a lot more personally.

"Don't look back": a baseball poem (Image: "Trophy 2," copyright Ian Fain)
This poem is one I wrote for Day 25 of the 2012 April PAD Challenge, which asked us to "write a poem about a sport." I am, thanks to my dad, a big fan of baseball; for the first time this year, I'm participating in a few Fantasy Baseball leagues (and not doing too well ... but not for lack of trying, and I could be doing worse!). My dad is also a big fan of the Negro Leagues, which stuck in my brain as I started working on this poem. I decided to make my sports poem a tribute to the Negro Leagues, and the hardships those players faced in their own league, in baseball, and in life.

"Don't look back"
"Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you!" ~Satchel Paige

Hate and love for ages swelled in his oaky arms, dripping
through his veins like sweat down his bicep into the fold
of a pressed cotton shirt with stripes that made him dizzy
if he looked at them wrong, that strange, disorienting
juxtaposition of white against black, black against white,
wood in his hand clenched to splinters as some sudden

white thing buzzes past his cheek like an awkwardly failed
kiss and the squat man behind him screaming out, abruptly,
out, out of the blue like his ancestors fallen from the sky
where they once had wings but shed them to plow the field,
soak up ache and boy in the blood like wine, jump the broom,
bate the mule, reap the cotton that hems its way through this

disorienting juxtaposition, black against white against green
against blue sky and red faces screaming him out sending him
reeling back to the ditch his daddy dug first by shovel and then
by hand just to show them, show them all, where he came from
was a gutter and where he went was a hole in the ground filled
with love, love, hate for ages, and knowing all he had been

stripped of, pinstriped, lost in a sea of white against black
against white against, banging, banging, swing and miss
and finally that scream out that sends him reeling to waking
where he casts off these dry cotton sheets and rises to throw
stones in the night, pitching against the world, waiting
for the one true moment to swing low and away to Jesus

and steal away home.  


Check out these other baseball poems:


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Check out these other poems on Our Lost Jungle:

26 April 2012

online finds: resources for writers 4/26

Today is the first Online Finds Thursday. On Thursdays, you can expect to find quotes for writers from writers, as well as other resources, video clips, interviews, and more. I hope you enjoy!

Here are this week's "Finds":

Two-for-One: Poem In Your Pocket Day is sponsored by the Academy of American Poets (which, by the way, is a great resource and celebrates its 16th birthday online this month). The Academy is the birth-mother of National Poetry Month, first inaugurated in 1996, which earns AAP a lot of gratitude from yours truly! Initially celebrated in New York in 2002, PIYP went national in 2009. PIYP is easy to celebrate: simply carry a poem in your pocket, and find ways to share poems with your friends all day!  
Looking for new ideas for this year's celebration? Check out these ten ways to celebrate

Is Poetry Still Possible?, by Eugenio Montale. Montale gave this Nobel lecture on December 12, 1975, after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his lecture, the Italian poet discusses his unease regarding the role of poetry and art in modern society, particularly when the world and the societies within it were constantly changing. While Montale seemed greatly wary of this constantly changing world, he was also quite the opposite when it came to poetry, which he insisted "must resist time." It's well worth reading to get a sense of where poetry has been, and how it continues to be possible in today's society.

On February 18, 2012, Saturday Night Live, hosted by Maya Rudolph, had me and millions of viewers rolling with a Maya Angelou Prank Show sketch. In the sketch, "Angelou" pranks many of her esteemed colleagues--including Morgan Freeman and Cornell West--on a prank show titled "I Know Why the Caged Bird Laughs." Don't worry--her pranks are not an act of malice: they are "an act ... of whimsy."

Finally, this is just another reminder to check out the Rejection Letter Generator courtesy of The Stoneslide Corrective. According to TSC, the Rejection Generator "rejects writers before an editor looks at a submission" in an attempt to help "writers take the pain out of rejection." I gave it a shot, and let me tell you from experience: no rejection letter will ever sting more than the one this generator came up with! I won't tell you exactly what it said--though I will say it involved a public reading ... and a shredder--but I will say that it's a pretty hilarious way to "ease the pain" of any other form rejection you'll ever receive!

Happy writing!

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Check out these other tips for writers from Our Lost Jungle: 

25 April 2012

“I’m Goin’ Down”: how life gets complicated

Today is my first Personal Update Wednesday. As noted with my new editorial calendar, Wednesdays will be full of new news, old stories, stories from teaching, writing, etc., and other life updates. Enjoy! 

Vino Loco: The setting for this week's tale (Image copyright Vino Loco, 2010)
A Night Like Any Other Night ... Until It Wasn't
Last Thursday I was enjoying a casual get together with several teaching and creative writing friends at Vino Loco, a local wine shop. It was a Thursday evening like most others: dining, laughter, swapping stories, etc. Nothing exceptionally out of the ordinary, except I was a bit more tired than usual, and not entirely sure the evening would culminate in the usual trek to karaoke.

I’m not entirely sure when it started, but I remember suddenly feeling very warm and nauseous. I excused myself and went to the bathroom; standing helped for a moment, but soon I was feeling even warmer and getting those black tunnels on the sides of my eyes that told me what I was feeling was a faint coming on. I went back to the table, had some water, and asked for my bill. At that point, even sitting wasn’t helping. Finally, without knowing what else to do, I stood and went outside to get some air.

Big mistake.

I remember opening the door to come back inside. I remember thinking, I’m just going to ask my roommate to take me home and lay down, and this will pass. And then: the floor.

"I Get So Weak In My Knees ..."

My eyes opened to a sharp stinging sensation radiating from my hands, a slight headache, and blurred vision. The pain in my hands was the result of me apparently hitting the brick wall inside the wine shop. The pain in my head was, obviously, from having passed out … but also from, apparently, having hit the wall with my face, resulting in the breaking—or as I like to put it now, evisceration—of my glasses.

So: On to the hospital. The delightful irony of what happened was the fact that directly across from our table at Vino was a table of nurses, who took great care of me until the medics arrived. The ride to the hospital was short, and in a bizarre way fun: I had long, after all, been a fan of medical dramas, and here I was in one of my own. The actual hospital visit was for the most part uneventful, beyond ruining two EKGs by laughing at the people in the next observation area (because they could not stop preaching doom and gloom, which at that time struck me as entirely too hilarious, particularly given the fact that the guy who was there was suffering from what they described as “golf ball sized stones”) and enduring the trial of trying to provide a urine sample (you try it when you’re practically blind and your hands are torn to shreds). At my bed, my roommate and I entertained ourselves by coming up with a tentative “fainting playlist”: Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Going Down,” Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’,” SWV’s “Weak,” etc.

The Not-Quite-Million Dollar Woman

To make a potentially very long story short, I wound up seeing a cardiologist and finding out that I’m slightly anemic, and that supraventricular tachycardia paired with a frequent plummeting heart rate does not make for happy times. I also discovered that having doctors stick first a needle, then a guide wire, then a shaft, then a camera, up your arm is not the most pleasant of experiences; nor are stress tests.  

This is apparently something my heart likes to do now. 
(Image copyright University of Chicago)

Frankly I’m not sure how I’m supposed to be taking all this. After talking with the doctors, I’ve basically learned that not only has this probably been an issue for me for longer than I realized—I’d always been a bit prone to dizziness and feeling a little weird, I always just thought I was hungry!—but that I apparently don’t handle stress as well as I thought I did. Honestly, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it—take deep breaths? But not too deep or I might pass out? I have a lot of commitments... but I love those! I already decided to give up on trying so hard, so now ... I don’t have any answers. 

But I do have some pretty awesome new stories to tell people now.

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24 April 2012

opportunities for writers 4/24

Before getting into this week's opportunities, I want to remind people about the new online arts magazine, The Atomy, created by Jonathan Stutzman and Rebecca Stice. The theme for May is "the ocean." The editors remind potential submitters on the Submissions page that the ocean "can be interpreted however you want; pictures of the ocean or poetry about drowning in a sea of emotion." For more information on The Atomy and to read their submission guidelines, visit the magazine here.

You can also read two of my poems, which recently appeared in The Atomy, here.


Here are this week's opportunities for writers!

The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Residency program
is accepting applicants for the October-January residencies.
(Image copyright the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts)
Among some of the other residencies I've read about lately, this one sounds absolutely amazing. The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) is accepting applicants for their October-January residencies. According to the VCCA website, these residencies offer “a chance to work privately but in proximity to more than twenty other highly accomplished artists with fresh insights, new ideas and stimulating conversation.” These residencies offer lodging and studio space—writers’ studios are equipped with a desk and chairs (and what more does a writer need!)—plus three prepared meals a day (yum!). Residents are housed in private rooms in the VCCA’s residence building.  Residents have the opportunity to present individual or group readings of their work. The facilities are absolutely lovely—the walking trail is charming, and the cows are legendary—and writers can expect to be treated to a delightful time of productivity, creativity, and relaxation (outside of the labors of love that will become their finished products by the end of the residency).

Length: 2 weeks – 2 months
Cost: $30 application fee—There is no residency fee, but writers are asked to make a contribution ($45/day) if possible
Writing Sample: 6-10 poems; up to 2 short stories, essays, or articles; the first chapter (20 pages) of a novel; or a script of a complete work
Application Deadline: Postmarked by May 15, 2012 for October/November/December/January residencies


A poet friend recently recommended Mason's Road as a potential home for some of my poems, and after checking it out, it seems like a place to share! Mason’s Road describes itself as a “literary journal with an educational twist.” As such, each issue focuses on an element of the writing craft. The theme for the upcoming Issue #5 is “Characterization”—pieces in which “characters’ voices, behaviors, and thoughts resonate and shine.”

In conjunction with this theme, the genre editors will also be selecting their favorite pieces for nominations for the 2012 Mason’s Road Literary Award. A guest judge will select the winner from the pool of genre editor nominations. The competition is free to enter—you are essentially submitting a piece for consideration for publication, and if the judges like what they see, you’ll be entered into the contest—which makes the $1,000 prize even sweeter!

Submission Requirements: Up to 5 poems; up to 5,000 words of prose
Deadline: May 15, 2012
Entry Fee: FREE!
Prize: $1,000 and publication in Mason’s Road
For further submission and contest guidelines, check out Mason’s Road’s Submission Guidelines Page.

Good luck with your submissions!

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