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READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog


photo by ThoughtCatalog Pixabay

by Christine Kohler

This year I challenged myself to write one poem a week. Since this is Poetry Month I checked my progress. I’ve written 11 poems so far, four shy of 16 weeks. (No excuses, no matter how valid. Also, some poems took me two weeks to write. Other weeks I wrote two poems.)

I asked authors’ advice when contemplating this commitment. Nikki Grimes, an author famous in poetry and novels in verse, and several other poets suggested I stick to a theme so that at the end of the year I would have something to submit for publication. I had already decided on a broad theme “A Gaijin in Japan”. It’s been 30 years since I left Japan and I regret not having written about our experiences there. I had written one narrative poem about the experience years ago and have never been able to place it for publication. (Got a rejection for “Oriental Gold” today, seconds before I began writing this article.)

However, as disciplined as I can be, poetry is also an emotional outlet for me. So, I’ve veered off theme. Of the 11 poems, only four are about Japan, and a fifth is a haiku about “American Cherries”. (Japanese cherry trees don’t produce like American trees do.)

My advice to others considering doing this is to just write. Pour your thoughts and emotions down in poetic form. Forget about rhyming in free verse. Use prompts if you get stuck for ideas. Photographs make great visual memory-joggers. Driving from Ohio after attending two family funerals I wrote “Ode to a Pine Cone” because it’s what I saw from the car window that inspired me. (I’ve also written about cotton fields, wind turbines, and Snoutnose Butterflies—sold to Hearst Corp.—inspired by Texas landscapes.)

I urge you to try different forms. I was blessed with a senior high school English teacher, Mr. Charles Mauer, who also taught at a university and took an interest in my writing. He challenged me to copy the masters. Mr. Mauer promised that once I did then I could break the rules and write free verse. He was right, by the time I did, I had meters pounded into my inner core. I only wish someone had taught me even more meters and poetic forms, which I didn’t study until graduate school. I would have probably made a career in poetry if it weren’t for the difficulty of making a living wage from it. I am published in two languages—English and French—in adult markets. The markets have shrunk incredibly, and I haven’t seen pitiful payments rise. I have great admiration for career professional poets.

Patti Kurtz, a writing professor at Minot State University, recommends THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING FOR A POEM by Wendy Bishop. On my shelf is THE MAKING OF A POEM by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland and WRITING METRICAL POETRY by William Baer.

What is your advice to people who desire to challenge themselves with writing poetry?

I want to end this article by giving you, my faithful blog readers, a free verse poem I wrote for writers, “Uncensored”. (I’m hoping it doesn’t lose formatting, which is cooler in layout.)
By Christine Kohler

In youth, words
in gushes
roaring onto
the page
No dam
No gatekeeper
could stop
the words

School brought rules—
Spelling, punctuation, grammar—
at first.
Proper Lady etiquette struck naughty
words from girls’ vocabularies.

Next came assignments,
required word count,
five-point paragraphs
led to term papers.

All graded with red slashes,
Criticism and blood sheets.
Diaries found,
locks broken,
pages tossed in the
burn barrel.
living Logos screaming
in eternal flames.

Proper Lady writers
to self-censor.

Youth Words

Damn dammed words!

Rage against the censors,
critics, and sticklers.
Smash the dam and
Defy the rules.
Ban the naysayers.
In torrents,
streaming to rivers,
lakes, and oceans,
of words—
Your Words—
Immortal words,
Worthy words flowing out
from an endless crystal spring
within your writer core.

@copyright 2018 Christine Kohler
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