Why You Should Read Poetry

I used to have an aversion to poetry. To me it was an odd form of writing, prose’s ugly stepsister that no one actually wanted to read. If someone did want to, or actually liked to, read poetry, I always thought they were the artsy types – people who were able to see beauty in places where it wasn’t actually present. The type of people who liked poetry also seemed like the type who went to an art gallery to admire crazy abstract artwork that they somehow found a whole story told within (I can’t say I’ve ever quite understood abstract artwork either).

When I started college, this all changed. As an English Literature major, reading and analyzing poetry is a huge part of what I do. At first, this scared me – I wasn’t sure I could get over that aversion and actually find something to say about the poems we studied in class – but eventually I came to love poetry.

In one of my early British Literature classes, we were tasked with taking one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and finding an unstable word within it. This word was supposed to be one that had numerous meanings. It was a word that, depending on its interpretation, could change the meaning of the entire poem. My word ended up being somewhat of a failure. I got a good grade on my essay, but my focus was too narrow – there were only a couple different interpretations of the word I picked (the word was tempest, I believe) and so it fell a bit short. Going over the assignment in class, however, and hearing the different ways our professor was able to perform this task in an entirely different sonnet made me realize how wonderful poetry could be.

That semester we wrote three essays total, and I wrote two of mine on poems. The class really made me realize how wonderful poetry can be, and it got rid of my aversion to the artform very quickly. I’ve since learned that poetry is a beautiful means of communicating and that poems tell a story in a way that nothing else can. If you have an aversion to poetry like I did, you should give poetry a try. Here are six poets you should read to start off with, but by no means should you stop there!

Emily Dickinson

If you’re familiar with American poetry at all, then you have probably heard of Emily Dickinson. She wrote more, though, than “Because I could not stop for Death – He Kindly stopped for me -” the poem that everyone seems to cover in high school and always associate with Dickinson. Reading her poetry is a real treat with all the different ways she uses punctuation and capitalization – something that for a long time was always fixed when her poetry was published but is now left as is. To start off with, read her poems “1129” and “1053” (none of Dickinson’s poems have titles, but are numbered instead).

Herman Melville

Everyone knows Herman Melville for “Moby Dick”- considered the quintessential American novel – but he also was a poet. I am partial to older poets and poetry, probably due to my literature studies, and I love to read Melville’s poetry because of the historical aspect. He’s writing around the time of the Civil War, and his poetry covers different topics that relate to the tensions across America during that time. Read “Shiloh” and “The March into Virginia” for a different look at history.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I have a book called “The Treasury of American Poetry” that I purchased at a thrift store that has introduced me to tons of new poets and poems that I have fallen in love with. One of the poets in this book is Edna St. Vincent Millay. She writes in sonnet form at times, and other times her poems are only a couple of lines long, but they are all breathtakingly beautiful. Start off with “I Shall Forget You Presently, My Dear” – a poem that I love so much it has been underlined in my book and turned into artwork to hang on my wall.

Ogden Nash

Ogden Nash is another poet that I was introduced to through “The Treasury of American Poetry.” His poems vary in length, and are all on very interesting topics. To start off with, read “The Anatomy of Happiness” for an amusing take on what it means to be happy.

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes is one of those poets who everyone has heard of. He was a hugely influential writer during the Harlem Renaissance and his work is an important part of literary history. I remember studying him in high school and I’ve studied his work again in college. Hughes is a poet who, like Herman Melville, writes about the time in which he was living. Reading Hughes is like taking a glimpse into the past – often the parts of America’s past that are sometimes shocking to look at. One of the poems that stuck with me from high school that Hughes wrote is “I, Too.”

Yusef Komunyakaa

I was lucky enough to meet and get to hear from this amazing Pulitzer Prize-winning poet last December (he is an alum of my university and was published in our literary journal in the 1970s) and his work is spectacular! For some of his most anthologies poems, read “February in Sydney,” and “Facing It,” but to read some of his newest works, take a look at his collection called “The Emperor of Water Clocks.”

Whether you are a tried and true fan of poetry, or tend to stay away from the literary form, poetry is really worth your time. Taking a look at some of the more well known and lesser known poets throughout American history is always a good place to start, and may just make you become a poetry enthusiast.

Originally published on Odyssey.

S3 Episode 1: Resources

In season three episode one of the podcast, Addey, Amber, and Nicole played a game of “Never Have I Ever” to introduce (or re-introduce, as it were) listeners to all of our editors. Below are the statements that were guiltily admitted to or denied vehemently:

  1. Never have I ever written a story the day before it was due for a creative writing class.
  2. Never have I ever stuck gum under a desk
  3. Never have I ever sent a mean email in response to a rejection from a literary journal.
  4. Never have I ever ridden an animal.
  5. Never have I ever said a brutal comment in a critique group.
  6. Never have I ever binged an entire series in one day
  7. Never have I ever lied about my opinion of a story in a critique group.
  8. Never have I ever climbed in/out of a window.
  9. Never have I ever hated one of my fellow editor’s picks for the journal.
  10. Never have I ever broken a bone.

Pretend we are all hanging out, drinking some hot cider, or maybe a pumpkin spiced latte, and let us know what your answers would be if you played this game by commenting below!

S3 Episode 1: Never Have I Ever

Welcome to season three! In this episode, Addey is joined by Nicole and Amber to kick off the new season with a round of the game “Never Have I Ever” so you can learn a bit more about all of our editors.

Say “Hello” to Issue 3.2!

We are live with the fall issue of the journal! 2020 has been a year for the books, and this journal is no different. There have been some bumps in the road and some trials to get here, but we are so happy to announce that issue 3.2: mystical, is live and ready for downloading.

We can’t thank each of our wonderful contributors and supporters enough. We are excited for you to read these stories and poems that are perfect for the month of October–a month that undoubtedly brings us all a little mischief and magic.

Visit the store to purchase a copy, or if you’d like to see a sneak preview of the journal, visit the “Current Issue” page. And please share far and wide–we can’t wait for the world to read what is within these pages!

Spookily,

your editors

So You Want to Be a Poet

So you want to be a poet. You have decided that you’re going to become the next great Instagram poet and land a lucrative book deal. You want to bring poetry to the masses and maybe even get on stage and perform some spoken word. Great! Poetry is finding its way back into the hands of the general population (and they’re liking it) which makes this little poetry editor’s heart happy. But before you embark on your poetry writing journey, there are probably a few things you should do.

Read some poetry

I know, I know — this one seems painstakingly obvious, but there’s a surprisingly large amount of people who wake up one day and decide they would like to be a poet having never even liked the art form much in the first place. Don’t be like those people. Read some poetry. Figure out if you like villanelles or free verse, modernists or romantics, 21st century or 20th-century poets. Read deep and wide until you feel like you’ve read so many poems you can quote some word for word. Study poets and their lives. Read from underrepresented groups. Meditate on the single word that strikes you in a poem, spend hours thinking about the ending couplet of a sonnet that won’t let you go.

Read some work on crafting poetry

This article is a good start, but there’s a lot of wonderful books on poetry craft. A good place to start is a book called How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch. While not a literal craft book — it is focused on getting its reader to fall in love with poetry, after all, not write it — this book gets into the nitty-gritty of what exactly makes a poem. It’s an excellent read for the aspiring poet and is, as the author puts it, a book of readings. This will definitely help you with that first point above, read some poetry! As Hirsch puts it, “Poets speak of the shock, the swoon, and the bliss of writing, but why not also speak of the shock, the swoon, and the bliss of reading?”

There are numerous other wonderful poetry craft books. If you are interested in writing prose poetry (what’s that, you might ask — well maybe you should read a book all about it!) take a gander at The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry. While you’re at it, go ahead and read all of the Rose Metal Press Field Guides — any writer can use a field guide to help them navigate writing. Or maybe take a look at Poetry and the Fate of the Senses by Susan Stewart to examine poetry through the ages and how it captures our senses in a way no other form can.

Collaborate

Hands down one of the best experiences of my writing career was taking a collaborative poetry class during my senior year of college. This class forced me into collaboration with my writing. We wrote poems as an entire twenty some odd person class, we wrote poems in partnered pairs, we wrote poems with the newspaper, we wrote poems on a recorder back and forth at a picnic table in the Colorado sun.

When you’re new to writing poetry, like I was at the time, collaboration can open your eyes to a whole new way of both reading and writing poetry. This class shaped my beliefs about what is the most essential and beautiful part of poetry. It helped me understand why poetry is such a uniquely wonderful form of writing — one that has been around for hundreds of years and yet can be fresh and new each and every time I open up a new book of poetry.

Maybe take a poetry workshop or class

If you like the idea of collaborating but don’t know where to start, enroll in a class. Check out your local college, community center, or writer’s group. Here in Colorado, we have poetry book stores and co-ops that frequently have events geared towards adding arrows to participants’ poetry quivers. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have a large poetry scene, look into starting a group! There might just be a gaggle of poets you encounter at work, school, or church that you didn’t even realize were fellow writers. Or maybe check out online offerings — I recently attended a workshop online from Iowa City Poetry from several states away, or you could look into enrolling in a Master Class or other online class. There are tons of options if you simply look!

Finally, write some poems

This last part will probably be the hardest, most infuriating step of all. The actual act of writing is hard. It’s even harder when you’re first starting out and don’t yet know what your voice sounds like. Sure, you have a voice. We all do. But each person’s actual, physical voice is different — some are melodic, some are a deep bass, some are a high soprano, some are scratchy, some are grating to the ear. Just like your speaking voice, your writing voice is unique. At first, it may not seem like it. Most writers — poets or otherwise — start out by modeling their writing after other writers. That never really goes away, even after years of writing, but your words start to standout as time goes on and drafts are created, trashed, and created again.

Once you have been writing poetry for a little while, your work will start to be compared to other writers less and merely influenced by them. The few strong and true fans who are with you through it all will be able to pick your poem out of a figural police station line up. “That one! That’s _____’s poem!” They’ll say when they read a literary magazine you’ve been published in. You’ll get there after much trial and error. It takes time, frustration, tears, and a good amount of sticktoitiveness, but you’ll get there.

So, you want to be a poet

Then go for it. Believe that the world is yearning for your words as much as you are yearning to write. Read some poems, collaborate, study craft, maybe meet some other poets, and start writing. The best poetry starts with an idea and a dream; and ends with putting pen to paper. You can do it!

Originally published in The Creative Cafe on Medium.

Ready for Fall

We here at borrowed solace are ready for fall, how about you? Fall brings lots of things that all of us editors appreciate, but, most importantly, it brings the fall issue of borrowed solace!

We’re working hard to finalize submissions, figure out the fall design, and get the journal out soon. In the meantime, if you are unsure whether your piece(s) have been accepted, be sure to log into the submissions manager for updates.

Are you ready for pumpkin spice, bonfires, changing leaves, crisp mornings, and fall borrowed solace? I hope you are because it’s coming at you soon! Stay tuned for more updates here on the blog and on all of our social media. And, of course, have a very happy Friday.

Writing Your Way Out of a Slump

Have you ever run into a writing wall?  Have you felt inspired and written non-stop for months on end only to burn out?  I know I have, and it’s hard!  I find that writing tends to come in waves for me.  I shuffle between times where I can’t turn off the faucet of writing ideas in my brain and times where I’m in a creative drought.  It’s especially hard to keep going when I’m in one of those times of writing struggle periods—writing is the thing I love to do and the thing that inspires me, but when I’m searching for inspiration and coming up empty-handed, it’s really hard to keep going!

So if you are like me and cycle in and out of writing periods in your life, and could use some inspiration, here are some ideas to get your creative gears turning again:

1. Write in a different genre than you usually do.

Writing in a different genre for fiction writers can be an amazing tool to get you excited about writing again.  Every writing genre has its own quirks and stereotypes.  Maybe lean into those as you go along—write a romance that follows all the tropes.  Come up with the best meet-cute story you can think of and write an outlandishly by the book romance worthy of Harlequin.  While you may not end up finishing the story or writing anything actually worthy of publication, it can get you excited about writing your usual genre again and give inspiration.

2. Write in a completely different format than you usually do.

Try writing a journalistic piece, or some experimental poetry.  Write about real life rather than the fantasy world you usually write in.  Try a more formulaic concept like writing a villanelle or even a simple haiku.

3. Try journaling.

I’ve mentioned this before, but journaling is the only form of writing that I consistently do—it usually doesn’t end up in a creative landslide of ideas for me, but it can definitely help with weeding through the overgrowth that clogs my brain and stops me from wanting to write.  I find that even stream-of-consciousness journaling can lead to some unexpected places and new writing ideas!

4. Keep a list of things you want to write about in the droughts and the downpours.

This is my most useful tip—any time you have an idea or a thought that inspires you to write, take a few minutes to actually write them down!  This is the same concept as a writer’s notebook that you keep stashed in your back pocket wherever you go, but for me, it’s a Google doc (many pages long) that has ideas for articles, poems, or stories.  Keep a list so that when you get stuck and don’t know where to go next, you have a roadmap, of sorts, to get you back on track with writing something.

5. Take your inspiration from pop culture.

One of the easiest ways to get writing inspiration that can help write you out of a funk is to take it from elsewhere!  One of my favorite things to do is to take the headlines from a newspaper or the titles of the shows in your Netflix queue/Spotify playlist and use them to write something new.  Take the first three titles you see and roll with it.  Or take the longest headline you can find and create a story using every word in it.  Make a game for yourself to get going, and pretty soon you’ll be back to writing non-stop.

I hope this list helps you if you are going through a writing drought.  Remember that it’s okay and normal to have periods of no writing, but that you don’t have to stay there forever.  Write yourself out of that slump and get back to doing what you were meant to do.

All About Masterclass: Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing

Nicole and I have been trying out Masterclass lately. It was definitely Nicole’s idea, and she’s the one who set everything up, but we’ve both been enjoying learning about writing from a variety of different people. The first Masterclass that we tackled was from Margaret Atwood and was all about–you guessed it–creative writing.

Today we are going to share our thoughts on the Masterclass so that you can hear a bit about what Atwood teaches in case you are interested in Masterclass. Or if you are interested in learning more about creative writing, like we always are!

Nicole’s Thoughts:

Atwood had an interesting perspective on short stories and how to start them. She doesn’t think about structure until she was about ¼ into her stories. She writes out her skeleton and then she goes back to add information to support the story structure. You put up the frame of the house and then go back to pick out the siding, color of the shingles, the size of windows and curtains, etc. Because to her, the story is what happens and that is the plot and structure is how you tell the story.

Atwood also talked about starting the story right there in the middle of the action. What is breaking the main character’s pattern? Pick one event that makes the main character’s life no longer perfect and that is the place you start. For then onwards, every action the mc does, reveals the character and everything the mc does, should build their character. They are there to interact with the events of the story, if you have a character that does not serve that purpose, consider getting rid of him or her, or maybe merge with another one. Characters should all serve a purpose, and their purpose in the story should not be wasted. 

Addey’s Thoughts:

I definitely think that Atwood had some unique and clever ways of looking at writing. She is, of course, an amazing and successful writer, and I don’t think writers can every go wrong listening to those who have made a career out of writing.

The first thing that stuck out to me when watching her Masterclass is something that Nicole also mentioned–a story needs a break in a pattern to get it going. In order to write something good and unique, you need to start from somewhere slightly off-kilter and different than the typical “pattern.”

Atwood also started out with the idea of never starting with an idea. This is an interesting concept to me because it seems to be the exact opposite of what I’ve always thought to be true. She encourages immersing yourself in writing and getting something on the page. Atwood says that is where your story/idea comes from.

So those are few things that stood out to Nicole and me in Margaret Atwood’s Masterclass. There are countless other tidbits of useful information for writers that Atwood weaves into each short lesson. We’re definitely still new to exploring Masterclass, but we’ll take you along with us and let you know what we find out!

Season Two Update

That’s a wrap on season two of borrowed solace: the podcast! We’re so grateful to everyone who has taken the time out of their day to listen and participate in the discussion. We plan on coming back for season three in the fall, so keep your eyes (and ears!) peeled for updates on the next season!