The laundry mountain: dirty, clean, dirty

a pile of laundry in a mesh carrier: orange shirt, jeans, sweatshirt and more jumbled together.

Today’s poetics prompt at the dVerse Poets Pub is to write a laundry poem. De Jackson, today’s host, wrote a great example called Spin Cycle. The prompt brought up tons of memories: The cramped laundry room in my childhood home, sorting socks with Mom, the drying closet in Sweden, hand scrubbing in a basin in the Ivory Coast, late nights at the laundromat in New Orleans, stringing a line in the backyard, and so much more. It’s going to be tough to narrow this one down. I decided to stay in the now.

Sew–Mow–Wash–Sew

After I mowed, I didn’t jump in the shower
I was hungry and thirsty
and had emails to read
It didn’t take long before my smell distracted
I reeked, such a stench
of grass, dirt, gas, and sweat
So I ran to the laundry room
and those clothes I wrenched
off and threw in the washer
then ran to the shower to scrub

While breathing the sweet gardenia suds
of my soap in the steaming hot water,
I thought of my shirt
that burnt-orange, long sleeve
U-neck with a front pocket
just perfect for the shed keys
and my small mp3 player,
so I can listen to audio books
and forget that I’m pushing and pulling
large rotating blades

When I pulled my mowing shirt
from the cupboard this morning
it had more holes than fabric
but I wanted to wear it
so I zigzagged those pieces
until there were sleeves
and the pocket would work and
slipped that perfectly worn
almost sheer fabric
over my sports bra and t-shirt
I comfortably mowed for
an hour and a half then
tore it off and threw it in
the wash just like that

To be soaked and agitated
spun, churned and wrung
then pulled still wet and shaken
tossed in a hot tumbler to dry
It won’t survive, not in that shape
but I’ll stitch up its wounds
again and again because
it’s not the long sleeves
or the useful front pocket
it’s the mow then wash
wear and tear
that has made it so perfect

April’s Blogging A to Z challenge: contronyms, antagonyms, or auto-antonyms. Oh, my!

April is almost here! My days are flying by too quickly.

Yesterday, I signed up for the blogging A to Z challenge. This will be my fourth year combining National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) with the blogging A to Z challenge. I enjoy how the poetry prompts and the words I choose for the challenge influence each other to inform my poetry. Robert Lee Brewer of Writer’s Digest will also have daily prompts for his April Poem-A-Day (PAD) Challenge that will probably make their way into my posts.

So far I have explored the A to Z of:

2018: Words that were new to me
2019: More new words
2020: Music terms

This year I have been playing with Janus words, exploring how words that can mean their opposite might be used to “turn” a poem. For the A to Z challenge I will look at Janus words and phrases–also known as contronyms, antagonyms, or auto-antonyms–from A to Z and attempt to employ them in my daily poems.

I hope you’ll come by each day to read my new poems, see my new photographs and hear about what I learn along the way.

Hears to a creative and fun April!

The Cherry Blossoms Starting to Fall

A bee pollinates a light pink cherry-plum blossom against a blue sky
Pollination – by Maria L. Berg 2021

Today is Haibun Monday at dVerse Poets Pub and I found the cherry blossoms prompt timely. I went out to admire the cherry-plum trees in bloom and noticed the grass is already littered with pink. I’m glad Frank inspired me to spend some time admiring the pink against the sky before it is gone.

Emerging

The first delicate, pink blossoms burst early this year, or was it me, still clinging to winter’s safe cave? Any excuse to stay hidden under the blankets ripped away by the brash budding cloud of cotton candy, contradicting the sky. But today, upon closer inspection, burgundy leaves already clash with the petals along the branch and the grass is littered with fallen flowers. The bee’s hum fills me with hope for future fruit. Last year I missed the juicy, pitted presents withheld, perhaps, due to a confusing late freeze. I am lucky to have poked my head out in time to witness this peek-a-boo of nature. Like an updraft billowing a circle-skirt, it surprises, shocks, and delights then is gone.

tiny pink blossom
tickling periwinkle skies
the flasher of spring

Fallen in the Grass – by Maria L. Berg 2021

Revising at the Scene Level

Fixing It – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

In my last post on revising a short story, I mentioned the many things a scene needs to do:

  • have a goal
  • have a conflict
  • have an action that leads to a new goal
  • character development
  • world building
  • reveal new information
  • provide sensory information
  • have a grabber or payoff

For my revision, I assigned each of these scene needs a letter, and starting with the final scene, worked backward through my story, evaluating each scene. Here’s an example:

Scene 14: Maria’s POV after feeding in the town [one of my MCs is a Mexican-American named Maria (not me 😉 )].

G – To leave town
C – a farmer tries to help her, grabs her wrist
A – She uses aspects of the chupacabra to get away
D – She feels / wields the chupacabra’s power, misses old life
W – describes the nearest town to the river
N – Maria can bring out the chupacabra for defense when scared
S – sounds: door slams, whistling; texture: grimy
P – She hurt the farmer to get away

This quick analysis of each scene did wonders. I completely deleted one scene and combined two others. I discovered areas that needed more description and sensory detail and a section of exposition that I was able to show in a scene. I had printed out a more detailed “Deconstructing a Scene” worksheet I created a couple years ago, but I didn’t use it because this system worked. I plan to use it as part of my revision process in the future.

After analyzing each scene, I typed in all my changes, saved the draft and let it rest.

But the Distractions – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

I found joy in editing a different, shorter story while letting this one rest. In that story, the main issues were filter words. It really helped the piece to remove sensory filters: saw, heard, and felt. I also added specific details like “mahogany” instead of wood. By the time I finished revising the story, I enjoyed reading it aloud. The words felt good in my mouth.

Doin’ the Work – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

I brought the feeling of accomplishment and the specific issues I found in the shorter story to the next phase of revision: paragraphs, sentences, and word choice which I will talk about in my next post.

How is your revision is going? Have any tips or tricks?

Any questions?

Please share in the comments.

Stream of Consciousness Saturday (#SoCS): Run Yonder

Young boy running on grass.
Go go go photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

Yesterday morning I happened upon Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt. This weekly writing prompt offers a word prompt and a word limit. This weekend it is “Yonder” and the word limit is 44 words which I found familiar as it is the same as the dVerse Quadrille. I thought I would give it a go and remembered that it was Stream of Consciousness Saturday. The prompt was “run.” Those prompts could go well together, so I did some journaling.

I enjoyed the stream of consciousness writing and had some ideas for poetry but wasn’t ready to post yesterday. Today, I gave it another look and came up with a “yonder” poem of 44 words that I like.

Here is an excerpt of yesterday’s stream of consciousness:

. . . I used to love to run, through the woods around the lake, lil sjön in Sweden. Now, I run a few steps and I feel like I’ll die. So what “run” do I want to talk about? Colors run, mascara runs, people have the runs, a run in stockings, fingers run up and down scales, a keyboard, race to the finish, the rat race, sprint to the finish, flee from fear, run from a bad memory, from the past, run from the truth, run to love and hope, an embrace, someone’s arms, a familiar face, race to a banquet table, an all-you-can-eat buffet, “do you know where you’re running to? Do you like the things that life is showing you?” Run in place, on a treadmill, in a hamster wheel, run for the ball, run from the police, scatter, only have to run faster than the person behind you . . .

And here is the yonder quadrille poem I wrote this morning:

Ever Yonder

Beyond the hives filling with honey
and the rolling hills where we would roll too
through the soft, sweet grass that held us watching dawn
to the lapping waves against damp sand
we traveled so far to be here
where nothing became any clearer

Playing in the Duplex

When I read The Tradition by Jericho Brown, I was drawn to his duplex poems. I was fascinated by how slight changes in the repetition of a line could completely change and deepen the meaning of both lines.

Inspired by Peter’s prompt at dVerse Poets Pub to attempt a circular poem, I thought I would try my hand at a poem inspired by this form.

I found a great post on the Poetry Foundation website by Jericho Brown From the Archive: Pulitzer Prize Winner Jericho Brown’s “Invention” in which he talks about how he invented the form and what its boundaries are.

bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

The Total Eclipse

In the woods, the villain is stronger
changing allegiances, spending the night

I change allegiances and spend the night
to bury the things I’m holding tight

I replant the things I already have
that felt truly special in the other house

I felt truly special in the other house
stronger than the hero passed out in the car

Passed out in the car in protest of me
to shine a light on how dark I can be

And I can be dark, a total eclipse
when eclipsed by absurd rejection

The rejected change allegiances
in the woods, the villain is stronger

I don’t think I totally got it, but I’m glad I gave it a try. The poem went in an interesting direction.

Squares in Motion

bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

Today’s Poetics challenge at the dVerse Poets Pub is to write an ekphrastic poem. I chose Laura’s third option and began my poem based on the title of an image by an artist I wasn’t familiar with, Bridget Riley, before I looked at the piece. Then I looked at the piece and finished the poem.

Movement in Squares

quick turns, sharp angles
only to find the point of origin

always on the straight and narrow
never to meander with wanderlust

blocks, chunks, cubes
toppling, clunking, thudding

lacking grace or fluidity
except to twirl on that point when found

But isn’t everything on this screen
movement in squares?

tiny bits in a group costume
masquerading as sine waves

films, TV shows, new clips and ads
tons of tiny colored squares

of information overload
bombarding, teetering, tumbling


It is but a trick of the eyes
a play on perception

glaring bright in black and white
the chessboards never meet but fall

and fall to depths unknown
reminiscent of Alice in a rabbit hole

The First Narcissus

The First Narcissus photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

This morning I found Stream of Consciousness Saturday (#SoCS) thanks to seeing Jenna at revivedwriter’s post in my wordpress reader. I was about to sit down to some stream of consciousness writing in my morning pages anyway, so I thought I would see what SoCS is all about.

The prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday (I really like the idea of my Saturdays being completely stream of consciousness) is posted on Friday’s on Linda G. Hill’s blog. Today’s prompt is day/week/month/year. The idea is to share an unedited piece of stream of consciousness.

The first couple pages I wrote were mostly about stress and frustration, nothing all that interesting. I almost gave up and wrote, “I don’t think that got me anywhere.” Then I wrote, “What if I try the senses?”

First Narcissus

The day is the color of sunshine and safety of the first narcissus,
smiling over the ceramic chicken planter in the bed under the window,
inspiring me to pull the weeds, leaving the chicken prepared.

In a week the cherry-plum blossoms will look like cotton candy
with birds and bees stuck in their sweetness.

The month will be warm and arouse.
The air will fill with elaborate calls of dominance attracting mates
And I will begin this year’s pile of cut grass,
and turn last year’s compost.

The hummingbird is a close relative of the swift, but a swift can also be a lizard or a reel for winding thread.

Oh, the tiny things photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

Today at the dVerse Poetry Pub the Quadrille prompt is “swift.” Because I had been bird watching this morning, I thought I would give this 44 word poem a try. Then I started looking at swift’s definitions and synonyms (like I do) and found the noun definitions very interesting. The birds that are called swifts are closely related to hummingbirds and are also the cave bird in Asia that make the nests for nest soup.

A very vocal hummingbird started hanging out in my cherry-plum tree this winter. He’s always trying to show off by making a loud, sharp chirp. I don’t know how well he’s doing, but I’ve seen three hummingbirds looking at each other in my tree recently. I love that he perches at the tip of the very tallest branch, attempting some minuscule dominance.

Swiften

tiny
humming-
bird, a swift’s
closest relation, chased
from his perch in the cherry-plum’s
top branch by three sparrows wanting, but he’s not gone
a snappy chirp and he dive-bombs, headlong, a kamikaze at breakneck,
dispatches the intruders and poses, prominent against the clouded sky


Surprised he’s a redhead photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

Revising a short story: Pacing and Structure

A couple years ago, my nephew became fascinated by my sewing machine. Emulating his grandfather (my father is always fixing something), he decided he needed to fix it. He would shove the little screw drivers into every opening. One time, while I was sewing, I found one of the extra feet inside the gears. So when my neighbor was giving away a sewing machine, I brought it home just for my nephew. For two years of visits, we have gotten out our sewing machines and I sew while he “fixes” his machine.

During his last visit, however, he decided his sewing machine was all fixed and he wanted to sew. I wasn’t sure what would happen after all that “fixing,” but I went ahead and showed him how to thread the machine and taught him about the bobbin. Then we attached the foot pedal and plugged it in. To my amazement, it worked. It even had perfect tension and an even stitch. Since he was too small to reach the pedal and hold the fabric at the same time on the table, he chose to work the pedal while I guided the fabric. At first, he pushed the pedal all the way down and the needle had one speed: fast. After we made a few straight lines, he said he wanted to sew a circle. I told him to accomplish that, we would have to sew more slowly. So we practiced sewing different speeds by carefully pressing the pedal to different depths. Watching him practice sewing more slowly made me think of the next pass in my short story revision, pacing.

I enjoyed this video from Reedsy with Editor Anna Bierhaus to get me thinking about pacing.

Pacing

Pacing is the movement and momentum in a story. In today’s world of short attention spans with billions of options for entertainment, you might think all stories, especially short stories should go, go, go! But like all good songs, a short story also needs changes in tempo and rests. Often the moments of silence are the most exciting moments in music. So how do I use those ideas in my short story?

  • First I need to explore my characters’ three main conflicts: Internal, External (story specific) and Societal.
  • Then I need to see where I can raise the stakes (my poor characters already have it so hard).
  • I need to make sure that each scene is working as hard as it can: Goal, Conflict, Action that leads to a new goal, Character development, World building, and Reveals new information.

From Cat Rambo’s class, I focused on a couple of questions I want to apply to my story:

Is there a payoff for the reader every few pages: a grabber in the prose?

Where am I moving too quickly? Are pieces missing? This is something I often find in my writing. I expect the reader to see what I see in my head. I need to look for places where I jump over things the reader needs for continuity, believably, and understanding.

Where am I moving too slowly? Where can I cut out unnecessary details and words? Are there whole sections that don’t add to the story being told?

I read some other posts on pacing and found How to Master Narrative Pacing: 7 Tips to Help Pace Your Writing from MasterClass helpful.

Sometimes the story needs to slow down, so the reader doesn’t burn out.

Applying these ideas to my story

Since my last post, I have typed a new draft of the story. The process was slow and difficult. My inner perfectionist was on high alert and nothing was good enough. Each sentence took forever. However, I think this draft has potential which is exciting.

My story starts in medias res (in the middle of the action). My character is stunned and confused. The longest sentence in my first paragraph has eight words. The second paragraph has longer sentences full of action, keeping the quick pace until he escapes. The story slows for two paragraphs while he takes in his new situation then the next action begins.

Mapping out the story like this was insightful, but wasn’t giving me the overall feel of the story. I had another idea.

Listening: Last month I saw a #ProTip on Twitter from Kelli Russell Agodon that inspired me to explore another revision tool: the computer’s “read aloud” functions. I learned how to use Microsoft’s Narrator and added the Read Text Extension for Open Office. I thought listening to the computer read my story would help me hear and feel the pacing of my story, so I gave it a listen.

That works great for typos! The computerized voice makes the errors completely apparent. For pacing, however, it did not work for me. Even when I changed the voice to the woman speaking at a more natural speed, it was stilted and didn’t flow which was part of what I was listening for. I’ll be using this tool later when I’m working on line edits.

Scenes: After the listening experiment didn’t work, I went through my story and marked the beginning and end of each scene. I highly recommend doing this right after you’ve typed up and read your second draft. What I found is my story has a natural progression of scene and sequel, action and response. I also found a pattern of exposition setting up a scene. These short paragraphs of exposition may need to be tightened up if essential to the flow of the story, or may not be needed at all and can be cut. The exciting part is how obvious they became when I broke the story into scenes.

Everything builds toward the climax: This story, in general, moves well. To improve the pacing, I want to build more toward the climax. To do that I need to introduce a couple of ideas earlier, brainstorm some ways to raise the stakes and increase the tension and pacing going into the climax of the story. As it is, I think the climax occurs too abruptly after a reflective scene.

Structure

Another thing to think about at the big picture level of revision is structure. What other ways could I tell this story? The short story is often the format authors use to experiment with story form. Before diving any further into editing your story, ask yourself, Is there a better, more interesting way to present this story?

Applying these ideas to my story

I spent some time with this question and came up with some interesting ideas:

  • I could switch back and forth between my two character’s POVs more often. This could make it feel like their stories are more intertwined from the very beginning.
  • I could write the whole story from only my first character’s POV. This would make my second character have to tell her story to him and could make it more emotional and put her spin on it.
  • I could tell the story non-linearly, starting with my main character coming to acceptance of his situation and then telling what got him there.
  • That idea led me to telling the story like a reality show. In this type of telling, I could bring in interviews with people who knew my characters: family, friends, co-workers, before they changed. I think this could make a fun sequel or additional story.

I think the structure I chose in the first draft is the best for the telling of this story, however I do like some of these other ideas and might try them as well as separate pieces.

Next Steps

After making these changes, I will have finished the story level or developmental revisions. Next, I will look at each scene and make sure that every one is necessary and doing as much as it can.

I look forward to hearing how your revisions are going and reading any editing and revision tips you would like to share in the comments.