Oral Poetry: Trying a new writing process

The Poetics challenge from Ingrid at dVerse Poets Pub is to write a poem without writing it down. This intrigued me and sounded like a great way to start exploring some ideas for this month’s Changing Focus project around the theme “reflections.”

I thought I’d share this vocal warm-up I like to do before recording (because it’s fun):

Yesterday, I discovered that the bass effects pedal I’ve had for many years, has a built in drum machine, so hold onto your hats world.

Focus on Reflections words and music by Maria L. Berg

Focus on Reflections

I face a self-imposed focus
on reflections
a month of looking
of looking in mirrors
looking at me

not turning away
looking further
and deeper
finding the deep waters
past the imperfections

What will I find there?
What does reflection
smell like? What is its
taste? How will I get to
the point where I
only see what I like?

All those flaws
become only a reflection
only the light
hitting a chip in the mirror
everything reflects light
all we see is a reflection


*That was an interesting experience. After finding a drum beat and recording the drum and bass. I played it back while saying lines to the room. When I felt like the concept was flowing, I recorded myself, then typed up what I said as if transcribing. That was fun. I think I’ll play with that a lot.

Cover of The Cynic in Extremis, a poetry collection by Jacob M. Appel. There is a picture of a grumpy looking pug wrapped in a furry blanket.

I hope all of you will come by this Thursday, Sept. 2, and read a special guest post about revision by Jacob M. Appel. I recently enjoyed his poetry collection, The Cynic in Extremis. I found it both entertaining and provocative.

Now Back to the Scheduled Program . . . Revision: Using feedback to strategize.

It’s been fun taking this art break, but it’s time to get back to what this blog is all about this year: revision. And at the end of this post I have a special announcement. Ooooh, Aaahhh.

Brainstorming Revision Strategies

Since one of my stories placed in its event in the Writer’s Games, it will be published in the 72 Hours of Insanity anthology later this year. I will soon receive notes from the editors. The main reason I find the Writer’s Games worthwhile is that each story receives feedback from three to five judges. Today, let’s look through my feedback and strategize how to approach revision.

The Feedback

During the Writer’s Games I wrote six stories. These are my generalized notes of feedback from all of the stories.

Character Development

  • physically describe the secondary character
  • clarify MC’s relationship and emotional connection to secondary character
  • how character holds him/herself
  • more description and elaboration of characters important to the climax and end of story
  • character should cling to previous beliefs and behaviors before change

Setting

  • consider how descriptions interact with internal logic
  • smooth transitions

Backstory

  • a delicate balance: too much in one story, not enough in another
  • more backstory through character’s internal thoughts, not dialogue

Foreshadowing

  • needs to be more clear
  • character’s beliefs need to be clear at the beginning

My thoughts

As with most feedback, one judge says one thing, and the next says the opposite, but what I listed above appeared to be a consensus, or was something I agreed with. Saving the feedback and giving it time to sit helped me separate my emotional jerk reactions and find useful information. Now that I’ve identified things to work on, how do I want to approach revision?

Revision Strategies

Character Development

I like to leave most of the physical aspects of my characters up to the reader’s imagination, but it appears the readers sometimes need more. I have a couple of tools I’ve collected but didn’t use while writing these stories. I’ll give them a try before I revise.

Exercise 1: Act out how the character walks, stands, gestures. To do this, I will envision that I am the character and walk around the room for a while. Then I’ll act out some dialogue as the character. I’ll video tape myself doing this and see how my movement and gestures change as I become each character.

Exercise 2: Chart the character relationships. For this exercise I’ll put the main character’s name in the center of a page then put the names of the rest of the characters encircling it, then I’ll draw lines of relationship between the characters and write what those relationships are. I’ll journal about how these relationships formed and changed over time, then I’ll focus on the main character’s perceptions of each of these relationships.

I thought the comment about a character not letting go of his/her previous beliefs so quickly was a very good point. I’ll brainstorm ways that my characters can demonstrate that they don’t want to believe their own eyes, and are struggling to find rational explanations before changing their beliefs.

Setting

I thought the comment about description needing to follow the stories internal logic was good. I do tend to explain things after the fact when I should make sure something is clear to the reader before I describe it, or at least directly after, not later in the story. I will be on the look out for places where the reader needs context.

Backstory

The feedback I received about use of backstory is tricky. There’s a delicate dance here that ties in with the work I need to do to recognize when the reader needs more context. I think I will try a couple of exercises to work on this.

Exercise 1: Read through the story and highlight everything I consider backstory. Are there flashbacks? Highlight flashbacks in another color. Are they necessary? What do they bring to the present narrative? Where does the reader need context for a character’s feelings or actions? What is the character’s most powerful memory that influences that behavior? Will it clear things up for the reader to know that, or will it take them out of the present action?

Exercise 2: Print out 5 short stories I like and highlight every use of backstory and flashbacks. When and how was backstory used.

Foreshadowing

Using chiastic outlines ( This article “The Strength of a Symmetrical Plot” does a good job of explaining it and has a great example created by Susan Raab using the story of Beauty and the Beast) has really helped me think about foreshadowing. However, from the feedback I received, it looks like I still have a ways to go. I think both of the exercises I set up to work on backstory will also apply to foreshadowing.

Reading aloud

I have found in the past that having the computer read my story to me has helped with final edits, especially typos. Recently, however, while I was recording myself reading my poems for the pathways project, I found that knowing I was going to record it led to important revisions. I haven’t tried that with a short story yet, so for this revision, I will try recording myself reading it aloud and see what the process of recording myself reading it does for short story revision.

And here’s the Special Announcement!

One of my favorite short story writers, Jacob M. Appel, has taken time out of his incredibly busy schedule to write a guest post about revision for Experience Writing. If you haven’t read his work yet, he has something for everyone. He has published novels, story collections, a poetry collection, essays, and medical articles; he contributes to Writer’s Digest, and so much more. There’s a documentary about him on Amazon Prime Video called Jacob.

Here’s his bio from his website:

Jacob M. Appel’s first novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Award in 2012. His short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the 2012 Hudson Prize and was published by Black Lawrence in November 2013. He is the author of seven other collections of short stories: The Magic Laundry, The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street, Einstein’s Beach House, Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana, Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets, Amazing Things Are Happening Here, The Amazing Mr. Morality, The Liars’ Asylum and Winter Honeymoon; an essay collection, Phoning Home; a poetry collection, The Cynic in Extremis; four other novels novel: The Biology of Luck, The Mask of Sanity, Surrendering Appomattox, and Millard Salter’s Last Day; and a collection of ethical dilemmas, Who Says You’re Dead?

Jacob has published short fiction in more than two hundred literary journals including Agni, Alaska Quarterly Review, Conjunctions, Colorado Review, Gettysburg Review, Iowa Review, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, StoryQuarterly, Subtropics, Threepenny Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and West Branch. He has won the New Millennium Writings contest four times, the Writer’s Digest “grand prize” twice, and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom competition in both fiction and creative nonfiction. He has also won annual contests sponsored by Boston Review, Missouri Review, Arts & Letters, Bellingham Review, Briar Cliff Review, North American Review, Sycamore Review, Writers’ Voice, the Dana Awards, the Salem Center for Women Writers, and Washington Square. His work has been short listed for the O. Henry Award (2001), Best American Short Stories (2007, 2008), Best American Essays (2011, 2012), and received “special mention” for the Pushcart Prize in 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2013.

Jacob holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Brown University, an M.A. and an M.Phil. from Columbia University, an M.S. in bioethics from the Alden March Bioethics Institute of Albany Medical College, an M.D. from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, an M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, an M.F.A. in playwriting from Queens College, an M.P.H. from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He has most recently taught at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he was honored with the Undergraduate Council of Students Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003, and at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City. He also publishes in the field of bioethics and contributes to such publications as the Journal of Clinical Ethics, the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, the Hastings Center Report, and the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The New York Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Times, The Providence Journal and many regional newspapers.

Jacob has been admitted to the practice of law in New York State and Rhode Island, and is a licensed New York City sightseeing guide.

I think you can see why I’m excited. I hope you will stop by Experience Writing this Thursday, September 2nd, to read Jacob’s insights on revision. See you there!

Pathways: a video, music, and poetry project

Update 9/2/2021: After enjoying all the oral poetry for the Poetics prompt this week, I thought the poets of dVerse Poets Pub might enjoy this for Open Link Night. I hope you will check out today’s special guest post from Jacob M. Appel on revision as well.

Here it is! My response to wRightingMyLife‘s Changing Focus monthly blogging challenge. The theme was Pathways.

I’ve wanted to try something that combines music, photography, and writing for a while, so this was a great inspiration to give it a try. This first effort was a bit rushed ( I happened upon the challenge halfway through the month), but I had a lot of fun with it and learned a lot.

While putting together the video, I learned how to do some animations with my photographs (haven’t figured out how to use them with my video editing software yet), and learned some techniques for combining motion and still photography.

Recording myself reading my poems was great practice. While practicing, some revisions and edits became obvious.

Writing music to go with the visuals and poetry was very challenging. Many of my ideas just wouldn’t work. I went through days of discarding recordings, but finally came up with the feel of pathways I was going for.

September’s theme is Reflections. I have a lot of reflection to do about my Pathways project. 😉

Little Red Geranium

Flower-a-day #12

For today’s drawing I used pencil, colored pencil, watercolor and crayon.

Glandularia? Sounds more like a glandular problem than a pretty flower.

Flower-a-day #11

My colored pencils didn’t have anything close to this pretty color, so I tried watercolor. That was fun.

Yummy Summer Blackberries

Flower-a-day #10

The blackberries are so sweet right now. I love snacking on them in the late morning, and the vine treated me to this flower, promising more to come.

Nemesia: looks like a baby snapdragon to me

Flower-a-day #9

Pensitivity 101’s Three Things Challenge inspired me this morning. The three things to include in my post were: CREASE, BLEND, FRONT. I recently started doing daily inkblots again. Writing about faces in the clouds in my Nephelococcygia post the other day got me thinking about drawing faces over inkblots. However, I like the inkblots just how they are, so I couldn’t bring myself to draw on them.

This morning after I creased the page in my sketchbook, and was rubbing the paper to blend the water colors, I imagined creating bokeh pathways over the inkblots as symbols of mental pathways: paths of thought, neural pathways, etc. So I strung lights in front of the pages and had some fun results.

Pretty Potato in the Wind

The Sunday poetry prompt #348 from Poetic Bloomings is Weather or Not. This prompt feels very timely since I took my flower pictures in the wind this morning. That little purple potato flower did not want to stop dancing to pose for my camera.

Flower-a-day #8

The pages of my sketchbook with all the flowers so far.

And yesterday–the first time one of my closest friends came to this house, and during this summer of record drought and heat–it was so cold and cloudy she put on a sweatshirt that looked like two fuzzy blankets sewn together, and as she went to her car, it was raining. We had a great day, and I am seriously happy about the rain, but really, weather? She didn’t even see the mountain.

The Weather Couldn’t Cooperate

We sat bundled in
my Adirondack chairs
and stared at
the black plume
building behind
the firs.

I had imagined
dives and floats in
the summer sun,
a little brisk, but balanced
by hot tub dips
if or when needed

but the gray, thick clouds
didn’t break, and the breeze
began to bite, smelling heavy.
Like hanging weights in the nostrils, she said.
A cold wind, sharp with electrical fire
is not what I ordered for our visit,

her first visit in
these long-short fifteen years,
but the plums were ripe
and tasty as was the wine, inside
was warm, and the sweet frosting melted
as did the time.

As we said our goodbyes
we were both
delighted by the rain.

Ode to a red rose #SoCS

The Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt is “Ode.” Last week I was inspired to start my daily flower drawing practice and it made me draw every day which is amazing to me, and I love the black and whites photographs that I never would have thought to try before seeing zombie flamingos’ post last Saturday. So in a way this whole last week of posts has been an ode to Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

Ode to a lone red rose
standing bold against the gray sky
its petals say see me

Maria L. Berg

I also started the Pathways project from wRightingMyLife last week and I have found that very inspiring. I created a new barefoot bokeh filter and tried it out this morning:

A blushing yellow rose

Flower-a-day #6