Monday, December 29, 2014

A Weekend Workshop in Delaware and a Book Contest Reading

Several months ago I was invited to be one of three final judges for the 2014 annual Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, a full-length book contest open to poets living in the Mid-Atlantic states. The other two judges were Gerry LaFemina of Maryland and Larry Woiwode, Poet Laureate of North Dakota. The contest was overseen by poet Linda Blaskey of Delaware. Linda and her team of readers culled the entries down to six manuscripts, then sent those to each of the judges who made the final selection.

Linda also invited me to spend a weekend in Delaware, the weekend of December 13-14, leading a group of poets in a workshop. I happily agreed. I drove to Delaware on Friday, was kindly put up in a hotel by the group of poets, and then spent three hours each on Saturday and Sunday with the best group of poets I’ve ever worked with, sixteen of them. We met in a spacious room in one of the Rehoboth Art League buildings.
Building where we met for our workshops
Linda told me ahead of time that the group wanted some craft talk and prompts that focused on craft. So that’s what I went armed with. I did not use any material from The Crafty Poet as I’d been given to understand that most of the group already had the book. In fact, three of the poets are in the book! Many of the group members also knew me as they are subscribers to my Poetry Newsletter. We spent our time together reading some sample poems I’d brought and discussing the craft in them and then writing to prompts that zeroed in on a particular element of craft. We did some reading of the drafts with minimal critique, mostly appreciative noises.

I alternated the craft prompts with ones that work well on those days when you have nothing to write about—and who doesn’t have some of those? The writing was wonderful and the group was incredibly supportive of each other’s work. I gathered that they have been working together and cheering each other on for years.

Saturday night was the announcement of the contest winner and presentation of his book. This event was held at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware. It’s a real brewery, with all kinds of craft beers, a bar, tours, and a food truck. Since it’s located about 30 minutes away, one of the group members picked me up and another one drove me back to my hotel. Apparently, the owners are big poetry fans and have supported this contest for years. They gave a nice bag of goodies to me and to Gerry who also attended. We both joined the winner in a reading. Gerry read first and then me. Then Linda announced the winner: Lucian Mattison of Norfolk, Virginia. The evening ended with a reading by Lucian, the presentation of his prize which included a check and two cases of beer, and a signing of Lucian’s book, Peregrine Nation, published by Broadkill River Press.

Part of the audience. That's the DE Poet Laureate JoAnn Balingit, with the scarf
Gerry LaFemina
Linda Blaskey introduces the winner, Lucian Mattison
Winner Lucian Mattison reads from Peregrine Nation and pauses for a sip of beer
Presentation of the Award
I returned home after our Sunday session, feeling invigorated by the weekend. It was a true pleasure and privilege to have worked with such a terrific group. I am very grateful to them for having invited me. I felt honored by the invitation. I salute this group for the support they give each other and for giving themselves the gift of a weekend of total immersion in poetry. I’m looking forward to seeing the poems that eventually emerge from the weekend. I'm sure that many of them will land in some very fine journals.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Yes, Virginia

Each Christmas I like to revisit the following essay from the The Sun. My grandmother read it to me many years ago. I've always remembered it. If you don't already know this piece, I hope you'll enjoy it. I also hope you'll have a Merry Christmas if that's what you're celebrating. And I hope you'll have a wonderful New Year. Thank you for being a Blogalicious reader.

Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's The Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial on September 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history's most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.

Here's Virginia's letter:

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


Here's the reply:

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Some Thoughts on Using Poetry Prompts

I was recently delighted to come across Amorak Huey’s article, “Writing Poems from Prompts,” in the 2015 Poet’s Market. The article made me happy because I’m a poet who enjoys the challenge of prompts. I know that not all poets do and some even dismiss them and say that “real poets” don’t use prompts. I know lots of real poets who do indeed use them, and I count myself among them. I find, as does Huey, that a prompt will push me in a direction I might not otherwise have traveled. I enter new territory, sometimes strange and surprising. I’m given ideas on days when I just don’t have any. Who among doesn’t have some of those days? I also like prompts because they often compel me to focus on some aspect of craft; thus, I grow as a poet. Huey quotes professor W. Todd Kaneko who says, “. . . I think writing prompts are most useful when they are based around an element of craft.” Me too. If you subscribe to my Poetry Newsletter, you already know that I agree with this. If you have my book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, you know I agree that prompts are cool.

Huey’s article includes a list of five tips for using prompts effectively. My favorite tip is #3: “If one prompt is falling flat, combine it with another. The creative process benefits immensely from the friction of two disparate forces.” Read the entire article to get the other four tips.

The article ends with a “List of Six Stellar Sources of Poetry Prompts.” I was tickled silly to find The Crafty Poet included! Here’s the entire list, one blog plus five books. You might also consider this a list of suggestions for holiday gifts for your students, your pals, and yourself.

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