On writing poetry “for a living”

There’s an interesting thread taking place at the moment in the ERWA Writer’s newsgroup about what it takes to earn a living with your writing.  As I write poetry, I haven’t had to “worry” about trying to earn a living from the poetry alone.  While researching a response to Daddy X’s post about a poet he knew who was flexible in his jobs, I ran across this quote about Mary Oliver worth sharing as it relates to writing poetry for a living:

Mary Oliver once told an interviewer her secret to success. Throughout her life, she says, “I was very careful never to take an interesting job.” She explains, adding, “Not an interesting one. I took lots of jobs. But if you have an interesting job you get interested in it.” For Oliver, the only worthy interest was writing.

A folly of letterpress printing folies to fill a folio

I’m taking a class right now in letterpress printing. Beginning with the idea of the poetry cards I made for the SEAF event, I want to push that idea harder to create something like a “front” and “back” page of a “book.”   The idea is to create something akin to the old 45 record, where there’s a single song on the A side and a single song on the B side.

As an unpublished writer who focuses in poetry, I don’t carry my “slim volumes” around to share of sell.  Who the hell buys chapbooks anyways, much less actually reads the poems in damn books?  I think I know four people and they all write the stuff – and I’m one of the four.  However, at SEAF, I found people were fine with just selecting a single poem that they liked.  The card seems to have made the poetry much more accessible.  All my cards – and there were over 110 – got picked up except for two or three copies of Miami, 1964.  Image-1

I’m intrigued by the idea of being able to share small doses, single servings, if you will of poems.  And while the cards on photostock are all fine and good  – and I could get them printed professionally at 25c a card, that’s just not interesting enough.  So, I’ve decided to combine one ridiculous art form with a near obsolete technology for a culminating act of a folio of follies.  I’ll probably be lucky to get a single front page out of this class.  Setting the type letter by letter means those letters are held together in their line by compression.  I’ve spent more time cleaning up my spilled letters.

The letterpress printing set up is an enjoyable, if tedious exercise in construction.  What I’d originally created for the first business cards will not work.  So, this is making me re-engineer my design and my design ideas.  And if I take this from a single-sided card idea to a two sided one… nah… setting the type – letter by letter – where each letter and each space is held together only by compression, I’d have to make a payday for that doubling of work.  Which means I’ll be figuring out how to finish the back.

Why bother with all this you might ask?  What else does one do between being born and being dead except fill the time with folies.  Who knows how it will all turn out.  I don’t.


Ashley Lister’s Exercise at the ERWA blog – the kyrielle

Ashley Lister has his exercise up. He posts at the ERWA blog on the sixth of each month.  This month he introduces the Kyrielle.  I’d also add that the only additional commentary from Turco’s The Book of Forms (University Press of New England, Hanover & London, Third Edition, 2000, pp. 197-198)9781611680355

is a French normative syllabic poem form written in quatrains.  All lines are octosyllabic (in English meters, tetrameter)…

is that reference to tetrameter.  Longman Dictionary of Poetic Terms doesn’t have the form, neither does Bob’s Byway, Poets.org, etc. This article out of Arizona State University expands even further than Lister’s article with a reference to the Encyclopedia Britannica.  More importantly, I think, it specifically notes the use of quatrains which both Lister and Turco show in their rhyme scheme, but don’t specifically spell out.  It also goes into greater detail about the refrain:

characterized by a refrain that is sometimes a single word and sometimes the full second line of the couplet or the full fourth line of the quatrain.  (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Enough with quoting today, time to go write.

Love, Lust, and Sex after Sixty

is posted in the Summer 2015 Gallery of Poetry at ERWA – The Erotic Readers and Writers Association. That and Hic Sunt Dracones were picked up.  More importantly, I wrote about the process of drafting the poem on my May 11th blog entry on revisions.  It’s wonderful to have a venue for explicitly sexual work.

I’ve been writing about aging and sex for awhile because, well, I’m aging.  Sex does not belong to just the young and the beautiful.  And my very wise husband once asked why the men always had to be bossy and responsible for shooting a load the size of a cannon.  So, I enjoy writing works which don’t fit the tropes.  The cliches in erotic poetry are easy to break out of because the grooves are so well-worn that you can see to avoid them.  There really is so much material which has never been covered poetically with a high degree of craft so that explicit poetry could compete with non-sexual, or less explicit work of literary quality.

Yet, it’s difficult for me to write erotica when I have such limited experience – and frankly6a010534b2fc89970b015435ed988d970c-500wi – will continue to be limited for the foreseeable future.  There are topics I seem to be able to write about through others eyes.  I particularly love working with M/M work because I do find the idea of that arousing.  D/s – I’ve really only been able to do ekphrastic works, like robert and Robert.  BDSM, I’ve done a little bit, but I find this difficult because I, myself, have a hard time understanding the pleasure of pain and I have no experience.

It’s during periods like NaPoWriMo where I feel I can let myself explore, just let my imagination go.  Other times, I know there are so many rules that it becomes inhibiting.  I can read and read and read, but my head still gets filled with the criticism of “not knowing” what I’m talking about and fear of backlash.  This is a big reason why there’s freedom in being anonymous.  I’d have to pay someone to write my defense.  I doubt I could keep up with the way arguments fly across the internet, the way reputations tumble and fall.

So while I’ve “mildly” come out – i.e., I’ve posted pieces under both my pseudonym and “real” name because I’m not ashamed of what I’ve written, I can’t say that I have successfully engaged in internet arguments.  I also don’tindex interview well. There are other writers who can clearly argue.  I can only empathize.

My one passionate point would be the necessity of clear critical commentary as an important literary tool for improving work.  I’m not saying, “kind,” or “compassionate.”  Actually, I’ve found through moderating and being on the poetry boards for the past fifteen years that kindness does not help the writer kill their babies.  It’s an interesting paradox for the writer – what to keep, what to edit, what to outright kill.  It’s the writer’s responsibility to take in the advice, but to keep their cool.  Remember their manners.  Especially these days and times where a shitty response will get you notoriety – and not the good kind.

Having been harshly reviewed myself, I know how dismaying it is.  Yet, it’s been necessary for me in the development of my own writing.  On the receiving side, it’s helped me internalize what others find offensive by virtue of being bad writing.  Just as importantly though, by learning to write criticism, I’ve been able to look at my own work through the drafting process and “see” what needs to be tossed, rearranged, reworded, and what I’ve chosen to save.  By learning how to express myself to others through critical commentary on their pieces, I’ve been able to focus on someone else’s work and try to describe how to make it stronger, better.  I might not be right.  But I do spend my time trying to understand why I was bored, why I didn’t believe, why I didn’t like the piece.  And frankly, I find that I needed more support learning to write criticism than writing a poem.

And so I do respect those who know more about topics like BDSM, or D/s than I ever will.  I think I need to find an instructor to talk to before I leave the draft stage.  hmmmm….

Let me repeat myself

My morning newsfeed from Brain Pickings presented me with Amanda Palmer reading the Polish Nobel Laureate Wislawa download (12)Szymborksa’s poem, “Possibilities,”  The poem is written using a poetic device called “repetition.”  The repetition is obvious,  at the start of each line Szmborska is using the very same phrase.  After a while, the repetition sets an expectation much like metrical predictability.  Variation from the expected length is noticeable, but a nice break from the shorter lines.  Still, the poem’s length, and the absolute focus upon the phrase, “I prefer” drives the reader into a sense of knowing what to expect which feels “safe.”  This safety feeling, in my opinion, is an interesting juxtaposition to some of the brave risks she talks about within the poem itself.

While a reader who is unfamiliar with non-rhyming, non-metrical works as “poetry,” might not necessarily classify this work as 1318947739_Colourfull-dragonflya poem, the work fits many of the definitions of what a poem is.  This piece qualifies as a poem because it is using sonic devices, such as repetition, to “achieve an incantatory effect.”  It’s using this musical quality to balance the fearsomeness of some of the ideas Szmborska presents.  It twists language a bit, like the phrases “the time of insects and the time of stars.”

These are some of the reasons I wanted to make sure I brought this device, as well as her poem, to your attention.  But onto some of the technical details, like what repetition as a poetic device is, and how it’s used.

Repetition as a poetic device which Bob’s summarizes quite nicely:

A basic artistic device, fundamental to any conception of poetry. It is a highly effective unifying force; the repetition of sound, syllables, words, syntactic elements, lines, stanzaic forms, and metrical patterns establishes cycles of expectation which are reinforced with each successive fulfillment.

Sidelight: Repetition is so important to poetry that a large number of poetic devices are based on its different applications. Sometimes variations from the expected repetitions can also achieve a significant effect.

And here are some links on the use of repetition in poetry.

a blog called udemy
Literary Devices
Al Filreis’s Uni of PA has a lot of references and poems where the device is used

The Poetry Foundation doesn’t have a direct reference to the word “repetition,” but has a definition for “refrain” which one should be familiar with as that is a specific implementation of repetition in a formulaic manner.


And before you get to the poem, I’d like to remind you of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s famous quote from his Inland Voyage because when I read Szmborska’s poem it came immediately to mind.

To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.

So here is Amanda Palmer reading Polish Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szmborksa’s poem, “Possibilities” and the Brain Picking’s article with the poem embedded, but here it is and cited from the Nobel site:


I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.


By Wislawa Szymborskadownload (15)
From “Nothing Twice”1997
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Copyright © Wislawa Szymborska, S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh