And we’re off! (#ICWriters)

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2014 is off to a great start!

"Yes" written on lined paper

Writing has changed a lot since I sold my first article in 1997. Then it was a solo business for me. I was in the middle of taking a writing course and submitted those first pieces to see if I actually had what it took. It was all done by surface mail. (I sound like a real old-timer!)

Last year, after spending the end of 2012 marketing my novel, I decided to get back into freelance writing. Nowadays, the temptation for me is to write a lot but for free. Many publications have folded, and there are far fewer paying markets than there ever were. For the first quarter of the year, my goal was to change bad habits and submit one article per week to a paying market. Now my humble ships are coming in!

At the end of 2013 I received my contributor’s copy of  the January/February 2014 issue of Pockets. It had my article on Jean Vanier in it. I’m always thrilled to be published in that beautiful children’s magazine!

January 2nd brought word of contest results for the Time of Singing Winter Contest (8-line rhyming poems). My poem “Ananias explains the situation to Sapphira” won—first place! Pinch me!!

Yesterday  the latest Faith Today went online. My review of Janet Sketchley’s Heaven’s Prey is in it.  I was so pleased to get a chance to review this suspense-loaded novel authored by my friend.

Also yesterday my contributor’s copy of Cadet Quest (February 2014 issue) arrived with a word-search puzzle I put together for their  “Let’s Get Fit” theme.

It’s all fruit of work I did months to a year ago. Sometimes it seems like you labour and labour and nothing comes of it. And then the results return in a wonderful week or two of deluge! It’s not the instant gratification of fifteen LIKES on a Facebook update. But it has more impact on a resume!

A Garden to Keep (review)

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A Garden to KeepA Garden to Keep by Jamie Langston Turner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Landis makes the decision to become a Christian on a Sunday just hours before she discovers her husband is having an affair. Jamie Langston Turner’s novel A Garden to Keep is the story of the next four months.

It is a literary tome that delves into Elizabeth’s past and present. She probes her marriage, her mothering, her friendships, and her relationship with her parents and in-laws. In this she is often comforted by her ‘friends,’ the poems that are her companions, teachers, seers and the lenses through which she views life. As she becomes familiar with her new-found faith, Bible passages join their ranks.

The story is told in first person with our narrator anticipating the objections we’ll have to the way she’s telling the story. She says in the first paragraph:

“Let me warn you from the start that this story might make you angry.”

In another place after playing fast-and-loose with verb tenses she informs:

“In case anybody is wondering, I know my verb tenses are wildly erratic. I know all about verbs …. But verb tense is one of the most irrelevant parts of reviewing your life” Kindle Location 329.

And several times she asks for our patience as she spins out this lengthy tale:

“I’ve got something to say to anybody who’s grumbling about the slow pace of the story. And to anyone who wants to lay it aside because it’s disjointed. Don’t. A story goes forth in its own way. It takes its own sweet time to do whatever it’s going to do …” KL 4645.

I enjoyed the writing, though. Turner writes with lots of wisdom and perception:

“Every minute of every day is dragged down and held back by the heavy anchor of my broken marriage” KL 4657.

I also loved all the many references to poets and specific poems. I have highlighted a host of poem titles that I intend to check out. There are also some good insights about poetry:

“That’s what poetry does. You read it once and feel the quake, and then, as time goes on, you feel the aftershock” KL 7369.

But the slow, rambling, tangential storytelling style did tax my patience, despite the narrator’s pleas. And the longer I read, the less I liked Elizabeth herself. For someone who prided herself on how “Aware” she was (she haughtily classified people as “Aware” and “Unaware”), she was pathetically unaware and lacking in social graces (though she remarked early on about what a burden her ever-present politeness was in that it had her doing things that she would rather not just to be nice). Her possessive ways with her son while she ignored her husband and her rudeness to her mother-in-law (for which she justified herself at every turn) had me wanting to shake some common sense into her little poetic head.

Maybe I’ve prejudiced you against reading. I hope not. Because Christian literary novels are rare, this one was a prize-winner (2002 Christy Award for Contemporary Novel), and it does contain a lot of wisdom about relationships and how life with Christ makes forgiveness and extending grace (to oneself and others) possible. Of course for poetry lovers a work of fiction that incorporates poetry into its very essence is a rare find indeed and worth reading for that content alone.

View all my reviews

March prompt: wind

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windWhat’s the saying for March–“In like a lamb, out like a lion,” or “In like a lion, out like a lamb”?  The implication is that March is a windy month.

Wind is no stranger to the Bible. It is mentioned for the first time in Genesis 8:1 when God sent a wind to help dry the earth after the flood. Many hapless Bible characters were lashed with wind in storms–Jonah for example (Jonah 1:4),  the disciples and Jesus (Mark 4:37-38), and Paul (Acts 27:14-15).

Wind also played a part in dreams and miracles. Pharaoh’s dream about Egypt’s future contained a blighting east wind (Genesis 41:23,27). An east wind also brought the plague of locusts on Egypt about 400 years later, while a west wind blew them away (Exodus 10:13,19). And a strong east wind opened the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross after they exited Egypt and were pursued by Pharaoh (Exodus 14:21-22).

Not all the winds in the Bible are of the natural variety. Who of us hasn’t pondered the beautiful 3rd chapter of John where Jesus, talking to Nicodemus, used wind as a metaphor for those born of the Spirit?

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” – John 3:8.

How appropriate, then, that the coming of the Spirit on the disciples was with the sound of “a rushing mighty wind” – Acts 2:2.

This month’s writing challenge is to write about wind.

For fiction writers:

Write a story in which a physical wind is part of the setting, or a part of one of the character’s fears or memories. Or perhaps one of your characters will come in contact with the wind of the Spirit.

For non-fiction writers:

Research wind and write a piece explaining how it works scientifically.
Or write about a personal experience with wind.

For poets:

Write a poem about wind from either the physical, or spiritual perspective, or both. Perhaps you’ll write about the desiccating east wind of a dry time in your life, the buffeting wind of trial, the cool breeze of relief after hot trouble, or the wonderful calm of silence after the wind has ceased. As an added challenge, try to use words that communicate the sound and feeling of wind (onomatopoeia).

Contest due date looming

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UCS-LogoThe annual Utmost Christian Writers Poetry Contest due date is five days away—February 28th (entries must be post-marked by that date).

I know this is a legitimate contest, as I’ve won prizes in it in past years (for “Baptism” in 2004, for “Wisdom of the Scarecrow” in 2006, for “Converting to Childhood” in 2007).

  • PRIZES this year are not insignificant!
  • Check recent winners to see what kinds of poems place HERE.
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to enter HERE

ALL THE BEST!

February prompt: love is in the air

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It’s February and time for another writing prompt. With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching let’s explore love!

The Bible is full of love stories.

Isaac found his love, Rebekah, through a marriage arranged by his dad (Genesis 24:1-67).

Rebekah meets Isaac

Rebekah meets Isaac

Jacob knew whom he loved, but found his cagey father-in-law knew better, at least in the how to get his less attractive but older daughter off his hands department. This love triangle is full of heartbreak and jealousy, and not only for the unloved wife (Genesis 29:1-32).

Jacob meets Rachel

Jacob meets Rachel

Then there’s the story princess of Michal who loved David—yes, a woman-instigated romance (1 Samuel 18:12-29; 19:10-14)

Michal helps David

Michal helps David

And there’s the mixed race, December-April marriage of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 2-3).

Boaz gives Ruth protection

Boaz gives Ruth protection

Here are some suggestions of ways you might approach a piece on love:

For poets:

Write a poem from the viewpoint of one of the men or women above. Choose a moment in time within their story, and express their thoughts, emotions, hopes, fears, and frustrations at that moment.

or

Write an ekphrastic poem, inspired by one of the artist renderings above.

For fiction writers:

Imagine and recreate a scene between one group of lovers above. For example write about:

  • the first time Isaac and Rebekah meet.
  • the first meeting of Jacob and Rachel after Jacob has been tricked into marrying Leah. (Is Jacob suspicious that Rachel was party to her father’s ruse?)
  • the meeting of Ruth and Boaz after he has secured the right to marry her.

or write a modern love scene based on one of the scenarios above.

For non-fiction writers:

Write about your personal experience with one of the the types of relationships from our Bible examples (arranged marriages, love triangles, women instigating romantic relationships, marriages of mixed race and/or disparate age).

or

Express your opinion about one of the types of relationships.

If you choose to accept the challenge and publish what you write on your blog, let me know in Comments and I’ll post a link to your piece.

Black Friday wish list for poets

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It’s Black Friday. For me here in Canada, that term was meaningless for most of my life. When I first heard it, I thought it had something to do with a particularly unlucky Friday the 13th or something.

Of course those innocent days are gone. Black Friday disease has crossed the border, and even though we celebrated Thanksgiving weeks ago, with the U.S. Black Friday sales competing for our dollars, local merchants have got on the Black Friday bandwagon with a vengeance.

So, with the theme of shopping in mind, I’m putting up a list of books that you or your fellow poets might appreciate in your stockings. Keep your eyes peeled for  these in your Black Friday (and Saturday and Sunday…) shopping. (Though many of these are a few years old, they’re as valuable as ever. I know. I own every one of them and refer to them often.)

Writing The Natural Way - RicoWhatever you write you’ve probably heard of clustering (also called webbing, word webs, semantic mapping, mind mapping etc.). Gabriele Rico, a pioneer of this method of generating ideas,  begins by explaining how to cluster and how it works in terms of brain physiology. She shows how clustering helps writers access unexpected personal material and suggests lots of exercises. The book includes chapters on image, voice, creating tension, and revision. The many quotes about creativity and the writing life (found in the wide margins of this 9 x 71/2-inch paperback) are another feature that make it a treasure.

  • Creating Poetry by John Drury, 1991 (hardback – re-released in paperback, 2006).Creating Poetry - John Drury

You’ll never run out of poem-writing ideas if you have this book. The great thing is that it also doubles as a tutor. The introduction explains, “This book is organized sequentially according to the process of writing – or rather the process of learning to write, which amounts to the same thing – beginning with “Preparing” and ending with “Finishing.”

Poets Companion - Addonizio & LauxA great little book that combines instruction with inspiration and prompts. It’s available in Kindle format too.

In this value-packed volume, Mary Oliver talks about how to court the muse, read poems, and make the most of the science of sound. Maybe ‘science’ is too technical a word, but I did learn a lot about how the different sounds of our letters affect us and help or hinder our poems. What amazed me was to see how much technique and thought (she talks about the line, forms, diction, tone, voice, imagery, and revision) goes into Oliver’s poems—poems that come out sounding as effortless as breathing.

Poetry Home Repair Manual - Ted KooserThe U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004 – 2006 authored this slim paperback. If Kooser’s poetry is noted for anything it is accessibility and this book is his manifesto on why poetry should be accessible and how to write understandable poems.

He discusses topics like what it means to be a poet, how to entice readers to read your poems, how to avoid distracting the reader with the physical look of your work, using figures of speech and more. Along with wisdom gained from years of writing, Kooser dispenses encouragement, inspiration and just plain common sense. You’ll also enjoy the poetry sprinkled throughout this practical and understandable manual.

From “ABECEDARIUM” to “WORD” this handy book will help you stay in the know about almost any poetic term literature can throw at you. Three hundred fifty three pages of entries – which include pronunciations, definitions and over 250 illustrative poems from Homer to the present – are supplemented with an index of poets and poems, and an index of terms. This handy reference is as good for finding inspiration as boning up on the poetic terms you’re curious about or have never heard before.

Art & Craft of Poetry - BugejaThis excellent instruction-cum-reference book is written by a seasoned college teacher and published poet. In twenty-one chapters Bugeja talks about the entire poetic process from getting ideas to getting published. Each chapter comes complete with writing instruction, its own mini-anthology and a set of exercises for three levels (so you can make three passes through the book). You will not go through this book even once without amassing a fat portfolio of poems and a well-rounded understanding of poetry from traditional to contemporary. This oldie but goodie is now also available in a Kindle edition.

If you’re a poet who wants to master traditional forms this book, written by a seasoned poet, author, editor and teacher, is for you. In it you’ll find chapters explaining meter, the quatrain, couplet, sonnet, tercet, blank verse, French forms and more.

Baer explains things in a step-by-step way and uses classic and contemporary poetry to illustrate his points. He includes short practice exercises as well as twelve formal assignments. The appendix contains several essays about the history of poetry (including one about the formalist movement), a nine-page section of quotes about meter, form and rhyme, and a helpful index. This book is a must-have for poets in love with rhythm and rhyme.

Poet Power - WilliamsIf you want ideas about what to do with your poems besides warehousing them in file drawers, this is the book for you. Williams addresses subjects like the business of poetry, secrets of publishable poems, how to submit to magazines, self-publish, organize readings, publicize, and then sell your books. Williams’ enthusiasm and motivational writing style may well transform you from a poetic wallflower to a poetry entrepreneur who becomes a mover and shaker in your literary circle.

Happy Shopping!

(Updated from an article originally published in September 2009  as “Assigned Reading for Poets”  in Poets Classroom at utmostchristianwriters.com).

This post is submitted to Poetry Friday, hosted today by the multi-talented Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.

When song reverberates past the notes

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Steve Bell Trio

On Saturday night I experienced a rare confluence of two loves—music and poetry.

It was my sister-in-law who alerted us to the fact that Steve Bell was in town. So we bought tickets and caught him in Surrey at only the second stop on his Keening for the Dawn (new Christmas album) tour.

Steve, if you don’t know him, is a Canadian troubadour. A Winnipeg-based musician, he has been singing and recording his own folksy songs since before we had CDs (we were first introduced to him via the 1989 cassette release of Comfort My People). He has incredible control over his tenor voice which he flips as easily in and out of falsetto as he dances his fingers up and down the neck of his ever-present guitar.

Saturday night was a treat from the first minute he and the members of his touring trio Murray Pulver and Joey Landreth took to the stage. There were harmonies and harmonics, varied accompaniments (as hat-man Pulver kept slipping off one guitar and putting on another) and several seasons of jazzy improvisation. The stories Steve told were a treat as always. But the climax of the concert for me was the rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Steve BellSteve explained to us mostly non-Anglicans, how that song has seven stanzas, each one dealing with an aspect of Christ (called the Great O Antiphons—seven ancient, prophetic names for Christ). As he delved into the song in preparation for recording it, he knew he wanted to use the whole thing, but didn’t want to go on droning verse after verse. That’s when he discovered the O Antiphon sonnets of Malcolm Guite (rhymes with ‘quite’).

Guite, a British pastor, professor and poet gave him permission to use several. Steve read two of them to us before he began the song and then Guite (via a recorded track) declared to us in rich English-accented tones between sung verses, the mystery of Jesus as Root and Key.

Bell has tinkered with the original wording in some of the verses. Listen (and read lyrics) to “O Come O Come Immanuel”—song and poetry that may set off echoes all through the sound chambers of your spirit as it did mine:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

(Here is just the mp3 file of “O Come O Come Emmanuel”)

Last night I poked around online to see if I could run this Malcolm Guite to ground. I found he has a generous web presence of his own and was delighted to read, on his blog, his side of the story of how he and Steve met, and what a thrill it was to collaborate with him.

Guite has his own release coming soon. Sounding the Seasons, a book of poems, is due out in December. Yay for Amazon. It will be for sale here and we don’t need to find a way to bring it across the sea!

Related: Keening for the Dawn - Steve Bell