Thursday, August 23, 2018

Summer & Poetry Marathoning

With a start I realized it was near the end of summer, and feared I'd missed this year's Poetry Marathon. For those unfamiliar with the poetry marathon, it's an intense writing challenge that takes place in the summer, where you write a poem an HOUR for 12 or 24 hours straight alongside poets from all over the globe. It is the phenomenal creation of one of my favorite poet couples ever––Caitlin Thomson and Jacob Jans.

When I rushed to the Poetry Marathon's website ( I learned the marathon would not be taking place this year, but it will be in 2019, and they will be publishing another awesome anthology if there's the support to make it happen. I'm already excited about that.

Also! I had the pleasure of reading at the Poetry Marathon's reading last year so I got to meet a lot of the other marathoners in person. We had cocktails and talked politics afterwards.

Here are a couple (revised) snippets from my poems in marathons past:

" we hide out in moldy basements
and spend unlit days in loneliness,
with not even our own damn shadows
to keep us company."

"I wait for a miracle
to come rolling down a hill
which I am too exhausted to climb up."

The rest of my poems from years past can be found on the Poetry Marathon's website under the author name: jennifervera

Hope everyone is wrapping up a great summer. Here's my summer bucket list:

I will post an updated crossed-off version at the end of summer.


Friday, August 17, 2018

How I Revise a Poem

I unearth a poem from the stack of drafts and look at it, the veil of time allowing a shift in perspective. Then I ask myself these questions:

1. Does the title add dimension to the poem? This lecture by poet Matthea Harvey is richly educational on the subject of titles.
2. Where can I cut the fat?
3. Which details must be fleshed out? If there is a "tree" in my poem, what kind of tree? An aging spotted oak or a frostbitten cherry blossom (or maybe it really is just a "tree")?
4. How can I enhance the music of the poem?
5. Can I reconsider any line breaks? Retyping the poem can lend valuable insight. I play around with where I break my lines to see if anything interesting happens.
6. Is every single word needed? Can a more precise word replace a handful of imprecise words? I always keep in mind the economy of words in poetry.
7. Are my literary choices aligned with my poem's theme/message?
8. Is the form appropriate to showcase this particular poem?
9. Can I dig any deeper?
10. Have I done sufficient external research? If I mention a scientific phenomenon or reference an event in history I'll of course do research for that, but I also use research as a tool to enhance imagery and details in general throughout a poem.

Also check out "The Warmth of the Messy Page" by Rachel Richardson who writes in charming candor about revision, and "15 Poets on Revision" for a compilation of quotes by well known poets on the subject.           

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

10 Tips For Poets

#1. Start with draft zero.

Sometime the biggest obstacle is getting past the initial blank page. To promote prolific habits get in the mindset of starting with draft zero. This could be a brain dump or just a poorly phrased sentence. Ignore your ego and write down anything that flows through. Even if it's garbage it will get things moving and better ideas will likely follow.

#2. Plan to spend most of your time revising.

To revise means, literally, "to see again." To help you accomplish this, get feedback from others, join workshops or writing groups, hire an editor to work with or just buddy up with another writer friend. While a first draft of a poem may flood out in mere minutes, the bulk of the work in poetry is in the revising.

#3. Hoard your poems.

Save everything you write, including abandoned versions and all drafts. Sometimes a poem just doesn't work, but a particular line or image within it may be perfect for next year's poem. It's a good idea to go through your old journals every year or so to mine for ideas that may not have made it to fruition in previous attempts.

#4. Make a 5-year goal for your poetry career.

If your goal is to have a book published by then, make something to help you visualize that reality. Sketching out your future book cover is a fun project that you can hang up over your writing desk to provide daily motivation. Remember that every time you do a seemingly small act (send out poems, listen to a Poetry Off the Shelf podcast) you are making progress towards your 5-year goal. Take things step by step, but stay motivated by reminding yourself of how fantastic it will feel when you accomplish this 5-year goal.

#5. Find a poetry community or cobble one together yourself.

No man or woman is an island: build yourself a network of good, supportive poets whose work and/or work ethic you admire. Do writing challenges together, celebrate publishing accomplishments with them and hear of literary opportunities. Attend an open mic as often as you can. Once per week is ideal, I personally feel best when I am regularly attending an open mic and having weekly doses of inspiration in person. This also allows you to get more comfortable so you can experiment more with your performances in an environment where it's safe to fail.

#6. Maintain an organized submissions log.

You can do this in an Excel spreadsheet or by hand in a journal. Write down the date of a submission, name of the publication, method used and which poems you included. This way, if one of your poems gets accepted you can easily go back and see where else you sent the poem. Then you can notify those publications that you have to withdraw your work since it's being published elsewhere. It's also a good idea to keep a submissions calendar so you can see when all your favorite lit journals open up their submissions. Every year Poet's Market puts out a new directory of places to submit to. Most libraries should have a copy of this book. You can also go to Poets & Writers for an online database.

#7. Say this sentence to others and mean it: "I am a poet."

Maybe you feel inferior to others if you've never been published, so you don't want to call yourself a poet. But you know in your heart if you are, and asserting that to others is a huge step to take. Not only will it help with your confidence you will begin to take the work of poetry more seriously.

#8. Treat your life as though you were a journalist investigating a mystery.

This is a little habit that can have a profound impact on your writing. Have a journal & pen on hand no matter where you are, so that you can jot down notes for poems, inspirational quotes etc. Do this in the middle of a conversation or in the grocery store, wherever you are and whatever you're doing–– stop to write it down if inspiration hits, even if you're not sure what to do with it just yet. Don't file it in your brain's "poetry" category, because so much will end up slipping through the cracks that way. The little jewels of inspiration we stumble across in day-to-day living should not be squandered, and human memory is faulty.

#9. Devour poetry books.

This is how to arouse hunger within yourself to create, and the more you read the larger your skill base will be. Here are some fantastic books of contemporary poetry:

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier
In My Absence by Stella Padnos-Shea
Mordy Gets Enlightened by Eric Ranaan Fischman

#10. Write for an hour a day and make it a deliberate practice.

Author Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master a field. What's important to note is that these hours should be a deliberate practice. Set a specific time and clear away all distractions (get offline and put your phone away) so your focus is entirely on your writing. The quality of these hours is as important as the quantity.