Poem Feedback

Ever wondered what it takes to do well in major poetry competitions? I sure have!

A couple of months back, I posted a poem on here called “Words Alone“. I thought I’d test the waters by submitting it to a major poetry competition that offered feedback (for a small fee). I’ve copied the poem, and the feedback below, plus some thoughts from me. I want to clarify that I’m only sharing this in case it helps you with your poetry, and your thinking around how to write and shape it. Feedback – and support – from the WordPress community is awesome, but sometimes it helps to have an objective professional to cast an eye over our work.

So, this was the poem:

No tingled touch
Upon bare skin.
No toss of hair;
Or playful grin.
These words, alone, to woo.

No eyes to meet,
Or silence break.
No hand to hold,
Or breath to take.
These words, alone, to woo.

No stolen glance
Or moments miss.
No lips to touch,
Or nape to kiss.
Words, alone, to woo.

No whispered wants
Or breathy hush.
No caress
Or soaring rush.
Words, alone, to woo.

No midnight madness
Guilt to cleanse.
Falling quickly;
More than friends.
Words…

No joy.
No pain.
Fleeting there
And back again.
My words, alone.
For you.

This was the feedback:
I liked the idea of your refrain, in italics — that changes slightly as the poem progresses. That works well, I think.

There’s a slight danger, though, that with that now rather dated-sound verb “to woo” being repeated so often, someone might be reminded of the cry of an owl. (I didn’t think of this until I tried reading your poem out loud.. so I thought I’d better mention it.. before another reader might.)

You use very short lines effectively here. But be careful about using vocabulary that’s sometimes rather predictable, and that doesn’t come across as ‘new minted” — the way words often do in a striking poem. For instance, phrases like “silence break” or “stolen glance” or even “midnight madness” all sound rather like ones I’ve read or heard elsewhere.

(And “upon” in line 2 is definitely a word to avoid in a contemporary poem; think about how seldom people actually say that word, or write it, nowadays..)

The other thing I’d try, with this intimate a poem, is setting it out, the way many free verse poems are, with capital letters at the start of lines only when it’s the beginning of a new sentence — as in prose writing. You could try it and then look at the new version to see how it looks to you. You may or may not end up changing it, but it’s good to compare different layouts, etc. The structure seems very well controlled, and I think it would be well worth the effort to keep working on this.

My response:
I work with a critique group for my children’s writing, so am used to getting feedback which isn’t all positive (and don’t want to come across here as defensive, either). Different critiquers always spot different things – that’s the nature (and beauty) of it.

Obviously some of any response is a personal reaction, so if my poem does not fit their personal tastes then it will be judged more harshly than others, perhaps. I’m not sure I agree with all of the comments about word choices (sod originality, I’m looking for the perfect words for the situation – midnight madness for example is not one I’d change, and part of the point was to play on the cliche of falling in love and where that may lead)… plus, I use the word “upon” when appropriate in real life sometimes. (Boy, do I feel old now!)

The final comments about setting this out as a free verse poem were interesting, for two reasons… firstly, I wouldn’t describe this as free verse. There is a clear rhythm and rhyme scheme that seems to have been overlooked. On a more positive, second, note, I tend to draft in Word, which obviously capitalises automatically any word at the start of a line. Perhaps I should try drafting more often directly into WordPress (which doesn’t) and trying different layouts for the text. That hadn’t even occurred to me until reading this (my poetry tends to be fairly structured). This might seem basic to you, but sometimes it’s the little things that get overlooked…

It would be interesting, if it had been possible, to speak further to the judge and ask them more about how they thought this could be developed, but sadly, this isn’t possible.

Anyway, whether you agree or disagree, maybe this will help you to shape your own thinking about layout, refrains, and specific word choices.

How do you react to feedback on your work? Do you find it easy to take? What’s the strangest feedback you’ve ever received?? Let me know, below!

 

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Ten Things That Writers Can Learn From “Finding Nemo”

At the weekend, I was watching Finding Nemo (again) with my boys. They love it. I love it. It’s in my top five favourite films of all time, which is really saying something bearing in mind I’ve seen it more often than the rest of the top four put together (and probably the rest of any top ten, if I ever went that far with a list).

(Yes, I know the (frankly disappointing) trailer for Finding Dory is out now. I care not for being topical!)

While watching Nemo, my thoughts drifted again to my own writing journey. This is dominating my thoughts at the moment… maybe yours too. And I realised that there are a bunch of things for writers to take away from the film, even leaving aside the obvious “write something even half as good and you’ll probably go a long way” point. I’m sure these lessons apply for many other paths through life too, but I’m working on Chuck Wendig’s principle that the internet is 55% porn/ 45% writers, and writing for the minority.

So, in time-honoured tradition, here are my top ten Finding Nemo takeaways for writers:

  • 1) The start of the journey will not be auspicious
    There may be a thousand writer-eggs born that start the journey, with protestations of “I’ve always wanted to write a novel“, but then the barracudas of life sweep in and suddenly the field thins down to… just you. Damaged, possibly emotionally and physically, but determined.
  • 2) The path to your ultimate goal is not easy, or linear
    There will be numerous challenges along the way. It does not matter how you reach your goal, only that you do reach your goal. If life offers you a chance to speed along on the writing equivalent of the East Australian Current, then take it. (And if any fellow writers have any insight as to what the EAC is for us, then please let me know in the comments!)
  • 3) Strange bedfellows will help you on your journey
    You will come across many types of people that you would not ordinarily hang around with, let alone rely on. These may turn out to be your greatest allies. “Fish are friends, not food.”
  • 4) Push yourself beyond your limits to achieve
    Even if you prefer the comforts of your writer-cave, rubbing yourself continually against the anemone of reassurance before venturing the smallest distance, that won’t take you very far. Embrace new experiences and challenges… You will have to risk rejection, in fact risk everything, to achieve your goals.
  • 5) Trust in your friends
    You cannot complete the journey alone. You will need the support of partners/ family/ critique partners / beta readers / fellow writers to make it. Take a small handful into your confidence, and trust them completely. If they tell you to move to the back of the whale’s throat, you move to the back of the whale’s throat.
  • 6) Understand the industry / agents / publishers
    Rejection is not personal. You are a fish. Those in the industry are birds. As Nigel the pelican says to Marlin and Dory:
    “Sorry if I took a snap at you at one time. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta eat.”
  • 7) Creating a buzz will help you succeed
    If “the whole ocean’s talking about it“, then it may just help you over the finish line when all hope seems lost. This buzz is created organically, without seeking attention.
  • 8) Plan thoroughly
    If your plan is immaculate, and executed to perfection, it is still no good if it leaves you floating on the sea in a plastic bag, with no obvious means of bursting the bubble to finalise your escape. “Now what?
  • 9) Success may not be what you expect
    Achieving your goals may result in you ending up back where you started, physically, but in an entirely different place, mentally and emotionally.
  • 10) Never give up
    The most important lesson of all comes from Dory. “Just keep swimming.”

 

So, those are my top tips for writers from Finding Nemo. Do you have any to add to this list, or advice gained from other unlikely sources?

 

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Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/roome/313385621

The Two-Minute Manager – 3

Another dose of management and leadership advice from the somewhat cynical mind of guest blogger, See Yi-Oh… Am starting to see where I’m going wrong…

Meeting etiquette

Never take minutes,
Except for the Chief Exec.
For them, anything.

Sit at table’s head
Dominate the meeting room
Keep all eyes on you.

Words can be weapons
But make your body language
First line of attack:

Fold your arms and scowl.
Whatever’s been reported
Extend the silence,

Draw out that silence.
Lessers will panic, back down,
Offer more for less.

 

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Limerick – Aspire

When life’s keeping you in the mire,
But you’re determined to go ever higher,
The secret, it seems,
Is held in your dreams,
And all you need do is aspire.

 

Written for https://mindandlifematters.wordpress.com/2016/02/12/limerick-challenge-week-7-aspire/#like-1964 

There is a 60-metre tall sculpture at the University of Nottingham, called “Aspire”. It has been likened to an ice cream cone, or a dream catcher. I rather like it…

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Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/pstainthorp/6438396177

The Two Minute Manager – 1

One of the things that happens when you write a lot of haiku, is that you make friends with others who are similarly afflicted. One person I came across on my haiku travels is quite unlike any other… After many emails to agree an appropriate fee, he is writing a series for my blog, with complete editorial control of content… So please give a warm welcome to See Yi-Oh, management guru!

“Some people who consider themselves managers have read, studied and memorised the influential 80s text, One Minute Manager. Idiots! One minute isn’t long enough to take a dump. If these people had spent twice the time, they’d be twice the manager.

“Why not three minutes, or even ten, you ask? Because time is money, and you’re worth every penny. Even if you did have to ask that.

“I’ve agreed to post some thoughts here on what I’ve learnt from business, commerce and leadership, in two-minute digestible chunks. Forget the rest. This is the only management guide you’ll ever need. It will be packed full of insight to remind you why you’re the boss, and to take it to the next level.

“Why write it in haiku? Because time is money, and you’re worth every penny.

Haiku is a whetstone to sharpen your dull wits.

No flab. Read. Learn. Achieve.”

Always be well-groomed:
Your image is everything.
Sweat is for lessers.

The lessers will flap
(Panic, fret, freeze, moan, chunter)
Stay unflappable.

Practice the hard stare.
When asked difficult questions,
Wield it freely.

“More next week. Stick it in the diary.

“See you!

See Yi-Oh x

https://twominutemanagerblog.wordpress.com/

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Coming Up!

I’ve settled into a regular-ish blogging routine now, based around a handful of challenges that I enjoy, and that tolerate my continued wibbling. So, in an attempt to manage my own time as much as your fervent expectations (honestly, it’s like Beatlemania meets Biebermania every time I step out of my own front door), this is what you can expect each day, between now and April (when the poem-a-day blogging challenge kicks in, and I cry myself to sleep every day for failing to prepare despite having no excuse this year).

The BIG NEWS is that I have secured an exciting guest blogger to come and join me every Monday until April… See Yi-Oh will be sharing the benefits of his business nous (in haiku form, obviously) in a new series “The Two-Minute Manager“. I hope you’ll give him a warm welcome when he joins me tomorrow!

MONDAY – Limerick Challenge / The Two-Minute Manager

TUESDAY – Haiku Challenges – Ronovan & haiku horizons

WEDNESDAY – Secret Keeper’s Challenge

THURSDAY – Pop-Culture Thursday… the name needs work, but it’ll be something rhyme-y whyme-y, about something pop-culture-y

FRIDAY – The Great Book of Lists

WEEKENDS – no planned posts, unless for a specific challenge. I’ll be spending Saturdays entirely offline. Go and have some outdoor fun, people!

Plus there will be other bouts of randomness as and when inspiration strikes.

If there are any burning topics, ignored by better poets, that you think need covering in rhyme, let me know below the line 🙂

 

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The scene outside my front door every morning… makes the commute to work a challenge…

Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/jamescridland/613445810

10 Crucial Lessons for Rhymers… from Monty Python

or, inevitably, WHAT HAVE THE PYTHONS EVER DONE FOR US?

We are all products of our environment. Some wear their influences on their sleeves; others may not even be aware of tapping into their formative influences. I grew up in the 80s with Monty Python, a child of Python-loving parents who mercifully spared me the sketches that didn’t work (there are many), but instead exposed me to the films, the highlights reels, the comedy albums (on vinyl, no less), the Live at the Hollywood Bowl fan-fest. And here I am now trying to write rhyming picture books and other entertainments…

Here are ten lessons that rhymers (perhaps storytellers of any stripe) can take from the songs of Monty Python. Some of the links are NSFW…

1) CHALLENGE EXPECTATIONS
Have your main character do something unusual, that goes against type and challenges expectations. You’ve got a knight called Brave Sir Robin?

“When danger reared its ugly head
He bravely turned his tail and fled

Yes Brave Sir Robin turned about
And gallantly he chickened out…”

Or take a rugged, “manly” lumberjack, and then tell us that he likes to “put on women’s clothing, and hang around in bars.”

Or take the less-travelled perspective:

2) PLAY WITH WORDS
Have fun with the language, whether that’s homophones, (“sail the wide accountancy”)

lists,

or

or non-sequitors for comic effect
“We dine well here in Camelot, we eat ham and jam and spam a-lot

I have to push the pram-a-lot!”

3) GET THE TONE RIGHT
The gentle, plinky start of “Finland” sets the tone perfectly for an homage to a country “where I quite want to be”…

4) ENJOY YOUR RHYMES
Repeating the same end rhyme throughout, and even using it as an internal rhyme, can be fun…
“Half a bee, philosophically,
Must, ipso facto, half not be”

5) DON’T TALK DOWN TO YOUR AUDIENCE
The Galaxy Song, and the Medical Love Song, are examples of introducing a range of language and ideas that go far beyond what might be expected of the “everyman”. If the narrative, and the rhyme, is strong enough, you can introduce unfamiliar names and ideas very quickly.

Don’t talk down to your audience. Raise them up.

“Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
It’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power”

(I love the punchline at the end of this song)

6) MAKE YOUR RHYMES UNEXPECTED, OR UNUSUAL
All I know about philosophers, I know from this:

“Heideggar, Heideggar was a boozy beggar…

John Stewart Mill, of his own free will
On half a pint of shanty was particularly ill.”

And what about one of the greatest thinkers in history?

“Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle”

7) REPETITION, repetition….
A good example of repetition, and letting your characters grow, is the theme song from Life of Brian, with “a boy/ teenager/ not a girl/ a man called Brian”

“… his voice dropped down low
And things started to grow…”

8) DIVERSITY IS IMPORTANT
Monty Python made an effort to address diversity, in their own particular fashion, with “I Like Chinese” and “Never Be Rude To An Arab”…

“I like Chinese, I like Chinese,
They only come up to your knees”

It’s vital to reflect the diversity of the world we live in, to keep your characters relevant, and grounded in the reality of the time.

9) BE PREPARED TO MAKE MISTAKES
Viewed through modern eyes, neither of these songs have aged well… but how do you future-proof your material from the differing standards that will inevitably follow? You can’t. Write what’s in your heart, rather than chasing the trends of the day (or anticipated trends of tomorrow). If you never make mistakes, it just means you’re never trying.

Which leads us to our final point.

10) KEEP TRYING
There is only one way to finish this list. A song that has a ridiculously catchy chorus, a perfect balance of repetition/ variation/ progression, fun rhymes, a playful, changing rhyme structure… it’s even got whistling.

So, when the rejection emails start to pile up around you, put the kettle on, grab a slice of cake, and listen to this:
“Cheer up, Brian. You know what they say…”