Sunday, January 31, 2016

Magic of Poetry, and Writer-In-Residence

Cincinnati's Library, downtown location, 2016
"Poetry is an art that exceeds any kind of pinning down. You can't do it. How do you teach that? It's challenging. It's an art form that's wide open but magical." --Jeffrey Hillard

Magical. I hadn't thought of the word in relation to writing poetry before, but once the word was voiced, I knew it was true. Of course the same could be said of any writing since you don't know starting out what surprises will come with the ending, but I think it's especially true with poetry.

The epiphany came over the weekend when hubby and I ventured downtown to Cincinnati's main library to hear Library Foundation Writer-in-Residence Jeffrey Hillard speak. Mr. Hillard is a gifted poet, novelist, editor, and college professor, and author of four books (with three more scheduled for upcoming releases). He is also a great advocate for local and regional writers.

What a great way to spend an hour. Could have spent a couple more!

Highlights of Mr. Hillard's insights:

 1. "Poetry is an extremely experimental enterprise." (Translation? Don't worry about the right and wrong of writing poetry, just try your hand--and heart--at it.)

 2. "Don't wait for a poem, go to it."

 3. "The first line is most important. It produces a kind of jumping off point." 

 4. "Three important things to kick around when writing a poem: imagery, sounds, shape."

 5. "A poem will go through a myriad of changes. Think of the process as 're-entering' a poem, not revision."

 6. "Re-enter and try to shape differently than what it currently is--extend lines, shorten lines. Don't be afraid to tinker with it."

 7. "Step back, go back, give it a day. Later it might scream to go a little further."

 8. "Experiment. This empowers the next draft with more energy or insight. Find out what the poem wants, not what you want."

 9. "Ask yourself, is there a part two? Maybe more lines or maybe the poem actually starts in the middle of the last draft?"

10. "How can do you know a poem is done? You really can't know. Take the version you like."

Oh, my. There's more freedom in poetry than I ever realized. It is...well...a wide-open, magical art! I think I'm going to dabble in it a little more this year.

Along with that, I'm going to check out some of the books Mr. Hillard recommends, including:

The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry (Laux and Addonizio)
A Poetry Handbook (Mary Oliver)
In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop (Steve Kowit)
A Note Slipped Under the Door: Teaching from Poems We Love (Nick Flynn)
Creating Poetry (John Drury)
The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song (Ellen Bryant Voigt)
Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry (Stephen Dobyns)
The Art of Description: World into Word (Mark Doty)
The Poem's Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody (Alfred Corn)
Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry (Louise Gluck)

How does the upcoming year look for you? Any new writing adventures waiting to be tackled? Any epiphanies in setting goals? Is there poetry in your cards? Are you looking for a little magic?

(Interested in hearing Mr. Hillard yourself? Check out his interview with crime novelist Trace Conger, podcasted here.)


  1. Very interesting. I don't write poetry, but I can certainly relate to much of what Hillard says in relation to writing in general. I think we're all looking for a little magic - those times when the words just come together in a way that was unexpected, but you know it's exactly right. Doesn't happen often enough, but it does happen. I was thinking about revision yesterday as a way to re-vision one's work. I like the idea of re-entering one's work as well.

    1. Peggy, for sure magic doesn't happen just in poetry! Those unexpected but just right words in writing, no matter the form, is magic indeed. I think that's part of why we are writers--anticipating those very times :-) And don't you just love tweaking the word revision into 're-vision'? I love the image. Thanks for sharing...

  2. "Think of the process as 're-entering' a poem, not revision." I love that! I do write poetry from time to time, and I love to read it. Thanks for the share, and thanks for the list of books he recommended. (I have Kowit's In the Palm of your Hand, and it's a lovely book. I actually got a poem that turned into a flash fiction after reading his book.

    1. Elizabeth, thanks for suggesting Kowit's book. Hadn't heard of it before, but I'm making note of it. And glad to know you write poetry. I'm still so new at it, but enjoying the challenge. And as to Peggy's question, maybe you could explain flash fiction? I know there's a lot of buzz about it--and it's "flash" as in short (1000 words or less)--but I don't know much about markets for it and audience. I'm sure, though, if I googled it, I'd find a lot of information... Thanks for the question, Peggy :-)

  3. Hi Kenda! Thanks so much for stopping by earlier today :) I've missed you!

    Ahh, always on the lookout for magic. I'm still finishing up edits on this same novel I've been working on.. It's been 8 years! But I'm determined to get it done this year!!

    1. HI, Writing Nut, it's good to hear from you! Glad you've come back to the blogging world :-) And it's also good to know you're still writing. It's in the blood, I think--we just can't stay away from it, can we? Wishing you the best in your edits!

  4. Sounds like it was truly inspiring for you! Maybe you can share some of his suggestions with Angelica the next time you two "talk poetry". I think you share the love of writing'll have to share yours with us this year as you crank some out!

    1. Oh, yes, you know I love talking poetry with Angelica! We're both anxiously waiting for a response to our submissions, aren't we--seven year old granddaughter and Grandma both have pieces out. Now that's something precious to share. Thanks for stopping in, glad to 'see' you :-)