Friday, January 28, 2011

The Perfect Equation

Today I am thinking about those early inspirations that sparked in me a love of words and a desire to write. In elementary school I loved books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume and Farley Mowat. By high school, I was inspired by Margaret Atwood, J.D. Salinger, and Albert Camus. In my first year of university, I took a course called British and American Poetry and Fiction. My favourite unit focused on the Imagists, a group of poets (between 1912 and 1917) who strived for clarity and exactness in trying to capture single images in as few words as possible. I have probably read Ezra Pound’s poem, “In a Station of the Metro” over a hundred times since taking that class. Every time I return to it, I am as inspired as I was the first time I read it:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Pound shared some of his thoughts behind the creation of this poem:

“Three years ago in Paris I got out of a "metro" train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening, as I went home along the Rue Raynouard, I was still trying and I found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found words, but there came an equation . . . not in speech, but in little splotches of colour.” (Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir 1916; London: New Directions, 1960): 86-89).

The idea of an ‘equation’ makes me think about how language, when referring to emotion or image, is a kind of translation. But Pound is speaking about ‘equation’ here. These words = this emotion. Getting that equation right, is where all the work lies. The poet cannot rest until the perfect equation of words is found.

Or sometimes it is sudden. “I was still trying and I found, suddenly, the expression .” I love how Pound used the word ‘suddenly’ and how he was able to cut through all the excess in language to see the ‘splotches of colour’ that perfectly equated with the image or emotion he experienced earlier in the day.

What are the poems or books you return to again and again for inspiration?

Poetry Friday Roundup is here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Poetry Speaks Who I Am

Throughout this week, I have been reading and listening to the poems included in Poetry Speaks Who I Am. As I wrote out the title in the previous sentence just now, I realized that I have been reading or saying the title in my mind as “who AM i?” - a possible theme in the lives of the intended audience, as it was for me when I was a teen. Poetry Speaks Who I Am is the perfect companion to the teen asking “Who am I?”- answers to this question made even more possible by the invitation on the back of the book: “dive in – find the one you love, the one that makes you angry, the one that makes you laugh, the one that knocks the wind out of you, and add your own inside the book.” If, after the 136 pages of poetry, the reader is inspired by the beauty, honesty and grit, there are twelve sheets left blank to scribble out poems of her/his own.

I would have loved a book like this when I was a tween/teen. In “A Note from the Publisher” on page xi, Dominique Raccah writes: “we seem to skip from great poetry books for young children directly to adult poetry. And yet, it’s at your age that poetry can rock your soul because these poets are talking about all the things that you’re feeling and feeling deeply.” The poems touch on every emotion a tween/teen might be experiencing: fear, courage, hope, regret, love, loss, confidence, insecurity, sadness, joy. William Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, Christina Rossetti, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes and Naomi Shihab Nye are just some of the poets who come together in this collection speaking directly, it seems, to the hearts and minds of young adults.

The words of poets from the past and the present can be read AND heard. I have not mentioned the best part – the book comes with a CD! Most of the tracks feature poets reading their own work. Listening to the voices adds a depth of experience that I think teens will appreciate.

I’m excited to pass it over to my daughter, now in grade eight. But not yet, I’m still listening.

Poetry Speaks Who I Am
Editor: Elise Paschen
Series Editor: Dominique Raccah
Sourcebooks, 2010

Poetry Friday Roundup is at A Teaching Life .

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Stepping it up!

If you practice yoga you might be familiar with ‘chair pose.’ It works the leg and arm muscles, engages the diaphragm, and stimulates the heart.

As a writer, I’m in 'chair pose' all day. I’m pretty sure it’s doing nothing more for my body than straining my neck and making my foot go numb. It can’t be good.

Santa is smart. He knew when he gave me the notebooks and planners that I’d be spending a huge amount of time writing. I think that’s why he also put a pedometer under the tree for me. Actually, I’ve wanted this amazing little gadget (currently attached to pant pocket) for a long time. It has confirmed what I already know – I need to walk more. Anyone who sits at a computer or desk for hours and hours will probably agree with me that after a long day of work, the body just doesn’t feel as good as it should.

This year I plan to step it up. According to the information pamphlet that came with the pedometer, I should be aiming to take 10,000 steps a day. I consider myself a physically fit person but I was shocked when I found out that my 20 minute cardio routine only amounted to about 1,500 steps! The yoga that I also enjoy, though healthy, does not really add much to my step count - nor does the light weight-lifting. So I’m doing everything I can to get my number up there. I haven’t hit 10, 000 yet but I’m working on it. Now when I break for tea during my work day, I walk around as much as possible while I wait for the water to boil. I’m running more errands, taking the ‘long way’ to get there, and when one of my family members needs something upstairs, I’m the first to say, “I’ll get it!”

I miss those walks to and from school every day but I’m not as enthusiastic about walking in the cold as I used to be. Yesterday the temperature outside was -6. Today the sidewalks are iced over with freezing rain. I keep imagining myself mall-walking – no ice to slip on and no need for several layers of clothing. When I'm done, I can reward myself at the book store and tea shop.

How do you strike a balance between sitting and moving?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Plot Wall

In my last post I described the date book and notebooks I’ll be using throughout the year to keep my writing and life organized. Are my characters now demanding date books of their own? As I write my YA novel, I am discovering that my characters need something to keep their plans/goals organized. Instead of rushing off to get each of my main characters a stylish date book, I am experimenting with a plot wall.

I’ve summarized each chapter I’ve written so far, scene-by-scene, on index cards. I also use a little sticky note tracking system so that I can easily find things when I need them. Spreading the cards across the wall like this is revealing to me once again that I am a visual learner/thinker. I love to take breaks from writing my novel, turn away from my computer screen and see everything all at once on my plot wall. That shift, from all-in-the-head to all-out-there-on-the–wall, is refreshing and keeps me on track.

How do you keep your plot organized?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

I think Santa knows just how much I love to be organized in work and in life. He left a few things under the tree that are going to help me stay organized, focused and inspired in 2011.

This set includes 12 individual diary/planner notebooks - one for each month! My January notebook is open on my desk and will be the first thing I look at in my office every morning. I love the full page for each day of the month.

The hard cover case holds the 12 notebooks. Each notebook is numbered and spines can also be identified by month using adhesive labels.

I am going to use the large ruled notebook for my novel scribbles. The smaller soft journals will be filled with poetry.

Can't live without a date book! Mimi helps by holding my page

- and warming up my chair.

Happy New Year!