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Another poet and poem for National Poetry Month! I’m delighted to welcome Li Yun Alvarado back to The Practice of Creativity. Li Yun is a poet and scholar. She wrote an amazing guest post in January on ‘The Art of Low Stakes Daily Writing and How It Can Transform Your Year’. It’s a must read.

li-yun

A poet and scholar, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Madrid; Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education; The Acentos Review; and PMS Poemmemoirstory among others. In 2012, her work received an honorable mention for The Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. She is currently the Senior Poetry Editor for Kweli Journal and is an alumna of VONA/Voices Writing Workshop and AROHO.

I’m honored that today she is sharing a poem with us. Her new chapbook is Words or Water from Finishing Line Press. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy and can’t wait for it to arrive.

 

His Thumb on My Belly

To the right of my belly-
button: purple-black

oval print on sun-kissed flesh.
A spirit pinching

while I sleep. Is it
him? A hint? Here,

he whispers. Singed meat.
His thumb on my

belly. Now you know.
And they (some strange,

foreign they) say there’s
comfort in the knowing.

Basements are forgotten
places where moldy lies

cling to dank walls.
On my back: the prickle

sting of inked flesh.
It knows how to burn.

Bruise. Heal. His thumb
on my belly. My aunt

lights candles, piles
pennies in corners, tells

tales of muertitos
who pinch at night. His

thumb on my belly. His
boys cloaked in black

masks. Friendship? Folly?
When they

faced him, (my thumb
on his belly), not flesh,

not lead, not prayer
could stop the blood.

 

Li Yun Alvarado is the author of Words or Water (forthcoming) and Nuyorico, CA. A poet and scholar, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Madrid; Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education; The Acentos Review; and PMS Poemmemoirstory among others. In 2012, her work received an honorable mention for The Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. She is currently the Senior Poetry Editor for Kweli Journal and is an alumna of VONA/Voices Writing Workshop and AROHO. She holds a BA in Spanish and sociology from Yale University and an MA and PhD in English from Fordham University. Li Yun is a native New Yorker living in Long Beach, California who takes frequent trips to Salinas, Puerto Rico to visit la familia. You can learn more about Li Yun and her work on Facebook and at www.liyunalvarado.com

You can pre-order Words or Water here!

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National Poetry Month is here! All throughout the month, I will feature writers sharing poems and insights into the craft of poetry. I’m delighted to kickoff this segment with Alice Osborn. Alice is a poet, editor and popular writing coach.

Several years ago, I attended one of her workshops on promotion for writers. I loved the way she engaged the audience and how she pushed us to be vulnerable and authentic in how we communicate with the public. I still have those notes and often find myself putting into practice her advice. Over the years, I have followed her career, inspired by all that she does and how generous she is in supporting emerging writers.

Alice is a prolific writer. Heroes without Capes is her most recent collection of poetry. Previous collections are After the Steaming Stops and Unfinished Projects. Alice is also the editor of the anthologies Tattoos and Creatures of Habitat, both from Main Street Rag. A North Carolina Writers’ Network board member and a Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared in the News and Observer, The Broad River Review, The Pedestal MagazineSoundings Review and in numerous journals and anthologies.

 I’m delighted to welcome Alice Osborn to The Practice of Creativity.

What was the first poem you’ve ever read?

 All of the Mother Goose nursery rhymes were my favorites when I was a preschooler and when I became school age, I loved hearing the pounding hoof beats in Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems,—his Child’s Garden of Verses especially. I’m an auditory learner, I loved his rhythms and rhymes, plus there was usually strong conflict in his work. I also couldn’t get enough of Walt Whitman’s extended metaphor about Lincoln’s assassination in “O, Captain! My Captain!” I, too, wanted to express something grand and meaningful. I first got my chance my sophomore year of high school when I won second place in the annual poetry contest. I wrote a three page poem about the epic fight between King Arthur and Sir Mordred. After trying the next year and not winning any more awards, I stopped writing poetry until my mid-twenties when a friend invited me to an open mic. I felt that what I wrote could have been better, but I didn’t know what I needed to do get better.

Alice Osborn profile

 How has poetry influenced you as a person? Or as a writer?

 Now fast forward to nine years ago when I first started sending my short stories and essays out to various publication markets. I didn’t get any takers for these pieces and I was getting tired of all of the rejections. Then one of my writing teachers suggested reading and writing poetry to become a stronger fiction or memoir writer. I could do this! After all, I had written poetry before. The third poem I wrote after my nineteen year hiatus won honorable mention in NC State’s annual poetry contest. Wow! Maybe I needed to keep doing this poetry thing. It was called “Ghostcards” and it was about the dual hanging deaths of two 14-year-old African American boys in Shubuta, Mississippi in 1942. Langston Hughes had portrayed the boys’ fate in “Bitter River” and I wanted to present my own version using the color gray throughout the poem. One night, the name “Ghostcards” came to me in a dream and wouldn’t let me go until I had written the poem. Many of my poems emerge from dreams, while others come from the newspaper, random encounters, personal experiences or strange family behaviors.

Heroes without Capes cover

My most recent book of poems is Heroes with Capes, my first full length collection that features many dramatic monologues and narrative poems from famous and infamous speakers from history, myth and pop culture who show varying degrees of heroism and loneliness. From the Star Wars saga, we have the bounty hunter Boba Fett who is a recovering alcoholic working hard at changing the script of his past. “Holding the door for an old man in a Braves hat, /I keep my eye out for movement among the parking lot pines/and mutter a tiny prayer while backing out by the Drive-Thru. /And an even bigger one when I take a bite/to drive east into the sun. /Telling myself this ketchup on my armor is real, /even if the past isn’t.”

While all the Predator (from the 1987 hit movie) wants to do is buy beef at Walmart. “Ring butcher bell, and Charlie comes right away./What wonderful service! And fills up cart. /Few ground chucks spill out and hit feet. /Ouch, I have tender feet like bananas.” Also featured are the Devil, Ellen Ripley from Aliens, the Virgin Mary, LBJ, Darth Vader, Benedict Arnold, Captain Bligh, Princess Leia, Dick Cheney, the Road Runner and many others. You’ll also meet Nolan, the split foyer house who is under tremendous stress and Dina the Delta jet who wishes her passengers possessed more taste. My favorite characters are the B-men: Boba Fett, Benedict Arnold and Captain Bligh because they are all heroes, but they are also flawed and these flaws get in their own way—I really identify with these guys!

 In your opinion, what makes a poorly written poem?

A lot of crappy poems are written because they don’t care about the reader; they’re so insular and specific to the author, the reader can’t find a way in. Many poems also don’t have any layering, they are filled with clichés (especially love poems talking about soul mates) and poems that don’t have any grounding. What I mean by grounding is that the poem is only concerned about the abstract and they’re nothing to concrete to make a reader relate to it. Some poems also have a lot of “throat-clearing,” meaning the author takes a long time to get to the meat of the poem. Most of all I sincerely dislike poems that don’t trust the reader’s intelligence—they are expository and pander to the audience like a weak network sitcom.

 How would you persuade a non-reader to read poetry?

 Attend as many poetry readings/literary open mics as you can so you can experience the poem and the poet in the same space. If you can’t make it out to readings, watch poets read their work on YouTube and The Poetry Foundation. And while you’re at a reading, support the poets by buying their work. If you want to get really crazy and accelerate your poetry craft learning, review all of the poetry books you buy on GoodReads.com and Amazon. Even if you’re not a writer, I encourage you to read poetry to discover a fresh insight into an old idea or see how a poet performs acrobatics with his words. You just might learn something cool about yourself or the fellow drinking black coffee two tables over at the Panera.

Is poetry useful?

No question about it. Poetry teaches us how to live. Poetry is like the Windex on a grubby car window—it bares open the vulnerabilities of human beings so we can all relate to each other a little better.

“Chorus: The Hero of Acheron,” published in the Kakalak 2014 Anthology of Carolina Poets

Chorus: The Hero of Acheron

Against our constant warnings,
You have five minutes to evacuate!
she descends in the elevator,
shedding her blue jacket, shedding her mind-killers—
always watchful with her duct-taped
pulse rifle and flame thrower to rescue
the girl, her Persephone from
the Queen of the Eggs.
This Demeter is something of an immortal—
while in cryo-sleep she outlived her Earth daughter
and once returned to her planet, chose
a space station’s safe orbit, refusing
to walk barefoot in the prairie grass
or view stars burning with death.

She brings her own star justice to the Queen’s eggs,
dripping with mucous as one hatches…
saving the girl before the pomegranates eat her.
Angels hum to the sulfured air.
The two rise to the unstable surface,
what was rage in her descent is now fear.
You have two minutes to evacuate!
This wounded goddess could lose everything;
she’s fighting gods with their own agendas—
before it was only her and her vengeance.
You have 30 seconds to evacuate!
The android Hermes flies
to mother and daughter before enfolding them
aboard the Sulaco as the dead world explodes.
The humans and near human flinch
to shock waves rising higher and higher
in the moon’s atmosphere.
But all we know Hades won’t let
Persephone ever truly leave
the underworld.

Alice Osborn’ s past educational (MA in English, NCSU and BS in Finance, VA Tech) and work experience (Belk, waitress, tutor) is unusually varied, and it now feeds her work as a poet, editor-for-hire and popular writing coach. Alice’s business, Write from the Inside Out, is now a decade old and in that time, she has taught scores of writing workshops and has edited manuscripts locally and all around the globe. Heroes without Capes is her most recent collection of poetry. Previous collections are After the Steaming Stops and Unfinished Projects. Alice is also the editor of the anthologies Tattoos and Creatures of Habitat, both from Main Street RagA North Carolina Writers’ Network board member and a Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared in the News and Observer, The Broad River Review, The Pedestal MagazineSoundings Review and in numerous journals and anthologies. When she’s not editing or writing, Alice is an Irish dancer who plays guitar and violin. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband, two children, four loud birds and Mr. Nibbles, a carrot-chomping guinea pig. Visit Alice’s website at www.aliceosborn.com.

Connect with Alice:

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/aliceosborn
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+AliceOsborn
Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/aliceosborn
Facebook: http://facebook.com/alicevosborn
Twitter: http://twitter.com/alice_osborn
YouTube: http://youtube.com/avosborn

Find out more about her here: http://aliceosborn.com/blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

How come pleasure never makes it on to…a dutiful list of dos and don’ts?
Doesn’t joy also get soft and flabby if you neglect to exercise it?
Ellen Goodman

It’s Valentine’s Day and everyone is thinking about love. I’m thinking about your love relationship with your creative life. Have you courted your creative life recently?

When was the last time you wooed your creative self?

Valentines-Day-300x225

Do I hear crickets in the background?

It’s February and if you’re like me, you’ve experienced one or more of the following:

– the thrill of holiday overindulging has subsided (but the pounds still linger), leaving you with a general malaise.

–you can’t find the journal where you carefully scripted out New Year’s intentions.

–you’ve had to deal with an unexpected computer breakdown, home repair, lingering cold, sick child, etc.

So, for most of us, we’re back to reacting to the most immediate to-dos on our very long list.

Creative folk often spend some time complaining about what they would like to have more of regarding their creative projects and lives: time, money, a sense of completion, recognition, etc. A bit of griping and wishing is all right, but ultimately that kind of energy doesn’t get us in the mood to woo anything (or anyone). By starting off with feelings of love and friendship for our long term creative projects, we may just find that we can muster up the energy to find out what we actually want to do next and how to get support for it.

Just like any other relationship that we value, we must make time for our creativity. And, just like any other relationship, feelings of pleasure, kindness and affection make us and others feel good. I suggest taking some time this Valentine’s Day to court your creative life. Is there a project that you need to seduce? Can you make a date with your creative work today or later this week? Have you told your creative self how much you value it?

Tip: Try writing a love letter to your creative self or project. Extol its virtues, ruminate on how it makes you feel (when the relationship is going well), and dream about the possibilities of love rekindled. Decorate the letter if you like and put in a place that you can see it and feel inspired when necessary.

 

I just finished taking my Christmas tree down tonight and finally feel ready to even think about crafting New Year resolutions. What about you? People so often struggle with crafting resolutions that work. I’m always interested in how other people tackle this challenge. I came across a wonderful post about New Year’s resolutions through my friend and fellow writer Li Yun Alvarado. Her friend is leadership coach Gloria S. Chan. Chan wrote a great blog post about a new way to approach conceiving of and writing resolutions. I love how she emphasizes a visualization approach:

“I’m sick and tired of new year’s resolutions. Just kidding! But if you are, I don’t blame you. Who wants to keep making the same old promises, only to break them soon after they are made?

In fact, I love resolutions of all kinds, but it wasn’t this way until I truly understood how they work to create and sustain desired life changes. You see, there is an art to them, and they work only if you put in the effort to making real ones, ones that sing to your soul and speak to the essence of who you truly are. Here are a few tips to making your resolutions work for you.”

see the rest here.

 

One of the things I deeply enjoy about my blog is conducting author interviews. I love finding out how writers create magic on the page and what sustains them when working on long projects. My blog allows me to reach out to new and established writers after I hear them give a reading, or learn about them online, and ask for an interview. Every time an author agrees to an interview, I feel excited and inspired. My goal is to ask thought-provoking questions that get at the heart of their ideas about craft. I look forward to checking my email and seeing how they play with and sculpt answers to my questions. Interviewing and helping to promote writers is a passion and gratitude generating activity for me.

At the end of each interview, I always ask an author: What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Below, I have collected the most intriguing answers from writers I interviewed in 2015.

Keep this list close at hand. The advice is inspiring and offers a great way to jump-start your new year of fresh writing. And, look forward to even more author interviews in 2016!

*To see the full interview, click on the author’s name.

 

Camille Armantrout, co-author, Two Brauds Abroad: A Departure from Life As We Know It

Camille (right)

Camille (right)

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Pay attention to your writing patterns. If you discover, as I did, that your words flow in the morning, clear your am calendar to take advantage of that creative burst. Keep pen and paper handy at all times, in your pocket or purse, on your bedside table, and in the car.

 

Karoline Barrett, Bun for Your Lifefb home picture----

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?  

Just one? That’s hard! I’d have to say, don’t get bogged down with self-doubt, just write!

 

 

Samantha Bryant, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel

full-swing-computer-shoes2

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

The one thing that truly made a difference for me was committing to a daily writing habit. For me, I did that with Magic Spreadsheet, a gamification tool for writers created by Tony Pisculli, which awards points for meeting a daily minimum word count.

For many years, I struggled to write while meeting all the rest of my responsibilities as a teacher, wife, mother, dog-mom, sister, daughter, etc., etc., etc. I would get a few hours once a month or so, and spend half of them just trying to get back in the flow.

But, once I committed to writing at least 250 words every day, come hell or high-water, that problem disappeared. It’s not hard to find my way back into the story if I’ve only been away twenty-four hours. It made the time I had more productive. Over time, with practice, I became able to write more words in one hour than I used to write in a four or five hour session. I began to finish things. So there it is: write every day.

 

Laurie Cannady, Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul

cannady03-210

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Write a page every day, no matter what, and don’t be afraid to allow your narrative to reveal things to you. When I first began writing memoir, I thought I had to write everything, as accurately as I could remember, to some self-imposed end. It took years to realize that my narrative had its own end and its own way in which it wanted to be relayed. So, writing a page a day was a relief. I allowed the scenes to unfold as they pleased and once that writing was done, I was able to shape all that I had written into Crave.

 

Amy Ferris, Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide and Feeling Blue

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share? 

amy_ferris

write as if no one – not one single soul – will ever read what you’ve written.

yeah, write that kinda balls-out scary heart-wrenching beautiful truthful.

 

Mur Lafferty, The Shambling Guide to New York City

Mur_lafferty-300x198

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Never give up. That’s the fastest way to failure.

 

James Maxey, Bitterwood: The Complete Collection

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

600_JamesMaxey

Momentum matters. Going back to my last answer, the biggest trap beginning authors can fall into is to write only when you feel inspired. If you practiced piano only when you felt inspired, would you ever master the piano? If you only went out and ran when you felt inspired, would you ever build the endurance and mental stamina needed to run a marathon? A key thing to understand is that any time you sit down to write, you aren’t working only on the story or chapter in front of you. You’re working on your entire career. If you want to “make it” as a writer, odds are you will write millions of words over the course of decades, maybe tens of millions. To get there, you’ve got to put your butt in the chair and slog out the words on days when you’re tired, or a little sick, or worried about your family or your job. You’ve got to keep tapping the keyboard when you are certain you are writing the worst sentences ever recorded onto a hard drive, when you hate every last character in your novel and can think of not one original idea for where you’re taking the plot. Because, you know what? Writing is where the magic happens. You can sit around daydreaming all you want, but until you start typing, you don’t actually know what’s going to emerge. Again and again I’ve discovered that, as I’m slogging through something I don’t want to write, something will spark and the next thing I know I’m on fire. I start out telling myself I can quit for the night if I make to 500 words, and the next thing I know it’s 3 a.m. and I’ve got 5000 words that just sparkle.

 

Jennifer Steil, The Ambassador’s Wife

Jennifer Steil-1

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Go away. Go far, far away. The best thing any writer could do for herself is to go out into the world and have adventures that will give her something to write about. Take risks. Go to difficult places and do impossible things. If you want a guaranteed fantastic story, give up a comfortable life and move to the most difficult country in the world. Stories will find you. In abundance. Of course, if you already have an uncomfortable and crazy life where you are, you’re all set!

 

Happy post-Thanksgiving!

I am delighted and honored to have been chosen as the ‘Creative Genius of the Week’ by creativity coach and author Susan C. Guild. I met ‘Suz’ two years ago through a life-changing online writing program called ‘Write it Now’ (WINS), hosted by the brilliant Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy aka ‘SARK’. Every time I read something by Suz or heard her speak on the class calls, I was inspired and felt that I had met a kindred spirit. We share a similar approach to exploring creativity as a path to self-discovery. Suz is an author, entrepreneur and creator of ‘Wake Up Your Magic’. Through WUYM, she hosts an amazing monthly teleshare where she interviews creative professionals, hosts workshops and offers products and services focused on connecting people to their creativity. I love Suz’s fun approach to life and living her purpose through teaching the transformative power of creative practices. And, I am very appreciative that she has been a great believer in my work.

Suz is featuring some of my best and juiciest blog posts as part of the ‘Creative Genius of the Week’ series on her Wake Up Your Magic Facebook page (see Nov 23 onward). Also explore her Wake Up Your Magic website.

keep-calm-and-stay-genius

Hi dear reader! I’ll have some exciting news to share with you in just a few days! And, other creative surprises, too! Working hard until then.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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