I have always had a love for reading poetry, from the nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss books of my childhood up to the poems I taught in high school literature classes. It wasn't until my junior year of college that I gained an appreciation for writing poetry, which in turn made me a better poetry reader.
I took a creative writing class at MSU with Richard Lyons, who had us write poems using prompts and then come back and workshop them with each other. We weren't allowed to defend our writing, only listen to feedback, which taught me a great deal about the value of someone else's critique. That lesson carried over into my adult life, such as when I would be evaluated in my teaching career. In his class, I learned to look at art in a different way, to find a story beyond the surface, to imagine the subtext of the image. I learned to avoid cliche. I learn to write with all my senses. I learned that rhyme was not my only option for figurative artistry in a stanza. I could use repetition, alliteration, metaphor, onomatopoeia, and so on. I learned that I wasn't a mediocre poet. I still have those old poems, and looking back at them twenty years later, I can see why he would mark out a line or X out a whole passage and write “yuck” beside it. He wasn't being harsh, only honest. And I can also see why he wrote “contest” or other positive comments on some. They were pretty good, especially for a twenty year old with limited life experience. I never submitted any of them to the poetry contest in The Jabberwocky, but his faith in my work was enough. The simple act of writing “contest” on some of those poems gave me the courage to continue writing and reading and appreciating poetry.
I write this all this morning as I sit here thinking over a poem entitled “Epistle to Virgin Gorda” which I wrote for a contest recently. It was an art challenge, and I wrote one of the best poems I've ever written about this piece of art. Yet this morning, I unfortunately received an email that told me it wasn't good enough; it had not won the contest out of 249 submissions. The odds were not in my favor. Someone else had written something more outstanding than my best. And that's ok. Still, I felt bummed for a few minutes until I resolved to send out my poem for publication. Fear is the single worst enemy to the writer. I'd faced my fear of putting myself out there to be judged. This poem deserves to be read, even if it didn't win a contest. I know it’s good, and I know I will see it published. Pursue the dreams that scare you the most. I'd love to share my poem here, and I will after I've published it elsewhere.
Until then, I'd like to share some poetry art prompts I've worked on for fun on Twitter. There are a couple of great Twitter accounts that post these fun challenges regularly: @CutterStreeby & @RealisticPoetry
On Twitter, you are limited by the amount of characters you can write, so it forces you to be brief and concise in your writing, which I love and hate at the same time. Also, writing on Twitter forces you to write regularly, which is important to the craft of writing. No good writer is good without doing a lot of writing!
Here are some of my recent Twitter poems that I was able to screenshot with at least some of the artwork it was in response to: