A Poem a Day

Having already undertaken a poem-per-day challenge this year (with February’s Post-It Note Poetry) I was somewhat anxious about completing a second.

It’s not like inspiration is something you can schedule in. There’s always the possibility that you’ll have a day where no poem enters your mind, where you cannot craft something complete no matter how hard you work it.

But, recently joining Instagram has given me a taste for writing short form poetry. With that in mind, I undertook NaPoWriMo (or GloPoWriMo as it has become). I once described NaPoWriMo as…

It is the brainchild of Maureen Thorson who, inspired by NaNoWriMo – aka National Novel Writing Month, started writing a poem a day for the month of April back in 2003. She shared her poetry through her blog and, when other people started following suit, she shared links to their works.

Since then it’s taken off, hence the change from Na to Glo (for global).

My 2018 efforts are all visible on Instagram and I’m pretty happy with them – two of them got featured by other accounts. Many of them are serious so I’m ending the month tomorrow with something silly.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of my favourites:

Writing With Joanne Fedler

Recently I stumbled across a 7-day writing course run by Joanne. I’m on school holidays, it was free; it was meant to be.

The 7 days were titled:

1. Dream writing

2. Keep random lists

3. Change places

4. The fire of feeling

5. The power of AND

6. Reflection, connecting the dots, finding my voice

7. Everyone is a winner

Each day, Joanne would post a video introducing the concept and then there would be a downloadable prompt designed to get the creative machine in gear. Once completed, many people would share their pieces in a private Facebook group.

But people shared more than their scribblings. They shared their stories – stories of time spent ignoring their memories and feelings, stories of accomplishment and achievement, stories of struggles and of great joy.

For me, I started on Day 1 writing a nightmare scenario that was clearly influenced by the book I’d most recently read (The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor). Day 2, I wrote this:

On the third day I wrote a letter to my mouth and wrote a reply from its perspective.

On Day 4 I wrote about the guilt that I felt when I accidentally hurt my son – we were in a car park and a car was coming, I yanked him in to my arms and the buttons on my shirt scratched his face. It was an accident but I was angry and I cannot shake the shame. On Day 5 I wrote about how I read and respond to other people’s emotions better than I do my own. These two days then influenced Day 6 when I wrote this:

Day 7 is interesting because, depending on how you look at it, it either has the least amount of work to do or the most. Technically there is no prompt specific to this day so there is absolutely no required writing BUT the completion of a form provides a link to an extensive bank of prompts which will keep any writer going for a long time. Here’s one of them:

Anyway, in the Facebook group many people are writing their praise for Joanne, her support crew and the other writers who have engaged in the process. Me, I’m writing this. It’s a review of sorts or simply an explanation of what I’ve been doing this past week.

Jo actually messaged me during the course. She’d seen one of my posts included above and a little cyber stalking revealed that I’m an established poet. She asked, as is natural, what interest I had in her course which is geared more at people closer to the start of their creative journey. I replied that I’m interested in branching into other forms of writing but also that I’m just happy to be engaged in something that has me writing every day (I think what I really need is a personal trainer of sorts, one that is focussed on keeping my pen moving). Beyond that, I really like the two poems that I wrote and have included here. I honestly believe that I would never have written them if I hadn’t taken part in this writing challenge.

If you’re a writer, beginning or otherwise, I’d definitely encourage finding Jo on Facebook and keeping an eye out for when she runs something like this again.

Rogue One: a belated review

Growing up, one of the jobs I dreamed about having as an adult was a sports reporter because it combined two of my favourite things – sport and writing. Following close behind was the idea of being a video game or movie reviewer. Obviously that didn’t eventuate but it appears it may not be too late. Sanity is looking for reviewers.

 

If this fits into your interests, the link is HERE. Meanwhile, here’s the review I’m sending in – I’ll let you know their response when I get it.

 

swro

Rogue Wonderful

 

A long time ago in cinemas pretty much everywhere George Lucas introduced the world to a galaxy full of royalty, space knights, aliens and loveable rogues. In 2015, J.J. Abrams took us back to this world with (essentially) an updated version of the original Star Wars film. The success of The Force Awakens erased the memories of the much maligned prequels and paved the way for a slew of new Jedi movies. The first of these is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s marketed as a stand-alone film but there’s a ton of Easter eggs for the hardcore fans. If that’s not you, don’t worry – you could have zero knowledge of this universe and still have an enjoyable time.

 

Is it perfect? No.

 

The exposition is really busy. Honestly, you don’t want to arrive late to this movie. The opening sequences have you planet hopping at an incredible pace meeting all the key players so you’ll need to be concentrating. Comparatively, the middle of the film is quite slow (perfect for a toilet break).

 

Is it great? Yes.

 

Our protagonist, Jyn Erso, is an independent woman who don’t need no man. She follows a tradition that began with Ripley in Alien and has found a home in YA dystopias. In doing so, she also mirrors the role Daisy Ridley played in The Force Awakens. As the father of a daughter, I’m hoping powerful women that kick ass will continue to light up our screens. Anyway… back to the review. The action sequences are phenomenal. Air and land battles are brilliantly shot, really putting the audience in the moment, but it is the smaller scale fights featuring Darth Vader and Donnie Yen’s blind ninja that steal the show.

 

Obviously, because it’s set just before A New Hope, people who love the original films know how it’s going to end but that shouldn’t dampen your enthusiasm. In fact, the denouement is the best part.

 

To borrow from Marvel, this is the “All New, All Different” Star Wars. It’s a war movie, it’s a heist movie; it’s space opera on a grand scale. Rogue One sets lofty targets but, unlike stormtroopers, it doesn’t miss.

 

By Ron Barton

 

Harry Potter teaching kids in the forest

This year I started attending a poetry group. We meet once a month and generally discuss a form that we’ve played around with in the last few weeks. This month the form was prose poetry, a bizarre hybrid of two contrasting writing styles that means you avoid typical poetic structures in favour of paragraphs but keep the figurative language associated with poetry.

 

Here’s what I managed to put together. First, one on Harry Potter:

Then one day she asked me, “Is Harry Potter real?”

So I got down on my knees, felt my muscles resist every movement, and looked her in the eyes. “Yes,” I said, and she knew instantly that I was telling the truth. I never meant that some youthful young man, bespectacled and scarred, ever existed in a way that is exactly like the book, simply that everywhere you look there are people just like those on the page. Bullies exist, teachers can be compassionate and cruel, and magic… Magic is real. I’ve never seen the breeze but I can tell you how it feels to have the cool wind kiss your face on a balmy Spring day. I can’t tell you how love looks but my body reacts to every act of adoration it experiences. God has never spoken to me but there are too many wonders in this world for there not to be intelligent design. Magic, therefore, must be real.

We stared at each other a little longer, soaking in the silence between us, the patterns of her eyes mirrored perfectly in mine.

 

And another on teaching:

What I teach in my classrooms, what I want to teach in my classrooms and what I’m told I should teach in my classrooms are three vastly different things connected only by the word ‘teach’. Even then, teaching in a high school context often feels less like reality and more like a figure of speech. I can lecture and preach until I’m blue in the face but modern teens don’t learn from chalk and talk, so it’s all a waste. Books and worksheets, no. Group work, too risky. Technology, unreliable. And the kids themselves? The kids are raised on apathy, spoon fed “she’ll be right” from a young age. They’re sung “we don’t need no education” and have taken it as sage advice. Pen? Lost it. Book? Don’t have one. Bag? Left it at home. I’m up shit creek without a paddle and they’re just going with the flow. But still I struggle against the stream; hoping that one day they’ll tire of indifference and mediocrity, that one day they’ll dare to dream.

 

Then, when I was flicking through one of my journals I came across this one:

These woods swallow you whole, gobble you up. Once you are inside the thicket all hope is lost; you find yourself further in when all you wanted was out. Seemingly endless, each line of trees begets another, like Russian dolls of forestry. Here the trees don’t fall – they lunge, and the sound of your screams are muffled by the hum of nature in all its glory. Crows flit and fight through the branches, each one of them full of voice. Foxes ferret through the bramble foraging for food. In these woods there is a palimpsest of noise as animals join the chorus. Silence is not welcome here.

 

All of these are first drafts. If you’ve got any feedback I welcome it with open arms.

🙂

Said Poets Society

So, by now you should know that I’m a teacher and a poet. As such, it probably seems a little weird that I invited four poets into my classroom today to teach my students for me, because, of all the things I teach, surely poetry should be something I’m fairly comfortable in working with. It’s coin like though. On one side, some students find the excitement and enjoyment I derive from poetry to be infectious but on the flip side, it can also be a reason students switch off – prompting responses of “of course you like this, you write the stuff” or “you make it look so easy but when I try to write nothing comes out”.

The Said Poets Society care about telling good stories. Stories change the way people think about the world, and we believe that to inspire positive action, we first have to inspire positive thinking. We run performance poetry workshops in Perth high schools to equip young people to make positive change in their lives and communities through the power of stories.

If you look at their website, I didn’t have the ‘traditional’ line-up for the Said Poets. In a way I won out because I had four poets (Matt and Ben were joined by Sam Needs and Jakob Boyd) when I was expecting three but it was slightly disappointing that Athena couldn’t attend; I’m always looking for new poets to follow and her absence meant I still haven’t had a chance to hear her work – plus, it would have been good to have a female voice in the room. Ben might have made up for this somewhat when he explained that feminism is a topic he resonates with, a point he made through a pun filled PowerPoint. His take on equality and toxic masculinity would have sat well with much of the class, especially with some of the boys who share similar interests and have faced similar situations to those Ben described.

It was Matt who opened proceedings, explaining the group’s ethos and sharing some verse. His opening poem is listed on YouTube but it was his poem about mental health that had the room captivated. At its core this poem told the story of Matt’s high school friend who suicided but it was eased in with such finesse that, at poem’s end, it’s hard to believe you were laughing at fedora-wearing men only minutes before. The word STORY was an important factor. Matt stressed the importance of the narrative but the group’s mission statement is to give students the opportunity to voice their own story (and not just the story society tells them).

I’m actually struggling to decide what my highlight was. It could be any of the following:

  • Ben’s private comment to me that “you were right, they are a good group”
  • that the Said Poets worked to my schedule and were happy to run their four week program over two weeks instead.
  • that Jakob remembered the name of the poem I recited at a mini-slam back in March.
  • Matt and Ben mouthing along to a video of Harry Baker performing “Paper People”.
  • the sight of my students writing. ALL of my students. Even the slackers and those low in confidence.
  • that the students were praised for their honesty in their writing.
  • that I walk away from today with a new writing prompt, a game to play when teaching metaphor and four approaches to writing slam poetry.
  • that one of my students currently on a D for English spent an hour in the library after school reading poetry; or
  • that I have four or five ideas for new poems that I now feel compelled to write.

I can’t wait until next week when the students refine and perform what they’ve written.

7 Tips for Writing Dystopian Fiction

So, you want to write a dystopian novel? I don’t blame you. It seems as though printing a book in this genre is like printing money at the moment (with the exception that it’s not illegal and people will love you for it).

As you’re planning and writing, here are some tips to consider:

  1. Think about current trends in society and then twist them and push them to their extreme.

Many classic dystopian texts riff on this premise. They take fears about population decline/growth, pollution, global warming, political/corporate control, or the subjugation of minority groups and exaggerate them to comment on ideologies the author thinks are ridiculous. As such, most dystopian texts are satirical.

Satire is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices”.

  1. Consider the sex of your protagonist.

There appears to be an easy formula to follow when choosing whether your book should have a male or female protagonist. If you’re writing for adults you are most likely writing a single book with a male protagonist. If YA fiction is your genre of choice, you will probably be looking at a trilogy starring a female lead character.

As with everything, there are exceptions to this – the most obvious is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

  1. Names are everything.

More than any other genre, dystopian texts seem to put a lot of emphasis on character names with ‘hidden’ meanings. Think about it… all of the handmaids had names that were a combination of the prefix ‘of’ and their commander’s given name (eg. Offred and Ofglen), many of the characters in Brave New World had names that referenced communist leaders (Bernard Marx, Lenina, Polly Trotsky) and the protagonist of the film Gattaca had the surname Freeman.

  1. Societal control keeps the peace.

Most dystopias have totalitarian governments that force their people to live by strict rules in order to maintain the structure and stability of their society. This generally happens through one (or more) of four methods (thanks Read, Write, Think).

  • Corporate control: One or more large corporations control society through products, advertising, and/or the media.
  • Bureaucratic control: Society is controlled by a mindless bureaucracy through a tangle of red tape, relentless regulations, and incompetent government officials.
  • Technological control: Society is controlled by technology—through computers, robots, and/or scientific means.
  • Philosophical/religious control: Society is controlled by philosophical or religious ideology often enforced through a dictatorship or theocratic government.
  1. How did it get this bad?

No citizen ever says, “I’d really like a strict dictatorship to control every facet of my life”. In order for the people in power to get in that position in the first place many dystopian texts have a catastrophe – either natural or manmade – that has altered the world and its citizens and/or a gradual rise in science and technology that results in ‘perfect’ humans.

  1. Never mind, the protagonist sees through the society’s illusion of happiness.

In a number of cases, the citizens of dystopian societies are oblivious to their oppression. Ignorance is bliss and they’re in a state of soma-induced happiness. For others, the control is obvious to all but the people are too scared to act out.

Generally, it is the protagonist who identifies society’s flaws to the reader. They reveal the corruption of the leaders, the methods used to control people and often have links to the ‘old world’ (which reflects our own society) and this juxtaposition highlights what has been sacrificed to create this new society.

  1. But it’s all for naught.

Dystopian protagonists are the ultimate tragic heroes. The great majority of them are martyrs, dying for their cause. Those who don’t die often fail to have any impact. In most cases, the YA dystopian protagonist doesn’t change their society until the final book of the trilogy and even then it is at a great cost (just ask Katniss).

Happy writing!

Don’t tell me what to write!

You should write a poem about that.
Tell me a joke.
Can you take a look at this rash?

There are certain people in life who cannot avoid their occupation outside of the ‘office’. When people know what you do for a living they have a tendency to expect certain things of you.

Doctors and physiotherapists get asked for on the spot diagnoses. Comedians get asked to say something funny. Authors get told they should write about certain situations.

It’s funny. As a teacher I am never asked to correct someone’s spelling or grammar but, as a poet, I am regularly told I should write about this and that.

Oh, you broke the laminator? There’s a poem in that.
You know that kid who failed year 10? They’re going to uni now. There’s a poem in that.
Did you see that group of kids in their pyjamas, mourning their lost friend? There’s a poem in that.

Admittedly, there may be a poem in all of those situations but the minute you speak those words or echo their sentiments you’ve broken every creative bone in my body. If you think there’s a poem or a story in it, you write it. Let me come up with my own.

I’m not saying that I don’t have dry patches where inspiration and motivation have evaporated. I’m not saying I will reject every idea that is thrown at me. I’m just saying that you need to let me decide what the story is because the story I see in a situation is not necessarily the same one you see.

The broken laminator? Maybe the poem would be about the failed lesson plan or about the student who put the sheet in the wrong way or about the crushed self esteem of the laminator who can no longer fulfill their function.

The kid at uni? Maybe the poem is about the distractions they faced in year 10 or about that internal fire to be the best one can be or about the failure of a system that no loner suits our society or about the pride the teacher feels in knowing the student’s success, having seen the potential despite the dismal grades.

The pyjama mourners? Maybe the poem is about mortality or about stupidity or maybe it’s a comparison between those teens and the ones who, at the same time, were in neat, uniform rows sitting their exams.

Whatever the story is, you have to let me see it. It’s the same rebellious attitude you see when you tell your kids not to do something and they go behind your back and do it anyway. You tell me to write it; NO! You tell me the situation; I’ll see the story in it and put pen to paper.

Let the story evolve by itself, don’t force it.

The Writers’ Workout

What do you get when you add a diet of pastry and iced coffee to an aging body? Fat. You get fat.

That’s where I feel I’m headed at the moment. I’m not actually fat but I’m certainly not as skinny or as fit as I could be. So, I jumped onto the App Store and downloaded a workout app. I don’t want to be an iron man (or at least not the sort that doesn’t come with a weaponised suit of armour and a drinking problem) so I was looking for something low key when I noticed a pattern.

7. Seven. VII.

There are heaps of fitness apps that offer 7 minute workouts, obviously targeting people who think of themselves as too busy to go to a gym or to slack to do anything longer than that – perfect for me.

Now, imagine a motorised contraption that you stand up on as you ride into the next topic.

I’m a writer but I procrastinate more than I write so I’m not really a writer after all. But… if I wrote for 7 mins each day then I could still call myself a writer, right? So, I’m developing a list of activities that should only take around 7 minutes each. I’m doing this so I can work out the kinks in my current slump, so I can get back into some form of mental/creative fitness. I’m sharing it so you can try it to.

1. Draw up a table that has four columns and eleven rows (including one for headings). Your headings are In This Book, These Characters, Do Stuff, And It Ends Like This. You might end up shortening these in later attempts. Likewise, these headings should only act as guides – play around with how you address them.

Now pick 10 of your favourite books or 10 random books from your shelf and fill out the rest of the boxes. You’ll end up with stuff like:

*Spoilers ahead

The Fault in our Stars, 2 teens with cancer, fall in love, but one of them dies.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 3 young wizards, go to school, and come face to face with true evil.
The Princess Bride, a farm boy, teams up with a gifted swordsman and a giant, to save a princess from a tyrannical prince.
The New Testament, the son of God, tries to help out a lot of people, but is betrayed by one of his friends.
Where The Wild Things Are, a naughty boy, rules over monsters in a fantasy land, until he gets homesick.
The Shining, a telepathic child, is trapped in a haunted hotel, and survives an encounter with his insane father.
Lord of the Flies, a group of children, turn psychotic on a deserted island, but are rescued at the last minute.
Ricky Rouse has a Gun, an unemployed father, gets a job as a mascot at a theme park, and saves everyone from terrorists.
Brave New World, an outsider, enters a world built on sex and drugs, and it drives him to suicide.
The Last Continent, an incompetent wizard, has a series of misadventures in a parody of the Australian outback, before saving the day by making it rain.

Here comes the fun part. Grab a pair of scissors and cut off the left column. You can throw that in the trash, you won’t be needing it anymore. Now cut out each individual box but keep them grouped in with the other boxes from their column. Once you’ve done that, grab a random slip of paper from each pile. Congratulations, you have a story! Sort of. What you really have is a story idea. Write it down for later use.

FYI – I’ll know you got the idea from me if you write a story about the son of God teaming up with a swordsman and a giant to save people from terrorists. Or an incompetent wizard who survives an encounter with his insane father after entering a world built on sex and drugs.

2. Question time. Most stories are built on ‘what ifs’. What if people were turned into zombies by a signal sent through their mobile phone? (Cell, Stephen King) What if teenagers had to compete in a televised battle to the death? (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins) What if the prostitutes Jack the Ripper killed were actually vampires? (Anno Dracula, Kim Newman)

But, ‘what if’ is not the only question you need to ask. Rather, it is only the first.

Now, how you approach this task is up to you. You can set it up as a table or a flow chart or a mind map – however you like.

To come up with your ‘what if’ you might take a story premise from the activity above, open a newspaper to any random page and question or modify its contents, swap the gender of an existing character or person from history, or come up with your own sliding doors moment by imagining what would have happened if you made a different choice at some point in your life.

Your 7 minutes should now be spent ASKING the questions that stem from your ‘what if’. These new questions will come not just from the initial premise but from the things you ask yourself beyond that point.

What if the son of God teamed up with a swordsman and a giant to defeat some terrorists?
Why does the son of God need help? What happened to his ‘powers’?
Who are the terrorists? What is their motivation?
Don’t terrorists have guns and bombs? What use is a swordsman going to be?
And so on…

To paraphrase Chuck Wendig, you now have your story map. The plot is the journey you plan through this terrain.

3. Picture this. No, seriously, picture this. Go online and Google image search for a man/woman template – your choice should be guided by the sex of your potential protagonist. I like to use Lego bodies because then I’m not distracted by the body shape nor am I wasting a lot of time Googling trying to find the perfect body for my character.

Print it off and grab some colours pencils or textas. Don’t worry, no one’s judging. You’re a writer not a drawer. Add clothes and props to your person. Do this at your leisure, it doesn’t count towards your 7 minutes of writing.

What does count towards your writing is what you do after this. That is, you now need to annotate it. Why is your character dressed that way? What is the significance of the props you’ve given them? These questions will help you get your head around your character. If you find that there’s no particular reason for them having a certain prop or wearing a specific colour or style of shirt then perhaps you don’t know your character after all.

Anyway, that’ll do. Grab a towel and wipe of your literary sweat. Sit back and have a cool drink. Or, if those exercises have got your creative blood pumping, use that energy and write away.