Occasional Poems for Mothers in May

The Stone Boat: constructed in the mid-1700s. Photograph of the Marble Boat Pavilion on the grounds of the Summer Palace in BeijingChina. Photograph taken on April 172005 by Rolf Müller. Permission to Share from Creative Commons.

Occasions: When Audience trumps Poet

May and June and July are jammed with occasions.

  • Mother’s and Father’s Days ~ May and June
  • Memorial and Flag and Independence Days ~ May and June and July
  • Graduation and Wedding and many other types of days ~ May and June, typically but also constantly

For poets seeking an audience, these occasions are opportunities to practice crafting poems.

Poetic Occasions: 2 Chief Reminders

1] For a poet writing an occasional poem, the most important remembrance is that the audience controls the writing.

Many new poets write only when their emotions need an outlet. They require the emotion for the inspiration. Professional poets know that poetry occurs constantly. Poetry is for every day, not just for the days when anger or grief rule.

Occasions are excellent opportunities for poetic growth. Logic drives poems that endure, not just the canonical Shakespeares and Rilkes, e.e. cummings and Dickinsons, Poes Whitmans and Dickinsons, and so many more. Logic forms the enduring songs we hear in popular cultures, those songs on the radio, like the Eagles and Dolly Parton, Cold Play and Joni Mitchell, the Dixie Chicks and Sting, U2 and Chris Tomlin, and on and on.

Logic does not mean that poetry becomes lock-step.

Logic does mean that the poet controls the poetic craft.

Occasions go one step more. Occasional poems require poets to stretch their abilities without causing deliberate offense to the audience.

In other words, poets write with other people in mind.

2] The poet also needs to remember the 4 Requirements of Song.

The writing must be heartfelt without being smarmy.

Powerful lines and strong imagery must keep the audience engaged:  a listening-only audience will break attention faster than a reading one. Occasional poems are often read aloud.

Rhetorical devices that emphasize points are especially necessary as they help the audience “hear” the ideas through repetition and climactic ordering. These devices “control” the sequence of thought and must be carefully controlled.

Two Poems to Study

Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of the Morning” and Robert Frost’s “The Gift Outright” are perfect examples of occasional poems written for presidential inaugurations.

Angelou gives us a free verse poem as sprawling as American cities while Frost’s “The Gift Outright” is tightly focused and structured over its 16 lines. For the audience, this is the difference between a 20-minute speech and a 5-minute one. It’s the Gettysburg Address that we know and love, not the hour-long speech that preceded it which everyone has forgotten.

Angelou’s poem resonates when we can hold it in our hands, peruse it, muse over it. It is a poem for future anthologies.

Frost’s “The Gift Outright” is powerful in the moment yet is then rarely referenced as more than an inaugural poem.

Craft an occasional poem well. It can gain power to reach into the ages.

Intimidated? You can always fall back on a greeting card.

Here is our first poem for Mother’s Day.

Li-Young Lee & the Water of Time

In “I Ask My Mother to Sing”, located here on the Poetry Foundation website, Li-Young Lee presents the connection of the past to present to future.

Go off and read. I’ll wait.

Mothers connect past to present to future for their children in many unconscious ways. They ground their children with who they are (present) and who they come from (past) even as they encourage who they will become (future).

Lee celebrates this ability of his mother and grandmother through their singing. The women’s joy comes across in the second line: “Mother and daughter sing like young girls.” Then Lee sidesteps the typical encounter of a mother-based poem—much as Langston Hughes did with “Mother to Son”, another excellent poem of past to present to future. Lee adds a memory of his departed father, reminding us that these two women who give him such joy will not always be with him.

Just as our mothers will not always be with us. A gentle reminder: Be with them in this now, for time will have its cruel way.

Lee’s second stanza has the readers wishing that they knew this song ::

“I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace / Nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch / the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers / running away in the grass.”

It’s the third stanza, however, that contains the powerful imagery of soothing serenity ::   waterlilies become a bamboo fountain, “spilling water into water / then rock back, and fill with more”.

from Wikipedia, Kuen Ming Lake, spelled there Kunming Lake, at this link.
We finish the poem, but it’s not done.

We read the poem, read it again, basking in the soothing imagery and the wistful ideas. Then, in preparation for moving on with our busy lives, we read the title, those few words that we scarcely glanced over in our rush to read the poem.

Lee has done something wonderful with this title. It is a necessary part of his poem. It pours us into the words, just as the waterlilies pour water into water, from the first line to the next and the next and then pour us out of the poem.

Three stanzas, unrhymed, with very little tying the poem together—yet still with a tranquility that draws us back and back, reading the poem a second and a third time, remembering it, connecting it with our lives.

Return on the 15th for another Occasional Poem in Celebration of May for Mothers.

 

Riddling Allegories :: “Tapestry” by Carole King

We continue our poetry series with the mysterious “Tapestry” by Carole King, a 1971 song from the album of the same name. Rolling Stone ranks the album at ranked 35 in the top 100 albums of all time. It also is second on the Billboard’s longest-running albums list (Number 1 is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon).

Songs and poems may haunt us. They may entice us to return again and again, especially when their words pose a riddle we must decipher.

In challenging us to return for the clues to the riddle, the song serves the writer’s purpose ~ to have us read and re-read their words.

Sometimes the enticement is the riddling mystery that surrounds the work. We long to decipher the maze of words.

Sometimes it is the beauty of the words or the music or both.

And sometimes the enticement is the emotion and memories that the song or poem evokes.

The best writers tell us everything in fragments. They reveal even as they veil.

This is Carole King and her “Tapestry”, the 1971 song and album.

Lyrics are here, and the video is here. If you are not familiar with the multi-award-winning Carole King, then this 28-minute video from YouTube will give you her biggest hits by the year 1971. She had more hits after that year, too.

What is an Allegory?

First, an allegory works like an extended metaphor. We have a comparison with multiple points for linkage. An allegory, though, is more than a simple comparison. In it, a story is told.

A tapestry is a picture stitched with different-colored threads. The canvas upon which it is built is blank. The needleworking artist creates the image as she stitches. If the threads are pulled out or unraveled, the created image is lost.

The allegory begins by stating the metaphor > life = tapestry. Then elements of the comparison are revealed. As King works through her allegory, the various elements of the story create the points of the extended metaphor, each as interconnected as the threads in a tapestry.

How to Write a Riddling Allegory

In “Tapestry”, King does not bother with the usual refrain (or chorus). Each stanza serves a distinct purpose. The first builds the metaphor. The second and third and fourth work out the story. The last connects the story to herself (and us) and concludes the metaphor.

To help tie the lines together, she uses alliteration:

  • 1st stanza :: rich / royal, vision / view, wondrous / woven, bits / blue
  • 2nd stanza ::  soft silver sadness / sky, torn / tattered, coat / colors
  • 3rd stanza :: what / where, hanging / hand
  • 4th stanza :: rutted road / river rock, turned / toad, seemed / someone / spell
  • 5th stanza :: gray / ghostly, deepest darkness / dressed

The story of the allegory ties the poem together, yet King also rhymes with each stanza through a simple paired couplet. The rhyme scheme is the simplest of all, AABB. The concluding fifth stanza has five lines instead of four (a neat echo to the stanza), but the very last line is a repeat of the last part of the line before.

In the song itself, King concludes with a piano repetition of the last stanza, unvocalized.

So, a seemingly simple structure for her allegory.

However, King is extremely clever with the elements of her story.

How King Writes a Riddling Allegory

Like the Moonspinners of Greek mythology, the speaker in “Tapestry” is weaving different threads together to create an image of her life. The Greek Fate Clotho spins the thread. Her sister Lachesis measures it. The third sister Atropos cuts the length with her dreaded shears.

According to King, “my life has been a tapestry”. We are our own Moirai, controllers of our fate. We select the colors for our lives, of “rich and royal hue”. In the paradox of the antithetical repetition “everlasting” and “ever-changing”, we construct meaning through the opposing constancy and change.

Our lives push steadily onward even as they alter visibly and invisibly. When we end, our souls continue to a new existence.

This is the magic, the miracles that we don’t recognize.

The last line contains another seeming paradox:  “A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.” If we can feel it, how can we not hold it in our hands? Ah, “feel” has a dual meaning ~ touch and emotion.

Riddling Starts in the 2nd Stanza

The allegorical story begins in the second stanza with the entrance of the tatterdemalion drifter, each bit and piece symbolic of his wanderings.

He wears a coat of many colors, like the biblical Joseph, forced to leave his homeland because his brothers sold him into slavery. Joseph had to make the best of his situation—just as we should when we sell ourselves into the slavery of work. Joseph interpreted the Pharoah’s dream, just as we must interpret our own dreams and turn them into reality.

Much Mystery in the 3rd Stanza

This drifter “moved with some uncertainty”. That’s like us, again. We go for years without understanding our purpose. I’m certain Joseph had many years when he wondered why he was where he was.

In pursuit of–something, we reach for a golden item, unnamed, unclassified. We desire it. We think it’s the ultimate treasure. Like Adam & Eve, we eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

In the poem, though, the drifter’s hand grasps nothing. He reaches for his treasure, reaches for the knowledge of his desire. He hasn’t found it yet. Like the fairy tale of the Enchanted Song Bird in a gilded cage in a tree, we desire songs of love—but how often do we find such love?

King merely hints at this allusion, yet it fits best with her other wide-ranging allusions.

4th Stanza Reveals as it Veils

On the rutted road of his journey, the drifter takes his ease on a river rock only to fall victim to a curse. He becomes the frog prince, transformed by a wicked spell. We also are transformed when our desires are thwarted, again and again, dreams deferred as in Langston Hughes’ “Harlem”.

Yet who created this wicked spell? Why is the drifter cursed? Would anyone have triggered the curse? Or was the spell intended for him alone?

Also suggested by the lines is that the accursed drifter / frog needs his princess. Only she can kiss him and remove the curse. He will be trapped in his toad-eous form until he receives that kiss from someone both inherently great and innately kind.

5th Concludes and Continues the Riddling

An unknown figures enters the tapestry. The speaker recognizes this person as a companion even as she questions who he is. Is he the Reaper? Is he Death (as in Donald Justice’s “Incident in a Rose Garden”)?

Before she can discover, the tapestry and life unravel. The Moonspinners’ thread is done.

Riddling to Truth

The Moonspinners who provide the threads to weave the tapestry are from Greek myth. Joseph is biblical while the golden treasure in the tree could be the Enchanted Songbird story from China. The Frog Prince is a European fairytale, and Death—gray and ghostly, sometimes dressed in deepest black—comes from the mythologies of many cultures.

What is this journey to find the greatest treasure of all? What is this journey that exhausts us? And when we stop briefly to rest, are we falling into the wicked spell of non-pursuit? Is the drifter Perseus, bringing back a gorgon’s head? Is the songbird the golden nightingale that heals the dying emperor? Or is it the golden bird sought by the young prince who constantly makes mistakes and needs the fox’s avuncular help?

Like the best of the ancient balladeers, King doesn’t give us any the answers—deliberately, she does not.

These questions keep us returning to decipher the clues she has given us. Her allegory draws from every where and every when and every what, just as we do.

We don’t have all the answers. We keep returning to our own story to decipher the clues we are given. Clues we may never decipher.

Writing Riddling Allegories

When constructing your own poems, play with the idea of the allegory. Set up your extended metaphor, and guide your story through it.

Use a comparison that is universal. When story speaks to everyone in every time, story endures.

Use simple methods to tie your lines together. Use clever methods to develop your story. King is clever with her use of allusions to develop her structure and story.

Leave enough clues so that your readers, like Hansel and Gretel, will journey back to your work, over and again.

And remember the 4 Requirements of Song:

  • 1] Clear Communication
  • 2] Heart-felt Emotion
  • 3] Strong Lines
  • 4] Powerful Imagery

Coming Up

We’ll touch on another allegory as we dream through the heat-heavy days of summer when we look at the classic rock “Hotel California”.

First, though, we’ll venture through the requirements of occasional poetry by looking at poems for our origins: mothers, fathers, and the country of our birth.

The Eagles land after that in August.

All through April :: Writing Challenge

On The Write Focus, we’re posting a daily podcast from Write a Book in a Month, by Remi Black.

Daily check-ins include the project stage progressing word count as well as speculations on writing in general and the writing business in particular.

Click this link to visit TheWriteFocus blog.

Criteria for the Challenge ::

1] Daily Word Count

2] Length to Goal

3] Reason for the Goal

 

Each of the April episodes is running less than 10 minutes. Listen briefly every day or hoard up several episodes for when you fix a quick dinner, drive a short commute, or take a brisk walk.

Lessons for writing happen along the way!

Each episode in April will conclude with the two quotations from professional writers (Hemingway! Heinlein! Atwood! More!!!) that opened and closed her day’s writing sessions.

Episodes So Far ::

  • April 1 :: No Fooling
  • April 2 :: Change of Plans
  • April 3 :: Stick with the Plan
  • April 4 :: Nix Distractions
  • April 5 :: Watch for Warnings
  • April 6 :: Life Rolls
  • April 7 :: Win-Lose-Wind
  • April 8 :: Critical vs. Creative
  • April 9 :: Eat the Frog First
  • April 10 :: The Tax Man Cometh
  • April 11 :: Cocoons
  • April 12 :: Six Words Short
  • April 13 :: Wonders Never Cease
  • April 14 :: One Project, Two Project
  • April 15 :: Promotions
  • April 16 :: Covers
  • April 17 :: Frittery Jittery
  • April 18 :: Flipping Out
  • April 19 :: Input / Output
  • April 20 :: Looking Ahead

Coming Up to Finish the Challenge

  • April 21 :: Short Post
  • April 22 :: Biz Monday
  • April 23 :: Master Book
  • April 24 :: Expect the Unexpected
  • April 25 :: Carpe Diem as Writers
  • April 26 :: Nose to the Grindstone
  • April 27 :: Writers’ Groups
  • April 28 :: First Celebration
  • April 29 :: Writers Conferences
  • April 30 :: An End that’s Not an End and Lessons List
  •  May 5th :: Aprés-Draft Update

Listen on the following sites. 

Bookmark your favorite to come back daily.

Podbean: The Write Focus (podbean.com)

Apple podcast https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-write-focus/id1546738740%20

Spotify https://open.spotify.com/show/4fMwknmfJhkJxQvaaLQ3Gm?si=0GFku2PbShWXiDhRp7JaDQ

YouTube Channel Writers Ink Books – YouTube

Join us!

Resources as of April 20

Amazon links are given because it’s easy, and for no other reason.

Purchase Write a Book in a Month at Amazon here.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0848MWXGD

Also mentioned in the first 10 episodes (March 31 to April 5) ~

Patty Jansen’s Self Publishing Unboxed Amazon.com: Self-publishing Unboxed (The Three–year, No-bestseller Plan For Making a Sustainable Living From Your Fiction Book 1) eBook: Jansen, Patty: Kindle Store

Purchase Think/Pro at Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Think-like-Pro-Advent-Writers/dp/1983248266/

The Think/Pro planner for writers can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Think-Pro-Planner-M-Lee/dp/1983248673/

Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer https://www.amazon.com/Techniques-Selling-Writer-Dwight-Swain/dp/0806111917/  

Anne Morrow Lindbergh Gifts from the Sea https://www.amazon.com/Gift-50th-Anniversary-Anne-Morrow-Lindbergh/dp/0679732411/

Marie Kondo The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up https://www.amazon.com/Life-Changing-Magic-Tidying-Decluttering-Organizing/dp/B00RC3ZGN4/

Personal Change :: “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell

(The images at the top of this blog are of the Folger Shakespeare Library, the wonderful Seven Ages of Man stained-glass window and one of the reading rooms.)

Many transformative songs arose from the 1960’s social change movement. One of the more powerful poets is Joni Mitchell, whose deceptively simply lyrics carry powerful messages.

My favorite Mitchell is “Big Yellow Taxi”, with its famous line “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” The catchy little tune and clever lyrics hide a riptide undertow of ecology and conservationism. (Yes, I love trees. You might call me a tree hugger. The bark’s a little rough, though.)

“Both Sides Now” speaks more universally than “Big Yellow Taxi.”. And the song reminds us that personal change is necessary before social change can occur. Mitchell pulls a Shakespearean Ages of Man with her song, reducing the 7 Ages to 3.

Here is Judy Collins with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, from 1976:

Lyrics are here.

Remember the 4 Requirements of Song? Clear Communication. Heart-felt Message. Powerful Lines. Strong Imagery. “Both Sides Now” achieves all four without difficulty.

The Ages of Mitchell through Powerful Lines and Strong Imagery

Stanza I = Clouds

Clouds represent childhood, when we had the time to lie on our backs and stare at the lazy summer passages and dream about the places we’ll go (as long as the metaphorical fire ants don’t interfere with our imaginings). The shapes in the clouds transport us from our humdrum droning days.

Of course, big puffy clouds herald rain (and snow in winter), metaphors for the things of life that interfere with our “cloud’s illusions”. Years beyond our childhood, we recall our lost dreams.

Mitchell’s last line in the refrain—“I really don’t know clouds at all”—becomes especially poignant looking back with the jaded experience of our maturity. The line hints at how we went wrong:  we didn’t truly understand what we wanted, what the dream required, and what we would have to sacrifice.

When a child dreams of what s/he wants, that child doesn’t understand the devotion necessary to achieve it.

Stanza 2 = HEA Love

Stanza 2 moves from childhood to young adult and the “dizzy dancing” mysterious glory of love, when everything is possible and nothing interferes.

Unfortunately, life interferes. The once-upon-a-time “fairy tale” of happily-ever-after love rarely lasts. The glowing first rush of attraction is not sustainable. Hopefully, more than the pheromone-driven rush attracts a couple. Compatibility keeps the love re-charged; devotion helps it endure life’s slings and arrows.

This persona never gets past the demise of that fairy tale rush. She gives two pieces of advice. The first is a light-hearted mutual parting: “leave `em laughing when you go.” The second is for broken hearts: “If you care, don’t let them know.”

Broken dreams and bruised hearts build emotional walls that are difficult to knock down. The persona says that love is a “give and take”. Is that a mutual exchange? Or does one give while the other takes? When she laments about “love’s illusions”, we understand the reason those relationships never worked.

Stanza 3 = Life and its Changes

How do we go forward with these emotional barricades constructed from the rubble of broken dreams and bruised hearts?

Mitchell suggests “tears and fears and feeling proud / to say ‘I love you’ right out loud”. Yet then our hearts are damaged again. After a time, we guard ourselves from further emotional pain. We try “dreams and schemes and circus crowds” only to have our glorious plans fall apart. After several disappointments, we stop pursuing the hard goals. We don’t give up; we just turn aside.

And well-meaning friends see our emotional barriers, see our guarded hearts and discarded plans, and ask why we aren’t reaching out? Have they not faced the same difficulties?

Or did they never dream? Have they contented themselves with life’s first offerings? When that failed, maybe they shrugged and moved on.

So now they “shake their heads” when the persona won’t give up on her dream. Now they say that she’s out of step, that she’s the one who “changed”.

Heartfelt Message: Keep Pursuing the Dream

Mitchell shrugs off those judgements. She just wants a balanced “win and lose” life. After all, “something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.”

See, that’s Mitchell’s truth: don’t drift. Happiness and heartaches will occur. Don’t try to understand them. We can never understand the magical mystery of life and its illusions. Just live.

Writing “Both Sides Now”

Mitchell’s structure is three stanzas and one refrain. The refrain, though, changes slightly with each repetition. These slight changes are called incremental repetition.

The cleverness comes with the way each change matches its particular stanza. The first change occurs when the white puffy clouds of childhood transition to the young adult’s “love” and then the maturing adult’s “life”. The changes reinforce the focus of each stage of life, three stages for three wishes.

In addition to incremental repetition, Mitchell employs two clever rhetorical devices:  the polysyndeton and anaphora.

A polysyndeton is using more conjunctions than would normally occur. The purpose is to slow down the progression of the line. In Mitchell’s poem, the polysyndeton stretches out the first line of each stanza, just as childhood, the beginning of love, and the launching into maturity seem to stretch out.

  • Stanza I] “Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air”
  • II] “Moons and Junes and ferris wheels”
  • III] “Tears and fears and feeling proud . . . .”

An anaphora is a phrase repeated at the beginning of a sentence or a stanza.

  • Mitchell’s first anaphora occurs at the midpoint of each stanza, in the second line with “I’ve looked”. The sentence then continues with the predominant metaphorical topic of that stanza.
  • Her second anaphora occurs on the third line of each stanza which begins with “But now”. Along with the repetition and the rhyme, these anaphoras tie the stanzas even more tightly.

Summing It Up

“Both Sides Now” is a clever exercise in William Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man. Simple rhetorical devices keep each stanza powerful.

Childhood, youth, and adult. In each stage we have our dreams and disappointments. Mitchell reminds us that life will perform a balancing act. She wants us to look at the even-handed give-and-take of both sides. We gain when we accept the balance.

Reality keeps us balanced. Illusions keep us going.

Coming Up

We begin our look at occasional poetry in May. Occasional poetry is written to celebrate or commemorate a specific person or event. In May, our occasion is to celebrate mothers while in June our fathers will be the focus. That takes us to July and the occasion of Independence!

In examining these poems, we’ll discover how to write an occasional poem.

By the time we finish, you’ll have what you need for that awkward moment at Thanksgiving when people ask what you’ve been doing with your writing. You can read them a poem for Thanksgiving—or Christmas—or Advent—or Halloween—or Labor Day. Or volunteer in your local community to write an inspirational poem. Every month has one major occasion, and many months have several. November, for example, has Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving and Advent and Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Basically, though, remember the 4 requirements of song, and you’ll do well.

On the 25th of April is Carole King’s “Tapestry”, a look at a riddling allegory. Then, after the occasional poems for moms and pops and freedom!, we’ll offer up another allegory.

Through the heat-heavy days of summer we’ll look at the classic rock “Hotel California”. The Eagles will have landed.

Update on a Writing Challenge

On The Write Focus, we’re posting a daily podcast from Write a Book in a Month, by Remi Black.

Daily check-ins include the project stage progressing word count as well as speculations on writing in general and the writing business in particular.

Criteria for the Challenge:

1] Daily Word Count

2] Length to Goal

3] Reason for the Goal

Each of the April episodes is running less than 10 minutes. Listen briefly every day or hoard up several episodes for when you fix a quick dinner, drive a short commute, or take a brisk walk.

Lessons for writing happen along the way!

Each episode in April will conclude with the two quotations from professional writers (Hemingway! Heinlein! Atwood! More!!!) that opened and closed her day’s writing sessions.

April 1 :: No Foolingcover by Deranged Doctor Design

April 2 :: Change of Plans

April 3 :: Stick with the Plan

April 4 :: Nix Distractions

April 5 :: Watch for Warnings

April 6 :: Life Rolls

April 7 :: Win-Lose-Wind

April 8 :: Critical vs. Creative

April 9 :: Eat the Frog First

April 10 :: The Tax Man Cometh

April 11 :: Cocoons

April 12 :: Six Words Short

April 13 :: Wonders Never Cease

April 14 :: One Project, Two Project

April 15 :: Promotions

April 16 :: Covers

April 17 :: Frittery Jittery

April 18 :: Flipping Out

April 19 :: Input / Output

April 20 :: Looking Ahead

Listen on the following sites. Bookmark your favorite to come back daily.

Podbean: The Write Focus (podbean.com)

Apple podcast https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-write-focus/id1546738740%20

Spotify https://open.spotify.com/show/4fMwknmfJhkJxQvaaLQ3Gm?si=0GFku2PbShWXiDhRp7JaDQ

YouTube Channel Writers Ink Books – YouTube

Join us!

Resources

Amazon links are given because it’s easy, and for no other reason.

Purchase Write a Book in a Month at Amazon here.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0848MWXGD

Also mentioned in the first 10 episodes (March 31 to April 5) ~

Patty Jansen’s Self Publishing Unboxed Amazon.com: Self-publishing Unboxed (The Three–year, No-bestseller Plan For Making a Sustainable Living From Your Fiction Book 1) eBook: Jansen, Patty: Kindle Store

Purchase Think/Pro at Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Think-like-Pro-Advent-Writers/dp/1983248266/

The Think/Pro planner for writers can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Think-Pro-Planner-M-Lee/dp/1983248673/

Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer https://www.amazon.com/Techniques-Selling-Writer-Dwight-Swain/dp/0806111917/  

Anne Morrow Lindbergh Gifts from the Sea https://www.amazon.com/Gift-50th-Anniversary-Anne-Morrow-Lindbergh/dp/0679732411/

Marie Kondo The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up https://www.amazon.com/Life-Changing-Magic-Tidying-Decluttering-Organizing/dp/B00RC3ZGN4/

Poetry Mirrors Life

When the world appears to be crashing down, when we’re going down the drain, it helps—truly!—to realize that others have survived trials and troubles. Poetry can help, especially since Poetry Mirrors Life.

That’s the lesson in today’s post about “Paper Cup”, penned by Jimmy Webb of the 5th Dimension.

A Bit on Background

On 3/25, in the post about Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers”, I noted the 4 Requirements of Song. Poetry has a role to play in our daily lives ~ it’s not just pretty words.

  • 1] Poetry should speak clearly
  • and 2] from the heart.
  • Music-driven poetry should also provide 3] strong lines that catch our imagination
  • and 4] powerful imagery that helps us visualize the situations.

When a poem achieves these 4 requirements, it echoes to our souls. The reason: Poetry mirrors life in its intensity. Other types of communications—essays, films, novels, blog posts—struggle to reach into their audience’s hearts.

Jimmy Webb’s 1967 “Paper Cup” fulfills these 4 requirements—and also resonates with the current situation.

Lyrics are here and the peppy video is here!

Strong Lines

The extended metaphor in Webb’s poem presents a narrowed little world into which we cage ourselves.

This world satisfies us with a shower stall, running water, a den, and refrigerated air, bland walls that make our lives easy.

Then Webb turns this life around with its bleached, waxed-paper world. We may think we’re in the catbird’s seat, but one day we’re “going down the drain” and won’t care. When trials and troubles hit so hard, we sink into apathy. We deadened ourselves to reality so we can “feel no pain”.

Only through this apathy can we say “life is kind of / groovy in the gutter”.

Powerful Imagery

Webb tells us that such an apathetic life has no purpose. We are living “without a rudder”. We follow the currents of life and never stop to consider what we want. More importantly, we don’t consider what truth is.

The crowd declares what is popular and “hot”. We follow, rat-like, behind the pied piper crowd into a maze that will devour us.

Heart-felt Speech

In the film The Matrix, we saw characters awakened to the myriad things that the mass crowd pummels us with in order to keep us distracted. Our focus is forced onto the temporary and earthly things. Drugs, paychecks, sex, blingy rat-race materialism, crime, taxes, insurance—these things are what we worry about instead of the IDEAS and SOULS we should care about.

Webb is preaching to us, much as Tyler Perry does with his Madea films.

Webb tells us that we may claim freedom, we may shout “freedom”, but all those material possessions and other addictions just put us in a bland round cage. We are “always looking up” since our lives are nothing extraordinary.

Politics of Poetry that Mirrors Life

As Percy Bysshe Shelley said, “Poetry is a mirror” reflecting life. By presenting life, it “awaken[s] and enlarge[s] the mind … a 1,000 un-apprehended combinations of thought.” (from “A Defence of Poetry”)

As Shelley tells us, Poetry Mirrors Life.

Webb wants us to reflect on what we think life should be by comprehending how bleached-out and bland such a life is. This is the same point in Dolly Parton’s “lost in a crowd” Wildflowers, with people too afraid to pursue their goals. In “Paper Cup”, Webb reminds us that a boring constricted life focused on things is no more than living in a gutter.

A better world is available to us. Webb points out the problems of merely existing in a mundane world, with distractors that keep us on the rat-race wheel.

Ha! The wheel in the rat’s cage can be turned sideways to be a round cup that imprisons us. At least the rat can look through his bars.

Parton’s “Wildflowers” tells us how we can escape that “common and close” existence. Never forget that we must uproot ourselves from gardens where we will wither and hitch a ride with the wind.

Webb uses Poetry to mirror Life. He tells us that we have to escape the apathetic life and pursue our goals with passion.

No matter what, we take action to achieve.

Coming Up

On the 15th, more Politics of Poetry as we look at Joni Mitchell’s call of personal change before we can achieve social change.

And from today, the 5th until the 19th, we have the MORE blogs celebrating Easter, running from Palm Sunday to Bright Sunday. Join us!

Celebrate! *Discovering Your Writing*

It’s the 1st anniversary of the bundled Discovering Your Writing”, the epic journey for writers.

cover by Deranged Doctor Design for Writers Ink Books

Designed for writers at any skill level, this four-book bundle of the acclaimed series is a resource-rich compendium of craft information.

4 Books

for Writers

Bundled together

Discovering Your Plot covers six types of plot structure and the necessities of genre expectations. In its detailed examination of the major sections of a novel, it offers clues to pacing, tension and suspense, and sequencing of events.

Discovering Characters guides writers to create individuals rather than cookie-cutter stereotypes. This guidebook is designed to reveal the public and private interiors of characters. Templates and interviews are merely a start when delving into the backstories and relationships of our characters.

To hook readers, savvy writers manipulate cover imagery, titles, and the back-cover market copy. With the right keys, explored in Discovering Your Author Brand, learn how to brand your books, your series, and yourself as writer. A supplementary section covers writing a book trailer—the best guidance for writing any market copy.

Improving your writing craft is simple with the lessons and examples provided in Discovering Sentence Craft. A writer needs much more than grammar and spelling. Figurative and interpretive elements are the first step in creating rich text. Structural elements like opposition, repetition, inversion, and sequencing offer additional methods to polish your words.

At 129,00-plus words, Discovering Your Writing is truly an epic undertaking, a heroic journey necessary for anyone wanting to grow as a writer.

Writer M.A. Lee worked as a journalist and copy writer before pursuing the challenge of teaching high school students the triumvirate of literature, composition, and grammar+. Those years of teaching meant that she continued learning herself, sticking fingers into the writing craft and twisting things around to understand them before conveying that knowledge to students. The Discovering guidebooks for writers are proof that her internal teacher keeps presenting lessons.

Since beginning her self-publishing journey in 2015, M.A. Lee (under her pen names) has published more than 30 works of fiction and nonfiction.