Published Works

Mid-Life | Easy Street

http://www.easystreetmag.com/mid-life-2/

This month I wrote about my midlife epiphanies: after turning 36, I realized my hopes for the future can stifle my life today. 

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Alphabet Poems: Workshop 2

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Last week I showed you my worse alphabet poem (strictly speaking, these aren’t alphabet poems, but my friend and I have christened them so). We talked about why it sucked, and I promised that this week I’d speak about what’s good about the poem.

I should warn you that lines 11 through 19 are gobbledygook. By the time I reached line 11, I glanced at the previous lines and felt the need to do anything different, as long as it was better. So I went surreal, wrote what came, and demanded images from myself.

M is for Bad Poetry
By Emile DeWeaver

1   Members of Congress dismember
2   merry lambs and sing
3   melodies to bleating sheep
4   massed around the reflecting pond. The
5   message: lamb-parts
6   made this nation great.
7   Mistakes we
8   make, but if
9   memories cannot be trusted, how can you not
10  misconceive our sins.
11  Mops in a closet damp with
12  mold spores that climb the dust
13  motes settling in the once-dark room
14  mucus on linoleum
15  maggots in wood grain
16  moco-colored moccasins hissing on a squaw’s
17  mumbling feet.
18  Milk spilling strings through a cheese grater, dripping curdled
19  murals on the floor.

What works is concrete imagery gives the poem immediacy. Immediacy precedes reader involvement, so it’s at least a step in the right direction.

Examples: In lines 11-13, mops, closet, dampness, allusions to moldy smells, dust motes: all are readily identifiable images, all readily appeal to the senses. Earlier in lines 1-2 we have what I’ve called a false image (because it betrays the poet with its ineffectiveness): “Congress dismember merry lambs.” The difference between these images is when I say “dust” or “mop,” one million readers will see more or less the same picture (no need to point out that I have less than 40 followers). These images unite readers to each other and the artist. But when I say “dismember merry lambs,” this could produce a thousand vastly different images, if it produces any at all. In that way it divides readers and artist. Worse, the artist has lost control of the effects she or he is trying to produce. Because we can rely on the images produced by concrete words, we can predict their effect. If we can forecast words’ effects, then we can create in a reader love, joy, fear, suspicion, or admiration for our great talent by carefully choosing our images.

Let’s examine more images. I used “linoleum” in line 14 because it’s more specific (and thus more readily identifiable) than “floor.” In line 15 “wood grain” isn’t necessarily more detailed than “wood,” but by calling attention to the grain, I hope to achieve a zooming-in effect, a close-up in the reader’s mind. My decision may or may not produce my intended effect (only you can tell me), but that’s part of the risk in pushing the boundaries of our craft. We have to try things.

Lines 16 and 17 provide an example of what I call a double image (because it’s working double time). “moco-colored moccasins hissing on a squaw’s/ mumbling feet. At its best the double image adds depth. At its worse, it distracts. Here we have moccasins that can be shoes or a snakes.  There’s an irrationality here, the dream-quality that poetry allows. Snakes don’t belong on feet nor do shoes hiss, but lines in poetry can impose their own logic. For example, shoes don’t hiss, but if feet can mumble, we’ve entered a world where shoes can hiss.

My favorite images are in the last two lines: “Milk spilling strings through a cheese grater, dripping curdled / murals on the floor.” There’s kinetic power in these lines that the other images lack because the subject, milk, moves through a grater and creates something, a mural, on the floor. The image also contains a lot of texture: white milk, smooth strings of milk, metallic grater, “dripping” introduces sound, “curdled” hints at odor, and “murals on the floor” transforms the texture of white milk to something marble-like.

What do all these images mean, what did I aim to make readers feel? Well, as I said, it’s gobbledygook. The worst poem I’ve written. But even a bad poem can teach us something if we can bear to look at it long enough.

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Alphabet Poems: A Workshop

Presenting the worst alphabet poem I’ve written!

I’ve numbered the lines because I’d like to workshop the poem in case my process has something to offer other writers. Commentary follows the poem (it makes me cringe to call it “my poem.”)

M is for Bad Poetry
By Emile DeWeaver

1   Members of Congress dismember
2   merry lambs and sing
3   melodies to bleating sheep
4   massed around the reflecting pond. The
5   message: lamb-parts
6   made this nation great.
7   Mistakes we
8   make, but if
9   memories cannot be trusted, how can you not
10  misconceive our sins.
11  Mops in a closet damp with
12  mold spores that climb the dust
13  motes settling in the once-dark room
14  mucus on linoleum
15  maggots in wood grain
16  moco-colored moccasins hissing on a squaw’s
17  mumbling feet.
18  Milk spilling strings through a cheese grater, dripping curdled
19  murals on the floor.

Okay. Bad writing is always hard on my ego, but I’ve learned that bad writing has this fantastic quality. It makes clear what you want to express. This holds for poetry and prose; more often than not, it’s not the content that sucks, it’s the delivery. The good news is a bad delivery is fixable in revision. So let’s start that revision process.

The first 10 lines share three big problems. One, I’m talking at the reader, beating them to death with what I think about something. This is not an essay; it’s a poem, so if I want to climb up on my soap box, I need to find a more subtle way to do it. In other words, if you find yourself standing on a soap box, break out your smoke and mirrors and make sure your box looks like a magician’s stage to the audience.

The second problem in first 10 lines is the lack of imagery. (For the purpose of this workshop, I include smells and sounds in my idea of imagery.) 10 lines of pure ideas in poetry is sacrilege. To add insult to gunshot, several ideas parade through my lines disguised as images. This is how I find them.

I select a culprit, put myself in my readers’ minds, and ask “What does that look like?” If I have to construct the image, I might be looking at an idea in disguise. At the very least, I’m looking at a shitty image.

Examples: (1) “Congress dismember merry lambs.” What does that look like? Compare it to “Mops in a closet.” How quickly did the image of mops spring to mind? Did that happen with the first image. (2) “sing melodies to bleating sheep. ” Who the hell sings to sheep in Congress? Nobody. So I’m clearly trying to convey an idea (a cliched idea, to boot). It’s fine to convey ideas in poetry, but ideas in poetry benefit from being grounded in concrete imagery, not floating among 10 other ideas.

One reason why we root out images (and metaphors) that make the reader work to imagine is because we have a contract to uphold. The reader didn’t come to the page to construct images — that’s our job, to step inside their heads and do it for them. Poetry is the art of speaking through the reader’s mouth (not my quote but wish it was). Ideally, the process should be that seamless.

The third problem is in line 10. “Misconceive.” Please never use the word “misconceive.”

What works about my poem begins with line 11. I’d like to interact with my readers, so please leave comments about why the last half of my poem does or doesn’t work more effectively than the first half. I’ll get on my glory-of-good-poetry soapbox and talk about why I like them more in my next Alphabet Poem post.

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SECRETS TO SUCCESS!

One thing I’ve noticed about successful people is they have great networks comprised from people who appreciate them. How do we build these networks around our writing careers?

In finding my way to the answer, I’m starting at the ground floor: people appreciate me when I show that I appreciate them. With that in mind, I’m sending Christmas/holiday cards to all the editors who’ve published my work and all the editors who’ve rejected me kindly.

If you’re interested in sending holiday cards to the magazines and publishers you’re building relationships with, it’s easy. I downloaded an  App called Best Greeting Cards HD from the Play Store. So far, this card garnered   the best response:

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If you don’t like the App, there’s plenty of images you can download from the internet with which you can make your own cards.

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I googled “free holiday cards,” and dozens of options popped up.  123Greetings.com looked promising, but when I sent a card to myself, the actual card didn’t arrive. They sent a message giving the sender  props for sending the card and enclosed a link that took me to the E-card. Not a fan.

I invite everyone to join me in expanding our respective  writing networks. Please leave a comment if you find great images or you get a great response. And remember to follow any attribution rules for sharing images that have copyrights to ensure our burgeoning networks don’t branch  into courtrooms.

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FINALLY, Journaling I Like!

Before this week, I never wrote something in a journal that I later used. Rarely have I had time to comb through my subconscious by  reading over my journals, so I gave up on them years ago as a waste of time.

I left my poetry class this week armed with a new kind of  journaling. I began a new journal, and my daily entry is limited to one sentence or one line. I love it, and I want to share the first four days wth you.

December 15
I’ve reached an equilibrium between tomorrow’s dream  and hell, and it’s not contentment.

December 16
A truth that stains my mirror: I spend a lot of time being a good man, but I’d run to hell for a kiss.

December 17
He’d never seen an angel, but everybody knew how to kill one.

December 18
There’s sex, and then there’s Jennifer’s pink nails raking the skin off my thighs.

So far, I’ve taken a lot from this exercise. December 17 provided me with an interesting opening for a story that has been maturing in my mind, and I feel a seed planted by  the entry on the 18th sprouting roots.

I’ll post again when either idea coalesces on paper. Be well and happy holidays.

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WELCOME!

Tongue Paintings is for more than those who want to follow my work (though they certainly come first). I believe writers form a tribe bonded by a common talent that sometimes makes me feel like I’m navigating a barrier between me and people who haven’t lived through the writing process. Conversely, I never feel more integrated with humanity than when I talk to someone whose passion for writing matches mine. If you’ve felt like this — if you’ve ever spent years mastering the genre of, say, romance fiction only to have your spouse or mom say, “You know, I really love spy novels. Why don’t you write spy novels?” — then my site is for you too. I’d like to grow a community at Tongue Paintings comprised from artists and those who love art.

As the site grows, you’ll find tips and resources for writers, shameless plugs for my work, and posts related to artistic process.

Thank you for stopping by. You’re always welcome here.

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