February 16, 2008

How To

Our February writing prompt asks you to write a poem that instructs by explaining how to do something, and also gives advice.

Most of us have trouble separating the two in our everyday lives. Ask me how to create a blog, and I will surely go beyond the practical, instructional steps and start giving advice.

I knew when I chose Wendell Berry's poem "How To Be A Poet" that it wasn't a perfect example of what I was asking in the prompt, but I like the poem. (We used another Berry poem in 2006 for a prompt on contentment.)

He says
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
which is good practical how to, but he also says things like
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
and that is something else - not even advice.

On the site prompt I mentioned Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" as also being a list poem of observations, and that both look at something from different points of view. Maybe I'm wrong about that last part. Perhaps, the Berry poem is all one point of view.

I knew that "how to be a poet" would be too limiting a prompt and perhaps there's already too much out there on how to read a poem, and how to write a poem. (see below) So I ask that you try a poem that instructs by explaining how to do something, and also gives advice. Feel free to choose topics poetic (How To Write A Sonnet) or not (How To Sharpen A Knife) or at the further end of practicality (How To Separate; How To Be; How To Tell Her). Use the how to as part of your title in some way (My Mother Tells Me How To Fix My Marriage).

More sites to inspire your how-to thoughts or muddle your mind:

This portrait of Wendell Berry is from the "Americans Who Tell the Truth" project. This collection of portraits & quotes was painted by Robert Shetterly.

Americans Who Tell The Truth is also a book of the first fifty portraits in this series printed in beautiful color with short biographies and an essay by Robert Shetterly about the intent of the project. The book is suitable for all ages, but its target audience is middle and high school. They have published a free curriculum on this website for teachers to be able to teach American history through the lives of these people.

Help support this project.

The quote from Berry on the portrait reads:

“The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and wasteful.”

February 12, 2008

6 Word Memoirs

I stumbled upon a book while I was looking for some "flash fiction" - those short, short stories. It's called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure by Larry Smith.

There are a thousand of these little literary glimpses of humanity. The "assignment" is to capture one life in 6 words.

Some of you have probably seen the Ernest Hemingway example that may have inspired the book:
"For Sale: baby shoes, never worn."
There certainly is at least one story in that half dozen words.

Enter Larry Smith. He founded SMITH Magazine on January 6, 2006, which is National Smith Day. He was the articles editor and still contributes to Men's Journal, and had been the executive editor of Yahoo! Internet Life, senior editor at ESPN magazine, a founding editor of P.O.V. and Might magazines.

When his online storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers to submit six-word memoirs, he received funny and serious entries.

There's the bittersweet romance of "Found true love, married someone else" and just bitter regret of "After Harvard, had baby with crackhead."

Then he went to the famous of the title (Jonathan Lethem, Richard Ford, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Sebastien Junger...)

It's not exactly a poetry writing prompt, but how about giving the assignment a try and posting your own six word memoir here as a comment?