Friday Fun – Poetry: Yes/No/Sometimes

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Do you read poetry? Why or why not? If you do, what kinds of poetry do you like best and why?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace:  Mostly, I’m intimidated by poetry. It seems to have so many rules, or no rules at all. It’s classic and experimental, sometimes simultaneously. It’s full of complex layers of meaning that sometimes I don’t get (at least not right away … sometimes never).

But poetry is also powerful. It is concentrated emotion and insight that can hit you right between the eyes or straight through the heart. A poem you love can stay with you forever. A few lines can become a personal motto or creed – words to live by, words to love by.

poetry booksHaving recently unpacked my books, I can tell you that I do – in fact – own a few poetry books. My collection (if you can stretch reality to call it that) is small and very eclectic:

  • A third edition, circa 1983, of The Norton  Anthology of Poetry, left over from my time at Boston College
  • The Cuckoo’s Haiku, a book that I received as an advance review copy and kept mostly because I liked the illustrations
  • What the Heart Knows, another poetry book I bought because I liked the art
  • Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, because it’s a classic
  • Ogden Nash’s Good Intentions, a book I picked out of my grandmother’s “library” (a collection comprised mostly of cookbooks)
  • And, probably half of the children’s books we own, including Jamberry

There are a few others floating around, but this gives you the basic sense of my poetry “collection” – a haphazard smattering of forms and subjects.  Though I still feel underprepared to fully appreciate poetry, when I do finally get past my hang ups, I do enjoy reading it. I like the way you can savor a poem – reading it multiple times in the space of an hour, rolling it’s sounds and meanings around in your head. I like the way it can appear to be a completely different piece with each reading, morphing the way colors change in the light. And, I like the way a certain line or phrase lodges in your brain, causing you to see the world through a slightly altered lens.

So, yeah. I guess I do like poetry. In fact, I think I’ll go read some right now.

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13

Lee Laughlin: Sigh. Poetry is one of those things I *should* like.  I can appreciate it, but I don’t typically seek it out.  In all honestly I typically read to escape, and poetry just doesn’t give me the same immersion that a good fiction book does.  I do have a soft spot for Shel Silverstein, but I’m not really sure that counts.

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin: I read poetry all the time. I love the distillation of thought in language, the vividness of imagery and the gaping holes of possibility created by compression. I love the sounds of language. I have several friends who are poets. I’m married to one. We read poetry aloud in bed.


LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I enjoy reading poetry and even have some published. When I went for my master’s degree in writing and literature I had to take 2 years of undergrad lit (since all my past education was in business management), and I had a couple of poetry classes. I came to appreciate different forms and hearing different interpretations of poets’ works. I seem to favor poems with a lot of visual descriptions, but also those with personal emotions.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: I go through phases where I read a lot of poetry and then other times when I don’t. There are poems that have stayed with me for many years and I keep a few favorites in view–whether on my desk in my office or in the front of my journal. I’ve written some poetry and I love how you can distill an experience or an emotion into only a (relatively) few words. I personally think Shel Siverstein’s poems count as poetry, as I’ve introduced my son to his poems and he thinks about them and talks about them long after we’ve read them. That’s my idea of art, whether it’s poetry or any other medium–if it makes me think or has an emotional impact on me that lasts. As far as what type of poetry, I’ll read any type of poetry, from haiku’s to Rumi to Ogen Nash to Marianne Williamson.


Cross Training

I’m a prose-writer. I write essays and novels and the occasional short story. I have strong prose muscles, muscles that allow me to think in sentences that are often long and complex, sentences that use repetition and subordination, sentences that mimic the thoughts they express.

            I wasn’t always this way; when I was younger and fearless I wrote poetry and plays, taking my skills for granted the same way I flew down double black diamond ski trails with abandon. But as life crowded in – marriage, children, money – I shed activities that took too much time or cost too much and instead engaged in the solitary, narrative sports of sculling, cross country skiing and long walks.

For a long time, this was enough to keep me fit. But recently, I found myself breathless and weaker than I wanted to admit, so I joined a gym and started a program of interval training, core strengthening, and weight lifting. It’s made a huge difference in how I feel and think. One day while I climbed hills on the treadmill, I realized I need to cross train my brain as well. I need to pump poetry.

Cross training with verse will help me improve my performance with prose. Poetry, I realized, will teach me concision the way doing bicep curls creates muscle definition. It will help me write vividly and to the point.

I must be onto something, because I feel as much resistance to this as to joining the gym in the first place; I was sure I would hate it. Resistance, I find, indicates I’m on the right track. So this is my plan: I’ve discovered a poetry textbook from my teaching days. It’s got fifty exercises in it: one a week.

Just exercises. Like sit-ups, leg-lifts, shoulder presses and hammer curls, I’ll lift voice, push metaphor, rotate audience, repeat rhythm, chant rhyme, and practice form.  Just like working out at the gym, I might surprise myself and have fun.

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio and teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council. Learn more at her website:

Teenage inspiration through poetry

Last Thursday, March 17, I had the great opportunity to be a volunteer for the NH Poetry Out Loud competition held in Representative’s Hall in the State House.

Poetry Out Loud logo

Since my writing focuses on non-fiction and fiction, poetry is exciting for my muse. This particular event is the culmination from several state-wide high school competitions. The contestants select 3 poems from a specific list and present their chosen poems in a way that (hopefully) engages the audience – especially the judges.

There aren’t any props or an official dress code. The teens’ poetry choices are submitted in advance and have to be presented in under four minutes.

The Poetry Out Loud recitation program is supported through the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and state arts agencies, which in NH is the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. Competition starts in the fall at the high school level, moves to state regionals, and then the state finals competition are in the spring. The national competition is at the end of April in Washington, DC.

Poetry Out Loud encourages teens throughout the U.S. to learn about great poetry via memorization and performance. The competition helps with public speaking skills, building self-confidence, and learning about literary and cultural heritage. There isn’t any charge to compete and students from any high school—public, private, parochial, and home schoolers—can compete.

The 12 finalists who participated Thursday night each had 3 poems memorized.

  • In the first round, speakers went in alphabetical order and performed their first poem.
  • The second round was also all 12 contests in reverse alphabetical order, but with different poems.
  • The third round consisted of the top 4 highest-scoring contestants from the combined first two rounds. They were named in alphabetical order, then drew for the order in which they’d perform their third poems.

The Champion of the evening was 14-year-old- freshman Olivia Vordenberg of Souhegan High School, Amherst. She won, among other things, cash for herself and for her school’s library, and an all expense paid trip with a chaperone to the National competition at the end of April.

The variety of poems and how they were presented intrigued my muse. I loved seeing teenagers embracing poetry with a fierce determination. These young people worked hard to memorize several poems over several months and present them in front of audiences of various sizes. If I had had the same opportunity at their age, I believe I would have passed – since standing in front of a crowd for any reason was the last thing I ever wanted to do!

Kudos to these young people for grabbing on to the opportunity to push themselves out of their comfort zones. Maybe some will become writers, since they already love words.

Lisa Jackson, writer, editorLisa Jackson is an editor, writer, and chocolate lover. She’s addicted to Sudoku, cafés, and words. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has a blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis — and you can, too! © Lisa J. Jackson, 2011

Need to inject some passion into your writing? Slam, baby.

Fellow NHWNer, Wendy Thomas, recently shared a video on Facebook that came as close to literally knocking me off my feet as any video I’ve ever watched. In three-and-a-half minutes, one woman – alone on a stage, with nothing but her own words to sway me – drew me through most of the major emotions including anger, outrage, grief, and hope. I cried, I laughed, I stood up and cheered.

The artist was a woman by the name of Kate Makkai and the venue was the 2002 National Poetry Slam. The piece she performed was called “Pretty.” Prior to watching this video, I had never experienced slam poetry and was only marginally aware of this dynamic art form. Slam is a kind of “street” poetry that taps into the raw stuff of life in a way that can be shocking. Slam poets do not pull punches. There isn’t an Emily Dickenson in the lot. Slam poets go for the jugular every time – telling it like it is in words that strip away pretense and pride.

As writers, our goal is to connect with our readers. We use our words to manipulate emotions, broaden perspectives, and inspire change. To succeed, we have to bring our writing to life. Words that lie on the page like a catch of cold, dead fish aren’t going to cut it. If you want to touch your reader’s heart, your words need to plug directly into the central artery system. They need to be the right words, delivered in the right way.

If your writing needs an infusion, I recommend taking a journey into the world of slam poetry. Start with Kate’s piece and then see where it leads you. I know I was inspired to dig deeper after watching her work. I hope you are, too.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who, among other things, works as a marketing strategist and copywriter. She helps creative entrepreneurs (artists, writers, idea people, and creative consultants) discover their “natural” marketing groove so they can build their business with passion, story, and connection. She also blogs. A lot. She is a mom, a singer, and a dreamer who believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Look her up on facebook or follow her on twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.