#TBT Post – Why Sensory Detail is Important

I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for The Great Noveling Adventure blog and it was originally published on April 21, 2014. 


 

Oriental Poppies by Georgia O'Keefe

Oriental Poppies by Georgia O’Keefe

 

If you’ve ever been told that your story was boring that it lacked excitement or depth or maybe that your dialogue felt like floating heads talking in an empty room, it might have been because you neglected the sensory details.

Tapping into what your characters see, smell, touch, taste, and hear can allow readers to experience the characters’ world on a deeper level. Adding sensory details can anchor your readers in your world, and make your story breathe with believability.

The key is to do this without overwhelming your writing with too many details. Page-long descriptions of what your character looks like can slow the pacing and lose your reader’s attention, sometimes forever. How do you strike that balance between talking heads in empty rooms and info dumps that put your readers to sleep?

I find studying poetry helps.

As this is National Poetry Month, it’s also a nice segue into the importance of reading more poetry for its own sake. What the poets can teach us, aside from paying attention to the rhythm and flow of words, is one thing many of us struggle with – economy of words. Poets also pay close attention to how words sound and feel when they come off the tongue. And more importantly, the emotions words evoke.

This can be the heart of sensory imagery. Word choices that trigger deep memories connected to our senses and can help paint pictures and allow readers to fill in the visual background themselves without you needing to describe every detail for them.

I reviewed a book of poetry this week on my blog that was a collection of poems about my home state. I was amazed at how some of the poems put me in touch with long-forgotten memories. Just the mention of ice old bottles of orange Fanta pulled from a lay-down cooler in one poem took me back to Oklahoma summertime and riding bikes with my friends to the town pool. It was an awakening of the senses from a few stanzas.

With the barest of words, poets can evoke scenes in your mind. “Brushstrokes” as one of my writing friends calls it. This is what you want in your own story.

Just in case you’re not familiar with sensory detail, I thought I’d show a quick example from a writer who does this so well. Here’s what a scene would look like without its sensory details from OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys (and then I’ll show you the scene as it originally appears in her book).

 “Hello, Louise.”

“I said, ‘Hello, Louise.’”

“Hello, Willie,” said. Mother. “Willie, this is Josie.”

“So…you’ve returned.”

“Well, it’s been a long time,  Willie. I’m sure you can understand.”

“You look good.”

“I’m keeping to myself,” said Mother.

“Keeping yourself…yes. I heard you had a greenhorn from Tuscaloosa last night.”

“You heard about Tuscaloosa? Oh, he wasn’t a trick, Willie,” said Mother. “He was just a nice fella.”

“A nice fella who bought you those pearls, I guess,” said Willie.

“I’ve got good business,” said Willie. “Men think we’re headed to war. If that’s true, everyone will want their last jollies. We’d work well together, Louise, but…”

“Oh, she’s a good girl, Willie and she’s crazy smart. Even taught herself to read.”

“I don’t like kids.”

“I don’t like ’em much, either.”

“Really? So what do you do…if you don’t like kids?”

“Well, I go to school. I read. I cook, clean, and I make martinis for Mother.”

“You clean and make martinis? Your bow is crooked, girl. Have you always been that skinny?”

“I wasn’t feeling well for a few years,” said Mother quickly. “Josie is very resourceful, and-”

“I see that,” said Willie.

“I skipped first grade altogether and started second grade. Mother lost track I was supposed to be in school-but it didn’t matter much. She told the school we had transferred from another town, and I just started aright in second grade.”

“You skipped the first grade?”

“Yes, ma’am, and I don’t figure I missed anything at all.”

“Don’t ma’am me, girl. You’ll call me Willie. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mrs. Willie,” I replied.

“Not Mrs. Willie. Just Willie.”

“Actually, Willie, I prefer Jo, and honestly, I don’t care much for bows.”

“I didn’t ask for a light,” said Willie.

“No, but you’ve tapped your cigarette fifty-three times…now fifty-four, so I thought you might like to smoke it.”

“Fine Jo, light my cigarette and pour me a Scotch.”

“Neat or on the rocks?” I asked.

“Neat.”

This is what “talking heads” dialogue looks like.

Although, the writing isn’t bad, as is, you have no sense of where they are in time or place, how they are reacting to what’s being said, etc. Let’s see how the scene changes when we add all of the sensory details back in:

 

 “Hello, Louise.”

The voice was thick and had mileage on it. Her platinum-blonde hair was pulled tight in a clasp engraved with the initials W.W. The woman’s eyes, lined in charcoal, had wrinkles fringing out from the corners. Her lips were scarlet, but not bloody. She was pretty once.

The woman stared at me, then finally spoke. “I said, ‘Hello, Louise.’”

“Hello, Willie,” said. Mother. She dragged me in front of the chair. “Willie, this is Josie.”

I smiled and bent my scabby legs into my best curtsy. The arm with the red nails quickly waved me away to the settee across from her. Her bracelet jangled a discordant tune.

“So…you’ve returned.” Willie lifted a cigarette from a mother-of-pearl case and tapped it softly against the lid.

“Well, it’s been a long time,  Willie. I’m sure you can understand.”

Willie said nothing. A clock on the wall swung a ticktock rhythm. “You look good,” Willie finally said, still tapping the cigarette against its case.

“I’m keeping to myself,” said Mother, leaning back against the settee.

“Keeping yourself…yes. I heard you had a greenhorn from Tuscaloosa last night.”

Mother’s back stiffened. “You heard about Tuscaloosa?”

“Oh, he wasn’t a trick, Willie,” said Mother, looking into her lap. “He was just a nice fella.”

“A nice fella who bought you those pearls, I guess,” said Willie, tapping her cigarette harder and harder against the case.

Mother’s hand reached up to her neck, fingering the pearls.

“I’ve got good business,” said Willie. “Men think we’re headed to war. If that’s true, everyone will want their last jollies. We’d work well together, Louise, but…” She nodded in my direction.

“Oh, she’s a good girl, Willie and she’s crazy smart. Even taught herself to read.”

“I don’t like kids,” she spat, her eyes boring a hole through me.

I shrugged. “I don’t like ’em much, either.”

Mother pinched my arm, hard. I felt the skin snap. I bit my lip and tried not to wince. Mother became angry when I complained.

“Really?” Willie continued to stare. “So what do you do…if you don’t like kids?”

“Well, I go to school. I read. I cook, clean, and I make martinis for Mother.” I smiled at Mother and rubbed my arm.

“You clean and make martinis?” Willie raised a pointy eyebrow. Her sneer suddenly faded. “Your bow is crooked, girl. Have you always been that skinny?”

“I wasn’t feeling well for a few years,” said Mother quickly. “Josie is very resourceful, and-”

“I see that,” said Willie flatly, still tapping her cigarette.

I moved closer to Mother. “I skipped first grade altogether and started second grade. Mother lost track I was supposed to be in school-” Mother’s toe dug into my ankle. “But it didn’t matter much. She told the school we had transferred from another town, and I just started aright in second grade.”

“You skipped the first grade?” said Willie.

“Yes, ma’am, and I don’t figure I missed anything at all.”

“Don’t ma’am me, girl. You’ll call me Willie. Do you understand?” She shifted in her chair. I spied what looked like the butt of a gun stuffed down the side of the seat cushion.

“Yes, Mrs. Willie,” I replied.

“Not Mrs. Willie. Just Willie.”

I stared at her. “Actually, Willie, I prefer Jo, and honestly, I don’t care much for bows.” I pulled the ribbons from my thick brown bob and reached for the lighter on the table.

“I didn’t ask for a light,” said Willie.

“No, but you’ve tapped your cigarette fifty-three times…now fifty-four, so I thought you might like to smoke it.”

Willie sighed. “Fine Jo, light my cigarette and pour me a Scotch.”

“Neat or on the rocks?” I asked.

Her mouth opened in surprise, then snapped shut. “Neat.” She eyed me as I lit her cigarette.

 

See the difference? You get sight, sound, and even touch. These sensory details connect you in the world and let you feel what the characters are going through. They paint the scene. So, ready to get started?

If you think you could use a little more poetry in your life to help you get in touch with your sensory details or even to work on your rhythm and pacing and you need some reading suggestions, our state Poet Laureate had a few recommended poets to get you on your way:

Stephen Dunn

Ted Kooser

Billy Collins

Sharons Olds

Tony Hoagland

Mary Oliver

Martin Espada

Charles Bukowski

George Bilgere

Wendell Berry


 

Our Oklahoma Poet Laureate at the time of this post was the dynamic Nathan Brown. I highly recommend his poetry (and maybe even his singing.)

Upcoming SCBWI Oklahoma Twitter Chats for 2016

#okscbwichat

SCBWI OK Banner

 

As the newly appointed Social Media Coordinator for the Oklahoma SCBWI region, I am very excited to announce the first half of this year’s Twitter Chat lineup. Most chats are held on the fourth Tuesday of each month, however, we do have a few special dates running up to our Spring Conference in April, when some of our speakers will be joining us. How amazing, right?

TweetNo matter the date, each Twitter chat session will last one hour, from 7-8pm CST, and we’ll be using the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

Here is our Twitter Chat Line-Up:

JANUARY- Sonia Gensler

sonia-gensler-225Sonia Gensler is the award-winning author of Ghostlight, a contemporary middle grade novel, as well as The Dark Between and The Revenant, both young adult historical novels. She is obsessed with Gothic horror and loves to write ghostly mysteries.

Sonia grew up in a small Tennessee town and ran with a dangerous pack of band and drama geeks. As an adult she experimented with a variety of impractical professions—museum interpreter, historic home director, bookseller, and perpetual graduate student—before finally deciding to share her passion for stories through teaching. She taught literature and writing to young adults for ten years and still thinks fondly of her days in the classroom. Sonia currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband and cat.

Sonia will be our guest on January 26th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @soniagensler. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

February – Gwendolyn Hooks

G._Hooks_PhotoGwendolyn Hooks is the author of twenty published books, including her popular Pet Club series. Two of her Scholastic early readers, The Mystery of the Missing Dog and Three’s A Crowd, sold over 100,000 copies each. She’s also written nonfiction picture books, including Arctic Appetizers: Studying Food Webs in the Arctic.

Her latest book, Leona Mitchell: Opera Star, was released this past fall as part of the I AM OKLAHOMA series. In 2016, Lee & Low will publish her picture book biography, Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. 

Gwendolyn blogs on The Brown Bookshelf to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing and illustrating for young readers. The American Library Association selected The Brown Bookshelf as a Great Website for Kids.

Gwendolyn will be our guest on February 23rd, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @GwenTheGweat. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

March – Victoria Selvaggio

Victoria SelvaggioVictoria Selvaggio is an Associate Agent with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. She has a strong background in business ownership, and she worked for over seven years as a volunteer and Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio. Drawn to the publishing scene first as an author writing all genres, with her most recent publication in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Vicki’s passion for honing the craft carried over into reading manuscripts for the agency in 2013.

Currently, she is excited to read compelling manuscripts that will resonate with her long after she’s done.

Victoria will be one of our fantastic speakers presenting at our OK SCBWI Spring Conference in April. To learn more about our conference and to register for this event, CLICK HERE.

Her current wishlist:

“I am currently looking for all genres (lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction), but find I’m particularly drawn to middle grade and young adult. I especially love thrillers and all elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it’s out of the box, and it will make me think and think, long after I’m done reading, send it to me. On the flip side, I yearn for books that make me laugh, cry and wonder about the world.” (From agent’s website.)

Victoria will be our guest on March 29th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @vselvaggio1To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

April – Karl Jones

KarlJonesKarl Jones is an Associate Editor with Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin Young Readers. Karl works on a variety of licensed and original middle grade and activity books, as well as some early YA projects. He acquired and edits the Just Jake series from New York Times best-selling kid author, Jake Marcionette and edits a middle grade/YA transition series by established stage and screenwriter, Justin Sayre-the first book in this series, Husky published in September 2015.

He also develops, acquires and writes unique original activity books like Day of the Dead Activity Book and Build A Boyfriend, as well as hiring work-for-hire authors for several licensed book programs for entertainment and gaming properties including Star Trek, Powerpuff Girls, Uncle Grandpa, Regular Show and Shovel Knight.

He is particularly interested in realistic middle grade and YA fiction and format-bending storytelling projects. In his free time, he enjoys comedy and storytelling events, outdoor adventures, and live music. He is a native Oklahoman.

Karl will be one of our fantastic speakers presenting at our OK SCBWI Spring Conference in April. To learn more about our conference and to register for this event, CLICK HERE.

Karl will be our guest on April 5th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @karljones. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

May – Timothy Lange

Tim LangeTimothy Lange has been a graphic designer, illustrator and fine art painter for over 30 years. He graduated from the Colorado Institute of Art in 1982 and studied at the Art Students League of Denver (off and on) from 1989 to 2003.

He is an active member of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). He was was transplanted to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in 2003. Aside from the bugs and humidity, he says its not a bad place to call home.

Tim will be our guest on May 24th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @TJ_Lange. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

June – SPECIAL FACEBOOK EVENT!!! Saturday, June 11th, Q&A Event with YA Author Courtney Summers & her Literary Agent Amy Tipton – This is a special event for our SCBWI Oklahoma Members ONLY.

Courtney Summers Twitter PhotoCourtney Summers was born in Belleville, Ontario, in 1986 and currently resides in a small town not far from there. She likes writing books about girls who only have themselves because sometimes that realization is the scariest and most important thing–the slow untangling of the difference between ‘lonely’ and ‘alone.’ Her favourite kind of stories are the ones that make you wish so badly they’d ended differently but deep down you know they really couldn’t have gone any other way.

To date, she has authored five novels. Her first novel, Cracked Up to Be, was published when she was 22 and went on to win the 2009 CYBILS award in YA fiction. Since then, she’s published four more books. They are 2011 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick and White Pine Honor book, Some Girls Are, 2012 YALSA Quick Pick, Fall for Anything, 2013 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick and White Pine Honour book, This is Not a Test, and most recently, Please Remain Calm (an e-novella sequel to This is Not a Test) and All the RageAll the Rage was an Official Tumblr Reblog Book Club pick and named a Best Book of 2015 by Bustle, Book Riot, Chicago Public Library and the B&N Teen Blog.

When Courtney is not writing, she enjoys playing video games, watching horror movies, Supernatural and planning for the impending zombie apocalypse. Her favorite color is green.

AmyTipton2-150x150Amy Tipton joined the Signature Literary Agency in 2009. She graduated from Naropa University with a B.A. in Writing and Literature and received her MFA from New College of California in WRiting. She comes to the agency after working as a literary assistant and office manager at several literary agencies including JCA Literary Agency, Diana Finch Literary Agency, Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson Associates. Amy has also worked as a book scout for Aram Fox, Inc. dealing with foreign rights. She became an agent with Peter Rubic and continued to agent with FinePrint Literary Management. In addition to her agenting experience, Amy also worked as a freelance editor to Lauren Weisberger, author of The Devil Wears Prada. Her work is published in the anthology, Controlled Burn, and pieces of her first and second novel can be found in a variety of literary journals.

Courtney & Amy will be our guests on FACEBOOK on June 11th. On that day, Members who have been invited to join in this private chat can post questions for Courtney & Amy to answer. Our guests will be popping in and out of Facebook during the day to answer questions. This is NOT a live chat. 

In order to participate in this Q&A an OKSCBWI member must:

  1. Have a Facebook account
  2. Visit the event page and select JOIN to be invited into the private group
  3. Once someone has approved you, post your questions for Courtney & Amy BEFORE the event begins on June 11th.

 

 

July – Brenda Drake

Brenda-Drake-Author-Photo2Brenda Drake, the youngest of three children, grew up an Air Force brat and the continual new kid at school until her family settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Brenda’s fondest memories growing up are of her eccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling. So it was only fitting that she would choose to write young adult and middle grade novels with a bend toward the fantastical. When Brenda’s not writing or doing the social media thing, she’s haunting libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops or reading someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).

Brenda is the host of the ever-popular Pitch Wars, Pitch Madness, and the Twitter pitch of all pitches, #pitmad. Brenda will be discussing what it’s like to host these mind-boggling contests, and how in the world she still makes time to write! Her debut novel, THIEF OF LIES: A Library Jumpers Novel, experienced a very successful release this month.

Brenda will be our guest on July 26th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @brendadrake. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

What an outstanding lineup!

The chats really are a lot of fun. Don’t worry if you can’t make it to every event; I’ll post a link to the Storify version of each chat after every event has concluded.

We have a few more surprises we’re working on. Once we can announce them, I’ll update this page.

I hope you’ll join us!

 

 

August – Topic Chat: Support Through Social Media

Sharing social MediaWe will be having another special MEMBERS ONLY event this month on August 20th, a Social Media Hangout, to discuss and share ideas on how our members can better support each other and their books through social media, from pre-ordering books to using Goodreads effectively, and much more. Details on locations and times will be posted on our SCBWI OK website.

To supplement that, our Twitter chat for the month will be on a specific topic: “Sharing Ideas of Support Through Social Media”. During the chat, we’ll exchange our favorite ways of supporting each other through social media.

This topic chat will take place on August 23rd, from 7-8pm CST. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

September – Benjamin Myers

Ben MyersBenjamin Myers is a professor of literature at Oklahoma Baptist University and is the current Oklahoma Poet Laureate. He is the author of two books of poetry LAPSE AMERICANA and ELEGY FOR TRAINS, which won the Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry.

His poems may be read in numerous literary journals, including The New York Quarterly, Nimrod, Tar River Poetry, Borderlands, Salamander, and the Chiron Review, as well as online in Devil’s Lake, DMQ Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Elimae, Poetrybay, and elsewhere. He lives in Chandler, Oklahoma.

Benjamin will be our guest on September 27th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @OK PoetLaureate. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

October – Joe Hight (BOB at Best of Books)

Joe HightJoe Hight is not only the president of Best of Books, an independent bookstore in Edmond, Oklahoma, he’s behind the online persona, BOB, and the delightful tweets of the store’s Twitter account @bestofbooksok.

Best of Books is a family-owned bookstore celebrating its 30th anniversary as an Edmond institution. Joe and his family took over ownership a few years ago after they moved back from Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Joe was the editor of The Gazette. While working there, his paper won the Pulitzer Prize. Prior to the move to Colorado, Joe worked for The Oklahoman. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 2013.

 

Joe will be our guest on October 25th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @JoeHight. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

 

 

Book Review – CRAZY BRAVE by Joy Harjo

Crazy Brave

I came across an article celebrating a female poet from Oklahoma winning a great poetry honor. She was from Tulsa, and I had read some of her poetry in a collection of Oklahoma poets, so her name was familiar. I read on and learned this award was the Academy of American Poets highest honor, the Wallace Stevens Award, for proven mastery in the art of poetry. How exciting! I knew right then I had to read this book.

 

Crazy BraveCRAZY BRAVE by Joy Harjo

Published by: W.W. Norton &
Company

Release Date: July 9, 2012

Genres: Autobiography, Memoir, Poetry

amazonindieboundbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

The writing is nothing short of mystical. I connected with it as an artist right away, but in a way that was not easy to define. It all just made complete sense to me. Harjo was speaking my language. I was entranced by her story, and I weeped at the end when she found her way back to poetry.

I couldn’t stop crying. It may have had more to do with where I am in my life right now, but I was still very moved by her story.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning :

EAST

East is the direction of beginnings. It is sunrise. When beloved Sun rises, it is an entrance, a door to fresh knowledge. Breathe the light in. Call upon the assistance you need for the day. Give thanks.

East is how the plants, animals, and other beings orient themselves for beginnings, to open and blossom. The spirit of the day emerges from the sunrise point. East is also the direction of Oklahoma, where I was born, the direction of the Creek Nation.

____________________

Once I was so small I could barely see over the top of the back seat of the black Cadillac my father bought with his Indian oil money. He polished and tuned his car daily. I wanted to see everything.

This was around the time I acquired language, when something happened that changed my relationship to the spin of the world. It changed even the way I looked at the sun.

This suspended integer of time probably escaped ordinary notice in my parents’ universe, which informed most of my vision in the ordinary world. They were still omnipresent gods.

We were driving somewhere in Tulsa, the northern border of the Creek Nation. I don’t know where we were going or where we had been, but I know the sun was boiling the asphalt, the car windows were open for any breeze as I stood on tiptoes on the floorboard behind my father, a handsome god who smelled of Old Spice, whose slick black hair was always impeccably groomed, his clothes perfectly creased and ironed. The radio was on. Even then I loved the radio, jukeboxes, or any magic thing containing music.

I wonder what signaled this moment, a loop of time that on first glance could be any place in time. I became acutely aware of the line the jazz trumpeter was playing (a sound I later associated with Miles Davis). I didn’t know the words jazz or trumpet. I don’t know how to say it, with what sounds or words, but in that confluence of hot southern afternoon, in the breeze of aftershave and humidity, I followed that sound to the beginning, to the birth of sound. I was suspended in whirling stars. I grieved my parents’ failings, my own life, which I saw stretching the length of that rhapsody.

My rite of passage into the world of humanity occurred then, through jazz. The music was a startling bridge between familiar and strange lands. I heard stomp-dance shells, singing. I saw suits, satin, fine hats. I heard workers singing in the fields. It was a way to speak beyond the confines of ordinary language.

Not the typical beginning for an autobiography, and yet, it was the perfect voice for Harjo’s life story. In between the storytelling, I found a brutally honest examination of a life, with no excuses, and a deeper understanding of humanity. And above all, a way through, with bravery.

Needless to say, this book has found a special place in my heart, and I know it will touch yours as well.

 

Learn more about Joy Harjo here.

Follow Joy on Facebook here.

Subscribe to Joy’s YouTube Channel here.

 

Book Review – SOLD by Patricia McCormick – a TGNA Post

tgnahead

It’s Things I’ve Read Thursday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing SOLD by Patricia McCormick.

Here’s a preview:

SoldMy daughter started reading this to me on a road trip. She was so excited about this book that she had to share many of the passages. That kind of enthusiasm for a story is contagious. When I got around to reading it from start to finish myself, I felt the same way. The layout of the book and the style of writing read more like free verse poetry to me – put me in the mind of an Ellen Hopkins novel set in Nepal. The short chapters paint such vivid imagery of the day-to-day life of the young girls, both the innocent and horrifying, that you felt you were living in the story. I felt for these girls, for the main character Lakshmi, especially. I wanted to her escape and feared that she never would.

To read the full post, click here.

TweetI’ve taken a brief hiatus from AM #wordsprints this week for spring break. I’ll return bright and early next week, if you care to get your early writing work out started with some company. I host AM #wordsprints on Twitter @Novel_Adventure from 6-8am CST.

O Me! O Life! – A Moment of Reflection

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I keep thinking about this poem, today. Robin Williams’ character, John Keating, read it in one of my favorite movies, Dead Poets Society.

I also keep thinking about all of the great artists we’ve lost recently. Writers and actors. Some to depression, some not. All huge losses that have left a profound silence behind.

I’ve explored the relationship between the artist and depression a few times in my blog postings (The Creative Soul and Depression, What Music is Supposed to Do, and With a Little Help from my Friends), trying to better understand this disease that seems more prevalent among our creative communities. I’ve struggled with depression and I know many other writers who’ve voiced the same struggle.

This year, depression left its mark on some loved ones very close and very dear to me. The only thing I know to do for them is to listen.

And listen some more.

Maybe throw in a few dozen hugs just for the hell of it. Anything to tell them that I know this sucks, that I love them, appreciate them, and that I’m in this with them for the long haul. I hope if you’re struggling with depression that you find someone to listen to you. Please don’t stop until you do.

I leave you with the words of Walt Whitman, which, if you’re anything like me, you’ll hear in your head read in the voice of  John Keating.

O Captain, my Captain! We will all miss you, dearly.

O Me! O Life!

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I,

            and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle

             ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and the sordid crowds I see

            around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me inter-

           twined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring – What good amid these, O me,

             O life?

                                                  Answer

That you were here – that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

– Walt Whitman

Book Review – Oklahoma Poems…and Their Poets

The Academy of American Poets have declared April National Poetry Month, so I’m here to share my latest poetry read with you. Also, a reminder that April 24th is  Poem in Your Pocket Day where poetry fans throughout the United States select a poem, carry it with them, and share it. Join it the fun by tweeting about your poem of choice on Twitter this year at #pocketpoem.

OKLAHOMA POEMS… AND THEIR POETS
edited by Nathan Brown

I met Nathan Brown, the current Oklahoma Poet Laureate, and editor of this anthology, during a summer course I took from the University of Oklahoma that was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a few years ago. I actually wrote about meeting him here. Nathan put together this fantastic book of poems about Oklahoma by some well-known poets from Oklahoma to give readers a taste of what Oklahoma is like, in all its many subtle forms. And what an amazing job he did.

(Not to play favorites, but our own Anna Myers has a talented son who writes poetry. Ben Myers contributes a poem entitled “Deep Fork”. Ben is a phenomenal poet whose work I’ve reviewed right here on this blog and if you haven’t read his books you must go out a procure them now or you’ll regret it deep in your soul forever. Okay, maybe playing a little favorites.)

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An anthology edited by Nathan Brown, the 2013 – 2014 Poet Laureate of Oklahoma. It includes poems “about” Oklahoma that are written by natives, ex-pats, and visitors alike. These poems are an honest, and sometimes raw, look at the state’s past and present by way of three chapters titled: People, Places, and Odds & Ends. Among the poets represented are Pulitzer winners Stephen Dunn and N. Scott Momaday, as well as Naomi Shihab Nye, Joy Harjo, George Bilgere, Ron Padgett, and many others.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)

As someone who has always felt like an outsider, one who could not easily identify with a particular group comfortably, I’ve struggled to place myself somewhere – to understand where I come from.

What are my roots? Who are my people?

I’ve always thought of myself as some homogenized American mutt, with no special culture to speak of – a slice of white bread in a world of whole grain artisan loaves.

Void of nutritional value.

Tasteless.

Boring.

Strangely, this poetry collection helped me see glimpses of my childhood, reminding me of things I’d forgotten through its portrayals of rural life, the deep connection to the land and weather, the sense of community when tragedy strikes, and even the naked bigotry and oppression portrayed in some poems. These are some of the forces that molded me. This is where I come from. I am pieces of all of them, in some ways – the good and the bad. These are my people.

Here is an example of one the poems that sparked a sense of nostalgia for me. A short, but brilliant poem by Joey Brown

 

MERIDIAN, OKLAHOMA

Three boys wake up in a town that’s not really

a town, weighted down by the early morning

summer, and breathe sour sulphur from the refinery

that clanks and churns or whatever refineries do

to make someone some little bit of money.

It’s not them, not their house, so what do they care

but for the nagging smell.

Three boys pump their bicycles on the highway

past the yard of rusted-up drill bits. You’d be afraid

for them were this a highway anywhere else. In the

convenience store they take two Cokes and an

orange Fanta from the lay-down cooler. They like the

pop & sigh the bottle opener makes. When the door

opens again, the air conditioner pleads.

Three boys wait in the parking lot but don’t know

they’re waiting. Sit astride the bikes, bottles clinking

here and there, don’t speak. They stare at the white

day reflecting off the school across the road,

blistering their eyes. You just know they don’t

imagine the size of it all. They can’t. One of them

keeps firecrackers leftover in his pocket.

 

Just a simple summer afternoon in a small town, but holy cow, did this light up my brain with a flood of memories and sensory images!

How had I forgotten that we used to live two doors down from a small fire station? In the summer time, we would always go over there and bug the crap out of hang out with the firefighters. Not really for very long, just to say ‘hi’ and snag a super frosty Coke or orange Crush from their lay-down cooler, just like in this poem. It only cost a quarter and it was so cool to get pop in a bottle.

And we would ride our bikes everywhere. All over town, on busy streets, from sun up to sun down. On the best days, we’d end up at Champlain Pool. We’d swim all day – jumping off the high dive and dreading adult swim. Ah! Some of my best summer memories. All uncorked by a simple poem.

And there is a fantastic poem by George Bilgere entitled “Cordell”, that I truly love, and not just because the title has a familial connection for me. It’s all about a first solo road trip on a grasshopper green motorcycle. It’s a little long to share the whole thing here, but I encourage you to find it and read it. Well worth the search.

Here’s just a few lines to give you a taste:

For the first time

I pondered the venous skin

of a map and chartered a route from Burns Flat

to Cordell, a little town

on the Oklahoma plains. The day

was sparkling and unrehearsed, the air

cool in the morning, and for the first time

I went out on the public roads alone,

despite having no license, the world

for the first time passing by in a rush

at the tips of my handlebars,

a pick-up passing now and then,

the farmer inside raising the index finger

of his left hand precisely

one inch above the wheel, a man

greeting me as a man

for the first time,

 

It goes on and on and I could just drink it up like a cool glass of iced tea.

How that poem brought me back to the day I got my driver’s license and the freedom that was now mine. And all the crazy adventures I had with my friends out on the open road. When you’re from a small town, sometimes there’s nothing to do but pile into your car with your friends and drive. Sometimes you end up at the lake, sometimes you end up at a keg party in a wheat field, and sometimes you just end up in trouble.

Best not tell about that last one.

There are several poems that talk of the land and weather where you can almost smell rain in the air right before a good thunderstorm.

Here’s beautiful one by N. Scott Momaday.

 

 THE LAND

The first people to enter upon it

Must have given it a name, wind-borne

      and elemental,

Like summer rain.

The name must have given spirit to the land,

For so it is with names.

Before the first people there must have been

The profound isolation of night and day,

The blazing shield of the sun,

The darkness winnowed from the stars –

The holy havoc of myth and origin,

True and prophetic, and inexorable,

Like summer rain.

What was to become of the land?

What was the land to become?

What was there in the land to define

The falling of the rain and the turning of the seasons,

The far and forever silence of the universe?

A voice, a name,

Words echoing the whir of wings

Swelled among the clouds

And sounded on the red earth in the wake

      of creation.

A voice. A name.

Oklahoma.

 

Just gorgeous imagery.

I always learn so much from reading poetry. This book brought me closer to home than I realized I needed to go. It’s a well-chosen collection, diverse in topic and voice and all very, truly Oklahoma. I hope you’ll take the time to read it yourself.

One more great thing about this book is that the proceeds benefit the Oklahoma Humanities Council.

Learn more about Nathan Brown here.

Follow Nathan on Facebook here.

Let’s Talk Poetry – Lapse Americana Review

To further my education and to expand my literary horizons, I have made it a point to add a good dose of poetry into my reading schedule every year. I don’t pretend to be an expert in poetry; I know nothing of rhyme and meter. I do know what sounds gorgeous to my ear, and what offends it. I tend to like a poet’s work because it moves me, period. I especially love reading local poets from right here in Oklahoma. Benjamin Myers holds a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf not only because he’s the uber-talented son of my friend and fellow writer, Anna Myers, but because his poetry is just plain beautiful.

lapse americanaHis latest book of poetry, Lapse Americana, feels like a slice of home, and it’s just as rich with the flavors of his native Oklahoma as his first book, Elegy for Trains. Whether he’s exploring the emotional depth of the gravediggers in “A Production of Hamlet” or the meaning and significance of nothing in “None of This” or the meaning of everything in “The Tardy Ones”, his writing is effortless and evocative.

Brief description of Lapse Americana:

The twin ravens, Thought and Memory, of Norse myth are reborn as American crows to fly an interweaving pattern or remembering and forgetting through the pages of Lapse Americana. Born out of the poet’s childhood during the Pax Americana and situated within the war and economic lapse of the new century, these poems explore memory and amnesia, faith and doubt, presence and absence. They are rooted in rural, working class experience as well as in the poetic traditions of America, Europe, and China. By turns formal and jazzy, confessional and coy, these poems speak of the universal by focusing on the particular, insisting with simultaneous emphasis upon the value of remembering and of embracing forgetfulness. (Book description from publisher’s website.)

Here’s one from Lapse Americana that aptly describes some of our tumultuous spring weather, one to which many who live here can readily relate :

Tornado

Toward evening the clouds began

circling each other like dogs.

A light like the golden skin

of the sun itself fell

steady as rain before rain

and puddled between round bales

uncollected in the pasture.

.

Then the utility poles

were a row of broken teeth

up the highway to town,

.

and once again

the ordinary light.

The way he describes the light before a storm is just fantastic. Here’s another one of my favorite poems:

 

Talking to My Racist Friend

I read somewhere that all the sunlight

smacking the earth

at any moment

weighs as much

as a cruise ship,

.

which makes me

wonder

how much the darkness

in this conversation

with you

must weigh:

.

Eight semis stacked in a pyramid

and balanced on a teacup?

The Empire State Building

sopping wet?

All the dirt in Oklahoma?

.

Or maybe a cruise ship

of its own,

with doe-eyed passengers

waving

dumbly from the deck

as they sail obliviously off

to kiss the sullen iceberg.

Amazing, right? I know you’ll want to read more. To order this book, visit the New York Quarterly Books website here. To learn more about Benjamin Myers, visit his page on NYQ here. You can also visit his blog here.