Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Writing poetry keeps me sane. Literally. When the spaghetti noodles are piling and crusting to the floor, when the recorders are tooting the same pitch mercilessly, when pee is dribbling down the leg of the child I thought was long ago potty trained, poetry has been a friend.
Someday, I've thought, I would like to write novels, but motherhood, so far, hasn't been conducive. Poetry, on the other hand, I can do. I can spend half an hour sitting on the toilet lid, supervising bath time with my eyes while fashioning a line of verse with my brain. I can be in the kitchen stacking dishes into the dishwasher with my arms, back, shoulders, waist, and turning over that line till it is smooth as a pebble. I can whittle away hours pushing swings at the park, all the time tuning the perfect metaphor.
Anchor. Music. Remembrance. Medicine. Art. Call it what you will. Poetry, for this mother, pulls me from monotony and madness.
Purchase my new chapbook HERE
Monday, April 4, 2011
It is National Poetry Month, and efforts abound to bring good poetry to the public. One of those efforts is PBS's returning series Poetry Everywhere, which highlights one poem and one poet every day. These little broadcasts appear during regular programming at irregular intervals to catch viewers unaware. Check it out!
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
On International Women's Day, the masterminds at fMh (Feminist Mormon Housewives) posted my poem from Loose Threads about Heavenly Mother called "Proselytizing by a Marian Shrine in Québec."
Here's the link: http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=3539
Here's the link: http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=3539
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
When I started writing poetry, I wanted to improve myself, and the advice Ted Kooser, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, and countless other great poets delved out was that I needed to read lots and lots of poetry. So I started checking out more poetry books from the library, and I subscribed to a couple of poetry magazines that I thought were worth the investment.
As I began to read poetry more, I often found, to my chagrin, that I didn’t seem to really enjoy reading poetry. It felt like more of a chore than a relaxing, end-of-the-day experience. And it usually was at the end of a long day. I would sit down on the couch hoping for some uplifting words, or at least some inspiration for some of my own poems. Often, though, I would be able to get through only a few poems before I was ready to be done reading poetry for the night. Each poem felt so weighty, so taxing that I would usually end up ditching the poetry book for some lighter reading.
I am persistent, though. I kept on checking out those books, reading those poetry journals, and clicking on my web browser’s Poetry Daily link to dose myself with the stuff. And I have found, to my delight, I am starting to be able to read it more, enjoy it more, and perhaps even understand it more.
Part of the problem, I think, is that I was approaching reading collections of poetry the same way I would a novel. I would save several hours of my evening, after the kids were in bed and the hubby was watching his Spanish TV on the internet, to read poetry. And while I think I am able to sit and read it for longer than I could when I started this endeavor, I find that reading poetry in smaller chunks is easier.
I don’t want to offend any poets or poetry publishers, but I have discovered that I am able to get through Poetry Magazine if I leave the copy next to the toilet. Five to ten minutes is a perfect window of time to digest one or two poems without feeling overwhelmed. I also read a few poems while I bathe my two little girls each night. They play with their bubbles and Styrofoam letters, while I sit on the bathroom counter, a safe distance (most of the time) from splashing, and read.
Another change I’ve made in the way I approach reading poetry is that I don’t rush it. I don’t rush through reading a poem, I don’t rush to the next poem, and I don’t rush to find the “meaning” of the poem. I believe it was Keats who said that reading a poem is like going for a swim in a lake. You don’t dive in only to try to get back out again as quickly as possible. You need to experience the poem and let it move around you. I’ve always been a pretty slow reader, but I’ve tried to slow myself down even further as I approach poetry.
I’ve also allowed myself the freedom to say that I don’t like certain poets or poems. Just because it has been published by a big name poetry journal or in an anthology doesn’t mean I have to like it or enjoy reading it. There is such a wide variety of poetry out there, a vast number of poets and poems, and there are bound to be some that resonate with certain readers and that turn other readers off. I think the trick is being open minded, not judging too quickly, but allowing oneself to judge after a healthy amount of exposure and move on to other poets one might enjoy even more.
An area that I know I could improve on with regards to becoming a better reader of poetry is reading out loud. I have read that advice numerous times. I have heard it from many teachers. But still, about 98% of the time I do not do it. Even when writing my own poetry, I seldom read it out loud (yikes! I know!) until, perhaps, I am in the final stages and even (gasp!) when I am preparing myself for a reading. How can I really improve as a poet unless I begin to read lots of poems out loud and learn to distinguish their aural beauty? Partly, I am deterred by the effort of vocalization, and partly it is because I don’t want to embarrass myself or be irritating to others present. What would my husband or little girls think, for example, if they walk by the bathroom door and hear me seemingly talking to myself? They would think Mom was ready to be checked in to an asylum, that’s what! But, honestly, I just need to do it. I need to start reading poetry, all kinds of poetry, out loud, at least once, and see what wonders it will reveal. Poetry, after all, has been around for a long time and in civilizations that didn’t have written language. Poetry is first an oral art form.
Looking back on my experience as a consumer of poetry, I would say that I have definitely made progress from my elementary school days when I read only Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. Even from several months ago when I waded through a collection of poems by Naomi Shihab Nye (whose work, in bite-sized chunks I love), I can tell that I’ve improved as a poetry reader and I hope to continue to do so. I hope, as I improve, the fruits will show in my own work.
Write Me A Poem
As my husband and I entered the room, we were enveloped in soft light that glowed on the red brick wall and illuminated the honey-colored wood floors. Chairs radiated from a plain pulpit and microphone set up on one side of the room. Guests mingled and snacked at the far end , most of them dressed up for this installment of the Nacogdoches Literary Reading Series. By day, this space is used for yoga classes. The owner, a willowy vegan with a soft spot for encouraging local talent , allows her studio to be used for the bimonthly get together. On this night, along with five other readers, I would stand behind the microphone and read.
I've read at these gatherings before, but this night was special. When I heard “Our next speaker will be Dayna Patterson,” I carried with me a slender chapbook of poetry. On the cover, Loose Threads. It is my first published chapbook. I held it up for everyone to see and acknowledged the fact that the Reading Series helped me to imagine an audience and to craft better poems that were then accepted for publication. The audience clapped; members of my writing group cheered especially loud, and I felt dazed, wondersome, transcendent. I was a published poet. I opened the book and began to read.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I can say, looking back on my writing experiences, that I have most certainly improved over the years. One of my earliest memories of writing occurred when I was seven. As a reward for vacuuming the living room carpet, my parents gave me a small red book with the word “Journal” embossed in gold on the cover. I was delighted. I wrote and illustrated my life between the pages, and when it was full, I got and filled another, and another, and another. I have kept them all in a sturdy plastic bin (someday when I have enough bookshelves, they will fill a row or two); I am now on my 17th or 18th journal.
My private pleasure in writing about my life and experiences turned into success at school and the various writing projects I encountered there. I took AP English in high school and did very well. The teacher, Mrs. Warr, had us writing nearly every day, and when I was done with her class I could crank out a five-paragraph essay blindfolded. When I got to college, I was fairly confident in my abilities as a writer, both academic and creative.
Unfortunately, like many college students, I had some poor writing habits that limited my writing potential. To be blunt, I procrastinated. I remember climbing the stairs to the third floor of the library where my honors classical mythology class met. As I rounded the last corner with my final paper in hand, which I had stayed up all night to produce, I was dismayed to see my classmates heading out of the classroom and down the stairs. One of my friends pulled me aside and said, “Where were you during class?” In my sleepless state, I had remembered not the time class started, but the time it ended. I shamefacedly entered the classroom as everyone else left it and begged the professor to still accept my paper. I explained my mistake and —miraculously— he believed me. After some exasperated sighs, he accepted my paper without penalization. I got an A on the paper, which led me to believe that I wrote well under pressure. Perhaps, I thought to myself, writing a paper all night long was how I produced my best writing.
On another occasion I found myself frantically typing up a five-page American Literature paper two hours before it was due. I managed to put together five whole pages of blarney, which I turned in to the teacher. I felt relieved and hoped that I had said something that would get me the A that I wanted. When the teacher handed back a B paper, I was a little stunned. This slightly lower grade challenged my notion that I could just spit out an excellent paper, that I wrote well under extreme pressure.
My writing habits changed significantly when I got to graduate school. For one thing, I was a couple of years older, and my age led me to believe that I just couldn't gracefully pull all-nighters anymore. I had become too attached to my sleep and unwilling to stay up writing a paper. I also was better at scheduling my time. I bought a small calendar and wrote down all the due dates for my major essays so that I would be able to devote at least a weekend to each paper the week before it was due. Another factor in my decision to change was the fact that graduate-level papers tend to be more difficult and much longer. Instead of having to write five to seven page papers, I was now expected to write ten to twenty-five-page papers. I was overwhelmed by the length requirements, so I spent a good amount of time researching, taking notes, outlining my essays, and then putting all the pieces together. Graduate school changed the way I write academic essays.
As for my poetry writing, that is a bit of a different story. It is one thing to master academic writing. Writing poetry posed a whole different kind of challenge. I wrote poetry off and on as a young person and a teenager. In my last semester as an undergraduate, I took a poetry workshop class with Star Coulbrooke. I loved the way the class was structured. Each class period, everyone would bring one fresh poem they'd written to class. We would read the poem, and then everyone would say one positive thing about it. When everyone was done, we would each take turns saying something about the poem that could be improved. The format for the class was very relaxed, yet I learned a lot from my teachers and peers. At the end of the semester, we did a poetry reading in the library that was open to the public.
I don't think my poetry was particularly good at that point. I remember my kind teacher taking a poem that I had worked on all semester. She turned it over and basically told me to start over. I was a bit crestfallen, but I took her advice and wrote a better, but not a great, poem.
Since that class, I hadn't written much poetry until about two years ago. I found myself struggling to stay positive and cheerful while taking care of my two young daughters full time. It is something that I always thought I wanted to do: stay at home and raise children. What I was not prepared for were the daily challenges, the monotony, the claustrophobia/cabin fever that being a stay-at-home mom inevitably bring. I had been actively involved in education for almost my entire life. I had just finished my masters in English when we brought our firstborn home. The pace of life from graduate school to homemaker felt like a screeching halt, and I became very depressed.
As a way out of that depression, I started teaching part time so I could have a break from my kids at least once a week. That helped. I also began to write poetry. There is a kind of therapy called scriptotherapy where the patient writes about traumatic experiences to help themselves heal. My experiences of being a mother weren't traumatic, so to speak, but the change from being a student to being a mother was a difficult adjustment, and writing helped to relieve some of my stress, frustration, anxiety, and depression. It helped me to gain a little bit of critical distance from my situation; it helped me to achieve a little perspective; and it also helped me to feel connected to a larger community outside of my home, especially as my poems have been accepted for publication.
I don't aspire to be a great Poet. I don't know that I have much to teach anyone (in a didactic way, or a look-what-awesome-stuff-I-can-do-in-my-poetry way). Mostly I feel that I learn from the experience of writing my poems. They help to complete me. They are a journal of my experience. They open me from the inside out. And if anyone is inspired by one of my poems, well, that is a chocolate coat on the strawberry.
Friday, January 14, 2011
The first version of this chapbook, titled Veins and Roots, was rejected by the same press. The editor kindly suggested that there seemed to be two main themes going on: social injustice and motherhood. I realized she was right, that I was trying to create a chapbook that was simply a composite of all of my favorite poems that I've written. But thematically, a chapbook should be a series of poems that are unified somehow.
So, taking the advice of Flutter Press's editor, Sandy Benitez, I split my original manuscript into two separate chapbooks. This required me to add some poems to each chapbook, and take out others that didn't somehow add to either the theme of social injustice or the theme of motherhood. I had to cut out some of my favorite poems, but it was worth the sacrifice.
When I resubmitted both chapbooks, I was hoping that maybe one of the chapbooks would be accepted. To my surprise and delight, both were accepted for publication. Loose Threads became available on December 22nd, and my second chapbook, Mothering, is slated for publication in early February.
By looking on Flutter Press's website, I just found out that my first chapbook was their bestseller for the month of December!