| Konnichiwa, reviewers! This week's subject is part two of my interview with the Poet Laureate of Illinois, Mr. Kevin Stein.
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This part is about poetry - what constitutes a contemporary poem, and how to write one. My own poetry goes under the knife. I also have a Tip of the Month to make reviews more helpful.
Some of you may wonder why this issue of the Reviewing Newsletter is focused on poetry.
In order to review a genre, it helps to have a grasp and comprehension of the genre. How
many times have you WDC poets out there received a review that said "Well, I don't know much about poetry, so I am not qualified to judge this." How many of you reviewers have had that thought cross your mind? After reading this, you will come away with a better understanding of contemporary poetry, the stuff that is being published broadly.
Also, you may ask why I focus on that genre. Why not essays? Or romance? Or Christian
fiction? First, we certainly may in the future, depending on reader interest. Second, WDC has genre-specific newsletters aplenty . Third, I am a published poet.
PART II: INTERVIEW
LOTUSNEKO: In one of your poems, you talk about you playing as a teen with your
band at your first gig, very nostalgic, amusing, coming of age. Then, you throw in a tragic, graphic event. Was that a true occurrence?
MR. STEIN: No, that actually happened. I changed the name of the young woman, but that
tragic event actually occurred. Sometimes the actual can be more interesting than the
LOTUSNEKO: What did you think of my poems?
MR. STEIN: One of the things I noticed right away is that you have a sense of what a
contemporary poem is all about. I have a question for you: who do you read, what
contemporary poets do you read?
LOTUSNEKO: Mostly I read other poems on the website (WDC). Online professional journals. And I have a book of Maya Angelou poetry.
MR. STEIN: That's one of the great things about the Internet. I suggest to supplement these sources with a broader array of work by professional poets. You can do it on the site www.litline.org. They will have listing of literary journals. They have information on writers' organizations, writers' retreats. You learn about form. I also urge you to get a good anthology of contemporary poems.
I notice you centered some of them. Centering looks Hallmark card-ish, amateurish.
I'd be careful because there are some prejudices. Summer Afternoon is too full of
adjectives and adverbs. Avoid adverbs. Verbs are the poem's engine. They give punch
to a poem. Choose your verbs carefully and strive for the fresh, the surprising, the on
target. The next most important things is the noun. Then adjectives, then adverbs. Use
adverbs and adjectives sparingly. These last two elements must earn their ways into the
poem's (and the reader's) world. They're easy to overuse, deadly easy.
"Invalid Item" by A Guest Visitor I think I liked the best. It is reminiscent of Emily Dickinson or some of
the Asian poets.
LOTUSNEKO: Can you give some more advice on writing a contemporary poem?
MR. STEIN: Poems are about risk. When writing poetry, it is important to take risks. A
safe poem is most often a bad poem. There's a plethora of types of risk -- the risk of volatile subject matter, the risk of unusual form, the risk of word choice, diction (e.g. the erudite and the vulgar), the risk of loose emotion, the risk of ample intellect. But for a poem to be moving -- that is, for a poem to move its readers -- it must take one or more of these chances.
LOTUSNEKO: What about "Invalid Item" by A Guest Visitor ?
MR. STEIN: There is no speaker in the poem. 'Depression and isolation breed an apathetic herd.' Who says that? Why should the reader care about that statement? It's too abstract. You may know what 'depression' means for you, but my idea of it may be quite personal and quite different. So strive for image and metaphor to do the poem's work of expressing depression and isolation. You know the old saw, 'Show, don't tell.' Well, this line of the poem simply tells; it doesn't show readers anything fresh, peculiar, or memorable, in my view. Show depression and isolation by image, by metaphor, by detail.
In that regard, always try to start the poem fast. No warm ups. By the time the poem's warmed up, your reader has turned the page in favor of a poem with more immediate pleasures. Think of readers as having the TV clicker in their hands. They're an impatient lot. They want excitement, either in language, image, or emotion, and they want it now. One way to hook readers of this poem would be to start the poem 'I live in a ghost town.' Then that immediately engages readers. Poets have to do hook readers right right away, because in this day and age, people just click-click on the remote if the poem's not interesting right off the bat."
LOTUSNEKO: What did you think of this one?"Invalid Item" by A Guest Visitor
Your poem's second section shows much promise. In fact, the title implies the poem's really about the moon and its strange vitamin, not about the sun. I'd cut the first stanza about the sun and get right to the good stuff.
The poem's closing line is wonderful. In fact, I'd start there. What a risky, smart, edgy way to open things. That'll get the reader's attention. Then you can go on to say what fuels this darker side, as you do currently, but I'd start with a bang and hope for bigger bangs to come as you go.
LOTUSNEKO: Thank you so much for consenting to this interview, Mr. Stein.
MR. STEIN: Thank you, Lois.
Normally, I would not feature my own pieces in my newsletter. This month I
decided to make an exception, because I received wonderful news. My alma mater has an
annual writing, art, and music contest called Windows. The Windows magazine
editor called me and said that I won Second AND Third Prize in the Short Fiction Category
for Alumni/Faculty. So here are the winning pieces. Love to hear what you think! I hope
to receive a few reviews from you readers. Later in April, my school will post the
magazine online. You can view it and look at past issues of Windows by visiting
www.lewisu.edu. And even better? These were inspired by prompts from WDC
ASK & ANSWER
((Last months's question was: Who would you like to see reviewed in this newsletter?
I did not receive any replies to this question. This months's question is: How do you review poetry? Feedback on this topic and any others is always welcome.))
TIP OF THE MONTH
Read often, from a variety of genres. Read fiction and non-fiction. The more widely read you are, the better a reviewer you will become.
REVIEWING NL FEEDBACK FORUM Comments on ideas for a future
newsletter? This is the meeting place for readers and editors. Join in the discussions!
"Feedback Central" by Lt. Storm Machine
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As adults, we can usually attribute a period of boredom to something specific: a feeling of emptiness or frustration with a situation we can't seem to fix or get beyond.