Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Poetry in Prose

Again I'm deviating from my series of "The Story in History" posts, but I really want to write about poetry, so I'm going to do just that.

Poetry and I have a complicated relationship.  I always appreciate it, but I only sometimes love it.  Most of the time I read a poem, think "That was nice," and never think of it again.  But occasionally, I'll read one that literally leaves me shaking.

My all-time favorite poem is "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein:

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins
And there the grass grows soft and white, 
 And there the sun burns crimson bright,
 And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

And so on.  I love this poem because I always associate it with a place from my childhood, which all poetry begs the reader to do:  create her own meaning.  When I read about the place where the sidewalk ends, I'm seven-years-old again, throwing my backpack on the ground and sprinting after my friends to a field beyond a wrought-iron fence.  We've done this so many times that we know exactly where the bent bars are; we squeeze between them, and we're momentarily free from "the place where the smoke blows black / And the dark street winds and bends."

I'm also a huge fan of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."  You know, "Let us go then, you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky."  It's a beautiful, tragic love poem with quite a few lines that just pack a punch.  The one that comes to mind is "Do I dare disturb the universe?"

Gosh, I wish I could write poetry.  Unfortunately, I don't.  Not often, anyway.  About once a year I'll get inspired, but otherwise, I'm a prose kind of gal.  Yet, I have various poems hung up on my walls, not only because I think they're beautiful, but because as a fiction writer, I can learn something from them.  Someone once told me that "All good poetry should tell a story, and all good stories should sound like poetry," and that really hit home.  I'm not saying that writers should fill their work with purple prose.  That's a big no-no.  But beautiful, poetic sentences aren't off limits.  And not all poetic sentences may seem like poetry at a first glance.  After all, if you take one line of poetry, it's not obvious that it's from a poem.  Let's take the above example:

"To cool in the peppermint wind"

That's a poetic phrase, but it's also a phrase that could be put into prose without turning it purple.  "Peppermint wind" is much more poetic--and descriptive--than "wind" or "icy wind" or "refreshing wind."

It was Christmas in Williamsburg, which meant that the carolers were out--fur muffs, top hats, and all.  They stood directly across from Wythe's, which had started to display freshly-dipped caramel apples in the window.  Seven dollars each, and almost worth it.  But I had come for hot cider, so I ducked against the peppermint wind and strolled on until the carols melted away like hard candies on my tongue.
"Peppermint wind" goes along with the holiday feel, and since a lot of the paragraph focuses on sweets, it fits right in.

Do you have a favorite poem or poet?  Favorite line?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ferguson Publishing Seminar

I was supposed to continue my "The Story in History" series of blog posts today, but inevitably, I fell behind.  Those posts will continue tomorrow.

Right now, I'm going to talk a little bit about the Biennial Ferguson Publishing Seminar, which I was fortunate enough to attend last night and today.  The Ferguson Seminar is a special event designed to inform students at the College of William & Mary about careers in the publishing industry.  A whole bunch of speakers were lined up to visit the College, but unfortunately, Sandy interfered, and only a few could escape New York and make it  to Williamsburg, VA.  Even so, it was a very informative seminar, during which we got to hear from author Susan Choi and vice president of Penguin Press Scott Moyers, among others.

They all touched upon a variety of subjects, but what struck me most was their emphasis on networking.  Each one of the speakers stressed that making connections was crucial in both getting the attention of an agent, as well as entering the industry as an editor, publicist, sales rep, etc.  That's why it's more important than ever to join a community of writers, whether online or in person.  So, keep blogging, friends!

I could talk a whole lot more on this subject, and maybe I'll hit on it later, but for now, it's a Saturday night, and I'm done.