50 States of Generosity: New York

Published February 19, 2021

National Poetry Month’s Tour de Tania (Runyan), pt. 2

Like Tania Runyan, I would not describe myself as a sonneteer. But in How to Write a Form Poem, she writes this:

“Until this year, I’d probably written ten sonnets at most. That may sound like a lot if you’re just starting out, but remember, I’ve been at this poetry thing for decades. The majority of these sonnets were required for my prosody classes in college and grad school. While I’ve liked some of them okay, I haven’t bonded with them …. But as I’ve increased my attention to form in recent years, I’ve learned that limitations are my freedom. Structure is my muse.

My own sonnet education came from reading Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s poetry collection titled Still Pilgrim, from which she read selections at the TS Poetry Retreat in 2019. I soon realized she was playing with form, which let me know I could play with it too. I journaled through the whole collection, then wrote my own sonnets, each one modeled after hers in form. That practice imparted a bit of the sonnet’s structure muse-like power. Now when a poem isn’t going well, I’ll experiment with sonnetizing it.

I wrote more about Tania’s sonnet chapter over at Tweetspeak Poetry).

Here is a sonnet by Helena Nelson from The Joy of Poetry, which turns five years old this month. Although the mother in the poem is nothing like mine, I love both her and the speaker/daughter. Reading it again, I am struck by the desire to “make the great train wait.” I’ve always read that line simply as a big train — and maybe it is — but this time I read it as if death were a train that takes people away. That’s the thing about a good poem: Each time you read it, it offers up new gifts.

With My Mother, Missing the Train

She was always late. At the final minute

we’d run for the city train, which roared right past,

its line of faces scanning us not in it.

The world was turned to terror by the blast

of hot departing wheels. Air seized my mother,

crushing her flustered skirts into a flurry

with me there clinging. Hush, there’ll be another,

she’d say to keep me calm. No need to worry.

But there was a need. The speed of things was true

and rushing traffic urged us both ahead.

I wanted to race again, to burst right through

and make the great train wait. She never said

that missing things was serious, till I grew.

She held my hand more tightly than I knew.

 – Helena Nelson

To learn how to write a sonnet, what Tania’s sonnet journey has entailed, and what the heck is an iamb, pick up a copy of How to Write a Form Poem.

Children’s Book Club: ‘Hello, Numbers! What Can You Do?’

Published February 12, 2021

National Poetry Month’s Tour de Tania (Runyan), pt. 1

Five years ago this month — National Poetry Month — TS Poetry Press released The Joy of Poetry. That means my little book is off to kindergarten! And its new sibling on the library shelf? Tania Runyan’s How to Write a Form Poem.

Tania has shown us How to Read a Poem and How to Write a Poem. Now in her new book she shows us How to Write a Form Poem: A Guided Tour of 10 Fabulous Forms: includes anthology & prompts!

Most of the poems in my book are free verse, but there is a bit of form poetry, some of it written by yours truly. In fact, Tania chose one of my form poems to include in her new book.

I got to meet Tania Runyan at a TS Poetry retreat back in 2019. She’s a poet, a musician, and an expert navigator (not something she mentions among her accomplishments, but I am living proof of her skill). Her new book is just like her — welcoming and wise.

This National Poetry Month I’ll be celebrating my book and Tania’s together. If you’re new to poetry and aren’t sure it’s for you, The Joy of Poetry is a good place to start. I wrote it for never-poetry people. If you’re already a convert and want some guidance on how to write poetry (as well as the opportunity to try some fun prompts), then check out How to Write a Form Poem. I’m using it this month as my own private poetry workshop, experimenting with each of the ten forms Tania shares: sonnets, sestinas, haiku, villanelles, pantoums, ghazals, rondeaux, odes, acrostics, and found poems.

Happy Book Birthday, Tania! The tour and the party lasts all month, each Thursday in April. 

P.S. If you’ve ever considered becoming a patron of Tweetspeak Poetry, there are often discounts on the digital versions of the titles. This month Tania Runyan is guiding us through a poetry-filled book club discussion of The Great Gatsby, and the normally patron-exclusive book club is open to the public. Learn more about Patreon membership levels here:

‘Frankenstein’ with Karen Swallow Prior

This is my third time to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this time with Karen Swallow Prior’s new edition, subtitled A Guide to Reading and Reflecting. Shelley’s book is one of four Prior has written annotated guides to, the others being Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

The first time I read Frankenstein I found it thrilling. The second time, discouraging. This third time, with Prior, enlightening.

Throughout this edition, Prior adds Reflection Questions, and the end of the book there are Questions For Further Reflection. It is the final question and its commentary which is sitting with me: Frankenstein is more than just a story–it’s a story about stories.”

Prior is right. Frankenstein is not just the monster’s story. It’s also Justine’s story, the DeLacey’s story, Walton’s story, and of course, Victor’s story — he with the proverbial red pen, editing everyone else’s story.

The thought of so many interwoven and overlapping stories, each distinct, frightens me because it’s so much like life. Who should I listen to? Which story is True?

All of us strive to make sense of our lives by telling our stories — whether with a friend over coffee or in a published memoir. The random becomes purposeful, with a theme and maybe a moral (if we’re extra imaginative, a soundtrack). But this is not reality. Even when we make our own monsters, we can’t always understand how they came to be who they are.

Reading Prior’s Introduction to the Author, I got the sense that with Frankenstein, Shelley found a way to tell her story. Prior writes this: “Mary’s life was haunted by death, and not just any kind of death, but death connected to the act of creation.”

With the background and themes and questions Prior provides, I am reading Frankenstein as if it is Shelly’s own story, not written to amuse or impress, but to express what was deepest within her —her own lifeless pieces. A single story was not enough. She needed to create layer upon layer of story.

But the thing about creating a story — or a person — is that both live independently. More than 200 years after Shelley wrote her story, people still think the monster is named Frankenstein. And yet within that misunderstanding lives a bit of truth.

I recently finished Learning from Henri Nouwen & Vincent Van Gogh: A Portrait of the Compassionate Life, Carol A. Berry combines the stories of three people, showing us that “our own stories are holy ones too.” Shelley seems to shows us something else — that our own stories are monstrous ones too. We may have started them among friends, around a cozy fire, but once animated, they live and move and have their being apart from us.

Prior writes, “Creating is a complicated process, and messy ambivalence about creation is one of the central themes of Frankenstein.”

For this third read-through of the book, my husband is accompanying me. He heard Prior on The Holy Post podcast and was intrigued; if Frankenstein is good enough for Bob the Tomato, it’s good enough for John Willome. John’s not a lit guy, but an economics major, a director of a nonprofit, so a piece of literature from 1818 is an unusual choice for him (but he does like a good discussion question, of which Prior provides dozens). We began our discussion not around a cozy fire but on a cozy porch swing.

After 29 years of marriage, we’re still sometimes astounded at how our stories of the same event differ. Even as we walk this same road, there is a John version and a Megan version. I edit his, and he edits mine. The truth is its own creation, independent, spinning its own tale.

I received a promotional copy of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein: A Guide to Reading & Reflecting” by Karen Swallow Prior, but my review is my own.

Reading Generously: ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley

Published February 5, 2021

By Heart: ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ by W.H. Auden

Published January 29, 2021

Children’s Book Club: ‘Katy and the Big Snow’ by Virginia Lee Burton

Published January 15, 2021

Reading Generously: ‘How We Fight for our Lives’ by Saeed Jones

Published January 8, 2021

Anniversary: a poem


She was red, and He was blue–
turquoise, like his eyes

She the color of joy, and He was
the color of ocean waves

in life and in death they
did not meld into purple

but met at warm white sand
the red beach towel
lapped by blue water