Haiku and Haibun Fun

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As I wind down toward the light at the end of the tunnel of this eight week poetry class, which has been a wonderful experience all around, these have been my favorite forms so far!

Haiku was awesomely freeing. I loved writing haiku (even though I sort of hate that the plural form of haiku is haiku; it just seems so pretentious, doesn’t it? Just me? Oh.). Anyway, I feel like I could write haiku all day long. Not just the word “haiku” though that’s fun, too, but haiku themselves. In fact, yesterday when I wrote my haibun/haiku, my husband and I started randomly free styling haiku. The game got old (rather quickly, especially for him) but we both had fun.

Even though I read it’s not necessary to stick to the 5-7-5 format, I somehow found safety and comfort in counting syllables and always felt finished once I liked the poem itself and landed on the correct, so to speak, count.

I also really enjoyed the haibun aspect of this. It was different than my typical prose in that I felt it needed to sound more poetic, if that makes sense, so I worked to include images and descriptions. Still, I wanted to stay true to my style so I kept it as tight and concise as possible and I tried not to go overboard (for me) with the flowery descriptions which aren’t quite me. I went as far into the descriptions as my skin would currently let me. I’m comfortable writing prose though and I’m no stranger to present tense so for me this was natural and fun.

Content and form seemed to play equal roles in haiku/haibun. This week’s class activity was to wrote a haibun containing haiku (see my previous post for the product of said activity). For me, while the haiku portion was easier, for lack of a better word, to write, the haibun grew naturally out of the haiku. While the haiku is a sort of clever and mysterious little poem, the haibun was like the haiku’s helper. It broadened the message, added clarity and together, I found, they told a real story.

I really love where I ended up with this and I want to write more of these. The haiku (man, I really want to write/say “haikus”) just spilled out of my brain! On that note, what a wonderful way to rev the creative engine and get pumped up to write more? I think haiku would also work well to get the creative juices flowing and maybe even serve as a weapon against writer’s block.

Since I’m usually writing longer projects, like novels and screenplays, this was a refreshing break from the norm. While some of the longer poetic forms, like the sestina, frustrated me, there was nothing frustrating about haiku. It was simply nice to write something so small and yet still so meaningful and creatively fulfilling.

Of course, I can’t speak for the quality of my haiku since I’m so new to poetry in general and am learning as I go but I truly enjoyed the process of writing it and I’m happy with my results. I wonder if I could write a haiku a day… I bet I could!

This poetry class has been a great experience for me and this week was the icing on the cake. It’s hard to believe that in just one more week it will be over. These eight weeks truly flew.

Haibun and Haiku

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I spread my yellow cotton sheet out onto our lawn’s lush green grass and lay down alone with my laptop. The warm air still smells of last night’s campfire tainted with a faint hint of chlorine. Birds are chirping. Bees are buzzing. This is the perfect spot to write a poem about nature, I think. I look across the street at the young cornfield and wait for my inspiration to come to me.

I feel the sun’s warmth
as deer play in the distance,
zero distractions.

But then braided blond hair bounces by. It belongs to a giggling girl. I look up and watch as she skips through a sea of bubbles, laughing, playing fairy, granting wishes. She spies a butterfly, chases it for a moment but becomes distracted, as easily as me, by a dandelion that has gone to seed and so she pauses to make a wish of her own. I lean in and listen.

She wishes for cake
with candles. Ah, more wishes.
Mother like daughter.

She spins off and I smile and look away. I try again to write this poem. “Watch me, Mommy,” she shouts and I turn back again just as she scoots her bottom onto the swing. Then she watches me to make sure I’m watching her. I smile to reassure her. She holds on tight and launches.

Swinging on a swing,
higher and higher she goes,
toes tickling clouds.

As she looks up, I do too. I see the cotton candy blue sky above us with its big puffy white billowing clouds. They pass ethereally. Maybe they’re my inspiration. They glide by and by and as I relax into the moment my mind decides to go with them.

Floating on a cloud,
looking down, the world drifts by,
but only a dream.

The sound of sneakers on gravel brings me back to my blanket. I rub my eyes and then stare back down at the glare on the blank screen. This assignment is due soon and I feel I must focus on being inspired. I need to force this poem out of me. Just then the reflection of the sun’s rays barely stings my eyes, just enough to inspire me in a different direction.

I look away again and see Lyla at the top of the slide.

“Arr, I’m a pirate!”
Sharks are surrounding the ship.
This haiku can wait.

(Not So) Deep Thoughts on Billy Collins and on Writing Sonnets

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I really enjoyed Billy Collins’ poetry book Sailing Alone Around the Room. To me, it felt like stories and there was a casual quality to it that I truly enjoyed. Also, I found many of his poems/stories so relatable that I can’t help but think how awesome it would be to sit at the same table as Billy Collins at, say, a wedding. It seems to me there’d never be a lull in the conversation… though who am I to say? Maybe he’s better on paper than in person! In any event, I loved this book and have added it to my list of books I won’t sell or give away.

Regarding writing a sonnet, I struggled with this form at first. I started and stopped several poems before finally being inspired to write and complete my sonnet about being hung over. That one came to me quite easily the day after my family’s annual Independence Day party. To that end, I think when I’m inspired to write something the writing comes easily despite any particular format, genre, rules or instructions. Once the inspiration for this poem hit me, the words came and sort of slid into the sonnet form. It’s hard to explain, but I imagine you will understand what I’m trying to say here.

I think the sonnet itself has been such a lasting form because it’s fun. For one, it’s short and although that brings with it its own struggles and complications, for the most part I found that the length itself and the rules brought about an interesting and playful challenge. Even though writing the sonnet wasn’t an easy task, it was a fun challenge and I enjoyed it. Also, having rules helped to set parameters for the poem and that was nice in that it allowed my thoughts to be presented in a neat little package. In other words, knowing the rules gave the poem a shape to strive for—much like having a diagram helps a pile of wood eventually look and act like a book case. Knowing I needed to write a sonnet helped my words become one. Without these rules, I’m afraid I might have gone on and on about drinking and being hung over without ever finding a form. In fact, I’m not sure I would have written this poem at all.

After writing a sonnet myself, I can see why so many poets write sonnets and also why so many seem to write them specifically to get their writing gears greased. The sonnet put me in the mood to write more. In a way, it reminded me of the 3AM Epiphany and 4AM Breakthrough books which are full of writing exercises meant to battle writer’s block and inspire writing students to write. As I sit down to write more poetry in the future, I think I’ll try a sonnet from time to time just for fun and for the challenge of it, but also to see if they positively affect me and my writing as they seem to have positively affected so many other writers and poets.

Writing Short Stories

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Joyce Carol Oates says, “Fairy tales are miniature narratives that typically begin Once upon a time and swiftly, sometimes bluntly summarize entire lives within a few paragraphs.”

Oates also says, “The miniature narrative is often most effective when boundaries between ‘real’ and ‘surreal’ are dissolved.

I’ve never been very good at writing short stories. I think this is mainly because so much needs to be covered in such a short span in a short story that my mind cramps trying to think how I might fit it all into just a few short pages.

It might seem silly but I get nervous thinking about them and tangled up writing them.
But, before now, I’d never thought of fairy tales as miniature narratives. 

Being the mother of a three-year-old girl, I’ve certainly read (and memorized) my fair share of fairy tales. I’ve even composed a few impromptu fairy tales typically at the bedtime request of my very own Princess Lyla (my daughter’s name and her preferred character title). All of which have been met with smiles and gleeful giggles. Of course, she’s not exactly the toughest critic and as long as she lives happily ever after in them, well, then she’s happy (and I am, too).

But using Oates’ thought process, maybe it is simply about dissolving that line between real and surreal. If dissolving the boundaries between real and surreal is what makes fairy tales more effective, then wouldn’t that be true of other types of writing, as well? In a fairy tale, those boundaries dissolve immediately, of course, as we open our minds in a carefree fashion to the magic behind fairies, frogs and princesses. But couldn’t we, as writers, achieve that same effect by working to dissolve that line between real and make believe in non-fairytales, as well?

Isn’t writing fiction about creating something that someone will be willing to believe in whether or not the subject in and of itself is naturally believable? Isn’t our job as writers to make our stories believable? Or perhaps it’s simply (or not-so-simply) to inspire our readers to believe.    

I believe it’s the pressure we put on ourselves that makes one thing seem more or less challenging to accomplish. What is a challenge to one is a piece of cake to another. For example, I’ve never been able to do a cartwheel. Ironically, my brother can. If you asked him, he’d claim he could never write a novel. I think he could if he put his mind to it. He’d say the same about me and that cartwheel. Clearly, we both have our fears.

These pages have inspired me to make a real attempt at a “real” fairy tale. Not just an off-the-cuff version of someone else’s tale with my daughter’s name and favorite past times slotted in but something tangible, written down and that other children might enjoy, as well. Maybe that will be the push that will help me conquer my silly little fear of short stories, too.

I’m still not ready for the cartwheel.

A Creative Writing Activity

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Activity and Justification—Valerie Zane

Activity:

Part One: Taking no longer than five minutes and keeping your words to under a page in length, write your autobiography. Part Two: Next, using the same time and length limits as in Part One, write your biography from a parent or parental figure’s point of view.

The narrative can be fact or fiction and written in any genre or style of choice. Let your imagination lead the way. Be as descriptive and creative as possible while paying close attention to narrative and voice.

Justification:

The purpose of this exercise is to inspire creativity and flex writing muscles while focusing on narrative and voice and keeping to a tight deadline and length limits. 

I like this exercise because it forces the writer to step in and then out of his or her own head and immediately into someone else’s head but on the same topic. The students can approach this exercise in any way they wish—serious or comedic, fact or fiction, essay or poetry, for a few examples. Any way it is approached, the exercise will stretch the creative muscles much like a 10 minute warm-up loosens the legs before a long run.

Also, by focusing on voice and narrative from both the student’s own and someone else’s point of view, but someone close and familiar like a parent or parental figure, it allows the student to get deep quickly and in a short period of time and space. In the first part, the student tells his or her own story. In the second part, he or she tells basically that same story but from someone else’s point of view. The most important aspect of both parts is the narrative itself, including actions, descriptions and voice.  

In the lecture this week, we learned “Another thing that a master craftsperson shares is perspective. This is not only helping students see subjects from new angles, but also guiding them to useful ways of thinking about skills, tools, or processes. It is a way to encourage productive ideas and discourage unproductive ones.”  In many ways, this is an exercise in perspective. By telling a story from two different perspectives, the students are able to explore their creativity and thoroughly inspect and play around with these unique perspectives. It will be interesting to see the difference between what students will write about themselves versus what they think their parents would write.

Finally, much like King uses his close personal relationships, memories and experiences to weave his stories, this exercise allows the student to do the same. By getting personal, so to speak, in a similar way and also from someone else’s (in this case, a parent’s) point of view, while under tight time and length constraints, it gives the writer the freedom to be creative without being self-conscious.

Flea Diddy

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The other night I had a dream in which my husband, Jason, brought home a dog and we named him Flea Diddy. I told him about the dream when I woke up and we both laughed. I thought it was so randomly funny that I told a few friends in conversation and I even posted it on Facebook and a friend replied, “You dream in humor, nice.”

It was rather nice. Not all of them are. I have my fair share of nightmares but usually I’m quite fond of my dreams. They are such a wonderful part of life. Don’t you agree? In a completely relaxed state, we get to visualize ourselves being and doing and achieving all sorts of magnificent things.

Sometimes, my dreams are funny.  This time, yes. I laughed a long time over Flea Diddy. Awake, I even came up with a name for his kitty sidekick: Fluff Daddy.

But, like I said, I have a variety of different types of dreams…

Happy. Sad. Occasionally scary (especially if I eat pepperoni). Hyper.Playful. Exciting. Romantic. Sexy. Sexier. Pornographic. Weird. Supernatural. Fun. Futuristic. Adventurous. Childish. Black and white and/or color, depending on the genre. Just me or featuring friends, family, strangers—sometimes with feet and sometimes without. Vivid. Interesting. Musical. Informative. Inexplicable. Random. Not so random. Memories. De ja vue. Even predictive.

I believe dreams are a connection to our subconscious. At times, my subconscious can be pretty intense. It would have to be with so much fact and fiction being simultaneously digested in there. Awake, I can tell the difference between reality and one of my novels but I’m not sure my dreams can separate the two. So whether it’s real or make believe, if it’s floating round in my brain somewhere, chances are I have or I’m going to eventually dream about it.

I’ve even learned to use my dreams to help my writing. When I get writer’s block, I’ll often opt to take a nap to break through it. Usually this works. I have had numerous literary revelations while zonked out and slobbering on my pillow. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night ready to write with enough detailed inspiration that I was able to do so for hours. I have instantaneously gone from a sound sleep in the dead of night to wide awake and was still typing away while watching the sun rise.

One bad part is that I talk in my sleep so even if I don’t remember a particular dream when I wake up, chances are my husband will. He can tell you stories! He has a few favorites—one about a “cantaloupe juggling machine,” for example. I have some pretty interesting, and at times crazy, dreams. Don’t we all? This has been going on for as long as I can remember. My college roommate has a few choice selections of her own that she would be happy to share. I’m sure my mom probably does, too.

Since I usually remember my dreams even without assistance, I try to get the most out of them as possible. I definitely refer to ideas from dreams in my writing and even in everyday conversation. I love talking about dreams, mine and yours, and especially the really juicy ones!  I’ve made it a point to write mine down whenever possible or jot notes here and there so that I don’t forget the really good ones.

Over time, my dreams have become clearer and crisper and, to me, more interesting and useful. I’ve even subscribed to a few dream sequels and a dream series or two. To get myself to continue a really good dream, I just focus on whatever it is I want to dream about while in bed and when I start to drift away, I visualize and try to control the topic. It’s like sleepy time meditation or setting my dream DVR.

While I can’t always control my dreams or my inspiration for my dreams, I can control what I do with them. I believe dreams are a special gift we all have been given to use however we wish. We can use them to dive deeper into our own minds and learn more about ourselves or we can use them for entertainment purposes only. Personally, I like to do a little of both.

I’m not sure if Flea Diddy, the dog of my dreams, will work his way into one of my stories. But it was certainly nice dreaming about him and analyzing what he and the rest of my dreams mean to me.