My Version of the Tell-Tale Heart

When I write poetry, I sometimes have to sweat it out—and I mean literally. On hot days, it can be sweltering outside and a bit too warm inside my apartment. I am loathe to overuse the air conditioner since I saw the last quarterly bill and nearly choked. What would I do without my trusty ceiling fan? I installed it a few years ago during a similar summer season when temperatures were out of bounds. However, this week it started to drive me nuts. The ceiling fan is unbalanced all of a sudden and the inconsistent sound is crazy making and I am unable to write. The thump, thump, thump of its beating heart reminds me of the famous story by Edgar Allen Poe. I want to strike it or stare it down into quiescence. I have a lot to get done.

Something has to be done before I throw a brick at it to make it stop. Poe knew a lot about human psychology when he wrote his quirky and terrifying stories. A ceiling fan after all is supposed to calm you down as it provides air circulation and a cool artificial breeze. It is not doing its job. I have no clue about balancing the thing so I ask a friend with a vast set of tools about reinstalling it properly. He took a look and said, no problem. The fan had come loose in one area. All he had to do with adjust the bolt. I suppose I could have done it myself. But I am a poet at heart. We are a non-practical breed with our heads in the clouds. We need to focus on inspiration and creative energy and not waste effort on mundane repairs. I didn’t tell my friend in fear of insulting him. It is not that poets and writers are superior as much as they are of a different mindset.

I learned a tidbit about ceiling fans that day after reading a blog called Ceiling Fan Choice. If you have a basic set of tools and an installation manual for your unit, you can remedy most malfunctions. You don’t have to get into fancy wiring jobs if it is already in place and working normally. Sometimes I just put a new battery in the remote control. It’s as simple as that. Anything else in the instructions is beyond my purview. Then it is time for friends! Every poet should have a handyman in their circle. This is my best and most practical advice. Meanwhile, a ceiling fan is a godsend when your body temperature is off kilter. A small desktop fan just blows air in your face.

I am so pleased to have my fan working again that I am inspired to write a take-off on The Telltale Heart. I will liken the beating menace to a time bomb. Instead of being trapped in a wall, it will be inside my head. When it blows, the ideas will burst forth, fueling a million stories. A bit crazy—yes.

Instructional Verse

You meet a lot of interesting people in the poetry game, even when you aren’t looking for them. They are by no means all alike in spite of stereotypes. We use different rhyme schemes, have different subjects dear to our hearts, and prefer our own brand of poetry from an ode to a dirge. It is a very personal undertaking. Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. We live in cities, towns, the mountains, or by the sea. We write day or night, indoors or out. We have families or live alone. We are as varied as human nature. Some of us are off the charts.

I open my blog with these words so you will understand how unique it is to meet a fellow poet who is doing something rather odd. In this case I am referring to my friend who makes “how to” videos and posts them on line. While that is not interesting or unusual in and of itself, I have to round out the story and tell you that his instructions are in verse form. I kid you not. He has many, but my all-time favorite is a video on how to install a kegerator. The first time I saw it I laughed out loud. I was hooked and had to watch his whole oeuvre. It is a masterpiece of verbal nonsense with a comic twist. I don’t believe that it has ever been done before.

If you paid me plenty, I wouldn’t be able to undertake this ridiculous task. He wrote a post on Facebook about building your own kegerator with a purchased kit to get a customized item that suits your space and style. Since there are so many types with different faucet requirements, this way you can get what you want. It depends upon how you want to dispense and store your precious beer. It is all about budget, taste, and ease of use. I am not going to reprint his video so you can search for yourself on line. I just have to mention the words that rhyme with beer to give you an idea.

clear – “a prime beer with texture so clear..”
dear – “to get a taste of beer delicate and dear..”
cheer – “what else but beer can put you in good cheer…”
fear – “never fear when you sip your beer…”
peer – “beer quality without peer”
tier – “you can make a beer that is top tier…”

I think you get the picture and your imagination can fill in the rest. I challenge you to try your hand at an instructional video in verse. It doesn’t have to be about brew, because that has been done! “Do it yourselfers, have no fear, it is time to install your container for beer…” Now that I have proved his method, I have to say that there is absolutely no rhyming word for kegerator. Too bad. If you find one, I will reward you handsomely with accolades and entrée into my personal poetry club.

Met a Poetess Tonight

A poetry coop is an Internet site that celebrates a unique kind of creativity with words. Where else but at such a place, can fellow travelers read what comes from the heart? If you are lucky, you will connect with another poet who writes in your same vein. Maybe you still like to rhyme but the world is going toward another open format. Nowadays it is all about randomness and stream of conscious thoughts. Perhaps you want to sympathize with other sensitive souls who express their emotions in a formal manner. There is nothing so challenging as coming up with new imagery, metaphors, and similes. Novelists should stay where they are. Poetry sheds a light on innovation of language and opens one’s eyes and ears from the mundane to the sublime.

By the way, I am Rooster. That’s how I am known to family, friends, and even outsiders. I use this as my pen name when I publish poetry. Look me up on line. You will find The Poetry Coop. Read and enjoy. You know I love verse, but I also enjoy talking about my life in prose. Hence this blog. Recently, I met a poetess at the local bookstore. She was browsing in the poetry section. A light bulb went off in my head.

We talked about work and commiserated on our mutual problems. I had no idea that she was a maid until it was revealed. There is no shame in earning a living in order to have the wherewithal to write poetry. Most of us amateurs, and even many of the professionals, don’t sell their work. Hardly. I encouraged her to go on about her days. She worked in a hotel which provided an expensive and a more than decent Dyson vacuum. We know this is one of the best advanced technology brands. They are pricey, but do the job super well. She is grateful she is not stuck with an old-fashioned upright with an unwieldy bag inside. “The cleaning crew at my office isn’t so lucky,” I offered. “I know because I stay late enough to see them at work. The clunky machine makes such a racket.” “Not the Dyson at all.” Such was the nature of the mundane conversation. No matter. Off we went to the nearest coffee shop to sip java and discuss our favorite poets.

I expected to meet a woman online, and this was a rare occasion. Why didn’t I think of it before? The bookstore is so obvious! We had a lot to talk about starting with the book of poems in her hands. I also love Walt Whitman. So she was a traditionalist through and through. I get tired of formless modern rhymeless work. It is all you read in the New Yorker and the New York Times. Give me Emily Dickenson, Coleridge, or Robert Frost. I don’t mind E.E. Cummings since he was the first to go minimalist. But I end my contemporary taste here.

An Inspiring Thrift Store Find

Sometimes life just ups and surprises you. I never know what will bring me poetic inspiration. When it comes, it is always welcome. These are rare moments you long for all your life. You can’t buy them. If you search for them, the result will be contrived. It has to come to you as in a vision. This may seem a bit melodramatic but it happened like this. I made a recent trip to a secondhand store I often frequent. I was looking for a replacement part I expected to find when I stumbled upon this odd long mesh-lined wooden box. It had a former life to be sure and I wanted to know what. It looked sad and forlorn as if it had been searching for something that took a long time to find. What was its history? I had to know.

A gold sluice was what I was staring at so intently. I had never seen one before and it caught my wandering eye. I had to ask the owner. He hadn’t seen one either until the seller came in to tell its story. It could be used as a planter or antique container of sorts, he said. I hope you will find it a good home. I can’t keep it because it has sad memories. It was used by a long-lost love maybe a century ago. He knew because the relic had been in his family for many generations. Each one had the goal of passing on the story of the distant relative, with the hope of that relative Finding a Fortune. This is the reason he identified with it. He was getting older and had no children to whom to bequeath the object. This made him dejected.

I listened with open ears and had the inspiration to write a simple, short poem about it and share it on Facebook. It took a couple of minutes only. I wanted to capture a mood or spirit and not go into details. I really didn’t know them or care to invent too much. Imagine a thrift store find becoming verse. Here is what I wrote. I gave it to the storekeeper to pass on to the sluice seller. I got a call a week later from him. He said he had a note. The note thanked me and said it was amazing that I could relate to another family’s history. It brought the device alive once again and he said it could not have found a better purchaser. I attached the note to the printed poem and stored it in a memory box I keep for special things. Someday I will enjoy revisiting it again.

Shiny metal attacks my eye

With deep love and longing

A golden dream makes me cry

And initiates prolonging.

When will the sluice yield its riches?

Will I find a resource of ditches?

Pick and shovel tight in hand

Lead me directing to the land

Searching with full and open heart

The time has come never to depart.

Good Wood at a Good Price

Why would a poet need some good wood? Wouldn’t it make more sense to need paper or pens? Just like everyone else, we do practical things from time to time. Maybe not when we are creating and ideating, bandying words about in our minds to fashion into a rhyme. I have always wanted an extra cabinet in my bedroom to house all my books on my favorite subject—poetry of course. I have more than a few and they are strewn about my room. I have relegated a few to the coffee table and kitchen counter. There are two on the bathroom floor and one in the laundry area. Some organization is at hand.

I don’t want a plastic-looking prefab unit you can get at any home depot. I want quality wood with some actual character. I want nuance and expression—concepts I value in writing. I needed to find some reclaimed wood to get the effect I cherish. It isn’t always easy to find something out of the ordinary. I like to support local businesses so I am not going online. I will make the rounds of the lumber yards and maybe one or two will have a pile of old wood that can be repurposed. I looked at ads like this one in the paper that claimed “good wood at a good price.” Okay, I am game.

I shopped around and found some small pieces of reclaimed wood that would be perfect for my add-on cabinet. When you aren’t buying a lot of lumber, you won’t spend much. I will enjoy working with special wood because of all the variations in the grain and texture. In fact, I could write an ode about it. I would expand the imagery to encompass the wood’s origin. Maybe it was an old barn or Victorian mansion. It would be a mystery until it was formulated in my mind. I would test different scenarios. That’s how poetry is written. You pen a few lines and then you move them about and add or subtract words. You have to get the cadence just right and the rhyme scheme if you are using one. You can use metaphors galore as they create “imagery” and fuel the imagination of the reader.

Now it’s a few weeks later and my wood cabinet is wonderful and my books have the perfect home. They sit side by side in mutual juxtaposition sorted alphabetically. It will now be easy to find what I need. I read and reread them often and will have to pay attention when putting them back in place. When I wanted to work one more time on my ode to reclaimed wood, I couldn’t find it. I looked everywhere from my bureau drawers to my desk around my laptop. I cringed at the thought of starting over. But patience my man. The loose sheet of paper containing my artful words was stuck in a poetry book on my nightstand.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I read a lot of poetry, mostly of the contemporary type. It covers all kinds of subjects but I prefer those that delve into the workings of the human mind and imagination. I crave creative imagery as metaphors make me think in a new way. It is all about stimulating the senses when you see a particular combination of unique words. My friends and I write our own type of verse, but we sometimes have competitions or challenges. We give each other topics and expect to see something written about it in some type of rhyme (open verse allowed of course). If you get “the blue sky,” “the meadows beyond,” or “the nature of love,” you are blessed. Sometimes someone gets a lawnmower, a swimming pool, or a car. I don’t usually include such run-of-the-mill things in my range of poetic material, but why not on a dare? Poetry makes us think about things we often ignore. For example, who thinks about a water heater? I certainly don’t give mine much consideration. Only when a friend on Facebook had a problem with a broken unit, did we discuss such an entity for the first time.

The fact that my attention never turns to my own electric water heater, is a good sign that it is working well. No problems so far. You notice if the pilot goes out (on a gas model), if a nut or bolt is loose, if water is leaking, and most of all if there is no hot water. Your electrical connection could be at fault if you are not experiencing a power outage. It is a different situation if you use up hot water too fast. The tank could be too small for the number of people living in the house or the parts could simply be old and worn out. They suddenly fail. If nothing is wrong, what do I care about how this appliance functions or the nature and cost of replacement models. I might need a new heater one day, but I will deal with it them. Now, I don’t need to read testimonials and reviews or look for discounts. I don’t need to scour the water heater sites and try to make sense of them. I don’t need to visit any hardware stores. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.

My friend’s dilemma did raise some issues and prompted me to get a technician to look over my own device. It can’t hurt, said my friend, given what happened to me. I could have prevented my problems if I had been more observant, he groaned. Okay, I conceded. I will pay attention now to ward off a meltdown later. You don’t want it to happen in the middle of your hot shower. Good boy, he went on. This was the end of the water heater discussion. The next time we have a poetry challenge, I will use this appliance as a new topic. I can’t imagine what we will get!

An Inspiring Place

Are you a fellow poet? Do you love crafting beautiful statements with words, loaded with imagery, new juxtapositions, and rhythmic impact? If not, welcome to my world. I want to extol the virtues of the art of poetry of all kinds from the traditional rhyme schemes to modern free form. As long as it is not prose, it is in my field of vision. I love being inspired by anything or anyone to create a paean with symbolic phrases and artful words. Using them in new ways is the name of the game for me. Coming up with a fresh perspective on the world is the end result. Every poet has a special soul that has to be expressed. It is a joy to take pen to paper or even use your ubiquitous mouse. You can create poetry anywhere you like. Sometimes it just pops up from the subconscious. We get lucky from time to time. Otherwise we work at it, tossing out meaningless imagery and keeping that with import.

I like to relax and become meditative or contemplative if my brain seems to be running dry. On nice days I like to sit outside in a comfortable chair and admire the work of Mother Nature. I can stay for hours until the mood is right. I imagine what Lord Byron, Walt Whitman, or Emily Dickenson would be thinking or how e. e. Cummings would reduce reality to a stark construction. I never quite new what form my poems will take. I have done strict rhymes and verbose ramblings. It is all to tell a story or visual impression. I have favorite subjects and they revolve around living a modern life. Sometimes I feel like I am in the wrong era and wish it were another place and time. Poetry is seen as archaic to some. Let me tell you that it is perfectly capable of the deepest emotions of any age.

While I love to sit in the daytime, I also want to be able to enjoy my yard at night. I asked a friend who is a welder, what he would do to activate my space. I hinted that I thought the area needed light. Aha! He said he had the perfect idea. With his professional welding gear, he would make artistic metal outdoor hanging lamps. It would spruce up the environment and create a spiritual mood conducive to poetic thought. He showed me some ideas that he’d found on a web site called Rate My Welder, that a friend had put him on to after finding them on Twitter. What he brought over were gorgeous lanterns the likes of which I have never seen. They completely transformed my personal treat come nightfall. The welder had done a superior job. What an incredible talent. After they were mounted in strategic order, I couldn’t wait to relax and daydream—or night dream as it turned out. He left, of course, to leave me to my own devices. Even he knew that creating poetry is a solitary enterprise.

I luxuriate in the glow of the metal lights and I keep the experience private. In effect, I want to be alone.

Dealing With Writer’s Block

As anyone who relies on inspiration to write knows, there are definite ups and downs. One day you have enough words to fill whole books, typing or writing until your fingers are sore. You laugh in the face of writer’s block. You feel talented, creative, and gifted.Other days, you have the opposite side of the coin: there is nothing. A blank page or white screen mocks you. You are stunned into silence by a complete and utter lack of anything interesting to say.Your words, once a raging river, have dried up and disappeared. You start to spiral downward. The self-doubt creeps in, and your critical inner voice grows louder and louder. You start to believe that you are not good enough, that you will never amount to anything, that you never really had any talent to begin with. Anything you put down gets erased, deleted, or crossed out. You feel unoriginal, uninspired. Haunted by memories of days when the words seemed to flow through your fingers without a thought nor care.

I once attended an online workshop that dealt with writer’s block. The main focus of the workshop was to look at writer’s block differently. We often assume that we are not the ones in control. We don’t believe that the words come from within us, but rather they are given to us by some outside force or muse. By reframing your ability to write as a craft, a skill you have honed and nurtured, and not a gift given to you by a capricious muse, you realize that you have control over your writer’s block. Once you have changed your mindset, you are better prepared to do the work to pull yourself out of your block and continue writing. Although I can’t say that the two mainpieces of advice I was given always work for me, I can save you the course fee and talk about them both here.

The instructor’s first piece of advice is to call it like it is. You have to acknowledge that writer’s block is a mental issue, and more importantly, that your brain is lying to you. Remember that you are talented. Know that your words haven’t gone anywhere, you are simply disconnected from them thanks to your mind. The more you stress yourself out about your block, the higher and thicker the walls become that separate you from your words. Knocking down those bricks will be all the harder. In order to find your way back to your words, you need to create a habit of writing. Create a scheduled time to write, daily if you can, and then stick with it. Sit in the same place and use the same materials. Creating a ritual around it will help erase mental blocks and put your brain into a muscle memory kind of mode. You will stop thinking about how hard it is to write; instead, you will simply sit down and write.

The other piece of advice goes hand in hand with the first: you need to write. It does not matter if you start by writing a grocery list or the lyrics to your favorite song. Recount a dream. Write a letter to a friend. It doesn’t matter what you write, just that you ARE writing. It does not have to be grammatically correct, nor does it have to be Pulitzer worthy. The act of writing something down is the important part. Eventually, you will find a subject matter that is inspiring, or a phrase that you are particularly enamored with. It will become the basis of your next work. Keep going, keep writing, and eventually the quality will improve and you will find something within those pages worth celebrating. You will be laughing in the face of writer’s block again, knowing you have the ability to keep it from ever darkening your doorway again.

The Online Workshop

I think that writers, especiallypoets, can benefit from attending a workshop. The camaraderie of being with other poets and potentially learning from a respected author in the field can be a worthwhile and valuable experience. Workshops provide a nurturing environment that helps poets grow and improve. As a concept, I think they’re wonderful. Spending a weekend or several weeks surrounded by fellow writers while working on poetry sounds like a dream come true. However, there is one small issue. I may have already established this here on The Poetry Coopbefore but it bears repeating: I am an introvert. I am not great in person. I am OK over the phone. I am excellent over the internet. Between that and my day job, it means that I don’t actually attend any writers’ workshops.

However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been through them online. There are plenty of well-run and respected online workshops that you can take and get a similar experience over the internet. If you are looking for one, here are a few things to keep your focus on:

  1. Use a reputable site. I prefer workshops attached to universities or even community colleges to be a good option. Some even offer course credit! Find out if the person running the course has real credentials. Treat it like they are interviewing for a job and check their references. If they say they’ve won an award, took it up. If they’ve published books, get your hands on one and read it. See if their style is something you like or that follows the topic of the course. Of course, unless you are video chatting with your instructors, it might be hard to be sure that you are speaking to the correct person. Only you know how skeptical you are. If you aren’t sure, check with the school or company running the workshop. See if you can verify who the leader of the course is. If it sounds too good to be true, it just might be. And protect your work, too, so that you will have recourse if someone in the group plagiarizes you.
  2. Be sure you understand what you are getting into. Some online workshops are just video from the actual workshop that was done in person. You may or may not have someone available to read and critique your work. That’s not to say you won’t get anything out of them, but it might not be what you want. Know if it is an at-your-own-pace course or if you need to be online at a certain time of day every day/week etc. Pick something that works with your schedule. Know what happens if you have to drop out.
  3. Have a reliable internet connection. Verify that your technology meets the required specs for the class. You may need a certain program or processing speed, or meet other eligibility requirements. Make sure that you know them before you sign up. If you are going to be away from your computer during a class and think you can use your phone, make sure that you are correct.

A workshop can provide a poet with a community of support and priceless guidance to hone their craft. If it is something you are interested in, give it a try!

Working a Paying Job and Still Following My Dream

In an ideal world, I would make enough money writing poetry that I would not be obligated to have a paying job. But, as many of you have already found out through your own experiences, there isn’t a lot of money in poetry. As the print world diminishes, competition increases and the money received decreases. Websites often don’t pay at all. Sites can also be lacking in prestige; there is something to be said for seeing your words in actual print instead of on a screen. Self-publishing is always an option but is only very rarely lucrative. Long gone are the Renaissance times, when it was much more acceptable to be a poet for hire. Back then, people did not judge misanthropic drunks quite so harshly when they were nimble with a pretty phrase and a quill. In contrast, even Poet Laureates are barely recognized, or even remembered, in this day and age.

There are some jobs better suited to poets than others. I know other wordsmiths who also write songs, jingles, or perform with bands. They tell me that it is poetry set to music and that it is the closest they will ever be to a self-sufficient poet. I will take their word for it, as I am not musically inclined. Therefore, this entire career field is off limits to me. I know others who make a living wage as bartenders or servers. It can be easy and opportunistic, allowing us to experience things and meet others who might inspire something within us. I do not quite have the temperament or personality to work with the general public, as I have learned on more than one occasion. I am much better over the phone or on the internet. I am a stereotypical brooding poet. A true introvert. My personality is much better suited to poetry than anything else.

Therefore,  I sit behind a computer all day. I choose to work regular business hours because many poetry readings are at night or on weekends, exactly the times that would interfere with restaurant industry jobs. I do mind-numbing work all day. I am so thankful that there is more to my life than that. I get to come home and write. On weekends, I also write. Now I also have this blog to write for. On some evenings, I will go to an event—a book signing, a reading, a poetry slam, spoken word night. I go out to see what others are doing, to get my name out there, to meet others. People who I can listen to, and people who can hear my words. It can be difficult to go out sometimes. My tendency will always be to stay at home.

But, just as yours are, the words I write are valuable. I do not write words to be left in the void. It is imperative that they are heard, or that they are read. My words come alive only when someone else is receiving them. It matters not whether my words are being read silently or if they are read aloud. I must sometimes stand in the spotlight. I must stand in front of a microphone. As much as I fear ridicule and rejection, I am compelled to print out my poetry and share it with the world around me. I am fortunate that it does not ‘interfere’ with my paying job.

I continue to look forward and hope that there will be a day that I can quit my office job and support myself honestly and simply though my words.

Poetry from Dreams

I believe that dreams are my mind’s way of writing poetry while I sleep. Saturated images, rich emotions, and strong symbolism traipse through my visionas I sleep. I rarely have standard dreams—I’m never in a classroom having forgotten to get dressed, never losing teeth, and I never just go about my usual day. Instead, my dreams consist of rainbows made from tiny crystals that sing as they reflect the sun’s rays; I have dreamt of huge winged creatures who teach me the primal knowledge of flying. Even my nightmares are fascinatingly dark, more film noir than slasher flick. I am honestly very lucky; my dreams are spectacular. They are perfectly suited to the rhythm and language of poetry. Provided, of course, that I can remember them after I wake up.

Typically when I awaken, the memory of those dreams linger like a hazy mist, easily dispersed by a bright ray of sunlight. Ethereal, cobwebby thoughts can easily spin away from me and be forgotten the moment I look over to the alarm clock. I try to stay in that moment as long as I can, rewinding the film so that I can decipher and preserve all that has transpired in my mind. I am not always successful. It is difficult to lose such an incredible inspiration in that way. It leaves me feeling cranky and despondent. Similar to how you feel when you realize that you have made a mistake that no amount of apologizing is going to make better. A logical conclusion was to find a way to preserve these irreplaceable visions. With that in mind, I went to the store and purchased a beautiful leather bound notebook about six months ago. I keep it within reach on my nightstand. Every morning, I try to write down any details I remember: how I felt, what I saw, the conversations I had and who I had them with, any lasting impressions the dream left me with. If I can’t find the words—while I understand that I am a poet and have a decent command of words, it can be incredibly early in the morning when I am trying to record every piece of information I can remember—I will often just try to draw a picture. Anything that can get the job done and trigger a memory when I look back at it does just fine.

It helps me to have this beautiful reference available. When I am feeling down or as if I have nothing original to say, I can pick up this dream log and read through it. There is creativity, wonder, and passion in there. And it is all documented, right there next to where I sleep. I have lost track of how many of these entries have become favorite poems of mine. They also tend to be very well received when I read in public.

How about you? What inspires you? Have you ever written a poem that stemmed from a dream that you had?