Thursday, April 30, 2020

Marin Poetry Center Online Covid Confinement Writing Retreat: Emotional Connection



Day 5: Emotional Connection

Introduction

Today we examine ways of building an emotional connection with the reader in a lyrical-narrative poem.





POEM:

Not The End Of The World


What flew down the chimney
into the cold wood stove
in my study? Wings
alive inside cast iron
gave the cold stove a soul
wilder than fire, in trouble.
I knocked the window-screen out
with a hand-heel's thunk,
and dropped the shade over
the top half of the window,
and shut the study door,
and wadded the keyhole,
hoping whatever it was
would fly for the light,
the full, clean stream of light
like the sliding board from heaven
our guardian angels slid to earth on
in The Little Catholic Messenger
weekly magazine. I genuflected once,
but only to flick the stove-latch
and spring behind a bookcase
through a memory-flash
of church-darkness, incense-smoke
mushrooming as the censer
clanks and swings back
toward the Living Host
in His golden cabinet.
A dull brown bird no bigger
than my fist hopped modestly
out, twisting its neck like a boxer
trying to shake off a flush punch.
And there on my rug, dazed,
heedless of the spotlight, it stayed,
and stayed, then settled down
as if to hatch an egg it was hallucinating.
So I scooped it into my two hands,
crazed heart in a feathered ounce,
and sat it outside on the dirt.

And there I left it.
It didn't even try its wings,
not one perfunctory flap,
but staggered a few rickety steps
before collapsing, puffing its tiny bulk.
I watched behind a window
other identical little dull birds
land within inches and chart
circles around it. Five of them,
cheeping, chased an inquiring cat.
Then all of them one by one--
by this time a dozen--mounted its back
and fluttered jerkily like helicopters
trying to unbog a truck,
and, when that didn't work,
pecked it and pecked it,
a gust of flicks, to kill it
or rouse it I couldn't tell
until they all stepped back to wait.
It flapped once and fell forward
and rested its forehead on the ground.

I've never seen such weakness.
I thought to bring it back in
or call someone, but heard my voice
saying, "Birds die, we all die,"
the shock of being picked up again
would probably finish it,
so with this pronouncement
I tried to clear it from my mind
and return to the work I had waiting
that is most of what I can do
even if it changes nothing.

Do I need to say I was away
for all of a minute
before I went back to it?
But the bird was gone.
All the birds were gone,
and the circle they had made
now made a space so desolate
that for one moment I saw
the dead planet.

By Michael Ryan. From God Hunger (Viking, 1989).

CRAFT:

Ellen Brock posts YouTube Videos covering several aspects of writing. She is a novelist, so not all of what she says applies to writing poems. But a lot applies to lyrical-narrative poems, particularly what she says about how to establish an emotional connection with readers. Below, I've listed her "Seven Reasons Readers Don't Care About Your Characters" and applied them to Ryan's poem to suggest how he did (or didn't) make an emotional connection with his readers. I encourage you to re-read the poem and come to your own conclusions, as well. The video can be accessed here in case you'd like to listen to it.

1. "The personality of the character is in your head, not on the page."

There are three main characters in the poem: the narrator, the injured bird, and the flock. I immediately have a liking for the narrator because his actions indicate he has an empathetic personality that values the life of whatever flew down his chimney more than personal property: "I knocked the window-screen out / with a hand-heel's thunk / ... / hoping whatever it was / would fly for the light," (lines 7-14).

2. "Telling about the character's personality traits instead of showing."

Instead of telling about his connection with the bird or going off on an abstract rant about we are all connected to nature, he shows readers he is connected to this bird (and implies we all are) with simple actions such as: "Do I need to say I was away / for all of a minute / before I went back to it?"

3. "Sharing mostly negative traits but not showing why. It doesn't have to be a lot. Sometimes just give the reader even a little hint about why the negative trait exists in the character."

The narrator indicates that the little flock of birds could be trying to save the bird or kill it:

Then all of them one by one--
by this time a dozen--mounted its back
and fluttered jerkily like helicopters
trying to unbar a truck,
and, when that didn't work,
pecked it and paced it,
a gust of flicks, to kill it
or rouse it I couldn't tell... [my bold]

4. "You're not indicating what the character wants."

The narrator definitely indicated by directly saying and by showing with actions that he wanted the bird to be set free and to live.

5. "You're not introducing a problem--what's in the way of what the character wants?"

Again, the problem was introduced in the first lines: "What flew down the chimney / into the cold wood stove / in my study?"

6. "Your character is a stereotype or trope."

The narrator does not sound to me to be stereotypical, but is quite relatable, and yet shows uniqueness of perception, particularly in the final line.

7. "You're not putting the reader in the character's shoes--sensory information please!"

The poet places the reader in his shoes all throughout the poem. Examples: "I watched behind a window [and we watched with him] / other identical little dull birds / land within inches and chart / circles around it." "I thought to bring it back in / or call someone, but heard my voice / saying, 'Birds die, we all die,' / the shock of being picked up again / would probably finish it...."

PROMPT:

Write a narrative-lyrical poem using the above seven guidelines in order to build connection with your readers.

JOURNAL:

Free State Review
(Submissions HERE) is always open for submissions. Barrett Warner is a quirky guy (I know him personally, and he would say that), but also a genius of a writer and editor (he would say that as well). If you read his "Hot Tips" for submissions you'll see that he's a wild and crazy guy. But his points are well taken about what constitutes strong poetry.

PRESS:

Trio House Press has extended its deadline for its full-length poetry manuscript contest until May 15th. Submit HERE.


RECIPE:

Comforting Beef Stew






Prep time:
20 minutes

Cook time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Total time: 2 hours 50 minutes


INGREDIENTS:

2 lbs beef stew meat (preferably chuck), cut into 1" cubes

3 large carrots, peeled and diced

4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/3 cup flour

1 tsp paprika (optional)

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup red wine

1 1/2 cup beef broth

1 sprig of fresh thyme

1 sprig of fresh rosemary

2 bay leave (dry or fresh)

3 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


INSTRUCTIONS:

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and the salt and mix well.

2. Add the beef cubes and mix until all the pieces are coated in flour. Reserve.

3. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil until almost smoking. Add the beef and cook until browned. That should take about 5 minutes. Reserve.

4. In the same pot, add the veggies and cook for 5 more minutes or until they develop some color.

5. Add the paprika and season with salt and pepper.

6. Add the wine and scrape the bottom to release all the delicious, browned bits.

7. Add the Worcestershire sauce and the beef broth and give it a good stir.

8. Add the beef cubes back to the pot.

9. Make a bouquet garni with your herbs by tying them all together with twine. Add the bouquet garni to the stew.

10. Once the broth is boiling, lower the heat to its lowest setting, cover and cook for 2 1/2 hours, checking now and then, or until the sauce has thickened and the meat is fork tender / falling apart.

11. Remove the bouquet garni and serve!





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