All posts by Constance

Our Parents/Ourselves

Considering it is just after Mother’s Day, with Father’s Day looming on the horizon, I thought I’d talk about writing poems about parents. We get a lot of those type of poems at Gyroscope Review. It’s an important topic as poets work through their feelings about parents and the past – and sometimes the future. It’s a deeply personal topic, and there is a fine line between the danger of lapsing into sentimentality or letting the poem explore the theme. Writing about the loss of a parent, or a parent with cancer is a tough topic. Look for the universal in the subject. People will care a lot more about the poem if they can see themselves in it. They might be indifferent about your pain, but let them see how it’s everyone’s pain and they are on board.

Other parent poems we get are about the act of raising a child with all the cliches of childhood. Skinned knees, first dates, learning to ride a bike. How do you open that up? Approach it from a father’s point of view, or a sibling, or the skinned knee itself. Take us somewhere new. Make us see the subject in a different light, one we haven’t thought of before. What we don’t see is enough poems about the intricacies of being a parent. What it’s like to raise a special needs child, or a gender fluid child. Or a bullied child. Or an autistic child navigating the everyday world. Put us in your sneakers. As a parent, how do you approach these topics without echoing breathless news headlines?

Here are some Gyroscope Review poems and the issues they are in to explore:

My Bi-Polar Bear by Paul Strohm             ISSUE 18-1 WINTER 2018

Candy Colored Dreams by Deborah L. Davitt                  ISSUE 17-4 FALL 2017

Sketches of my Mother by Samuel Salerno                                   ISSUE 17-4 FALL 2017

Grendel’s Mother by Sally Zakariya                                             ISSUE 17-3 SUMMER 2017

Every Day is Mother’s Day by Alexis Rhone Fancher      ISSUE 17-1 WINTER 2017

The Man Who Explained Maps by John Grey                  ISSUE 17-1 WINTER 2017

Memorial for Miriam’s Dad (and Miriam) by Sandy Feinstein  ISSUE 16-1 WINTER 2016

Waking Daddy by Akualezli Hope                                     ISSUE 16-1 WINTER 2016

Letting Go by Barry Charman                                           ISSUE 16-1 WINTER 2016

Mother’s and Father’s Day make everyone hyper-focus on tradition—cards, ties, a bouquet of flowers.  Dig deeper. What if, as a parent, or a child, you never gave or received any gift on those days? How would you feel? Does acknowledgement matter? Has it torpedoed a relationship? Is it revenge for an imagined slight? Self-preservation?

Parents aren’t as simplistic as we remember them to be. They have lives outside of their children. We often are exploring through poetry our relationship with a parent, and how it’s changed now that we’ve gotten older (and so have they). We should no longer look back with nostalgia, but with the critical eye of the poet, ready to write the truth, no matter how unpleasant it might be, or what it might reveal about ourselves. That’s a tough order. But poets are up to the challenge.

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Et Tu, Scriptor?

Et Tu, Scriptor?

Did you know that March 15 has another important meaning, besides it being the day Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome in 44 BC? The Romans also observed this day as a deadline for settling debts.

It’s a good time for writers to settle their debts also. Especially the ones they have with themselves. I know, I know, you’ve been meaning to submit those poems to various markets, but . . . the weather was nice so you went outside, laundry needed to be done, or there was chocolate at the grocery store you just couldn’t live without. I’m sure procrastination stretches all the way back to our caveman ancestors, when Urgh put off gathering wood that day and had to sit in a cave jumping at the rustling noises in the pitch black night.

As writers we find all kinds of ways to avoid doing what we need to do when it comes to our poetry. We fear rejection, and some fear success. I’m here to pester you. Do not be like Julius Caesar and ignore the warnings deep inside. You can procrastinate yourself out of another year of submitting. Take a deep breath, and circle today on your calendar. Then go into your favorite submissions guide and find some places to submit. Circle them on your calendar. Don’t set the dates too far out. The farther away they are, the easier to ignore them.

Pick the day when you are going to sit down, read your poems, edit your best poems, read submissions guidelines, then submit your best poems. Editors love to see new work. We live for the day when we click on a waiting poem in the slush and are just wowed. It’s what keeps us going, the chance to be the first to spot a gem. That could be you. Settle that debt with yourself, silence the little voice that says you can’t. You can. You will. You must.

When someone tells you your work is good, submit. When you think your poem is ready, submit. When you’ve sculpted your magnum opus, submit. It’s the best way to move forward. Your poems are the Julius Caesars of the world. Get out your assassination knives, carve that poetry into a bloody beauty. We’ll be looking for it in the slush pile when Gyroscope Review reopens for summer submissions on April 1.

 

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This is the End, My Friend

Make that ending count!

This is the End, My Friend: How to not get a poem rejection

I realize poets don’t get much feedback on their rejections. I wanted to address some common problems we see that can get your poem rejected from our slush. The biggest thing we are seeing is an ending that just falls flat. The poem is chugging along with some good imagery and turns of phrase, and then the end goes to the easy conclusion. It wants to wrap everything up with a pretty bow.

We ask that you take the bow and stuff it in the trash. Shred it into confetti. We want an ending that leaves us thinking. That leaves us with a feeling there is more to the poem than is being said here. That makes us want to read it all over again. Not to say we should have to spend a lot of time puzzling out the ending. No one wants that. It’s a balancing act.

Perhaps your poem should have stopped a stanza before the end. We see a lot of this. There is a nice turn of phrase or image that would be a perfect end to the poem, but in the rush to get to a conclusion, any conclusion, it’s overlooked. Examine your poem carefully. What’s been said before? Do you have a new way of saying it? Does your ending border on cliché? If it’s an elegy, does it end on the maudlin?

Where to stop when writing a poem is tough. Always go back to asking, what do I want the reader to take away from this poem? What is going to be the reader’s last impression? Sometimes the first line would better serve as a last line. I know, I know, then you have to come up with another kick ass first line. You can do it. It’s what got you excited about the poem in the first place. Try and recapture that feeling at the end of the poem. Because if you aren’t excited about your final words, the reader isn’t going to be either. Flex those poetry muscles. End strong.

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Book Review: Daphne and her Discontents

Book Review

Daphne and her Discontents by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Published by Ravenna Press 2017

Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s new book Daphne and her Discontents delves into Greek mythology to explore the trials of Daphne and her relationship to LaForge’s own life. One of the first poems in the book, Family Business, chronicles LaForge’s childhood as part of a family of Jews that sells Christmas trees during the holiday season, and their search to avoid falling into the circumstances of their less fortunate neighbors. I was drawn into what it felt like to be an outcast in a season that steamrolls every religion that isn’t Christian.

Oh, how my mother loved Christmas . . . God how I hated it, because I hated being left out. (page 3)

In the following poems, LaForge goes on to explain the difficulties of being “a compliant daughter(page  6). One who embraces her family’s past. One whose mother resembles a tree, whose branches long to curl around and protect her family from unknown threats. As LaForge lists her faults before the gods, the reader feels LaForge’s resemblance to her mother. Both long for the rootedness of trees while at the same time plotting their escape from circumstances. Gods are flawed beings like her father, holding out and withdrawing affection with impunity, as a training tool.

“. . . the only thing I blame him for is confusing the myths of stones and trees, and what fathers and gods do with their children.” (page 37)

A parent’s lessons are repeated generationally, unable to transform as Daphne transformed to escape her fate. LaForge also embraces the past through her children, as in her poem Explaining the Holocaust to My Daughter (page 64). How do you explain the unexplainable? With gentleness. Despite it all, children understand.

Trees move through LaForge’s poems like wind through the branches. Trees and books become the method of transformation away from the past. In one poem she states, “I am Daphne because I cannot peel myself open(page 68), when in fact the whole book is the peeling away of layers, of the way family influences our innermost thoughts, the push-pull of Christianity against Judaism, the sense of place as a grounding mechanism, and the self-imposed fragility of Daphne despite her strong roots. In the final poem, Burnt by the sun god, LaForge laments; When the Dutch ruled the world, and the best parts of Russian novels had to be in French, my people were a hitch above mongrel. . . (page 74). Despite this, the love LaForge has for her family shines through.

I enjoyed reading Daphne and her Discontents, pausing to savor LaForge’s deft phrases and raw honesty. The poems wend their way through family and gods with equal intensity. I highly recommend this book.

Constance Brewer, Editor, Gyroscope Review

 

Daphne and her Discontents

by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Published by Ravenna Press 2017

$11.95

Link to book

Web site, jane-rosenberg-laforge.com,

Author page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Jane-Rosenberg-Laforge-Author-269805766510206/

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