Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Poetry: The Reviser's Knife

Although Past Wyoming Poet Laureate Pat Frolander was unable to attend the recent WyoPoets workshop, the material she sent to share for the afternoon session, The Reviser's Knife, offered great insight into how to a poem into something truly special.

"Distillation in poetry is a purification of words." Once a poem is drafted, it is time to get out the Reviser's Knife. Too often, though, writers find it hard to know where to start when revising a poem.

"Any writer who wants to excel at their craft must learn to edit," Frolander said. "I also think editing is one of the most difficult things to teach."

In the materials she sent to the WyoPoets workshop. Frolander shared the knowledge she had learned over the years, with her thanks to Bearlodge Writers and workshops she has attended. These were the specific set of steps she offered for poetry revision:

  • Experience: Know your subject and maintain your theme. The theme should be apparent as the author begins and ends the poem.
  • Research: Ground it in good, strong detail. Reach beyond your personal experience and do research on a topic or sub-topic to broaden your audience.
  • Execution: Use metaphors or similes, but make them "fresh." Metaphor and simile are quite different, but are commonly confused. A good book is like a good meal. A simile suggesting that a book may be as (mentally) nourishing and satisfying as a meal. A wire is a road for electrons. A metaphor suggesting that electrons actually do use a wire as a road to travel on.
  • Words Bear Freight: Get rid of inactive words. Word choice is the single most important thing she says poets should think about during revision. "Of all the tools I have been given by authors, this has been the most effective one."
  • Punctuate: Create form-stop writing in the middle of sentences. Don't make it difficult for the reader to understand your poem.
  • Show, Don't Tell: Use senses -- sight, sound, etc. The place were most people tell, not show, is dealing with emotions. Use an image to show the emotion that allows the reader to experience the sentiment. When using adjectives, make them fresh, revealing a different way to view things, to open up the poem.
  • Execution: Use figurative language sparingly. Avoid cliches.
  • Read Your Poetry Aloud: Often the best way to pick up the stumbles, repeated words and awkward rhythms. Reading aloud also builds your poise and confidence for the next step.
  • Present Your Work: Reading aloud to a group is a wonderful bridge to join you with the listener.

She recommends Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual for more great information on revising a poem. "It is a poet's best friend." 

Are you in a critique group and hesitant to offer advice when another member shares their poetry? "Each of us has learned an editing skill," Frolander said. "The key to sharing is to offer it with the caveat, 'This helps me; perhaps it might help you.'"

Poets often share a weakness: "Rushing the writing is usually a blind spot. It appears many writers edit two or three times and feel their work is complete. The writing may be, but more often than not, it isn’t."

Lest someone think a Wyoming Poet Laureate is past all that, she confessed she has the same blind spot. "Forcing myself to put the work away for a few weeks to a month after the first set of revisions serves me well."

What are some of the best ways you've found to revise poetry --either your own, or that of others. Do you find yourself using the techniques Pat Frolander recommends?

Monday, April 28, 2014

May Writing Events Roundup

Upcoming Wyoming writing events and opportunities in May:
  • May 6, 7-8:30 p.m.: Poetry Night at Laramie County Library System, Cheyenne, 2200 Pioneer Ave. Presented in partnership with the staff of the UW Creative Writing MFA program.
  • May 9: 2014 Blanchan/Doubleday writing award application postmark deadline.
  • May 15: Early bird registration deadline for Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference
  • May 15: Wyoming Writers, Inc. student-only conference scholarship deadline
  • May 16,  7-9 p.m.: Author visit with Ron Carlson at Riverton Branch Library.
  • May 17, 1-3 p.m.: Writing workshop with author Ron Carlson at Riverton Branch Library. Space is limited, call the library at 856-3556 or stop by to sign up.
Find more writing events on the calendar, including dates and times for local writing groups. Have a local writing group you want to add? Contact Susan Vittitow Mark.

And credit where credit is due -- our calendar comes to us courtesy of WyoPoets.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


by Lynn

To bring you this bulletin: 

The deadline for the early bird registration for the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference is rapidly approaching (May 15th). 

I have three things to impart in an effort to twist your arm into attending this conference.


       He turns his head so she can see the whole side of his face, where his left ear should be.
      Her cheek ticks before she makes her face plain again. She touches her own ear. “You’re making up the part about the bear. Right?”
“Do I look made up to you?”
She shakes her head without seeming aware of it. “Can I touch it?” she asks.
He puts his sandwich down and pushes the plate away. He didn’t think she’d be this brave, and he’s not sure her father would’ve been. He says, “No one’s ever asked that before.”
She slips out of the chair and stands by his side, raising a hand and then wiping it against her pants and raising it again. When he closes his eyes he feels the small pad of a single finger move tenderly over the side of his face.
She says, “It’s smoother than I thought it would be.”

Excerpt from An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg, Random House, 2004

Yeah, and whatever the person who wrote that, and other books like The Fruit of Stone and Where Rivers Change Direction, has to say, I want to hear it. Mark’s from Cody. If he can do it, maybe we can too.


And he’s been on the Daily Show. For real. See for yourself: click here

Descriptions of this man run the gamut: the godfather behind creative nonfiction, motorcyclist, medical insider, sailor, college professor, over-aged insecure father and literary whipping boy. 

This I got to see. 


According to the Wyoming Almanac, the average wind speed in Sheridan is 6.6 mph, about half of what it is here in Cheyenne (11.9 mph), and probably lower than where you are. Let’s go and let the mild June breeze ruffle our hair, instead of blast it off our heads.

Other presenters are Chuck Sambuchino, April Eberhardt, Jessica Sinsheimer, and our own Wyoming Poet Laureate, Echo Klaproth

There is even a Paddle Panel on the agenda! (I don't know either--I'm afraid to ask)

One last thing. It’s the 40th anniversary of Wyoming Writers, Inc. Come and celebrate with us. 

Go. Now. Register

See you there!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


photo by Mike Carlson
by Lynn
Wood already touched by fire is not hard to set alight.  
- Ashanti proverb 

In the West African village of MPessoba, Mali, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, people rarely use matches to light the fires that cook their food. Matches cost money, and the fine folks of Mali don’t have a lot of cash.

Instead, they share fire.

This is how it works: you wake up, and check your fire pit to see if any coals survived the night. If not, you grab a piece of heavy cardboard and head to the neighbors. “Tasuma be?” you ask, after sharing the morning greetings—“Is there fire?” Your neighbor scoops up some live embers from their fire pit, and back home you go to light your kindling.

I think writing prompts are like that – embers that we writers share with each other. It’s a relief to me that somebody, somewhere always has a burning coal of an idea and I can take it, blow on it with my pen, and see what kind of flame rises up.

If you’re facing a cold page this morning, try one of these still-glowing embers:

MAP HAPPY: Make a pencil-drawn map of your neighborhood (one you live in now, or one from your past) and then write, explaining the important features to someone who doesn’t live there. Include the fine points, some gossip, and the don't-walk-on-his-lawn details.

LOAF AND JUG: Write a scene starting with this line: “I am fully aware that this convenience store clerk has seen a lot worse.”

CHAMBERLAIN’S HOUSE: Write about the house you envied when you were a kid.

RANDOMNESS: I'll wager that one of the following will send you down memory lane. Follow it for awhile:
- sleeping bags
- bell bottoms
- rusted barbed wire
- okra
- black nail polish
- iodine
- pork rinds
- snails
- communion wafers

There, are you feeling warmer? Good. Ray Bradbury once said to remember that the important thing is to get started and “it doesn’t have to be a big fire, a small blaze, candlelight perhaps…”

How about you? Do you have some fire to share with us?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month

by Susan

April is National Poetry Month when words and flowers bloom. And, since it's Wyoming, it's when winter storms are still out in full force. So let's poke our heads out from the late snows and celebrate. Just like those daffodil blooms under the white stuff, I bet you have a few poems waiting to burst forth.

National Poetry Month was launched in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets. Among its goals, it's intended to highlight the legacy of American poets and introduce more Americans to the joy of reading poetry. The Academy of American Poets offers a list of 30 ways to celebrate -- everything from reading a book of poetry to putting a poem in your pocket to creating community events that celebrate poetry.

Here are a few other ideas to celebrate:
  •  Plan to attend the WyoPoets annual workshop in Casper this weekend, April 18-19
  • Treat yourself to a magnetic poetry kit or two or three. With themes from zombie to pirate to things lustier than pirates, there are plenty of choices these days.
  • Commit to writing a poem every day. If it's too difficult, lower your standards.
  • Try a poetic form or technique that is new to you. Go big try a new one each day. You can always lower your standards again.
  • If you're out and about among people, listen to snippets of conversations and create poetry from them. (Don't all writers eavesdrop? Admit it.)
  • Go wander your local public library bookshelves to create a book spine poem.
  • Revisit the poems of your childhood -- read some nursery rhymes, or curl up with some of your old favorites. (My childhood favorite happened to be one about bishop-eating rats.)
  • Get yourself a poetry-inspired t-shirt and wear it proudly.
  • Check out the public domain poetry over on Project Gutenberg.
  • Follow Writing Wyoming's growing poetry board on Pinterest. We'll add to it as we find great stuff for you.
  • In the comments, add your own ways to celebrate National Poetry Month. We'd love to hear your suggestions.
Past National Poet Laureate Ted Kooser always says that poetry should not be a puzzle you have to figure out. Approach poetry playfully, with joy. Have a great time the rest of National Poetry Month!

All photos copyright Susan Vittitow Mark.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


photo by Lynn Carlson
by Lynn

The other day a duo of pronghorn antelope raced my car as I drove along Highway 30 toward Pine Bluffs.

They do it, I've heard, because they like a challenge.

Now I wonder—how does anybody really know what an antelope likes?

No matter. Susan and I decided to start this blog because we like a challenge. Some might say we are challenged. We enjoy pondering (on paper) the whole writing enterprise. We like to share resources we’ve run into, and we relish hearing from other writers out there in the state and beyond. We’re also fond of the quirky, squared-off-acreage known as Wyoming. So clap it all together and voila – Writing Wyoming. Welcome. Thanks for checking in.

We’ll probably muck it up on occasion, just to give you fair warning. But if blogging was an easy thing, then it wouldn't qualify as a challenge, would it?

Our commitment to you with this blog:

1. We’ll do our best to be real. No “Ten Easy Ways to Write a Bestseller.” No “One Month to Your Finished Novel.” Mastery takes time and we haven’t a clue how long. We have our own pace and so do you. Anything we share will be an honest “here’s where I’m at in my writing process at the present moment” post.

2. We won’t pretend to be experts. I don’t think we even believe in experts when it comes to writing. We are fellow travelers on the writing road. We believe in learning through writing. We believe in being (and finding) mentors, guides, and why-don’t-you-try-this? encouragers. We believe in exploring the questions. We believe that our blog readers can teach us some things and hope to heck that you do.

3. We’ll post regularly (once a week, occasionally more) and bring in some other voices to liven things up and offer other perspectives. We’ll share an eclectic mix of resources through the Writing Wyoming blog roll and links, and tell you about writing-related events on the calendar page. And we’ll throw in anything else that celebrates what it is to be a writer in Wyoming.

4. We’ll keep it clean, civil and generally positive, and ask that you do the same. We writers are challenged enough by the work—sure don’t need to wrench our necks dodging snarky comments and criticism from each other.

So let’s enter this challenge together, shall we? We’ll throw some stuff out into the wind of the internet and see how far it carries. If it’s anything like the wind in Wyoming, we may go round the world.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wyoming Poet Laureate: Banish Self-Doubt

by Susan

When Shoshoni rancher Echo Klaproth was named Wyoming Poet Laureate, she said she was both humbled and a little hesitant. "Even the most celebrated writer, the most prolific writer, the most confident writer has their moments of doubt," she said. "I think it's innate in human nature."

Her husband offered her words of wisdom that inspired her confidence: The Governor chose you, he told her. Be who you are, do what you do, give it the best you've got and stand on your convictions.

It's the same type of encouragement she wants to offer to other writers. She wants people to have confidence in who they are and what they are called to do, "trusting full well that they are here for a purpose." She wants to help others keep self-doubt at bay.

Echo attended her first Wyoming Writers conference in 1990, connecting with the group of writers who would later split off into WyoPoets. Networking with other poets, she said, gives her "Feedback, encouragement,  inspiration -- a feeling of not being alone in this calling, in this passion."

We don't write for every audience, she said, and not everything we write is our absolute best. When she runs a poem by a friend or family member, she might hear "that's great!" She needs more than that, and she receives that from her fellow poets who understand agonizing over the placement (or not) of an "an" or a "the."  She also finds it fulfilling to be part of something larger than herself and to be with like-minded souls.

What inspires her own poetry? "Life," she said. "People. Situations. I never know. I'm going to say God, too. I never know when thoughts are going to come. Sometimes the words come right away, sometimes it takes months or years. Sometimes it's just something someone needs to hear -- a phone call, a letter."

Echo is the featured presenter at the upcoming WyoPoets Annual Workshop on April 18-19 in Casper, Wyoming. Material for part of the workshop has been contributed by Pat Frolander, a former Wyoming Poet Laureate.

Participants are asked to bring one traditional or free verse poem from three to six stanzas in length. Echo plans on making it an interactive experience -- something that she can learn from, too. "I want people to understand that I'm one of them," she said. "I've never been asked to do workshops before. Suddenly, I'm the Wyoming Poet Laureate and the doors have started opening."

Writing can be a lonely pursuit, she said. "For those of us who can't not write, for those of us who work in isolation," it's important to know that we are not alone."

Workshop information:

The 2014 Annual WyoPoets Workshop in Casper, featuring Wyoming Poet Laureate Echo Klaproth, will be held April 18-19. Registration fee for the workshop is $50 until April 8th; after that the fee will be $55. Lunch is included. A block of rooms is available at the Hampton Inn for $89.00 per night (plus tax).  Call 307-235-6668 and say that you are with WyoPoets.  The room rate is good only for the night of Friday, April 18.

Don't forget the Friday night poetry reading and launch of the new WyoPoets chapbook, Weather Watch: Poems of Wyoming. The event takes place from 6-8 p.m. on April 18 at the Metro Coffee Company, 241 S. David, Casper.

Find out more on the WyoPoets website at www.wyopoets.org