Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Poetry Off the Grid

David Mason is the presenter for the WyoPoets Spring Workshop coming up April 28-29 in Buffalo, Wyo. We invited David to share some of his thoughts so you could get to know him a little better in advance.

By David Mason

The best poet I know is an Australian. You probably won’t know her name or even her pen name, but she is a rare thing—a poet steeped in tradition without being enslaved to it, a poet who pushes through to new insight and writes breathtaking lines. Here is a tiny poem of hers I have never been able to forget:

August Moon 
Grey- faced as worlds
flow fast away,
for worlds are done
with every day
for minds hot-wired
to the sun,

her news is blue,
her borrowed light
softens the truth.
The truth is night.

You can’t just read this poem. You have to re-read it, because in the history of literature no one ever said “The truth is night” before. How is it meant? Clearly, it is meant in many different ways, including the astronomical truth that, viewed from a distance, our blue planet is surrounded by an absence of light. Now read the poem again, one line at a time, and see how facets of meaning turn as you move down through it. The poem is utterly simple and utterly profound, like the best short lyrics of William Blake or Emily Dickinson. And it is easy to get by heart. It is unforgettable, which makes it counter-cultural—most contemporary writing just won’t stick in the mind.

Now I must confess that it might be unseemly for me to praise this poem, because I am married to its author. Her name is Chrissy Mason—pen name Cally Conan-Davies. But this poet is 56 years old and has lived off the grid all her life. She has no system of support in America, no MFA, no cadre of doting professors. She is an original in the best sense of the word. She tutored students in Australia, co-founded a school called “Lit for Life” in which people from all backgrounds could read and study the best literature from Shakespeare to James Joyce and relate it to their own lives. She never wrote poetry until her late 40s.

I hope you will feel heartened by Cally Conan-Davies. Remember her when you look in the literary quarterlies and see that every poet is from an MFA program and has some academic connection in America. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, though I don’t have an MFA myself. I got an old-fashioned scholarly PhD because I’d worked a decade as a gardener and odd-job man and wanted to teach, and was told I couldn’t get a teaching job without a degree. I wrote a dissertation on W. H. Auden, and haven’t looked at it since. In fact, I even mailed my PhD diploma to a friend and signed it over to him with a Sharpie. I’ve got the job—he can have the sheepskin.

My disagreement with the MFA phenomenon—which, after all, has also given us a lot of great writers—is only that it creates tight social cadres of people who seem to write for each other, edit each other, support each other, and I’d like them to connect to a broader world. Poetry shouldn’t be published just to further the career of the poet, but should offer moments of indelible language for any intelligent reader seeking it. Poetry should help us live our lives.

We all need systems of support, don’t we? There may be a few saints who produced poetry in isolation, but even Emily Dickinson wrote to an editor, wanting to know if she was any good. We all seek community when we need it. I’m simply saying that our communities can’t guarantee our writing will be good. We have to stay humble and hungry and keep trying to write unforgettable poems. That means having examples of what we think good poems are. That means reading all we can, however we can find it.

I’ve now taught literature and writing for 25 years, but I’ve been trying to write for more than forty. And I mean trying. One never masters this craft. Every new poem, story, book review or essay is a new attempt—a new “raid on the inarticulate,” as T. S. Eliot put it. If I wrote a good poem last, week, that doesn’t mean I’ll write a good one today. It’s the trying that gives meaning to my days, even a kind of intoxicating delight.

So here’s a poem of mine—perhaps not typical of my efforts, but one that seems to have pleased others. All I know is that the writing of it scared me. I didn’t think it had the polish and literary style of real poetry, so I was afraid to show it to others. Turns out I needn’t have been afraid at all:

Fathers and Sons 
Some things, they say,
one should not write about. I tried
to help my father comprehend
the toilet, how one needs
to undo one’s belt, to slide
one’s trousers down and sit,
but he stubbornly stood
and would not bend his knees. 
I tried again
to bend him toward the seat,
and then I laughed
at the absurdity. Fathers and sons.
How he had wiped my bottom
half a century ago, and how
I would repay the favor
if only he would sit. 
Don’t you
he gripped me, trembling, searching for my eyes.
Don’t you—but the word
was lost to him. Somewhere
a man of dignity would not be laughed at.
He could not see
it was only the crazy dance
that made me laugh,
trying to make him sit
when he wanted to stand.

Writing this poem took me off the grid, you might say. It took me to a place that was real, and that’s what I have tried to do in many different kinds of poems, from sonnets to longer narratives.

If you come to our workshop in April, we’ll collaborate in a community devoted to finding the real subjects for poems—and trying to find the best words for them too.


David Mason’s books of poems include The Buried Houses, The Country I Remember, and Arrivals. His verse novel, Ludlow, was published in 2007, and named best poetry book of the year by the Contemporary Poetry Review and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. His books also include essay and memoir, and he has co-edited several textbooks and anthologies. In 2014 and 2015 Mason published two new poetry collections: Sea Salt: Poems of a Decade and Davey McGravy: Tales to Be Read Aloud to Children and Adult Children. His next book, The Sound: New and Selected Poems, will appear in 2018. A former Fulbright Fellow to Greece, Mason served as Poet Laureate of Colorado from 2010 to 2014, and teaches at Colorado College. You can learn more from David by registering for the 2017 WyoPoets Spring Workshop in Buffalo, Wyo., April 28-29.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


guest post by Vicki Windle

photo by Vicki Windle
I drop things, trip over my own shoes and lose my phone. My driving gloves are a left and a right, but do not match. (How fortunate to have lost the right of one pair, and the left of another!) So, when asked about my writing process, I feel kind of “deer in the headlights,” because I write the same way I live; haphazard.

Ideas typically appear when my mind is at rest; a relaxing drive, in the shower, before falling asleep at night, at 3:00 a.m. I call these ideas “nuggets.” They are small, dense, and fleeting. So, I pull off the road, hop out of the shower, or leap out of bed to record them.

Then a process, of sorts, comes into play. That night, the next morning, a week later, I begin. Sculpting, stretching, carving, and embellishing that nugget into a poem. I add possible phrases, and search the visual catalogues of my brain for relatable scenes. When words seem weak, or imprecise, I drag out my hefty Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and trusty Merriam-Webster Thesaurus. A 3-D kind of gal, I write with quick-flowing ink pens on whatever paper comes to hand.

I have tried to write only in one journal, to keep all things organized and in place. It just doesn’t work for me. It seems as though, when I write on the backs of papers, on the edges of the newspaper, on envelopes, my mind feels free to wander where it will. What gets gathered in this walk-about is the fun stuff. This is where I get those random connections that others say, “I would never have thought of that.”

The next step is to weave these pieces into coherency, with much adding, circling and crossing out. I only move from ink and paper to the computer when the poem is nearly finished. Word processing makes those final changes easier.

This leaves me with a lovely poem, and a lovely mess of paper. Some writer’s self-help book said to save all your discarded words for future reference. The words may not have worked in this piece, but may in another. My drawer of words is a treasure trove (for me, anyway. I’m not sure how my grand-children will view the drawer full of old journals, newspaper articles, and other bits and scraps as inheritance.)

My most recent mini-book, “Writerly," contains six poems about writing. Each written in its own place and time, the collection in this booklet illustrates what may be called my writing “process.”

I wrote “Paper” during a long airport layover. I had pulled one of those perforated ads from the center of a magazine. The other end of it was a plain white piece; perfect for scratching out a poem. Waiting for inspiration I held the paper to the sunlight streaming in the nearby window.


Only white until,
Held to the light,
Its mottled fibers glow.
The ink, therein, floats
On its skin
Drawing me in
To know.

The beginning of “Sometimes, Waxing” came to me around 3:00 a.m., as much visual as verbal. I woke up long enough to jot down the imagery in my bedside journal. Those random pearls of thought rolled around in my head for a couple of days. The muse pounced again, while I was showering, so I wrote the ending on the bathroom mirror with a lip-liner!

Sometimes, I am overcome by feelings I cannot name. So, I attempt to express them in verse, like this one.

Attempting to sunder
Layers of wounds
And wonder,
My spirit oozes
Song, percolates
Poetry, articulates
Art, and strives
To weave
A wholeness
From parts.

Published in the Fall 2016 edition of WyoPoets, “On the Eating of a Poem That Aches,” began as a phrase which woke me mid-slumber. I recorded it in my journal. It made no more sense the next morning, but reminded me of an abandoned previous work. So, I dug through my drawer of journals, papers, and scraps to excavate the material to complete this one.

A music fan, I can be found at many, if not most, musical events in town. Casper is a thriving center for the arts. Authors, musicians and artists abound. “Poet” was written in a coffee shop, listening to live music, while a talented artist painted a watercolor of the band.


The painter strums music from color.
Musicians spin stories from sound.
And I?
I paint the scene in syllables.

The longest poem in “Writerly” is “Poetry and Pine Needles.” The Casper Writer’s Group meets monthly, but has a special gathering on the mountain once in summer. After the important business of eating and visiting, we spread out to write. Walking into the pines triggered memories from across six decades, and four states. The poem is published in the WyoPoets Winter, 2017 edition.

Photo by Vicki Windle
With the encouragement of my writer’s group, and surrounded by a pile of poems, I decided to publish. However, since I write what strikes my heart, rather than to a plan, I couldn’t see my poems in “a book.” I studied art in college, and my sister has long prompted me to do more, so I was captured by the idea of illustrating my work.

Inspired by a book-making workshop, I decided to produce a series of mini poetry books. One attempt at printing at home sent me seeking assistance from a local print shop. I write the poems, create the illustrations, and design the lay-out. After printing, I do all the folding, stitching, gluing, and such. Every book produced has been formed by my hands, hence my logo, “from my hands to yours.”
Photo by Vicki Windle

I currently have 10 different mini-publications, with concepts for two more. They are sold in Casper, Wyoming at Goedicke’s Art Supply and, through April 2017, at Art 321. You can also get them directly from me. I usually carry some in the car, nestled near my mismatched gloves.

Lynn chimes in

Haphazard, eh? I work in much the same way and prefer to adhere to the adage that "creative minds are rarely tidy." However Vicki puts the words together, I am a fan, and have been since the first WyoPoets conference I attended. I had the good fortune of sitting next to Vicki during the workshop, led by Echo Klaproth. I was wowed by Vicki's writing. 

Which reminds me--WyoPoets is in Buffalo this year. April 28-29 and Colorado poet David Mason will be our presenter. For more information visit www.wyopoets.org.  Hope to see you all there!

Bio for Vicki Windle

photo provided by Vicki Windle
A retired elementary school teacher, Vicki Windle fills her days and nights with poetry, art, and song. She also travels, kayaks, cross-country skis, and volunteers at various organizations. Vicki is a member of the Casper Writer’s Group and WyoPoets.

As well as being self-published, her work is included in Weather Watch; Poems of Wyoming, in Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone; an Anthology of Wyoming Writers, and in some WyoPoets newsletters.

Vicki's poem “Haircut Day” won honorable mention in the 2015 Eugene V. Shay National Poetry Contest. View her art at facebook.com/frommyhandstoyours2016. To purchase publications or to schedule an appearance, contact Vicki on Facebook, at vickiwindle@yahoo.com, or at 307-258-8829.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Writing is 10% Inspiration and 90% Craft

When we saw that Laurie Marr Wasmund had been selected to present at the Arizona Authors’ Association conference in Phoenix on Feb. 25, we thought it would be wonderful if she could share a sneak preview of her sessions. And WOW did she have a lot to share! See the details on the Arizona event and other places you can catch her below her bio. 

By Laurie Marr Wasmund

You've probably heard the comment: "In these days of indie publishing, you can write a novel in the afternoon and have it for sale the next morning." Yet if you are serious about writing, you know that the editing and revising process is just as important as putting your ideas on paper in the first place. So grab your red pencil and consider these tips for a more professional product.

Point of View:

  • Never "head-hop" within the same short story, scene, or chapter. This is the "golden rule" of fiction-writing. Always maintain one character's point of view throughout an entire cohesive section.
  • Include only those details that your character can see, hear, smell, etc.  I once wrote a short story in which a teenaged girl was sizing up her mother's new lover, who was driving, as she sat in the back seat of the car. She noted his "finely detailed cowboy boots." At my writers' group, someone asked me how she could see the boots. Obviously, she couldn't.
  • Create a "narrative distance" for your characters from the event. For instance, are you writing the story as if the events are happening to the characters at the moment? If so, very little reflection is likely to happen on their parts. However, if your narrative/voice indicates that the character is reliving and retelling events that happened in the past, you can include some observations. Whichever you choose, you must always maintain your chosen distance/voice in your work. I was once told by a reader in my writing group that my first-person character, a girl of eighteen, seemed to have insights that were too sophisticated for her age and education level. To solve this, I decided to rewrite the novel as if she were telling it after a long period of time, sort of a "Hey, kids, listen up, here's my life story" approach. By doing this, I could show my character on the emotional seesaw of an eighteen-year-old in love while giving her the benefit of a more mature voice.
  • Don't forget about sensory detail. Just as you created a certain vocabulary or way of speaking for each character, chart a sensory path for each individual. The way that each character makes sense of the world through his/her interpretation of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch can reveal important traits to your reader.


  • We've all heard the catchy slogan, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." It's the exact opposite in fiction: What happens in Vegas comes home with the character and the consequences of it stay with him for the rest of his life. In other words, experience is accrued and compiled in our characters' lives (and our own). The writer must acknowledge and "carry forward" what has happened before.
  • A good example of this comes from a fellow writer's autobiographically-based fiction. While writing about growing up in Buenos Aires during the Pinochet regime, her young characters, a brother and sister, witness the public arrest and beating of a beloved teacher from their school. They return home and start to bicker over who gets to play soccer (the boy doesn’t want to include his sister). There is no further mention of the teacher. The critics in our writing group pounced: This is a horrifying incident for these children (and for the reader). Why don't they talk about it? The writer explained that, in reality, everyone was so afraid of what was happening during the Pinochet reign that they suppressed it, forgot it, or pretended it didn't happen. For the reader who didn't know that, though, it seemed as if the author had simply been careless. The group suggested that the writer find a way to clarify the children's immediate reactions to the incident and to show how witnessing it had changed them forever--in other words, how the incident resonated throughout their lives, even as adults.


  • Every work of fiction is fueled by some grand conflict or tension, but on the paragraph-to-paragraph level, the story gains momentum through microtension. Think of the Harry Potter series. All of the books are propelled by the eventual confrontation of Harry and Voldemort, but along the way, the characters face much more trivial problems that must be resolved or managed.
  • Many of the suggestions listed above could fall in this category. Sharp, snappy dialogue creates microtension, as does a consistent point of view, and a lack of filters and other author intrusions in the writing. Microtension is also created when incidents continue to resonate in and influence the character's emotions, actions, and choices.
  • Much of the microtension in a piece comes from the use of strong verbs. We've all been told to use action verbs in lieu of passive verbs, but it's easier to preach this concept than to put it into practice. A good place to start is to replace "to be" verbs (is, are, were) with stronger, more indicative and meaningful verbs. (Dialogue is exempted from this purge.)
  • Author Ellen Gilchrist asks us to ponder "how to move the characters around so they bruise against each other and ring true.'' In general, relationships define themselves through conflicts (whether minor or major) and the resolutions (or not) of those problems. Choose a random paragraph in your manuscript. If you can't find at least one sentence that implies or states your characters' internal or external conflicts, think about how to rewrite it to achieve microtension.

I hope that this helps you to rethink and revise your work. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at lost.ranch.books@gmail.com.

Happy editing!


LAURIE MARR WASMUND has worked as a writer, editor, community college instructor, and writing workshop presenter. Her short stories have appeared in literary magazines such as Cimarron Review and Weber Studies. She is the author of My Heart Lies Here, a novel of the Ludlow Massacre; Clean Cut, A Romance of the Western Heart; and To Do Justice, the first book of the White Winter Trilogy, set during World War I. 

Find her online at Lost Ranch Books.

Upcoming presentations

  • Arizona Authors’ Association is holding their 2017 Crafting the Written Word conference at the Embassy Suites Biltmore in Phoenix on February 25. She will present “Don’t Forget the Craft!” and “A Journey through Self-Publishing.” 
  • Parker Writers meets at the Parker (Colorado) Library between 2-4 every second and fourth Sunday. She will present “Pegging Your Tent to the Earth: Writing from the Senses” on April 9. 
  • Castle Rock Writers offers monthly workshops at Phillip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock (Colorado) the second Monday of every month at 6:30. She will present “Don’t Forget the Craft!” on June 12, 2017.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Giving Life to A Death at Tollgate Creek

guest post by Art Elser

Well, I finally got my new book of poetry, A Death at Tollgate Creek: Songs of the Prairie published in both print and eBook formats. I wrote these poems because I want to help others learn that the prairie holds as many wonderful secrets and adventures as do the mountains.

Here in Denver, we tend to face west, to the mountains with its rivers, skiing, hiking, mountain climbing, rafting, kayaking, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the abundance of wildlife, animals, birds, fish and quirky humans.

But the prairie has its draw also, if you know where to look.

When I get confused in life about making important decisions, I try to not make them immediately and take a day or two to think about what's next. And the same holds for my poetry. So I started the publishing project by reminding myself why I write poetry. The first reason is that I love writing it. But to just stuff my poems in the drawer as Emily Dickinson did, leads one to become a frustrated hermit. I want to share my work with others. My goal is not to make lots of money, write a NYT best seller, become famous. I want to share my poetry.

I decided to publish A Death at Tollgate Creek myself after sending out manuscripts of books and chapbooks to contests and journals during their open reading periods over the past four years. Most of the time I didn't even get an acknowledgement that they've thrown the manuscript into the recycle bin. Once in a while I got a form email saying that they enjoyed reading my poems but they are not interested in the book.

I downloaded several books to help me decide how to self-publish:

How to Choose a Self-Publishing Service, Jim Giammatteo & Orna Ross. (Kindle—Discusses pros and cons of all major self-publishing services.)

A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon, Chris McMullen. (Kindle—Limited to how to publish with Amazon, and if you want to use CreateSpace, a good reference.)

Successful Self-Publishing, Joanna Penn. (Kindle—Very useful reference when starting. General so not aimed at one platform.)

Smashwords Style Guide, Mark Coker. (iBook—Smashwords is a great program for publishing in eBook format for all platforms, so a great resource.)

One constant in all the books and online articles I read stood out to me. All recommended hiring a professional to design the cover. I took that advice and hired Abby Hoke of AEB Graphics in Denver, and she designed a cover that I think is beautiful. In my limited marketing, one refrain that pops up is "What a beautiful cover.” And we all know that we DO judge a book by its cover.

A Death at Tollgate Creek is now available at Amazon, B&N, and Indie book stores. In addition to being available in print, it's also available for iBook, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and PDF readers.

Now comes the hard part. I have to figure out how to market it. Much of what I've read about marketing my book says I have to establish a platform. That often means being on many or all of the social media platforms. It means building a website, having an author page on Amazon, subscribing to Goodreads, getting others to write reviews. Others say to do that sparingly and to concentrate on only a few. I've decided that I'm just going to worry about Facebook, this blog, and maybe Twitter.

So I've decided to limit my marketing efforts. I'm not in this to make money, and that's why one markets. I want to spend my time writing. And as this is my first attempt at what is now called Indie Publishing, not self-publishing. I need to use this experience to learn, and I think it better to learn a lot about a few things rather than a little about a lot of things.

I've let writing, poetry, and critique groups I belong to know about the book. I've posted it on Facebook for friends, and I will contact local bookstores along the front range about readings and signings. I have another book of poems almost ready to see the light, but want to continue to write, get that book ready, and not spend my time marketing.

Recently Ted Kooser, US poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006, said that, with few exceptions, no one sells lots of books of poetry. Most sell a few hundred if they are lucky. Right now, I think I'll just enjoy getting this baby birthed and watch it play and grow for a while. I enjoy hearing from a few friends that they enjoyed it. I now have the template I can pour the new book into when I'm ready. I have Abby to design another killer cover, and I think I'll have fun seeing the book in print and on my iPhone and laptop. And I'll market it by sharing it with friends.

When my books make the NYT Best Seller List for 18 weeks in a row and money is rolling in at a prodigious rate, I'll consider hiring a consultant to do my marketing.

Lynn chimes in:

I grew up on the prairie, in eastern Wyoming. I can't wait to read A Death at Tollgate Creek: Songs of the Prairie and, according to the lady with the wild hairdo at Barnes and Noble, the book is in the mail.

I will savor the poems (who can turbo-read poetry, really?) and pretend all the while that I am walking through the prairie grasses with Art. I've come to know him as someone who takes the time to really see the world,and he writes about it in a sensory, unique way. I look forward to having Art as my literary guide through one of my favorite landscapes.

I appreciate the resources he has shared with us today, as well as the example he has set. In knowing what he really wants--which is to share his poetry--and letting that drive his decisions, he frees us up to decide what we want from our writing. Sometimes it really isn't fame and fortune. So we can decide how much of the marketing mania we want to take on, without feeling like a failure.

Thanks, Art.

Art’s bio: 

Art Elser retired after 20 years as an Air Force pilot and 30 as a technical writer. He has a PhD in English and taught writing for over 30 years.

His poetry has been published in journals and anthologies, including Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone, Owen Wister Review, High Plains Register, The Human Touch, Science Poetry, The Avocet, Vietnam War Poetry, and A Bird in the Hand: Risk and Flight.

 His chapbook, We Leave the Safety of the Sea, received the Colorado Authors' League Poetry award for 2014. His latest book of poetry is A Death at Tollgate Creek (2017).