Platform Challenge

  1. Define Yourself as a Writer

    For the first day of this challenge, I want everyone to take a step back and define yourself as a writer. Don’t worry about where you want to be. Instead, focus on who you are, what you’ve done, what you’re currently doing, etc.

    Below is a chart I’m using (with my own answers). Feel encouraged to use it to help you define yourself as a writer. Also, feel free to include your answers in the comments below–or just say something along the lines of “task completed” if you’re shy.

    Name (as used in byline): Robert Lee Brewer

    Position(s): Senior Content Editor, Writer’s Digest Writing Community; Published Author as Poet; Freelance Writer; Blogger; Event Speaker; Den Leader – Cub Scouts; Volunteer/Mentor – Methodist Church

    Skill(s): Editing; creative writing (poetry and fiction); technical writing; copywriting; database management; SEO; blogging; newsletter writing; problem solving; idea generation; public speaking; community building; teaching; mentoring

    Social media platforms (active): Facebook; LinkedIn; Google+; Twitter


    Accomplishments: Named 2010 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere; author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53); speaker at many writing events around the country for more than a decade; edited several editions of Writer’s Marketand Poet’s Market books; former MVP of HS cross country and track teams and conference champion in multiple track events; undergraduate award-winner in multiple writing disciplines at the University of Cincinnati, including journalism, fiction, and technical writing; BA in English Literature from University of Cincinnati with certificates in writing for Creative Writing-Fiction and Professional and Technical Writing.

    Interests: Writing (all genres); family (being good husband and father); faith; fitness (especially running and disc golf); fantasy football; reading.

    In one sentence, who am I? Robert Lee Brewer is a married Methodist father of five children (four sons and one daughter) who works as an editor and plays as a writer, specializing in poetry and blogging.


  2. Set Your Writing Goals

    For today’s platform-building task, set your writing goals. There are some people who believe in just charging blindly forward, but I believe in taking a moment to consider goals. And here’s why: It’s hard to know if you’re finding success if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve. Or put another way: If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you’re there?

    So put together a couple lists:

    • One list should be short-term goals. These are goals you can accomplish within the next year. It’s okay to get ambitious, but try to keep them semi-reasonable. For instance, if you’re an unpublished writer, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature is probably not a reasonable short-term goal. But maybe getting published in a literary journal is.
    • The other list should be long-term goals. Feel free to knock yourself out with ambitious goals here. Dream a little. But also include reasonable goals that you might accomplish eventually. As an example, I once set a goal of getting a full-length collection of poetry published, and it happened 18 months later!

      Here are some examples of my writing goals:

      These examples are only some of my goals. Some are too crazy to share with anyone but my wife.

      Short-term goals:

      • In October, complete the October Platform Challenge.
      • Finish judging the 2015 April PAD Challenge on my Poetic Asides blog.
      • Submit one packet of poems per week through the end of 2015.
      • Start assembling the Writer’s Market 2017. (Call for submissions here.)
      • Start assembling the Poet’s Market 2017. (Call for submissions here.)
      • Lead workshops at Blue Ridge Writer’s Conference in April 2016.
      • Etc.

      Long-term goals:

      • Publish second full-length poetry collection.
      • Raise 5 happy and healthy children into 5 happy, healthy, caring, and self-sufficient adults.
      • Continue to learn how to be a better husband and human being.
      • Become debt free and financially independent.
      • Win Poet Laureate of the Universe honors. (Create the post if it doesn’t exist yet.)
      • Might as well throw in a Nobel Prize or two, right?
      • Etc.
  3. Start a Writing Blog

    For today’s platform-building task, start a writing blog. You can use Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, or another platform if you wish. To complete today’s task, do the following:

    • Create a blog. That is, sign up (if you don’t already have a blog), pick a design (these can usually be altered later if needed), and complete your profile.
    • Write a post for today. If you’re not sure what to cover, you can just introduce yourself and share a brief explanation of how your blog got started. Don’t make it too complicated.
    • Share your blog URL in the comments below. I’ll go through and create a list of blog URLs, so that we can easily find, follow, and friend each other in the blogosphere. It’ll be great!
  4. Claim Your Domain

    For today’s platform-building task, claim your domain name. I’ve never made this a task in the past, because it costs money to register a domain name. Rather, I’ve strongly encouraged doing it. However, I think it’s so important to have a stable piece of online real estate–and the price is really so minimal–that it has to be a requirement for a writer platform.

    Why is it so important? Let me share the story of my former boss and current friend Jane Friedman. You see, there are two Jane Friedmans in the publishing world (probably more), but my Jane Friedman is the one who and and and, well, you get the picture.

    (Editorial aside, my Jane Friedman is also the Jane Friedman who started this blog AND the Jane Friedman who is leading the webinar below.)    

  5. oin Facebook

    For today’s platform-building task, join Facebook. If you have an account already, great! Read some of my tips below on how to optimize your Facebook account. If you don’t already have an account, go to, sign up (it’s free), and complete your profile.

    Once you’ve accomplished this, check back here for tips below on how to optimize your Facebook account. You’ll start out ahead of the curve.


    Social Media for Writers

    Find Success With Social Media!

    Do you want to build a following and sell more books? Learn how in the 60-minute Social Media for Writers webinar, led by social media gurus Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine.

    Beginning with set up and ending with best practices and online etiquette, writers will learn:

    • A friendly, accessible approach to mastering the various social media platforms
    • Strategies for drawing the attention of prospective readers
    • How to build an audience and sell more books
    • How to create an effective social media persona
    • And more!
  6. Join Twitter

    For today’s platform-building task, join Twitter. If you’re already there, great! Share your handle in comments below. I’ll try and collect them all into a post sometime in the next week or so. If not, got to, create an account, complete your profile, and share your newly created handle in the comments below.


    using_twitter_to_boost_your_writing_incomeUse Twitter to Boost Your Writing Income

    Twitter won’t do everything for a writer, but a writer can definitely benefit from smart use of this social media platform. Learn how much a writer can benefit in freelancer Tim Beyers’ Using Twitter to Boost Your Writing Income webinar.

    In this webinar, writers will learn:

    • How to meaningfully engage other people and be a resource.
    • How to land an assignment for a major publication by following the editors on Twitter.
    • Case studies of freelancers who have scored jobs on Twitter.
    • And more!
    • Make your Twitter handle your byline–if possible. For instance, my Twitter handle is @RobertLeeBrewer. Remember Jane Friedman from a couple days ago? Hers is @JaneFriedman. Makes it easy to locate you if you can do it this way.
    • Use an image of yourself. Remember: Building your writer platform is a kind of branding. You want people to be able to recognize you–not your pet or children–when they’re searching for everything you online.
    • Make your profile bio snappy and relevant. You might want to use a version of that sentence you wrote for Day 1’s task. Incorporate humor if possible. I connected mine to my employer and publisher.
    • Follow users who can benefit you. I’ve put together a list of the 50 best tweeps for writers to follow last night. Use it to get you started. Follow other writers, publications, publishers, organizations, etc.
    • Share regularly. If you can do a post (or more) per day, great. But if that’s too overwhelming/addicting, just try to post or share something every 2-3 days. Again, just to show that you’re using your account.

    The Twitter hashtag for this challenge is #platchal. If you include this hashtag in your tweets, you can see what others are posting (if your account is set to public).

    Need an idea for a Tweet? Why not link to each day’s challenge?

    Join Twitter

    For today’s platform-building task, join Twitter. If you’re already there, great! Share your handle in comments below. I’ll try and collect them all into a post sometime in the next week or so. If not, got to, create an account, complete your profile, and share your newly created handle in the comments below.


    using_twitter_to_boost_your_writing_incomeUse Twitter to Boost Your Writing Income

    Twitter won’t do everything for a writer, but a writer can definitely benefit from smart use of this social media platform. Learn how much a writer can benefit in freelancer Tim Beyers’ Using Twitter to Boost Your Writing Income webinar.

    In this webinar, writers will learn:

    • How to meaningfully engage other people and be a resource.
    • How to land an assignment for a major publication by following the editors on Twitter.
    • Case studies of freelancers who have scored jobs on Twitter.
    • And more!

    The Golden Rule of Platform Development

    One of the most common mistakes I notice writers making in developing their writer platforms is that they start the process off by asking for others to do things for them. Here are a few common scenarios:

    • Writer new to Twitter goes around following people and sending messages to the effect of, “I’ll continue following you IF you follow me.”
    • Writer comments on another person’s Status Update (or their wall) on Facebook to promote their book–or their most recent blog post.
    • Writer comments on a blog post only to say something like, “Follow MY blog,” or “Read MY blog post.”

    Don’t be THAT writer. Instead, follow the golden rule of platform development: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

    Yes, it’s okay to write a blog post when your book is accepted for publication AND when it’s actually published. It’s also good form to share the news on your social media outlets and any other method possible. But…

    If that’s the only thing you do, you’ll become known as “That Writer Person Who Always Talks About His/Her Book And Nothing Else All The Time,” or TWPWATAHBANEATT for short. And no one likes to be around TWPWATAHBANEATT, even TWPWATAHBANEATT gets tired of ceaselessly promoting his/her book.

    Instead, be an author who talks about their book sometimes, but a person who knows how to talk about other relevant stuff as well. Everyone likes that person, who has an actual name, not just an impossible-to-pronounce acronym.

    Create an Editorial Calendar

    For today’s platform-building task, create an editorial calendar for your blog. Before you start to panic, this is a pretty simple task that can be accomplished with a computer or even a pen and paper.

    Here are tips for various blogging frequencies:

    • Post once per week. If you post once a week, pick a day of the week for that post to happen each week. Then, write down the date for each post. Beside each post, write down ideas for that post ahead of time. There will be times when the ideas are humming along and you get ahead on your schedule, but there may also be times when the ideas are slow. So don’t wait: Write down ideas as they come.
    • Post more than once per week. Try identifying days you’ll usually post (for some, that may be daily). Then, for each of those days, think of a theme for that day. For instance, my Poetic Asides blog always has a prompt on Wednesdays, sometimes has a poetry market on Mondays, interviews on Thursdays, and so on.

    You can always change plans and move posts to different days, but the editorial calendar is an effective tool for setting very clear goals with deadlines and accomplishing them. Having that kind of structure will improve your content–even if your blog is personal, fictional, poetic, etc. It’s helped me a great deal over the years.

    Include Call to Action in Blog Post

    For today’s platform-building task, make a new post on your blog and include a call to action. There are any number of calls to action, and my blog posts always include them.

    Here are a few examples of calls to action:

    • Ask people to comment on your post. Don’t get discouraged if the comments don’t flow immediately, but getting people to communicate in the comments of your blog is a great way to foster community and engagement.
    • Link to other articles outside your site. Think about Day 8’s task and apply it to your blog. Of course, you’ll want to add your context to why the article is relevant on your blog, but calling people to read another article is a call to action.
    • Link to other posts within your blog or site. Look at what I did in the previous bullet point. I linked to a previous post in this challenge. That link is a subtle call to action that’s saying, “Click on me.” When it’s relevant, it’s a win-win for your readers and your blog/site traffic. You’ll notice that I also link previous posts at the bottom of each post, as well as linking to my Twitter handle.
    • Share products/services (if relevant). I should say “if relevant” at the end of everything platform-related, and it gets tricky promoting books and services. If you don’t have anything to sell (like a book you wrote or a course you teach), then I’d advise against sharing products or services at all. But part of your eventual goal is to create a platform that allows you to communicate with your target audience and find more success. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    Research Markets

    For today’s platform-building task, research markets for getting your writing published. Of course, I’m going to suggest checking out the latest Writer’s Market, because I edit that book. But there are some other methods to researching markets that don’t involve a trip to the bookstore or library below.

    But first, you need to know what you’re researching:

    • Magazines and online publications. Any writer who does shorter form writing (like poems or prose that has fewer than 8,000 words) will want to investigate magazines and online publications as possible places to publish their writing. Unless you write picture books, that is. Some longer form writing may also find a home in publications.
    • Book publishers. For this market, writers need to assemble a book-length work of writing, whether it’s a collection of poetry or short fiction or an entire novel or how-to book.
    • Literary agents. For fiction and nonfiction writers who wish to get published by one of the major publishing houses that only accept agented material, well, literary agents is the way to go. There’s actually a great agent blog on this site hosted by Chuck Sambuchino (check it out).
    • Contests. For some writers, contests is a way to break in. They’ve helped propel many a career, but enter with caution. Many charge entry fees, which can add up quick, and the competition is usually tough. Enter contests that will provide a great deal of visibility if you win and that offer some sort of premium if you enter (like a copy of the winning book or subscription to the magazine). Then, you can still have something even if you don’t win.



PitMad Tweet Service




#PitMad is a pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a 140 character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. Because #PitMad has grown over the years, industry professionals are finding it overwhelming to search the feed. It goes by so fast now, it’s a little mind-boggling. And we don’t want to scare off the industry professionals. So our new rule is that you may only tweet three (3)different pitches for one project for the day. I suggest every four hours tweet a different pitch. The pitch must include the hashtag #PitMad and the category (#YA, #MG, #A, #NA, #PB and #NF) in the tweet. The “#” is important to include. It will sort the categories to make it easier for the agents/publishers.

For more information about Twitter Pitching visit this post by agent @carlywattershere and this post by #PitMad alum @DianaUrban here. And here find a post from Diana on how to filter out spam from the #PitMad feed.

Articles about #PitMad:


Publishing Trendsetter

Please keep in mind, we never know what agents or publishers will be on the hashtag, so make sure you research each requesting agent or publisher. You do not have to send requests to those requesting if you don’t want to work with them. Readthis post by Claribel Ortega for reasons why doing your research before hitting send on that request will save you tons of heartache.

INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS – TO SEARCH FOR A SPECIFIC CATEGORY OR GENRE,put #PitMad-(sub-hashtag) (i.e. #PitMad-MG) in the search engine at the top of your Twitter page. Doing this will give you only the tweets for that sub-hashtag. If you have any questions or would like another sub-hashtag added to the list, @ me (@brendadrake) or one of hosts monitoring the feed.

There will be unfavorable tweets on the hashtag during the day, please block all spam/porn ones and report them as you see them. To view #PitMad spam/porn free just put this up in the search tab: #PitMad -biturix -google or go here.


The rules are simple. Everyone is welcome to pitch. All genres/categories arewelcomed. Must be completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. You can pitch more than one manuscript. You may only tweet three different pitches for one project for the day. I suggest every four hours tweet a different pitch. Make sure to include the hashtag #PitMad and your genre/category (if you can fit it).

The agents/publishers will tweet their submission preferences and favorite your tweet if they want to see more. If you get a favorite from an agent or publisher, follow their submission preference and send them their request as soon as you can. They should have tweeted what they want you to send, so check their twitter feed for that information. If they haven’t listed it, follow their submission guidelines on their websites. Make sure to put “PitMad Request: TITLE” in the subject line of your email when sending your request.

Don’t tweet agents and publishers directly unless they tweet you first.

Don’t favorite friends tweets. The agents will be requesting by favoriting tweets. so let’s keep that for requests. Please do not RT your friends to show your support. Tag them without attaching their Twitter Pitch to praise them about their pitches and to get to know new writers.

If you can’t be there, you can always schedule your tweet by using Tweetdeck or some other application that schedules tweets.

And finally, be nice and courteous to each other, and especially to the industry professionals. We’ve had some success stories come out of our previous#PitMads and we’d hate to have it canceled due to abuse. If you do see abuse, please report it to Twitter or notify one of the hosts of the event. Thank you!

Below is a list of sub-hashtag categories and genres to separate your pitch from the main #PitMad feed.

Sub-hashtags …


#A = Adult

#CB = Chapter Book

#ER = Earlier Reader

#MG = Middle Grade

#NA = New Adult

#PB = Picture Book

#YA = Young Adult

#WF = Woman’s Fiction


#CF = Christian Fiction

#CR = Contemporary Romance

#E = Erotica

#HF = Historical Fiction

#LF = Literary Fiction


#M = Mystery

#Mem = Memoir

#NF = Non-fiction

#POC = People of Color

#PR = Paranormal Romance

#R = Romance

#RF – Religious Fiction

#S = Suspense

#SFF = Science Fiction and Fantasy

#T = Thriller

#UF = Urban Fantasy

#W = Western

Here’s the dates for our upcoming quarterly #PitMad events:

December 4, 2015

(2016 schedule will be listed in soon)

#PitMad starts at 8AM and ends at 8PM (EST or EDT, which is New York time).

Picture Book Contests

Nov 17 SCBWI


Applications accepted between September 15 and November 15, 2015


Two writers or writer/illustrators will each receive:

– A paid trip to the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles (transportation and hotel)

– Tuition to the SCBWI Summer Conference (Excluding Intensives/Portfolio Showcase/Consultations)

– A press release

– Publicity through SCBWI social media


Any writer or writer/illustrator from an ethnic and/or cultural background that is traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America. (American Indian, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander)

The manuscript must be an original work written in English for young readers and may not be under contract.  The applicant must be over 18, be unpublished (self-published is not considered published for this award), and should not yet have representation.


All applications will be accepted via e-mail only between September 15 and November 15 at and must include the following:

In the body of the e-mail:

1. An autobiographical statement and career summary in less than 250 words.

2. Why your work will bring forward an underrepresented voice in less than 250 words.

3. A synopsis of your manuscript in less than 250 words.

Attached to the e-mail:

4. A PDF of your entire manuscript.  If the manuscript is not complete, it is not eligible.

The winners will be announced January 15, 2016 and the award presented at the 2016 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles.

When your work is published the author/illustrator should include in the acknowledgement “This book was made possible in part by a grant from SCBWI”


Dec 1 Tomie DePaola REd Riding Hood

2016 Tomie dePaola Award Prompt

One of the biggest and most important challenges the Children’s Book Illustrator faces, over and over again, is the UNIQUE VISUALIZATION of the MAIN CHARACTER.

So often, I have seen illustrators resort to generic depictions of the star of the story–too “designed,” too ordinary, too much like characters already seen in media, especially on TV and video games.

The assignment is simply to illustrate a moment from the following passage from Philip Pullman’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood” from FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM (Viking, 2012).  (You may want to read the entire story.  It is an excellent book.)

Once upon a time there was a little girl who was so sweet and kind that everyone loved her. Her grandmother, who loved her more than anyone, gave her a little cap made of red velvet, which suited her so well that she wanted to wear it all the time. Because of that everyone took to calling her Little Red Riding Hood.

One day her mother said to her: ‘Little Red Riding Hood, I’ve got a job for you. Your grandmother isn’t very well, and I want you to take her this cake and a bottle of wine. They’ll make her feel a lot better. You be polite when you go into her house, and give her a kiss from me. Be careful on the way there, and don’t step off the path or you might trip over and break the bottle and drop the cake, and then there’d be nothing for her. When you go into her parlour don’t forget to say, “Good morning, Granny,” and don’t go peering in all the corners.’

‘I’ll do everything right, don’t worry,’ said Little Red Riding Hood, and kissed her mother goodbye.

Her grandmother lived in the woods, about half an hour’s walk away. When Little Red Riding Hood had only been walking a few minutes, a wolf came up to her. She didn’t know what a wicked animal he was, so she wasn’t afraid of him.

Your task is to make me “FALL IN LOVE” with your illustration and especially with Red Riding Hood.  I want to “meet her” for the first time.

This is NOT EASY!  The deadline is tight (on purpose).

The specs are:

B & W, Limited Color, or Full Color

8” x 8”


(Indicate outside of your image, the excerpt you’ve illustrated.)

Any Medium

Due at SCBWI by December 1, 2015.

No late submissions will be considered.

Dec 4 PitMad

Memoir & Poetry Contests to Enter



 October 31 – Tuscon Memoir –

Tucson Festival of Books

Literary Awards

October 31, 2015
Entry Fee:


Three prizes of $1,000 each are given annually for a group of five poems, a short story, and an essay, or an excerpt from a novel or memoir. The winners will also be invited to take part in a panel discussion at the annual Tucson Festival of Books and attend a workshop on the University of Arizona campus in March 2016. Using the online submission system, submit five poems of any length or up to 5,000 words of prose with a $20 entry fee by October 31. E-mail or visit the website for complete guidelines.


Tucson Festival of Books, Literary Awards, P.O. Box 85394, Tucson, AZ 85754. Meg Files, Contact.

Briar Cliff Review

Writing Contests

November 1, 2015
Entry Fee:


Three prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Briar Cliff Review are given annually for a poem, a short story, and an essay. The editors will judge. Submit three poems totaling no more than six pages or up to 5,000 words of prose with a $20 entry fee, which includes a copy of the prize issue, by November 1. Call, e-mail, or visit the website for complete guidelines.

Nov 1 – Memoir

New Rivers Press

Many Voices Project Competition

November 1, 2015
Entry Fee:


Malahat Review

Open Season Awards

November 1, 2015
Entry Fee:


E-mail address:

Three prizes of $1,500 Canadian (approximately $1,155) each and publication in Malahat Reviewwill be given annually for a group of three poems, a short story, and an essay. Submit up to three poems of up to 100 lines each, or a short story or essay of up to 2,500 words with a $40 entry fee, which includes a subscription to Malahat Review, by November 1. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Nov 1 – Memoir

Reed Magazine

Gabriele Rico Challenge in Creative Nonfiction

November 1, 2015
Entry Fee:


E-mail address:

A prize of $1,333 and publication in Reed Magazine is given annually for an essay. Using the online submission system, submit an essay of up to 5,000 words with a $15 entry fee, which includes a copy of the prize issue, by November 1. All entries are considered for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Reed Magazine, Gabriele Rico Challenge in Creative Nonfiction, San José State University, Department of English, One Washington Square, San José, CA 95192. (408) 924-4425.

Malahat Review, Open Season Awards, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 1700, Station CSC, Victoria, B.C. V8W 2Y2, Canada. (250) 721-8524.

Briar Cliff Review, Writing Contests, Briar Cliff University, 3303 Rebecca Street, Sioux City, IA 51104. (712) 279-1651. Tricia Currans-Sheehan, Edito

Nov 1 – Briarcliff –

Academy of American Poets, Walt Whitman Award, 75 Maiden Lane, Suite 901, New York, NY 10038. (212) 274-0343, ext. 13. Patricia Guzman, Programs Coordinator.

November 1 – Scandinavia –

American-Scandinavian Foundation

Writing Fellowships and Grants

November 1, 2015
Entry Fee:


E-mail address:

Fellowships of up to $23,000 and grants of up to $5,000 are given annually to poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and translators for study and research in Scandinavia. For travel in 2016 and 2017, using the online submission system submit up to 15 pages of poetry, 20 pages of prose, or 10 pages of work translated into English (along with the original text), a project proposal, a project budget, a curriculum vitae, and three letters of recommendation with a $60 entry fee by November 1. Visit the website for the required entry form and complete guidelines.

American-Scandinavian Foundation, Writing Fellowships and Grants, 58 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10016. (212) 779-3587.

December 10 –

15. Friends of American Writers Chicago Awards

FAW presents two annual awards: an Adult Literature Award for literary fiction or nonfiction, and a Juvenile Literature Award for a children’s/YA book.

Authors must reside in the state of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin — or they must set their book in one of those locations. Prize amounts vary from year to year but are typically between $500 and $2,000.

Deadline: Annually at the end of the year; the 2015 deadline is December 10

January 2016 – Fish

20. Amy Writing Awards

Christian writers are eligible for this award, which honors “creative, skillful journalism that applies biblical principles to stories about issues and lives.”

Submissions must have been previously published in a newspaper, local or national magazine, or on a news website and must contain at least one quote from the Bible. Columns and opinion pieces will be considered, but preference is given to news or feature article with original reporting.

Prizes are given for winners of first through fifth prizes (in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $2,000), plus 10 “outstanding merit” awards of $1,000 each.

Deadline: Annually; the deadline for 2014-2015 awards has passed, and the deadline for 2015-2016 award has not yet been announced. Renewing list

Butter and Jelly Udder [Picture Book]





I wish I had a big, brown cow,


With a jelly & butter udder.


Wonder bread trees
And hot chocolate seas,
The thought just makes me shudder!


Butter & Jelly breakfast treat,
Jelly & Butter noon time sweet,
Butter & Jelly all day eat.

Jelly & Butter …………………….



I wish I had a wooly ram,


With a milk & honey horn.


Marshmallow roast
And cinnamon toast,
And raspberry rain at morn.


Honey & milk hits the air,
Milk & honey everywhere!
Honey & milk, please beware,
Of the milk & honey horn!


I wish I had a hot pink sow,


With a silken and satin purse.


Jelly bean money,
A milk chocolate bunny,
Come on, let’s sing this verse:


Silken & satin polka dots,
Satin & silken forget-me-nots,
Silken & satin  pans & pots,
In a satin & silken purse.


I wish I had a big, fat hen,

Coconut pie,
Across the sky,
And m & m’s, fill my chest.


A cherry and ice cream Easter egg,
Ice cream and cherry in a keg,
Cherry and ice cream, must I beg?
For an Ice cream and cherry nest.

Copyright Jacki Kellum October 11, 2015

How to Assemble a Poetry Chapbook Manuscript

So you’ve begun a collection of poems, or you’ve been writing for years and hiding them away in a drawer, and you think some of them are worthy of publication, but you don’t quite know where to begin….

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 20 minutes a day

Here’s How:

  1. Begin by reading all the poetry books and periodicals you can get your hands on — use the library, browse the poetry section of your local independent bookstore, go to readings.
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  1. Keep a publication notebook: When you find poems you admire or a poetry magazine that publishes work similar to your own, write down the editor’s name and the name and address of the journal.
  2. Read the journal’s submission guidelines and write down any unusual requirements (double-spacing, more than one copy of submitted poems, whether they accept simultaneous multiple submissions or previously published poems).
  3. Read Poets & Writers Magazine, Poetry Flash or your local poetry newsletter to find publications calling for submissions.
  4. Make up your mind that you are not going to pay reading fees in order to send out your poems for publication.
  1. Type or print clean copies of your poems on plain white paper, one to a page, and put your copyright date, name and return address at the end of each poem.
  2. When you have a good number of poems typed up (say, 20), put them into groups of four or five — either putting together sequences on similar themes, or making a diverse group to show your versatility — your choice.
  3. Do this when you are fresh and can keep your distance: read each group of poems as if you were an editor reading them for the first time. Try to understand the effect of your poems as if you had not written them yourself.
  1. When you’ve chosen a group of poems to send to a particular publication, reread them once more to be sure you’ve met all the submission requirements.
  2. For most poetry journals, it’s fine to send a group of poems with a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) and without a cover letter.
  3. Before you seal the envelope, write the titles of each poem you’re submitting, the name of the journal you’re sending them to and the date in your publication notebook.
  4. Keep your poems out there being read. If a grouping of poems comes back to you with a rejection note (and many will), do not allow yourself to take it as a personal judgment: find another publication and send them out again within a few days.
  1. When a group of poems is returned and the editor has kept one or two for publication, pat yourself on the back and record the acceptance in your publication notebook — then combine the remaining poems with new ones and send them out again.
  2. Don’t try to do this all at once. Work a little on it every day or every other day, but save your time and mental energy for actually reading and writing poetry.


  1. If you do write a cover letter, make it a very brief note explaining why you chose their publication to submit your work. You want the editor to focus on your poems, not your publication credits.
  2. Don’t get too involved in trying to psych out a particular editor’s preferences. Inevitably, many of your poems will come back to you rejected — and you will occasionally be totally surprised by what a particular editor has chosen.
  3. Don’t expect detailed critiques from poetry magazine editors who have not accepted your work for publication.
  4. If you want specific responses to your poems, join a workshop, post in an online forum, or go to readings and gather a group of poet-friends to read and comment on each other’s work.
  5. Making this kind of connection in the poetry community may also lead you to publication, because lots of reading series and workshops end up publishing anthologies of their members’ poems.

What You Need:

  • Stamps
  • #10 envelopes
  • Nice plain white paper
  • Clean copies of poems

How to Format Manuscript


Use a 1″ margin on all sides
Use a title page, set up the same as the title page in your package (see page 159).
Don’t number the title page. Begin numbering with the first page of the text of the book, usually the introduction, prologue, or chapter one.
Use a header on each page, including your name, the title of your novel in all caps, and the page number.
Start each new chapter on its own page, one-third of the way down the page.
The chapter number and chapter title should be in all caps, separated by two hyphens: CHAPTER 1—THE BODY.
Begin the body of the chapter four to six lines below the chapter title.
Indent fives spaces for each new paragraph.
Double-space the entire text.
Use a standard font, 12-point type. Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier is fine.
Use 20-lb. bond paper.

Brian Writer’s Digest

WordPress Poetry Class


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Day 1: Screen, Haiku, Alliteration

oday’s form: haiku

Haiku at a glance: A traditional Japanese form, now popular around the world. Normally (but not necessarily) composed of three lines of verse containing five, seven, and five syllables, respectively.

Looking for a more formal challenge? The first poetic form we explore in Writing 201 is the sashimi of poetry, 17 syllables into which we fold the essence of sound and meaning: haiku.

The structure of haiku is preset for you: three lines containing five, seven, and five syllables, respectively (or, in more modern haiku, three lines following the long-short-long pattern):

first line goes here.

The second one is longer.

Then it’s short again.

But the form’s simplicity belies its creative potential, as well as its artistic challenge: to say something meaningful and moving in such a limited space.

Looking for some inspiration by example? The Haiku Society of America’s website offers enormous collections of haiku.

Of course, if you feel that one haiku cannot contain what you wish to express in today’s poem, feel free to branch out a little. Write a sequence of haiku. Combine haiku with its meatier cousin, tanka, which follows a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic pattern. Or write a three-stanza poem, with the first and last stanzas shorter than the middle one.

Today’s device: alliteration

So much of poetry’s power is about sound — even when it’s printed, we hear poetry as much as (if not more than) we read it — so it comes as no surprise that repeating the same sound makes for a powerful effect. Today’s device, alliteration, is all about using the same consonant multiple times in close proximity: think “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,” or “Take me down to the Paradise City where the grass is green and the girls are pretty” (thanks, Axl!).

In more pedantic ages, alliteration was expected to occur on the stressed first syllable of words. You can follow that rule, of course, but feel free to loosen up if you wish: the sounds can show up anywhere as long as they’re close enough to each other to leave an aural imprint (the technical name for this, since I know you won’t sleep well tonight if I don’t tell you, is consonance).

Even if you don’t care much about meter, it’s helpful to know how to tell stressed and unstressed syllables apart. Here’s a user-friendly guide that might help you train your ear to detect stresses.

There are no strict guidelines on how to use alliteration effectively, though one thing does come to mind. The power of the device is exponentially stronger if it amplifies or works alongside something else in the poem:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers

That’s a lot of Ps! My ear is definitely pricked, but does it mean anything? Hard to say.

This whole place still smells like
Your cheap perfume

Whoa, Bon Jovi — double alliteration? Call me crazy, but doesn’t that repetitive S sound in the first line remind you of three quick nozzle presses on a bottle of (cheap!) perfume? And isn’t there palpable contempt in those two adjacent Ps in the second verse?*

And now, it’s your turn to lull us, like lemmings, into the luxuriant, lush, alliterative landscapes of your haiku.

Day 2: Acrostic – Simile

Today’s form: acrostic

Acrostics at a glance: An acrostic is any poem in which the first (or last) letters of each line combine to spell out a word or a phrase, or follow the order of the alphabet.

Today’s (totally optional) form, the acrostic, highlights the fact that poetry, at heart, is wordplay — it’s language playing tricks on your readers. Acrostics have been around for millennia: they’re a creative way to give order and convey multiple meanings at once while staying fairly subtle.

There have been two prevalent ways to create acrostics. In one, you follow the sequence of the alphabet, beginning each verse in your poem with a different letter from A to Z (or to whatever letter you choose to reach — you’re not obliged to cover the entire ABC). This type of acrostic emphasizes the idea of seriality, of accumulation, or of a preset order.

The other type of acrostic is one in which the first (or last) letter of each verse together spell out a message: a short sentence, a word, a name (for example, medieval poets loved writing love poems with acrostics spelling out their beloved’s name). Here’s a famous, self-referential modern acrostic, by the ever-troubled Edgar Allan Poe:

An Acrostic

Elizabeth it is in vain you say

“Love not” — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:

In vain those words from thee or L. E. L.

Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:

Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,

Breathe it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.

Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried

To cure his love — was cured of all beside —

His folly — pride — and passion — for he died.

Some interesting ways to use acrostics include writing a poem that asks a question to which the answer is the spelled-out word; or one in which the “hidden” message contradicts or otherwise complicates the content of the poem. I’m sure you can find many more uses for this form.

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can try creating acrostics using both the first and last letters of every verse — this is called (shocking!) a double acrostic.

Today’s device: simile

A simile, like its name suggests, makes a connection or introduces the idea of similarity between two concepts that aren’t intrinsically connected, leaving an interesting mental image in its wake. It’s a fancy name for saying that cake is like poison, or that a baby’s wails are as loud as thunder. If you’re up for it, include a simile in your poem today.

Make sure the things you compare are conceptually different enough. Don’t compare apples to oranges: compare apples to planets, or animals, or sounds.

The main requirement for a simile is to be explicit: it’s a tell-don’t-show kind of device that allows you to state that X is like Y.

What makes a good simile? Opinions vary, of course, but there’s a lot to be said for balance. Bring together two ideas that are already very close, and it’s just boring:

This pearl is shiny like a diamond.

Force into proximity two concepts that share very little terrain, and you risk making no sense at all (though the risk might pay off sometime):

This diamond is shiny like uncle Moe’s glass eye that I just took out of saline solution.

Link two things that don’t normally go together, but whose connection makes sense in the context of your work, and you might be on to something. Thanks, Rihanna / Sia:

We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky.

Day 3 Prose Poetry, Internal Rhyme

Today’s form: prose poetry

Prose poetry at a glance: A prose poem is any piece of verse written using the normal typography of prose, while style maintaining elements of poetry, like rhythm, imagery, etc.

Today’s suggested form might sound like an oxymoron: the prose poem. Unlike some of the other forms we’ll experiment with in this course — say, haiku — a prose poem, by definition, has no fixed rules. Whether a reader sees the prose or the poetry in it hinges on a variety of factors beyond your control.

Still, often enough you can tell a prose poem when you stumble on one, like these lines from In Provincetown, and Ohio, and Alabama by Mary Oliver:

How I Go to the Woods

Ordinarily I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.


If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.

In Provincetown, and Ohio, and Alabama

Death taps his black wand and something vanishes. Summer, winter; the thickest branch of an oak tree for which I have a special love; three just hatched geese. Many trees and thickets of catbrier as bulldozers widen the bicycle path. The violets down by the old creek, the flow itself now raveling forward through an underground tunnel.

Lambs that, only recently, were gamboling in the field. An old mule, in Alabama, that could take no more of anything. And then, what follows? Then spring again, summer, and the season of harvest. More catbrier, almost instantly rising. (No violets, ever, or song of the old creek.) More lambs and new green grass in the field, for their happiness until. And some kind of yellow flower whose name I don’t know (but what does that matter?) rising around and out of the half-buried, half-vulture-eaten, harness-galled, open-mouthed (its teeth long and blackened), breathless, holy mule.

© Mary Oliver 2010. Reprinted with permission from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 2010).

Death taps his black wand and something vanishes. Summer, winter; the thickest branch of an oak tree for which I have a special love; three just hatched geese. Many trees and thickets of catbrier as bulldozers widen the bicycle path. The violets down by the old creek, the flow itself now raveling forward through an underground tunnel.

The words may be arranged typographically like any piece of prose, but the sounds, the rhythms, and the imagery all pull us in the direction of poetry. (Looking for another example? Charles Baudelaire, one of prose poetry’s earliest masters, has a crushingly good prose poem on… being drunk.)

If you’d like to read a few examples of contemporary prose poetry, Elsewhere is a well-produced literary magazine dedicated to the form.

Since you can’t use the page (or screen) the same way you do with regular verse — you simply write to the end of each line — the power of the language needs to come through via other channels: repetition, well-chosen consonants, striking similes and metaphors, or any other device you feel might tip the scale toward poetry.

Today’s device: internal rhyme

We don’t talk a lot about rhyme in this course — it’s a such a huge topic in its own right. It also tends to elicit strong reactions from poets who shun it in favor of free verse, as well as from those who are passionate about the minutiae of true, slant, feminine, masculine, or eye rhymes (among others).

Internal rhyme, though — the poetic device on offer for your exploration today — should appeal to all poets. It adds a level of sonic complexity and playfulness without calling too much attention to itself the way end rhymes (i.e. rhymes appearing at the end of verses) do.

Internal rhymes can occur within a single line of verse (and in definitely more than 50 ways):

You just slip out the back, Jack

Make a new plan, Stan

You don’t need to be coy, Roy

Just get yourself free

They definitely won’t sabotage your underlying message:

I can’t stand it I know you planned it

I’m gonna set it straight, this Watergate

But they can also make more subtle appearances across different lines, creating echoes and connections that stay with your reader, even if subconsciously:

Some will win, some will lose

Some were born to sing the blues

In your poem today, try creating some internal rhymes — a device that’s particularly well-suited for prose poetry. You could start with a pair of words that have an interesting connection, and sneak them into your lines. Or you could decide, first, what kind of pattern you’re going for — same-line rhymes? Rhymes that cross from one line of verse to the next? — and go from there.

If you’re ever short on internal rhyme inspiration, just listen to any old-school hip hop artist: virtuosic internal rhyming was a cornerstone of the genre.

Day 4 – Limerick, Enjambment

Today’s form: limerick

The limerick at a glance: Limericks are traditionally composed of five lines of verse. The traditional rhyming scheme of a limerick is a a b b a — the first two lines rhyme, then the next two, and the final verse rhymes with the first couplet.

Named after the town in Ireland where it may or may not have been invented, the limerick is sometimes pushed to the margins of poetry, as it carries with it connotations of frivolity, light-hearted entertainment, and, well, lots of drinking.

You can tell a limerick from miles away:

It rarely takes a lot of time

To make the first two verses rhyme.

The third line is short.

The fourth? A mere snort.

You can sell limericks three for a dime.

But it’s precisely because of this baggage that limericks can actually be a fascinating form to dig into — their established rhyme pattern and sing-song rhythm can twist and turn in unexpected directions. Consider this one, from Tyler McCabe’s disturbing collection of Sad Limericks atThe Toast:

All Therapy is Rehabilitative or Preventative

My therapist’s name is Jan

and she says I have planned a good plan:

One, work on my rages.

Two, finish these pages.

Three, don’t vandalize Karen’s van.

Write a limerick — or two or five, if you wish to create a narrative cycle — and inject this form with something personal and surprising. Break the pattern if you need to — and if it serves the purpose of your poem.

If you prefer free verse over rhymed poetry, your challenge is particularly interesting: can you write a five-line free-verse poem that’s clearly a limerick?

Today’s device: enjambment

Today’s poetic device is all about the arrangement of words on the page, and how that arrangement affects the pace of our reading:enjambment. It may sound like a mouthful. But what it describes is a really simple phenomenon: when a grammatical sentence stretches from one line of verse to the next.

I’d really love to finish this sentence here, but

The rest got kicked over to this line.

Since creating enjambment is so easy — just click the “Enter” button mid-sentence, and, presto! — the tricky (and interesting) part is using it in the right spot(s) in your poem. Think about the suspense you’re creating: you’re forcing your readers not to know how the sentence ends for a whole split second! (I’m not being ironic: a good enjambment feels like hitting your car’s breaks at 80mph.)

There’s a lot you can do with enjambment: surprise or shock your readers by throwing in an unexpected word. Restore peace by introducing a full stop right after the first word of the second line. Or bring closure by simply adding the word(s) that were missing to convey a fully-formed thought or emotion.

Take a look at this stunning, hairpin turn-like use of enjambment in Marianne Moore’s The Fish:

The entire poem keeps crashing on us like wave upon wave (simile alert!) of seawater.

Try out some enjambment in your poem today — it usually takes some experimentation, but it’s a fun process (and one which you can repeat during, as well as after, the writing of the poem — you don’t have to get it right from the get-go).

A simile can be as short as “black as coal” and as elaborate as full-blown mini-stories. It’s up to you, really: be creative. Try out a few alternatives. See what works.

Day 5 – Map, Ode, Metaphor

Maps tell stories — about places we know and others we wish to visit, about technology and the speed with which we can traverse vast distances, and about the things we’ll see (or avoid) on our way from point A to point B.

Whether you choose to write about an actual map, an imaginary one, or just about a particular route that means something special to you, make today’s poem about a space you inhabit (or wish to. Or would rather avoid).

Today’s form: ode

Odes at a glance: An ode is a laudatory poem celebrating a person, an object, a place, etc. In the past, odes followed strict formal requirements — like the (Greek) Pindaric ode or the (Latin) Horatian ode. These days (and for quite some time), odes can come in all forms and sizes — it’s the subject matter that tends to distinguish a poem as an ode.

The ode started out as a fairly fixed form in ancient Greece: a three-part stanza written in specific meters. Over the centuries, however, “ode” has become a more general term for any poem celebrating the good qualities of people, objects, places, animals, and personal traits.

At their best, odes are both a compelling portrait of something and an investigation (tacit or explicit) of the poet’s own relation to that thing. Here’s John Keats, who wrote some of the most canonic examples of the form, like this one, Ode on Melancholy:

Melancholy might sound like a strange concept to celebrate, yet Keats’ ode makes it plausible — especially once he introduces a character — “him whose strenuous tongue can burst Joy’s grape” — which could very well be a poet (any poet, or a specific one — like, say, the author of this ode).

One way to go about composing your ode would be, first, to make a list of the qualities and details you’d like to highlight, and then try to work them into a poem, crossing off those you’ve covered. Another: write as if you’re shooting a movie, following the subject of your ode from top to bottom, from left to right, etc.

For your poem today, focus on details — the things that make your chosen object unique — but also on the effect it produces on others (you or someone else):

I’ve got a Dungeon Master’s Guide

I’ve got a twelve-sided die

I’ve got Kitty Pryde

And Nightcrawler too

Waiting there for me

Yes I do, I do

If someone could write a convincing, heartwarming ode to his garage (thanks, Weezer), I’m sure you’ll do well, too.

Today’s device: metaphor

You knew it was coming. The prince of poetic devices, the thrill up every poet’s spine. Yes: hello, metaphor. Metaphors are everywhere in poetry and in everyday speech (“I’m drowning in work,” “This problem requires brain muscle,” and on and on). They’re so ubiquitous that most people find it hard to explain what they are. So let’s try.

If you think you’ve never encountered a metaphor, think again.

A metaphor brings together two terms that aren’t normally connected, yet make sense once they are (its greek roots mean “to carry over”). Unlike its less subtle cousin, the simile, metaphors don’t need connectors like “as” and “like” to link the two things together. They just smash them into each other and hope for the best.

You know you probably have a metaphor on your hands (that’s a metaphor too!) when you try to visualize the concepts you just described but can’t really, at least not without descending into nonsense. How can I picture a metaphor laying in my hands? Or actually drowning in work? Or my brain getting bigger biceps? I can’t.

How to avoid bad metaphors? Nothing beats experience and honest critics, but these six tips are very helpful, too.

You can of course stretch metaphors too far (even though “a stretched metaphor” is a pretty solid one). Is there a rule for avoiding that sad fate? Nope. It’s a question of context, of taste, and, ultimately, of a reader’s particular mood at the time of reading. One person’s wine is another’s rotten grape juice. So go ahead, don’t overthink it, because…

Baby, you’re a firework

Come on, show ’em what you’re worth

Make ’em go, “Aah, aah, aah”

As you shoot across the sky-y-y

I’m sure you’ll make us go “Aah, aah, aah” with your metaphors today.

Day 6: Faces, Found Poetry, Chiasmus

Before we learn how to read words, we learn, intuitively, to read faces. In today’s poem, take a single face or a multitude of them as your point of departure.

Image: Ilinca Iurascu

It doesn’t even have to be a real-life, flesh-and-blood face you’re writing about. Faces are ubiquitous in the texture of our daily lives, after all, from portraits in the museum and the banknotes in our wallets to billboards and street art and online profile pictures.

Today’s form: found poetry

Found poetry at a glance:

  • A found poem is composed of words and letters you’ve collected — randomly or not — from other sources, whether printed, handwritten, or digital, and then (re)arranged into something meaningful.

Remember that staple of kindergarden arts, the collage? Found poetry, today’s optional form, is the language-based variety. Like a blackmail letter in a sordid crime novel, a found poem is made up of words and letters others have created. It’s up to you, the poet, to find them (hence the name), extract them, and rejig them into something else: your poem.

The classic way of going about the creation of a found poem is scissors and newspaper in hand: you cut out words and phrases and arrange them into your poem. You can then either snap a photo and upload it to your blog, or simply transcribe the resulting text into a new post.

That said, you can control the degree of randomness you impose on your available stock of words, as well as on the procedure you follow to create the poem.

You could even recycle your tweets (one online tool will actually do it for you) and other social media messages and turn them into a poetic meditation on… anything, really.

You can photocopy a page from a book (even a book of poetry!) and select every fifth word on the first ten pages. Orrepurpose one of your unpublished drafts into something new. You can even use your books to create some book spine poetry. The world is full of words: use them!

Today’s device: chiasmus

Today’s device is one of my favorites: chiasmus. At its simplest, a chiasmus is essentially a reversal, an inverted crossing (it got its name from the greek letter chi – X). How can we use it? Let Snoop Dogg show us the way:

Laid back, with my mind on my money and my money on my mind

Or how about this one, from Dr. Samuel Johnson:

The two most engaging powers of an author, are, to make new things familiar, and familiar things new.

From a fairly straightforward reordering of words — where A and B are repeated as B and A — a chiasmus can develop into more complex structures: instead of words, phrases. Instead of phrases, ideas or concepts. Chiasmus is effective in poems because it’s a form of repetition — and by now we all now how crucial repetition is for poetry. But the reversal injects the repeated words with freshness, and allows us to play with (and radically change) the meaning of a line.

If you’re into rhymed poetry, one of the most common ways of introducing chiasmus is in the rhyming scheme — ABBA is a straightforward one (i.e. the first and fourth verses rhyme, as do the second and third). You can go all out, though: ABBA CDDC CDDC ABBA, for example.

So: for your found poem (or whatever poem you decide to write today), shake things up. Literally and figuratively, figuratively and literally. Chiasmi aren’t always easy to pull off, but then again, this is the second week of the course. I know you can do it!

Day 7: Neighborhood, Ballad, Assonance

What do you think about when you think about your neighborhood?

Today’s form: ballad

Ballads at a glance:

  • Ballads are dramatic, emotionally-charged poems that tell a story, often about bigger-than-life characters and situations.
  • Ballads had their roots in danced songs, and were traditionally composed using ballad meter and ballad stanzas. (do check these links if you’d like to challenge yourself on the form front today!)
  • Their history notwithstanding, by now there are no strict rules governing the structure of ballads — they can be long, short, rhymed, or unrhymed — though it’s still common for ballads to have a refrain.

When you think of a ballad, what comes to your mind? Since the 80s happened to coincide with my formative years, instinctively think of a big-hair (male or female) singer on a stage, shrouded in smoke, belting out a sappy tune about a sappy love story accompanied by just-as-sappy strings (yes, I know, too much alliteration). Or I just think aboutMeat Loaf.

Incredibly enough, the 80s were right: from the start, ballads were all about telling dramatic, big stories (though the smoke machine was, indeed, a later addition). Robin Hood started out as a ballad in the 15th century. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? You guessed it — a ballad. Here’s a taste of Oscar Wilde:

And twice a day he smoked his pipe,
  And drank his quart of beer:
His soul was resolute, and held
  No hiding-place for fear;
He often said that he was glad
  The hangman’s hands were near.

A ballad has something removed from daily life about it — though everyday topics can definitely be given the ballad treatment. The secret is to find the drama, the struggle, the heightened emotions of a given situation and use them to tell a story.

If you’d like a few more concrete ideas on how to go about ballad-writing, here’s a handy tutorial. As always, you can take or leave any and all pieces of advice when it comes to poetry.

While many traditional ballads (and lots of modern power ballads) are written in rhyme, you by no means have to write yours that way. And while many ballads are longer pieces of verse, taking their time to develop their narrative arcs and their moods, yours can be as long or as short as you see fit — it’s about channeling a story and its emotional weight, not crossing off items from a checklist.

Today’s device: assonance

We’ve tackled alliteration last week — the strategic repetition of consonants in close proximity to each other. Today, let’s give assonance a try. It’s the same thing, only with vowels.

Different vowel sounds apparently affect our mood. Choose yours wisely!

Assonance is subtler than alliteration, but can have a profound cumulative effect on a poem, especially when the repeated sound resonates somehow with the topic you’re writing about:

He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out
He’s choking how, everybody’s joking now
The clock’s run out, time’s up, over, bloah!
Snap back to reality, Oh there goes gravity
Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked
He’s so mad, but he won’t give up that
Easy, no

That rounded O sound in Eminem’s Lose Yourself — isn’t it a great way to underscore the feeling of choking for words, of making false start after false start?

Reading your work out loud is always a good idea, but even more so if you’re trying to use assonance. Exaggerating the sound of your vowels will help you see how they affect the overall feel of your poem.

A good assonance doesn’t have to stretch over multiple verses containing multiple instances of the same vowel. It can be just as effective in creating quick links between words and tying together separate clauses of the same sentence. Show us how it’s done, Emily Dickinson:

My best Acquaintances are those
With Whom I spoke no Word

Whether you go for the full-on assonance treatment, or decide to use it sparingly in choice spots in your poems, thinking about assonance can really help you focus on the pace and rhythm of your lines. Give it a try!

Day 8: Flavor, Elegy, Enumeratio

From the simple (butter on toast, a childhood-evoking bubblegum) to the more complex (insert your latest dinner party triumph — or fiasco — here), flavors occupy a crucial place in our memories, in our stories, and in our social interactions.

Today’s form: elegy

Elegy at a glance:

  • Originally requiring specific meters, nowadays elegies come in all shapes and sizes, though they are united by their (often melancholic) focus on loss and longing.

Today’s form, the elegy, can trace its history all the way to ancient Greece. It started out as a poem that could be about almost any topic, as long as it was written in elegiac couplets (pairs of verse, with the first one slightly longer than the second). Over the centuries, though, it became something a bit more specific: a (more often than not) first-person poem on themes of longing, loss, and mourning.

Just because it has a pensive focus doesn’t mean an elegy is necessarily sad (it can even be bawdy, if not downright sexy — check out 17th-century poet John Donne’s Elegy XIX). As much as it can mourn something that’s gone forever, it can also celebrate it, like Goethe does here in his Roman Elegies, extolling the glories of ancient Rome:

Now the glow of brighter air shines round my brow:

Phoebus, the god, calls up color and form.

The night shines bright with stars, echoes with gentle song,

And the Moon shines clearer to me than Northern day.

What is being missed doesn’t have to be all that fancy, either. If you can say “Those were the best days of my life” about it, it probably qualifies for an elegy:

Standin’ on your mama’s porch
You told me that you’d wait forever
Oh, and when you held my hand
I knew that it was now or never

A moment, a place, a person, a feeling — your elegy can be about anything, as long as it evokes a thing that’s irretrievably gone. (And if you want to give those elegiac couplets a try, I won’t stop you!)

If you’re looking for something more specific than elegy, a related 19th-century form — obituary poetry — calls for an emotionally-charged poem on the passing of a loved one.

Today’s device: enumeratio

There’s a lot you can do with enumeratio — today’s suggested literary device — in your poems. As its name might suggest, it basically means constructing a list, a successive enumeration (duh!) of multiple elements in the same series.

The snappy rhythm of poetic lists lets them convey a broad range of emotions. There’s defiance and indignation in this bit from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

Let the whitefolks have their money and power and segregation and sarcasm and big houses and schools and lawns like carpets, and books […]

W.H. Auden used enumeratio to great effect in his elegiac Funeral Blues:

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

And, sure: you can also just list all the things you love, from raindrops on roses and brown paper packages to bright copper kettles and schnitzel with noodles (personally, I’d just skip straight to the schnitzel. But that would make for a lousy enumeratio).

Enumeratio often entails the repetition of conjunctions like “and” and “or” — you can use them in clever ways, for example, to create internal rhymes or assonance.

So, whether your poem is list-based in part or in whole, try adding some sequential punch to it with enumeratio

Day 9: Cold, Concrete Poem,Anaphora/Epistrophe

Today’s form: concrete poetry

Concrete poetry at a glance: Generally speaking, any poem that’s typographically arranged to represent a specific shape (recognizable or not) is a concrete, or “shape” poem.

Poetry is, of course, a word-based form of expression. That doesn’t mean, though, that the visual layout of a poem can’t affect the way we read it. Taking this idea to a playful extreme is today’s (optional) form to explore: concrete poetry.

Also known as shape poetry, the idea here is to arrange your words on the screen (or the page) so that they create a shape or an image. The meaning of the image can be obvious at first glance, or require some guesswork after reading the poem. It’s up to you to decide how difficult you want to make it for your readers.

Now might be the perfect time to revisit some formatting tools that are particularly relevant for concrete poems (hint: indentation, line breaks, and pre-formatted text are your friends).

Guillaume Apollinaire, Le Tour Eiffel (source)

Poets have long been fascinated with the potential of painting an actual image with their words — on top of the mental one those words evoke. A wave, a cross, a face, a letter from the alphabet: experimenting a bit with spacing, indentation, and line breaks will take you far. If you’re about to give up, don’t — you can always write/draw your poem by hand, then scan it or snap a shot of it with your phone, and upload it to your blog.

Wolfgang Wackernagel, Gilgamesh’s Irisglance (source)

At its best, concrete poetry helps bridge the gap between text and image, and underscores or plays against an element already within the poem: look at the slightly ominous, abstract-shaped eye in Gilgamesh’s Irisglance (above), by Wolfgang Wackermengel. Or Guillaime Apollinaire’s classic Eiffel Tower, from 1916 (shown above in both English translation and in the original French).

All that said, even just rearranging your words in a graphic, visually-minded way is fine, too — especially if it’s done in a way that forces readers to focus on something in particular, or to change the way they’d normally approach your poem.

Today’s device: anaphora/epistrophe

We’ve tackled the repetition of sounds before, but not that of words. Today, let’s explore the potential of creative redundancy with two neighboring devices: anaphora and epistrophe. You may have figured out by now that the fancier the Greek name, the simpler the device. And you’ll be right this time, too.

Anaphora simply means the repetition of the same word (or cluster of words) at the beginning of multiple lines of verse in the same poem. Epistrophe is its counterpart: the repeated words appear at the end of lines. Like most simple devices, though, the trick is in deploying them to their full effect. Repetition lends emphasis to words, adds weight, and leaves a deeper imprint in your readers’ memories. Think wisely about what it is you’re underlining.

There are so many great examples of both devices. From Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I have a dream speech to Nirvana’s All apologies (“what else should I…”), anaphora is everywhere. Can’t think of a famous epistrophe? I beg to differ:

Cause if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it

If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it

Don’t be mad once you see that he want it

If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it

So: add some punch to your poem with verses that begin or end on a strong, emphatic note. Use the device sparingly, or throw it into each one of your lines. Let us know, by the time we’re done, why that word (or words) play such an important role in the poem.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, give symploce a try: it’s when successive lines of poetry contain both an anaphora and an epistrophe.

Day 10: Pleasure, Sonnet, Apostrophe

Could it be our final assignment already?! Let’s close this course on a note of joy, glee, and profound contentment.


Photo: Stig Nygaard (CC BY 2.0)

From the tantalizing to the satisfyingly sober, have your poems convey a sense of pleasure today. (Or, if you wish to keep it dark anyway, write about the lack of or longing for that sort of feeling.)

Today’s form: sonnet

The sonnet at a glance:

  • A sonnet is normally composed of 14 lines of verse.
  • There are several ways you can split your sonnet into stanzas (if you wish to), though the most common ones are 8-6 and 4-4-3-3.
  • Likewise, if you decide to use rhyme in your sonnet, you can choose between various rhyming schemes, like ABAB BCBC CDCD EE, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, or ABBA ABBA CDC DCD, among others.

You didn’t think we’d end a poetry course without a single word on (arguably) the most iconic form of them all — the sonnet? From Petrarch to Shakespeare to Lorca to Heaney, it’s a form that’s has endured dozens of vogues, backlashes, and comebacks — it will bury us all. It will outlive the cockroaches.

In some ways, the sonnet is easy: you get 14 lines of verse, usually grouped into four stanzas of 4-4-3-3 lines each (alternatively: two groupings of eight and six lines, respectively). Sonnets used to be written in metered verse (like alexandrines in French and iambic pentameter in English, for example), but many modern poets forego the meter altogether, or at least don’t use it consistently. Sonnets also tended to be written using any number of established rhyming schemes (for example, Shakespeare’s abab cdcd efef gg), but that, too, is no longer a formal requirement. (If you’re a sonnet purist, or the ghost of Shakespeare, please forgive me!)

Still, even with this progressive loosening of rules, sonnets are hard: they’re too short to say that much, but already long enough that they require some overall strategy. At their best, something happens between the first and last verse, and especially between the first eight and final six lines. You want your reader to have experienced something more than just a brief sonic pleasure. You want to present a fully-formed thought.

If you happen to be one of those who find sonnets easy, have no fear — you can still challenge yourself further. How about going for a crown of sonnets? Or branching out to the sestina, another structurally difficult form?

Go ahead — have fun with sonnets. It might take some time, it might take some shuffling around of words and verses, but there’s something pleasing about the challenge. It’s also a consolation to know that poets have been struggling with the form for centuries — enough to write meta-sonnets (like this one, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti):

A Sonnet is a moment’s monument,–
Memorial from the Soul’s eternity
To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be,
Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,
Of its own intricate fulness reverent:
Carve it in ivory or in ebony,
As Day or Night prevail; and let Time see
Its flowering crest impearled and orient.

A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals
The soul,–its converse, to what Power ’tis due:–
Whether for tribute to the august appeals
Of Life, or dower in Love’s high retinue
It serve; or, ‘mid the dark wharf’s cavernous breath,
In Charon’s palm it pay the toll to Death.

Today’s device: apostrophe

Most poems are addressed to an amorphous reader, if to anyone at all. Which is why an apostrophe can produce such a striking effect in a poem: it occurs when the speaker in the poem addresses another person or an object (usuallypersonified) directly.

Is this a dagger which I see before me,

The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee!

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Talking about a dagger? Easy there, Macbeth! Talking to a dagger? Now that’s truly dangerous.

You can write a poem that is made up entirely of one extended apostrophe, or switch back and forth between addressing your reader and addressing someone (or something) else.

An apostrophe can cover a wide range of emotions, from the warm pride of “O Canada! Our home and native land!” to the chill of John Dryden’s “Let me, let me freeze again to death!” (in his King Arthur libretto).

What tone and flavor will you choose for your apostrophe? Will it be plaintive, nostalgic, angry, admiring? The way you shape your address will greatly influence the feel of your poem.

Winter Comes Too Soon – Blog Post to Picture Book




There's a frenzy in my garden,

Squirrels can't get enough.

Birds are looking frantically

For seeds and nuts and stuff.


The corn is dry and shriveled now,

A vine has reached the top.

Great green leaves are bending low,

And little pumpkins drop.


The monarchs moved to Mexico,

And geese are leaving, too.

The spider leaves a lacy web

Her net is etched with dew.


Shadows creep across the lawn,

And there's a big bright moon.

Everything in my yard knows--

That winter comes too soon.




85 Words


Which Witch Are You?


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Are you orange, like pumpkin pie?


Or are you green, like goo?


Do you have a bulging eye?

Say, which witch are you?


Do you have a warty nose,

And hair upon your chin?


And do your shoes have cury toes,

Or do they just point in?


Are you the one with jagged teeth?


Or do you Jack-O-Smile?


I can’t seem to picture you.

It’s been a Hallo_While.


Is your dress like silver mist?


Or is it black as night?


Do children laugh when they see you?


Or do they scream with fright?


Will you ride a long, lean broom?


Or dance from door to door?


And will you thank the people there?


Or simply ask for more?  Trick or Treat?