National Poetry Month: Storytelling

I went to a poetry slam yesterday and mutilated a few high schoolers–as did my fellow spoken word compatriot who was preparing for an event he had coming up on Sunday–and I felt horribly for it.  I felt like a pillaging Viking snatching babies from their cradles.  Or an Egyptian soldier killing one and two year old babies for Pharoah.  It wasn’t even a competition really; more like a landslide victory.

Let me continue by saying that 1) I had absolutely NO idea it was a poetry slam.  I was told it was open mic and that was the only reason I was there.  2) I had no idea the program was put on by a high school English class.  It was held at a place where adult open mics occur all the time.  And 3) I do NOT, under any circumstances, make a habit of annihilating innocence.  Because I think that’s exactly what I did…

I’m not sure what stipulation this particular group had on slam participation, but all the high schoolers who entered were seniors.  We found that out at the end of the slam.  And their instructors didn’t feel one bit guilty about allowing them to parlay with adult poets who had been doing this for years.  They felt it was “good experience for them”.  Even a fellow poet of mine said the same when I told her what happened.  She said, “They need to step their game up.”  And that got me thinking: she’s right.  Because what I saw that night, both in the open mic section and the slam, made me feel these kids hadn’t been taught a thing.  So being the good Samaritan that I am…

1. Poetry gives the author a voice.  Pace matters.
My goodness, these kids who presented, out of nervousness or just academic zeal, read at lightning speed to the point you couldn’t hardly understand a word they said!  No pauses.  No breaks.  No connection with their audience.  Were it not for the title and author citation at the beginning, I would have had no idea what I was hearing.

Slow down.  Poetry is not a novel, or even a short story.  So read slowly.  Pace the words into sentences that make sense; the author has provided punctuation, stanzas, and lines to show you the places you are meant to take a breath.  Use them.  It forces the work to be read in the rhythm the author designed it, regardless of the way the words are organized on the page.

2. Poetry should be about something.  But please, don’t try to be deep.
The pretension in the room nearly stifled me.  We could tell the self-important, “we sit on the grassy knoll and contemplate the state of the world”, “the arts are my life” types the moment we entered the room.  And they reinforced that idea when they got up to the podium to present.  Consider the reason writing, artistry, music, theater, and dance are labeled artforms–because there’s an art to forming them.

These artists–in any genre–have something to say: about life, the world around them, nature, society, politics, love, themselves.  Art is about reflecting what may seem ordinary or common into a medium that is structured in a way that speaks to others.  It’s about placing those thoughts and experiences on a palette that is beautifully edible, digestable, and memorable.  Constructing poetry, or any artform for that matter, in a way that is deliberately complicated–with elevated vocabulary and snarky ideas–doesn’t make me think.  It makes me tune out.  Thereby defeating the central purpose of art: to be heard.

3. Poetry requires authenticity.  Only you could have said what you said that way.
A lot of comparison went on, especially once the slam part started and scores were assigned.  At the end, I heard a lot of “I can’t write like you”, “Your stuff was better than mine”, “I wish I could do that”.  You would be tempted to believe these are compliments to the other poet, but really it’s self-deprecating, and you don’t want to start teetering on that ledge.

Taking into account the first two points: if poetry is about giving the author a voice to say what they need to say about life and experience, who better to say it than that poet?  It’s true that you might not be the first person to write about love; these concepts occur to all of us because it’s experience we’ve all had.  But that heartbreak–or soul-wrenching love story–happened to you.  Nobody else can tell that story except you.  Even the lover you shared it with didn’t experience it the exact same way you did.  Your story matters.  Tell it the way you would tell it, because that’s the part that makes the telling worth listening to.

There will always be someone who can do what you do better.  Let that talent and skill elevate you, not discourage you.

4. Poetry is about connection.  But you are the only audience that matters.
I love to write.  I love to sing.  These are avenues by which I say the things that are meaningful and powerful to me.  And somehow, I’ve said them well enough that I’ve actually managed to get people to listen.  But I don’t write to sell books, and I don’t sing to get a record deal.  I write and sing because it allows for cathartic release, to say what I may not have otherwise.  I say it in a way that makes me feel connected to myself again, so that I get to learn more about me.  And you know what?  Now others know me better too, and they say, “I too have felt the sting of loss.  I too have felt the pain of heartbreak.  I too have been to the mountain.”  And so I have connected with them as well.

Artistry is about building a bridge between people.  Storytelling across varying mediums that allow someone a peek into another’s world so they can say “I’m not alone.”  Artistry is meant to pierce you at your core, to enlighten you, to bring you closer to an understanding of what it means to be human.  Because that is all an artist is striving to depict: their view of humanity.  Sometimes it is penetratingly dark.  At times, full of blinding light.  Either way, you should come away feeling connected to another’s view of the world, whether or not you were deeply affected by it.

This experience with young ones reminded me that I was once them.  I go back to my high school poetry and I can see how I was both pretentious…and then beautifully artful in my honesty.  I keep it all.  I’ve thrown nothing away, even the horrible stuff.  Because it still connects.  It still speaks.  Make sure what you write, sing, play, compose, act, draw/paint/animate does too.  Keep telling stories.  Somebody’s listening.

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Soapbox Spotlight: Trinka Polite

Thank you for joining us!  Today’s Spotlight is on Trinka Polite, poetess and spiritualist.  Poetry, as my readers know, is a subject close to my heart, as my bestie and fellow author J. Mahogany and I got our start as authors.  Ms. Polite, of course, has written a compilation called After the Sixth Day that she is here to talk with us about.  An excerpt of her beautiful poetry can be found at the end of this segment.  Enjoy!

Tell us a little about yourself, Trinka.

I’m from Worth County, Georgia. I still live in the area to be close to family and because I love the beautiful South!  My passions include cooking, dancing, traveling, reading, spending time with family, and of course poetry.  I attended Valdosta State University and completed my Master’s in Psychology at the University of West Georgia.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always had an interest in reading.  I never set out to be a poet or a writer. Poetry found me, so to speak. In those moments of deep emotion, sometimes I struggled to find and speak the right words. Thankfully, the words of my spirit gave me understanding and meaning.  I wrote them down and here I am.

How long have you been writing?
I have been writing since I was a teenager. However, I wasn’t writing [with the intention] to one day release a book.  I wrote as an attempt to explain things happening in my life and in the world around me. That’s probably true for many writers.

It certainly was for me, especially when it comes to prose.  Did writing this new book teach you anything and what was it?
I definitely learned patience.  Writing and publishing a book should not be rushed.   It’s an emotional process.  Therefore, if you begin to feel overwhelmed, put the book down and walk away.  Come back later when you’ve had time to breathe and relax.  However, the most important thing this new book taught me is that writing is my passion. I didn’t know it until I started.  I’m so grateful that I did!

I definitely learned that lesson the hard way!  So, tell us about your latest work.
It is a collection of poetry that chronicles the experience of one spirit’s journey through this world so far.  Whether it’s from my personal life or as a witness to others’ lives, the poems address various experiences and emotions that we all face.  The message of the book is that through interaction with the world, the spirit is tested, awakened and strengthened.  In the end, we discover that every experience is needed to tell the story of our spiritual journey.  Below, I share one of my favorite poems from After the Sixth Day–“Breathing Lessons”.

What do you love about independent publishing?
I love that I don’t have to compromise my goals as a writer. Being able to move at my own comfortable pace has been a blessing, and it has allowed me to learn more about the publishing process.  I also love that I was able to share my poetry in its “raw” form without my voice being altered.

What was the hardest part about writing this book?
The hardest part about compiling this book was knowing that I had to let it go. I know that probably seems odd since people write with an audience in mind.  I think because it’s my first book that I was a little nervous.

I think that nervousness is typical for most of us on the first one.  Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes, and it’s also in my introduction.  Never feel bad about or dismiss any of your life experiences.  In the moment, you may not realize it, but there is a blessing in the journey. 

What do you look for in a cover?
As a reader, I look for a cover that begins to tell the story before the book is opened.  If the author took the time to develop a cover, I’m trying to determine how the title relates to the cover. Of course, this influenced my cover choice. After the Sixth Day: Notes from a Spiritual Journey is presented as more or less a “diary.” Therefore, the cover’s inspiration is one of my personal leather bound journals.

What books have most influenced your life?
*The Bible
*Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (This book had a strong impact on me as a child. I’ve never forgotten it.)
*Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie by Maya Angelou
*The Color Purple by Alice Walker
*The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
I’ll include The Coldest Winter Ever by Sistah Souljah just because it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read!

I saw a couple of my favorites in there!  What projects can we expect from you in the future?
I’m working on a follow-up to After the Sixth Day.  In this first edition, I share just the poetry. The next book will be a smaller poetry collection that includes the inspirational story for each.  For the third project, I have a novel in the works–still researching.  So please stay connected.

Sounds incredible!  Thank you for joining us, Trinka!  Here is a sample of from Trinka’s book After the Sixth Day:

Breathing Lessons

Pulsating through my chest and out my nose–
that’s the way my life flows. In and out is each breath
I take serving as a sign of life when I’m sleep and when I’m awake.

Pull it in deep and then blow real hard.
Keep that pace going and fill it in your heart.
Keep your mind clear and your soul at ease
when you follow the breathing lessons I’m trying to teach.

Do it in the car and when you’re at work.
Do it when you’re feeling good and when it really hurts.
Take it in now as much as you can.
Touch your chest and feel it expand.

Our skin starts to tingle as life flows through–
as breath makes it way over me and you.
Close your eyes and focus on the sensation.
Take a minute to meditate and send your mind on vacation.

Lessons in breathing take you beyond–
signaling fear and increasing during fun.

I didn’t always know how to breathe.
I would take a deep gasp and hold it inside of me.
I would restrict its power and my chest would get tight.
This is what happens when your breathing is not right.
This is what happens when you stop life’s flow instead
of relaxing and letting it go.

Now breathe because you have no choice.
It’s your way of speaking when you have no voice.
Show some indication that you are alive.
Take a deep breath and see how you strive.

My grandmother breathed easy without much care.
She moved through life like she was floating on air.
I didn’t know she was giving me a breathing lesson-
lips barely parted with her hands folded and rested.
Exemplifying the ease at which it takes
to quiet doubts and mend the breaks.

My other grandmother told me that’s how I came to be.
God took my body and in it He breathed.
So when you inhale and exhale notice your breath,
and realize God is dwelling in your chest.

Lessons in breathing tell us that in the end,
we take one last breath and our souls fly away on the wind.

(Trinka Polite, 2012. All rights reserved.)
Reprinted with permission from the author.

You can find Trinka at the following links:

Twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/MsTrinkaV
Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/AfterTheSixthDay
Website:  http:// www.politejourney.com
Blog:  http://www.mstrinkav.blogspot.com

You can find Trinka’s book at the following links:

http://www.politejourney.com
http://www.lulu.com

Soapbox Spotlight: Larissa Hinton

Thank you for joining me on another installment of Soapbox Spotlight!  Today, I’m interviewing Larissa Hinton, who writes both young adult fantasy and paranormal romance.  She’s talking about her latest work, Everblossom, an anthology of short stories and prose.

Tell us about yourself, Larissa.

I grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia and Chesapeake, Virginia.  I now live in northern Virginia, but I always look forward to going back to the sweet smell of the salty ocean. I have always loved writing, since the age of 12, and hasn’t stopped since. After many years of writing whimsical tales of romance and fantasy, I am now proud to be a self-published author. When I’m not writing, I teach English at a local middle school.

Outside of the classroom, I love shopping for the next great Wii game, searching for undiscovered treasure (a.k.a. sparkly jewelry) and plucking some fresh fruits (or vegetables, dependent on the year) out of my small garden.

What inspires you to write and why?

Everything and anything is the broad and truthful answer. Since I’m a college student at Hampton University, I walk to class a lot. Instead of plugging my ears with music (I don’t want to draw attention to my hideous dance moves, lol), I think a lot about my books and what I can do to fix them. Practically everyday I do this and even though it doesn’t sound inspiring, I always come up with a new short idea or a way to fix a problem in my book. Sometimes thinking about my personal life helps and sometimes just walking in somewhat pure silence with nature brings me ideas.

What first attracted you to your genre?

I was first attracted to paranormal fantasy books because it lets me escape boring reality. In reality, I’m limited by my own experience, but, in fantasy, I can be whatever I want and explore new worlds that were never thought possible. That’s what I love about fantasy: pure freedom to dream and be what I want to be.

What inspired you to write your first book, and what was it?

The inspiration for my first book was Nickelodeon’s Clock Stoppers. I saw the movie trailer, and I thought, “I could write a better story than that.”  So I did.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?

The most challenging part about writing is putting your idea on paper and making it come across [correctly]. Especially for a novel. It’s a long journey from the first page until the last, and to make sure it’s projecting the idea from cover to cover from word to word is the most difficult part. As a writer, you have to be consistent, persistent, and have excellent time management to be able to complete a novel with style, grace and sanity. Seriously. Ask some writers if they haven’t pulled their hair out over a story that just wouldn’t translate from their brain onto the paper [properly]. Ah, the makings of a novel.

What is your greatest strength as a writer?

What I’ve been told my greatest strength is as a writer is my dialogue. I could practically write pages upon pages of dialogue and develop a whole story.

RJS Book Review
Today, I’m reviewing Larissa Hinton’s Everblossom: A Short Story and Poetry Anthology. The work is a compilation of short stories and poetry with varying themes and topics. The compilation is relatively short and can be read in one sitting. Having written a poetry compilation, and anticipating the publication of an anthology much like Ms. Hinton’s, I was eager to read Everblossom.

I, admittedly, had a hard time enjoying the short stories. Being a lover and writer of short stories myself, I suppose I was expecting Hinton’s stories to mimic the format I’ve seen in short story work before. However, these were decidedly different. Each story embarked with a very intriguing concept, but in presenting her conflict, Hinton never actually resolves one. Her stories are significantly underdeveloped and always end abruptly shortly after they start, leaving the reader questioning what happened and why the story is relevant. It is clear the author’s imagination is teeming with brilliant storylines; however, her execution of those ideas frequently left me unsatisfied.

Now, what shines in this anthology is the poetry. The author dismisses them light-heartedly in her introduction, but it was definitely the prose work that I enjoyed most. Her cadences evoke the mood of the poem distinctly, and each topic she discusses portrays an imagery that is vivid and relatable. I had a mind to list some of my favorites in this review, but there were so many that the list grew much too quickly. The industry is lacking poetic minds, and Hinton definitely has one.

Ultimately, the work had strong moments that kept me reading. Take a look at Larissa Hinton’s Everblossom and decide for yourself.

 2.5/5 suns: not because I hate it, but because it’s clear the author is better than what she’s given us.
You can find Larissa at the following links:

You can purchase Larissa’s books at the following links:

Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/80600

Be on the look out for Larissa’s upcoming work Angel Diaries!

Soapbox Spotlight: J. Mahogany

Welcome back to another Launch Week installment of Soapbox Spotlight!  I’m so proud to introduce you to this next author; she’s my best friend of thirteen years, J. Mahogany!  Her first work is Barely Breathing, a prose compilation we authored together.  She’s here to talk to us about poetry, prose compilations, and what she loves about writing.

So, tell us a little about yourself.
I am from Inglewood, CA, but grew up all across America.  I am what some people call an “Army Brat”.  Both my parents were in the Army.  Growing up in so many places allowed me to be introduced to many cultures and people.  It is because of that upbringing that I have such a diverse group of friends, most of whom I consider extended family.  I have always loved losing myself inside of a new book.  I have a colorful history of experiences that inspire me to write most of my work.  I am a child at heart and will never change that part of me for anything in the world.  It keeps me from being hardened by some of the tragic experiences I have had to deal with in my life.  It also keeps those around me laughing and remembering to appreciate even the little things in life.
You are also a member of our honored military.  Let me, on behalf of our readership, give you the deepest thanks for your service.  We are so blessed as a country that you take those risks out there.
How long have you been writing? 
Since I can remember.  Writing has been my method of “breathing”.  It started as just journaling when I was 8 or 9 and continued into poetry and prose as I got older.
Your genre is prose; have you ever considered writing anything else?
I have written a few children’s stories that I read to my friends’ and neighbor’s children.  They are mainly about teaching children life lessons in a creative and fun way.
How would you describe the pieces you write?
[They are] my life experiences.  I am very imaginative, but most pieces I write stem from a memory or something I have heard from someone else that inspired me to write about it.
Do you feel you’ve evolved as a writer?  What caused the change?
I am the worst critic of my work!  But, yes, I can definitely see the changes of my writer’s voice through the years. [It’s much more] emotional and mature.  [A lot] of my growth in writing stems from life experiences that were very painful.  If I could describe it, it would be as if I died emotionally and resurrected as a new being.  When I am at my lowest, that is when I find the words that surface like a butterfly from a cocoon.  Still, when I read others’ work, such as yours, it makes me want to burn my notebooks and be shameful to want to call myself a writer!
That’s ridiculous; you’re brilliant!  Can you tell us more about what inspires you to write?
Life.  Memories.  Pain.
What do you love about independent authorship?
Creative control gives you the freedom to write from your heart.  I love being challenged and given a topic to write about, but being an independent author puts no restrictions on what I want to say or how I should say it.
Do you have any new projects planned?
Always!  I have so many projects….I just tend to procrastinate.  I have three novels I would like to one day finish as well as two compilations of prose that I have yet to edit, one of them with you that we’re hoping to get out next year.
Yes!  Above Broken Dreams is the name of the project, and I think it’s going to be incredible.  Oh, and let’s not forget about the joint venture novel, Riding Past Dawn.  I’m so looking forward to finishing those with you.
It’s going to be really fun working together again!
What do you see ahead for yourself in your writing career?
A solo project of my own prose is the long term goal.  But I feel that I have a bit more growing to do as a writer before I make that leap.
What do you do for fun?
I love listening to music; it is so soothing.  I love to travel the world (which as we speak I am in the Middle East), and I absolutely love playing with my dogs, a.k.a. my babies.
Can you tell our audience about some of your favorite things?
My favorite country is Australia.  The people are so friendly, and the country itself is so beautiful.  My favorite city is Point Reyes, Calif.  It is in northern California on the coast and is the perfect setting for a relaxing vacation or to find peace of mind.  I love Italian food – well, I love all food, but that is my favorite.  I love too many artists to pick any favorites, but what stays in constant play on my iPod is Jill Scott, Eric Benet, Maxwell, Ledisi, Fred Hammond, Alicia Keys, Jasmine Sullivan, Rihanna and Melanie Fiona.  My absolute favorite author is Paulo Coehlo.  His books really make you reflect on life and yourself.  And many have a religious theme to them.  When I read his books I feel my spirit growing.
Wow, those are some amazing favorites!  Do you have any poetry you’d like to share with us today?
Sure!  This is titled “Lighthouse”.
Nestled deep behind my strong demeanor
You will find a heart that bleeds deeply for you.
A trail of tears will lead yo to a woman
Who has become weakened by your existence.
I am intimately connected to you.
I dream of you; I crave you.
Locked away behind my poised expression
I dance for you.
I celebrate your existence in my world;
I cherish you.
You are – everything to me.
That is what my heart would say if it could speak.
Even when the shadows engulf your light
I see you.  I seek you.
Your love is a beacon to my ship
Where I long to moor at your pier and embrace you.
I whisper your name to the ocean
In hopes of navigating my sail back to you.
You are…home.
My safe haven.
You are my buried treasure that I seek diligently to find.
Have I lost you forever?
Has my bearing lost its course?
Never.  A sailor never loses sight or faith amongst the arduous seas
In hopes of returning to their beloved.
I pray you will always be my beacon home.
Amazing, as usual!  Well, Besti, it has been an absolute honor to have you stop by the party and talk with us today.  Keep us posted about all your upcoming projects.
I certainly will, and thanks for having me.  It’s been great catching up with you, and congrats on The Grim!  What a read!
Thanks so much!

Poet Feature: Tammy French

Hello all!  I’m so excited!  I’m doing a spotlight interview with Alexia Purdy today!  There’s more on this incredible author come Launch Week next week, but for now, why don’t you head over and check out the interview?  I’m sure you’re going to enjoy it as much as I did.  Alexia has also done a review on The Grim; four out of five stars!  You can read the review here.

While I’m away, I’m allowing a feature poet to man the fort.  I suggested some of my fans and followers send me poetry this month in honor of National Poetry Month with the promise I would post some of what I’ve received.  A Facebook fan, Tammy French, sent me a brilliant piece titled “The Struggle”.  Enjoy!

The Struggle Drawing
Keith Burnette

The Struggle


Neurotic & weak
Unstable & tormented
Scared & ashamed
Loved but haunted by the past
Does she even have the courage or strength to
Claw her way up yet again?
Fingers & pride both bloodied & broken
A spirit that is bruised & battered
Will she struggle through it & survive to see better days?
Uncertainty & fear is what she faces
Dark days engulf her completely, along with ever-darker nights
                                                                                                      Will she make it?

Secret

As promised, here’s another poem for you.  It’s titled “Secret”.

You look at me with expectancy
Behind deep, penetrating eyes
But with those eyes you can’t see
Everything I’m fighting to hide
You can’t know what I’ve been through
Can’t possibly know how hard I’ve tried
To rectify those past relationships
My tears hidden behind a wall of pride
I know it’s not your fault, you see
What those others have done to me
But it’s because of them that I can’t give you
What you’re asking of me
I have a secret, buried deep within me
One I’ve kept inside for so long
“I’m afraid, I’m afraid, I’m afraid,” I whisper
A cadence that ripples like a song
I would love to hold your hand when you reach out for mine
But intimacy, it frightens me, and that can only heal with time
Yours is a love truly blessed; I won’t deny that fact
But I can’t partake, my heart shudders like an earthquake
And what’s left of me is bottled up tight and compact
It’s not fair to you to lead you on
To allow you to believe I’m healed
When deep inside I just always want to cry
And putting you through that is not a fair deal
You say I should let you decide for yourself
That it’s your choice to stay or go
But I’m deciding for you, I implore you
The pain is too deep for you to really know
You’re great, really you are, and I appreciate your concern
But I’m still too scared, still too nervous
About allowing myself to love or yearn
There are so many things I can’t bear to tell you
So many hurts I harbor close
I wish it could be, but it just can’t, you see
So for your own sake, let’s please just let this go

Sitting Here

I’m a little late today, but cut me some slack–it’s Monday! 🙂  I’ve got a new one for you.  This one is titled “Sitting Here”.


Sad by Susan Richards
Oct 2004
Sitting Here
This is not but a game to you
Juggling beating hearts
Like a jester at court
We are all little toys to you
Discarded playthings
Left on a shelf to rot
I am nothing if not destroyed by you
A fleeting thought
Long forgotten among chaos and ruin
And yet here I sit–
Knowing–but refusing to accept
That what you are and what you seem
Are two very different concepts
Still–I believe
In love eternal–
MY LOVE
Not yours–as it has proven so
FLEETING
And still–I sit here
Content to smile with happy grace
And pretend the pain can’t be read on my face
Knowing the end has come and cannot erase
The lie I bought and must now replace

Except your face–
It makes me smile