Wednesday, April 08, 2009

On Writing Poetry, Voice and Food as Inspiration

I am including an essay today by a guest blogger. I think I sometimes neglect posting information on the writing process in favor of offering you ways to get people to read what you write. Not fair! my inner voice cries. For what we choose and how we choose it is essential to our writing life. So today a piece on poetry, voice and the choices we make from Margaret Fieland.

Writing Poetry, Voice and Choosing the Artistic Life

By Margaret Fieland

My mother was an amateur artist who specialized in portraits. In spite of the fact that her art teacher told her she had too much talent for commercial art she said she thought she would have been happy as a commercial artist. She never pursued "serious" art, a field which is notoriously hard to break into. Instead she married my father and painted on the side. She gave most of the paintings away. As far as I know she only sold a couple of sketches. This was, I think, mostly from lack of motivation.

I decided not to become a professional musician in part because of her example; I wanted to be able to earn my living and I also wasn't convinced I wanted to devote full time to music. I *never* thought about being a writer. I ended up finally as a computer software engineer. I've been in the field for many years now.

When I started to write more poetry I went out and bought myself a couple of rhyming dictionaries. I rarely use them. I spent years developing my own algorithm for generating rhymes. One of the benefits of my method is that I can come up with slang words. In one of my poems, for example, I rhyme sleep with bleep.

I find surprising things come out in my poetry. I wrote the poem below when I was *really really* annoyed with my partner, mostly about cooking stuff and I got to the line about wanting to hit her with the soup pot. My reactions went something like:

My God, that's awful.

I can't put that in.

I *have to* put that in.

I had to put the line in because, for me anyway, poetry is about truth and that's where my truth was. I've had a number of moments like that, moments where I realize that I had something on my mind, or was worried about something, or whatever, because it came out in a poem.

It was only later that I saw the humor.

Here's the poem. It was published in the June, 2006 Humdinger.


I don't want to hear how unhappy you are

because I didn't buy any Roast Beef at the deli

or because I made Chili from Dave's recipe

with the six tablespoons of Chili powder

and Minestrone

with the rind from the Parmesan cheese in the broth

just like Marcella does.

It was enough to make me want to hit you

with the soup pot.

And if you're ever happy with my cooking,

then please tell me.

But I'm not holding my breath.

When I was little we spent our summers in our house on Candlewood Lake in Connecticut. My sister and I were good swimmers but my parents had a fenced front yard with a locked gate and we were never, ever let anywhere near the water without an adult. When I asked my mother about this, she told me that the neighbors to the right, who had moved out when I was a baby, had been watching their own children and the daughter of a neighbor swim when the mother went up to the house to answer the phone. In the few minutes she was gone the neighbor’s daughter drowned.

This made a tremendous impression on me and I wanted to write a poem about it, but struggled with the voice. Voice is the tone of the poem, who is speaking, whether it’s in first, second or third person: who is speaking and how they are saying it. I thought about using myself, my mother, the neighbor, the drowned girl’s mother, but none of them felt right. I wanted to convey the sickening drop of my stomach when I heard this story, the sense of how in a moment things can change. Finally I decided to tell it from the point of view of a real estate agent selling the house. The result was “Lakefront Property, for sale, Cheap,” which appears in the November, 2006 issue of The Green Muse

The essayist is Margaret Fieland. She blogs on her Web site at

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog.

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