Archive for January, 2012

Wisdom from Unexpected Places

Ever have that moment where you are captivated by a popular book or magazine but you just can’t pinpoint why it’s awesome? Yeah, me too. One of the best ways to become a good writer is of course, as any English teacher will tell you, to read. I agree, but I think there is a little more to it than that. Simply reading stacks and stacks of books is not only time consuming, but exhausting. Time is better spent looking deep into works that you absolutely love. Ask yourself questions and answer them. Find out what it is that makes that book or even sentence so interesting and enthralling!

I found myself asking such questions earlier today when I began browsing through the many pages of a Cosmo magazine. I came upon an article that I found to be very entertaining. The subject of the article was not especially eye-catching and was old news to me, which got me thinking about what exactly made the article so interesting. Later, I realized it was all thanks to a very simple trick: the writer knew her audience. She wrote as if she was speaking to a best friend, using all kinds of age-appropriate lingo and relaxed language. Just by tweaking the way she wrote, she brought a flat subject to life.

I often find that I get inspirations and ideas about how to improve my work from the most unexpected places (such as a racy magazine like Cosmo). Even writing I don’t like has a lot to offer; I can recognize what doesnt work (which is at times even more important). Dissecting a broad spectrum of writing samples can do more for a writer than he or she ever imagines. Sometimes, waiting for inspiration works, but most of the time you have to work for it, or at least make yourself perceptive to it. Jean Cocteau said “The poet doesn’t invent.  He listens.” Understanding how writing works is the same way.

What will you discover in an ordinary thing today?

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Don’t Judge A Poem By Its Poet

A few days ago, I was browsing through the book section of a local thrift store and found a very “loved” copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetry. That night, I cracked it open and started reading in the middle of a long and boring-looking poem, but I gave it a chance and fell in love with it. I turned back a few pages to read it from the beginning, and realized that had I known the author of the poem, I probably wouldn’t have started reading it.

This got me thinking. Do I really judge poems by their author? I think everyone does at least once in their life. Many high school students would probably much rather read Shel Silverstein than Keats, for example. How many things do people miss because of bias and attitude? Far too many.

Poetry is a treasure chest waiting to be delved into, and it’s precious contents are often cast aside because of incorrect judgments and the tendency to rip poetry viciously apart in the pursuit of answers. This reminds me of a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins.

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

There is so much that poetry has to offer if one simply sits back and enjoys it. You’ll be surprised what your taste in poetry is if you read it with an open mind and an empty cup.

So what are you waiting for? Open that dusty collection of poetry and see what treasures are waiting to inspire you!