Posts tagged ‘Dr. Todd Petersen’

What Poetry Isn’t

Poetry is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and effective literary mediums that exist. In comparison to prose, the boundaries of poetry are very much expanded. However, that’s the kicker; there are still boundaries. Unfortunately, many people today (especially teenagers) have the wrong idea about poetry. Many public schools fail to expose their students to poetry in the correct way, partly by allowing them to write weak poetry.

Growing up, I was primarily exposed to Haikus, simple rhymes, and an occasional sonnet here and there. Needless to say, I never want to see another Haiku again. Unfortunately, I developed an aversion to poetry because I felt it was boring and unimpressive. Honestly, I still feel that way about certain forms of poetry. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I really came to know and enjoy good poetry. I was lucky to have Tasha Seegmiller as my teacher, who taught many forms and elements of poetry that I never would have experienced had I not taken the class.

I feel that this is the case of many young people today, who tend to make two very distinct mistakes when approaching poetry.

The first mistake concerns “free verse” poetry. Traditional poetry forms are taught in less depth than they were a hundred years ago, which has triggered a flood of creative writers who don’t quite know what to do. This tends to result in what I like to call “Paragraph Poetry.” This kind of poetry often lacks depth, meaning, and literary value. The term “Paragraph Poetry” comes form the distinct structure of the poem, which seems as if the author wrote a paragraph about how they feel about a certain subject, and then just varied the line length enough to make it classifiable as a poem.

There are those that say “I can write it however I want, that’s what poetry is all about!” Or is it? If one who knows nothing about music bangs on random piano keys, does that make he or she a musician? Does throwing canned soup into a pot make one a chef? Icarus made himself wings; therefore, is he a bird? Certainly not. Slapping words onto a page without rhyme or reason (see what I did there?) does not make one a poet.

Even in “free verse” poetry, there is structure. Free verse simply indicates that a poet had strayed from conventional poetry styles, not that the poet is about to spew a mountain of unorganized word mush at the reader. University professors rarely delight in poetry that follows the “paragraph” format. “Good” poetry usually follows a specific form, evokes feelings and thoughts not expressly written in the poem, and includes literary genius. It is questionable whether what most teenagers write and consider to be poetry is even poetry at all.

This leads us to the second mistake, which involves content. Dr. Todd Petersen once said “Edward Cullen hates your emo poetry.” Although this statement induced many giggles from the class, everyone understood the importance of what it meant. Too often, young people write angsty poetry that is of little value to anyone but themselves. Writing about feelings is wonderful; many of the greatest poems ever written are about sadness, etc. However, there is a fine line between poetry that only communicates “I’m sad and misunderstood” and poetry that does good to the world. There are so many things in the world that are more worthy to write about. It’s important to consider what poetry is all about before flinging unchecked thoughts and feelings onto a page.

This isn’t to say that one cannot write simply for one’s self. It is often very healing to express thoughts and emotions through writing. However, not everything one writes must be shared with an audience; you are what you give to the world.


The Importance of Social Networking for Writers

With the sudden influx of social networking sites has come a number of concerns from just about everyone, be it about privacy, productivity, even the ability to make meaningful relationships in the real world. These are all legitimate concerns, and ones that should be considered if one decides to join a social network (but let’s face it, most people today are part of one).

The good news is, it can actually be a healthy activity for aspiring writers. Frequently updating  a Facebook or Twitter status is much like writing down a stream of consciousness, which is an exercise that writers sometimes use to help with writers block. Many people go throughout the day thinking about how to post about something amazing or terrible that just happened, or ponder a specific topic they’d like to share with others later. By actively engaging the mind to deliberately write thoughts down, people are developing their writing skills, whether they know it or not.

An important element of being a writer is practice. Very rarely do I wake up in the morning and have my head filled with perfect stories, phrases, and vocabulary. More often, I sit at my workstation for long periods of time, hoping for inspiration and feeling like my brain is bleeding. Even when I have great ideas, it seems easier said than done to get them out on paper without spoiling them. One of my professors, Dr. Todd Petersen, suggests an exercise he uses to get the mind flowing. This consists of carrying note cards with you everywhere you go, and writing thoughts, observations, and ideas on them throughout the day to use later.

This is a great exercise, but in a world of electronics, carrying around note cards all day can be a little old fashioned and cumbersome. Beyond that, most people who do use social networks do this exercise already with status updates (this method is a lot more accessible and organized). This is perhaps an even better way to log thoughts and inspirations, for the writer is not trying so hard to come up with impressive ideas. Friends and family members can also add their own comments and give feedback, as well as share concepts that others can develop.

Having a wealth of ideas to choose from can be vital when it comes time to actually start a project. Annie Dillard, author of The Writing Life, demonstrates the importance of putting ideas into action when she said,

“Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”

Whether one uses Facebook, Twitter, or some other exercise, it’s important to write every day even if it is just a few clever one liners. The internet is what you make of it, even as far as social networking goes. It is possible to spend a lot of time online and still be productive. The art of language is everywhere, and you just might find it in places you never thought you would.

A Few Words on Punctuation

Ever since language evolved from animalistic grunts into a carefully structured system, punctuation had been one of its most important elements. Despite this, many people today tend to overlook its flexibility. It is perhaps one of the most important tools that a writer uses to demonstrate what they mean. This is illustrated in a well known example:

“Let’s eat, Grandma.”  as opposed to “Let’s eat Grandma.”

If one totally disregards punctuation, one may find his/her grandma deceased far sooner than expected. Although conventional punctuation is clearly essential, it is being rivaled with an entirely new kind of modern punctuation, greatly influenced by technological opportunities available to young writers today.

For centuries, the rules regarding things like commas, semicolons, and periods were simply that: rules. Few people strayed from the recommended usage for each mark. In fact, only a small group had any kind of presence in the literary world. With the dawn of the Digital Age, anyone can publish their work and have it accessed by anyone in the world, as well as  have their work readily available to publishers and agents. As a result of this, more people are writing than ever before, and the concept of how to properly punctuate is changing. It is not uncommon to see writers stray in their placement of periods and dashes, even if it is blatantly incorrect.

Noah Lukeman, the author of A Dash Of Style, attempts to correct this problem by discussing what each mark does and how best to use it. Punctuation is a pretty lame candidate for leisure reading, but this work is a refreshing surprise that both entertains and informs. Not only does it retain the basic rules, it simultaneously advises readers to branch out and refresh their text by punctuating.

Todays punctuation focuses on how something is said rather than what is said. You. Can. Literally. Change. The. Way. Someone. Reads. And. Thinks. Dr. Todd Petersen of Southern Utah University validates this concept by theorizing that emoticons are the new punctuation of this era. You can write pretty much anything and completely change the meaning by tacking on an emoticon.

– You suck! 🙂
– You suck! :/
– You suck! 😦

This is revolutionizing the way people communicate. It is now possible to directly indicate a specific intention or mood without having to consider context. It is easy to say that this new method will never find its place in the academic and business world, but those before us would be shocked at how we punctuate today. With the increasing use of internet technology, there is a possibility that we may be headed into a linguistic revolution.