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Guest Post by JC Sulzenko! From Hits to Hints: A Post about Poetry


Please let me welcome poet and author JC Sulzenko to the stage. *applause*

Thanks to Mike Stewart for inviting me to guest-blog this month! Of course I’d Twist and shout at the chance to spin a topic any way I want.  

Twist and shout, a phrase from an ‘oldie’ hit song, gave me the idea to use song titles in sharing tips about writing poetry. So, anytime you see words in italics, you can bet they name a hit, top single, as complied at for the week of November 27-December 3, 2015.

This approach reminds me a bit of the found poetry and centos I write these days. For this kind of poetry, I choose and combine lines written by other poets to create a new, original work.  Here, then, are those chart-topping song titles, in combo with my hints for you. You’re bound to recognize the music!

I’ll show you a way to approach writing poetry, Runnin’ with words that you can enjoy, without fear or hesitation.

To begin: Where are U now? Is poetry-writing difficult for you? Uh, huh! Uh, huh! Join the crowd!

Hello! Showing up is at least half the problem. You can’t write unless you commit to doing so. You need to Be right there! Oh yes. Turn off your phone; put texting aside.

Does keeping your Eyes shut help? Maybe, if you close your eyes, you’ll be able to  block out whatever could distract you as you decide what to write about, even if that’s half the world away!

Focus your energy on getting the words and feelings down. In fact, as soon as a cool thought pops into your mind, write it somewhere or you may forget it and lose out. 

Mark my words: start somewhere—with a word, or an image, or a title. You don’t need to have the whole poem from first to last lines plotted out like a story. You even can let yourself begin with what you think the ending could be. Sometimes it’s something someone else wrote or sang or said that prompts a poem. Remember to give credit to that source, if you use another’s work in your own in some fashion.

The feeling: Poetry is often rooted in emotions. Let them in, then set them down on the page. To catch the essence of the feeling you want in the poem, use everything you can: Colours, the five senses, the poem’s shape, even the kitchen sink! (LOL! Just kidding!) Be true to yourself! Don’t add in anything that feels artificial or forced, which could throw off a poem.

While you are at it, Don’t be so hard on yourself.  Really. There’s a little critic inside every writer that can smother original thinking. I’ll bet you’ve heard its annoying whine inside your head saying, “that’s no good!” Maybe what you’re working on isn’t genius YET, but it’s too early to say what it might become. Sometimes words come out just right; more often, though, you have to work at them, pare them down to the core, then build them up again.

You will need patience and staying power. Be willing to Do it again and Do it again. And while you are working, tell that little critic to take a hike!

It boils down to this: Never forget… you need to Love yourself as a writer. Yes, that’s hard, but worth remembering, because you have to believe you can write, even when a poem isn’t coming together the way you hoped. I believe it. So can you.

What’s key? Once you have written the piece, edit it until it is the best you believe it can be (not Perfect because that very high standard is almost always out of reach, plus what’s ‘perfect’ to one person isn’t necessarily ‘perfect’ to another.) Reading it aloud can help show where you want pauses or punctuation or line or stanza breaks and can bring out words that jar or a gap that needs attention.

In the end, though, You need to be able to answer this one question about your poem: What do you mean?  If you can’t answer what the poem is about, then it isn’t working. 

When The writing’s on the wall, when your words are shared in whatever way you choose, the reader has to understand your words, even if that reader Wasn’t expecting that surprise you delivered, that Adventure of a lifetime your poem has proven to be.

Poetry that clicks lets each reader ‘crawl’ between the lines and find meaning for him or herself, instead of being hit over the head with a poem that explains exactly what the poem should make the reader think or feel. Show the reader, don’t tell him or her what you mean.

So, Where are you now? Hopefully, these tips leave you feeling good (not Sorry) about writing poetry and pumped to SHOW UP and JUST DO IT!


                                                                        JC Sulzenko, December, 2015

About JC’s writing process

“Well, it’s just too good to be true when, in a moment of quiet—though that doesn’t mean only when there’s the sound of silence but, instead, when all the noise in my busy brain turns into whispers—an idea I’ve carried around for a while or a new brainwave wants out.

“Even if I’m in the middle of something else, I write it down.  I return to the idea, usually after a pause (it can be minutes or days or weeks or months, even years!) It feels exquisite to let the words flow, without editing at this point.

Then I assess the poem that is emerging. Perhaps it promises Magic in the moonlight, or, like Gravity, it pulls me down, and I fear I will have to Let it go!  (Even then, I keep the bits and pieces and drafts, in case the material could prove useful in future.)

“If I think the piece is worth working on further, I finalize it, after which I say to myself now ‘I’ll fix you.’ I edit the poem, always seeking ways to improve its language, form and punch. I revisit every poem at least once and, more likely, many times. The editing process is as important to me, perhaps even more important, than writing the poem itself. ”

Photo of JC Sulzenko

About JC

Ottawa-based JC Sulzenko’ s poems have appeared in anthologies and chapbooks, online and in local and national media, either under her name or as A. Garnett Weiss.

She serves on the selection board for Bywords and is the inaugural curator for The Glebe Report’s “Poetry Quarter” feature. 

Poems from her series “Cameos, appearances” were published in Ides, Silver Birch Press’s 2015 anthology of chapbooks in which she is the sole Canadian poet.

JC judges poetry contests, including the OPL’s Awesome Authors Contest, and offers poetry workshops. She acted as poet-mentor in The Gryphon Trio’s “Listen up! Ottawa” project and for MASC (Multicultural Arts for Schools and Communities.)

The Ottawa International Writers Festival launched What my Grandma means to say, her book and one-act play about Alzheimer’s disease.  It is her sixth book for children and families. Further info:

Image: What My Grandma Means to Say

What My Grandma Means to Say

With Questions, Answers, and Sources of Further Information About Alzheimer's Disease
By Sulzenko, J. C.
Image: Boot Crazy

Boot Crazy

By Sulzenko, J. C.