Poetry Friday: Throwback Summer continues!

When I shared my ground-breaking poem, “Ode to Toads” last Friday, I warned you there were more poems where that came from.

journals - high schoolWelcome to the future, my friend!

Having made huge nostalgic discoveries in my parents’ attic recently, I now have FOUR high school English writing journals from which to cull choice tidbits of my handiwork (and I use the phrase “choice” very loosely).

Earlier this week, I spent a little more time explaining how and why I’m sharing these early writings of mine – and the fact that my time spent writing poems, news articles, and cartoons for our high school newspaper helped shape my style and develop my vocabulary. If you didn’t get a chance to check out the post, I really hope you will.

Today, I have another poem from 1982 – my sophomore year. I’ve said before I never liked keeping writing journals. And as I look through them, I am struck by how much of my time is spent writing about the fact I have nothing to write about.

Ode to a Poem I’m Writing Only Because I Couldn’t Think of Anything Else to Write About

I sit and stare
At a blank piece of paper,
Wondering what to write.
I can’t think at all,
Like my mind’s a brick wall,
Though I’m trying with all of my might.

What should I write about?
What can I write about?
How should my next entry read?
When I sat down to do it,
I thought I’d breeze through it,
But I can’t – so help me, I plead!

– Nov. 5, 1982, Matt Forrest Esenwine

While not as darkly humorous or satisfying as my classic “Ode to Toads,” I do like the fact I was attempting a rhyme scheme that’s not particularly easy. Hey, I was a 15-year-old kid trying to be funny! And I never spent a lot of time putting my entries together, so if I had to guess, I doubt this took me more than half an hour to write.

As I read this, I’m thinking I had probably recently seen the BBC miniseries of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which explains the ridiculously long title. Not quite as bad as Grunthos the Flatulent’s poem, “Ode to a Small Lump of Green poetryfridaybutton-fulllPutty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning,” but it definitely gives all Azgoth poets a run for their money.

For more poetry (and much, MUCH better poetry, I might add), head on over to Carol’s Corner for the complete Poetry Friday roundup – you won’t be disappointed! And if there’s any sort of lesson to be learned from today’s post, it is the importance of spending time practicing, developing, and learning…in other words: #WriteLikeNoOneIsReading!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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Amazing new discovery: My childhood!

Well, ok – I admit, that headline is a bit misleading. As someone who spent 25 years in radio and now writes for children, one could make a case that I never really left my childhood.

Matt lunchbox
The only lunchbox I ever owned. Alas, it’s missing the special “silo”-themed Thermos! Ahhh, memories of lukewarm milk and room-temperature Beefaroni. It’s a miracle I lived through all the potential food poisoning.

However, as I mentioned this past Friday, I recently came upon a huge stash of papers and memorabilia from my school days, while cleaning out my parents’ house. Their attic has been a treasure trove of nostalgia, where I have discovered old school tests and projects, several of my old journals, and even my elementary school lunchbox!

The journals – portions of which I’ll be sharing throughout the summer – were only part of the story.

The folks saved darned near everything

If the strength of a mother and father’s pride in their only child can be measured in the number of school papers and knick knacks they save, my parents are superhuman. Among the additional artifacts unearthed:

  • Poems by Emily Dickenson, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and others that I was required to memorize in high school.
  • A printout of my senior-year computer class project:  a program I designed using BASIC (any geeks remember that??) to keep track of a basketball team’s stats. I actually went back to school the Monday AFTER I graduated to try to fix a bug in the program. I wasn’t going to get any extra credit for it, but it was one of those things that kept annoying me and I had to fix. Never did. >sigh<typewriter 1
  • The first typewriter I ever owned! Yes, we all have to start somewhere.
  • Copies of the high school newspaper, of which I was a staff member and editor-in-chief my senior year. (see below!)
  • A big, pink, construction-paper heart envelope filled with 2 or 3 years’ worth of elementary school Valentine’s Day cards. You know those cheap, dozen-for-a-dollar cards they sell every year? Mom kept them all.
IMG_1259
My mug shows up twice on these front pages…score extra points if you can find me! (click to enlarge)

I still have wonderful memories of working on the student newspaper:  spending days after school typing stories on the old word-processors; cutting and pasting the stories, artwork, and photos together; and being embarrassed during journalism class when our teacher, Mrs. Jencks, told everyone her two younger daughters liked visiting us after school because they thought I looked like Remington Steele.

Not sure why Pierce Brosnan gets to keep his hair these days and I don’t…but I suppose that’s just more proof that life really is not fair.

IMG_1260  IMG_1263

When I first joined the newspaper staff, I started out entering news stories on our clunky Apple II computers. (MS DOS, anyone?)  I also created word puzzles, which I absolutely loved to do. During my senior year, I was not only editor, but also provided some of the cartoons. The school faced serious overcrowding issues; hence, the cover art on the left! (click to enlarge)

When you suddenly realize none of the kids you knew…are kids

A very sobering aspect of these discoveries is that I look at names and faces and need to come to grips with the fact that none of these children knew what was in store for them.

The kids whose names fill that Valentine heart, in particular – barely older than my 6-year-old son – give me pause to reflect on life, death, and fate. April, who went on to marry her childhood sweetheart. Karen, who became our senior class Salutatorian when I became Valedictorian. Chris, who committed suicide before he had a chance to graduate. Eric, who, a mere 2 months after high school graduation, died in a terrible car crash that should never have happened.

I think about Chris and Eric, and I so desperately wish I could somehow go back in time and wrap my arms around them, these little 7-year-old boys, and protect them the same way I would protect my own little dude.

Hold them. Shield them.

Warn them.

But they grew up, as we all do, and made choices they should not have made…and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that.

typewriter 2So I’ll continue sifting through my memories, sharing them here, and hopefully creating new ones, as long as God or Fate allow me to do so. And as I watch my son tap excitedly on my old typewriter, making up stories in much the same way I did – albeit with a dry, 40-year-old ribbon – I pray that he, and all my children, and everyone’s children, may live to see their dreams come true.

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Poetry Friday: It’s going to be a Throwback Summer!

It was the fall of 1982.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllThe phrase, “E.T. phone home” was on everyone’s lips. EPCOT Center had just opened in Orlando, Florida. Sony was selling the world’s first commercially-available compact disc player for a mere $730. (It really kills me to say these things…has it been that long??)

In the midst of all this, I had just begun my sophomore year of high school when my English teacher gave us the dreaded news:

We were to keep journals.

Now, I realize most folks don’t think that’s too terrible an assignment – and for someone who loves to read and write, you wouldn’t think I’d mind – but I absolutely HATED writing in my journal.

I think it’s comparable to assigned reading: If you want to take the joy out of something a person likes to do, force him or her to do it. So as much as I liked writing, keeping a journal was one of the worst parts of my high school life. (And this, from a guy who got bullied, teased, and was generally despised by most of his classmates. But I digress…)

The reason I bring this up is because I made a discovery this past weekend at my parents’ house. I’m in the process of helping them clean the place in preparation to sell it, and hidden away in the attic, I couldn’t believe what I found.

FOUR of my journals!

journals - high school

So, of course, as soon as I made it back to my house, I just had to pore over every page and be amazed at how absolutely awful my writing was. Well, maybe not  “awful.” “Dreadful” might be a better word.

“Labored” would be another.

There are short, ridiculous essays. Even more ridiculous poetry. Even random word lists, word puzzles, and fake advertisements. But I can see now how my style of writing and sense of humor developed and grew, and I am thrilled to have these in my possession again.

I’ll be writing a little bit more about “where it all began” next week here on the blog, and sharing more discoveries. But for today, I wanted to share the poem that started it all…

Not the first poem I ever wrote, but the first poem I consistently received immediate reactions from; the first poem that would instantly elicit a reaction of laughter, eye-rolling, or head-shaking every single time a person read it or heard me recite it.

This is the poem that made me realize I might have a knack for writing:

Ode to Toads

Toads here, toads there,
jumping all around.
Got so many, got too many.
Squash ’em on the ground.

– © Oct. 25, 1982 Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

Ah, yes…my “Ode to Toads” will forever hold a special place in my heart. It really is the poem that got this whole “published author” thing rolling, whether you like it or not! And be forewarned: every Friday throughout the summer, I’ll be sharing another Moldy Oldie from one of my journals, so I hope you’ll make a point to join me for what I hope will be a fun – if not embarrassing – trip down Memory Lane.

Rest assured, though, there is plenty of much better poetry elsewhere (in fact, pretty much anywhere); if you’d like to find such a place, I encourage you to stop by Carol Varsalona’s Beyond Literacy blog, where she is hosting Poetry Friday today. And although I haven’t checked, I’m pretty sure there are no dead amphibians.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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Book review: “The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary” ARC Tour concludes here!

Last 5th Grade coverJust 2 months ago, on April 12, author and poet Laura Shovan celebrated a book birthday: her debut middle grade novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary (Random House Children’s Books) was officially released, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.

In advance of the release, Laura began a blog tour of her ARC (Advance Review Copy), in which children’s lit bloggers across the country could read the book, share their thoughts on it, and pass it along to the next blogger.

Well, it all wraps up today, as I’m the final blogger on the tour – and I’m so happy for Laura!

It’s an engrossing book, detailing the lives of 18 students in Ms. Hill’s class and their personal struggles and joys with themselves, each other, and the fact that the school board has announced that the school will be closing at the end of the year to be turned into a mall.

Each poem is told from a particular student’s point of view, which allows the reader to get to know the characters intimately well. George Furst, for example (whose middle name is Washington thanks to his history-loving parents), is running for class president but wishes his mother and father had not divorced.

Hannah Wiles is the Type-A, in-charge, know-it-all who, aside from also running for class president, is also struggling with parental issues. Brianna Holmes, meanwhile, is creative and proud – and homeless. Newt Matthews has Asperger’s.

Last 5th grade poem

Through each of their poems, the individual students’ personalities develop over the course of the book, and it’s nice to see their progress and level of maturity by the time the last poem ends. Both funny and poignant in turn, The Last Fifth Grade is a touching book that is as easy to read as it is as easy to get lost in. I do have to admit, the students seem far more worldly and mature than my fifth grade class!

In fairness and honesty, the only disappointment I have to note (and I hate to even mention this, as we’re talking about my friend, Laura’s, book!) is that three of the eighteen students are dealing with the lack of a father in their lives: George Furst, whose dad left the family earlier in his life; Hannah Wiles, who has to live with her dad while her mom is stationed overseas, and Mark Fernandez, whose father passed away.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a stay-at-home dad who works out of the house – hence, I’m a bit touchy on this subject – but no one seems to bemoan living with their mother. Yes, there are some very commendable dads in the book, and I appreciate Laura’s implication of the importance of fathers; I just think it would have been more balanced had there been at least one home that was happy with their dad, even though mom was absent.

But that’s a minor quibble. The importance, of course, is the interaction of the students and their growth throughout this transformative year. Through rich yet kid-friendly language, well-crafted characters, and a wide array of poetic forms (from free verse and haiku to sonnets and limericks), Laura tells a tale that kids will want to follow from first page to last!

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Poetry Friday: “Coming to Terms” (LGBT Pride Month)

trigger-warningThe following poem was first published in the anthology Trigger Warning: Poetry Saved My Life (Swimming with Elephants Publications, 2014), and following its publication I shared it here on this blog. Even though I rarely re-post poems, I felt this would be appropriate in this case, in recognition of President Obama’s recent proclamation of June being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.

You see, about 25 years ago, a very close friend of mine went through an extremely difficult time in his life…and it nearly destroyed him. Fortunately, he found support from his friends and therapy from writing poetry:

Coming to Terms

He had to keep quiet.

No one could know of his love, no –
infatuation – for the tall, dark beauty
with whom he shared daily smiles. His thoughts
were his, yet quickly
he became their slave; not uncommon,
of course, as we all succumb
to that numbness, once, at least,
but for his own sake

he had to keep quiet.
None could know, not even
Dark Beauty, who
had no inkling of an unthinkable
courtship, but simply smiled back
as acquaintances do
until one day, in a burst of emotion and discovery,
every passionate detail of his desire
came pouring forth from every pore
in an unintended self-
immolation of love and pain.

The revelation
and cloud of rejection suffocated
and he wished it would
deaden the nerves that allowed him to feel
every word hurled
from Dark Beauty, friends,
parents, the world.
Endless days spent scared and crying
bled into pill-filled nights
that led not to quiet slumber but to weeks
and months
in the ward, safe and distressed. Alone

in his room, with pen
firm between heart and forefinger, line
by line he began to sort through love,
loss, dejection,
reflection
and the realization
he had been lying to himself, thinking

he had to keep quiet.

© 2014 Matt Forrest Esenwine, from Trigger Warning: Poetry Saved My Life (Swimming with Elephants Publications, 2014), all rights reserved

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Jone MacCulloch is hosting Poetry Friday today at Check it Out, so for all of today’s links and fun, be sure to…check it out!

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poetryfridaybutton-fulllDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Poetry Friday: “Spring at Pond Meadow”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllAbout a week and a half ago, I shared a short video on my Facebook page, taken behind our house, along our property line. It was simply 10 seconds of a babbling brook, but it’s a quiet little place I like to go and bring the kids to relax and listen.

Today, I’m sharing something from the front of the house!

Actually, it’s right across the street from the front of our house. On the other side of the road, you see, a hay field and pond are home to a variety of frogs, ducks, snapping turtles, deer, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a Great Blue Heron – as well as a family of Canada Geese that has been growing the last few years:

Geese 2

Geese
(click either image to enlarge)

Five or six years ago, it was one pair of geese. This spring, I counted 5 pairs, most with their own gaggle of goslings, and one lone adult straggler. (Hey, there’s always that one confirmed bachelor in every family, right?)

So today, I thought I’d share a short poem I wrote about them. Hope you like it! And for all of today’s Poetry Friday links, head over to Julie Larios’ The Drift Record.

Spring at Pond Meadow

Goslings follow Mama’s lead,
through tall grass and jewel-weed;
Father watches wily fox
hiding kits from hungry hawks.

– © 2016, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

Oh, by the way…if you haven’t had a chance to read my post from this past Tuesday about using open submissions for inspiration, I hope you’ll check it out!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Using submission requests to spur inspiration

I’ve written previously about the value of writing prompts as well as the importance of creating your own inspiration. Today, I want to take just a few short minutes to share a little tip about submission requests, and how they tie into these two topics.

No matter what you write – poetry, novels, short stories, essays – there is a literary journal, website, or writing contest somewhere waiting for you to send in your best. And while many folks might not feel their work is up to the “publishable” level, or are concerned that they don’t have an appropriate piece of work to submit, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter.

Publishable or not?

I’m my own worst critic, so I know how it feels when you’ve written something and don’t feel it’s worthy of a wider audience than your cat. You want to tweak it again, fix this line, change that word. I get it.

But, if you’re like me, there’s a point at which you finally think to yourself, “I’ve been working on this so long, I have no idea if this is good or not.”

So send it in! If you come across a submission for which you think your piece is appropriate, send it in! Maybe the editors will like it, maybe not. If they don’t like it, they won’t publish it and no one will see it.

If they do like it, however…you can rest assured that particular piece can be now considered “DONE.”

Nothing appropriate?

The flip side to having a piece that’s appropriate for the submission rules but not actually ready for submission, is not having anything appropriate at all, with regards to subject matter or genre. Here’s where it gets really fun.

Say you’re checking out some writing blogs and one of the bloggers has a writing prompt. Maybe he/she has posted a photo or some words and is asking for readers to share a piece of writing based on the prompt. You might not think twice about whipping up something based on that prompt…so treat the submission as a prompt!

What, there’s a journal looking for stories about windows and doors? That’s a writing prompt! A contest requesting poems about dreams? That’s another prompt! Every submission request is a prompt, so seize every opportunity you can! If you aren’t already doing this, you need to.

No inspiration is no excuse

A professional writer does not wait for inspiration to strike; you simply can’t afford to! Rather, a professional writer creates his or her own inspiration.

Many years ago, I wrote when I felt inspired. Now that I have been writing more and more – and have been published more and more – I have learned to create my own inspiration by working on ideas and words and lines until the poem or story starts coming together.

In the case of submission requests, though, the inspiration is handed to you!

You are told, “We need stories or essays about this” or “We’re looking for poets from this background writing about this subject.” So when you see the request, think about what you might be able to write about that fits the requirements.

Then WRITE!

Proof is in the poetry

Last week, I was thinking about some of the adult-oriented poems I’ve had published, and it occurred to me that most of them had not been written until after I had seen the submission request. In other words, I didn’t have completed poems lying around that just so happened to perfectly fit the rules and requirements of the submission.

Rather, I saw the submission request and decided to write a poem that fit the requirements. And honestly, this has been the case with almost every poem I’ve had published! A few examples:

  • I saw a submission request for poetry about nature, society, and change. So I thought about it and came up “In the Glen,” a poem about The Giving Tree, one hundred years later. It was published by the Tall Grass Writer’s Guild in their anthology, Seasons of Change (Outrider Press, 2010).
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  • I came across another request seeking poems and essays about how poetry trigger-warningsaved a life. My best friend from college, who struggled to accept himself as gay, immediately cam to mind. So I wrote “Coming to Terms,” which was eventually accepted and published in the anthology Trigger Warning: Poetry Saved My Life (Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, 2014). (I’m still waiting for my contributor copy to arrive, but that’s a whole other story.)
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  • In 2013, I interviewed Gerald So, editor of The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly for a National Poetry Month post here on my blog. When Gerald asked if I wanted to contribute to his blog journal, I said I’d love to – so I needed to come up with a poem! The result was “Flight;” another poem, “To the Accused,” was published the following year.

These are just three examples of many, so I hope you’ll take the opportunity to use submission requests as writing prompts. Many folks besides Yours Truly do this, with great success.

In fact, I just completed a new poem that was supposed to be for a writing prompt by a fellow blogger (sorry, Michelle, I’ll have to come up with something else!) – but then I stumbled upon an anthology submission request that was so similar, I had to use the poem for that, instead!

I have no idea if the poem will be accepted for publishing, but I’m not worried. I can: a) resubmit the poem elsewhere, if an opportunity presents itself; b) set it aside to be included in my own chapbook-in-progress; c) share it here! or d) let it languish in darkness, never to see the light of day.

I do know which option I won’t be taking. I’m happy to share just about anything I write, providing I’m pleased with it!

There are plenty of things I’ve written that probably won’t see the light of day, though…and that’s fine, too. Not everything is meant for publication, and not everything meant for publication is publishable. The important thing, though, is that we are writing – so #WriteLikeNoOneIsReading!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!