Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Writing Out Loud: A Guest Post by Cheryl Wilder

My guest today is Cheryl Wilder, author of Anything That Happens, published in March of 2021.  This debut poetry collection tells the story of what happens after a terrible accident that puts her friend in a coma and twenty-year-old Cheryl in jail. 

In this exclusive guest post, Cheryl shares a technique that helps her to write poetry, as well as tips that help her to read her poetry to others with confidence.  This post may boost your own writing and speaking abilities--enjoy! 

Writing Out Loud: A Guest Post by Cheryl Wilder

Writing Out Loud 

as Revision

One piece of advice given to me over the years has been to read my work-in-progress out loud. It’s a revision tool in the writers’ toolbox. At first, I was shy to read out loud to myself.  It’s one thing to construct a poem on paper: decide on stanzas, fret over line breaks, stare at commas. It’s another to hear a poem–my thoughts and emotions–outside my head. Now, reading aloud is integral to my writing process. (I even read my full collection out loud several times before submitting the final draft.) The advice to read out loud during revision is for all poets, whether they write narrative, dramatic, or lyric poems. I primarily write lyric poetry–short, subjective, personal, and song-like. The lyric form helps lighten heavy themes, allows the reader to catch a breath in the white space.  Rhythm adds to the texture of the content, provides another layer of enjoyment.  I want a poem to roll out of the mouth or jar the reader in the right places. To get there, I rely as much on my ear as anything else.  Reading aloud helps me hear what isn’t working rhythmically.  Reading out loud also helps me refine syntax.  As a poet, I rely on images.  Images come first, and then the structure.  I work to blend imagery with syntax.  Saying what I mean in a way that sounds how I want is imperative to the integrity of a poem. But, the poem also needs to make sense. When I read aloud, I walk around my office or, when the house is bustling, the master bathroom. I have paper and pencil in hand and stop to make notes as needed. It requires privacy and quiet. Why do I walk around? It could be that I’m stretching my legs after sitting at the computer.  Maybe it’s more like pacing around the room. But honestly, it’s not a conscious act, so I don’t know.  Once I start reading, I start moving.

as Oration

Practice and preparation are effective ways to become comfortable reading in front of others. But it’s not easy for a lot of people to get started, myself included.  Spending a lot of time alone with my poems felt counter-intuitive to reading them in public to strangers. It felt like sharing my diary.  To help with stage fright, I took two speech classes in college. I practiced at home alone.  When there was a chance to read at an open mic, I took it. I chipped away at my fear over many years.  What’s helped me the most: Reading out loud to revise. Not only does it provide practice, I know the poems backward and forward. Where they once tripped up my tongue and how they taught me to express my heaviest emotions. I’ve learned, with the practice of reading aloud and crying alone in my office, to find the right words. Words that connect me to the poem and, I believe, the poem to readers. When I read in public now, I use emotion to propel my oration–the tears in the rhythm and syntax. No matter how many people are listening, it’s just me and the poem, like it’s always been.

Video link:
Cheryl Wilder reads
"Xing" from Anything That Happens


Since poetry is often read out loud, reading it out loud during the writing process seems like a great idea.  In addition to conveying the intended meaning, how does the work-in-progress sound?  Like music, poetry is an auditory medium, so sound is quite important, especially poetry that's read later to an audience. Many of us dread speaking in front of a group (can I get a witness?), but according to Cheryl ample practice and preparation can help.  

While I read this collection of poems, I felt the poet's pain about the accident acutely.  These heartbreaking, heartfelt poems are poignant and piercing.  They explore many lasting emotions including guilt, suffering, and regret.  These poems tell a difficult story and pose difficult questions. Moving and artistic, Anything That Happens expresses the poet's vulnerability, honesty, and bravery.


Many thanks to Cheryl for this guest post, and to Kevin from Press 53 for sending me a copy of the book.  Special thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour.  For more reviews of Anything That Happens and other features, please visit the other stops on the tour

Thank you for reading! Your comments are welcomed, as always. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Finding Magic: A Guest Post by Kathy Davis

Please extend a warm welcome to my guest today, poet Kathy Davis, the author of Passiflora, a book of poems published in 2021.  This eclectic debut collection features poems about children, relationships, nature, aging, loss, art, and more, that are unique, intelligent, and even a bit humorous at times.  In the exclusive guest post below, Kathy Davis talks about what led to the creation of some of the poems in the book.  I hope you will find it as inspiring as I did!

Finding Magic:  A Guest Post by Kathy Davis

What do you do when something’s niggling at you? Something you saw or heard that stays in your head for days, weeks or even years as if begging to be dealt with, explored?  For me, I’ve learned the only way it will stop nagging is if I help it find a home in a poem.

Once when I was checking out a book in the small rural library near my home, a woman came in and asked if the library would like a pony. I could tell by the librarian’s face that she, like me, was stunned into imagining what they would do with a pony.  Let it wander the stacks?  Use it to entertain children during story hour?  Turn it out to graze the surrounding lawn?  That momentary flight of fancy was enchanting, but the spell was broken when another woman brought the subject inside.  It was a life-size stuffed toy Shetland pony—a much more manageable donation which found a home in the children’s section. The librarian later shared other remarkable happenings, such as the flock of guinea hens that would occasionally wander over to loudly police the grounds, and the phone calls the front desk received asking them to keep an eye out for a loose cow that might pop by.  She described all of this with sincere delight, the same sense of wonder that stayed with me and turned into the poem “The Shetland.”

Volunteering at my sons’ elementary school, I met a student’s mother who was recovering from chemotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer.  An artist, she was too weak to paint like she used to but had discovered she could mix her dryer lint with glue and sculpt it into human figures and other forms.  She described how the lint colors varied based on the mix of clothes dried and the various creative possibilities she saw with each shade.  When her neighbors learned about her new passion, they began to collect their own dryer lint and leave it in her mailbox, ensuring she always had a steady supply of material.  I carried her story in my head for years, remembering again and again the resilience of her creative spirit, her community’s support, until a piece of dryer lint sculpture found its way into my poem “Eve: After the Fall.”  

When my husband and I lived in Chicago during the early 80s, Lake Michigan always froze over in late winter, becoming a massive plain of ice and snow.  So, I was shocked when I returned in February a few years ago and saw it as blue and ice-free as during the warmer months.  In fact, the lake had not frozen over for many years—a startling reminder of the damage done by climate change.  Then, on the walk back to where I was staying, I saw a group of teenage boys in the distance playing chicken on the railroad tracks as a train was approaching.  I felt helpless to do anything but watch and hope they’d be OK. The anxiety produced by the change in the lake and the boys’ risky behavior stood out as a sharp contrast with my experience of Chicago as a young newlywed, when I had not yet had much experience with grief and loss and everything good seemed possible.  It made me think about how I had changed over the years and ultimately led to the poem “Freeze.”  

We can’t force inspiration to happen. And if we’re always looking for something big and lofty, supernatural or divine—we may miss the transcendent nature of moments in our day-to-day lives. When something seemingly ordinary keeps niggling at us, I think that’s the universe saying: Look! There’s magic here.


Photos from Kathy Davis


Photo notes: The photos of the poet's writing space, where some of the magic of creating poetry occurs, are quite lovely; I'd be inspired to write in this pretty room with the pretty view! The Georgia O'Keeffe art print (on the bright orange wall) depicts clouds, but it reminds the poet of the ice chunks she used to see on Lake Michigan (as mentioned in her guest post). 

Learning about the inspiration of some of the poems in the book, "The Shetland", "Eve: After the Fall",  and "Freeze", added another dimension to this work for me.  All of the poems in Passiflora are lovingly crafted, and capture different moments, moods, and details with beauty and finesse. They tell stories of everyday life in an extraordinary fashion. I didn't read the poems out loud, but I did read some of them, including "The Shetland", more than once.  That's what I do when I really like a poem (unless it's extremely long).  These poems are outstanding, and touched me in various ways.  



Special thanks to Kathy Davis for this guest post and for graciously sending me a copy of Passiflora, and to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to join the tour.  For more reviews of this book and other features, please visit the other stops on the Passiflora tour.  I wanted to do something special for National Poetry Month, and reading this book was the perfect way for me to celebrate. There are still a few more days in April if you're also interested in celebrating by reading, listening to, or writing(!) some poetry, though of course poetry may be enjoyed all year long. 

Thank you very much for reading!  I welcome and appreciate your comments.


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