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

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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. 

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