The Difference Between Poetry And … Everything Else.

A post about what is, or is not, poetry.

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Excuse me for a moment while I climb onto my soap box again. 

A few months ago, I wrote a post in which I complained about books which claimed to be poetry, but were actually just a collection of sentences arranged with one word on each line. 

Today, I’m going to indulge my poetry-nerdiness yet again, in response to another trend I’ve observed on social media.  

As both a reader and a poet, I get really annoyed when pieces of writing are labelled as poetry when they’re not. 

This is rife on Instagram, where some folks take a pretty picture of a sentence or a paragraph and call it poetry. They use the hashtags like #poem, #instapoem, #poetry, #poemsofinstagram… you get the idea. I’ve bitten my tongue – or my virtual fingertips – so many times when I’ve wanted to comment that what is pictured is not a poem. 

I’ve seen letters, paragraphs, and even short stories presented as “poetry”. I’ve seen single sentences tagged “poetry”. In fact, there are books out there with a sentence on each page, which the creators have classified as ‘poetry’. 

This is where I beg to differ.

A sentence, a letter, a paragraph… an entire book may be written in highly poetic language. It may use conventional poetic techniques such as imagery or alliteration, but is it poetry? Everything within me screams “NO!”. A letter is a letter. A sentence is a sentence. A paragraph is… prose, not a poem. 

The issue is one of form. 

Poetry as a form has conventions of its own that set it apart from a letter or a sentence, or anything else. While it’s true that poetry can take any number of forms or styles, those are forms and styles that are recognised as being poetry. They are not forms that are instantly recognised as something else. 

I totally accept and agree that a sentence or any other piece of writing can be beautiful. I’ve read individual sentences or paragraphs that have taken my breath away with the imagery or the power of the writing. They can be poetic. But, according to the conventions of one form as opposed to another, they’re not poems. They’re. Just. Not. 

I’m not trying to be a poetry snob here— in fact, it’s taking no effort at all. I realise I may be coming across as a pretentious git, but let’s look at this from another perspective. 

I don’t get to call myself an author if I don’t write and publish anything. I don’t get to call myself a doctor because I am not, in fact, a doctor. In terms of professions, we don’t get to call ourselves something we’re not. 

Alternatively, I could choose to start telling people I’m a cheeseburger. I’ve eaten a few cheeseburgers, I know what they taste like, and I can list the ingredients. And they do say you are what you eat. However, people will fairly promptly tell me I’m not actually a cheeseburger. The more I make that assertion, the more strident people will be in assuring me I’m not. Even if I went to McDonalds or Burger King and sat in the food warmer, it wouldn’t make me a cheeseburger. I am quite obviously not a cheeseburger. 

If we pretend to be other than what we are, that very quickly becomes a matter of integrity. At first people laugh, then they get frustration, and then they get angry. Trust is broken, and often, walls go up that are not easily dismantled. 

That is exactly where I am with other pieces of writing masquerading as poetry. I’m well past the point of frustration. If I pick up a book because it says it is poetry, and the contents are nothing more than pithy sayings or observations of life in sentence form, I’m going to be annoyed, no matter how beautifully they’re written. If I wanted a book full of meme-worthy of proverbs and quotations, that’s what I would have gone looking for. 

Poetry takes time and effort to craft and shape. It isn’t easy to condense the meaning and message into imagery and forms that require skill to master. To write something beyond trite rhyme or greeting card verses is more difficult than many people realise. The ability to do that, consistently and repeatedly, is what makes someone a poet. Poetry is a craft that I take very seriously indeed. 

That’s why I refuse to “like” posts on Instagram, or anywhere else for that matter, which present one thing as something it’s not.  It’s why I am very choosy about what poetry and poets I review and promote on my book blog.  It’s why I’m on my soapbox, ranting furiously to anyone who will listen – or read, as the case may be. 

It’s hard enough getting people to take real poetry seriously these days. We certainly don’t need to confuse people any further. 

A Change That Is Long Overdue.

Sometimes, you reach the point where enough is enough.

I have reached a new landmark in my journey of self-acceptance and self-care:  I have finally decided to stop saying and thinking horrible things about myself. 

When I posted this image last night, a friend responded with the observation that ” The trick is to catch it and recognize it. That’s the hard part.”

What she says is true, but the fact is that I’ve already been recognising it, and it’s something that has been bugging me for a while. 

For me, the hardest part is that I see my flaws and failures much earlier and more honestly than anyone else does. I know I’m valued and loved, and I know I have talents and abilities that others admire, but I am much quicker to comment on my mistakes and shortcomings than on anything good or positive that I might do. Sadly, this is the habit of a lifetime. 

It’s often said that we’re our own worst enemies. When it comes to cruel words, I think that’s definitely true of me. 

I write poetry that moves people and touches their souls. I write horror stories that chill my readers to the bone. My books get good reviews, and readers tell me they love my work. I teach teenagers, and from time to time, some of them tell me I’ve had a positive impact on their life. 

At the same time, I know full well that not everyone loves me. That doesn’t actually bother me: I don’t like everyone else, either. None of us do. 
Yet it seems that my most consistent critic is none other than myself.  It’s fair to say that on some days, even the people who really, really don’t like me – and they do exist – would be hard pressed to say worse things about me than I do.

Why do I accept it from myself, when I never would from anyone else? Why do I allow words about myself that I refuse to hear my best friend say about herself? I don’t allow my students to talk about themselves or others that way. I’ll unashamedly call someone out for putting another person down, and remind them that they don’t get to talk that way to other people. 

I’ve written previously about having to learn to be patient and kind toward myself physically, especially since my back injury. Now, I’m taking the challenge to master the words and thoughts I use, and to be as quick to defend myself as I am when it’s others on the receiving end. 

I know that making this decision is only the first step, and that actually doing it will be harder than writing about it. I do hope, though, that putting it into writing makes my commitment more binding and less of an impulsive thing that I can forget about. 

This is a change that is long overdue. And no matter how flawed or prone to error I may be, it’s a change that I really need to make. I deserve better treatment than I have been giving myself, and today is the day I will start to make it happen.

Realigning My Priorities.

My recovery from spinal surgery demands that my priorities change.

There were so many things I had planned to be doing this week.

As a horror author, promoting my books leading up to Halloween was always going to be a major focus. I had a major promotion and giveaway planned. I had a well crafted social media campaign organised. October was going to be my time.

As a teacher, my classes are continuing even though I am not there. Lessons need to be developed and delivered, and my students have exams coming up.

There are things I need to read and other things I need to write.

None of that is happening.

I am now home from hospital. I am moving and thinking very slowly, and trying to heal after spinal surgery. The local anaesthetic that was embedded in the site of my surgery and in the incision has worn off and I am feeling the reality of what my body has been through. My Fibromyalgia has also joined the pain train today, so while I am trying to wean myself off the fancy pain killers, the motivation to do so is less today than it was yesterday. My eyes don’t want to focus any more than my brain does.

I know this will not last. And I know I must be kind to myself while it does.
The writing, the work and the social media hamster wheel will all be there when things improve.

Yet I can’t help feeling frustrated by my slowness or inability to focus on anything. I am not accustomed to inactivity and my mindset is certainly not one that surrenders to pain. Yet that is exactly where I find myself.

The challenge for me is to accept where I am and be willing to rest instead of letting my frustration push me and ending up with sub-standard results.

The priority for today and the immediate future has to be self-care and self-preservation. My spine demands it. Everything else will just have to wait.

If you would like to encourage or support me, you could

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My Near-Death Experience

When I say I have been deathly ill, I’m not exaggerating.

After following the ambulance to Camperdown and then to Warrnambool, I spent last Thursday night at the ER with my dad. Over the course of the night, his pain lessened and his condition improved. At 4am, I was allowed to take him home. We both slept all day, and I didn’t go anywhere else.

By Saturday morning, I had a bad throat. As these things go, I figured it would be a croaky day or two, took some paracetamol, and tried not to think about it.

By the wee hours of Sunday morning I had no voice, a fever, cold sweats and a wracking cough. I was so dizzy that when I had to get out of bed, I had to hold onto the furniture to keep myself from falling over. I stayed in bed, made sure I drank plenty of water, and told my dad not to come near me.

By Monday, my lungs were rattling and squeaking. I could no longer lie flat, and sleep was out of the question. There were moments where I would have gladly accepted my fate if the Reaper had shown up.

I have been out of action ever since, and am still in quarantine. My doctors have me on two different antibiotics, cough syrup, Ventolin and pain meds. I haven’t felt so awful since I had Ross River Fever in 2011.

Today is the first day on which there has been any improvement. My cough is less frequent, although not less violent, and the rattle in my lungs sounds more like rice crispies than a chatty raccoon.

If I were you, I still wouldn’t come near me for a while yet.

It’s fair to say that I know why the person I got this disease from was at the hospital.

For Sale: Part Of My Soul

Why my writing matters.

Sometimes I wonder what people think when I say I write poetry.

Cute little greeting card verses? No.
Lofty, unintelligible, old-fashioned rhymes about flowers and oil paintings? No.
Trite rhymes that talk about love and sunshine? No.

I have to admit, I’m very tired of the “That’s nice, dear!” kind of responses.

I’m also more than weary of the sensation that I have to just about stand under a red light on a dimly lit street to get people to take my poetry seriously.

I’m not talking about my readers here. I’m talking about people I interact with in my daily life, be they co-workers, acquaintances, family members or friends. Other than a very small number of individuals within those circles – for whose support I am ever grateful – it feels like most people in my life prefer to pretend I’ve never written a word.

I know they’re not my main audience. I don’t expect them all to love everything I write. In all honesty, most of them have never even picked any of my work up to read it.

The question remains, though: Why aren’t they more willing to support me? Do I mean so little them that what matters to me is of no value, either?

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I have commented on numerous occasions that there is a part of my soul in every poem. My poems speak my pain, my love, my joy, my life lessons, my resolutions, my fears, my anger, my insomnia, my restlessness and my contentment. Some of them are the very essence of my desperation to survive and my will to live. Some of them could only be more “life and death” if they were actually written in my blood.

Do people not understand the bravery that it takes for an author to put their words on paper and unveil them in front of the whole world? That kind of vulnerability is, quite honestly, terrifying.

I experience this far more profoundly with my poetry than I do with my fiction. It’s far more personal, and it’s definitely more revealing of what’s in my own heart and mind than any of the stories I write. That’s why I am so committed to crafting each poem to say exactly what I want it to, in a way that is beautiful to read, and with careful attention to the music and structure of each poem. If I’m putting my soul out there for other people to read, it’s going to be the best that I can make it.

My readers tell me that my poems encourage and move them. The ultimate satisfaction as a poet is knowing that my words matter to the people who read them. They get it. And thank God they do, or else I’d be feeling more dejected than ever.

The other weirdly encouraging thing is that this isn’t something that only I experience. These are thoughts and feelings that are remarkably common among the writing community, and I have come to learn that they are common to all creative people, whatever medium they work in.

It’s why I am so thankful for my community of fellow authors and poets and other creative people who encourage and celebrate one another’s creativity and the courage that goes with it.

It’s why I am doubly grateful for my “additional family” that are known as the Indie Fabs – they’re my posse, my constant encouragers, and my soft place to fall when things are hard.

It’s why I am doubly grateful for those few family members and friends who support everything I do, read everything I create, and cheer me on relentlessly.

It’s not overstating things to say that I am still here because of my writing, and I am still writing because of them.

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Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

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Square Peg, Round Hole.

A response to intolerance.

I’ve never understood why people feel the need to pressure someone to conform. Why are they so intimidated by someone daring to think for themselves, pursue their own dreams and make choices according to their own preferences?

And what I really don’t get is how they can say they love someone and yet reject particular qualities that makes that person who they are.

These are the thoughts that have contributed to a poem I finished recently.

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The imagery is macabre and horrifying. The message is dark. None of that will surprise anyone who knows my writing.

I won’t discuss the details of the situations that led to it being written. Suffice to say that there are people in various “circles” in which I live and move who have, at one time or another, exerted significant pressure on me to be less individual and more compliant with the way they like or want things to be.

I have some bad news for them.

I will not submit to their peer pressure. As adults, they should know better.
I will not moderate my politics, my social conscience, or my rampant individuality for them.
I will not be submissive or silent in response to their bad behaviour, intolerance and hypocrisy.

If they don’t like it, they can go and boil their heads.

Of course, that’s all excellent news for me. In the immortal words of the Monty Python team, “I’m not dead yet!”

 

 

Joey'sMapleLeafTatt

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Reciprocity: Magic or Myth?

A short lesson in how to be a positive and encouraging person.

I want to start by saying that the intention of this post is not to present myself as some icon of virtue or being any better than anyone else: I am definitely neither. But there are some things I am good at, and one of those things is supporting and encouraging other Indie authors.

I have always been very clear about the fact that nothing I do in the Indie Author community is done with the hope of receiving anything in return. I am more than happy to buy and review the books I do, share posts, help answer questions, and encourage others as much as I can.

You might be tempted to assume that, as a result, I have a veritable army of people ready to fall over themselves to do similar things for me. Well, that would be nice!

In fact, that’s very rarely how it works. More often than not, those who are generous with their time and energy receive very little in return. That’s life: I accept that, as do others I know in the same situation, and keep going.

There seems to be a groundswell of folk, however, who have taken it upon themselves to resent others that they perceive as being “more successful” or “more popular” than them, and to insist that they’re not going to do anything for anyone who hasn’t done anything for them.

Just last week there was a situation where a friend tagged some people in a Facebook post to ensure that her post was seen, and didn’t some of those tag-ees complain! One of them took the opportunity to launch a personal attack and completely degraded the conversation into a most hurtful state of affairs. Another had plenty of very demeaning things to say, not just about the friend in question but also those who sprang to her defence.

Well, isn’t it a good thing we don’t all work that way? What sort of a world would that be. where we all carried on like six-year-olds in the playground?

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Folks, that is not how we Indie.

Assuming that someone will share your post because you shared theirs will sometimes work out that way, but often not. Hoping that someone will buy your book because you bought theirs is not at all realistic.

There’s one thing you can be sure of, though: If an author – or anyone else, for that matter – is horrible to people, those on the receiving end are not going to forget that. There is absolutely zero chance that they will share the post, buy the book, or attend a Facebook event for someone who has abused or belittled them. In addition, the chances of their friends doing any of those things are remote. Tearing someone else down on social media— or anywhere— is entirely counterproductive.

As Indie authors, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all trying to find readers, sell books, write the next number one bestseller, and get noticed by the universe. We’re all tweeting, Instagramming, Facebooking, blogging and whatever-else-ing we can in the hope of putting our books, or whatever it is we’re doing to make our way in the world, in front of appreciative eyes who want what we’ve got to offer. We’d all like to be able to quit our jobs and pay the bills with our royalties.

2015-11-27 10.51.43 Choose The PositiveBut here’s the thing: this isn’t a competition. Readers will always be interested in another book, another genre, another great read. There is absolutely no need to snuff out someone else’s candle so that yours can burn. We make more light and warmth together than we can on our own. This is something that my friends, especially the Indie Fabs, and I have experienced and proven time and time again.

Encouragement costs nothing. It doesn’t even take much time or energy. If someone asks you for one or two clicks of a mouse button that doesn’t end in costing you money, where’s the harm? If someone does something praiseworthy, commend them. If someone has a great cover, or hits the bestseller list, or writes a great book, congratulate them… and then go one step further by telling others. Who knows? You may even find that they do return a favour one day, or you might discover that someone has done something for you out of the blue, just because they can.

Reciprocity as most people perceive it is a myth. But initiating goodwill by being positive and encouraging? That’s magic. And that is how we Indie.

Why All My Books Are Not In One Basket.

Wide distribution is a boon for Indie authors and for readers.

I’ve never been a believer in keeping all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. I use more than one bank. I store my important files in more than one place. And I have always had my books available in more than one place.

In recent months, I’ve become more and more thankful that Amazon is not my sole venue for book distribution.

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All my books are available on Kobo Nook, iBooks, and a number of other stores in addition to Amazon. You can find all the links for each book at jvlpoet.com/books.

 

Like the kindle app, the Kobo, Nook and iBooks apps are completely free.
And from an author’s point of view, there are significant differences:nook-icon
  • Those stores don’t remove readers’ reviews – but Amazon does.
  • Those stores don’t insist you spend $50 before you can leave a rating or a review – but Amazon does.
  • Those stores don’t care which country you live in – but Amazon does.
  • They don’t want to know who your friends are, or mistrust you because you might know some people. Amazon does, though.ibooks_ios_7_icon_update_by_hamzasaleem-d6stc29.png

As far as I know, I am the only Joanne Van Leerdam selling books in any of those stores. If you search for me, you’ll find me.

Amazon doesn’t necessarily make life as an Indie author smooth sailing. Sure, they’re the biggest beast in the eBook zoo… but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one that should be fed.

So, I’m going to start favouring different distributors when I buy eBooks, and still give the same support to my fellow Indie Authors through buying, reading and reviewing their books.
I’d love to see more people doing this, just to show we’re not reliant on a company that thinks it can do whatever it pleases, without consequence.

Let’s face it, if a dog bites your hand enough times, you’ll stop patting it. And if that dog doesn’t learn not to bite, it’s likely to end up very lonely. The only people who can teach it that lesson are the people with the option to pat the dog or not.

Personally, I think I’m going to make Kobo my first choice. Some may see it as the proverbial runt of the litter, but that just makes me want to support them. And in 24 months of working with them, I’ve never had anything but excellent service.

I’m also going to try to encourage others to buy my books somewhere other than Amazon.

In addition to adjusting my advertising and promotions, I think I may create a slight price advantage for those who buy from a non-Zon source. That’s easily achieved through my Draft2Digital account, and it might just drive some increased interest in my books on the other platforms. An additional advantage of using Draft2Digital is that their payment threshold is $10, not $100 as it is on Amazon.

On a final note, please don’t think I’m single-handedly trying to bring Amazon down. I’m not, at all. I’ve had good sales there and I’ve bought many, many books there, too.
I’m just very disappointed in some of their “developments” of late, and happy to find alternatives that don’t screw myself or my fellow Indie authors over at all.

Mother’s Day, 2018: A Tribute To My Mother.

My mother was the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm. 

Today is celebrated as Mother’s’ Day in Australia and many other places around the world. My mother passed away in 2011, but today I want to pay tribute to her as the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm.

IMG_0035I inherited my love of books and reading from both my parents, but it was Mum who put the consistent effort in to enabling my reading habit.

I surprised my mother – and probably everyone else, now that I think of it – by being able to read when I was three years old. In a manner entirely consistent with how I would behave for the rest of my life, I picked her up on skipping words and sentences when she was reading to me. I can understand her doing that – I’ve read the same book to kids a bazillion times, too, and it does wear a little thin. Back then, though, I was probably morally outraged as only a three year old can be when they’re getting shortchanged on a favourite story. When I read back to her the story as it was written on the page, Mum thought I had merely memorised the whole thing. So she chose a new book for me, and I read that one to her, too.

From that time on, Mum was always enthusiastic and active in encouraging me to read widely, and spent many Saturday afternoons driving me to the library so that I could borrow enough books to keep me going for two weeks.

By the time I was ten, I had read all of her Agatha Christie books and many of my grandgather’s Perry Mason and James Bond books, and I had well-loved copies of the Narnia Chronicles and the “Little House” books on my own shelf.

It was then that Mum let me read the old copy of Anne of Green Gables that her own parents had given her. I clearly remember reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s descriptions of Prince Edward Island sand saying to her, “I’m going to go there one day.”
“You have no idea how far away that is!” she replied.
“I don’t care. I’m going!” was my response.

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I finally did go to PEI and visited Green Gables in 2015, and I wished that I could have told Mum and shown her my photos. I believe she would have been genuinely happy for me, and proud that I had achieved something I had wanted to do since that young age.

I know my mother was proud of me for following her into teaching, and I know she would have been proud as punch of the fact that I became a writer, too.

My career as a poet and author, though, would have been far less likely to happen without the love for books and reading that Mum and Dad modelled and mentored for me, and for that I will always be thankful.

My first book was not born until almost five years after Mum graduated to heaven. I couldn’t write about her passing for several years afterwards, because it was too raw. When I did finish the poem that I wrote for her, I shared it with my father and siblings so that they could share my memory. If they hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t have published it. They did, though, and it enabled me to share part of that last day of her life to which they were not witnesses.

Since ‘July 19, 2011’ was published in ‘Nova’, it has touched and encouraged many people who have lost their mums – and dads, and others close to them. When people tell me that my poetry has touched their heart or affected the way they think about something, that’s when I feel the most fulfilled as a poet. I’m really proud today that Mum’s poem can have that effect on someone else. Although she is gone, her legacy lives on, not just in my memory and my heart, but also in my writing.

It’s impossible to not miss my mother on days like today, and not a day passes that I don’t think of her.  So, for Mothers’ Day 2018, I want to share the poem I wrote for her with you. I hope you enjoy it and find it meaningful.

 

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Reader Life: Those Horrible Feelings You Get When A Book Is Absolutely Awful.

A reader describes the disappointment of finding a book she had been looking forward to was awful.

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During my lunch break today, I started reading a book I’d been looking forward to reading. I’d bought it because the story looked really interesting, and I was keen to give a new-to-me author a shot.

By the time I had read a few pages, I knew there were problems. The story didn’t go anywhere. More and more errors that should have been edited out were creeping in. Although marketed as a horror story, there were no hints that it was going to turn into one anytime soon… except in a grammatical sense, perhaps.

Still, I persisted. I figured that it had to get better. Right?

Sadly, it didn’t. It got worse. By the time I quit, there were numerous confusions of tense, and multiple blatant errors of spelling, syntax and word choice on a single page. By page 23, there still wasn’t a hint of anything remotely creepy, macabre or scary in the story. That really was the core of my problem – I was bored by writing that wasn’t even really a cohesive story, regardless of its intended genre.

I don’t like quitting. I really don’t. But when my dudgeon starts to rise because I’m not getting the escape I had hoped for in the middle of a ridiculously busy week, and I’ve wasted the time I had set aside to give my brain a break, it’s time to stop. In all honesty, most of the students in my Year 9 English class make fewer mistakes on a page than this writer, and he just hasn’t bothered editing anything, let alone getting anyone– professional or otherwise– to do it for him… I’m done.

In the past, I’ve let one or two authors know via private communication where there are a few really glaring errors that needed fixing. Those things have been fixed, and their book is better because of it. I’ve withheld my review until things were corrected, so that I could give a review that wasn’t full of complaints about errors. Most authors are receptive to that if it’s done discreetly and politely, with constructive help rather than criticism.

This time, though, I’m not going there. I simply don’t have time to fix this book – it’s time consuming, but not impossible, to correct spelling or grammatical errors; how, though, do you fix a broken plot that never does what it promised to do? The problems with this book are far more fundamental than a lack of editing.
angry-2191104_960_720It makes me sad to have to add another title to the small handful of Indie books I’ve read that just weren’t up to scratch. Of the hundreds I’ve read, the vast majority have been great, and some have been among the best books I’ve ever read. It makes me angry that people are willing to sell something which gives other far more disciplined and talented Indie authors a reputation they don’t deserve. The temptation to name and shame is enormous, but I won’t do it.

I’m simply going to walk away and pretend I didn’t pick it up in the first place.

I’ll console myself, and reward myself for my own diplomacy, by setting aside another hour tonight to read something really good from one of my ‘One-Click” authors. That is something guaranteed to make me feel better.