April 12, 2016

Friday, April 20, 2012

30 Habits of Highly Effective Poets #20: Tabatha Yeatts-Lonske on Seeing Patterns

Happy Poetry Friday! To celebrate National Poetry Month, poets have been visiting Author Amok to talk about their favorite writing habits -- the things that help them get the job done. You can find the full schedule of guest bloggers here.

Not only is today's guest blogger, Tabatha Yeatts-Lonske, a poet, but her entire post is poetic.

We all gather bric-a-brac, threads, driftwood and moss from our lives to write poems. However, it's the thread of smoke and the bright fire of ideas that follows which turn every day stuff into gather-round-worthy verse. In Tabatha's lovely metaphor, the fire of ideas is as grand as the stars. What matters is the pattern we see in the sky.
Here is Tabatha:
"His head is made of stars, but not yet arranged into constellations."
Elias Canetti

When we write, it can feel like that. Like we are trying to arrange our stars into constellations as best we can.

It takes a lot of imagination, making a constellation. Let’s say you’ve got a few stars and they're kind of close together. Some bright, some a bit pale. You watch them a while, maybe until you lose focus and can't see them any more. And suddenly, there’s a lion, a bear, a man in a chariot soaring across the sky. Just a few stars, but somehow they can make a whole story. A whole world.

Where do they come from, these visions? How can you take the words in your head and shape them into something you can share, something other people can see too?

Here's what helps me:

I need lots of creative fuel (great art, music, stories, ideas, conversations) and time to let ideas ripen. For me, words have to brew a while before a picture emerges.

(Photo by Michael McDonough

I need a chunk of uninterrupted time with few distractions. I like to write in the car. Waiting to pick up my kids is a great time for me to write (as long as I don’t turn on NPR). For convenience’s sake, I put together a binder that I can grab when I know there might be time to sit. The binder contains ideas I can use as starting places, contest and magazine deadlines that I’d like to keep in mind, and lined paper.

I need to be willing to write that first awful version, and then not give up on it. Move the pieces around and around until it turns into a recognizable picture.

I need editors, people who I can ask to read drafts and find weak spots. I am lucky to have several excellent readers that I can turn to for help.

Right now, my poetry group is having a poetry idea month, similar to Tara Lazar's Picture Book Idea Month. We are trying to come up with an idea a day to give us springboards for future poems. Ideas are so much easier than actual poems that it doesn't feel like a chore. It's fun and useful. The list will go in my binder when it’s done.
Everybody has their own ways to venture into their stars and create constellations. Be willing to play, to learn, to listen. Trust yourself.

Thanks, Tabatha. Beautiful advice. You can visit Tabatha at her blog, The Opposite of Indifference.

Today's Poetry Friday host is Diane Mayr of Random Noodling. (If you'd like to read Diane's contribution to "30 Habits of Highly Effective Poets," click here. 

And here is a poem, "The Constellations," by William Cullen Bryant.

The Constellations

O constellations of the early night,
That sparkled brighter as the twilight died,
And made the darkness glorious! I have seen
Your rays grow dim upon the horizon's edge,
And sink behind the mountains. I have seen
The great Orion, with his jewelled belt,
That large-limbed warrior of the skies, go down
Into the gloom. Beside him sank a crowd
Of shining ones. I look in vain to find
The group of sister-stars, which mothers love
To show their wondering babes, the gentle Seven.
Along the desert space mine eyes in vain
Seek the resplendent cressets which the Twins
Uplifted in their ever-youthful hands.
The streaming tresses of the Egyptian Queen
Spangle the heavens no more. The Virgin trails
No more her glittering garments through the blue.
Gone! all are gone! and the forsaken Night,
With all her winds, in all her dreary wastes,
Sighs that they shine upon her face no more.
No only here and there a little star
Looks forth alone. Ah me! I know them not,
Those dim successors of the numberless host
That filled the heavenly fields, and flung to earth
Their guivering fires. And now the middle watch
Betwixt the eve and morn is past, and still
The darkness gains upon the sky, and still
It closes round my way. Shall, then, the Night,
Grow starless in her later hours? Have these
No train of flaming watchers, that shall mark
Their coming and farewell? O Sons of Light!
Have ye then left me ere the dawn of day
To grope along my journey sad and faint?
Thus I complained, and from the darkness round
A voice replied--was it indeed a voice,
Or seeming accents of a waking dream
Heard by the inner ear? But thus it said:
O Traveller of the Night! thine eyes are dim
With watching; and the mists, that chill the vale
Down which thy feet are passing, hide from view
The ever-burning stars. It is thy sight
That is so dark, and not the heaens. Thine eyes,
Were they but clear, would see a fiery host
Above thee; Hercules, with flashing mace,
The Lyre with silver cords, the Swan uppoised
On gleaming wings, the Dolphin gliding on
With glistening scales, and that poetic steed,
With beamy mane, whose hoof struck out from earth
The fount of Hippocrene, and many more,
Fair clustered splendors, with whose rays the Night
Shall close her march in glory, ere she yield,
To the young Day, the great earth steeped in dew.
So spake the monitor, and I perceived
How vain were my repinings, and my thought
Went backward to the vanished years and all
The good and great who came and passed with them,
And knew that ever would the years to come
Bring with them, in their course, the good and great,
Lights of the world, though, to my clouded sight,
Their rays might seem but dim, or reach me not.

William Cullen Bryant


Tabatha said...

Perfect poem, Laura!

"O Traveller of the Night! thine eyes are dim/With watching; and the mists, that chill the vale/Down which thy feet are passing, hide from view/The ever-burning stars. It is thy sight/That is so dark, and not the heavens. Thine eyes,/Were they but clear, would see a fiery host/
Above thee"

Thanks for inviting me!

Diane Mayr said...

I've always admired Tabatha's integration of art into her posts. "Seeing Patterns" is a great look into the person behind the blog.

Jeannine Atkins said...

I like the idea of poetry writing as making/finding constellations. All the huge wealth of material we have to choose from, and then must narrow our focus. Thank you Tabatha, and Laura!

Irene Latham said...

How beautiful and inspiring is this? Thank you Laura and Tabatha! I really love how the idea a day feels so free compared to a poem a day. I'm gonna try it. :)

Robyn Hood Black said...

Thank you, Laura and Tabatha, for these starry thoughts today! I appreciate (and am nodding my head at) Tabatha's need for "creative fuel" and some uninterrupted t-i-m-e in order to create. The WC Bryant poem echoes these ideas beautifully.

Katya said...

That is such a beautiful quote -- I know exactly what that feels like. Every time I start a new project I struggle to have the stars in my head form into constellations.

Writing in the car is a great idea.

Anonymous said...

I love the poetry idea month. I have a huge list of ideas, though -- more than I'll ever write. It's the sitting down and DOING it that's the challenge sometimes.

Mary Lee said...

Just from what I know about Tabatha from her blog, this post is PERFECT.

And I have to say, this series is remarkable. Simply remarkable. I haven't been able to comment each day, but please know that I have saved a link to the series tag, and I will be coming back and studying each post, digging deeper, and trying to work on as many of these habits as I can manage!!!

GatheringBooks said...

It's always lovely to see cross-posting of Poetry Friday friends in each other's blog and yes, great choice this week, and what sound advice to young poets, Tabatha. One of my favorite posts this week. :)