April 12, 2016

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

30 Habits of Highly Effective Poets #24: Barbara Westwood Diehl on Googling

Do you have a go-to website that you use when writing poems? Many of the poems in my middle grade novel use rhyme. I have a rhyming dictionary. It is on my bookshelf in the basement, gathering dust. Why? Because is right at my fingertips.

Today's highly effective habit is Googling or, more generally, following the thread of an Internet search. Procrastination technique? Maybe. But the search may lead you to an interesting discovery, a small corner of scientific knowledge or an outdated law that might inspire a poem, according to poet Barbara Westwood Diehl. Barbara is the founding editor of the online journal Baltimore Review.

Here is what Barbara has to say about googling:

Google has been the doorway to a lot of my poems. Sometimes it’s just a tool to find pronunciations and definitions. Sometimes those definitions are breadcrumb trails to other words— better words to slip into my poems. Sometimes, I have no idea what word I’m looking for, so I type something along the line of “kinds of angels” or “what mountains are made of” in the search box.

Most of the time, I’ll find what I’m looking for—or I’ll find something amazing and get seduced to a place far from where I had in mind. And then, although that place may be fascinating, it’s far from where I need to be to write my poem. Sometimes, those breadcrumb trails blow away into the woods, and I’m utterly lost. Sometimes, it’s nice to be lost.

Still, poets should be intensely interested in the world around them, whether they’re out on city streets, hiking in the woods, looking through a microscope—or losing themselves in a maze of Google searches. There is so much to learn, and so much to write about. Maybe too much, at least for me. Sometimes all that information can be overwhelming—I want to use all of it!—and that feeds my natural tendency to procrastinate. I have to remind myself that this poem won’t be my last. All those wonderful words can be slipped into other poems. Later.

Google came in handy for this one:
Canadian Rockies
Blue Mountain
by Barbara Westwood Diehl
So mountains were a disappointment,
and not at all what you imagined.
I’m sorry they were not the blue
they seemed from far away,
during the long ride through Utah
toward the Wasatch Range of the Rockies
and Mount Olympus, and all that time
you had to anticipate something mythic—
the Macedonians appeasing their deities,
killing cattle and goats at the feet of Apollo,
or the Arapaho with bow and arrow,
hunting bison and elk in the foothills—
not the temple and saints of Salt Lake City
with its marshlands, mudflats,
and Mormons.

Did we keep the mountains distant for too long,
a blue-white blur of air and ice caps,
letting you believe in clouds as heavenly gates
and not just clouds, as if cirrus and cumulus
were not miracle enough, letting you believe
in mountains made of six-winged seraphim
crying holy, holy, holy, instead of
telling you the whole world is made of faults,
the slow rending and closing of earth
over time, not by divine genesis,
but the brown lip of wounds healing—
instead of telling you there is more wonder
in the guts of a thing, the magma below,
the veins of icemelt, schists
with garnet hearts? 

Montana's Garnet Mountain

It's Tuesday, poetry prompt day. Let's search the internet for ideas. Try one of these:

Or make up your own search topic. When you find something that interests you, follow the topic through at least three "clicks." Do you have enough information to get started on a poem?


Michael Ratcliffe said...

I've written a series of poems based in family history and Google has been valuable in researching facts and other background information. Many of these poems have as their basis a particular event; information found via Google provides the details that help bring the event (and the poem) to life. My poem "Cypress Boards" (published in the Copperfield Review) started with my g-g-g-g-grandfather's sale of 350 cypress boards in Williamsburg, VA in 1805 to pay his deceased brother's fines for not mustering for militia training. For the poem, I wanted to know the properties of cypress as a building material-- for what would it have been used; what was the grain like; and other aspects that helped form my vision of him cutting cutting cypress boards. In "They Rode on Borrowed Horses" (also in The Copperfield Review), which focuses on my great-great-grandparents' elopement and marriage, I used Google to research the meaning of the saying "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue," and in the process learned that brides in the first half of the 19th century typically wore blue and not white. "Blue" features throughout the poem-- her blue gingham dress, blue November skies, a blue ribbon to tie back her hair, and the two blue glasses he made for her (he was a glass cutter in Wheeling) as a wedding gift (the two glasses feature in other poems; only one has survived, passed down in the family).

I could've found all this information at the library, but the Internet made it much easier and more efficient to find information quickly.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Mike. Would you like to post links to those poems if they are still up at The Copperfield Review?

Michael Ratcliffe said...


Thanks for asking.

"Cypress Boards" was in the Fall 2011 issue of The Copperfield Review and can be found at

"They Rode on Borrowed Horses" was in the Winter 2012 issue and can be found at

They are both part of my "Skimino Cycle" series, all of which can be found on my blog at

Robyn Hood Black said...

Terrific post, Laura and Barbara! The "breadcrumb trails to other words—" is most delicious. I love the "garnet hearts" of the poem. Thank you for sharing.

Jeannine Atkins said...

This poem made me smile. Thank you!