Real Poets

cliche

I mentioned one of my favorite InstaPoets, Atticus, to a fellow poet the other day and I promptly got a HuffPost link to an article questioning his authenticity. The article stirred up some strong emotions I have on the subject.

In a nutshell, anything that gets people interested in poetry gets a nod from me! Who can judge what is “real” poetry? One of my biggest pet peeves in the writing world is the air of superiority that demands scholarly stanzas marching in line like broken men molded into saluting soldiers.

As you may infer from my seething alliterations, I was once wounded in the battlefield of “real” poets. I was barely out of my teens and decided to join a local writers group for what I thought would be a great place for encouragement and support of my budding art.

My grandmother died not long after I joined and I wrote a poem about her which included her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. It was difficult to express the loss and pain I felt from losing the most gentle and loving person I had known in my life. I wrote something about a storm and lost tiger cubs… I was so nervous to share my poem with the group, but I worked up the courage to read it aloud.

A seasoned writer and published poet, proceeded to rip my poem to shreds, saying it was full of cliches. A few other “real” poets nodded in agreement and suggested I rewrite the poem. Their criticism was all it took for my ever-present inner critic to rapid-fire a stream of negative comments like, “I told you so!” “You’re not a writer. You will never be a real poet.” “Don’t quit your day job!” I believed those “real” poets and I listened to my crippling critic. I never went back to that writers’ group and I didn’t attempt to write poetry again for several years.

I shake my head in disbelief when I think of all the wasted years that I could have done what turned out to be my greatest passion.

Fortunately, my interest in writing and poetry continued even though my confidence was shattered. I never stopped learning. I took college English and writing classes, attended writing workshops and conferences, read several books on writing including two perennial favorites: Stephen King on Writing and Bird by Bird.

When I finally decided to write and share poetry again, I made a promise to myself that I would never again let anyone’s opinion (including my own) stop me. So, when I see criticism of a poet’s work, it brings those memories flooding back and makes me feel a little defensive.

Who cares if it’s cliche? Seriously! If you don’t like a poet’s writing, move along to the next one. Now, that I’m a grandmother, I have earned the right to share what grandmothers say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

We all have different styles of writing we like. For example, I don’t like horror, (sorry Stephen King, I do love your book on writing) but I don’t criticize it, I just focus on reading and writing what I do like, which is mostly romance. Yes, I admit it, I’m a hopeless romantic at heart. Thank you Nicholas Sparks (another writer who has been criticized for creating formulaic, commercialized art.)

I also enjoy uplifting writing and quotes. Atticus covers all those bases! He has over a million followers, proof that a lot of readers like his style. To each their own. The important thing is people are getting interested in poetry again, which not long ago was considered a dying art.

I’m excited about the influx of newcomers into the poetry world joining those who have been inspired to start writing again. Bravo to platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube for providing creative ways to share our art.

Write on!

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Write Any Way
by Vautaw

So it’s cliche,

write anyway.

So it’s not grammatically correct,

write anyway.

So it doesn’t rhyme,

write anyway.

Don’t let judgmental “experts”

distort your perception of poetry

or silence the part of your soul

that longs to make sense of life.

Just write

any way!

Meet Me in Montreal

I'm in the write mood! (7)

I followed an email link from Leonard Cohen’s family that led to a star-crossed love song the legendary song writer recorded called Traveling Light. I sometimes feel a pang of jealousy of songs and poems written for a poet’s love interest. I don’t know why it matters, but for some odd reason it does. Perhaps it’s lust to be a writer’s muse or maybe it’s immortality I seek?

Leonard Cohen’s songs get to me. His words and poetic rhythm unlocks a door in my soul where heartbreak, loneliness, and regret reside. His music wafts in and waltzes toxic emotions to the surface so they dissipate rather than destroy me. What a cathartic gift and legacy.

My late spinster aunt loved to listen to Gordon Lightfoot. She had all his CDs and would go to his concerts whenever he was within four hours driving distance. I never understood her fascination with him until now. He must have been her lyrical soul doctor like Leonard Cohen has been for me. God bless the music makers for they set our spirit free.

Hopefully, the stars will align for me to make it to Montreal in November. For someone with no stamps on their passport, like me, what an adventure that would be! What is life if not a daring adventure and celebration of using your gifts to the fullest as Leonard has shown us can be done with style and grace.

What follows is the email I received regarding the upcoming Memorial Tribute for Leonard Cohen. Meet me in Montreal to celebrate the life and music of one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our generation!

The Cohen Family presents
TOWER OF SONG:
A MEMORIAL TRIBUTE TO
LEONARD COHEN

ELVIS COSTELLO, LANA DEL REY, FEIST, PHILIP GLASS, K.D. LANG,
WESLEY SCHULTZ AND JEREMIAH FRAITES OF THE LUMINEERS, DAMIEN RICE, STING, PATRICK WATSON, ADAM COHEN AND OTHERS TO MARK ANNIVERSARY OF ICON’S PASSING

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 6th 7:30 PM
BELL CENTRE, MONTREAL

The family of Leonard Cohen invites fans from around the world to join them, along with renowned musicians, the Prime Minister of Canada and the Premier of Quebec in celebrating Cohen’s legacy for Tower of Song: A Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Nov. 6, 2017.

“My father left me with a list of instructions before he passed: ‘Put me in a pine box next to my mother and father. Have a small memorial for close friends and family in Los Angeles…and if you want a public event do it in Montreal,’” said singer-songwriter Adam Cohen “I see this concert as a fulfillment of my duties to my father that we gather in Montreal to ring the bells that still can ring.”

The event will benefit the Canada Council for the Arts, the Council of Arts and Letters of Quebec, and the Montreal Arts Council.

Tower of Song will mark the first anniversary of Leonard’s passing and commence a week of celebrations honouring Cohen in Montreal. As previously announced, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal’s new exhibit, “Leonard Cohen: Une brèche en toute chose / A Crack in Everything,” will open to the public November 9. The exhibit was approved by the late songwriter before his passing and will celebrate Cohen’s life and work. Select media and top tier Tower of Song ticket holders will be invited to a preview of the exhibit on November 7.

TICKETS ON SALE THIS SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 23rd AT NOON (EDT) AT EVENKO.CA AND 1-855-310-2525.

Write Through Tragedy

Most of us have two lives. The life we live and the unlived life within us. (4)

“Write every day, even if your house is on fire and your grandmother just died.” ~ Tom Robbins

I saw this quote on a copywriting course I am taking with Kaia Van Zandt and it stopped me in my tracks. I had to share the quote with my writer friends and talk about how writing has saved my sanity. Both of those things in Tom Robbin’s quote have happened to me.

My grandmother was my rock. I held tight to her as she clung to her faith and somehow by osmosis her faith transferred to me. It is a beautiful thing to leave a legacy of faith. My grandmother (who I am named after) almost always had a notepad in her lap when I would visit, especially in her later years. I often wondered what she wrote in those notebooks. I happened upon one years after she went to be with the Lord. She kept a journal of mostly who came to visit her that day, upcoming birthdays and anniversaries. I was a little disappointed as I wanted to see the juicy stuff. What was she thinking? That’s what I wanted to know! She was such a quiet person and didn’t go out much except to church. I knew she had to be expressing her thoughts somewhere, but it didn’t appear to be in her journals. She loved to write letters to her family. She had six children that lived in different states so she sent a lot of letters. Writing letters is a lost art!

I’m glad that in addition to her faith, my grandmother modeled a love of writing. It has kept me sane over the years, especially in 2014 when our home, business, vehicles, pets, everything we owned, burned to the ground. Everyone kept asking me how I was staying so calm and optimistic throughout the ordeal. I didn’t really know in the moment, but in hindsight, I can clearly see that it was faith and writing!

Nature and Poetry

I'm in the write mood! (1)

“Nature brings out the poet in me.” ~ Kathy Chaffin Gerstorff

My favorite park on the planet is Mounds State Park in Anderson, Indiana, which happens to be my hometown. I have always felt drawn to Mounds for reasons I don’t completely understand. I think it has to do with the rich history of the Mounds. I’ve had a story in my head for nearly 20 years that I do hope to get out into the world someday. In the meantime, I’m content to enter their annual poetry contest. This year I nearly forgot about it. Fortunately, a reminder popped up in my Facebook timeline. They added a Poetry/Photo “hybrid” category this year which is cool. I love photography almost as much as poetry, they make perfect mates.

To prepare for the hybrid entry, I ordered a couple prints of photos I snapped of my family at Mounds a few months ago. When I see a photo sometimes the words come to me, but sometimes they don’t. When a deadline hangs in the air like stale cigarette smoke, my muse chokes!

I knew what I had to do. I had to go straight to the source and get some fresh air. I talked my husband into driving me to Mounds so I could knock out the poem on the way. Yeah right. Nothing! Once we got to Mounds I went straight to their nature room where I presumed it would be quiet and I could write. Wrong again. Someone was already in “my” room with their head buried in their cell phone listening randomly to news, music, whatever. It was noise to me and oh so annoying. Why bother coming to a nature center if you’re going to be on your phone? At least put in some earbuds!

I then went outside and sat at a picnic table. The sun was shining from a clear blue sky. Birds were singing. My muse blew in on a slight breeze and took a seat beside me. Magic. I love when that happens. I looked at the photo of my youngest granddaughter sitting on one of the beautiful native benches that makes a wonderful addition to the park. I wondered what someone who didn’t know my awesome little angel would see if they looked at the photo. Would they see all the generations that have visited the park before her and the generations that she will introduce to our special place. That’s what I see.

I finished the poem and took it directly to the manager’s office. So they have the original poem if I ever become postmortem famous! I doubt it, but you never know.  I don’t do it for the money or the fame. I write because it is who I am. Writing is as much a part of me as my flesh, more so I believe. Spiritual. When I write poetry I feel connected to heaven and earth in a way nothing outside of prayer has ever made me feel. Sometimes the words do not convey the depth of my emotion, but that’s okay. I’ve made peace with not being a flowery prose writer that creates a symphony with the flick of her pen, even though I still appreciate hearing a concerto of words by the masters. My words are more like a street musician strumming a guitar. Simple, raw, surprising. Entertaining to me and sometimes the audience that stops to listen in.

Happy National Poetry Month. I hope you take note of what inspires you!

IMG_5411

Photo I took of my granddaughter that inspired my poem, “What Do You See?”

What Do You See?
Kathy Chaffin Gerstorff

What do you see?
An adorable blonde-hair,
blue-eyed little girl
sitting on a park bench?

I see the fourth generation
to create happy memories
of time spent with her family
at Mounds State Park.

Storing up smiles
and happy thoughts
to see her through
the hard times that
life sometimes brings.

I see a link to a
love of nature
that lives on
in the heart
of a child.

If You Really Knew Me

writerkat-com

I attended a writing workshop yesterday led by three fantastic facilitators (Lorraine Marshall-Rey, Michael Brockley, and Jeffrey Owen Pearson). The workshop title was “Writing the Lonely Life” and the topic was loneliness, being alone, and writing. I will attend a writing workshop on any topic. I like to keep my claws sharp. Plus, I meet the most fascinating people at writing workshops. There seems to be an automatic trust among kindred spirits. After a few minutes getting to know each other, we put our vulnerabilities on the table like scalpels during open heart surgery.

One of the ice breakers the fantastic facilitators used was an exercise called “If You Really Knew Me”. We went around the room telling each other what they would know about us if they really knew us. We discovered that one of the facilitators (Mike Brockley) has over 700 “conversational” ties, each one with a theme or story. We learned that a couple writers struggle with depression, one writer just graduated and feels lost, another one used to be in a cult. I shared about overcoming a phobia of escalators and using that same fear-facing strategy to publish my writings that I had spent years putting in a box or throwing away.

After I left the workshop and thought more about the exercise, I thought about some other things I could have shared, like how I have a touch of OCD that prevents me from letting any canned goods be upside down in my cabinets or how I would rather read and listen to the rain than watch TV or how I redirected negative emotions of an abused childhood to write and publish books to help others that have gone through the same thing.

But then, if you really knew me, you would know I wouldn’t want to mention anything that seemed like bragging. It is a fine line we walk between sharing our stories to get to know each other better and staying silent to avoid sideways glances and shoulder shrugs.

Of course withdrawal is where loneliness begins and thus the need for workshops such as this one where we learn about anaphoras and ghazals, pair up to create couplets, dance, laugh, birth poems, and make new friends that helps fill the abyss of loneliness with the connection we all crave.

Write on.

WriterKat

Below is a poem my new friend Helen Townsend and I created at the workshop. We both created couplets separately, then when we paired up to put the poem together, we were in awe of how one line seemed to be responding to the other, almost as if the inner voice of strength was talking one through the fear (which was a word we both came up with when asked to list the cost of loneliness). It was a fun exercise. 

Defeat

I want to step out into light

but loneliness keeps me in a shroud of fear.

    Take off your eye glasses

    De-focus your fear.

I am a fist

of pain and fear.

    Twirl your precious stones

    let your fingers forget fear.

My face hides a

self-imposed prison of fear.

    Walk outside in inside-out-socks

    Your feet splash puddles of fear.

My strength is here

I don’t feel fear.

 

 

National Poetry Month Kickoff

April

Break The Cycle Volume III coming soon!

April is my favorite month of the year. It is SPRING which is my favorite season. Everything is coming back to life, earth turns green, the sun shines bright in a clear blue sky with storybook clouds that occasionally float by… it is a time of renewal. April is also host to two causes near and dear to my heart: National Poetry Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. I plan to honor both of those events every day during the month of April with a poem a day and that’s no joke! 🙂

The first feature combines both events. It is the third anthology in my Break the Cycle book series. I wanted the focus of Break the Cycle Volume III to be Recovery. While there are several poems and stories that do address moving forward after the trauma of child abuse, this Volume also includes some cautionary tales that shows the fallout of neglected and abused children.

Some of the stories are tough to read and early feedback is that a few of the poems and stories make readers cry. I have also heard from people who think it is sad to publish a book that may open old wounds and that they could never read such a book. That’s okay.

The book is for people who need to confront their childhood demons and these stories help them find their own voice. Those are the people I am hoping to reach with the Break the Cycle series. Because I have been there. I am aware of the painful emotions reading stories about abuse can dredge up, but it is freeing too because you see people sharing their stories, letting the secrets out that they have kept bottled up for years, and taking steps forward away from the past that threatens to keep them bound.

Reading empowering books and writing from the heart helps heal your soul, at least it has helped me and others who have told me that it has helped them too. So, I publish Break the Cycle books with no apology and with the hope that springs eternal from one survivor to another.

The proceeds from this book and all the Break the Cycle books are donated to organizations that help neglected and abused children. The next volume will be published in 2018 and the final volume in 2020 – that is my goal. There is something magic about the number five! My prayer is that the people who need to read it will find it and it will inspire them to share their truths and lead to a healthier, happier life. That and helping kids is what it is all about for me.

In the books, I write under three pen names. Why? I have used the names for years and write many poems anonymously because it frees me to write without self-imposed limitations. I also like the pen names. I sometimes pretend those names will be added to the list of famous writers. Of course insecurities that often plague writers kick those thoughts to the curb, but I have fun with the visions of grandeur.

Below is a poem from I wrote under a pseudonym in Break the Volume III. If you read the book, you will know one of my pen names! I wrote this poem to honor my Aunt Judy who took me in after I was removed from my family due to years of abuse from my step-father. When I first moved in with my aunt, I was hurt and angry that I had to be the one to leave. I didn’t understand why my step-father wasn’t the one taken away so I could stay with my mother and brothers.

My aunt was very kind to me and treated my like her own child. She taught me so many things but the most important was forgiveness. Working through my issues took a lot of patience on my aunt’s part. She could have left it alone, but I am sure my bitterness would have festered to the point that it would eclipse my soul and I would have no desire to have a relationship with anyone opting instead to stay in my shell. I am so grateful for what my aunt (and uncle) did for me.

After I grew up and had kids of my own, I understood her sacrifice on a different level and told her several times how much I appreciated her help. I still don’t think she understood the depth of my gratitude. On her deathbed just a few weeks ago, I told her that I was paying her kindness forward by taking two of my nieces in to raise who are the same age I was when I moved in with her. I told her that her legacy lives on. To be a foster parent, what a tough, but beautiful legacy to leave. It is not a life I would have chosen had she not paved the way for me to turn a bitter heart into a beautiful soul.

TEACHER

I was furious.
You taught me forgiveness.

I was scared.
You taught me strength.

I was sad.
You taught me smiles.

I was lost.
You taught me love.

Write on.

Kathy G

Honorable Mention

certificate1

“There is no dishonor in honorable mention.” ~ Mike Rothman

There was a time when honorable mention felt like losing to me…

“If she can’t win, she doesn’t want to play.” My cousin said those words about me when I was ten years old or so and a group of us kids were playing red rover or some similar game that I decided I didn’t want to play for reasons I don’t even remember. My cousin continued his berating, “It has to be her way or not at all.” He was talking to them about me right in front of me. I was furious, stomped back into the house and slammed the screen door to make the point that I was mad which probably just confirmed his point to the group. My cousin’s biting words stayed with me all these years. I think about it from time to time. Am I really that rigid that I don’t want to play if I can’t win? There have been many times in my life when I felt like that was true. I have never been into sports perhaps because I know I can’t win without training and I have no desire to train for any athletic event, not even hippity-hop when I was in the fourth grade. I was always last to get picked for the team and I really didn’t care. I would rather be sitting by myself somewhere coloring or reading a book.

Writing is a different story, sort of. I want to the be the best, do my best, but often feel like I fall short which used to prevent me from entering writing contests or attending big writer conventions where MFAs and bestselling authors abound. I remember the first time I attended the Midwest Writers Conference. I felt so inferior after coming home from that event. It took me months to get beyond my self-imposed limitations of thinking what makes me believe I have a chance of getting published when there are so many great writers who are struggling. Thank goodness self-publishing became popular and easily accessible or I would have probably never pursued publishing my writing.

Once I self-published, it was like breaking through an invisible barrier. Suddenly, I could say I was a published author. I began to see myself as a writer. I continued to study, read and write, becoming a little more confident with each poem and story I wrote. I began to enter writing contests, only a few that meant something to me. I remember the first time I won a writing contest, it felt like I won an Olympic gold metal. All I won was some random poster from the 70’s that became ashes along with all my journals, poems, stories and books when my house burned down a couple years ago.

After the fire, I got a new perspective about what is really important in life. I no longer wish to accumulate things. I would rather accumulate memories. I no longer write to “win” a contest or get published. I write to say what I feel I have to release into the world. If it resonates with someone, that is wonderful. I love when that happens both as a writer and a reader. But, I’m no longer in competition for the coveted “best-seller” title or winning any awards. I write because it is who I am and what I have to do to quiet the voices in my head. I write because I love the written word. Passionately.

When I got an honorable mention at the recent Mounds State Park Poetry contest, I felt that twinge of “first place” memory and smiled inside because I am in the game now, playing, having fun, right along with all the other writers who submit their art for something that is important to them.

Being willing to step outside your comfort zone and writing from your heart, that’s what makes you a winner!

Write on.

Kathy G