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Write about your pet!

Our dog O’Malley is so friendly, especially with female dogs, that he doesn’t differentiate between tame family pets and a wild fox. A vixen lives in the tall grass behind our place, and she often prances around looking for mice.

O’Malley sees her and does his own little dance along the fence, wanting to go and play.

I wrote a little sonnet about them, calling it Fox and Hound Sonnet even though he isn’t a hound; he’s a Sheltie.

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Fox and Hound Sonnet

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Her coat is silver in the midnight luminescence.

She hunts for mice scurrying hole to hidden hole;

her midriff tells the tale of soon becoming mother,

for kits to come when spring should bring mild weather.

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The fox patrols along the waving grasses and the shrubs.

She stands motionless intent on securing food for all,

when eventually a mouse or vole appears, she pounces,

death’s bite given to ease the rodent’s journey.

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My hound prances at the fence completely enthralled.

He’s in love, how can he resist her beautiful paws!

Her tail bushes large as her body, her eyes like acorns,

she tempts this sire to devote his life to adoration.

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An old tale, fox and hound, star-crossed lovers;

the fox continues to hunt, while my hound comes in for dinner.

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O’Malley, our puppy.

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Try your own poem or short story about your pet!

If you can’t remember how a sonnet works, check this POST about sonnets.

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Three Girls in a Cherry Tree

As teenagers, my sisters and I picked fruit for summer work near Fruitland, Ontario. We foolishly wore shorts and the backs of our legs burned bright red. Normally, cherries are pulled straight off the stems, but no one told us what to do; they assumed we knew. As a result, we picked basketfuls of cherries with the stems on and the farmer had to sell our harvest at his roadside fruit-stand rather than including the fruit in his shipment to E.D. Smith’s jam factory. We were embarrassed. This poem is written in lower diction as we were young teens.

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Three Girls in a Cherry Tree

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We three sisters rode in a truck

To orchards humming honey

In July’s dawn

Three girls

Three ladders

Three baskets full

We sweet fruit savoured

Till our cheeks stained suit

Fingers pulled stems

All day long

Cold drinks from water pails

Tin ladle song

Red fingers

Red lips

Red legs

Red faces

Farmer sold cherries

At roadside station

*Inspired by Theodore Roethke’s writings about his childhood

Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash

Have fun playing around with words, words from your childhood experiences!

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Two Types of Story

One of the things I learned while studying the Humanities is that there really are only two types of stories.

CAUTION: this post is only partially true and is most definitely over-simplified. BEWARE!

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

It sounds way too simple to be true! Wouldn’t writing be so incredibly easy if it were?

The two types are…

Can you imagine a story you’ve read where the characters seem silly, thick-minded, or at least at some sort of disadvantage? Characters like this can’t seem to look ahead far enough to predict the outcome of their actions. As a result, they land in complicated, difficult, and often humorous (humourous) situations.

This type of story is a comedy. The reader is smarter than the protagonist, and despite bumbles and danger, there is a happy ending. A couple of examples are Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and The Rosie Project. Graeme Simsion’s protagonist, Don Tillman, is a professor who bumbles through the story, comedically over-self-aware, yet somewhat heroic as he becomes embroiled in a plan to find a wife for himself and a father for Rosie. Simsion’s story subverts the genre because he wrote a “smart comedy” as the characters are all educated and interesting, unlike the first comedies invented in Ancient Greece, where comedies were peopled with fools and bawdy antics and far too much drink during their festivals to worship their gods. All you have to do to find out this is true of comedy is try to find one on a movie channel that isn’t populated by fools. (They do exists, but they are tricky to find!)

The other type of story is a tragedy. In this type of story, the characters are usually relatable, or even in the higher stations of society like the kings in Shakespeare’s political plays. They fall into one of the Deadly Sins, or make some sort of tragic mistake which leads to their demise. At the end, they are “sadder but wiser, (Aristotle/Coleridge).

Aristotle is the one who first wrote about the two basic types of stories in his book, The Poetics. His two types of stories seem to ring true.

A recent example of a tragedy is The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. While there are amusing parts, the overall trajectory leads through difficult circumstances and seemingly the tragic decision of the son to separate from his family. By the end, he has become wiser.

Can you think of any stories that don’t fit his idea?

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writing to play

Sometimes writers and writing are way too serious!

I just don’t want to write if it isn’t going to be fun. I like to think about what I enjoy, and write about it.

I also think about what I’d like to read, and what kids would like to read.

While I imagine mostly happy endings, getting there for my characters isn’t easy. In fact, everything goes wonky. That’s what makes a good tale.

The simplest story is:

Someone WANTS something / someone can’t get that thing = conflict

They find TROUBLE when they go on a journey to find what they want, or

trouble comes to town.

Another simple plot is about CHANGE:

This is the way life is here and now. Go into great detail about very specific things in that life. Then suddenly, life changes because of forces outside the person, or the person does something to change their life.

This type of story is mainly about showing change and how the character deals with it.

Words are cool; words are fun.

Have fun writing! Play around with different kinds of stories.

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Naming Characters & Plot in Summer North Coming

There are several books which I have read a gazillion times to my children that did not have named characters. A few examples are: Goodnight Moon, Jamberry, and several Dr. Suess books, like Go Dog Go.

Naming in most stories is important. Names hold meaning as far as origin of name, connotations of name, and social understanding of a name. A whole character may be summed up with their name, such as The Grinch.

In Summer North Coming, Winter North Coming, I chose not to name the characters. In a story without named characters, the story becomes universal and any child may relate to the story.

Without names, the story is about the location, the movement, activity, the seasons, the experience, the overall tone and mood of the story.

What about plot?

The plot in this book is not typical. It doesn’t have a stated story problem, or a definitive conclusion. However, the story has the unstated problem of bored children, not knowing what to do. So, the answer is to get outside and do something fun in nature! Or, have some family and friends over for a special occasion. Rather than a sharp ending, the story is cyclical just like the seasons and years in life. The conclusion states off-camera that we will continue to have fun and thrive, no matter what the circumstances in life.

With a poetic story like Summer North Coming, lyricism is at the forefront. The story can almost be sung. Additionally, the story sets-up the expectation that when summer comes, these are the things we will do. In the second half of the book, Winter North Coming enfolds the same style, rhyme scheme, and lyricism, which sets up the reader to anticipate all the fun things to experience during the winter.

In this story, the focus is not on the naming of people, but on pulling the reader outside of self to experience the brilliance of nature, the joy of gatherings, and the beauty of language in poetic form. That is a satisfying conclusion in what can be an uncertain world.

photo credit: Eugene Golovesov
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The Poet’s Debate

I previously wrote a little about form poetry: the Shakespearean sonnet and the Petrarchan or Italian sonnet.

A third type is the Spenserian sonnet named for the poet Edmund Spenser. A Spenserian sonnet has three interlocked quatrains and a final couplet.

The rhyme scheme is ABAB BCBC CDCD EE, and the measure should be iambic pentameter. Another characteristic is a turn or change of meaning at the ninth line.

Here goes. I use archaic words, made-up words, and bad grammar to force rhymes.

The Poet’s Debate

As a reader I found all the well-known stories

that were kept in the public library shelved;

such adventures I found on these paper journeys,

to places imagined with maps to lands unknowed.

In towns and cities the library is more than storied,

plainly found on Main Street or on a side-street hidden;

in its own stand-alone house or inside one tucked,

bricked-up by bricks or with siding linden.

Beowulf, Shakespeare, Dickinson, and the Wordsworths,

must have great conversations after close’n,

no doubt interrupted by the contemporaries

who’ve turned their backs on formal verses form’en.

Who can say if free verse or form is better poetry,

for one requires much skill while the other a pen only.

I write mainly free verse contemporary poetry which comes easily to me, but I like to play around with form on occasion. It is much more difficult, but I like to challenge myself from time to time.

If you’re tired of plodding along altogether too seriously, perhaps try your hand at form poetry. You may enjoy it.

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Manifesting Sonnet

A few weeks ago, I spent the better part of a day submitting poetry via Submittable. Here are the results.

I received three rejections quickly due to my “tipping” a few dollars.

I received one “acceptance” of a four-poem collection to a literary review a couple of days ago. It may be defined as contemporary free verse, free of most punctuation.

One six-page poem is under consideration in a poetry contest at a literary journal in British Columbia.

One of the reasons I enjoyed studying poetry at university, (and still enjoy studying it), is learning classical forms such as the Sonnet. I was briefly exposed to Shakespearean sonnets in high school while reading his plays, but I didn’t realize that some people still write them. Also, I was only interested in writing free verse at the time. Very few lit. journals publish them, but some are so well-crafted and pertinent, that they find their way into the recent canon and are discussed in university. One example is The Facebook Sonnet.

The Shakespearean Sonnet

The Shakespearean Sonnet has 14 lines. It has three quatrains (three sets of four lines) and ends with a couplet (two lines). The final couplet has a turn which “clicks” into place the final punch-line or thought which is often a result of or contrary to the proceeding thoughts.

The rhyme scheme is ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

There are five basic types of poetic measure: iamb, trochee, spondee, anapest, and dactyl.

The meters with two-syllable feet are

  • IAMBIC (x /) : That time of year thou mayst in me behold
  • TROCHAIC (/ x): Tell me not in mournful numbers
  • SPONDAIC (/ /): Breakbreakbreak/ On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!

Meters with three-syllable feet are

  • ANAPESTIC (x x /): And the sound of a voice that is still
  • DACTYLIC (/ x x): This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlock (a trochee replaces the final dactyl)*

Oh, so very Canadian wth the fluid back-and-forth use of meter (metre) and foot. :->

Iambic pentameter, which is the line-length Shakespeare used for his sonnets, means there are five (penta) measures, or beats.

Here is a very poor example of a rough-draft sonnet which I wrote. My sonnets tend to come out sounding like they were written two-hundred years ago by a drunk poet. (You have to read ‘manifestation’ as one beat.)

Manifesting Sonnet

D. Bentley, 2020

Is the universe so daft it needs our visions?

of the manifestation desired by our selfish wills.

Or rather are our futures pre-existing,

only donned by our step forward to tomorrow?

All visions, hopes, prayers, and day-dreaming

meet mid-air becoming our life’s elixer,

adjusted by a greater seeing mighty ‘ponent,

rend comfort with a balancing and blend.

Of misfortune, suffering, illness, and ill fatings,

when through such turmoil we do ‘ventually endure

as birthed from dross and through fires which

surely do cleanse and cause to clarify.

When strivings cease and contentment stills the heart

one finds all blessings are already possessed.

Well, that attempt is a bit of a mess; also, there is no rhyme. I did try to end with a “turn” or click-lock.

Here is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 with the beats marked. The “up” lines show where the emphasis is when reading.

Similar to the Shakespearean Sonnet, the Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet has iambic pentameter and consists of an octave, or 8-line stanza, followed by a sestet, or 6-line stanza.

The octave sets up a situation upon which the sestet comments. Alternatively, the octave makes a statement, the sestet a counter statement as in the following example by John Milton:

When I Consider How My Light Is Spent

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

John Milton
2. http://thepoetsgarret.com/

A third type of sonnet is the Spencerian Sonnet. Perhaps I will write one for next time.

3.

Poetry is beautiful and fun.

  1. Thank you to the University of Pennsylvania for the information on poetic feet/meters/metres.
  2. http://thepoetsgarret.com/
  3. laura-chouette-iF3nn-mXkU8-unsplash.jpg
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Bird Cats

I haven’t written a line of new poetry since last November, but I have spent a lot of time editing poems and submitting them to various literary magazines, online and print, through Submittable. Submissions to some publications are free, others ask for a “tip,” and still others have entry fees particularly if they are calls for contest entries.

Some of the lit mags promise to put your poem or story at the front of the queue if you tip them. I tried this with several poems. The beauty of this process is that you can submit on a Saturday and get rejected by Tuesday. There is less wondering over weeks and weeks.

I am going to see how many rejections I can amass. The tricky part is keeping track of them all. I purchased a notebook for this purpose, but I can’t find it now, so I decided to tuck all of the rejection emails into one folder in my email account. I’m not sure if there is some sort of rite of passage about rejections. If I pass the 100 count, will I get a “Get out of jail” card?

I believe there are many variables to a submission’s acceptance. I think it has to do with who one knows, or the mission and purpose of the magazine, personal taste, what colour the sky is, and of course, which way you faced when you wrote it. [smiles]

Some lit mags are produced by universities and not surprisingly give preference to their own students and alumni. Others prefer to publish those who have volunteered their time with them, or people they know personally. Other than those submissions, editors are looking for work that pops for some reason.

At times, the pop is from a unique voice from far away, from a subtle or not so subtle political position. A pop may also be a shock such as a death (that one has been done to death), or even unique or eloquent word-craft. Lately, poetry seems to be focusing more than ever on how empty space on the page is used. But it has to make sense. Here is an example I wrote as child’s play.

Bird Cats

the cats scratch at the spring door

the warm door

longing to                           B A S K

to   s t a l k

to h u n t

to r—o-am

breaking/with

the imposed winter hiatus and bland kibble

finally

the sun-soaked door opens

they run                                                        in opposite [ directions

                                                       ] directions

one for the robins’ nest

the other for the ravens’ nest

on top of the tree

Only one comes home

____________________

This kind of poem is fun for children to write.

Millie and Bo, my bird cats, as they were.

______________________

Instead of watching the news, read a good book. Who says living in a dreamland is a bad idea?

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Happy New Year 2021

A few years ago, after moving to Southern Alberta, I was set to settle into a writer’s life– hiking in the mountains, paddling, fishing, wandering wherever the road led and writing. But on several hikes, I thought, Is this all there is? It wasn’t satisfying. I felt there was more to do. And I couldn’t write.

I decided to enrol in university and complete a degree in English Literature. I felt that it was the only way to grow as a writer. There is nothing like pressure to make me write. Looking back, I have written an astonishing amount including many essays for courses.

Over the past week, I compiled and submitted two poetry collections. One is a poetry collection for children, and the other is a poetry collection for adults. I wrote about 130 poems over the past three years. There are 14 in the children’s collection, and 91 in the adult collection. I also submitted another children’s book manuscript for consideration.

I was happy to have two poems accepted for the (M)othering Anthology last year (forthcoming from Inanna Publications in 2022), and to have been accepted for a project called “Art In Conversation” hosted by Arts Council Wood Buffalo for which I earned a commission to produce a short story called “The Penny.” In addition, a picture book manuscript is accepted for publication with a small press, forthcoming in 2021.

My goal for 2021 is to edit several of my rough-draft novels, two of which I worked on for university creative writing courses. I also need to edit my collection of columns, which will become a memoir.

The past few years have had incredible challenges, too, but I do not dwell on those. Instead, I see how much my family and I have grown over these years, and I am thankful. And I hope now, finally, I can settle down and have a productive writer’s life.

Southern Moon

The southern moon beams over the pastures

and the grass is slightly browning as a cool autumn evening puts it to sleep

All the trees say hello

One by one I touch their needles

and thank them

for coming to live with us

I wish them more growth

I know it is not too much to ask

they are already stretching taller

They drop their needles to feed the soil

where a labyrinth of burrows 

are full of furry flurries in preparation for winter

I think of Emily’s blue-bottle buzzing when she died

but I’m nowhere near

for I have come

back now

back to this southern moon

where I have living

to do

I hope 2021 will be full of good health, joy, and success for you and for me. As I heard recently, there is enough success to go around.

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Special items and experiences in Summer North Coming, Winter North Coming

Some people may wonder about the objects and experiences shown in Summer North Coming, Winter North Coming. Here is where I found inspiration.

I moved to Alberta several decades ago. There, I soon became friends with several Indigenous people in high school. In addition, a family member married an Indigenous person; I have Indigenous relatives.

BANNOCK

A good friend of mine gave me her bannock recipe. It is much like the baking soda biscuits I knew as a child. However, my friend’s recipe includes a little sugar and is baked in a baking sheet with sides which produces biscuits like squares.

BIRCH BARK BASKETS

A dear friend of mine loves to create practical and art objects with components of nature. She lives in the Fort Chipewyan area. She makes birch bark baskets.

MUKLUKS

I had a pair of mukluks. I loved them, but I could only wear them when it was before zero outside. Otherwise, they are too hot and the hide would get wet. The mukluks in the story have beading in a flower pattern specific to the Cree of northern Alberta. A close friend of mine whose family is from Elizabeth Settlement near Cold Lake recognized the pattern while she read the book.

FISH DRYING

Yes, some people still dry fish to preserve it. My family puts fish into a smoker, but we prefer to eat it fresh. The Indigenous people we met in Wood Buffalo National Park fed White Fish to their dogs because that type of fish is quite boney. Other common types, such as Walleye (also known as Pickerel), and Northern Pike (also called Jack Fish), are usually eaten fresh, smoked and dried.

VENISON STEW

My family hunts. Additionally, many Indigenous people also harvest wild food. Hunting is a heavily regulated practice in Alberta for non-Indigenous people, while Indigenous people may hunt year-round providing they are Band members. People who are decedents of Indigenous people groups may apply for Band membership. They complete an ancestral family tree, provide their I.D., and the Band determines if the applicant qualifies for Band membership.

In addition, the children pick berries in the story. My family also likes to harvest wild berries. They are plentiful along the trails and wilderness places in the Wood Buffalo region and many other locations in Alberta. They provide plentiful food to animals as well as people.

TRAPS

The story refers to the family checking “traps.” Friends of my family had a trapline west of Fort McMurray. While I was working as a freelance writer for a newspaper, I interviewed the guy who did the actual trapping and cleaning of the furs. He sold them to a fur dealer who in turn sold the fur to clothing manufacturers. It was interesting to learn about the process. There were several other traplines in the vicinity. Trapping is a heavily regulated practice which involves licensing, permits, leasing of land, and many other concerns. The government issues permits for trapping in consultation with wildlife biologists who determine the populations of wildlife. The wildlife biologists want to ensure that all species have healthy populations. When there is an overabundance of animals, more permits are issues. This is similar to the way that game licenses are issued.

ELDERS

Summer North Coming, Winter North Coming refers to elders. Elders are highly respected in Indigenous groups. Bands and associations regularly hold Elder Teas and other events to honour the elders among them. They are revered for their wisdom and experience, and provide comfort and advice to those who are younger.

WINGED CHILDREN

The whimsical scenes in the centre of the stories were created by the illustrator. Interestingly, I previously wrote in a blog post about how I can fly in my dreams. Also, many Indigenous people are spiritual, whether connected to their traditional beliefs or Christians, or any number of other faith groups. As with all people, there are no stereotypes. People make their own decisions based on their own preferences and experiences.

DOG SLEDDING

The family in the story uses a dog sled. When my husband and I visited Wood Buffalo National Park and camped at Dog Head Point west of Fort Chipewyan, there were a lot of ferrel dogs around. They were harmless, but they did get into our food stores. Many people still use dog sleds and it was a traditional means of transportation. The dogs are well equipped to live in the cold weather with their thick fur coats.

As a freelance writer, I interviewed a dog musher who lives just outside Fort McMurray: McMurray Mush. This musher races her dog team in events around the country. She takes great care of her animals; they are like her family members.

Wooden Skiffs

The further north I have travelled, the more often I saw Indigenous people using hand-built wooden skiffs. My good friend, the artisan who makes birch bark baskets, uses a jet boat with her family to travel from Fort Chipewyan to Fort McMurray and back on the Athabasca River. Many others do, too.

WINTER CAMPING, QUINZEES

I don’t know if most Indigenous people camp in the winter now, or if quinzees are of Indigenous invention, but some of my family members camp outside in the winter. Also, my kids learned how to make quinzees from other kids.

Happy Reading!

DB