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Compiled answers to the most frequent questions I get by email and at AskMe.


"Please send me examples of [type of poem/story/essay/speech]."

First, check my poetry instruction pages at Kalliope, my fiction exercise pages at StreetWrites, my essay pages in the Unicorn Pen, or my public speaking resource pages at the Homeless Speakers Bureau.

If you do not find your examples there, then try a web search. I like to use Google or Altavista for this kind of query because I can control the search a lot more precisely than at other search engines.

For example: If I started to write a Kalliope exercise on the poetry form "sestina," I would want to find examples to point to. So I would go to altavista.com and enter the search criteria

+sestina poem "formal poetry" "poetic form"

Altavista will look for documents that may have these words, or the exact phrases in quotes, but that must have the word "sestina." The answers listed for me will be ranked in order of how many of those words are contained in the document, but they will all have the word "sestina" in them.

You can learn more about using a search engine at searchenginewatch

A search engine can only point you to webpages it has a record of. Sometimes your best results will come from pages that are linked from one of the pages you get.

There are also webrings and forums that specialize in formal poetry. Try searching Webring and specifically the Poetry Webring for "sestina" or "formal poetry."

Another useful resource is Bob's Byways, http://shoga.wwa.com/~rgs/glossary.html

Please analyze this poem. What is the theme? What is the poet trying to say? What are the symbols the poet uses to say this? (etcetera etcetera)

It's pretty easy to identify homework questions. I am not going to answer them for you. But I will help you do the work for yourself.

Start with reading the poem out loud to yourself. Most poems are meant to be read out loud. The impressions of the poem may be stronger for you once you hear it. (You can do this in private if you're not used to it.)

Some people learn best by seeing, some learn best by hearing, and some learn best by doing. If the poem makes no sense to you read or heard, try acting it out. (You may also want to do this in private.)

Another thing that can interfere with your understanding of a poem is words that you don't know the meaning of -- or perhaps the meaning you know is not the one the poet is using. Look back through the poem and find the place where you got confused. (It may be at the title.) Look up the words just before that (or the first word, if that's where you lost it.) There are dictionaries on line that can help.

How does the poem make you feel? What does it make you think of? For a moment, try not to worry about getting the "right" answer. The poet is trying to communicate to you, not to your teacher. Most teachers would be happier to hear you argue for your own interpretation of the poem even if it is different than anyone else's, than hear you echo the answer of a New Yorker literary critic.

Translate the poem to yourself, line by line. You will probably end up with more words than were in the poem, because poetry is condensed language.

"Hail to thee, blithe spirit;
bird thou never wert
that from heaven or near it
pourest thy full heart
in profuse strains of unpremeditated art."
Shelley to a bluebird: "You seem greater than a bird, a spiritual being instead a material one, full of joy and pouring it forth generously, able to create beauty without thought or effort."

"Please critique my poem and tell me where I can publish it."

You will get faster response, from more viewpoints, by joining the Kalliope poetry workshop or any other of the fine, free email workshops on the Net.

I have collected a list of online poetry workshops that I have had good experiences with, at http://anitra.net/writing/workshops.html

Another excellent website for posting and dicussing poetry is http://www.scroll.org/

Some cautions: The stronger you feel about keeping control of your work, the less widely you will want to post it. The more widely you want it to be read and commented on, the more likely it is that someone will decide to circulate a copy to everyone in their address book, or change it a bit and put it on their Christmas cards. It's a trade-off. You may save yourself some stress down the road by thinking now about which is most important to you, getting feedback or keeping control?

Once you have decided that, you can choose between small workshops of people who know each other well and have no archives or only private ones -- or possibly set one up yourself with a few friends at an email list service like http://groups.yahoo.com/ -- or choose a big email list with open anybody-can-join membership like Writers at MIT.

There are avantages to face-to-face workshops and there are advantages to online workshops. An online workshop may seem less threatening at first because all the comments are coming from strangers: you can delete them at the push of a button if you don't like them and you will never pass these people in the hall at school. You have more people to talk to and maybe get an answer from. However, it is usually easier to discuss poems at length and to clear up misunderstandings face-to-face, and you are less likely to get "lost in the crowd" as you can on the Net.

Whatever you do, keep writing.

Information on getting published.

How should I write an essay on [subject]?

See the Unicorn Pen.

How many people in the world are homeless?

These and other questions on homelessness are already largely documented at http://nationalhomeless.org/

I do also have a lot of information at Absolute Authority on Homelessness and the Homeless Column. I am writing as fast as I can. :)

To find what you are looking for quickly, you may search me, or search the Web. Learn about getting the most out of search engines at search engine watch.

If you can't find it here ...

Try the Stumper's List - an online community of reference librarians.

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Updated November 21, 2002