Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Journal Images Become Poems

One purpose your journal might serve is as depository for collections of different metaphorical images that can eventually be used in your poems. As an "investigative poet" I often write on themes that need some research. When planning a poem on garlic, for example, I combed books, magazine articles and the web for information on the background and uses of garlic, both in cooking as as one of the oldest medicines in folklore. If I found a certain informational or historical tidbit interesting, I "turned it on its head" and made a metaphorical image out of it. For example, I compared the off-white waxy nature of garlic cloves to eagle's talons.

My plan was to look at garlic every which way and create a lyrical ode in honor of one of my favorite seasonings. Before starting my venture, I was deeply inspired by Pablo Neruda's odes, and "Ode to Tomatoes" in particular, which I feature in my workshops on lyrical poetry writing.

After overwriting and gathering more images than I would ever use in one poem, I let the images speak to me and come to my assistance as I wrote my text. In the course of writing, I used only about one third of the journal images but rewrote them as I went along so they would flow naturally into the piece. And these images gave rise to new images on the fly. Sometimes only one image might stand out from your journal laundry list, but it might act as rudder for the complete poetic direction of your piece. ◦

Monday, February 13, 2006

Writer's Block? Say Yes to Herbs.

Some of the greats who couldn't write without artificial stimulation, who chummed up to the bottle but ended up at the bottom of the barrel or, worse, at the bottom of the sea, are memorable: Edgar Allen Poe, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Hart Crane. Others smoked opium for inspiration, or mainlined heroin to their detriment.

One way to enhance the creative experience without destroying yourself is through the use of herbs. Ancient Chinese Taoists, Ayurvedic Hindus and American Indians have taken cues from nature, experimented with various local herbs and plants, with efforts that have uncovered cures, immune builders and tonics for their peoples.

During a typical American workday, we devote eight hours of attention to an employer, then push home to attack meal planning, work out personal relationships, and address scores of household details, often leaving a spare hour or two to devote to higher pursuits such as writing. But often those precious minutes or hours are fizzled away by fatigue.

Writer's block can be more than just a mental crossroads. It can include the lack of mental and physical stamina to address the empty page. Some tried and true "tonics" to help keep you alert and energetic without side effects include Korean or Siberian ginseng, cayenne pepper, yellow dock root, licorice root and garlic. Bee pollen, a superfood rather than an herb, provides energy, amino acids, and most known vitamins and minerals, which alfalfa does nicely in these respects as well.

Of those of the above short list, the one that makes the most dramatic difference to me personally is white Korean ginseng. Ginseng doesn't "energize" you in a caffeine kind of way, but instead is an adaptogen that helps you "adapt" to stress and a busy day wihile still maintaining the energy you started out with. Everyone, however, responds to herbs differently.

Think of herbs as food, which they actually are, and realize that their effects are usually attained over a period of time, at least three to 10 days. However, I will only take ginseng for 21 days at a time during a particularly stressful and intense time, and then let it alone for six months or more.

Jeff Kronick, herbalist, said, "One dose of the right herbal formula can add as much as 300 times the nutritional energy of a perfectly balanced meal designed for a similar effect."

Herbs that are regarded to have an influence on mental capabilities include most seaweeds (dulse, kelp, spirulina), blessed thistle and gotu kola, an herb from India. In a book called "Helping Yourself with Natural Remedies," author Terry Williard describes gotu kola as "probably the best herb for memory." Fo-ti, a Chinese herb used for mental depression and memory processes, is also considered by the Chinese as a wonder herb to lengthen life. And the herb damiana, a nerve tonic and antidepressive, is also a traditional aphrodisiac.

Some people like St. John's Wort for depression, stress or mental upset. My husband, an inner-city high school teacher and fellow writer, and I both prefer the amino acid L-Tyrosine (not to be confused with L-Tryptophane).

But the best detour around writer's block is attitude. And according to some writing experts, a sense of play over duty is the way to go. Have you ever known a child who might approach a pint-size easel only to say "I can't fingerpaint today, I'm blocked." Neither have I. Using your own innate sense of curiosity and the spirit of fun and adventure as your secret creativity weapons. ◦