SunWinks! January 25, 2015: Sound Decisions

SunWinksLogoBeloved SunWinkers:

He’s not one of those important figures like Miley Cyrus or Kim Kardashian, so I only just ran across the news that Mark Strand died November 29 at the age of 80. He’s been my poetry God for more than 40 years. I still have his chapbook Reasons For Moving, requested from and inscribed by my grandmother for my 20th birthday. The peripatetic Professor Strand was a Pulitzer winner and Poet Laureate, and exerted a singular and major influence on the American poetry of the latter half of the 20th century. His spare, surreal, restrained, hauntingly empty voice is distinctive and inimitable. I’m going to go have a good cry now. BRB

This week, the subject is the music of poetry, the sonority of language, the sound of the words. As Edward Hirsch says, “The sound of the words is the first primitive pleasure in poetry.” I dare say this is a singularly important aspect of not just modern but all poetry which is often neglected by beginners and casual poets. Continue reading


SunWinks! January 5, 2015: Giving It 110%

SunWinksLogoDearest SunWinkers:

Sometimes as a writer you have to reach back for something extra. So, as a selfless public service for the betterment of all mankind, our topic this week is hyperbole. Hyperbole is, very simply, exaggeration. It’s an essential tool in the comedian or comic writer’s belt, but it can make any genre of writing more lively. “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times: don’t exaggerate!” is a hyperbole. So is “If I had a nickel for every time you exaggerate, I could retire.” The thing exaggerated might be a quantity or size or some such, but it can also be the absurdity or the banality of something:

“I am two with nature.” Woody Allen

“I went to the Board of Health and asked for two thousand cockroaches. I promised my landlord I would leave my apartment the way I found it.” Anon.

“The scarecrow scared the crows so badly that they brought back the corn they had stolen two years before.” Fred Allen

“You might be a redneck if you’ve ever paid for a six-pack of beer with pennies.” Jeff Foxworthy

“I woke up the next day on a bench in a bus station. My shoes were gone. So was my wallet. So were my kidneys. I’m just kidding. That’s an urban legend. I still had my shoes.” DW, “The Depressed Detective and the Case of Boston Baked Beans”

Woody Allen

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying.” Woody Allen

When you make something exaggeratedly large, that’s called overstatement. But don’t forget understatement (or meiosis). Making something exaggeratedly small or inconsequential can be equally, if not more, effective.

“I’m not shooting for a successful relationship at this point. I am just looking for something that will prevent me from throwing myself in front of a bus. I’m keeping my expectations very, very low. Basically, I’m looking for a mammal.” Janeane Garofalo.

“As I told the tribunal at Nuremberg, I did not know that Hitler was a Nazi. The truth is that for years I thought he worked for the phone company.” Woody Allen

Continue reading

SunWinks! December 28, 2014: The Spirit of Christmas Present

SunWinksLogoDearest SunWinkers:

A perfect Christmas. Somehow that always seemed to elude me as I was growing up. My parents giving me a fondue pot instead of a guitar.  Dad telling me I’d better not shoot my new rocket with a certain one of the space capsules, doing it anyway, and breaking it as he had predicted. Bringing the tureen of mashed potatoes in from the kitchen, pausing in the doorway, all eyes upon me as the tureen slips through my fingers, hits the floor, and cracks in half.

This week I experienced the perfect Christmas, bathed in it, drank it in. Shandra was the most perfect tree I can remember (they always tell Carol their name). All my children (and three partners) were there all afternoon and evening. All the presents we gave the kids seemed to be perfect and go over like gangbusters. Eli took a page from Daddy’s playbook and gave out a book she wrote. Santa heard our microwave had died and brought one just in time.

The turkey and ham came out beautifully. Everybody brought side dishes and everybody pitched in. Three friends, my mother, and my brother’s family joined us for dinner. One of the friends remarked that he had never experienced a family that had so much acceptance and love and so little friction. Wow…

Tree1Xmas Couch 1

Carol n Tree 2

20141225_202456 Portrait w Rich et al


The evening was full of laughter and music. I sang “O Holy Night” and butchered the high note just like that horrible Christmas morning at Church of the Resurrection circa 1999. It got a big laugh, so it wasn’t a total loss. Donna contributed an original Christmas novelty song, Aaron played Irish jigs on the violin, and ten-year-old niece Haley on recorder and I improvised a duet on “Linus and Lucy.” For a  blessing, I read from A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

Carol requested “the magic” this year, so she left a letter to Santa and went to sleep with nothing under the tree. In the morning, the presents were under the tree, the angel was on top, and there was a letter from Santa with cookie crumbs on it. Here is what it said:

Give of your treasure and you will never be poor.

Love from the fullness of your heart and you will never be unhappy.

Treat the world with kindness and welcome and you will never be lonely.

Do not live each day as if it were your last–

Live each day as if you will live forever as the person you are today.


Dear Cuffy:*

I may be Santa Claus (and let me tell you, that chimney was no picnic) but you bring Christmas to your world every day. God love you for it!




*[“Cuffy” is Carol’s family-of-origin nickname. I have never called her “Cuffy.” Ooooh…]

The Prompt

Write a letter from Santa. Don’t use the one above as an exemplar, just write your own,  your style, your concept.


Doug and Carol

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© 2014 Douglas J. Westberg. All Rights Reserved. Please share, reblog, link to, but do not copy or alter.

SunWinks! December 21, 2014: On A Motto Pay Ya

SunWinksLogoDear SunWinkers:

Going through my old Gather columns, I next run into the topic of onomatopoeia.

Onomatopoeia is a word which sounds like the object (i.e. a sound or something noisy) it describes. They’re everywhere you look! Hundreds have become imbedded in the language, so much so we hardly hear them as such. Some examples of onomatopoeia words:



The list is endless.

Continue reading

SunWinks! December 7, 2014: Grand Allusion

SunWinksLogoDear SunWinkers:

Going through my old Gather columns, I next run into the topic of allusion. Allusion is a reference to a commonly known work of literature or piece of history or culture. As with personification, allusion lets the reader relate to your poem on a deeper, more visceral level. Namely, the reader reacts with the feeling or value judgment which he or she associates with the event or piece of literature being alluded to.

A classic example is “The Second Coming” by Y.B. Yeats.

And what rough beast, its hours come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Continue reading

SunWinks! November 30, 2014: Poetry Personified

When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table

T.S. Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves
And repeats words without meaning.

Wallace Stevens “The Motive for Metaphor”

SunWinksLogoDear SunWinkers:

Two years ago, my third column for Gather was on the topic of personification. So far, going back to my old columns isn’t giving me much of a head start. Oh, well! I must have had a lot to learn back then.

Personification is the assignment of human qualities to an animal, an inanimate object, even an abstract concept. To wit, Emily Dickinson’s

Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality.

We slowly drove—he knew no haste… human qualities to an object tells us something poetically about that object. In our example, Dickinson’s poem tells us something about death. She could have just said, “Death is patient.” Giving us the image of Death as a kindly carriage driver lets us to relate to her thesis on a personal level and experience it in a visceral, sensuous way. Death didn’t show up at the door in a black hoodie holding a scythe. Death didn’t throw a bag over her head and toss her into the back seat. Death opened the carriage door, smiled kindly, and invited her in. What does that say about death? Continue reading

SunWinks! November 23, 2014: A Likely Story

As the deer thirsts for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O Lord.

Ps. 42

Like a virgin, touched for the very first time…


SunWinksLogoDear SunWinkers:

I’ve added an index of all the SunWinks! columns which I’ve posted here on WordPress since May. Find it among the Page links (with “About Me and SunWinks!” and “Submission Instructions”) and also at the bottom of each SunWinks! installment. It will help you enjoy the SunWinks! series in a more systematic way, like an online tutorial. With that, I’m going to start polishing up and recycling some of the 60+ columns I did on Gather in 2012-2013 to fill in the topics I need to create a complete tutorial and, ultimately, “SunWinks!: The Book.”

(I’m thinking of calling it “SunWinks!: How To Write Modern Poetry and Get Away With It.” Whaddya think?)

Continue reading

SunWinks! November 16, 2014: Making It Up As You Go Along

 ’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

                   Lewis Carroll

 SunWinksLogoDear SunWinkers:

Neologism. We all do it but nobody wants to talk about it. You’re searching for a word, and you can’t find the one you want, so you make one up. I once had a co-worker who frequently said, “I was flustrated.” I don’t know if he was aware he had made up a word, but to my mind, it’s a brilliant example of a portmanteau word. A portmanteau squishes together two ordinary words to form a third; in the best examples, the new word combines both meanings from each word in a natural “that really ought to be a word” way. (A portmanteau is a suitcase. So you throw two words into a suitcase, give it to your typical baggage handler, and a new word comes out.) So “flustrated” would be a combination of “flustered” and “frustrated.” And it can be readily intuited that that’s exactly what it ought to mean.

Jabberwock by John TennielI’ve read that “slithy” could be a portmanteau word combining “slimy” and “lithe.” “Absotively” (absolutely-positively) is another great example; I’ve heard it in common parlance and used it in my work, so I was delighted to hear it used in Steely Dan’s song “Two Against Nature.” Or maybe it was the other way around. (The neologism “grok” from Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land also shows up in the same song.)

In my poem “If God Is the Answer, What Was the Question?” I throw in a portmanteau of my own:

 Browsing religion books at Goodwill,
a once-burly blue-collar fellow sidles up
and pompulates: “Can you believe people
actually think we descended from apes? Apes!”

 These things can be ambiguous, but I’m pretty sure I meant “pompously postulates.” In another, recent poem I have the line, “Rats scutter across my path…” Sounds like it ought to be a portmanteau. A combination of “scurry” and “scatter,” perhaps. Or maybe I was just being onomatopoeic. I needed a fresher alternative to “scurry.” Whole books have been devoted to portmanteau words, but we will leave them for now. Continue reading

SunWinks! November 9, 2014: I Went To Write My Column and a Manifesto Broke Out

SunWinksLogoDear SunWinkers:

You had [indigenous American] cultures on the Plains where each person discovered, through a vision quest, his or her own inner voice, and then came back after a week of isolation and told the rest of the tribe “who I am.” And nobody could argue with that because it came from within.

Michael Dorris

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

Poetry must come from within, or else it is superficial, dry, and remote. Paradoxically, it must come from emptiness, a place of nothingness, because if the poet doesn’t get herself out of the way, her poetry cannot be universal. Put the other way around, as the reader, the audience, if I am listening to you talk about what you think about yourself, then I become an observer, not a participant. It becomes a second-hand experience, like watching TV. If, however, you speak of what is, without judging, without inserting yourself, without nailing things down, then I can be drawn in, I can be involved in your vision and experience the universal, the resonant, in what you have to say.

Continue reading

SunWinks! November 2, 2014: Word Up

SunWinksLogoDear SunWinkers:

A few years ago, my daughter brought a boy home and the three of us played Scrabble. Hannah had been boasting on me, and as usual, I pulled no punches. The young gentleman asked me, “How do I get to be as good a Scrabble player as you?” My reply: “Stay in school.” I don’t think it was the magic bullet he was hoping for.

I was just watching a feature story on a college football postgame show. I didn’t catch the name of the student-athlete, but the story was about how when he came to college on a football scholarship, he could barely read at the junior high level. So he resolved to do something about it. Do you know what he did? Continue reading