Friday, April 12, 2013

Crossword Poetry - guest blog by Brooklyn poet, Peter Valentine


Not every writer who is a Pen Parentis Author has four novels and an NEA grant. A lot of us are writers with day-jobs to support a family, who simply can't live without our creative outlet. Here's a guest-blog from a terrific poet, Peter Valentine, whose daily crossword-poetry is a wonderful example of threading a hobby into your creative writing - to ensure that you keep at it! He writes in the six hours that his children are in school, and here he describes his process for us, in hopes of inspiring others to discover their own forms. It's important to stay in the game, no matter your tools. 

Peter lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Visit his website here.

Take it away, Peter!

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About 11 years ago B.C. (before children) I was sitting in my apartment, drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette over the crossword. I had just gotten up, so it was probably 10:30am.
 
On this particular morning rather than speeding through the answers, I was staring at the words and letting my eyes play over them. Soon I found myself putting lines together -- first in my head, then on paper.
 
My first crossword poem consisted of two distinct parts – each created from the words in the clues and answers respectively. Later I evolved the form to 3 parts: across, down, and answers. For the title, words are drawn from any part of the puzzle.
 
The rules: 
1. Words in any section may be repeated
2. Punctuation may be altered in any way
3. No word may be used in a part of the poem that is not found in the corresponding part of the puzzle (if there is no “the” in the across clues, then “the” cannot be in the “across” part of the poem)
 
I wrote these poem daily for three years until I became a father. After three kids, I stopped reading the paper entirely.
 
Now, six years have passed and things have gotten easier. Today, with the kids in school six hours a day, I have been able to pick up the project again.  And it continues to be an extremely fun and satisfying occupation. Each day I look at a fresh batch of words from a different crossword puzzle constructor and never know where it’s going to take me. I’ve also added a new element – images. My wife, who is involved in social media (check out her blog here), urged me to include images -- a must if you want your stuff to get passed around the Internet. My initial snooty thought was that images diminish the words. Now I love them. It’s fun to see what pictures come up when you google things like, “soldier shakes hands with squirrel.”
 
Also, social media was not around six years ago, and I’m finding that there is nothing more motivating than the “like.”
 
It’s amazing how much has changed in only six years – both in the world-wide world and in me. Many of my older poems leaned on absurdist humor and at times cynical invective. Today, I can barely take cynicism. I still love funny, but I also feel more compelled and less embarrassed to write about real feelings and real things – surely the influence of kids. So while I may not get to sleep until 10:30am anymore, I may be a better writer.

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