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Vermont author Cardy Raper, whose new book is An American Harvest: How One Family Moved from Dirt-Poor Farming to a Better Life in the Early 1900s, published by Green Writers Press.

This week’s Write the Book Prompt is to find an old letter, journal entry, or recording from either your own life or at the library or in an archive. Find a historical document that speaks to you in some way, and write about its significance. Either write a fictional piece, a poem, or nonfiction, letting your starting point be this documented communication.

Good luck with your work in the coming week, and please listen next week for another prompt or suggestion.

Music credits: 1) "Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) "Filter" - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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Award-winning Vermont poet Neil Shepard, whose latest book,(T)ravel/Un(t)ravel, was published by MidList Press.

This week I have four Write The Book Prompts to offer, thanks to Neil Shepard's generous suggestions. The first focuses on poetic identity.

1. Select at least six (6) items from the choices below and mix them into an Identity Poem that reveals who you are (or some disguise of you, or some totally fictional you). Add whatever other language you need to patch the disparate parts of the poem together. Here’s the list:

  • briefly describe a significant or recurring dream
  • what is your totemic animal, and why;
  • which element (earth, air, fire, water) are you, and why
  • borrow a phrase from a famous poem that fits your identity
  • use a guide book on flowers, trees, birds, or stars to discover a few natural objects that correspond to your identity
  • feed your full name into an anagram scrambler and select a few phrases that seem to describe you
  • what truths do you live by (be specific)
  • what lies do you live by (be specific)
  • if you could be anybody who has lived on this earth, who would it be
  • if you could be a fly on a wall, where would you like to land
  • if you could be a ghost, who would you like to haunt
  • what is your secret power and your secret weakness (other than kryptonite)

2. The second prompt that Neil Shepard suggested focuses on sentence rhythms: Write a prose paragraph or a poetic stanza whose sentences try to imitate the rhythm of one of the following activities:

  • a couple having sex
  • a truck driver riding a big-rig across the Great Plains
  • a machine operating in a factory
  • a religious sermon
  • a ping-pong match
  • a rollercoaster ride
  • a sky-dive
  • an interrogation scene (either at a police station or in a courtroom)

3. The third prompt is for dreamers: Write a poem based on a few of your dreams that still don’t make sense to you. Try to pluck out the most arresting images from those dreams. Then insert them in a poem about some “normal“ domestic activity such as shopping at the supermarket, swimming laps at the pool, studying for an exam, flossing your teeth, or cleaning your room. The cognitive dissonance between dream image and daily activity should create the surreality of the poem.

4. This last prompt is for writers bored with "the self": The poet Phillip Levine has said about the autobiographical impulse: “Why would we want to write about ourselves, if we can imagine and write about anybody else in history?”  For this exercise, adopt a historical figure – someone decidedly not you – who lived at least 100 years ago. Research the person, the historical period, the dramatic events central to the poem you will write, and then write the poem from this person’s perspective and voice. Remember to make the poem vivid and externalized – don’t create an abstract monologue that neglects references to the time, place, characters, and events of this historical period. (It helps to imagine a dramatic moment in time.)

So there you go, four prompts from Neil Shepard. Good luck with these exercises, and please listen next week for another!

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students.

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Interviews highlighting three local groups that are making the Burlington area writing community much richer: The Burlington Writers' Workshop (Peter Biello), The Renegade Writers' Collective (Angela Palm and Jessica Hendry Nelson), and The Writers' Barn (Lin Stone and Daniel Lusk).

Today I have two Write The Book Prompts. The first is to write about two interactions between lifelong friends: the first time they meet, and the last time they meet. Limit each scene to a page, but try to intimate a whole friendship into those two pages, letting us know who these people are, how they eventually influence each other, how important they become in each other's lives.

Today's second prompt was suggested by my guest, the poet Daniel Lusk. It's a prompt he used recently in the poetry group at the Writers Barn: Write a poem with a red dress in it.
Good luck with these exercises and please listen next week for another.


Music credits
: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students.

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An interview with Burlington Book Festival founder and organizer Rick Kisonak, in celebration of the 2012 festival, which will take place in a variety of downtown Burlington venues September 21-23. According to the website, "The Queen City’s 8th annual celebration of the written word will offer readings, signings, panels, workshops, demos, family activities, and special events featuring literary luminaries from around the world-and just around the corner. All events will be free of charge and open to the public." Check out this years offerings here. Rick Kisonak is a film and media critic who lives in South Burlington, Vermont. His reviews can be found in Vermont's independent weekly paper Seven Days, and on the website Rotten Tomatoes, among other places.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is to write about a writing workshop. Include a leader and several participants. Let a moment of tension turn into something unexpected, and allow at least one member of the group to surprise him- or herself by behaving uncharacteristically.

Good luck with this prompt and tune in next week for another.

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band that existed briefly in 2008 and 2009, featuring several South Burlington High School students - now grads)

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2008 interview with Michael Collier, poet and director of the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, which runs from August 15th through the 24th in 2012.

Today's Write The Book prompt is to pull out something you worked on awhile ago, but set aside. Give it another try.

Good luck with this prompt, and tune in next week for another!

Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students)

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Award-winning writer Glen Finland, author of Next Stop: A Memoir of Family, published by AmyEinhornBooks/Putnam. The book is a Summer 2012 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Glen Finland. Describe the precise moment at a time in your life when you realized you had to let go of someone or something. And what gave you the courage to do it?

Good luck with this prompt and tune in next week for another.

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Massachusetts novelist Andrew Goldstein, author of The Bookie's Son, published by 617 Books.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is to write a setting from your childhood. It might be the bedroom you had before your family moved to another town when you were in high school, or it might be the street in front of your house, a scene from your kindergarten classroom, or from the back seat of your parents' car. Try to capture the details that will help readers understand what it was like to be in that place, and in particular, to be you -- your childhood self -- in that place. Consider colors as you write, and odors. The smells from the kitchen as mother cooked, the sound of a vacuum, the sounds of your parents talking from the other side of a closed door. What was it like to be there? Was it air conditioned? Or did the heater go all the time so that the windows had to be left open? What made you feel particularly safe, or comfortable, or frightened to be there? Try to capture it and then see how you might use it, or simply what you learned from writing it, in a larger piece of writing.

Good luck with this prompt, and please listen next week for another!

Music credits: 1) "Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) "Filter" - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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Poetry class offered during the month of April as part of PoemCity! - Montpelier's celebration of National Poetry Month. The class, taught by Vermont poet and writing instructor, Michelle Demers, offered instruction in writing tanka, an ancient form of Japanese poetry.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is, of course, to write a tanka. During our class in April, one student who chose not to have his poems recorded for the show was Eric, a 13-year-old from Calais. Although he didn't really want to hear his voice on the radio, he did give me permission to pass along some good advice that he offered during the class, which feels appropriate for this week's prompt. In writing tanka poems during the class, he found that his second poem grew somewhat naturally out of the first, because he "wasn't thinking about it too much." The first poem he wrote was about a lake, and when he finished with it, he was inspired to write about a fish. This was excellent advice. "Not thinking too much" can be a big help in producing fresh, exciting poems and prose.

So this week, write a tanka. If you'd like to read a little more about the form before trying it out for yourself, you can check out the websites tankasocietyofamerica.com and tankaonline.com

Good luck with this prompt, and please listen next week for another!

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Executive Director of Montpelier Alive! Phayvanh Luekhamhan, Co-Creator of PoemCity, Montpelier's celebration of National Poetry Month.

Today's Write The Book Prompt was suggested by my guest, Phayvanh Leukhanman. She got it from a workshop with the poet L. Oliver de la Paz, who called it the Rube Goldberg poem. Essentially, you should write a poem including words and ideas that seem, at first glance, disparate, unlikely. For example, in Phayvanh's PoemCity submission, she wrote a poem that had two references to her age, one reference to a bit of history, the inclusion of the words protractor and accordian, and a color which she set out to make "speak." Phayvanh's poem, created from this exercise, is posted in Montpelier City Hall this month.

Good luck with this prompt, and please listen next week for another!

Music credits: 1) "Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) "Filter" - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several former South Burlington High School students).

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Robin Hemley, author of the book Do Over! “in which a 48- year-old father of three returns to kindergarten, summer camp, the prom, and other embarrassments.” Robin will have two new books out in 2012: Reply All: Stories (Break Away Books), and A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel, (University of Georgia Press). You can find more information about these on Robin's website.

The sound quality of today's archive rebroadcast was not great. Not sure what happened, but a bit buzzy. So here I'm posting the old podcast as it originally ran in 2009, in hopes of providing better sound quality. The were minor differences in the intro and closing, most notably a new prompt, which I'm offering below. Thanks for your patience.

Today's Write The Book Prompt is to organize your own Do Over. Maybe it doesn't make a lot of sense for you to redo the prom, or to re-enroll in kindergarten. But perhaps you had another experience in recent weeks or months that you wish you could do over. Go back to the store where a counter person was rude and you left feeling upset. Or make plans to see a friend to whom YOU were perhaps rude, or were not your best self in some way, and you left feeling embarrassed or frustrated or uniquely human. Revisit your old school, if it's nearby, track down one of your former teachers. Maybe you gave a reading at a local open mike venue and it went poorly; try it again. See how it goes to re-approach an imperfect experience with new enthusiasm and perspective. And then write about the two events, and what you might have taken away from this exercise.

Good luck with it, and please listen next week for another!

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