I have been remiss to not officially announce my book release here! Chiaroscuro is available on Amazon in both print and ebook. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free. You can sign up for my newsletter for the most up to date news.
What is Chiaroscuro?
Chiaroscuro is a poetry book about the contrast and balance between light and dark. It’s a journey through a crumbling world that leaves a gritty taste. It shines light on the edge of awareness where dark magic wars with childish innocence.
These poems range from internal conflict to worldwide war to creatures of myth, but all follow the themes of finding havens of light in dark days, persisting despite the odds. The light is only brighter for the darkness that surrounds it.
I want to share the process one of my poems took in editing. "Streaming Stars" was one of the poems I reworked in the Creative Block Busters workshop presented by Lisa Gentile. I'm going to share the original poem, and the thought process behind the transformation it made.
This poem uses the form Bref Double. I think I wrote myself into a corner with the form and don't like the ending.
What does the poem want?
Inspiration - watching meteor shower from mountain top, wanting to catch that moment as I may not experience another; challenge to try a new poetry form.
Senses - feeling the cold, seeing a contrast of light and dark, hearing silence
Tools - Bref Double (rhyme scheme), imagery, repetition of light
Want to catch the moment, so everyone can experience the amazing meteor shower. so beautiful, yet fleeting.
Light and it's rhymes are scattered throughout, like the falling stars, in no immediate pattern. Fleeting existence of beauty. Still has purpose, wishes, sparking imagination. Contrast between light and dark (around my shoulders I wrap the night, making the experience a part of me).
The Bref Double form was a great starting place for me, but I realized it also forced some aspects (such as the final couplet) onto the poem that didn't work for the theme. One of the patterns I noticed was the repetition of words rhyming with "light", not just as end-rhymes, but scattered throughout the poem, like the stars across the sky. I changed "brilliant" to "bright" to enhance that more. The theme the poem wants finally popped out at me as I re-read the first line. It's about making that night a part of me, not just describing the meteor shower. So I moved some lines around and changed the ending to reflect that.
Streaming Stars (revised)
Around my shoulders, I wrap the night
As I perch on the mountaintop,
Shivering in anticipation
For the lightshow premiere.
The first light darts across the sky
Followed by more streaming stars,
So bright until they disappear.
Wishes will be born tonight.
I do not envy the meteor's plight--
A light so quickly burning out--
But in my heart they persevere
In splendid and untamed flight.
The revised poem was included in the Lifelines poetry anthology.
The Inner Child
Meet My Inner Child
My two year old is wearing a pink frilly dress, blonde hair up in pigtails. But that doesn't stop her from getting dirty, or stripping down to a diaper (or less) for true freedom. She's already a night owl, staying up late to play with her toys, telling stories about her Little People.
She is scared of dark places, like under the porch. Her older brothers' friends are so big and make her nervous. [Just like the big publishers.]
My writing is best when I strip down the conventions, stop listening to outside forces. My inner two year old puts on the charm when she gets attention, such as from a good response to my writing. She loves to know others are entertained.
She hides from the darkness, the unknown, of the blank page. She has a hard time moving forward without all the corners being lit. Which explains why I outline, plot, and brainstorm before putting anything down on paper.
She doesn't have many tantrums. Rather, she is more likely to hide. If someone doesn't like her (or her writing), or she feels ignored (which happened too often in a big family) she gets hurt and hides in a corner or cupboard. It takes a lot of coaxing to get her back out again.
My passion is fantasy. My inner two year old loves to create different worlds, and bring fantastic creatures into our own. One of my childhood "imaginary friends" was a unicorn, and I think that unicorn has been inspiring me ever since.
Seeking that which is Lost
I sit cross-legged on oaken floor
This is a blog interview I did for Margaret Fieland, a fellow member of poetry group Poetic Muselings, after the launch of my debut poetry book back in 2014. I have updated the "Where can you buy the book" and "Where can readers find you", but left the rest the same. Insight compiling the poetry collection, my writing processes, and that time of my life.
You are the author of a new book of poetry, Chiaroscuro. Can you tell us a little about the book?
Chiaroscuro is a poetry book about the contrast and balance between light and dark. Poems range from internal conflict to worldwide war to creatures of myth, but all follow the themes of finding havens of light in dark days, persisting despite the odds.
What was your experience of putting the collection together? How difficult/not did you find the organizing?
The collection slowly came together over eight years. Back in 2008, I took a course at the Muse Online Writers Conference called “How to Turn Your Poetry Into a Saleable Chapbook.” I had a lot of poems in my portfolio and wanted to create a cohesive collection.
I looked over my poems, and sorted them into themes. I found a lot of them were on the darker side: death, pain, abuse. It hadn't really dawned on me until then how much I use poetry to deal with the darkness.
With encouragement, I went ahead with the dark theme. Chose my title, Chiaroscuro. My initial tag line was: Exploring the darkness, bringing the monsters of death and abuse into the light.
That first time, I printed off all the poems that matched that theme. I sat on the floor and shifted poems around until it felt right. Wasn't much reasoning for any of it other than gut.
The process became much easier once I got Scrivener. In that program, you can drag individual items in the sidebar to reorder them, and view them as individual items or as the whole collection. I also tagged everything with more specific themes – fantasy, war, relationships, doubt, death. With that visual I was able to first group by theme, then shift them around to best tell a story.
The collection starts out darker, with a world falling apart. Then slowly becomes more focused – nature, people, self. As we approach the end, it shifts more into the light. One poem that never changed location in all my revisions was the end poem: "Ash and Water." That last line, "And I turn from death to embrace life" really summarizes the entire book.
Are any of the poems written specifically for the book?
What was initially planned as a 25 poem chapbook, later expanded to a book length collection to enter into a local writing competition. Most of the additional poems were older ones which I revisited and revised, but I did write new ones with the theme in mind. Most notably: "Dark Days," "Danse Macabre," and "Ghost of Childhood".
How did you decide which poems to include and which ones to leave out?
These are themes I find myself revisiting often in my poetry, so I didn't have to search hard to find enough to fill a book. There were a few poems that I wrote later and added to fill it out more.
I chose most of my poems for their ability to tell a story. Those felt like they had more impact than ones that simply asked questions or explored a topic.
Another big help was my poetry group, The Poetic Muselings. They helped me identify my stronger poems.
What's your favorite poem from the book? Would you mind sharing it with us?
Ooh, this is a tough question. Three really come to mind for different reasons.
"The Sun Sets" is really the center of the collection. It's one I wrote back in high school, the oldest of my poems to make it in the book.
"Concrete Forest" is more a mixture of the dark theme and the other topic I write a lot about: fantasy. It's about a fairy in today's modern world.
The third poem is much shorter than both of those, and is the one I will share with you. I love the sound of this one, and never tire of reading it aloud.
You did a lot of research before you decided where to submit your collection. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I did searches on Duotrope and Writers Digest, making a list of all the poetry book publishers I could find. I made a chart in Excel and went through each website to get stats on book length, theme preferences, payment, format. I made a list of what I most wanted in a publisher:
SynergEbooks was one of my top choices, but their submissions were closed when I began submitting. When their submission window opened again, I still hadn't gotten a publisher so I sent them my query and sample poems, and they loved it. Lesson learned: don't be afraid to aim for your top picks. You can't hit a target you don't shoot for.
You write fantasy as well as poetry. Do you have a preference?
They satisfy me in different ways. A great thing about poetry is that I can write one in a single day. The feeling of finishing a project is very gratifying. Poetry also focuses more on the moment, and allows me to play with language. Fantasy delights me in other ways: I can create new worlds, explore magic systems, and really delve into a story in a way that poetry cannot.
How do you balance your writing time between fiction and poetry?
Sometimes I try to keep them in two separate boxes, a poet in one moment and a fiction writer in another. But they are both a part of me, and they definitely bleed into each other. I've written poems and songs for my novels, and I tell a lot of stories with my poetry.
That being said, most of the year I'm more a fiction writer than a poet. Poetry tends to come in waves. I can go a year without writing a poem, and then write forty in one month. It's much more reliant on inspiration than my fiction.
You have a young son. How do you find the time to write?
Since I don't have a day job, I try to get my writing done while my son is in school. Summer has always been a challenge. This year, I've scheduled an hour every day that is "alone time". He also earns two hours of solo video game time each day. That gives me three hours that I can use for myself – either recharging or writing.
What are you working on now?
I have a hard time focusing on just one project. I actually have five novels in progress. The two I'm (mostly) focusing on are:
The Minotaur Staff: A (mostly) modern supernatural adventure, with time travel. A treasure hunter finds an artifact that summons a gladiator from ancient Atlantis.
Race to 100 Deaths: Traditional fantasy. Three elven diplomats are captured by a human baron that wants war. He forces them into a contest - a race to 100 deaths.
Where can readers find your book?
Chiaroscuro is available on Kindle, for purchase or to borrow for free through Kindle Unlimited.
Where can readers find you on the web?
Blog: http://marywjensen.blogspot.com (old blog)
Group blog: http://poetic-muselings.net
Any last words?
We are all unique. We each have a story to tell: through our blogs, poetry, fiction, film, art, or other mediums. We can all contribute to the world. When we stop contributing, we do the world a disservice.
For this first Writing Life post, I thought it might be nice to talk about my projects. With the whole pandemic thing going on I haven't been writing much. It's hard to focus on creative creation. The projects below are all in various stages of completion. Some just need to find a home. Most I still need to finish.
The Minotaur Staff A (mostly) modern supernatural adventure, with time travel. A treasure hunter finds an artifact that summons a gladiator from ancient Atlantis. This is currently my main Work in Progress (WIP).
Fly With Me (contemporary fantasy) - mostly still in planning stages. some scenes written.
Trinity Coven (paranormal romance) - good chunk written. on back burner.
Warden of Worlds (portal fantasy) - mostly planning stages.
Race to 100 Deaths (fantasy) - good chunk written.
Untitled paranormal romance - early planning.
Fey Moon (fantasy) - many drafts written. has made submission rounds. currently set aside while I decide if I want to revise more.
Name Thy Price - twist on Rumpelstiltskin. finished. unpublished.
The Blazing Princess - twist on Sleeping Beauty. finished. unpublished.
Mirror - twist on Snow White. finished. unpublished.
Wolf-Dragon - picture book. finished. on submission.
Refractions - Collection of poems about color. Will be paired with photography by my brother-in-law James Schwarz. Will be self-published.
Break Free From Stillness - Finished collection of poetry about movement and dance. Unpublished. Quarter-finalist for the 2016 Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize.
I'm not going to list all of my individually published poems here, but these are the bigger projects I was a part of.
Chiaroscuro - My debut poetry book about the contrast and balance between light and dark. It’s a journey through a crumbling world that leaves a gritty taste. It shines light on the edge of awareness where dark magic wars with childish innocence.
Free on Kindle Unlimited. May be self-publishing a print version in the future.
Lifelines - A collection of poetry by my poetry group, The Poetic Muselings. Available in both print and ebook form on Amazon.
Mary W. Jensen. Author, poet, gamer, library shelver.
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