Tag Archives: poetry

Poetry and the End of the World


Poetry and the End of the World

If you knew the world were to end tomorrow I don’t know how important any of us would find those unfinished and ‘as soon as I’ projects. That is  unless all muse-fused, snarky, poet/songwriters were mandated to stay behind and explain, in inspired verse, what happened – besides I like the idea of second chances, and just think of all the poems and songs that would come from the residue of such an event. God has a universe-sized sense of humor – how else can you explain we humans and our world-wrecking mechanizations.

It’s said God made every woman and man

Some believe that it wasn’t a good thing

Though flawed I think we are more than worthy

Is the recall for flawed manufacturing?

I know there is poetry and songwriting in Heaven, the rub is only good poetry and songwriting is allowed. (I guess I better get to improvin’ my writing efforts) Getting better at our craft is what I’ll write about in this article. Now, nothing I ever write is written in stone, but is an exploration of ideas that I believe are worth consideration. I am about all of us bettering our poetry skills. You can take my rambling in any way you find useful.

kens phone pics 142

The World Continues

I sit down after a day of rest from writing, I note that I am still here. The world did not end and the election process is about to bore us into oblivion. And it seems most everyone I know is still here – and some are not – sadly. There were no abandoned and wrecked cars on the road, and the sun came up as it has always done. The only quaking I felt was mine own, stemming from the uncomfortable interaction between our President and Netanyahu, our country’s predilection for joining in on every fist fight on the planet, how every bill in my wallet is worth less every day, whether, soon, I’ll have to decide between a ten dollar gallon of gas or paying my rent, and my concern for all those other nuclear reactors built on fault-lines, if the ultra-rich will just take all the money, if any banker will go to jail or even be arrested, or if I have the strength to weather it all. So, our responsibilities are still here, with the plethora of problems and worries we all face as well. Yep, all the dramatic materials that make up the natural resources for mining poetic gold.

We didn’t believe but we secretly hoped

That the world would change for us

With our now overdue bills and dire concerns

We were all distracted by the media fuss

Let’s have a look at using some of that poetic gold in a way that transforms it into an even finer thing.

fly in oinyment

The World and the Mundane

I have written about this before, and I think it worth a further examination. When you sit down at your computer, or writing pad, how do the poetic thoughts come to you? Have you seen something of beauty, or ruin that makes your brain percolate like a coffee pot? (a reference perhaps lost in the under forty crowd.) Has a beautiful someone walked across your hormone infused vision, instigating an obsession? Has an evil, cheating, despicable, lying, ogre broken your heart and thwarted your fairy tale expectations? Have you decided that you are the only one who sees the world’s problems clearly and are compelled to write down your lofty thoughts and inspired insights in verse to share with we less enlightened?

Before you decide that I am rude, insensitive, arrogant, or full of s**t and stop reading – it would be better, for the purpose of this article, to acknowledge the glaring truth. If we are serious poets we have all sat down and thought about and/or written in one of these ways. It is the grist of a poet’s personality, the process every poet goes through. It is not a criticism, we all can cite excellent pieces based firmly in each of the areas that I mentioned. Are those poets more or less than us? We even write a few good ones ourselves. But here is the thing, the rub, have you noticed that Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s love poetry (Sonnets from the Portuguese) is just a bit better than our own work? Or that the dark musings of Edgar Allen Poe’s work is darker than ours? Kerouac, Ginsburg, Ferlinghetti, all take existential reveling and observational poetry to a different place than we seem to be able to access. The mastery of Keats, Wilde, Mary Oliver, and Thomas, Bronte, Tennyson, Kipling, Cummings, both inspire and leave us humbled.

So what do we do? We write, and write, and keep writing!

…but here be the thing. We have to realize that our early pre-writing musing, nudged by the muse, may not be the thing that goes down on paper, or on your computer screen. In fact most lofty and worthy thoughts once filtered through our TV and computer addled mind will most probably come out mundane and banal.

poetry in chaos

The World Is Too Loud

You the reader may be thinking, “Now he’s telling me to become a freakin’ Luddite! Maybe he’ll say I have to move to the some Palin loving wilderness so I can write authentically about global warming – try to turn me into a Walden Pond loving Thoreau, writing about water skippers dragon flies, uncomfortable sweating, and my-blood hungry mosquitoes – eating leaves, dirt laden mushrooms, and stuff – when I really want to write about how that no good %$#@# broke my heart, how ‘The Man’ is out there pulling us down, or about those fools who cut other people off on the freeway. I’ m hungry – maybe I’ll go make a sandwich and read this article later.”

So what’s a poet to do? First tell your mind to behave itself – at least until our conversation is over. However, a sandwich does sound good. (Pause – imagine in your mind a muzak-ed Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven’.)

I’m back. I had a nice roast beef and swiss on a kaiser – mayo and a little dab of horse radish.

Okay …now…

What makes great poets is the manner in which words are used. Instead of looking at the words as a casual conversation between you and your mind – have your mind look for another way, a deeper way to say what you saw – what you experienced, and not the mundane first explanation that your mind wants to give you. Our minds are lazy and unwieldy. The mind hates looking at things anew. It is designed for our survival and memorizes repeated events and environs, it memorizes what we see, hear, and feel and stores it for use in determining ‘Similars’ as a way to keep us safe from harm.

Ever notice that when you look in your journal the same words show up when your writing about your new Love – as when you wrote about your old Love (when you were briefly happy) –’ tis your mind reviewing the words attached to the feeling of new love. Your frustrations about that man or woman’ are your thoughts related to every time you have been thwarted, or frustrated, mixed in with things you have read, heard, or seen to validate those same thoughts – Does that mean you’re wrong? No, it means when you write you write through that mundane filter. I had written that I was moved by the beauty of Sadona – every time I sit down to write all that I see in my mind is every other breathtaking mountain and heart stopping vista I have seen in my life, nothing new, and nothing approaching the feelings I had at the time. I wrote one poem, from that trip, about a sad and odd little living ghost town we had passed through on the way, because I was affected, and new and fresh words were deep in me about that experience. Words deeper in me, for seeing something new, than the mundane observations my mind quickly offered.

Ken Lehnig(c)2016 all rights reserved


The World Anew

Yes, the rose is red and it has thorns, but what else does it convey – what words come to that higher/deeper mind. Does the rose look as if it were colored by blood – do you sense a connection between the rose and your heart? Does the blood red rose remind you of the loss of a loved one? Do the thorns remind you of the pain and uncertainty of relationships? Can you see that there is more to be written than:

You left me with a broken heart

as if you think I wasn’t worth a thing

I sat up all night and cried and cried

I can’t believe the sadness you bring

Really? I know your friends think it’s brilliant – it’s not. Look deeper at what you feel, find something new in the experience, and then elevate the language.


thwarted expectations

and now a broken heart

misused and discarded

did I give permission

are my tears penance

for believing

for hoping

blind and gullible

a love starved

weeping clown

Okay – give me a break I’m a dude. We guys have to dig a little deeper. But I think it makes the point. Don’t settle on the first idea that comes in your head. That first effort is mind-conversation and suited to a journal entry – not a poem. Use the experience, dig down, and wait for the words – they will come. Let’s try again.

thwarted expectations

revealing a broken heart

an act in my life’s circus

painted tears and a frown

where I gave permission

I spin with believing

I flip with love’s hope

I fall with gullibility

a loved starved clown

playing the same scene

over and over again

Better? I used imagery that may be peripheral to the main thought. For me the Circus is imagery I associate with busy mysterious coming and goings – perhaps the way I hold ‘love’ – my lovely wife of 38 years has now made that abstract – but is a solid image for me.

I have often written about finding you poetic ‘voice’, this is how that comes about. When you flex the muscle of your mind, by dismissing what the mind flaccidly first offers, and look for another unique way to write, you go beyond a conversation and create a non-verbal, a non-conversational expression. To but it more simply – a good poem is not a conversation with your mind it is a tangible and unique expression of a new or profound experience. That experience being from memory/past looked at anew, an event/present looked at uniquely, or speculation/ future/ abstract in a unique exploration.

The craft of poetry is just this – say it in a better way until you, as the poet, are satisfied it’s the best you can do.

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What’s a Blog?

Naked poetry

I have come to realize that a writer has a real quandary in that when one is working on one project so many other plot ideas pop into your head. Yikes – how to stay focused.

After having a chat with one of my brilliant nephews It became clear that although I am computer literate I’m still a dinosaur at website optimization. I have to admit that I can build magazine style websites , but I didn’t wrap my head around the idea of a blog site – which is why this site looks the way it does. To be truthful in the beginning I learned to build sites as a means to promote my work. In 2013 what that amounts to is a quick run through my pages. The reader may find some of interest and maybe the others would produce nothing but a yawn.

My nephew asked me, after looking at my site, “What interests you? What are you an expert in?”

I looked at him like he was nuts. “Writing, songwriting, art, poetry…like the site clearly demonstrates. His response astonished me, “Yeah I get you do that stuff but why would a person come back to your site…once they have made one visit?” I honestly didn’t know the answer, and I sat with my brain squirming like an ell out of water.  He told me he liked everything on my site – and asked why I don’t blog about it. “Engage readers in your process, your back story, ask for opinions and create a community of like minded people with a running conversation – a blog!” I honestly thought that was what I was doing. He looked at me and said you are posting cool articles – articles that do give the reader a little of the writer – perfectly suited for a magazine.

There are some amazing Blogs out there that started with a simple interest and turned into something amazing.  I suppose that a successful blog is a blog that eventually  sells something, but is that necessarily true?  I will admit that I want you to buy my e-books – selling myself as an author sis tough for me, and I’m sure many authors out there. What I love is to write about anything that interests me, if you are interested in what I’m interested in then it makes sense you would buy my books.

I have been trying to wrap myself around that concept for a few months now – so I haven’t posted much. The thing is there is so much to talk about in writing, poetry, music, and art that I should be able to write something often – so the site will change as I get this blogging thing down.

If any of you have found or find yourself in this situation let me know your thoughts. If you have a successful Blog site – how about sharing as to how it came about? So I will write about what interests me in the context of writing, music, poetry  and art and see where it takes us.

Next time: My take on Ghost Hunting shows.

Here’s an interesting list of successful blogs:

The 100 Best, Most Interesting Blogs and Websites of 2013

Other sites by Ken Lehnig:



e-books by Ken Lehnig:



A Slightly Skewed Class In Poetry Writing

cheshire cat


On Writing Poetry

by Ken Lehnig

This article, by the vagabond rambling poet, will take us on a journey, one in which we will examine the art of writing poetry in a different, abstracted, and assuredly skewed manner. (That may wander back into the normal and mundane.) In fact that is the only way the writer (me) can do anything. In and then out best describes the way my brain works. I can’t promise that anything I write will be found in a textbook, because it has been many decades since I have opened a textbook, and I didn’t retain anything then – so I doubt there is little in my memory to retrieve. What I will write I hold as true, based on my journey, but if I have put some established truism, on writing poetry, to memory (and write it here), it is totally by accident, and I apologize in advance – and bow to those remarkably intelligent others. (Readers and Teachers)

Yep, Dear readers, the vagabond poet is going to write a how-to on writing poetry. It won’t be a class for Dummies, because I know that not a single one of my readers are dummies. Let us call it On Writing Poetry 23

Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.’

Doorknob – Lewis Carrol

Class begins:

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.’

Lewis Carrol

Structure or form:

First, go here to be totally confused, but enlightened. http://www.shadowpoetry.com/resources/wip/types.html

Here is the thing, and you may not like it, you have to study and work with poetic form and structure to be a good poet. It does not mean that you have to adopt any one form as your own, but it may well happen.

We will start with some tuff love. If you take or have taken a formal writing poetry class – you will get this next point made on the C or D on your writing assignment. (Yikes! I have already wandered back into the Normal.)

Writing rambling love, or hate verbiage, is not poetry; it is rambling love, or hate, verbiage and probably should stay in your journal.

(Please, go read ‘Elizabeth Barrette Browning’, Lord Byron, or Emily Dickinson)

Writing bouncy, simplistic rhyming, unintelligible, self-indulgent, in two or three word bursts, may well speak more to your spoken word performance than the poem itself.

(Please read the beat, hippy, street, and jazz poets – Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, Richard Brautigan. Allen Watt, Bob Kaufman Drew, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Carolyn Rodgers, and note all the forms and structures.)

If you have just started writing what you call poetic ART, it’s not. It is certainly artistic expression and you should be commended for the doing of it. I am for any type of artistic expression, including: Journal writing, for the courage to self-examine emotions; Spoken word writing, for the courage it takes to perform it. But if you are to be an Accomplished Poet then it takes a bit of work, and doing the work will have you write even better. (Do take the time to read the work of other poets, you will be surprised at how relevant poetry is throughout human history, and it will affect your work.)

I know a young man with a real talent, his bent was spoken word, because he was exposed to it, and was moved. In my opinion his work was far superior to the works I have heard, but when he wrote it down, it was difficult to read. I attempted to show him some simple structures. I broke his poem down into stanzas and cut out his emphasized words into single word lines. He still resisted and claimed I was wrecking his ART. Art is not accidental it is intentional. I soothed his ruffled feathers and told him his spoken word was performance art, his effort in that medium was clearly there, not what I read. Form does not wreck your ART, it tells the reader how you want the piece read. Stanzas group thoughts and allow readers to rest and ponder before the next stanza. Art should be a  consistent expression, learn your mediums, then do the best you can to create within the medium. You will discover what works best for you. (To spoken word artists: good form and structure allows for your work to be printed correctly and read by a wider audience.) In the man’s journey he discovered himself as a Poet, who brilliantly writes and speaks poetry. He came to compare poetic form to sheet music, allowing the reader to read it just as it is spoken – an apt comparison.

Love the language:

Read the dictionary. Looking up words is not truly effective, because you don’t know what you don’t know. In my long years on the planet I have noted that common usage words are boring, unless it is parodied. So Dude, that begs a bitchen question: When you write, are you looking for agreement, or are you looking to enlighten the reader? If you just want agreement, or understanding, for your particular feeling, or emotion, text your friends, or write a journal. Trust me here, I wrote journals as a young man, a valuable and necessary start, but now the content seems shallow and trite. Now I write down random thoughts, or ideas, as they come, for poems, stories, and songs. It also is a lot easier on the muse. 😉 Take the time to just peruse the dictionary and write down words that get your attention. Stick them up on your wall or write them on postits, and stick them on your computer.

The work of a poet is to examine his or her own emotions, and thought, and write in such a way as to elevate the reader into I higher understanding, or different point of view. Everything you feel has been written about a million times over human history, and words have been invented along the way that will say in a few words what you may have rambled on for in twenty pages of poetic scribblings. Find the words, to say it better and with economy.

An economic and meaning packed stanza of mine, on gold miners, as an example:

troll’s kin
world tossed
digging gritty earth

Play with words:

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

Lewis Carroll

I love words and what words you choose should be extra-ordinary. When choosing words look for sounds and syllabic bouncing, as well as the best meaning, to improve your poem. I found the word ‘jongleur’, a French minstrel, the sound of the word intrigued me. ‘Sozzel’ was another word that intrigued me.  I wrote ‘Sozzel The Jongluer’ last year. The  poem and variations became the genisis for two books of poetry and short stories.

I picked proper strings
and let the rim shot fire
against the cracked plaster’s
calloused ear
so many loud drunken tales and stories told
some haunt,
lingering still,
in smoky shadows

Bereft of kindness
this shelter offers little
but a tune and spirit
down some sad memory
and whatever webs I deem to spin and ply
really only lies about other uneasy worlds
so sozzel the jongleur

The old sot smiles
and his filthy cohort dance
a jiggle of old bones
and graceless promenades
rough hewed, true to the gravel tones I entrain
no eminence grise
no gift
could I yet endue

But through parlance
it behooves me to find comfort
where my tongue’s
lilt has gained some  merit
My kin,
the rag tag and bobtail
fuddle and frolic
let go this day’s nettle and lift your saddened heart
and sozzel the jongleur

Carroll’s famous piece ‘Jabberwocky’ makes the point well. Here he uses nonsense words, the meanings of which the reader has no idea. But the mind ‘Matrixes’, it looks for meaning, just as faces seem to appear in tiles, wall texture, and random print patterns. Having an awareness of this human trait gives the poet a tool, for the reader to find a broader personal meaning to a poem.

Here is excerpt of apoetic exercise I wrote:

Priddle and passel perning on a peer
Saddle up a seaner , brigged and get
Tattle in a tangle, teater and tear
Better a bounder than a booring bet

I dinked this all lost in faddled rhyme
Cast asea only the moon embrates me now
Dark writ in candled awe, besown in time
You and life a pleasant versuasive vow

Ya’all determine whether I succeeded.

Certainly more could be written, the class could go on, and we would all fall into irreversible boredom. I am capable of going on about not much, in a confusing way, for a very long time! So let’s wind it down and just break it down to the rambling vagabonds poetic writing essentials.

A poetic works check list:

1. Read other poets

2. Expand your vocabulary

3. Look at structure and form

4. Work with word sounds

5. Say it in a fresh new way.

6. Look from a new perspective

7. Condense your thoughts

8. Write economically.

9. Seek lucidity

10. Feel the cadence

11. Artistically transform your emotions

12. Elevate your language usage

13. Twist meaning

14. Enlarge meaning

15. Minimalize while expanding


Enjoy yourself , even when you are in the darkest moods. Mood , good or bad, is the grist of what it is to be a poet.

You have been given a gift – you are a Poet.

See, how easy that was.

cheshire cat

’We’re all mad here.’

Cheshire Cat  – Lewis Caroll

Content and Context:

This point will be the last for this article, and I think it’s a good one. When you write, read what you have written, and see if it is as you intended. If it has, due to the muse’s contribution, expanded, is it still within the context you intended? From this position begin to edit and improve. I will put a piece down for a day or two and come back to it, not as an editor, but as a reader. When I am satisfied that it is as I intended, then I will look at editing and improving the piece.

The test on this material will be announced.

On every artistic endeavor I have undertaken I started out pretty crude, with work and attention to the craft, I have improved. Every artist is on a journey. I trust that wherever you are in your journey, you will take what I have offered in the supportive spirit I intended.

Keep writing!


First appeared in http://lit.org ‘Majestic’     The Ramblings Of A Vagabond Poet

ken lehnig(c)2011

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Spoken Word

Spoken Word from Ken Lehnig

As a poet have spent my adult life writing mostly inadequate poetry. As I have entered my later years something happened, whether I have made a truer connection to the language, a deeper understanding of the things of life, or I have tapped a channel to some astral library, I don’t know and mostly don’t care. That I can write poetry with some satisfaction at the outcome is enough for me. Whether the work is worthy is up to the reader and listener.

I have always written poetry and would only share those pieces that I deemed worthy. Spoken word is a new concept for me and I don’t often write in the common rhymey and clever word twisty style so often heard in spoken word jams – in no way am I being derisive , in fact, I enjoy spoken word events very much indeed, especially when I learn that most of the participants have no formal understanding of poetry as a literary and art form. I am heartened and often astonished at how poetry is part of our human makeup – at least that is the case I will put froward. Here I offer what I write and it holds up as is does, rise or fall, with no pretense.




The Shadow


All Aboard



My Mind Is A Carnival



all poems by ken lehnig(c) 200- 2012

On Being An Artist

On being an Artist

Photobucket It would seem that I am about to veer off road and careen wildly across strange landscapes; far away from the terrain I usually travel.  Not so, dear reader, I am going to go deeper into the artistic soul, and heart, that is the underpinning of writers and poets. I travel that same road we are all on; no matter the level of our competence we share this journey. To this point I have offered my thoughts, on writing poetry, and lyrics, not as an expert – but as a working artist and an observer, perhaps casting a light into shadowy places in our understanding of what it is to be a Poet or Songwriter. I am going to connect some dots – I will do this with no more authority than the fact that I am an Artist – I sculpt, I draw and paint, and I write poetry, prose and songs, all these disciplines come from the same wellhead.  I do hope you are entertained, maybe enlightened, and do forgive the fact that I lack the ability to be mundanely linear and coherent. (If I do – it is a lucky accident, and the connective activity of rouge neurons attempting to conservatize my thinking.)

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self- conscious, and everything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”

Ray Bradbury

This article is going to be about the starting point on our journey as poetic writers – the off-road of being a Poet, an Artist. This is for those that feel they have the tools, but not the spark to write well – this will be for those that think the Muse ignores them – this will be for the frustrated and self-critical – this will be for those aching to get  on paper, or a computer screen the language of their souls – those words that never seem to shine, or have the richness that they feel is there – those joyous fountains, sorrowful wails, brilliant illuminations, deep emotive wellings, and lucid clarities, not translated and, alas, stay un-delivered to the world.

My normal process for coming up with this column is, usually, spurred on by some poetry I have read or the lyrics, to a song, I have heard. How that comes about is what may be interesting – it isn’t always the poem or song’s content, but often how I perceive the piece to have come into being.  The mechanics are important to me and I trust that I have, in my vagabond and odd way, delivered some cogent points in that regard. I will address that more later in the article.

I want to explore the very starting point, even before there is a twinkle in the Artist’s eye. I want to write about the seed of artistry, the genesis of that good effort and human outlay we call Art.  The definition of the word ‘Art’ I leave to you to look up. I will not debate Art’s value – I believe that is mote and refuse any attempt at diminishing the need for all Artistic expression in a balanced and healthy society. A person that sees Poetry, and indeed any form of writing, as important as any artistic endeavor, writes this article.

Recognition of self as Artist

I don’t remember when I declared myself an artist. It happened in the midst of doing art. In other words, I was compelled to create and in the process found the artist. There is no right way to become an Artist. I suggest the Artist existed before the recognition, that same recognition being unimportant. A poet begins to write and in the process the Poet emerges. Trust the process. ‘Tis Like taking your first baby steps the, poetic muscles become stronger and more defined.

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”

George Bernard Shaw

From darkness to light

This is esoteric – I believe it is in the human soul/mind/body matrix that we are designed as creators. That inherent ability can manifest itself in a myriad of ways. Every thing we, as humans, create is a form of artistic expression. Politics, mathematics, architecture, finance, business, military arts, sciences, all have a creative core – we as humans have created distinctions that aren’t real. and may well hurt us as a society. What we perceive as Art now has become separate and of less intrinsic value – music, painting, crafts, dance, sculpture, and all, have become lumped into ‘Entertainment’. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an industry to promote and exploit these arts. It is that the worth of the Artist is not comparable to the worth of a Banker. (Well, I may have to rethink that comparison!) The darkness is the void in us and from that void will emerge a person’s human expression. This is separate from and distinct from the evil of trying to quantify a person’s aptitude and intelligence. I wrote the provocative word evil, because it is in the individual to be responsible for their own life, to find that expression. If such quantification helps the person solidify what they already know – fine. But I believe it not to be so, in most cases, being told by an authority, or the score of a one size fits all test, that you have no aptitude for something is irresponsible, damaging, and a recipe for misery. That system was, and is, designed to put people into the existing work force and down plays those abilities that are not considered valuable to society – as arbitrary and transitory as the latest story in the Media.

(The e-mails will now come pouring in. Don’t e-mail me, I am intransigent on this point – my experience will out.) Work is good – art is good! Art can be work and work can be art!  They are not mutually exclusive. Trust yourself. You know if the yearning is there – don’t be afraid to acknowledge that internal artistic urging.


Once a person recognizes the artistic yearning the practical brain kicks in. There is no criticism in that statement, it is the way we are made, and what it is to be human. Someone created flint knapping and that skill was taught to others that had that ‘aptitude.’ They in turn created new ways to do the job and that led to other skills, or arts. The first steps in any Artist’s journey is to find an expression and then to imitate the work of other Artists that resonates in them, to me, a joyous time of self-discovery. In learning the rules the mind and body can incorporate those skills and, from there, jump ahead, as new innovations are realized, from that which has come before. Innovations that would not be possible, unless it was on the shoulders of other, previous, innovations – on the shoulders of previous innovation – and so on. Learn the craft!


This is the root of all Art, whether the ‘How To’ was stumbled upon or learned.

In the 80s I sculpted doll parts out of a product used for jewelry. The process started with me thinking I could create a new art form on the shoulders of an existing one, then thinking that the jewelry clay would work. I had to, by trail and error, find ways to make the clay do what it wasn’t designed to do.  Other artists and those I taught created other innovations and a new artistic community was created. I learned doll making before I attempted to create a new Art Doll expression. All art is created this way.

Poetry too has tried and true forms and modern innovations that stand on the shoulders of the poets who came before. I learned those rules early on and as a Poet they serve me well as the context of all of my work. I will consciously pick a form that best allows me to express what I wish to express.

Learn the craft, the rules, first before you creatively break the rules – you can’t create new ground till you know the old, in that relevancy is created.


Improvement by choice – the coolest (A technical term) thing that happens to an artist is when the piece reaches out to you and says, ‘This isn’t right! Improve this! Fix this!’ That can only happen if the artist is engaged in doing the work. Trust your own intuition – you will see it in your work and you will see it when others point it out. Criticism is valuable, but it is up to you whether the piece is changed. Every bit of criticism I get I file it all away. It may not apply, to me, to the poem or story at hand, but well may be appropriate to another piece I have yet to write.

You will always stumble when attempting something new, because you look to another and how they do it – but with time and effort, an assured-ness comes into play, and you no longer look to another, but trust in the skills you have acquired.

The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.”

Oscar Wilde

The Fallacy of Failure

Every trip has a first step. There is no failure in Art. Things don’t work and do require fixing, but that is true of every life process. It was said during the Renaissance that nothing was to be made perfectly, for only God can make a perfect thing. The truth is we as humans are unable to make something perfectly – there is no compelling Heavenly ideal, or if there is, not one we should aspire – the work is to make it as good as you are able, up to your personal ideal – at the time. As an artist learns their chops, a voice will emerge. That voice being a clear resound, on what is in the nature and soul of the artist. The poetic voice I have often written about is just that – the self-discovery of a way in which the work of a poet manifests in the form, word choices, and imagery. Will there be periods of unproductive gloom, self-doubt, and self-depreciation –  I am sorry but yes! I do find the times when I’m non-productive very upsetting, but that is because I have an expectation that is being thwarted. In fact I do know that it is a time when my unconscious mind is going over its assets, and the font will again produce fruitful poetic waters.

Lord Byron’s take on those dark moments and the Muse’s neglect:

‘This bosom, responsive to rapture no more,
Shall hush thy wild notes, nor implore thee to sing;
The feelings of childhood, which taught thee to soar,
Are wafted far distant on Apathy’s wing.’

‘Farewell to the Muse’ George Gordon

But if you do find the will to work then remember this:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep,”

Scott Adams (American Cartoonist)

Approaching mastery by intention Avoiding mastery.

The above is a strange statement, but sadly ‘tis true. The problem with mastery is that you go right back to the beginning of the process. Once you have mastered an art form you begin to imitate yourself – sad bit of business that is.  It is better to continue to learn, risk, and keep creating within your chosen discipline. If you are a Poet, write in as many forms as you can, or stay in one if your heart tells you that is right for you, but always work and strive to find that personal ideal that is imprinted on your soul. You may never be satisfied, but I believe that is indeed a joyful place to be – creation/opportunity comes from uncertainty.

Here is the best quote on being an artist I have ever read:

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”

Mary Lou Cook

Ken Lehnig(c)2010 repost from an article by Ken Lehnig in the March 2010 isuue of Majestic

The Ramblings Of A Vagabond Poet

On Writing Songs and Poetry

Here I am rambling again, walking down a dusty road, with musty bits and clever things floating in my much too crowded head. Crickets are cricketing and birds are birding and all is well in the world. All of those annoying emotional chinks and tragedies are all in the past and now I can reflect, changing memories into myth with the use of elaborate word choices and perfected lies. It is a world where I am the hero in the story and the bad is forever vanquished. Every couple hundred steps I stop and sit down on a convenient rock, next to a verdant field, and play a few lines from the lyrics in my head. My old guitar seems to already know the chords and magically places my fingers perfectly -and I, with my beautiful Bocelli vocal chords conte par tiro-ing up into the too-blue Tuscan sky.

Oh man! Wouldn’t that be the ideal way to do what it is we do? What if writing prose, poetry, and lyrics was just as easy as waiting for Br’er Rabbit to pop out da blackberry patch and add a few dippity-do-das to a near perfect song, finishing it for posterity? Or maybe some little cute singing bluebirds, or sing-sewing mice, could help with the perfect Disneyfying ‘o dat last stanza. Oh well. It dippity-do-not work dat way wit me. Getting it down on paper or computer screen is a slightly more mysterious, lonelier, rougher, and grittier process for me.

When I was a younger man, and the need for creative out letting was a near mental disorder in me, I would go to seminars and read all the books on how to write poetry, lyrics, and prose. It was all, so very, helpful, as far as the nuts and bolts were concerned, but every exercise failed me in the end.

Let me give you some examples of techniques I have tried over the years:

!. Have a journal by your bed and when you think of something, as you tip over into dreamland, wake up, get up, and write down that brilliant thing. When I read them in the morning I thought most of it was incomprehensible and I didn’t write the context for the thoughts. Even attempting to be more descriptive made it even worse. This technique was terminated. My scratchings started to take on the tone of a true schizophrenic and sleep deprivation made social interaction almost impossible.

2. Keep a pad in your car and jot down those snippets that come as you drive. I once noted a toothpaste billboard and the light bulb went on. The brilliant song hook was ‘I only see her smile’ – it never became a song, because I rear-ended a late model primer gray Volvo, just as I finished the unintelligible word ‘smile’.

3. Warning: This next technique should never be used – unless you are Edger Allen Poe, Hemmingway, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, or Hunter S Thompson. I have to admit that in my earlier years I may have used this technique, on rare occasion, to no real benefit. It was the worst stuff I have ever penned. I keep it still, to remind me of my foolish ways. The use of any mind altering substance (Yes, that was what I was alluding to.) is said to assist in the creative process – but in truth what sounded good last night, when you wrote it -, probably was not all that impressive in the morning. A wise friend of mine once told me ‘The problem with any mind altering drug induced insight is that you can’t be responsible for that insight in the morning.’ Since this does not apply to any of my readers, or any of the folks I know, I wonder why I even bothered to list it. (Warning:  If you are drinking Absinthe, thinking you will somehow be Oscar Wilde  – stop it, you won’t write any better, the green fairy will just have you feeling like crap in the morning.)

4. Try riffing. A technique where you just let your mind go and see what comes out. Actually this isn’t a bad thing, but what comes is usually garbage and it can go terribly wrong. I had a gig at Tehachapi Prison years ago. My brother and I were supposed to do three songs. Then the producer said that we had a half hour to fill up, because the other act hadn’t shown up. In those days I did suffer stage fright and I retreated pretty far into my head. My brother whispered for me to calm down and to just make up a blues song. I didn’t have any other material ready, so that was all there was to do. The song was a big hit – ‘melted some faces’ as the saying is today. I even ended the song with an impromptu comic monologue.  We were the hit of the evening, just after the first Stripper to be allowed to perform in a state prison. (She was, indeed, more memorable than me.) Okay, so what was the disaster? When I got down off the stage I couldn’t remember a single word I had sang – or said. (Either did the inmates; the Stripper was simply more ‘poetic’.) If you use this technique please record it, something may be useable.

5. Flip through a dictionary or a thesaurus. This never worked, for me, but my vocabulary improved for when, and if, I did actually write any poems, stories, or lyrics.

6. Use Creative Subliminal tapes. These NEVER worked for me, but I did use them right after the failed ‘Journal by the bed’ technique – the tape put me, immediately, into a deep sleep and I would awaken refreshed and ready to arrange flowers and pick out fabrics. (A warning: Since you can’t hear any words on these tape/CDs make absolutely sure that you know what’s on them. To this day my color-palette  sense is just sensational.)


And finally ‘The Rambling Vagabond Poets Seminar’: Be prepared to write – be a writer. Tell yourself a hundred times before you go to sleep that you are a successful writer. Put signs all over your house that read, ‘I am a great writer.’ Prepare a place in your house that is perfect for a writer. Buy the perfect computer for you. Buy the best Dictionary (‘Reader’s Digest Complete Wordfinder’ is mine.), Have yellow pads and pens available – sometimes it’s important to be tactile. The words sometimes feel different when you write them down. Purchase a separate recording device and read aloud and record what you write – play it back and be critical. Print out your good work and put it in a notebook. Having your work in print, on a page, is much different than having it on a screen, and a lot more real. Post your work on writing forums (Lit.org is a good one.) and let others read it, and trust in yourself to comment on other writers work – they are right where you are, and a little nod of encouragement and helpful tips will go a long way. Read other writers, but don’t emulate their style (Unless its just for fun.) Find your own voice and style. Always believe that with every word you write you are getting better and better. And for me and all of you: Pin your rejection slips on the wall in front of you, with pride, and know it as a sign that you are getting closer and closer to being that terrific writer that you have always imagined you would be. (I’m on number 14 on my first novel. The 14 rejection form letters are pinned to a vintage LOONEY TUNES © poster, on the wall in front of my desk. (Bugs reminds me to relax, smile, and breathe.) And, to let you know that I am not, in any way, deterred. My second novel is just a few hundred words from being complete.

Keep writing!

Let me know of any other crazy things you all have done to nudge the muse and I’ll mention them in future articles.

Ken Lehnig(c)2011 2012

the Work Of Poetry

Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is upon us, and I hope your spectral entanglements were manageable. And if not then I am sure the line and verse forthcoming will be dark and brilliant. So now just weeks way from Christmas and the New Year we are at that place where we either sigh and sulk in further ennui, or look forward with expectant hearts to the possibilities brewing in the New Year. Sadly one can also expect more of the same. And if the talking heads and the mad hatter cultural mechanics have their way that is what we will get. And once again that worry, and concern, be the makings of this article.

Are your ready for a connective leap from the opening paragraph to my subject that will seem like a quantum entanglement?  I am going to write about the power of words. No, I am not pointing to the failed grammar and spelling tests you had in Grammar School. Was it the stout and artificially happy Mrs. Theona Wentwhistle, or the bespectacled and stern Miss Agnus Dumwaters, or in my case the steely-eyed, garrison belt wearing and black robed task master Sister Mary Elizabeth (Who believed I would learn my lessons better being locked in my locker out in the hall, that discipline required for my transforming pages of poetry into spitballs) that told you that words are very powerful things and it would behoove you to be diligent in your studies? You know that grand Lady you pretty much ignored while humming ‘Teacher Teacher leave those kids alone!’  They were right you know, but I am not writing about your mastery of the language, I can assume if you are a poet you have attained some prowess there, even if sprinkled with unimaginative execration and cluelessly mundane inditements, both I would have you re-examine for a brick in the wall you shouldn’t have torn down. We are going to explore the power of word choice at a number of levels, to create the ability, for a poet, to make word choices that perhaps reach the listener at a deeper and more profound level.


Mother F**ker, back off
see he’s with me,

I’ll hand you misery,
‘cause I can see
like the stars at sea,
don’t mess with me,
‘cause I’m your mother f**king tragedy,
I got me a modus operandi,
for you being a foolhardy,
higgledy on your piggledy,
lowdown, raggedy ass
man heisting fool.

my heart is broken
how could you have left me
threw my heart out the window
like it was garbage
after I gave you everything
and you just disregard me
as unimportant
as nothing
just dust in the wind
I’m broken you win
your so vain
I bet you think this poem
is about you

Am I saying the above doesn’t have value? It most certainly does – as entertainment and as a journal entry. And there is an audience. If we are to be poets, should we not make the disPhotobucketdistinction that we have a responsibility to create ‘high’ work, work with an honest effort to lift, enlighten, reveal, to open a door to another possibility, or reality, to say it in a new and fresh way. It would seem that I am snarky and mean spirited, that I’m setting a high bar, and I may even seem arrogant. I am not passing myself as some master of the language, some grammatical alchemist, or a lingual magician; I am none of those things, but I am a student and a hard working practitioner of all those arts. We will explore together and if I, as the tour guide, fall short…oh well. It was still worth the effort. Language is fluid and fixed at the same time. It changes over time for good or ill. Modern language is the language you use at the time that form of the language is being used. Seems obvious…Right?

Here is a quote from Wikipedia, “Language change is the phenomenon whereby phonetic, morphological, semantic, syntactic, and other features of language vary over time. The effect on language over time is known as diachronic change. Two linguistic disciplines in particular concern themselves with studying language change: historical linguistics and sociolinguistics. Here is another tidbit: The principle of least effort: Speakers especially use economy in their articulation, which tends to result in phonetic reduction of speech forms. See vowel reduction, cluster reduction, lenition, and elision. After some time a change may become widely accepted (it becomes a regular sound change) and may end up treated as a standard.

For instance: going to gonna. As a poet we communicate with words. The choice of words and word chains are the color and texture of what we write. If the poet is limited to the words in the common lexicon then the work has the danger of being mundane. That being said it doesn’t mean that mundane work will not get some degree of popular approval. In fact many folks make a good living delivering consistently mundane product to a hungry fan base, and more power to them. I myself , without any shame at all, have produced such work for a buck or two. But that isn’t the point I am making, it is about seeing differences between types of work, creating the ability to make distinctions in your own work. If we can’t see it we can’t fix, or change, it. If you would, it is learning to write in levels and recognizing what makes each level as distinct from another.

The common lexicon is a tool of the poet, but not the only tool! There are different ways to use the language. Lewis Carroll wrote ‘Jabberwocky’ as a poem within a work ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’

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

I tried the same exercise:

Priddle and passel
Perning on a peer
Saddle up a seaner
Brigged and get
Tattle in a tangle
Teater and tear
Better a bounder
Than a booring bet

If there is meaning it is only with the writer. The brain ‘matrix-es’, which means it, seeks meaning in all input from the senses. You get a sense that the poems mean something, but it is just outside the grasp. Combining uncommon words in unusual groupings has the same effect. Another valuable tool is metaphor.

Here is an excerpt from Dylan Thomas’ ‘Holy Spring’

Out of a bed of love
When that immortal hospital made one more moove to soothe
The curless counted body,
And ruin and his causes
Over the barbed and shooting sea assumed an army
And swept into our wounds and houses,
I climb to greet the war in which I have no heart but only
That one dark I owe my light,
Call for confessor and wiser mirror but there is none
To glow after the god stoning night
And I am struck as lonely as a holy marker by the sun.

Types of metaphor:
1. Personification

Simile is also a tool to enrich prose and verse.

Here is one of mine own. From “I Need More Than This’

I saw you like liquid in the sunlight dancing
A dancer from a world where answers come before the asking
I’m asking to hold you not like a bitter pill
Swallowed with a lithe hand promised of a sweeter sweeter night
Lies like poetry moved and held me bound
Your body held me till my breath was still
Hey baby I need more than this

Friends are shadows just marionettes and empty talking
They are an empty well you drink from shines on you
Your beauty is empty and time keeps stealing
Without worry the choir and the cadence rolls on and on
But baby I need more than this

Word choices can also be powerful. I’ll use an excerpt from one of my poems for the example.
From ‘A Living Ghost Town’
Hot white work to do
no sunlight
dusty ghosts toil
lamp lit underground
holes collocated

troll’s kin
world tossed sanctorum
digging gritty earth

The last tool for this article, and we return to the top of the page, is to go back in history and look at the common language then. I have noted in new Western movies the dialogue is in the vernacular of that time. The lexicon of two hundred years ago is quite different and a rich mine of poetic gold.
strong>Here are pieces from the 1800s
From ‘The Figure Head’ by Herman Melville

But iron-rust and alum-spray
And chafing gear, and sun and dew
Vexed this lad and lassie gay,
Tears in their eyes, salt tears nor few;
And the hug relaxed with the failing glue.

From ‘One Day’ by Rupert Brooke

Today I have been happy.
All the day I held the memory of you, and wove
Its laughter with the dancing light o’ the spray,
And sowed the sky with tiny clouds of love,
And sent you following the white waves of sea,
And crowned your head with fancies, nothing worth,
Stray buds from that old dust of misery,
Being glad with a new foolish quiet mirth.

And the last excerpt – one you know but have not of late visited. ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by John Keats

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

There is always something to be gained by studying what has come before, street poet or learned grad. The Internet has brought about the possibility of a golden age of poetry just by the fact that we have so much that is now accessible to everyone.

Best to you!

Ken Lehnig

Originally posted On ‘Majestic’ the newsletter for http://lit.org

The Rambling Vagabond Poet/Ken Lehnig(c)2011

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