"dazzle gradually"

"Dazzle Gradually" 2017 poems, paintings, new art & photography--a diary, a discipline, a delight. Read over my shoulder as I post my unedited poetry ---you can see it in the raw or get my first book and see how the work evolves with new books rolling out next year.

Polly Alice

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Advice to Poets from Juan Felipe Herrara

Juan Felipe Herrera took an extra day in Kansas City and spoke to poets at the Diostole Scholar Center off 25th and Holmes. Diostole means rest for the heart. It is truly a restful building and reminds me of the intorior of the ecumenical institute, Tantur outside Jerusalem because of it's modern design, the sunlit white walls and the many, many artworks from around the world.

Juan Felipe spoke for over two hours.  Here are some of the grains of advice he gave to poets. I've tried many of these already and the ones I haven't you can bet I will be. Some of the best advice I've ever heard really. Let's write:

  • How do you know the poem is done? The poem is like a pool: "Did you get down to the bottom of the pool and get back up....Did we hit it?"
  • Is the poem finished? A poem maybe needs have three states of emotional comittmment... Kind of like what a Taxi driver said to him once about what she looks for in a relationship: "Can you dance? Can you laugh? Can you curse?"
  • How do you know when your poem is done being worked on? "See that poem snap."
  • "Speak up and tell the truth."
  • Give your poem room. "Every word is a marimba and it has room." So shake it.
  • Try to "double and triple" your adjectives just for fun.
  • Then double and triple the adjectives that don't go together. Have more fun.
  • Don't forget to use "Day to Day words." Maybe try adjectives as nouns and nouns as adjectives.
  • Don't forget you are an artist. If Matisse can make a face green. What can you do? Poetry is about... "appreciating something. Let go and see that person for the first time."
  • Pick a new adjective and get to know it like, "puffy" or "blue-cheesy."
  • The adjectives are zip lines. Use them. Create sequences and patterns. Make up fun rules for yourself. Switch words around.
  • Poems are like Salsa.  "Kick up your word play temperature guage all the way to 100!"
  • Enjoy the "curiosity of language"  Bring those words up to a curiosity level from a 1 to a 10.
  • Use fragments. Or use ornamentation. (Get a little crazy.) Try a paradox. Take big leaps.
  • Give yourself more freedom. Keep your poems warm the way artists look at their art. They walk by and they walk by again. So read your poem all week to keep it warm. Don't revise it. Just enjoy it. Maybe tweak here or there ---and on the weekend you are ready to finish your poem. It's kept warm for you.
  • Treat yourself to a nice pencil bag, nice writerly pens. Have fun. Be a "visual word-ist."
  • Listen to people. Read books. Tinker with other people's poems and take them apart. Learn the Tiajana way. If you an take it apart you can put it back together.
  • "Be an adventurer." Be a poetry gypsy. It's a beautiful world. and a crazy world. Have fun. Use your imagination. Think abstract thoughts. Einstein did and look where it got him.
  • How to sweep away the worries? Stay positive. Take naps. Eat yogurt, fruit, spinach. Take walks. Keep moving. You can do it. Keep journals, scribble. Write terrible. Draw. Draw a cartoon. Make a joke. Get up and go somewhere. Keep a rhythm.
  • Stuck? Don't write, just improvise. "Writing is more like improvising than writing."
  • Listen to other people. Give their words room to breathe.
  • "Be the freedom poet!"
  • Let your words be abrupt sometimes. Let them knock against each other. Or let them have warmth and coziness. Keep your poems warm, visit them often.
  • Remember, grammar is one of your instruments.
  • Revise is too serious a term. Seriousness can be an extra concern. Instead look for the feeling you want to express.  That's helpful. Come back to your poem instead to enjoy it! Look at it like a flower. Keep a tight but fun relationship with your poems, going back to them like you would visit your garden.
  • Write a poem in any language you want. Switch back and forth. Pick one to start in, one to finish in, and in the middle do confetti style!
  • "Light the fuse!"
  • Remember. "You are virtuosos, and you have many instruments."


  1. Such an engaging, gracious speaker you were, Mr. Herrera. You also showed great compassion, humor, and hope as you got to know us. Thank you for coming and being part of our community.

  2. I'm also going to use your references to "revision" and "looking" as I work with my students. Many come as non-writers, but they want to learn -- sometimes shyly, almost always fearfully -- but genuinely wanting to learn.


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