Sunday, November 30, 2008


A Haunting Refrain. Photo Montage by Ruth Zachary.

Alluding to an image which parallels the idea you are speaking about adds depth and richness to your writing. Some languages are permeated with such parallels, comparisons, and connections. The Bible is full of metaphors, similes, figures of speech, fables and parables.

I won’t go into the different definitions of these here. The idea is to compare one thing to another. It is possible to do this without using words such as “like,” or “as” to link one image to another. Write about the subject as if it were another thing; such as a tree which is described in words usually applied to a person, or a bird, as in:

Winter Scene
by A.R. Ammons

There is now not a single
leaf on the cherry tree:

except when the jay
plummets in, lights, and

in pure clarity, squalls;
then every branch

quivers and
breaks out in blue leaves.

Remember too, when the language has become permeated with a colorful “saying,” it often becomes clich√©, or stale. When a phrase has been over used, it takes away from the impact or your words, where freshness could delight the reader, and excite their imagination, instead.

A word about mixed metaphors… if you use three or four different metaphoric phrases in your writing, be sure they are not conflicting or at odds with each other. For instance, if the metaphor alludes to fire, don’t use another that creates a moist image. Try to keep those secondary images in harmony with the idea you are trying to express. If you are speaking about a beach scene, try to draw in more allusions to watery parallels.

In some cases, a poem or essay can benefit from an extended metaphor, but this requires a delicate hand. Don’t drag it out to its doggedly detailed death. Keep it as brief as possible, and that is usually when what you have written conveys the idea, without adding more. After all, it is your main idea which is the reason for using the metaphor, and not the other way around.

The Censor

The little armadilla fed herself
in a grape arbor, consuming fruit
in contented seclusion,
until you came, proclaiming authority
and undisclosed agendas.

Your criticisms Invaded the peace
your words were an armada
of carnivorous wasps, which
shot from your mouth,
hummed in the ear; swarmed
through the cracks in her armor;
wedged into every opening,
and where they didn’t fit, stung.

Paralyzed, she lay under broken vines.
Her tongue swollen; numbed.
Your words buzzed behind
her eyes; made a hive of her mind.
Breeding like larvae,
they ate away her heart.


1. Make a list of five nouns or subjects from the dictionary. Then make a list of five other objects or things from your head. Try to match words from both lists. Invent a connection in which one thing parallels another or may be compared with it in some way.

2. Take one or more of the metaphors you have just invented and put it/them in an order which conveys an idea. Connect them with lines which complete an idea.

3. Think of a very emotional situation you have experienced. Limit it to a few moments in time. Describe the environment, or your appearance to make connections with the situation. Make the setting or your physical being reflect the emotions in the event you are telling.

4. Advanced: Think of a story or a myth which is like a series of events you have experienced. Mention the myth only briefly, but use images, symbols and objects from the story which may be compared to your own experience. (The myth doesn't have to exactly match your own situation.) You can change the direction near the end, showing you have learned from the original story. But show us and don't tell us the conclusion.

A very good book about writing Poetry is The Poet's Companion, by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. Norton.

Images and unattributed Poems or Writing are the exclusive property of Ruth Zachary.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008



Of course you are speaking with your own voice, no matter what you are writing. But don’t limit yourself to the point of view of "I did this or I did that and I saw him do that."

Personal accounts told in the first person point of view may appear as more credible, when telling something only one person could have experienced. But when telling an account about several conflicting characters, it may be more credible to treat all the characters as if they are in the third person… as if all are equal, and as if the storyteller is not biased.

Hoops. Collage. 18 x 24"

Sometimes by altering your perspective, you will write differently about something than you might have, using the first person point of view.

Blood Feud 1950s

Daddy always said
I wanted to get even
with my sister
I just wanted to be her
She wore crinoline skirts
got good grades easy

In Kalamazoo Mama was cuckoo
Daddy worked nights
My sister got a job
and got married
She got out

I wanted out too
I was fifteen and
wore tight skirts to school
I got pregnant

My boyfriend got me drunk
All his friends raped me
One night
I was holding in screams
with Mama sniffing the truth
outside the bathroom
while I bled my baby into
the toilet

My boyfriend told everybody
I was a whore
I dropped out of school
Mama screamed crazy mad

My sister said I could stay with her
When she was at work
my brother-in law wanted
to rub my back
She came home
and found us in bed
me in my undies

She should have left him
It was me she kicked out
back with Mama
After that I wanted to get ahead
instead of just even

If you are a narrator, you may choose to assume you can only know what one character is thinking, but not all of them.

Stretch your imagination a little. Put yourself in another person’s shoes and role play. Write as if they were telling a third party about you. Or talk about another’s experience in the first person, as if it was their voice. The girl telling the story above is fifteen and doesn't use punctuation.

Pay attention to whether you are using PAST OR PRESENT TENSE. Accounts in the present can be much more effective and immediate, especially in a tense situation. Try not to switch from present to past, or back again, etc.

Writing Exercises:
Choose one or all of the following :

Write about another’s experience. Try to describe a situation through their eyes. (third person point of view is acceptable. Try to be specific and particular to detail, time period, place, etc.

Write about your own experience as if someone else was telling about you and how you acted in a particular situation. (Another person speaks of you as the third person)

Think of a person who went through a terrible experience. Write the account as if you were that person, and telling it from their point of view. (first person point of view)

Write about a character you see in a restaurant. Describe the person’s appearance. Imagine the person has a secret they are trying not to reveal to others around them. The character is unique and has a particular local accent or dialect. Have him or her speak and act accordingly, and find ways they reveal clues about their secret, without actually saying what the secret is.

Writing and images are created by Ruth Zachary. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 24, 2008


October Raspberries

The morning wind sweeps
a chill off mountain peaks
that nips the raspberries disguised
under reddened leaves, as if trying
to hide from that final frost.
The smell of November wrangles
sharply with leaves not yet fallen,
as if Autumn is reluctant to begin
and these berries, edges burned
white from night’s brief winters
remember Indian Summer’s promise still
lingering in their stubborn persistence
as they continue to ripen on the vine.
The clusters feel like virgin’s breasts,
offering sweetness, teasing, yet
the red nipples firmly resist
the pinch of passionate fingers;
refuse to yield, and lay cold
as a witch’s teats in the hands.

Specificity is the Writer’s Friend. Details that are unique to the situation bring a poem to life. Specificity also works well in other writing.

The first line is not so specific. The second line gives the reader a feeling of the geographical location. The writer hints at a personal conflict over the change in weather by the fifth line, and this is reinforced in the eighth line. The language used suggest the raspberry vines and fruit express for the writer the resistance to oncoming winter. The raspberries (probably) don’t really have conflicts, but the specificity of description extends the metaphor.

Then the vines and berries are likened to virgin’s breasts, as if they are shyly resistant to being picked before they have a chance to mature, which further suggests the allusion to the season, and the coming of Halloween, with witches and cold weather. There is also a second meaning, that of dread of end of life. Even still, no conclusion is drawn here. That is up to the reader.

I would not have been able to write this poem if I remained indoors. I had to feel the berries to describe how they felt to my hands, and to discover the best words, and thought of this unique metaphor. This was one of the rare times that endless revisions were not required to finish.

Use sensory appeal, sight, sound, smell, touch, etc. Making poems specific and unique is best done by using words expressing many of the senses. This poem focuses on a small segment of time, although weather expected throughout the month is also suggested.

Writing Exercise: Write about a moment in time, noticing the physical attributes of something in the environment which stir up an emotion for you. Or start with the feeling and find something that expresses it.

Do not tell the reader how you feel. Instead, try to describe something outside of yourself as if it expresses your own emotions; feels your joy, sorrow, fear, etc. If you have trouble describing, approach it with all of your senses… how does it smell, feel, or sound? What words show the reader by implication, the emotion you are feeling?
October Raspberries. Photograph
From Writing Exercises (A-3)
Comments are welcomed.

All writing and images are the exclusive property of Ruth Zachary.

Friday, November 21, 2008



This morning, as always,
she pours creamer,
instant coffee and then sugar
into the precise center of her cup,
forming a bullseye in the bottom,
before stirring it all into a morning brew.
This is her cauldron, her ritual
for keeping her life on target.

by Ruth Zachary

The process of creating art, for me, whether
expressed in visual forms or in words, is an intuitive process,
in which connections between different images
are noticed, and demand to be recorded.
The connections between diverse images seem to
convey meanings beyond those of single images
viewed alone. They become visual metaphors. Often
similar ideas spill over from one medium to
another, as here, in a photo montage to a poem.
Above Image -My Muse Takes Me
Out to a Sidewalk Cafe

To see more of Ruth Zachary's Art work, visit and

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


How Do You Keep the Reader's Attention?

There will be many techniques for achieving this, discussed in the future. One way to make a blog, or a news article, or a poem more readable is to break it up into sections, each one of which truly deals with one idea, but is still related to the whole.

The goal is to get the reader's attention and then keep their interest, so s/he will stay with it to the end.

If possible, try to grab the attention of the reader with a beginning line or a phrase that raises a question for the reader... "Why did she say that?" or "I want to find out what happens to him," or "That phrasing was so dramatic, I want to discover more." Lead the reader from one line to the next.

Clarity of meaning is critical. You don't want the readers to be so distracted by obscure meanings, that they give up, or forget your train of thought. With a sequence of actions, make sure they are in the logical sequence as they would occur in time. This does not require a concrete prose-like account. In poetry, the intuitive use of words often enriches experience. Words used should enhance understanding, not impede it.

If writing a longer piece, try to keep the structure simple in the whole, and within each segment, with a beginning, middle and an end.

Few poems are perfect and finished as soon as they are set down. For some people, their best work occurs during self-editing. It is not unusual for some poems to go through fifteen or more revisions.

All of these steps are designed to serve a a guide for the process of editing your own work. Most importantly, never throw a start into the circular file because you judge it to be imperfect. The process of writing is the process required for you to express your idea in the most eloquent way possible.

Exercise: Find a poem you wrote in the past which is very long. Try to look at it in terms of logical sequence of actions or ideas. Re order the poem. See if you can break it up into sections, verses or separate poems, and put open lines between them. If you are past this stage of self- editing, you will know it.

Writing Exercises A-2

Monday, November 17, 2008


Introduction: For the next few weeks I plan to discuss approaches to writing, generally about Poetry, although many of the writing principles may translate to prose as well. I will use some of my own writing to illustrate a point, but I will also use others’ poems when I find them, crediting them, of course. An uncredited poem or image will be my own.

Short Poems Are Better.

My first poem entry on this blog is too long for most readers. It was always a problem when I wrote for a news paper, and it is still true with my creative writing. I want to give more information than is necessary. In my opinion, poetry is usually better when kept short..

The challenge for me is to find a way to shorten it. I encourage suggestions from others.

One way to handle a poem that is too long is to break it into shorter poems, each complete on their own. Call these a suite of poems under one title.

Think of the passage of time in the poem. Try to focus upon on one small soundbite of time, not an epic. The expression of that moment, and of its realization, first for you, or for the character in your poem, and then for the reader is the challenge.

Noontime Interlude

I don’t remember their names,
those big draft horses waiting
during one of their trips home and
standing by the pump house
patiently, still wearing their collars,
hames, and harnesses as they drank
from the tank. Behind the fence,
their large frames withdrew to
the shade, often resting one foot
at a time on the edge of a shoe,
tranquill in their tedium.

What is
indelibly etched in my mind is the
smell of the clear air, the peaceful
almost-silence just before a breeze
exceeded the resistance of rust,
causing the windmill to start up;
exacting the shriek of metal on metal,
lacking any subtlety, as the blades
gathered speed and faded to a
transluscent gray, against blue sky,
as if protesting indentured labor,
while the horses ignored the noise.

Writing Exercise: One good way to begin a poem is to write out the idea in prose. This becomes the framework for the poem. Next, remove all extra words from this structure so it conveys the basic idea.

Read it aloud. Break it up into lines that sound natural.

From there, these building block words are supplemented or replaced with ones that offer more intuitive understanding. Write until you feel it is finished. Additional methods toward completing the poems will come later in this series.

Writing Exercises A-1

"Draft Horses," image and writing are the Copyright of Ruth Zachary.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Sewing Notions, by Ruth Zachary


Ethel Bertie Bowers
Birth Oct 25, 1881 NY Came West to MI in 1884
mar.1908- George Yale - died Jul 15, 1925
Married May 15, 1943 Fred Scott B.D
Death Sept 21, 1966(84) Death 1969 age 88.

Dau. Jennie Marie Yale Maxon Lloyd Maxon
Born 1909
Married ?
Died April 22, 1934

Genealogy is insufficient oooooooooooooooooooooooo How could happiness be so short-lived?
for recording a life, lives.oooooooooooooooooooooooooooThe answer lies in stringing together
Photos also, so much unknown.oooooooooooooooooooevents left out;ooooooooooounrecorded.
oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Ethel's screams heard for miles
ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowhen she found George dead by suicide.

No one wants to remember.ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Knowing details of tragedy reminds us oooooooooooooooooooooo We guess that hope persisted
of how little power we have ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo in Jennie's marriage, until
to prevent the events ooooooooooooooo00000000000 taken overnight 000000struck by a car.
000000000that can break us.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
0000000000Life's cruel ironies.0000000000000000 Ethel married Fred00000 finally in 1943.
0000000000000000000000000000000000Lived with him for twenty three years- -000
00000She was plumply handsome, 00000000000000000000000000 a testament to strength
00000stylishly clothed and coiffed.00000000000000000000000000000000 and endurance.
Knowing her skills with needlework,000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
piece-work quilted into tapestry, 00000000000000000000000000 Pictures of Ethel after that00
we guess she created this image00000000000000000 0000000000 show her old,00000000000
of haughty pride and grace0000000000000000000000000000000 lines crevassing her face,000
00overcast by sadness 0000000000000000000000000000 stately form bending
as if some premonition 000000000000000000000000000000ever lower with passing years.000
prevented anticipation of events000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
000yet to come.000000000000000000
Memory reveals00000000
In one photo she is shown 0000000000000000000000the thread unwinding off the spool,00000
00000With young Fred, both0000000000000000000000000000000 in unending sequence
00000stern, pious, stiff;00000000000000000000000000000000000into tatted lace doilies,
00000later jilted for George in 1908000000000000000000or crocheted edged handkerchiefs,
000000000000000000000000000000000000Letters listing meaningless details;
Daughter, Jennie00000000000grown.0000000000000
her sorrow unmentioned; hope00000000
The three of them standing together.000000000000000000000000000000resolutely clung to00
Smiling at last, and satisfied.00000000000000000000000000for something better in Heaven.00

There is a connection between this montage and the poem. Sometimes an old photo or a painting can suggest thoughts that turn into a poem or a story. Or real life memories can be so powerful they need to be expressed not once, but more; even enough to be a series.

Ideas for Writing: This is a suggestion for writers. Take time to look at an image and then sit down to write.

My Plans for This Blog
I am expanding my original blog ( into a second site because even though the creative process often results in parallels between the two forms of expression, visual art and writing, there seemed to be so much to say about both, that the connections between them seemed to be getting lost.

In the process of moving, I will eventually include all the material relevant to writing to this site. I will also include some of my art images, but will say less about the art and more about writing.

Permission required to reproduce Writing and Images, which are the copyright of Ruth Zachary.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Hi There, Writers and Readers!

Dreams Gone By
by Ruth Zachary

I plan to use this space
to converse about:

Writing in general,
Ruth Zachary's Writing,
Book Reviews,
Books about Writing,
Reviews of Writing Blogs,
Writing Workshops,
Attracting the Creative Muse,
Topic Suggestions from You