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Poet Carol Frost shares advice with McDaniel students

Poet Carol Frost talks to a McDaniel College class on Tuesday.
Poet Carol Frost talks to a McDaniel College class on Tuesday. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

Prior to poet Carol Frost's community reading Tuesday, students in McDaniel College's poetry class had the opportunity to pick the brain of the award-winning writer.

Frost, the author of 12 books of poetry during her 40-plus year career, was present for McDaniel's annual Bothe Poetry Reading, named for poet and McDaniel graduate B. Christopher Bothe, who died in 1984. Each year, the school invites a nationally-renowned poet to meet with students during the day and give a reading and lecture for the community in the evening.

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The 13-person class had the opportunity to ask Frost any questions that crossed their minds, be they about craft, publication or her life.

Kail Magin, a junior environmental science major, said she's become a huge fan of Frost's in just the past couple of weeks after purchasing her books from the school library.

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"Poetry is a way to express yourself without explicitly writing down what happened or what's bothering you. It's a way to write in abstraction and bring something that happened to you in life into something you and others can understand," Magin said. "I really responded to her book 'Honeycomb.' It really meant a lot to me."

"Honeycomb" consists of a series of poems about Frost's mother and her experiences with dementia. During the class, Frost shared some of the stories behind her poems, as well as stories that never made their way into the book.

"A good question is trying to figure out what didn't you write, and why not?" Frost said. "Sometimes you feel like you're not ready to write about it yet. Of course, they tell you when you come across a topic like that, you should chase it."

Frost advised the students against aiming for topics and concepts when starting a fresh idea, but rather work on craft and let ideas fill out from there.

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"Poetry doesn't have to make sense until the very end," Frost said. "Sometimes you'll start with sound and language. Once you see what the most interesting part is, you pull that out and start writing from there."

A student asked what is the role of poetry. Frost said she likes to describe writing poetry as the purest form of written expression. She compared a poem to a newspaper story as two different ways of comparing meaning.

"The details of a story might mention someone going to the hospital or being in an ambulance, but compare that to being on the street corner when the car crashed into the dump truck. Think about what would be more powerful, the newspaper or being there," Frost said. "That's what the poet does. The poet puts you there. In the newspaper, you can't hear the screech of the brakes. You can't smell the burnt rubber, but a poet might put it on the page."

Junior Shannon McClellan, from Boonsboro, said she was a perfectionist, and wanted to know how Frost could be sure when a piece was done.

"I can publish a poem whenever I want. This isn't bragging, but I'm at a place in my career where someone will publish a poem by me just based on my name," Frost said. "I could put it out and people would say they're good. I don't do that, though. I won't and I can't. I can't put out something that's just good enough. It needs to be great."

Following the class, McClellan said she took Frost's advice to heart.

"I'm still trying to figure out who I am as a writer," McClellan said. "I love listening to stories, though. That's why I'm interested in writing. I love how she is able to take her personal stories and put it into her poetry."

In the editing process, Frost advised changing as many things about your poem one at a time, until you come across the perfect blend of concepts.

"Change the verb tense, try it in the past tense, try it in the future tense. Take your favorite adverb and change it," Frost said. "If after trying any of those, not much changes about the poem, that poem is not written well enough. Everything in a poem should be written so it fits together and is vital to the whole thing."

In addition to general advice about the writing process, Frost gave the class a single defined, tangible rule to follow.

"Please don't over-alliterate," Frost said. "So many people will say 'I'll rhyme and I'll alliterate and I'll say something really banal about the world and that's poetry.' It's not."

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or jacob.denobel@carrollcountytimes.com.

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