Monday, July 28, 2008

Poetry writing exercise for Matt

Howdy, y'all. Enjoying my vacation from my folks' place in northern Tennessee. Lovely new home, new neighborhood and, for my Dad, a new office. So... now that we're all caught up.

On an earlier post, Matt commented and asked for another writing exercise. I enjoy; a) writing exercises, and, b) taking requests. So here we go.

I've often said that creativity involves breaking things up and putting them back together again. But different like. So today's exercise involves the matching of narrative elements with descriptive ones... differently.

  1. Think of an activity you could possibly write a poem about. Let's say... sailing.

  2. List narrative elements that go along with that activity; basically, verbs. In our example: getting wet, pulling on ropes, steering, navigating, ringing that bell (I'm not a sailor... maybe I should have chosen differently... oh, well. Too late).

  3. For each of those activities, write out some descriptive terms. For example, "navigating" might yield, "lost," "concerned," "confident," "ambitious," "anxious," etc. At least one descriptive term or phrase for each action, please.

  4. Now... as usual in these exercises, time to mix it up. Grab another activity. Let's try... dancing.

  5. List narrative elements for dancing: flirting, moving, shaking, jumping, gliding

  6. Now the finisher: write a poem for that second activity where you match the descriptive terms of the first activity with the narrative elements of the second.

Why do this? Two reasons. First, many young (in their poetry) writers have a hard time distancing descriptions from their most commonplace elements. Not our fault; our brains always jump to the most reasonable, usual thing. So when you say, "glide across the dance floor," you're not programmed to think about sailing, but about feet, floors, shoes, partners, pretty clothes and (in my case) a rainbow fright wig.

The whole point of poetry is to bring new meaning to a situation for the reader. To expose something unexpected. If you can break apart descriptions from actions, you can start to find out how things truly (or at least poetically-truly) are, rather than just how they seem or are mundanely described.

The second reason for doing this involves extended metaphor; also a toughie. Most people can come up with a quick metaphor to describe one action. Doing so throughout the entire course of a poem is a bit trickier. This exercise forces you to do it; every element of the dance will need to be described in sailing terms.

And, as soon as you start thinking of it that way... there are possibilities, aren't there? Does a nervous, first-date guy not "navigate" the dance floor? The sound of the band is like waves crashing around him. And he wants to bring the event home, safely. To harbor? To get a glass of punch? Or is "the safe harbor" going to be taking her to bed? Up to you.

Any way that you can force bits of assumption apart, and then bring them back together in new ways... that's a good exersize. It's what being a tinker is all about.

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