Saturday, April 29, 2006


blackcrystalstar.jpgOne more poetry reference for April.

Trypto is a game by David Parlett.

Take a short poem or stanza (or piece of a song) that is unfamiliar. (He suggests about 30 words.) Make a list of all the words. (If you're clever with word processors you can do a global replace of all the spaces with carriage returns to make a list.) He suggests alphabetizing. It might be more fun to cut the words up so you can shuffle them around easily. Then each person tries to recreate the poem. (Or make up an even better one!)

Here's one that he used as an example:
The original is below:

I loved when I was young
The girls in all the bars,
And going home I hung
My hat upon the stars.

-- Victor J Daly

Keep in touch

touch.jpgThis week pay attention to touch in your notebooks. Kitties, mud, bread dough, dishes as you wash, laundry from the washing machine, spring buds, baby bums, rain washed car, sun warmed or shade cooled rock, keyboards ...

Pay attention to anything and everything. Just close your eyes and feel.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

In passing

overheard.jpgYou've overheard one of the following. Write the full conversation.
  • "Not a lot of teenage girls will own up to being in the Mafia, that's true."

  • "No self respecting super hero would wear open toed shoes."

  • "Well, I'm an American, so it's my god-given right to misunderstand your geography."

  • "Yes, but you can't really navigate based solely on spite."
These came from In Passing [now defunct] where actual overheard (or misoverheard!) bits of conversation are posted. (It's an amusing browse but not as useful for writing promtps as I'd hoped.)

(Someone collected a chunk of them.)

More nontraditional cinquains and the real one

The Dark Before the Dawn.jpgThe idea of the cinquain (and haiku) have inspired a lot of forms! I think the limitations and the compactness must have an appeal. When you look at the simplicity of the patterns it gives you the feeling "I could do that!"

Here's another nontraditional Cinquain Pattern:
  1. One word (subject)
  2. Two words
  3. Three words
  4. Four words
  5. One word
And an example from Cinquain poems:
Lived once,
Long ago, but
Only dust and dreams

-- by Cindy Barden
And a third nontraditional cinquain pattern:
  1. Title noun (if you want a one syllable subject like dog, put an article or other word in front like "a dog", "the dog" or "oh, dog".)
  2. Description
  3. Action
  4. Feeling or effect
  5. Synonym of the initial noun. (You can get poetic here.)

The Real Cinquain

A cinquain is based on syllables. Each line has:



The Cinquain was invented by Adelaide Crapsey (yes, Crapsey) after being inspired by haiku, the Japanese 17 syllable poetic form.

Here's one of hers:

These be
Three silent things:
The falling snow... the hour
Before the dawn... the mouth of one
Just dead.
In a good cinquain the lines should flow together rather than sounding like separate lines.

Here's some Cinquain Guidelines from Writer's Resource Center:

The line length is the only firm rule, but there are other guidelines that people have tried to impose from time to time.
  • Write about a noun. Cinquains generally fail if you try to make them about emotions, philosophies or other complex subjects. They should be about something concrete.
  • Don’t try to make each line complete or express a single thought. Each line should flow into the next or the poem will sound static.
  • Cinquains work best if you avoid adjectives and adverbs. This doesn’t mean you can’t have any, but focus on the nouns and the verbs. This almost always works best in a cinquain.
  • The poem should build toward a climax. The last line should serve as some sort of conclusion to the earlier thoughts. Often, the conclusion has some sort of surprise built into it.
  • Write in iambs (Two syllable groupings in which the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable stressed. For Example: i DRANK she SMILED we TALKED i THOUGHT) For the last line of the cinquain, however, both syllables should be stressed, NICE BAR.
There are more patterns and examples at Cinquain Poems. (The 3rd pattern is the traditional one.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Spring cleaning

closet.jpgYou (or your character of course) come across ____ while spring cleaning. Then what happens?

A not so traditional cinquain

spaghettipizza.jpgCinquains are 5 line poems with a strict syllable count inspired by haiku. As I've mentioned before, I like rules! But rather than going right to the real rules of the Cinquain as the rule-follower in me wants, I'll begin with the much easier:
Cinquain Pattern #2

Line1: A noun (The subject of the poem)

Line2: Two adjectives (describing the subject)

Line 3: Three -ing words (relating to the subject)

Line 4: A phrase (feelings that relates to the subject)

Line 5: Another word for the noun (or word that sums it up).
Here's an example from Cinquain Poems:
Messy, spicy
Slurping, sliding, falling
Between my plate and mouth

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Smells like Teen Spirit

Woman-Smells-CMYK.jpgThis week pay attention to smells in your notebooks. Fresh bread. New mown grass. Rain after a long dry spell.

This will be trickier! We tend to pay even less attention to smells than to sounds. Again, no suggestions this week. Pay attention to anything and everything. Just close your eyes and breathe in for a few minutes wherever you are.

Exquisite haiku corpse

exquisite-corpse.jpgMake a haiku generator. Stack 5 haiku on top of one another, staple then slice the pages between the lines. Then you can mix and match the lines of the poems to make a total of 125 haiku.

You can write your own 5 haiku (there's some of Basho's below to choose from if you want). When you print them out make sure you leave enough room between the lines to cut.

You can choose or write any haiku but if the corresponding lines of each are grammatically similar, that is, all first lines are noun phrases, then they'll all mix and match, at least grammatically! (Not all of the haiku below match each other grammatically.)

You can read more about Exquisite corpses and where the name came from.

This idea comes from Queneau ... at Rhizome. It, in turn, comes from an idea by Raymond Queneau who wrote a book of 10 sonnets (14 lines each) that were grammatically similar so that lines could be mixed and matched freely to form 100,000,000,000,000 poems!

Matsuo Basho haiku translated by Robert Hass from Poem Hunter:
A bee
staggers out
of the peony.

A caterpillar,
this deep in fall--
still not a butterfly.

A cicada shell;
it sang itself
utterly away.

A field of cotton--
as if the moon
had flowered.

A snowy morning--
by myself,
chewing on dried salmon.

Autumn moonlight--
a worm digs silently
into the chestnut.

Awake at night--
the sound of the water jar
cracking in the cold.

Blowing stones
along the road on Mount Asama,
the autumn wind.

Waking in the night;
the lamp is low,
the oil freezing.

Winter rain
falls on the cow-shed;
a cock crows.

The sea darkens;
the voices of the wild ducks
are faintly white.

Coolness of the melons
flecked with mud
in the morning dew.

First snow
on the half-finished bridge.

Moonlight slanting
through the bamboo grove;
a cuckoo crying.

Spring rain
leaking through the roof
dripping from the wasps' nest.

the cicada's cry
drills into the rocks.

The dragonfly
can't quite land
on that blade of grass.

The morning glory also
turns out
not to be my friend.

This old village--
not a single house
without persimmon trees.

When the winter chrysanthemums go,
there's nothing to write about
but radishes.

Winter garden,
the moon thinned to a thread,
insects singing.

Winter solitude--
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.

Fleas, lice,
a horse peeing
near my pillow.

(Basho spent a lot of time traveling about Japan so he probably slept in less than ideal circumstances fairly frequently!)

Translated by Geoffrey Bownas And Anthony Thwaite

A hill without a name
Veiled in morning mist.

The beginning of autumn:
Sea and emerald paddy
Both the same green.

The winds of autumn
Blow: yet still green
The chestnut husks.

A flash of lightning:
Into the gloom
Goes the heron's cry.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Name rhymes

sally.jpgFor a couple of minutes make a list of words that rhyme with your first name. (If you have a name with few rhymes you can use a middle name, someone else's name, a pet's name.)

Now use 10 of those words in a story, paragraph or sentence or poem.

Diminishing rhyme

alarm.jpgWrite a 4 or 5 (or more) line poem of words of ever diminishing syllables.

Start with any word. Go to Rhymezone and type it in.

It will give you lists of words grouped by syllables. Choose a word from each of the groupings of syllables that "go" together: they might suggest a story, a commentary, or be a collection of nice images and sounds. (If you see a better word than the one you began the search with, by all means abandon the original and grab the new one.)

Not all words will turn up a good set of rhymes. And sometimes Rhymezone can be a bit quirky about what words it wants to give you rhymes for.

Here's an example:
detention cell
alarm bell
(Of course you can also turn the exercise on its head and go from a single syllable to multiple syllable word or phrase.)

Feel free to use your own words but here's some words that have a decent number of multiple syllable rhymes:
(Spawn includes dawn among the words that rhyme with it but for some reason gives more rhymes than dawn. -- Though perhaps too many! -- Rhymezone, as I said, can be quirky.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Serendipitous themes

redhead.jpgUse one of the following themes as a 10-15 minute writing prompt:
  • Love completely overpowers people.
  • Loyalty usually is forgotten.
  • Pride unexpectedly becomes its opposite.
  • Cowardice rarely sneaks up on you.
  • Freedom simply changes people.
These were randomly generated at Writing Fix's Serendipitous "Theme" Creator.


Edgar-Allen-Poe.jpgWrite 2 rhyming couplets that poke gentle fun at a well known person or character and you've got a clerihew. They're like mini-biographies.

There are a few rules for clerihews:
  1. The first line has the person's name in it.
  2. They're 4 lines long.
  3. Lines 1&2 rhyme and lines 3&4 rhyme.
  4. It should be gently funny.
Pick one or a few (or come up with your own, of course):
  • Harry Potter
  • Hermione Granger
  • Obi Wan Kenobi
  • Vlad the Impaler
  • Cinderella
  • Captain Kirk
  • Veronica Mars
  • Buffy Sommers
They're short. They're funny. They should be more popular! I tried to find some clerihew examples of contemporary people or characters but there just wasn't that much :-/ But here's some about some people and characters you may recognize.
Edgar Allen Poe
Was very fond of roe.
He always liked to chew some,
When writing anything gruesome.

-- by E. C. Bentley, the inventor of the clerihew

And one about Bentley himself:

Not only did Bentley
Create Philip Trent, he
Invented the norm
Of this poetic form.

Carrie, by Stephen King

Was really scary
Even the part after they bury her
But her mother was even scarier

-- by William Sanders

Alexander Graham Bell
has shuffled off this mobile cell.
He’s not talking any more
But he has a lot to answer for.

From Random Mystery Poem:

Agatha Christie
Wrote plot lines so twisty,
Whodunit we'd never know
If it weren't for the little grey cells of Poirot.

Sue Grafton
Knows her craft, and
She gets better
With each letter.

Rex Stout
Evens things out.
Nero Wolfe has more brains, to match his seventh of a ton,
But Archie has more fun.
There's a good walkthrough on creating clerihews at Gigglepoetry.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Sounds like

This week pay attention to sounds in your notebooks. No suggestions this week since we tend to filter out what we hear so sound is not as overwhelming as what we see. Pay attention to anything and everything. Just close your eyes and listen for a few minutes wherever you are.

(There is more about writers' notebooks if you click the link in the category list to the right.)

Lists of plots and plot twists

Here are some sites that offer lists of plots.

The Big List of RPG Plots
Nice summaries of a large list of plots, each with a list of Common Twists and Themes.

Hatch's Plot Bank
Not really plots but mostly scenarios to spark your imaginations. Over 2000.

Strolen's Citadel List of RPG Plots
Submitted by members. All nicely organized by type. If you click on Plots in the page's horizontal menu, you'll have choices of coincidence, crisis, discovery, duty, event, hired, mystical, nature, travel.

Here are a select few:

Locations: This is a a city where your wealth, social standing and everything is decided by the society of prohecy who keep the rich, rich and poor, poor.

Character: A voice as supple as silk, a face hidden in the shadows of a hood, yet the words she speaks are colder than the grave and burn more furiously than any inferno.

Plots: At the base of the Cyllerean Mountains a small coven of witches has laired where once was a Temple of Good.

Systems: The Way of the Many - One spellcaster cannot achieve very much, but many minds can. Like insects, spellcasters are at their most formidable when they are united.

Item: The Tome of Life - Book with initially blank pages which records the life of the holder from the time it is picked up to the day someone else picks it up, at which point it starts again as blank pages.

Story Generator at TVTropes
Generate Setting, Plot, Narrative device, Hero, Villain, Character as device, Characterization device. A massive site you can lose several hours of your life to. It's a user generated compilation of tropes, eg, recurring character types, plot devices and so forth. It can be confusing at first, but check out your favorite movie and start reading through the tropes in contains and you'll get it.

Errant Dreams
The plot twists and hooks are primarily for role playing games but writing is mentioned often. There is a list of plots on the front page (a third of the way down) and, of particular note, The Instant Plot Hook, Plot Twists for Game Masters, Creepy Plot Hooks. These could be especially useful if you're stuck.

Basic Plots in Literature
Supposedly there is only 1 plot in the world. Or 3, 7, 20 or 36. They're all listed here.

Get a Plot
Some good summaries of some well known books written in general terms (for Role Playing Games). Search a Plot
Type in keywords and click Go. (Or, over on the left, click Alphabeticallly, by year, by country)
Type in the title of an episode (it may display a list and you'll need to pick which one), click the Episodes tab and it will display synopses of the episodes for each season.

Archetype's Plot Scenario Generator
Provides the mess your character's in plus another character to mess it up further.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


In simple terms, Karma in Hindu belief is a sum of everything you've done, are doing and will do. Past deeds create the present and future.

Basically it's cause and effect for lives.

If your life is the effect, what was the cause? What things did you do in a past life that caused your present life?

Feel free to embellish your life or make up a character. If you make up a character, stretch yourself and try to avoid the extremes. It would be very easy to picture a miserable life lived by someone who had been a bad person in a previous life. But what about a person who's life is neither blissful nor hellish? What did Harry Potter do in a previous life? Squidward? Indiana Jones? Marty McFly?


SciFaiku uses the rules of haiku except its subject is science fiction.

Basic rules: 3 lines long, 6-10 words total.

Set the timer for 10-15 minutes and go at it.
The SciFaiku Manifesto does a good job of explaining the guidelines for creating SciFaiku. Here's a few examples:
serious children
scrape frost from the joints
of a war machine -- Tom Brinck

Thru empty windows
of abandoned skyscrapers,
just a butterfly... -- Tom Brinck

her reptilian skin --
small bubbles on glossy green. -- Tom Brinck

Digging up an ancient city,
finding the print
of a tennis shoe. -- Tom Brinck

Spring showers
my best friend
rusts. -- Greg Pass

An old neon sign
"The Galaxy's Finest Spoo
- Served Both Hot AND Cold." -- Yvonne Aburrow
And just for the heck of it, Haiku Error Messages.

So much to read about so few syllables! If you really get into haiku, here's an essay written by Jane Reichhold, the author of the Aha! Poetry website, called Haiku Techniques. She lists a lot of techniques/approaches to haiku that might give you a place to get started.

The Technique of Comparison - In the words of Betty Drevniok: "In haiku the SOMETHING and the SOMETHING ELSE are set down together in clearly stated images. Together they complete and fulfill each other as ONE PARTICULAR EVENT." She rather leaves the reader to understand that the idea of comparison is showing how two different things are similar or share similar aspects.
a spring nap
downstream cherry trees
in bud

What is expressed, but not said, is the thought that buds on a tree can be compared to flowers taking a nap. One could also ask to what other images could cherry buds be compared? A long list of items can form in one's mind and be substituted for the first line. Or one can turn the idea around and ask what in the spring landscape can be compared to a nap without naming things that close their eyes to sleep. By changing either of these images one can come up with one's own haiku while getting a new appreciation and awareness of comparison.

The Technique of Contrast - Now the job feels easier. All one has to do is to contrast images.
long hard rain
hanging in the willows
tender new leaves
The delight from this technique is the excitement that opposites creates. You have instant built-in interest in the most common haiku 'moment'. And yet most of the surprises of life are the contrasts, and therefore this technique is a major one for haiku.

She goes on to describe and give examples for each of the following techniques:
  • The Technique of Association
  • The Technique of the Riddle
  • The Technique of Sense-switching
  • The Technique of Narrowing Focus
  • The Technique of Metaphor
  • The Technique of Simile
  • The Technique of the Sketch or Shiki's Shasei
  • The Technique of Double entendre (or double meanings)
  • The Technique of using Puns
  • The Technique of Word-plays
  • The Technique of Verb /Noun Exchange
  • The Technique of Close Linkage
  • The Technique of Leap Linkage
  • The Technique of Mixing It Up
  • The Technique of Sabi
  • The Technique of Wabi
  • The Technique of Yûgen
  • The Technique of the Paradox
  • The Technique of The Improbable World
  • The Technique of Humor
  • The Above as Below Technique

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


I really like haiku. They seem to offer so much in such a small package.

Haiku is a short Japanese poem of that captures a moment of nature, like a snapshot. They are 3 lines and 6-10 words (in English translations, 17 syllables in Japanese).

Haiku are two observations about nature and a third line that ties them together creating an "Ah!" moment. Here's 3 by Basho, sort of the father of haiku (even though he never wrote haiku!)
Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!

~ oOo ~
old pond --
frog jumps in
sound of the water

~ oOo ~

wild sea --
lying over Sado island
the galaxy
The best way to learn to write haiku is by reading it. They're short. They're often amusing. Basho is a great place to begin because he saw the humor in nature.

And then go out in nature and write.

BTW, there's a related form, senryu, that has the same structure as haiku but pokes fun at human nature.
nature captured!
a moment in time
That's in the form of a haiku but not a haiku -- because it's not about nature!

Here's the basic form:
nature image --
nature image
(The -- is a pause or break usually written in English as a -- or ! at the end of the 1st or 2nd line.)

For those who like to know the real rules I've adapted these from the Haiku book mentioned below.
  1. 3 lines of 6-10 words (but, in English, not necessarily 17 syllables)
    In Japanese, haiku have 17 syllables written (in English) in 3 lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. I like rules :-) And 17 syllables arranged in a precise order appeals to the mathematician in me. But Patricia Donegan in Haiku, a children's book about haiku, made a very good point about those 17 syllables. She explains that in Japanese 17 syllables is about 6 words. But in English, 17 syllables is about 12. If you try to write haiku with 17 English syllables it's going to be too bulky. So she suggests 3 lines with 6-10 words total.

  2. Image
    Paint an image, capture a moment. It should be descriptive and appeal to the senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch).

  3. Season word (kigo)
    The first or second line should contain a word relating to the season to help the reader paint a more accurate picture. (There are lists of Kigo course! But you don't need to limit yourself. They can be helpful to get you thinking if your brain gets stalled trying to think what words could represent a season.)

  4. Here and now
    Immediacy. Write about the present moment or a memory, not something you imagine.

  5. Feeling
    Don't explain or tell. Show a feeling through an image. Like:
    cold rain --
    tiny frog sits
    wrapped in mist
    Does it feel lonely? Yet it doesn't need to tell you the frog is lonely. The words paint that impression.

  6. Surprise
    There should be an "Ah!" moment, a surprising insight often about an ordinary event that wakes you up.

  7. Compassion
    Haiku should express openheartedness toward nature.

The one with two hats

Here's some questions you might ask yourself if you need some prompting. There are no right answers! There are only answers that you can take interesting places and answers that don't intrigue you.
  • Is this a statue or a being?
  • If a statue, is it of a human?
  • If not human, then what?
  • Who is he or she?
  • Why does he/she have two hats? (Are they hats or something else?)

  • If it's a statue, why was it erected?
  • Who erected it?
  • How long ago?
  • How tall is it?
  • What is it made of?
  • Where is it?

  • Why are you/your character there?
  • Did you stumble on it by chance?
  • Did you come deliberately? Why?
  • How did you know it was here?
  • Was your journey long?
  • Did you need a guide?
Go on from there.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Looks like

This week take your notebooks on a walk and write down descriptions in terms of other things they look like. For example:

A bench that looks like a concrete marshmallow.

(Suggested by an exercise in Poemcrazy : Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan G. Wooldridge.)

Personal Universe Deck

Create your own deck of personalized association cards to spark your writing:

On a piece of paper write as many words as you can.

Sort the words into categories:
  1. 16 words of each of the 5 senses (80 words in all). Words that evoke a sense to you. They can be poetic like "birdsong" for hearing, "dessicated" for touch.
  2. 10 words of motion. Not necessarily verbs! Just words that to you bring feelings of motion, like wind, race car.
  3. 3 abstractions. Love, freedom, truth ...
  4. 7 anything else.
All the words must have:
  • significance to you
  • be specific (eg, robin is better than bird.)
  • sound good to you. (Did I mention to you enough? ;-))
  • No adverbs. (Perhaps to encourage strong verbs. But why allow adjectives? Not sure.)
  • No plurals.
Write your favorites on index cards (as suggested in the exercise) or on popsicle sticks (which I've done for other similar prompts) or business size cards (as suggested by someone else). Whatever feels right to you.

Draw words randomly and use them as a story prompt or to create the skeleton of a poem or to spark to a piece that you're stuck on.

Take out old words and add new words occasionally. You can even recreate the whole deck from scratch every once in a while.

From an exercise by Linnea Johnson in The Practice of Poetry: writing excercises from poets who teach, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The cat poem

Use the following poem as a template to create a one sentence poem. It doesn't need to be about a cat, just an action.

Write one sentence describing one action made up of several smaller actions with the same (or very close) syllable pattern as William Carlos Williams's poem.
As the cat
climbed over
the top of

the jamcloset
first the right

then the hind
stepped down

into the pit of
the empty
From an exercise by Alicia Ostriker in The Practice of Poetry: writing exercises from poets who teach, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Rhyming couplets

Write pairs of phrases that rhyme and have a similar rhythm for the following words:
Okay, what you're actually writing are rhyming couplets! Like many of Ogden Nash's poems:

In the world of mules,
There are no rules.


Here's a verse about rabbits,
that doesn't mention their habits.


Many an infant that screams like a calliiope
Could be soothed by a little attention to its diope


Is gharsley.


God in His wisdom made the fly
And then forgot to tell us why.


The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

If you need help with rhymes try Rhymer and Rhymezone

If Rhymer gives you an overwhelming number of rhymes try choosing "Last syllable rhymes" or "Double rhymes" from the drop down menu. (Annoyingly, you need to type the word into the search box again.)

Rhymezone returns fewer rhymes (which can be a good thing!) but it offered no rhymes for vampire, nor, when I realized it also rhymed, for empire. It turned up stuff for expire but *I* shouldn't be the one coming up with the rhymes!

By the sound of things

Prose writers can be as conscious of what sounds go together and the pictures they paint as poets are.

Use the words below as Lewis Carroll did in Jabberwocky, interspersing them with real words. You don't need to write a poem (but you can if you want!) You can use them in a story. Don't try to use all the words! Pick and choose the ones that sound good to you. Add endings as needed (eg., -ly to make adverbs, -ed or -ing or whatever necessary to make the right tense verb.)

Rather than pay attention to the beginning sounds as in alliteration or the ending sounds as in rhyme, listen to the sounds inside the words. For instance bimarian misqueme sounds better than pication misqueme because the "m"s in the first echo each other but pication would go with something with a "k" or "g" sound (they're both said at the back of the throat) or strong "a" sound (well, assuming you're pronouncing it as piCAYshun! If you've come up with a different pronunciation it might go with something else better.)

They are all real words and came from Compendium of lost words

There's a physical reason why some sounds go together. With practice you'll just unconsciously feel that sounds using the same part of the mouth seem to go together. But I like lists so I'll include the list from the exercise. If you pay attention to where your tongue is, or what part of your mouth you're using or whether your nose is involved when you say the following letters, you'll see why they're listed together.
Dentals (means teeth): t, d, th
Labials (means lips): b, p
Gutturals (back of the throat): g, k, ng
Labiodentals: f, v
Sibilants (they hiss!): s, z, sh, ch, zh, j
Nasals (nose): m, n, ng, nk
Liquids: l, r
Here's the poem example Karen Swenson wrote in the book:
Noun: oca
Verb: dextran, rhonchus, umbles
Adjective: maravedi, saccade
Adverb: pavid, tectum

The oca moaned all night in the dump
among cars rhonchused, cankered with
the maravedi dust. Dextraning
pavvidly in moonlight it
woke neighbors who umbled tectumly
down to the pit with guns and baseball bats,
a saccade crowd bent on murder.
She says: "To break this down a bit: oca and moaned are paired for their "o" sound; night picks up the nasals in moaned and dump. In the next line the nasals of among match with the "on" of rhonchused and the "n" in cankered. "C" marches through the line from cars to rhonchused to cankered."

From A Lewis Carroll Carol, an exercise by Karen Swenson in The Practice of Poetry: writing execises from poets who teach, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Who are they?

As sort of a wrap up to a month of character questions, speculate on who the people are around you at the grocery store, in the car next to you, in the coffee shop ...
Why are they here?
What brought them to this place?

Is the woman pushing a cart an international spy?
Is the couple at the corner table travelers from the future?
Is the bland looking man actually a superhero?
Is the too quiet child contemplating world domination?


I saw this idea in the book Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge a poet and wordlover. Reading Poemcrazy will make you want to dabble with words and poetry even if you think you don't like poetry. (Which I can say because I think I don't like poetry ;-))

(It also turns out that April is National Poetry month and I didn't even know it.)

How to
Cut up paint chip samples keeping the color name. (The color names are often very cool.) Write a word or a phrase on each. Use permanent marker or gel pens (milky gels for the dark paint samples) or metallic markers or paint markers or stamps. Cut -- or tear -- words from magazines (or printouts) and paste them on. The paint chip samples will get swirled around in a bowl and shuffled about in pockets so keep that in mind if you feel the need to add embellishments.

Then what
Keep them in a bowl or a hat or an old shoe. Keep a handful in your pocket or purse. Keep some blank ones too to jot down words and phrases that strike you as you come across them. (It helps to shake them up in a grocery bag once in a while since they aren't slick and tend to clump together.) Draw them out in pairs and triples and see where the serendipitous connections take you. Get a handful and turn them into a poem. Or a story prompt. Put them around the house randomly against and within objects. Paste them on Art Trading Cards.

You can find words and phrases anywhere but I found the ideas and words in the book inspiring so here's some ideas if you need a jumpstart.
  • Poetry books - even -- or maybe especially! -- if you don't like poetry. Poets love words so they've already done the filtering for you. Look in poems for words and phrases that make you pause.
  • Maps - Wamphray, Blinkbonny, Scrishve, Cambus-puttock ...
  • Road signs - out of context "one way", "no turns", "soft shoulder" take on new meanings.
  • Spam - check the titles as well as the paragraphs at the bottom: slug billion, bronzy buffalo, loose it, kittle, loudspeaking, chiffonier, tiresome grove, buckhorn.
  • Thesaurus - walk is kind of a nothing word, but stroll ... trudge ... tromp ... sashay ...
  • Magazines, books, newspapers, car manuals, catalogs, TV shows, song titles, movie titles, menus, cat breeds, knitting terms ... Basically anywhere.
Some more examples

ziggurat, fandango, kitten, window, doorway

zigzag, swivel, churn, trigger, slink, swaddle

Tintinabulation, swoosh, zoom, badaboom

Words that evoke feelings and memories and connections
luminous, feathery, moonstone, reflection, wanderlust, formerly, nourish, spangles

Split words apart (and mess about with the spelling a bit)
ant arc tic, flabber gast, do nut, tran quill

You'll never look at -- work shop --quite the same way again.

Mush words together
everclear, grasslover, stargazer

Words and phrases that are fun to say
pomegranate, ameliorate, gargantuan, cantankerous, burrow beneath, wild child, gather green, feather pen, celery salt

Alter the spelling
handy cap, farm a see

Make up words
fandoozle, fantabulous, confuzzle

Opposites to include the darkness with the light.
Angel and devil, spring peepers and zombies, light and extinguish, benevolent and malevolent, somewhere and nowhere, destruction and happy-kitty-bunny-pony (which is the title of a book described as "a saccharine mouthful of super cute".

Names of plants and animals and places with interesting sounds
fiddleheads, damsel fly, Lamborghini, Sea of Crises (moon)

Things that work less well: people's names and familiar places because they're too specific. Brad Pitt will just be Brad Pitt and Harry Potter will be Harry Potter though brad -- pit or hairy -- potter or (Peter) may -- hew may not be. Sweden will be Sweden though Skrinklehaven (Wales) can be whatever you imagine.

Tabloid Top Ten: April 2006

wwnsmartestape.gifSerendipitously I ordered several poetry books last month from the library to work some poetic prompts in beginning in April. Turns out April is National Poetry Month and I didn't know it.

Try your hand at "tabloid poetry". Some suggestions are:
  1. Look for headlines that have a theme: space aliens, Elvis, animals, etc. (If you need more headlines than the 10 in the April list down below, check at The City Newsstand where they go back to 1998.)

    Print out your favorites, cut them up and shuffle them around into groups that seem to go together. Try grouping them in 3s and then write a 4th line that comments or expands on the 3 previous. If you're using just this month's headlines, create 3 groups of 3 lines, add a 4th line to each group then, if you can, use the 10th headline as part of a two line summary.

    It doesn't need to rhyme!

    Don't be afraid to change the titles a bit to make them flow better.
  2. Take some of the shorter lines and turn them into rhyming couplets:

    "Elvis Sighted in Wax Museum" could turn into:
    Just as I visited his mausoleum
    Elvis was sighted in a wax museum.
    That was inspired (as well as dictated) by RhymeZone's revelation that there were very few words that rhyme with museum!

    Don't be afraid to throw in some extra words or take some out in order to give it a better or different rhythm.

    "Shaquille O'Neal's Parents Are Pygmies" actually has sort of the rhythm of a limerick if I'm getting my stress syllables right:
    Shaquille O'Neal's Parents were Pygmies.
    They stuffed their small son with big berries.
    He grew really tall,
    While they remained small.
    Now Shaq's parents are as tall as his pinkies.
    Not bad! There's something off in the rhythm of the second line so it could use some work. (And according to RhymeZone pygmies doesn't have any "perfect rhymes", that is, nothing rhymes with "mies" only with "ies".)
  6. GOOD OLD BOY TRANSLATES BIBLE INTO REDNECK — so us'n can understan' what the Good Lord wanted us to lern! — WWN
  9. HUMANS TURNING BACK INTO APES! Sports fanatics & politicians most susceptible! — WWN
There are some more ideas by Bruce Lansky at his website Gigglepoetry.

Above all have fun while you play with words!

(The list of top 10 tabloid headlines was, as usual, compiled by The City Newsstand, a newsstand in Chicago. (The lists there go back to Jan 1998.) (It says they're mostly from Weekly World News (WWN) and the SUN.)