Thursday, April 29, 2010

Three part harmony

by Terry Gilecki
Write a poem (or a story) in three parts about three people and their interactions with the same object. It can be the same physical object or copies. They can be separated over years, by minutes, by distance. They can all interact at once, perhaps having very different experiences.

(From The Journal: Writing Exercises and Prompts for Journaling, Prose, Poetry and Memoirs.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Man in the box

Lost in the future
Man in the box
Anywhere in the galaxy
Watcher in the sky

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

To clarify

Photo by Irene Müller
A clarity pyramid poem can have a haikuish feeling the way it illuminates a subject in a few syllables. They're also exercises in word choice :-) Here's an example:

Born again

The horizon sings
sweet morning harmonies
to serenade the sun’s rise.

“the Aroma of earth and rain”

The structure:

- 3 stanzas (groups of lines): 2 are triplets (a group of 3 lines) and the last a clarifying line.
- Each line increases in syllable count by 1 (except the 4th line). So it's 1,2,3 then 5,6,7 then 8 syllables.
- The 1st line is written in capitals.
- The last line (8th) is enclosed in quotation marks.

The content:

- Line 1 is the subject (and title).
- Lines 2 and 3 must clarify or be synonyms of the first line. (This seems to trip up a lot of people where their descriptors didn't contain an essence of the first line.)
- Lines 5, 6 and 7 must describe a life event linked to the word in the first line. (This too. Many expressed opinions rather than an experience.)
- Line 8 must further clarify the first line.

It's trickier than it seems!

People tend to use lines 2 and 3 to describe rather than clarify. While a ball might be reddish, for example, red doesn't clarify its "ballness". As different as a blue ball looks from a red ball, color doesn't alter its "ballness". But "rubber globe" gets more to the essence of what a ball is.

And people tend to use lines 5, 6 and 7 to express their opinions and general feelings about the subject rather capturing a specific moment (which can give the poems their haiku-like feel.)

A clarity pyramid poem will look like:




(Whether it's centered or not is your choice.)

The form was invented by Jerry Quinn, poet (and financial strategist), in 2002. Here is another of his clarity pyramid poems:

fall away

brim bulging puddle
pushing over the edge
leaving its body behind

"lowered by prying position"

both ©Jerry P. Quinn



funny and fragile
baby sisters name sake
won't tell my darkest secrets

"older, wiser, wider best pals"

© grannym/ransome

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How to ...

Write a "how to" poem.

Get those teacher voices out of your head. You needn't write about a "poetic" subject. You needn't even be serious. Rhyme or don't rhyme, up to you though rhyming can add to humor :-) As usual, jot down ideas first. As with a novel you shouldn't expect the first draft to be anything more than a basket of unsorted ideas.

If you need some inspiration to get the ideas flowing:
  • How to eat an ice cream cone on a 90 degree day.
  • How to remain a loyal Cubs fan.
  • How to be a cat owner (as detailed by your cat)
  • How to Catch 'em All.
  • How to spend a whole day surfing the internet.
  • How to be a dog.
  • How to avoid becoming a vampire.
  • How to rescue a maiden (who prefers to rescue herself).
  • Type "How to" into Google and see what suggestions it comes up with.
And some ideas gathered from others:
  • How to train your dragon.
  • How to write a poem.
  • How to break someone's heart.
  • How to distinguish a flower from a frog.
  • How to eat spaghetti.
  • How to ask for a date.
  • How to forget.
  • How to be a tornado.
  • How to sleep.

Here are a couple of examples linked from Poetry Express:

Tract by William Carlos Williams (How to perform a funeral)
I will teach you my townspeople
how to perform a funeral--
for you have it over a troop
of artists--
unless one should scour the world--
you have the ground sense necessary.

See! the hearse leads.
I begin with a design for a hearse.
For Christ's sake not black--
nor white either--and not polished!
Let it be weathered--like a farm wagon--
with gilt wheels (this could be
applied fresh at small expense)
or no wheels at all:
a rough dray to drag over the ground.
more ....

The Principles of Concealment by David R. Wagoner
If you're caught in the open
In an exposed position, alone,
Disarmed, and certain you may be
Attacked at any moment, you should settle quickly
All your differences with whatever lies
Around you, forcing yourself to agree
With rocks and bushes, trees and wild grass,
Horses, cows, or sheep, even debris
To find what you have in common. You no longer
Want to seem what you are, but something
Harmless and familiar: in a landscape
Given to greenness and the cold pastels
more ...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


An epithalamium is a poem that celebrates a marriage. In ancient Greece it was read to the bride on the way to her bridal chamber.

But since I think humor is often a useful spice when exploring something new, add some conflict to the marriage. The poet can be struggling to be serious or using backhanded praise to release their ire into the poem with the hope the couple never sees it. (But what if the couple does? The poem could be part of a fiction piece about what happens afterwards.)

It can be a real couple, two of your original characters, fan fiction or cross overs.

If you need some ideas, the couple could be your (not so?) best friend who is marrying the one you were infatuated with.

They could be two people -- they of course don't need to be human or of the same species -- who are so different from each other that unexpected visions of how their oil and water will interact pop frequently into your head.

It could be one who has betrayed your shared ideals to "go to the dark side" and marry (one of) the "enemy".

It could be two people who are both not who they pretend to be who each thinks they're using the other for their own gain.

It could be two clueless people who are now responsible for each other.

It can be marriage number 8 and 6 respectively for the two.

For a different kind of tension, it can be an arranged marriage for two who have met for the first time on their wedding day and instantly clashed, with the poet having known both well since they were children (who, perhaps, realizes the two are made for each other.)

Or, of course, whatever inspires you.

If you're not used to writing poetry, first try brainstorming what the poet would comment on. Don't be concerned about poetic phrases, just jot down ideas.

Most epithalamiums (or epithalamia) share certain features:
  • tell something about the wedding day
  • praise the bride and groom
  • sometimes tell about the bride and groom's past
  • give blessings for the marriage and good wishes for the future
It can be free verse or use rhyme and meter.

Notes on the poetic form from The Teachers and Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dance with the devil

Dance with the devil
Devil and daughter
Sympathy for the devil
Devil digger

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Meme meme meme

Here are links to 3 more of the character memes created by MeAsTheNarrator, and samples of the questions. For these you will choose 5 characters and then write about how they react and interact to the pairings and situations given.

If you have a DeviantArt account, click on the meme you did and add a link at the deviation to your creation :-)

The Narrative OC MEME

II. One of your characters decides to make a grand entrance into a random tavern. How does that go? Pick either Character One or Character Four :

III. Jealous, Character Three tries to make a grand entrance as well but somehow fails… why is that?

The Narrative OC MEME 2

II. Asleep, Character Two or Character Four are dreaming of their most pleasant childhood memory. What is it about?

III. However, Character Five continues to toss and turn, haunted by their childhood nightmare! What scared them as a child?

The Narrative OC MEME 3

II. Character Two has taken a part-time job as a substitute teacher at a learning facility. How did their first day go? What were they teaching?

III. Character One and Character Five are hired as police officers and end up placing Character Three into custody. Does everything go smoothly?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Found you!

Google your name (your character's, your pet's, that boy from elementary school's, a word, a phrase ...) Create a found poem by collecting and rearranging the odd, strange, surprising bits that pop up.

People have adopted the word flarf for this kind of poetry. The original flarf poem was an intentionally bad random poem submitted to a marketing contest/ploy. Since later flarfists often used Google and other internet devices to create their poems, flarf eventually got adopted for poetry created from internet finds. This hasn't been enthusiastically embraced by the Google poets since the tone of flarf is, in the words of Gary Sullivan who wrote the first flarf poem, "A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness. Wrong. Un-P.C. Out of control. 'Not okay.'"

There is also spoetry created from spam. I used to get a lot of cool spam before the spam detectors got too good at filtering it out. I collected bits that caught my eye for several months and posted them at Spam-O-Rama. Like:
  • gingerbread some childhood objet
  • ceiling minerals
  • blimp artist
  • persevering ginks bent on making the best of a good chance
  • where are you? trollop buxton
  • launch the buttress
And lastly some spam wisdom on poetry:

The poet has not identified which place or event in the world has moved her to use the phrase ?ntial skill. -- Anonymous Spambot

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Six rooms

"For behind all seen things lies something vaster,
everything is but a path, a portal, or a window
opening on something more than itself."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I would as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down. -- Robert Frost

That's an odd introduction to free verse ;-) But like Robert Frost I find structure freeing and this is a way to narrow the possibilities of what could go into a poem to something manageable. (This can also work for an important object from a scene in your current story to add some richer imagery to its description.)

Fold a piece of paper into 6 parts or "rooms".
  1. Picture the most amazing, beautiful, interesting thing you've seen or something that has stuck with you. Notice the details. In the first room, write down what strikes you. (It needn't be poemish. These are scraps and tidbits you're collecting.)

  2. In the second room, focus on just the quality of the light. Bright, dull, shadows, sparkling. Colors.

  3. In the third room, focus only on the sounds. Are there voices? Leaves rustling? Rain pattering? If it's silent, what kind: empty, lonely, peaceful?

  4. In the fourth room, write down any questions you have about the image.

  5. In the fifth room, write down any feelings you have about the image.

  6. In the six through, look over the other rooms and pick out a word or phrase that feels important and repeat it three times.
Now read through what you wrote and see if you can create a poem. Feel free to rearrange, eliminate, change tenses.

You can have more rooms in you poem house of course :-) Some other ideas for rooms are:
  • Think of 3 different similes or metaphors to describe the image.
  • Describe any smells -- earthy, sweet, damp.
  • Describe what the image might feel like.
  • Describe what it might taste like.
  • Put a favorite line from a poem or book or movie into one of the rooms to weave into your poem.
  • If your image could speak, what would it say? How would its voice sound?

This is from Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia Heard.

Georgia Heard is in love with poetry :-) The first half of the book is about creating a poetry environment and reading -- savoring :-) -- poetry. The second half is several different ways to craft poetry.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Four of a kind

Write four lines (or sentences for prose writers) of four four-letter words each.

(For prose writers, can you tell a whole story in just 16 words?)

Need a starting point?

Words are from Really cool four letter words and Slightly less cool four letter words. Please forgive the lack of definitions! If you visit the pages, there are handy links to the definitions.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Hunt you down

Ram it down
Tomorrow I'll be out of town
Cool down
Hunt you down
Going to my hometown

(Cut up. Shuffle around. There's a story or narrative poem waiting to get out.)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Smells like red

Fill in each blank with the same color.
Finish each line with your thoughts.

____________ comes from . . . .
____________ hides in . . . .
____________ feels like . . . .
____________ smells like . . . .
____________ works as a . . . .

You can add more lines with verbs such as:

looks like
seems like
tastes like
acts like
sounds like

Are you stuck on primary colors? Try pulling some random crayons from the 64 box of Crayolas.

This would work with other abstracts also like freedom, treachery, kindness, evil.

From (I'm pretty sure though it came third hand):
Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia Heard

Friday, April 02, 2010

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Inside outside

April is National Poetry month :-)

I won't claim ability to steer people on poetic paths but I do love playing with words and there are poetic exercises I enjoy. First is something easy to get your toes wet (that might spark some story ideas for the prose fanatics :-)

Write a poem of just prepositions.

Then write a poem of prepositions which are followed by another part of speech.

(If you're rusty: prepositions are position words: into, above, upon ... There's a huge List of prepositions at Wikipedia. Cut them up and choose 10 or so at random. Shuffle them around to find something that works for you. Redraw some if you wish.)

Adapted from Charles Bernstein.