Try writing a poem in the voice of someone speaking to a small child. What sort of things do they explain to the child? What judgements do they place on the world around them (that’s bad, that’s good, etc.)? Try to remember things you learned as a child, or instead, you can think of a child in your life who extracts truths (or lies) from you.
Then write a poem that mentions or uses a shape in some way (a circle, or a square, or a triangle, or if you’re daring, a dodecahedron….) The word could refer to a love triangle, or perhaps someone is being uncool, a real square. You could alternatively draw the shape on a blank page and try to write to fill that shape. How does the shape influence your choice of words?
This month is busy with many poetry events, most occurring online. Jersey City Writers has a free poetry festival coming up on Friday, Oct 16 through Sunday, Oct 18, with the FUTUROLOGY festival starting out on Friday night with a competition with cash prizes!
The Writer’s Hotel is happening, with a free online poetry reading on Friday, Oct 23 at 5:30pm EDT featuring Jenny Xie, Deborah Landau, Alexandra Oliver, Tim Seibles and Terrance Hayes.
Since so many parents are trying to provide some schooling from home right now, I’m providing a free PDF of 7 kids poetry exercises, for ages 5 – 9, depending on their literacy level. Note that I am not a teacher, just a volunteer poetry instructor, but I have taught using these exercises for Big Brothers Big Sisters and at Word Bookstore in Jersey City, NJ. I think they are relatively self explanatory, but here are the instructions for each page: 1. Kids can write an acrostic poem with one word for each letter in their name (e.g., Sweet Apples Ran Away, Hiding). 2. Kids can try completing a classic “roses are red” poem, with the fourth line ending in an “oo” sound (eg, zoo, shoe). 3. Kids can fill in the blanks (you might need to explain the prompts to them- encourage them to be creative in choosing animals and animal actions). Exercises 4-7. Kids can write a sense poem for each season of the year, focusing on things that they typically experience during each season.
These exercises will help kids practice their letters (you may need to spell out some words for them) and use their imaginations. Encourage them to illustrate their poems, too, with crayons or pencils. If you have a 3-hole puncher and 3 hole punch folders, you can easily have them create mini-poetry books for themselves (or simply staple the pages together). The most important thing is to be encouraging as they develop their verbal skills. I hope these exercises help some parents or schoolteachers struggling to provide activities for kids. Also, if you want to read some poems good for kids, try Jack Prelutsky’s Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face, and Shel Silverstein’s Sick. Feel free to contact me with feedback.
As this pandemic is spreading, and I’ve been going to work at the hospital Monday through Friday, I’ve been carrying around with me two pocket books by Pema Chödrön that have offered me great guidance. In them, one of the concepts that she talks about is bodhichitta, a softness of the heart that appears when one stays open to suffering and pain. It is so important for us, during this crisis, to stay open and kind, and not react in fear. We also must be kind to ourselves when we fail to do these things.
I’ve been searching for poems to read that speak to this. The concept of bodhichitta, whether intentionally or not, appears to be present in Jason Shinder’s poem, Arrow Breaking Apart. I’d also like to think it’s present in Toi Derricotte’s poem Not Forgotten. This is a time to read and share poems of hurt and healing. I’m organizing online workshops to replace the in-person ones I’ve been running for years, so reach out and contact me if you’d like to be a part of an online poetry workshop.
I should also mention that I have news of an upcoming publication of a poem of mine in Rattle’s June 2020 Postcards issue. The work is a collaboration between the artist Adam Douglas Thomson and myself, featuring a drawing by him and a sonnet in response by me. I’m very honored because I consider Rattle to be one of the best literary journals today. I recommend you consider subscribing, or if you are writing pandemic-inspired poetry yourself, consider submitting to their weekly Poets Respond feature.
One prompt I’ve shared recently is based off Peter E. Murphy’s poem, Doing Time, from a recent issue of Rattle. This is a poem that’s impossible for me to read without getting tears in my eyes. It offers us a frank look at teaching and the power of poetry to inspire and educate, even when administration and other systems put obstacles in our way. The idea I pulled from this poem is to write about a time when you let go of your expectations and took an action based on your gut feelings. What happened to you and those around you? You can also choose to write of a time when you worked against oppression of some kind, perhaps in an underground way. How will you use poetry to bring power to your people?
This week’s writing prompt is brought to you by the latest issue of The Nation: read Mark Wunderlich’s A Driftless Son. It’s a marvel in its form, so much internal rhyme (farm at the beginning, then barn and harm at the end). And when has the word “manurey” ever been more slippery, sliding up your mouth next to “slurry”? A sad and foreboding poem.
My prompt is: Have you ever inherited an heirloom or a sum of money from someone who’s passed away? If so, did you treasure it or sell the object? If it was a sum of money, did you use it wisely or do you admit it was wasted on you? How does the heirloom make you feel, now that the previous owner is lost? Do the blankets your Grandma knit warm your cold feet? Does the foreign coin collection your father left you remind you of your travels with him? How do talismans connect us to the people of our past? It’s up to you whether your piece is truth or fiction, joyful or sad.
Baby Yoda, his ears are oversized. I feel a pull of massive gravity. Bigger than twin black holes are his new eyes. The Child is born, where’s his nativity? Disney, where have you hid the merchandise? I find your lack of plans for Christmas Day disturbing. I’ve already paid the price for the plushie, why wait to ship til May? A long, long, time ago, historians of Star Wars will tell you, Lucas sold toys. Now, in desperate search, Mandalorians are scouring the Earth. Pre-order destroys my gifting plans! Disney, how rude! How mean to take our cash and not deliver green.
Today, I did a series of writing exercises with Jersey City Writers based on writing after loss. I’m sharing the essence of them with you here. Don’t skip reading the poem suggested beforehand—I find reading good poetry before writing it is often like “priming the pump,” it helps your creative juices flow, and your writing will be stronger from the influence of the masters.
Read Hot by Craig Arnold, one of my favorite poems of all time. Then, think of someone whom you’ve lost, but not on account of death—someone you’ve lost to something else, such as addiction, or the end of a relationship, or perhaps to Alzheimer’s. For bonus points, try to write the poem in rhyming couplets, modeled after Craig Arnold’s work.
Read Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art, then think about an object from your childhood that you’ve lost, and write about that. Make sure to decide whether the speaker is still a child or if the speaker is an adult looking back… there will likely be differences in how speakers of different ages would express the loss.
Excited to share the news that I’m starting the Hell’s Kitchen Poetry Society! We’ll be cooking up new work every week, meeting on Wednesday nights from 7-9pm at The Artist Co-op, starting Sep 11, 2019. Please RSVP if you’d like to attend.
Also, wanted to share the poems by Toni Morrison that The Believer recently posted. We lost an important writer, let’s reread her work and remember her.