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 Natasha Trethewey’s After Your Death, included in The Art of Losing, edited by Kevin Young, and then try think about a serious loss you’ve experienced. Can you write a series of metaphors (try to get to ten!) expressing how you feel about it? Once you’ve gotten to ten, go back to one of the metaphors, and write more about it—go deeper into the metaphor.
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.
Read Mark Strand’s poem, Elegy for My Father, also available in The Art of Losing, and look especially at section 2, Answers. Try writing a poem in which you have a conversation with someone who’s passed away.