Think of different foods and drinks. Imagine preparing a dish or think of the steps you take when you eat something. What toppings do you add to your pizza, and how do you eat it? I tend to like Hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapple, and I usually eat the crust first. Bring these details to a poem, but I also want you to transform your food and drink into a metaphor, to say something about an emotion or action that people take. See Naomi Nishab Nye’s The Traveling Onion for an example.
How do search engines impact your life? What story do your searches tell? If you commonly use Google, try this exercise: while logged in, start typing each letter of the alphabet into Google and see what searches it remembers or suggests to you. Pick the most interesting search for each letter of the alphabet and string them together in an abecedarian poem. If you don’t use Google, think about an interesting search you’ve done lately. What information did you find out? How did it make you feel? Also check out Amber Tamblyn’s poem Untitled, which takes you on an emotional rollercoaster as she reports a series of searches.
Write a poem in which the speaker is hearing voices. What do the voices say? Who seems to be speaking? How does the speaker feel, how does he or she react? Take a look at this excellent example by Jennifer L. Knox, Name That Tune.
This week, I want you to take a scientific fact and work it into a poem. Perhaps you will write about how babies are born with about 300 bones at birth, but over time, the bones fuse into 206 bones… what does it mean to you to be more flexible, to have more components in youth? When we harden into adults what do we lose, emotionally as well as physically? Perhaps you are fascinated by the fact that Venus is the only planet in our solar system to turn clockwise… is it love spinning on an axis, opposite of the rest of the universe? Perhaps only love can carry us through time. Make sure to personalize your scientific fact somehow, or make it so the reader can connect to it on emotional level. Images always help! Enjoy Jane Hirshfield’s My Proteins for an example of how it’s done.
What are your favorite (or least favorite) aspects of summer? Try to think of sensual details, like the heat, or perhaps the cool of dipping into the water at the beach, or the flash of a yellow butterfly against pink petals. Write a poem about summer, but allow it to morph into something more. Perhaps you are also writing about your relationship with your son, how the two of you play baseball every summer. Take a look at Jessica Jacobs’ Stridulation Sonnet for an example of a summer poem that is also a love poem. How can the summer details add to the rich emotional life of the poem?
How does living or working in a city affect you? Where are the boundaries between you and another person’s space? How does it differ from the country? Are there shared experiences in the city that bring us closer together? How about further apart? Perhaps there is a particular city encounter you can think of when you had a realization. Read Tim Seibles’ (recently named the poet laureate of Virginia) poem Faith and think about how the city will inspire your poem.
Have you ever mistaken a word for another? Which words? Let both words have a presence in your poem. Check out Kristy Bowen’s poem House Strays for an example.
I’d like to write a little about my instructor at The Writer’s Hotel earlier this month: Tim Seibles. He teaches literature at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He is a poet who truly believes that poetry can change the world, and after hearing him read from his upcoming book due out in January 2017, I believe it, too. There were so many lyrical lines I wanted to write down and post by my mirror, or on the wall. Tim writes: “Poetry does not have the power of an army or of a rich nation’s economy, but poems can keep a certain set of whispers alive in a culture until they become loud enough to engage more than the community of poets…” In one of Tim’s poems, Delores Epps, he writes about a schoolboy crush. “Even / the gloss on her lips sighed / Kiss me and you’ll never / do homework again.” Tim was a supportive instructor, giving equal time for all, and he was able to help steer us toward naming exactly what was missing in the poems we workshopped. I’m very thankful to have been in his workshop, and I hope you’ll consider checking out some of his work, either online, or by ordering his latest book, Fast Animal.
This week, we are studying line breaks and how they can affect the reading of a poem. Two terms you must know are enjambed lines and end-stopped lines. End-stopped lines are where the author ends the line at the end of a phrase, or where punctuation would be. Enjambment happens when a line is broken in the middle of a phrase, often offering a bit of a surprise to the reader on the next line. Take a look at William Carlos Williams’ To a Poor Old Woman. In the second stanza, he repeats a sentence three times, breaking the line in a different place each time. What sort of affect does it have? Also take a look at Amy Gerstler’s In Perpetual Spring. Pay attention to the first line break after “Gardens are also good places” and also the line break after “queen of the weeds, revives.” What do you expect to be on the next line? Does it add to the surprise to have a pause in those places? After studying what line breaks can do, we will try to guess where the line breaks go in a few poems that have been stripped of line breaks. Can’t wait to try these exercises with you! Also note, this lesson was developed after I learned about line breaks from Wes McNair at The Writer’s Hotel. For further reading check out The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach.
This week, I offer up to you two examples of poems about fathers with mixed emotions in them, Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden and My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke. I would like to challenge you to write a poem about a father or father figure with complicated emotions in the poem. One way to start doing this is to list images of the father figure taking some action. Perhaps the father is mowing the lawn with sweat on his brow. Perhaps he is cooking a meal, nudging the stir fry until it is just right. Try to indicate the speaker’s feelings about these actions by using visceral descriptions of the reactions. Avoid saying “I feel sad” or “I feel happy” but instead describe the physical reactions the speaker has in the poem, like how the small boy is dizzy in My Papa’s Waltz. Try to choose at least one “positive” image and at least one “negative” image in order to capture the complexity of the emotions.