Additional Poetry Exercises Help
Exaggerate, An Exercise by Poet Susan Rich
Susan Rich shares an exercise she invented for a recent poetry-writing workshop based on the interconnections between poetry and food, for:
There is no love more sincere than the love of food.
—George Bernard Shaw
At a poetry writing workshop at Lower Columbia College in Longview, Washington, I was teaching based on the interconnections between poetry and food. I had people introduce themselves with one sentence that began with their name and then mentioned a food they either loved or loathed. Going around the very large circle provided a diversity of foods and expressions. I was amazed at how passionate and confident people were when they spoke of their own personal preferences. Jeannine loved sauerkraut; Barry loathed chocolate ice cream. We expanded on those first lines with a sense of play, going wild: making chocolate a reason to live, saying we'd rather die than eat chopped liver again to create energetic and entertaining pieces.
One person started with "I'm Karen and I love wild salmon." In her poem of exaggeration, the wild salmon became a very sexy boyfriend waiting for her with a freshly prepared dinner when she came home from work. Of course, once the poem gets going the first line that the poet started out with often becomes obsolete. Although sometimes a first line, like this one, sticks: "There should be a law against a cheese smarter than me."
Enlist Poets Who Came Before You, A Second Exercise from Susan Rich
Rich tells her students:
Why choose a dead mentor? How might this help in your development as a writer? Well, for one thing, it is practical. Your relationship can transcend place and time. Pablo Neruda will not be too busy at Isla Negra to work with you. His poetry, prose, and even his memoir will be available whenever you are. Elizabeth Bishop could be demanding in person, but her poetry, letters, and paintings are smart companions. You can transcend boundaries of ethnicity, race, gender, ideology in order to learn what you need. Most importantly, you will have a poet-guide to keep you company.
To begin your search for the poet you want to be your dead mentor, compose a personal ad. Rich suggests:
In 100 words or less, describe your ideal mentor. It's important to ask for what you want. This process is meant to help you identify who you want to take on as your mentor. It's a decision that merits some reflection. Here are some questions to get you thinking. Should she (or he) be serious or sexy? An avid outdoors person or a bibliophile? What matters to you most? Brilliance or bravado? Is it important that your mentor worked in several genres? Do you envision a poet from Romania or the Pacific Northwest? Do you prefer that they are a genius or a prolific letter writer?
When you have selected the poet, begin a conversation:
Choose one poem from your mentor's work. Double-space out the lines of the poem in your notebook so that you can insert your own lines in-between. See what your own lines might say to the printed ones. Ask questions, further your mentor's thought, make a joke. Another take on this exercise is to merely "borrow" a refrain or a line of the chosen poem and use it as your own starting point.
Next, make imaginative leaps:
Write a monologue from the perspective of your mentor's neighbor, beloved cat, teakettle or spurned lover. What might we learn about Emily Dickinson from her next-door neighbor? How did William Carlos Williams apologize to his wife after a fight? If you are obsessed with your mentor, especially if you feel quite in awe of their work, this exercise will make it easier to spend time together.
Now that you have been mining your experiences for poems in free verse, let's turn to trying out four of poetry's many traditional forms: haiku and tanka, on the short side; the villanelle, which is of medium length and uses repetition; and ekphrastic poetry, which is longer.
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