Conversing Across the Chasm Exercise

An altercation concerning wives (1814)

An altercation concerning wives (1814)

Class: Beginning Poetry (Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop)
Genre: Poetry
Readings: Each others’ poems
Time: 30 minutes

  1. Each class member should respond to a poem written by the person seated on their right. They can argue or interrogate an idea, provide an anecdotal narrative that relates to the first person, or work associatively away from the original kernel to access something new. Participants should remember their addressee’s personality, concerns, and
  2. The next step has two variations. Students should then write a response to:
    • the response to their own poem so as to create a dialogue between the two poets, or
    • the response written by their original addressee so as to create a chain of communication.
  3. Share.

Imitation, Imitation Exercise

Minerva by Elihu Vedder (1897)

Frontispiece of The Colours of Animals by Edward Bagnall Poulton, showing Mimicry in South African Butterflies (1890)

Class: Beginning Poetry (Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop)
Genre: Poetry
Readings: Their selection
Time: 50+ minutes

Ask that the students bring in one of their favorite poems. (My students brought in “Meditation at Lagunitas” by Robert Hass, “Fever 103°” by Sylvia Plath, and “[Carrion Comfort]” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.) Have each student read the selection to the class and lead a discussion on the poem’s features, movement, and form.

Consider some of the ways one can write imitations:
  1. Imitate all or many of the strategies of that specific poem.
  2. Imitate general features of the poet’s style.
  3. Write a poem in the persona of the poet. (His/her general voice, not just the voice on the page.)
  4. Do a loose imitation using one element of the original poem. This could even include response poems, poems with lines of that poet, etcetera.
Then have them do the following exercise:
  1. Write an imitation of the poem you brought in. (15 min.)
  2. Write an imitation of one of the other poems. (15 min.)
  3. Discuss. What imitation strategy did you choose? Why? Did you find yourself more able to imitate your selection or another’s? Why? Which imitation was hardest? Can you more easily discern some of your own fundamental orientation to language, ticks, go-to strategies, etcetera through the imitation process?

One Motivation, Five Poems Exercise

Minerva by Elihu Vedder (1897)

Minerva by Elihu Vedder (1897)

Class: Beginning Poetry (Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop)
Genre: Poetry
Readings: A tailored poetry packet
Time: 50+ minutes

Think about a poem that you’ve been wanting to write for a long time but haven’t been able to successfully accomplish. It works best if this is a personal memory or other narrative.

Discuss each of the following approaches and the read their respective suggested poems:

  1. Anecdotal: A simple story in one setting, usually in plain speech. See “Black” by Alan Shapiro.
  2. Imperative: A second person address with instructions, based on an extended metaphor or literal. See “How to Live in a Trap” by Eleanor Ross Taylor.
  3. Meta: A response to an event that takes into account writing’s inability to fully capture the event. See “Photograph of September 11th” by Wislawa Szymborska and “The streetlamp above me darkens” by Tarfia Faizullah.
  4. Figurative: A characterization of an event or action through metaphor. See “Boy Breaking Glass” by Gwendolyn Brooks.
  5. Collage: A poem that uses multiple of these approaches and usually isn’t afraid to associate away from and back again to the original motivation. See “My Story In a Late Style of Fire” by Larry Levis of “Across the Sea” by Dana Levin.

After discussing each approach, take ten minutes to write your narrative using only that approach. Move on to the next one and repeat.

At the end, ask yourself: How did the poem change? Did the poem become more or less imaginative? Which one do I like the most? Why? Share.