Writing Exercises: “Poem of My Humiliations” and “Admit It”

ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Fall 2017

9781555977788.pngNote: My intermediate poetry class is wrapping up their discussion of Erika L. Sánchez’s Lessons on Expulsion. All three of these poems appear in the final section of the book, and they model two approaches of the  “function” of a poem. In the first exercise, students will list humiliations and embarrassments in a move toward candor and intimacy, and, in the second, they will think about the rhetoric of the imperative, its insistence and (sometimes) hesitance.

10/19 Writing Exercises: “Poem of My Humiliations” and “Admit It”

We will do two back-to-back writing exercises based on three poems by Erika L. Sánchez“Poem of My Humiliations” for the first, and “Circles” and “Six Months after Contemplating Suicide” for the second—if time allows.

Writing Exercise #1: “Poem of My Humiliations”

  1. Re-read “Poem of My Humiliations” (62) by Erika L. Sánchez. Discuss.
  2. Craft a poem that is a list of things that humiliated or embarrassed you (only use things with which you’re comfortable sharing). You must create single-sentence stanzas with no line breaks.

 

Writing Exercise #2: “Admit It”

  1. Re-read “Circles” (64) and “Six Months after Contemplating Suicide” (72). Discuss.
  2. Write a poem in which you use the imperative mode (an insistent instruction)— “Admit it”—to the self or (a real or imagined) beloved.

Writing Exercise: “Praise House”

ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Fall 2017

Note: My intermediate poetry class is wrapping up workshop on their third poems and they are getting ready to turn in their fourth workshop poems this Saturday. This exercise is meant to allow them time and space to try something new (some have wondered aloud about if there can be “happy” poems) and draft something they can develop into their workshop piece. I always allow my students to revise in-class writing into their workshop poems, as this gives the class (optional) scaffolding of their assignments and helps to alleviate pressure surrounding “writer’s block.” (Side note: I don’t believe in writer’s block, as it often boils down to students second guessing themselves before they even begin, but they believe in it, so I want to help them overcome that fear in whatever way I can.)

 

9/28 Writing Exercise: “Praise House”

  1. Read “Praise House: The New Economy” by Gabrielle Calvocoressi and “To a Fig Tree on 9th and Christian” by Ross Gay.
  2. Freewrite a poem in which you praise a moment or a whole lot of things that you love or for which you are grateful.
    • Note: This exercise introduces you to a new form, the praise poem, while also giving you the option of continuing to cultivate your skills at using a poetic catalog (i.e., a list) in your poems.

Writing Exercise: “99 Problems”

ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Fall 2017

Note: My intermediate poetry students completed this exercise at the beginning of class on the third day we discussed There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker. Six students shared their work, and some of them framed their poem as “99 Problems” whereas others framed it as a countdown or as a list of tweets experienced on social media. This exercise presented a lot of flexibility, and it allowed students to think about implied narratives rather than explicitly rendered narratives.

9/21 Writing Exercise: “99 Problems”

  1. Let’s spend a little time discussing “99 Problems” on pgs. 66–69 of Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things
    1. What is her strategy for moving from one “problem” to the next?
    2. What are your thoughts about the form of the list poem?
  2. Write a list poem. You can either use the “99 Problems” as a frame, or you can write a list poem with some other function.

Writing Exercise: “I Mean…”

ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Fall 2017

 

There-Are-More-Beautiful-Things-Than-Beyonce-2ndEdNote: My intermediate poetry students completed this exercise at the beginning of class on the second day we discussed There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker. Four students shared their work, and all of them wrote their best poem so far in response to this exercise. These poems were full of such unexpected turns and provocative declarations.

This exercise could easily be adapted for other kinds of classrooms, especially because the poem “Welcome to the Jungle” is available online (linked below), in addition to the book. That being said, I highly recommend the book and all of Parker’s work, and it has been especially popular among my undergraduate students.

9/19 Writing Exercise: “I Mean…”

  1. Let’s read “Welcome to the Jungle” by Morgan Parker and discuss.
    1. What do you notice about the way that this poem is constructed?
    2. What about the grammar (including punctuation)?
    3. How does Parker get from one statement to another? Let’s look at it statement by statement, line by line, paying special attention to the associative leaps between each statement.
  2. Freewrite a poem. Your only three parameters are that 1) you cannot use punctuation and 2) you have to start with a declarative statement that 3) you will later have to requalify (e.g. “With champagne I try expired white ones / I mean pills I mean men” and “had a party had fifty parties”).

Writing Exercise: “Ain’t There One Damn Song That Can Make Me Break Down and Cry?”

ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Fall 2017

8/17 Writing Exercise: “Ain’t There One Damn Song That Can Make Me Break Down and Cry?”

  1. Re-examine the lyrics of the favorite song you brought into class, and respond to the following questions in your writing journal:
    1. What genre is the song? What are the requirements (instrumentation, performance, subject matter, etc.) of a song in this genre?
    2. Do you recognize in this song any of the key poetic concepts/terms we went over earlier today in class? This might include figurative language, concrete language, cliche, etc. Try to identify at least two.
  2. Beginning in class and continuing over the weekend, write at least one verse and chorus as an imitation of your favorite song.
    1. An imitation borrows one or more features of a work, including but not limited to structure and subject matter.
    2. In writing these lyrics, you must include at least two passages that exemplify the key poetic concepts/terms we went over in class today.
  3. Share these in class next Tuesday. You can read them aloud or, if you’re feeling it, you (or a designated performer) can sing or rap your lyrics.
  4. On Tuesday, we will discuss how listeners of music are often more equipped to read and write poetry than we initially realize, and then we’ll explore the ways in which we can develop these skills so that they are more conducive to the expectations of poetry readers.

Writing Exercise: “In Defense of ‘Moist'”

ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Fall 2017

8/15 Writing Exercise: “In Defense of ‘Moist’”

  1. Read the poem “In Defense of ‘Moist’” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib and discuss.
  2. Recall your favorite or least favorite word from the Introductions handout. If you selected your favorite word, title your poem “Against ‘[the word]’”; if you selected your least favorite word, title it “In Defense of ‘{the word]’.”
  3. Draft a poem as an argument against your favorite word or for your least favorite word, after Willis-Abdurraqib.
    1. You may write this poem on the back of the Willis-Abdurraqib handout and add it into your writing journal later.
    2. Try not to let your critical, editorial part of your brain enter into the drafting process, as this will only limit you.
    3. Your skill level is irrelevant, as we’re all asked to draft right here, in the moment. We’re all on the same page, in terms of the poem’s parameters, and this ongoing writing and sharing in class will help us all improve, not to mention try something new in our work.
  4. Share with the class and, in doing so, we’ll begin to discover ways we can best provide and receive feedback on poetic works.

Camp ArtWorks Exercises and Lesson Plan

I spent last week teaching at Camp ArtWorks, a writing camp through Elizabethtown College and their Bowers Writers House. Each day I taught four sessions, each with 3–4 participants aged 13–17. For the first two days, we focused on sound in poetry; the next two days, we explored the lyric essay; and, finally, the last day we held a wrap-up and Q&A session that allowed the students to share.

Below, I’ve included the descriptions of each experience and the writing exercises the campers completed under them. My full lesson plan for the week, including the in-class reading list, is available on my teaching drive.

Making Poems Sing
How do poems move? How do they flow? In this class, we’ll learn how to make original poems that, through their rhythm and music, sound great read aloud. Throughout the experience, we’ll use our voices as much as our pens to compose. (No singing talent required.)

Writing Exercise: “Possibilities”

Write an imitation of Szymborska’s poem “Possibilities.” In doing so, try to imitate the structure and form of the poem, retaining the anaphoric construction of “I prefer” throughout your poem, but create your own images and actions that are the objects of the “I prefer” statements.

 

Going over all the fancy words
Students brainstormed about the effects of repeating sounds

Writing Exercise: “Tuning Fork”

Free write four lines on any subject. Your only parameter is that for every noun you use, you must select one that has at least one sound similar to the previous adjective, verb, or noun. This will create a “chain” of similar sounds that allow your poems to sound good read aloud. Let’s look at some examples together:

“The river flows like a bow and arrow, taut / As a tamed tangle”

From Rosal, a similar technique: “I rolled twenty-two deep, every / one of us lulled by a blade / though few of us knew the steel note / that chimed a full measure if you slid / the edge along a round to make it // keen.”

Share your lines with the group, and let’s talk about the effects of your sound chains in relationship to the subject matter and the reader’s perception of the poem’s emotion and tone.

What Has the Head of an Essay, and the Body of a Poem?
The Lyric Essay, that’s what. In this class, we’ll uncover the riddle of this new genre, and we’ll tell our stories through it, borrowing ideas and techniques from personal essays and story-poems. Bring your best stories, and a sense of humor.

Writing Exercise: “Memory2”

Pick a memory that you don’t quite understand or an experience that bothered you in some way. You could have been embarrassed, or you might have been too young to understand the consequences. Share with the class.

Write a paragraph in prose about the memory, as if you were to write a personal essay.

Re-write the memory in poetry. What details get left out? What language arrives? How is the telling different? Do you use any other strategies?

Discuss.

 

Figuring out the lyric essay
Break it down!

Writing Exercise: “Finding a Way In”

Re-examine the memory you chose for the “Memory2” exercise, and create a list of 5–7 objects, details, and images from that memory. For instance, my childhood memory of seeing a man hit a boy in the Target and then witnessing my mother chase the man recalls red, my mother’s purse, the toy aisle, fluorescent lights, the rings on the man’s hand, etc.

Start with the object most distant from the action and event, and describe everything about the object, from its appearance to your vantage upon it, in one paragraph.

Write a single paragraph about each object, working your way toward the action at hand. (For example, I would begin with the color red in the store, then maybe talk about the fluorescent lights, then talk about my mother’s purse that she dropped on the floor, and then describe the man’s rings.) At the end, you should have 5–7 paragraphs and the beginnings of a lyric essay that tells the truth but tells it slant, after Dickinson.

(Note: You may use some of your language from your previous exercise, if it works here.)

Students shared their exercises
Students shared their exercises
Students shared their exercises
Mapping ourselves on the Poetry to Prose spectrum
Mapping ourselves on the Poetry to Prose spectrum

Summer, Online Intro to CW Writing Exercise: “Guess Who”

Writing Exercise: “Guess Who”

Writer Jean Kwok uses a Character Sketch Table in order to better develop and, subsequently, understand her characters. Whether or not she ends up using all the information in her final creative work, it helps her consider the ways that her characters move (and have moved) in the world. Prior to completing the following exercise, review this document and consider what sorts of information you would need to know about your characters. To begin the exercise, follow the next steps:

  1. Create two characters who identify as the same gender and use the same pronouns. Note: If you choose to create a transgendered character, please honor the gender and pronouns they have chosen, not those assigned at birth, e.g. Dan, a cisgendered man, and Colin, a trans man or Maria, a cisgendered woman, and Jamila, a trans woman, would be grouped together here.
  2. Create a quick character sketch in which you identify them by at least: name, age, occupation, interests/hobbies, life goals, and an old embarrassment. If there’s anything else you think your reader should know, you may also include it here. Avoid stereotyping based on race, sexuality, gender, ability, region, culture, religion, appearance, or age toward a complex person that’s more than any one of these identifiers.
  3. Write a paragraph-long description of a short interaction between only one of your characters and someone else—barista, boss, what-have-you, as long as it’s not your other sketched-out character. The only caveat is that you must only use this character’s pronoun and never identify them by their name or specifically identify their occupation.
  4. Read your peers’ pieces and try to guess which character appears in their scenes.

Summer, Online Intro to CW Writing Exercise: “Code Switch”

Writing Exercise: “Code Switch”

  1. Read a little bit about the linguistic concept of “code-switching.”
  2. Now, let’s apply it to your creative writing. Create a dramatic situation in which a first-person narrator has to switch between two different types of language in her narration and in her dialogue, e.g. her dialogue with her best friend is informal but, in telling the story to a wider audience, she uses proper grammar and more meditative language.
  3. For an added challenge, you can add in a third act of code-switching, i.e. your narrator might talk one way in her narration, one way to her best friend on the phone, and one way with her mother while they are out to lunch.

 

Note: Please take care to avoid cultural appropriation with this exercise in code-switching. To do so, you might try taking on acts of code-switching that are familiar to you and your discourses.

Erasure and Revision Writing Exercise: “Love Poem Lost”

P._Oxy._XXII_2331.jpg
The Heracles Papyrus (Oxford, Sackler Library, Oxyrhynchus Pap. 2331), a fragment of 3rd century Greek manuscript of a poem about the Labors of Heracles.

Last week I had my 24PearlStreet Erasure and Revision students burn, soak, and rip up handwritten copies of a new love poem. I called these “environmental erasures,” inspired— or, rather, after—Sappho’s surviving verses on papyrus fragments. Here are the directions:

“Love Poem Lost”

  1. 1. Draft a poem addressed to a (real or imagined) lost love. This can be a romantic love or a love based in friendship, someone once known or a teenage celebrity crush.
  2. Write out by hand or print three copies of the poem, and then perform the following acts of environmental erasure, taking pictures along the way:
    – Burn: Go into a safe, open environment and hold a match or lighter up to strategic places on the page.
    – Soak: Use water, wine, coffee, vinegar, or some other liquid to ruin or occlude portions of the page. (Works best on free-flowing, not ball-point, pen ink.)
    – Rip: Tear up the poem into quarters. “Lose” at least two of these quarters.
  3. Post pictures from each act of erasure, along with paragraph-long reflection about the process. What happened to your poems in each of these environmental erasures? What was brought out? What was subverted?