Teen Arts Workshop Writing Exercises: “Beyond Rhyme: Poetry’s Music” and “Speech Bubbles: Poetry 10 Ways”

The Warren County Cultural & Heritage Commission asked me to teach as a part of their Teen Arts day. Although post-blizzard school delays prevented us from taking full advantage of my two planned workshops, the exercises and lesson plans I prepared for the day are collected here for other educators’ use.

9:30–11:00 AM: Beyond Rhyme: Poetry’s Music
How do we make our poems “flow”? How many word fireworks can we set off in a single line of poetry? In this workshop, we will explore the sounds and rhythms of free-verse poetry by listening to poems, trying out new techniques, and writing our own new poems.

  1. Introductions:
    • Who are you?
    • What school do you go to?
    • Why did you take this class?
    • What’s your favorite word?
  2. Discussion:
    • What is poetry?
    • What makes poetry poetry?
    • What makes poems sound good? How do they “flow”?
    • Some vocab: rhyme, cadence, assonance, consonance, alliteration, anaphora
  3. Reading and Discussion of Sounds:
  4. Writing Exercise:
    • Free write a poem on any subject. For every noun you use, you must select one that has at least one sound similar to the previous adjective, verb, or noun. Example, from “Inversnaid”: “This darksome burn, horseback brown.” The noun “burn” borrows the sound of r- in “darksome,” as does the noun “brown” from “horseback.” Additionally, the latter noun also borrows the b sound from “back.”

11:30 AM–1:00 PM: Speech Bubbles: Poetry 10 Ways
Ever heard the phrase, “The medium is the message”? In this poetry workshop, we’ll try our hand at writing poems using different mediums-posterboard, postcards, typewriters, and on our toes-to see if we can appeal to different parts of our brains and become more creative.

  1. Introductions:
    • Who are you?
    • What school do you go to?
    • Why did you take this class?
    • How (and on what) do you usually write?
  2. Writing Exercise: Poetry 10 Ways
    • Station 1: Writing by Hand. Freewrite a poem of at least 4 lines on unlined paper.
    • Station 2/3: Landscape/Portrait. Freewrite a poem on the index card laid out horizontally, and then rewrite it on another index card laid out vertically.
    • Station 4: Big Concerns. Using a pastel, freewrite a poem on a piece of posterboard. Try to “size up” your handwriting to the size of the paper.
    • Station 5: Boxing It In. Using the colored pens, I’d like for you to take one of your poems written at a previous station and underline the most important five words in that poem. In another color, I’d like for you circle all the nouns. In another color, I’d like for you to put a square around all the verbs. In another color, I’d like for you to put an X through at least three unnecessary words in the poem.
    • Station 6: The Snake Eating Its Tail. At this station, you will partner with another student. Rewrite one of your previously drafted poems in pencil on a piece of paper. Swap poems with your partner, and then erase 5 to 7 words from your partner’s poem.
    • Station 7: Address. Select a friend or a family member to whom you have a lot to say. Write a poem to them on the provided cards.
    • Station 8: Cut! Copy out one of the poems you brought in previously. Use the scissors to cut it in half.
    • Station 9: Walk It Off. Go out into the hall. You will compose a poem in your head while you walk to the end of the hall and back. Try to come up with one word per step. Record yourself (using your phone or mine) speaking aloud the poem.
    • Station 10: Type It Up. Come to this computer workstation and type up one version of one of the poems you have written today in this Google doc. Your only parameter here is that you must introduce new line breaks.

 

Station 1: Writing By Hand

Station 2/3: Landscape/Portrait

Station 4: Big Concerns

Station 5: Boxing It In

Station 6: The Snake Eating Its Tail

Sation 7: Address

Station 8: Cut!

Station 9: Walk It Off

Station 10: Type It Up

 

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Group Notes Documents

This semester I started a Group Notes document in Google Drive, one for each of my classes. I created it so that students with learning differences would have built-in note-taking services; absent students could catch up on missed discussions; students could contribute insights they couldn’t, for whatever reason, share in class; students could add additional notes from their readings; and students wouldn’t lose their handwritten notes or have their typed notes lost in a computer crash.
 
For my Craft of Poetry class, it’s become a sort of playpen for our in-class writing exercises, where students can share their work and collaborate on things like lineation and formatting. It’s also incredibly easy to set up, and although I don’t yet have a majority of any three of my classes participating, the use of the resource by a few pioneering students has helped it gain some traction.
If my students give their permission and I can anonymize the contributors, I hope to share the documents in full after the Spring 2017 semester.
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Composing aloud

With all the driving I’ve done the last couple weeks, I’ve been drafting poems aloud again & recording them on voice memo. I haven’t yet typed them up but I have transcribed them in my notebook. I’m waiting for the page, at least for a little bit. I will be writing about composing aloud for my next Ploughshares post, and I hope to draw on the experiences of other writers and make connections between craft choices and the method of composition.

Generative Poetry Workshop Proposal and Call For Help

I really want to teach a generative, one-week intensive creative writing workshop about composition practices. I’ve even written a course description/proposal, with a (rough, working) title:

Composition: What Poems Are Made Of, How Poems Are Made. A generative workshop in which students will draft their own poems using various methods. From composing aloud to writing by hand, typing on a typewriter to typing on a computer, scribbling on butcher paper to limiting oneself to a postcard, we’ll consider how each practice produces different effects on the page. Does composing aloud make the poem more musical? Does a word processor give us greater mobility across the page? For guidance, we’ll start by reading process narratives and poems by published poets, and consider how writing practices and technologies have altered poetry’s content and form.

I think the course would be really wonderful for discovering how our writing processes appeal to different parts of the brain. Students can take these exercises back to their normal writing practice, where they can try out different forms, effects, and content. Who knows, it might be an antidote to “writer’s block.” It will also provide me with an opportunity to engage in this approach of teaching poetry and provide me with insight into using drafting mediums as a pedagogical tool.

Does anyone know of any organizations looking for proposals for short-term intensives? Where would you pitch the idea? I’m thinking it might work best in a non-academic environment.