Craft of Poetry Writing Exercise: “Exercising It Out”

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Students’ Materials

  • Writing journal, with plenty of paper and/or your laptop
  • A previous draft of one of your poems

Room Setup
Six “stations” will be set up at even intervals around the room, each with its own set of instructions. They will be identified by the following names:

  1. Anaphora
  2. Heavy Enjambment
  3. Sentence Fragment
  4. Lack of Punctuation
  5. Cut
  6. Splice

Instructions
There will be six rounds of writing, each lasting 10 minutes. For the first round, Group 1 will be at Station 1: “Anaphora,” Group 2 at Station 2: “Heavy Enjambment,” etc. For subsequent rounds, the groups will rotate to new stations in numerical order. Students should have their previous poem draft and writing notebook at each station. Upon arriving at a station, each group member should read and follow the instructions on the card. After completing the assignment, you should have revised your previous draft into a whole new poem. If there’s time, each student should share their new, revised poem.

Station 1: Anaphora
Read your poem draft, and circle a phrase that is the most charged, most crucial to your poem. Re-write the poem and introduce a repetition of this phrase or syntactical unit. Read Joy Harjo’s “She Had Some Horses” for an example.

Station 2: Heavy Enjambment
Locate all of the end-stopped lines in your poem and circle them. Remove half of those end-stopped lines by breaking the line elsewhere in the sentence and thereby introducing enjambment. Take a look at Ross Gay’s “Love, I’m Done With You” for an example; pay special attention to incidence of enjambment in the first seven lines.

Station 3: Sentence Fragment
Turn at least two complete sentences in your poem into sentence fragments. See Chen Chen’s “Self-Portrait as So Much Potential” for an example of a poem that employs many sentence fragments.

Station 4: Lack of Punctuation
Remove the punctuation in all or half your poem, like Morgan Parker in “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” or “If You Are Over Staying Woke”  respectively.

Station 5: Cut
The poet Jean Valentine tapes her poems up on her door after she initially drafts them. Every time she passes the poem, she cuts one word. In the next ten minutes, cut at least five words from your poem. Read her poem “God of Rooms” for inspiration.

Station 6: Splice
Steal 1–2 lines full or partial lines from a group member’s poem. Try to make them work in the dramatic situation of your poem. Check out Matthew Olzmann’s “Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz” as an example.

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Craft of Poetry Writing Exercise: “Look It Up”

In this writing exercise inspired by Solmaz Sharif’s Look, students will explore using found language in order to create compelling dramatic situations.

Writing Exercise: “Look It Up”

  1. Select 4–5 words from Solmaz Sharif’s poems in Look. (These could be the DOD terms in small caps or her language.)
  2. Look up each of these words in the Oxford English Dictionary, available through the Taylor Memorial Library. Take notes on each of the definitions. Reflect: Did you know all of these definitions? Do you use these words differently?
  3. Write down these 4–5 words. What dramatic situation would include all of them?
  4. Free-write a poem in which you use all 4–5 words. Try to use the words in such a way that they make sense for this dramatic situation.
  5. Share. (Let’s type some of them up in the Group Notes document.)

Craft of Poetry Discussion Exercise: “What Is a Poem? What Is Poetry?”

Note: In this in-class discussion exercise, my ENG 2030 students were able to interrogate the questions “what is poetry?” and “what is a poem?” by looking at different texts, some poetic and some religious and some musical, in order to answer the question. The links to the texts are below the directions.

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  • A traditional Irish blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

  • These passages of religious texts (Qu’ran and Bible).

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Have you considered him who turned away?

And gave a little, and held back?

Does he possess knowledge of the unseen, and can therefore foresee?

Or was he not informed of what is in the Scrolls of Moses?

And of Abraham, who fulfilled?

That no soul bears the burdens of another soul.

And that the human being attains only what he strives for.

And that his efforts will be witnessed.

Then he will be rewarded for it the fullest reward.

And that to your Lord is the finality.

And that it is He who causes laughter and weeping.

And that it is He who gives death and life.

 

Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies’ sake.

For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?

I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.

Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.

Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping.

The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer.

Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.

 

 

 

  • Benjamin Bagby performing excerpts from Beowulf with harp accompaniment:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craft of Poetry Writing Exercise: “Possibilities”

Note: This semester, I will share my ENG 2030: Craft of Poetry Writing Exercises as images, since they live all together within a Course Reader document on Google Drive. On the first day of class, my ENG 2030 students completed this “Possibilities” writing exercise as a supplement to their personal introduction. The questions about Szymborska’s poem likewise allow me to get a good calibration of what things they know or don’t know about poetry and poetic craft.

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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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Spring 2017 ENG 2030 Craft of Poetry Required Texts

The following information is taken directly from my Spring 2017 ENG 2030 Craft of Poetry Syllabus.

ENG 2030 Craft of Poetry Required Texts and Materials

  • Girmay, Aracelis. Black Maria. BOA Editions, 2016. ISBN: 978-1942683025.
  • Johnson, Jenny. In Full Velvet. Sarabande Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-1941411377.
  • Levin, Dana. Banana Palace. Copper Canyon Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-1556595059.
  • Rankine, Claudia. Citizen. Graywolf Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-1555976903.
  • Rekdal, Paisley. Imaginary Vessels. Copper Canyon Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-1556594977.
  • Sharif, Solmaz. Look. Graywolf Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-1555977443.
  • Online Course Reader
  • A bound writing journal and writing utensil, required in every class*

*If you have accommodations for the use of a computer at all times, you may complete your writing journal electronically and will not need the bound writing journal. Please be sure that you provide me with your accommodation letter as soon as possible.

A Note About Ordering Books

If you choose not to order from the university bookstore, I encourage you to consider ordering books directly from the publisher. Cutting out the middleman helps ensure that publishers and authors are treated fairly in the transaction. Here are the links to our books on their publishers’ websites:

You can also make a difference with your book purchase by placing a special order with a local or regional bookstore, like Labyrinth Books in Princeton or Black Dog Books in Newton; an independent bookstore with online ordering, like Powell’s or Strand Bookstore; or a philanthropic independent seller like Better World Books.