ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Note: 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…”
- Let’s read “Welcome to the Jungle” by Morgan Parker and discuss.
- What do you notice about the way that this poem is constructed?
- What about the grammar (including punctuation)?
- 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.
- 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: “Code Switch”
- Read a little bit about the linguistic concept of “code-switching.”
- 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.
- 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.
The handout for “Walk the Line: The Tension Between Line and Syntax,” tomorrow’s course at the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, is now available on my Google Drive.
After talking about Janet Burroway’s Image chapter in Imaginative Writing, my class took our discussion to the white board to consider problems with translating experience and ideas in language, the fundamentals of significant detail, and the precision of language.
I asked them to consider all of the possible meanings for each of these sentences:
“Joe had some water.”
—He drank some water; he has water to drink; he had water for watering his plants, etc.
“Joe had a glass of water.”
—He drank the glass of water; he had a glass of water to drink, etc.
“Joe had a glass of water on the table.”
—He had water to drink on the table and he hadn’t finished drinking it.
We explored the slippery nature of the word “had” in all of these cases, and then we thought about how context could change the sentences. We considered the difference between “a glass of water” versus a “water glass,” how the second doesn’t necessarily mean that the glass contains water, rather it could designated as a glass for water. Additionally, having the read come to “glass” before “water” would help form the image for the reader as it provides the container before what’s contained inside it.