Writing Exercise: One Line

Note: My MFA students are discussing “On the Line” by Kazim Ali and “Line and Syntax” by James Longenbach in today’s class. Between this discussion and their workshop of Poem 1, they will do this short exercise that gives them an opportunity to think about the line as a unit that has expressive and impressionistic powers. You can download a PDF version of this exercise, with attached scans of Sappho’s fragments, by clicking on the link above.

Writing Exercise: One Line

On pg. 36 of “On the Line” Kazim Ali writes:

The poetic line ought not be buckled to conventional syntax, it ought to demonstrate the actual powers of poetry to move the mind beyond the mundane, as in Jorie Graham’s truncated Wyatt quote that opens The Errancy— “Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.”

The poetic line ought not be buckled to conventional syntax, it ought to demonstrate the actual powers of poetry to move the mind beyond the mundane, as in Jorie Graham’s truncated Wyatt quote that opens The Errancy—”Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.”

It [the poetic line] ought to be able to do more, be more, transcend the pedantic definition of language as a carrier of discursive meaning and by its motion enable the mind to follow and have an understanding that is past intellectual and enters conceptual.

Ali later quotes a few of Anne Shaw’s one-line poems posted to Twitter:

“help to winter me a small belief”

“i (in)visible”

“you bereft believer say you will return”

“begin again in whether”

We might also be reminded of some of the fragments of Sappho, which are attached here. Let’s read them together and discuss what holds these “poems” together, how our brains react when “meaning” is more diffuse and phrasing/musicality/impression are more apparent.

In this exercise, you will write a single-line poem. 

In order to do so, you will reject traditional syntax, maybe even working only in fragments. Write the single-line poem several times, with several different syntactical orders. 

How many ways can you write this line and it still make sense? 

After you finish, share and discuss.

“Ornithology” Poetry Analysis and Imitation Exercise

Class: Introduction to Creative Writing (The College of William & Mary)
To become more scrupulous readers of poetry

In order to prepare my Intro to Creative Writing students for talking more about poetry with regard to the author’s intentionality before their poetry workshop, I’m asking them to read and examine the poem “Ornithology” by Lynda Hull. They then have to answer questions about specifics in the poem. I’ve provided these questions via track changes in Microsoft Word:

Ornithology Poetry Analysis Exercise screenshot - 1 Ornithology Poetry Analysis Exercise screenshot - 2 Ornithology Poetry Analysis Exercise screenshot - 3

Once they respond to these questions on their own, we will then discuss the possibilities. My hope is that they will see the value in discussing the possibilities rather than strive to make proclamations about what the poem is or what it’s doing.

After they complete the analysis, I’m going to ask them to try to write an imitation of at least ten lines (the formal unit that’s repeated throughout the poem) with special attention to sound and rhythm.

“Cadenza” Exercise

C. Reimers- Das Leipziger Gewandhausorchester im Lichte der Satire, 19 Karikaturen, lithographiert von Blau & Co., Leipzig um 1850 I haven’t had a chance yet to give this exercise to my Writing Poetry students, but I hope to give this to them by the end of the semester. A “cadenza” is a soloist’s improvisation that later gets written into a piece of music. It’s my hope that this exercise will produce in-class improvisation that later becomes a revised poem.

Class: Writing Poetry (Virginia Commonwealth University)
Genre: Poetry
Purpose: To consider how pace and sound relates to emotion, tone, and intensity.
Readings: One might provide the students with musical examples in lieu of readings.

  1. Provide students with a glossary of musical terms, such as http://www.classicalworks.com/html/glossary.html, or a selected list. (Italianate terms preferable.)
  2. Each student should select a term, study its definition, and then conceive of a poem that demonstrates the qualities of the term. The poem could embody these qualities with form, syntax, diction, sound, prosody, or any combination thereof. This term must serve as the title of the poem. For instance, “Sonata” might produce a poem in four parts that each differ in tone and pace. (30+ minutes)
  3. Students should share their results with the class for feedback on whether or not they embodied the musical terms in their poems. Open up a discussion about how line breaks, forms, and syntax/diction create a kind of music in poems and how these can be manipulated to produce certain tonal/emotional effects in addition to those implicit in dramatic situations. (10–15 minutes)
  4. The students will then take home the poem and revise it. Share again at a later date.