ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Note: 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”
- Re-read “Poem of My Humiliations” (62) by Erika L. Sánchez. Discuss.
- 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”
- Re-read “Circles” (64) and “Six Months after Contemplating Suicide” (72). Discuss.
- 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: “Nothing Amiss, Nothing Missed”
Your first writing exercise asks you to draw upon the concepts of concrete language, significant details, and mood-inducing setting from Chapters 2: Image and 5: Setting. The exercise is multi-part, so make sure not to miss a step.
- Take a pen and paper (or laptop, if you’re more comfortable typing) into a space in which other people (preferably strangers) are interacting with one another or objects. Grocery store, coffee shop, doctor’s office, cemetery, public park—wherever you like. Feel free to do this exercise on a regular errand, if you can squeeze it in. Once you are in the space, I would like for you to set a timer on your phone or watch for a set time between 10–15 minutes. Without pausing to consider or edit, write down in a paragraph or list every detail from this space that you possibly can. This is called automatic writing, and it should allow you to efficiently take in your surroundings as quickly as possibly.
- Please select one mood from the a list and one genre from the b list in which you’d like to rewrite your setting:
- overjoyed, despondent, apathetic, devious, hopeful, grief-stricken, afraid, or something else
- fiction or nonfiction
- As we learned from Burroway, a concrete, significant detail means that the specific image appeals to at least one of the five senses and suggests an abstraction, generalization, or judgment. In other words, that detail reveals something more than just that object’s there-ness. It comments on something within the story or reveals something about the point-of-view character. We may also find that what a character selects to tell us about a setting is very revealing of their personality or mental state. Burroway writes: “Our relation to place, time, and weather, like our relation to clothes and other objects, is charged with emotion more or less subtle, more or less profound. It is filled with judgment, mellow or harsh. And it alters according to what happens to us.” As a very simplistic example, imagine that character A and character B walk into the seasonal section at the grocery store. A’s excited about the sale on the industrial-sized, Banana Boat suntan lotion that smells like pina colada, whereas B’s gravitate to the adult-sized arm floaties. These two things, although related and present in the same setting, reveal very different things about the needs, wants, and personalities of the two characters. We might concur that A’s interested in spending a lot of time in the sun and getting a tan, meaning that they are concerned about their looks, how they are seen. B, however, cannot swim (or swim well) and may even be afraid of the water. In this way, each of these objects are significant because they reveal something about the character. With all of this in mind, you will:
- rewrite your description of the setting through the twin lenses of the character’s mood and the genre, being sure to only select those details that seem to reveal the character and the mood you want to cast over this place while leaving out incongruous information, but be sure not to tell us what mood you’re trying to portray
- and then read your peers’ attempts at the exercise and guess what kind of mood they were trying to portray through the details they chose.
In “Step 1,” I’m asking students to develop their skills in the imperative and descriptive moods so that a character and/or narrator can demonstrate or walk through an concept or action. They will base their preliminary discussion on “The Unforgivable Curses” chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the semester’s icebreaker text, as well as read the opening pages of Lorrie Moore’s “How To Be an Other Woman.” In doing so, they will likewise refer to some of the terminology we’ve gone over in previous classes—diction, syntax, dialogue, concrete details, point of view—and demonstrate their understanding of that terminology by relying on those literary concepts to make an effective piece.