ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
8/17 Writing Exercise: “Ain’t There One Damn Song That Can Make Me Break Down and Cry?”
- Re-examine the lyrics of the favorite song you brought into class, and respond to the following questions in your writing journal:
- What genre is the song? What are the requirements (instrumentation, performance, subject matter, etc.) of a song in this genre?
- Do you recognize in this song any of the key poetic concepts/terms we went over earlier today in class? This might include figurative language, concrete language, cliche, etc. Try to identify at least two.
- Beginning in class and continuing over the weekend, write at least one verse and chorus as an imitation of your favorite song.
- An imitation borrows one or more features of a work, including but not limited to structure and subject matter.
- In writing these lyrics, you must include at least two passages that exemplify the key poetic concepts/terms we went over in class today.
- Share these in class next Tuesday. You can read them aloud or, if you’re feeling it, you (or a designated performer) can sing or rap your lyrics.
- On Tuesday, we will discuss how listeners of music are often more equipped to read and write poetry than we initially realize, and then we’ll explore the ways in which we can develop these skills so that they are more conducive to the expectations of poetry readers.
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.
- Who are you?
- What school do you go to?
- Why did you take this class?
- What’s your favorite word?
- What is poetry?
- What makes poetry poetry?
- What makes poems sound good? How do they “flow”?
- Some vocab: rhyme, cadence, assonance, consonance, alliteration, anaphora
- Reading and Discussion of Sounds:
- 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.
- Who are you?
- What school do you go to?
- Why did you take this class?
- How (and on what) do you usually write?
- 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
On Wednesday, November 16, I gave the lecture “It’s Alive: Why Poetry Still Matters” at Rutherford Hall in Allamuchy, New Jersey. Here are the materials for that talk:
This talk also transformed into my November 2016 blog post for Ploughshares, “Truth & Dread: Why Poetry Still Matters & The Risk of (Too Much) Empathy”:
Can the act of empathy, learned from literature and poetry, become an act of appropriation when we take it to our lived lives? This is a question I haven’t been able to answer. Each of us is not a sun around which others revolve; we cannot, like black holes, pull everything into us without risking erasure, of others, of ourselves. Perhaps more than the practice of empathy, poetry offers us the opportunity to listen, and not just in the way that it appeals to the same areas of the brain music stimulates, and not just in the way that we can hear the cadence and rhythm and sounds of poetry. Perhaps poetry offers us the opportunity to hear its many speakers, to not so much as internalize each of their voices and experiences as to confirm them, to say, you are you, you are a voice, I hear you.
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)
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.
- Provide students with a glossary of musical terms, such as http://www.classicalworks.com/html/glossary.html, or a selected list. (Italianate terms preferable.)
- 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)
- 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)
- The students will then take home the poem and revise it. Share again at a later date.