Writing Exercise: “I Mean…”

ENG 326 Writing Poetry: Intermediate
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Fall 2017

 

There-Are-More-Beautiful-Things-Than-Beyonce-2ndEdNote: 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…”

  1. Let’s read “Welcome to the Jungle” by Morgan Parker and discuss.
    1. What do you notice about the way that this poem is constructed?
    2. What about the grammar (including punctuation)?
    3. 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.
  2. 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”).
Advertisements

Craft of Poetry Writing Exercise: “Exercising It Out”

"Knitting_for_our_soldiers"_-_Kambala_School,_Sydney,_NSW,_between_1914-1918_-_photographer_unknown_(4658764197).jpeg

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.

Writing Exercise: “#Poem”

This morning I created a little exercise for myself, a prompt to keep me creative when I don’t have the time or energy (ahem, end of the semester) to keep me writing poems. I collected tweets, with some redaction and the introduction of some punctuation, from three other Twitter users with the name Emilia Phillips, and I created the found poem below. The line breaks are mine. The exercise could easily be adapted for the classroom setting, especially if you have your students search for their online name-twins.

Found Poem Made Up of Tweets By Three Other Emilia Phillipses, All Teenage Girls

Today marks the first time in history
I have ever been satisfied
with my school photo. There’s a special place
in hell for people who think it’s okay
to rip out your earbuds and eat
your food without asking. If only
emotional stress used up
calories. When I say there’s nothing
to eat I mean there’s next to nothing
I enjoy. Quit saying I wish and begin
saying I shall. Scratch that,
I hated summer when it was still
winter. Do you ever just think
to yourself what the hell
are you doing with your life. Oh,
shut up with all this
“Previously on…” crap,
I’ve already binge watched
six episodes today. Can’t do this anymore
and I don’t see why
I have to. Wow I really
like Chance the Rapper
#plottwist. I can’t pretend to smile,
all I do is think about how
my life can be better. You don’t
understand true fear
unless you walk in on somebody
using your laptop
without your permission. I just monster
sneezed all over
my phone. Lana del Ray is
queen. I spent 12 dollars on
frozen yogurt 2 months ago
and I get angrier everytime
I realize it. I don’t feel 18…
My mom is trying to explain
the patriarchy to my sister.
Ain’t nothing gonna put out
that flame — my chem teacher.

 

UPDATE 12/14/2016

I couldn’t resist trying my hand at another one.

Found Poem Made Up of Tweets By Three Other Emilia Phillipses, All Teenage Girls (II)

All I do is grumble about being bored
and tired. I’m always playing this game
called am I overly sensitive or were you
really being an ass. Politeness is becoming
so uncommon that many people mistake it
for flirting. The friend zone was invented
by guys who are friends with girls
and believe they are owed
sex for being a good friend. We all love
a nice ass. I am so stressed out. I have
way too many things to deal with right
now. My parents are literally watching
a nature documentary and narrating
the thoughts of the animals. My cat thinks
the Christmas tree is grass and keeps trying
to eat it. I actually feel shameful for having to use cutlery
to eat pizza. Braces suck. Who hurt you?
Why are you so pretty! So bored
of my hair. Ok next week I’m going
healthier. Need next payday
already. Christmas just isn’t the same
when it’s in the middle of summer. It’s awesome
how you can read a book, watch a film, listen
to music, speak with someone you love and forget
that there is a world
around you. Does anyone else remember
The Country Bears? I used to love that film.
Fucking vile creatures. They’re the spitting
image of a piece of shit. Peep this
gross pic of me. The proof is in the way
it hurts. I’m not always vulgar.
Sometimes I’m sleeping.

Class Guest (with Board Notes) at Elgin Community College

I visited Rachael Stewart’s creative writing class at Elgin Community College today, where I asked students to pay intuitive attention to where lines are broken. I wrote the first stanza of “Inverstaid” by Gerard Manley Hopkins without lineation on the board. I asked them to put line breaks where they think he broke them, and then I asked them to break the lines so that the end rhymes would be subverted. We then discussed how lines have meaning and sentences have meaning, how they can complement one another or come into conflict. We then read Ellen Bryant Voigt’s “The Bear” to talk line break and punctuation, and then Lynda Hull’s “Ornithology” to chart the musicality of free verse.




“Rivers Into Seas”: Line Into Meaning

Small outboard stranded on a sandbar in the Colorado River, ca.1900

Genre: Poetry
Purpose:
To push the boundaries of the line, sentence, and punctuation to add subtext and texture to poems
Readings:
Lynda Hull, Claudia Emerson, Ocean Vuong, Tarfia Faizullah, Jamaal May, Ross Gay

*This prompt was given to Mary Szybist’s workshop at the 2015 Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop

In this prompt, I’d like for you to explore the ways in which you can complicate your poems with subtext and refine them with dramatic, imagistic, and rhythmic textures through the relationship between the line/form and the sentence.

  1. Write a heavily enjambed poem about deceit, doublespeak, a fallible memory, or letting someone down easy. Each line of this poem must make its own kind of sense separate from the sentence(s) to which it belongs. Each line may support, nuance, or buck against its parent syntactical meaning(s). Take a look at Lynda Hull’s “Rivers Into Seas.” In order to examine this phenomenon, it might be helpful to read the poem for its sentences initially, and then reread it line-by-line with an exaggerated pause at each break. What lines assert themselves as a complete thought, sentence, or image? How does that relate to the syntax?
  2. Write a poem that takes the first prompt further by including little or no punctuation. Choose whether or not you’d like to introduce alternatives to traditional punctuation, through in-line white space (also called visual caesuras) as found in Claudia Emerson’s “Midwife”; line breaks, like those in Ocean Vuong’s “Ode to Masturbation”; capitalization at the start of sentences; or some combination. (Keep in mind that in-line white space also can be used as a means to emphasize certain images or phrases; to modulate the reader’s pace; or to imitate an action taking place in the poem.)
  3. Write a poem in two columns. The columns must make (a certain) sense if read together and apart. See “Aubade Ending with the Death of a Mosquito” by Tarfia Faizullah and “I Do Have a Seam” by Jamaal May.
  4. Write a poem in one sentence or run-on sentence that uses the line as a break for breath that befits the action of the poem or the way in which the speaker might tell the story. See Ross Gay’s “For Some Slight I Can’t Quite Recall.”