Friday, March 21, 2014

Writing Prompt #2

Writing Prompt #2

One of the many joys of being in a poetry group is sharing and exploring different ways of writing poems. Last October, James Kershner, leader of a Buddhist Sangha on Cape Cod and co-founder of the Steeple Street Poets, led us on a haiku walk. Our group meets at the Mashpee Public Library near Christ the King Church with its lofty steeple, thus our name and the street the library is on (Steeple St.)

Before we went outside, James asked us to walk in silence. Our group of about ten poets spent a quiet ten or fifteen minutes walking in the park area opposite the library. On our return, we composed our haiku in silence. I wrote: “Hearse pulled up to curb/white church steeple overhead/our silence a prayer.”  The traditional haiku is three lines with five/seven/five syllables. In more contemporary poetry, haiku is often written in anywhere from eight to thirteen syllables, usually with a nature theme.

Next, James had us try an experiment. We would do some free writing, then meditate for a few minutes, and write some more. One short piece I wrote prior to meditating: “Vintage buttons in a jar/fireflies of the past winking.”  As we quieted our minds and our breathing, James asked us to imagine the air we breathe in connecting us. After I opened my eyes, I tried writing again. I think this later writing was more expressive: “Time flows backwards/nothing here but my heart.wanting waiting” and “Sign language/gestures of the heart/grown too big/explosion.”

The next part of this session involved each of us writing an alphabet poem. Some of the resulting poems were creative and intellectual. I chose to write about animals: “Adder’s sting/bee’s breath/cats slinking…” and ending with “venus fly trap/wasp worries/x-tra kibbles/young hatchlings/zookeeper’s dream.” It was fun to use my imagination in this poem.

Finally, James had us try a list poem. I chose to write about things I’ve discovered: “Even in an ordered life/the unexpected can happen” (philosophical) or “Dust bunnies = broken vacuum” (humorous).  All in all, it was a wonderful session and I came away with new ideas for creating poems. In future posts, I will offer more writing prompts and would also love to hear from readers of this blog. If you have a writing prompt that works to unleash your creative voice, please send it

Monday, March 3, 2014

Writing Prompt #1

Sometimes when a poet encounters writer’s block, that inability to write or come up with ideas, a writing prompt can help open up the poetic floodgates. A simple definition might be “a writing prompt is basically a question which helps the writer move into action.” Writing prompts can also allow for experimentation or revision.

In our Mashpee poetry group, the Steeple Street Poets, we have a volunteer leader for each monthly session. Often, that leader chooses a theme for us to try. In recent months, we have looked at persona poems, haiku, six-line poems, etc.

In this post, I would like to examine one of our more successful writing prompts introduced by fellow poet Jarita Davis. She had asked us to bring in a poem and we would work on changing/transforming it. At the beginning of this workshop, she asked us to fold our poem in half. Now, she instructed, we would work with only one side of the poem showing. After a few questions, we busied ourselves with  Jarita’s novel concept.

The poem I brought to workshop, “Swept Up,” is about taking my college students for a walk. It begins “I broke with ritual today.” When I folded the poem in half, the right side looked something like this: “today/desk and notes/strolled green paths/sang/quietly.” Interestingly, there was still meaning in the words. Jarita explained this method helps you excise unwanted lines and words and still keep the integrity of the poem.

Next, she had us write the poem using opposite phrases. For example, my title became “Turned Down.” The phrase “newborn and blank” became “ancient and wise.” Again, this was a way to turn the poem upside down to yield surprises.

Finally, Jarita handed out scissors and glue sticks. We were instructed to cut up our poem into one or two line segments and glue the small sections to a clean sheet of paper. After studying these pieces of a longer poem, I came up with a completely new short poem called “Too Much Faith in Words.” It reads “I would be something fallen/newborn and blank./Between letters,/I would be the white space.”

Looking over my notes from that day’s session, I could probably find even more poems. It was a great exercise and one I want to try again soon. So, stay tuned! In my next post, I will look at another inspiring writing prompt.