Genre Feature

Practicing Writing Poetry

Welcome everyone to week two of poetry month! I hope everyone is had a happy Easter and is staying healthy as we make our way through the rest of April. In last week’s article, I discussed how one of the ways I practice poetry is by mimicking poems that I have read and enjoy. To expand upon that, this week, I’d like to discuss my top four favorite writing exercises that I use to find inspiration (that can hopefully help inspire you as well)! Do note, these are listed in no specific order, and not all of them work for every writer, so pick and choose as you please!

Found Poetry

Found poetry recently became one of my favorite types of poetry to read, and one of my most productive ways to practice. For anyone that doesn’t know, a found poem consists of lines not from the author, but rather from outside sources. As an author, your job is to find sources in the world around you, and craft a poem from their words. For example, In Amy Nezhukumatathil’s collection Oceanic, she has a poem entitled “One-Star Reviews of the Taj Mahal”. Composed completely of one-star reviews of the Taj Mahal as the title suggests, Nezhukumatathil highlights the absurdity of “reviewing” an international wonder and comments on the modern power of online reviews.

Practicing with found poems primarily works to improve form; since the words are not your own, all of the focus is on how you present them. I often start found poems by looking to people directly around me at events or meetings, and jog down the most interesting quotations about whatever we’re talking about. Then later, I’ll take those quotations to make the found poem, experimenting with how I portray the subject matter, individual speakers, and the dynamic of the conversation. Often times you can end up painting a thousand different picture with just a few words! Found poetry is super cool and easy to learn, so I recommend any aspiring poet give it a try.

Word Webs

You’ve probably heard of word webs. They’re often taught in school and are one of the most commonly used ways to begin teaching poetic language. In addition to being very very simple, I always find them shockingly effective. The exercise starts by writing a subject of any sort in the middle of a paper. From there, brainstorm any related terms and phrases and write them down, connecting them to the center subject with a line. Then, extrapolate upon those new ideas, connecting events, emotions, personal experiences, and more, until the page is full. While usually intended to provide a jumping-off point for poems, word webs can also help improve diction and imagery as well. A great and quick exercise for just about anyone with a couple moments of free time.

Connotation Poems

One of the largest things I struggle with in my own poetry is finding ways to bring out the most in my imagery. Often times I find myself unsatisfied with the combinations and order of adjectives I use in drafts. Sometimes it will be because I feel that those adjectives don’t fully capture the essence of what I’m describing (how can I really describe the flourishing grass without just saying “rustling” and “green”?). Other times it will be that I’m trying to capture a very specific emotion in an exact moment, and a single wrong word will tell my reader something different than what I actually feel. To practice my diction and imagery in a way that builds upon word webs, I use what I’ve deemed “Connotation Poems”. These poems seek to find interesting combinations of words that provoke very specific thoughts or emotions. One may look like this:

Scrunchy wet cereal being pressed

The gentle schlop the milk whispers as it plops back in the bowl

The suppressed flash of the water racing around the sink

The hollow klang of the spoon against the fork painted in factory cheese graffiti.

These poems can be broad in concept, such as this one about today’s breakfast, but the goal is to practice combining and testing out different adjectives to find the exact description you want for specific moments. Working on these poems often leads to many scrapped lines and pouring over google to find cool images to describe, but that’s the whole point! Experimentation with weird and obtuse words can be the key to perfecting the transportation of experiences from author to reader. Connotation poems are awesome for exactly that.

Study

I’ll come right out and say it, I’m not a huge fan of studying poetic theory. While I understand and respect all the different types of meter, I often find myself writing first, and then seeing my just poems just happened to be mostly in “quintadoodle pentameter” later. However, I would not be where I am today as a writer without poetic theory. Learning the more advanced mechanics and skills of poetry isn’t always something I can just sit down and do willingly, but the experience is always helpful. Here’s what I’d recommend as far as a beginner’s approach to theory:

  1. Read. You’ll natural pick up on basic patterns and concepts from exposure alone.
  2. Study in bursts. Working too much to learn theory will burn most people out. Take your time, as long as you still make time for it.
  3. Practice one at a time. If you’re just learning about a new form like sonnets, try out a few before adding new theory in the mix. It’s essential to understand the basics before combining elements. Don’t feel you need to rush anything!
  4. If you hate it, don’t do it. Not everyone is trying to get their work published, and that’s perfectly fine! If you just want to use poetry as a way to relieve stress and log memories in a journal, you don’t necessarily need to grind out theory. Set your goals and focus on them!
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So whether you’re just starting out, or are a long-time published poet, I hope you’ve been able to find at least one of these four exercises helpful/thought provoking! Next week’s article I’ll be discussion some tactics for reading poetry, both casually and studiously!

Thanks for reading! Ciao!

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