Tuesday Poetry Tryouts: Look Closely

19 Mar

7:33 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to the washing machine, maybe music later

Hullo, everyone. I hope you are well. Welcome new readers. It has been a while since I have done that and I know I have several new names. Please, if you have any questions about the way the blog works, pop into comments on any day. If you have not read the poems from last week’s contributors, visit for a while. There is always a lot of conversation so look for the red links.

I was wandering through Steve Kowit’s book In the Palm of Your Hand and came across this exercise, which I thought you would enjoy. I’ve adapted it a little, at least, put it into my words.

Imagery is the representation in words of a sensory experience. A poet uses imagery to make the reader see, hear, taste, touch, and /or smell what the speaker of the poem senses. Okay, that’s basic stuff, but sometimes we forget to include it with our stories, memories, narratives, even descriptions of a place. Our exercise today is one of detail. It’s a list poem. It does not require story. The objective is to provide a sensory experience.

You are going to create an inventory of everything in a particular place. I used to send my students out and tell them to find one place on campus and sit for twelve minutes, before writing a list of everything in their area they could describe in a sensory manner. Twelve minutes is a surprisingly long time, time enough for the surface stuff to disappear and to become aware of what is beneath.

Place is up to you: a park, the beach (some people are in the other hemisphere!], your yard, a room where you work, a file cabinet, or a desk drawer. Kowits says: Perhaps if you are ingenious or ambitious (and I know you are both), you can take something as small as a flowerbox and describe dozens of minute objects and creatures–from small pebbles and ants crawling on the leaves, to the colors of a single weed and the curled form of a desiccated leaf.

As with any list poem, you can’t start the poem before you have a list. When you have your place (and I’m thinking the smaller the more fun, because of the challenge), list every single thing in it. Then go away and do something for a few minutes. It doesn’t require long, but it does require a completely new view for your eyes. You will be amazed when you return, the amount of things you missed. I should know. I’m a Hidden Object game devotee.

As you choose what you want to include in the poem, you can spread what you choose among all the senses: sight, sound, taste (go ahead, lick that pebble), smell, touch; or, you can choose a single sense by which to describe the items. Another possibility is a ‘it looks like‘ list. Take that pebble and look at it through a magnifying glass. Hey! It looks like the surface of the moon. Go further. How about a list of metaphors for what you have discovered: the pebble is the surface of the moon, a lost planet, a fossil…

Yes, I am asking you to play, but to work at it. With poetry we have the chance to describe things so that, as poet Francisco X. Alarcón writes,

A poem

makes us see
for the first time.

(found in Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy). This applies to both reader and writer of poems. Go, find, absorb, list, turn into imagery that allows us to experience things for the first time.

Format seems to go without saying; it’s a list. But, I have learned that you are a wild and crazy bunch, so if you think of a way to present your list in an un-list form, do so, but only if that form supports the content.

I will see you Thursday for something on The Poetry Giveaway (yes, it’s that time again), and the poetry challenge I am involved in with The Found Poetry Review. If any of you have a National Poetry Month announcement they wish me to add, let me know: margoroby[@] I’ll see you Friday for the prompt roundup;and, next Tuesday is our image prompt.

Happy writing, all.

listening to Randy Travis singing Deeper Than the Holler



Posted by on 19/03/2013 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , ,

19 responses to “Tuesday Poetry Tryouts: Look Closely

  1. Misky

    19/03/2013 at 11:05 am

  2. pmwanken

    19/03/2013 at 11:16 am

    Oohh…I love that Randy Travis song! After I started writing poetry, I began hearing songs as if for the first time, in a new light. And that song, in particular, was one that I just fell in love with all over again when I listened to those analogies. 🙂

    I’ve been on a writing roll this past week…getting caught up on a couple things and keeping up with my 100th wordle in a row! 😀 This prompt of yours is one I’d like to try — if not now, I’ll come back to it at some point. 🙂

    • margo roby

      19/03/2013 at 11:25 am

      Me too, Paula. I never tire of it.

      I’m hoping after six weeks of writing found poems that I, too, will be ready for fresh new poems! I’ll be here when you get here.


  3. Carol Carlisle

    19/03/2013 at 12:40 pm

    I’m out of writing practice lately so this will have to do:
    Field trip to beginners mind,
    may I see the white clouds overhead
    may the pattern of dust lead my feet on
    to paths know.

    • margo roby

      19/03/2013 at 4:11 pm

      Carol, I like the idea of a field trip of that sort.

  4. julespaige

    19/03/2013 at 8:12 pm

    • margo roby

      20/03/2013 at 7:33 am

      Jules, where is it? I went to your link. What am I missing?

      • julespaige

        20/03/2013 at 7:53 am

        Hm…Viv got it…I’ll send it to you.

  5. vivinfrance

    20/03/2013 at 4:35 am

    You ask for a list poem, and a list of sorts I’ve given, but it is not as coherent as my usual scribbled shopping lists

    • margo roby

      20/03/2013 at 7:33 am

      A shopping list would be interesting, ViV. I’ll be over to read your poem.

  6. purplepeninportland

    20/03/2013 at 11:16 pm

  7. neil reid

    21/03/2013 at 5:09 am

    Well, my thanks Margo. For what you might ask? Time will easily tell. But without doubt we’re both a little poem crazy, huh. A list poem you also tempt. A form I fall into nearly without intent. However, this late night just to say hello. Oh, and glad sentiment for the prompt.

    But oh, (just to amuse myself, “you can’t start a list poem without a list”? I love rules (to break). I always thought you wrote the poem to write the list. Associations? Free spawning? Yes? I write to discover the list (or maybe I just need a couch?), therapy aside.

    And interesting book that while back I made a poor prompt of – What the Robin Knows. Kind of for “birders”, kind of not – about observation. Not just ours, but how (much) birds observe of their surroundings. They know lots we ignore. Difference I suppose, them to us, is it is survival for them and we think ourselves much immune to harm (if falsely) in the world. You might like reading it. (even though I messed that prompt, hope to return to it someday) (it is also a real world test of our willingness to really observe – a poet’s test??)

    Best, neil

    • margo roby

      21/03/2013 at 1:18 pm

      Hah! she said, pleased to have beaten him to the punch. When I see the WWP prompt in my inbox I visit them before anyone, so when I saw your thanks, I had already read your post. I rather thought the idea sounded familiar. Crazy like a poem, hmmm?

      Just to amuse yourself, hmmm? I’m thinking both ways: the list for the poem and the list of the poem.

      I remember the prompt. I also notice the difference from person to person, since taking an education course that taught me about hunter gatherers and whatever the ones who stay and farm are called. Way back, I would have been the hunter gatherer — I miss nothing in my surroundings; Skip would be the farming — he can walk through a county fair and not notice. Okay, that’s a little exaggerated, but illustrates the point. I’ll add the book to my summer list. It sounds interesting.

      so glad for these flyby visits, each winging around!

      best, m


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