Poem Tryouts: Six Boxes

18 Mar

7:26 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Stars Fell on Alabama sung by Jimmy Buffett

Hello, all. In just under two weeks it will be National Poetry Month and this blog, like many others, will shut down regular posting as we join in the madness of writing a poem a day. Last year I participated in the Found Poetry Review’s Pulitzer Remix. This year will be more challenging for me. The FPR is having us use an oulipo framework, drawing our poems from each day’s newspaper. I shall post each day’s prompt and those of you who are writing a poem a day using different sources can add these.

Now, for today. We shall put the body on the back burner [didn’t I do this last year, too? Next year if I start a series close to April, yell at me, someone.] and play with a prompt I have seen circulating over the past four years. I saw it first on Big Tent Poetry, then in a Diane Lockwood post, where I discovered the exercise originates with Georgia Heard. So, this is an adaptation of adaptations.

You’ll need a piece of paper, or six index cards. I like the index cards because I can move them around. If you use a piece of paper, divide it into 6 boxes — each index card reminds me of a shadow-box. Put yourself in your favourite reflection place and start:

Think of something you’ve seen outside — something you found beautiful, odd, awe-inducing, or that has  stayed in your mind. Once you have the image clear in your mind, focus on its details. In the first box, describe what you see as accurately as you can, remembering to use sensory details. You do not have to have a whole object, but can work with part of a larger whole, such as a branch rather than the tree.

In box two, maintain your focus, but observe the quality of light. Is it dawn, dusk, high noon, night? Is the sun out, or is the sky overcast? Moonlight? Does the light cause shadows, or enhance colour, or reflect?

In the third box, picture the same image again, but focus on sounds. Are there sounds in the area? Does the thing you are working with have its own sound[s]? Is the weather causing sounds? Is it silent?

In the fourth box, jot questions you have about the image. Is there anything you need to do a quick bit of research on? Are there things you wonder, or muse about. These can wander over to the surreal.

In box five, write down any feelings, or emotions, you have about your image. I found this the hardest, until I thought about things from the point of view of my object.

Before you put anything in the sixth box, look over your notes for the other boxes and select one word, a phrase, a line, or a sentence that feels important, or integral, to your image. Then repeat that three times.

Read over your notes for all six boxes. Create a poem. When I jotted my notes, I was already writing some of my thoughts in poetic lines. Feel free to rearrange the order of the boxes, and to add, or leave out, whatever doesn’t work.

This is one of my favourite exercises and I will often use it when I’m not sure what to do with a subject. It offers an order and a structure.

I shall see you Thursday for one thing or another [I haven’t decided which]; Friday for the roundup of prompts; and next Tuesday for this month’s image prompt.

Happy writing, all.


Posted by on 18/03/2014 in exercises, poems, poetry


Tags: ,

10 responses to “Poem Tryouts: Six Boxes

  1. b_young

    18/03/2014 at 2:30 pm

    Glad to see you back, in your full fine fettle.

    You may not recognize your prompt, but it’s in here.

    • margo roby

      18/03/2014 at 2:36 pm

      I don’t know how fine my fettle is but it’s going to fight, dammit.

      • b_young

        18/03/2014 at 2:39 pm

        If it’s going to oulipo for a month…

        I can do two, three. Thirty?

        • margo roby

          18/03/2014 at 2:49 pm

          Er, a moment of madness. I’m pretty sure oulipo is not my thing, but I want to give it a try. Really… At least each prompt is different.

  2. Hannah Gosselin

    18/03/2014 at 10:24 pm

    Hello, Margo!! What an excellent way to process…thank you.

    You brought to life a passing thought from an image on my walk this morning. 🙂

    • margo roby

      19/03/2014 at 7:15 am

      Isn’t it a lovely way to organise, Hannah? You could do this with several things, when you don’t have time for a poem but don’t want to lose the moment!

      • Hannah Gosselin

        19/03/2014 at 11:00 am

        Very true, Margo…it’s a tool that will be in my drawer of goodies for sure…thank you so much! 🙂

  3. purplepeninportland

    20/03/2014 at 11:09 pm

    Margo, this was a wonderful exercise for putting a poem together. Thanks!


Join the discussion and feel free to critique, or suggest an idea for any poem I post.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: