Tuesday Tryouts: The Modes

10 Nov

8:32 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Hanohano ‘O Maui sung by Keali’i Reichel

Hello, everyone. We have lovely autumn weather (for San Antonio). I’m in a long sleeved shirt, three layers, and my wooly socks. Yay! With coffee in hand let us peruse. Today’s exercise is adapted from Jack Penha’s adaptation of Richard Jackson’s “five easy pieces” from The Practice of Poetry.

  • Think of people you know well. – for the sake of the exercise, you need to have someone you can easily visualise. Pick someone.
  • Imagine a place where you can picture the person. This does not have to be a place the person has been.

Whether you are a NaNoWriMo-er or poet, we are going to write five sentences taking us through the four modes of writing: description, narration, reverie, and dialogue.

1. Describe the person’s hand or hands in one sentence.

Description takes place in no time; i.e. time stands still for description. So do not let that hand or those hands move. You can describe what they look like or how they are poised or where they lie. But time in description does not move.

2. Narrate something she does with her hands, in one sentence.

Narration takes place over time. That’s what distinguishes it from description. So let time move. Describe the person eating a crab, or shaving, or tending to a plant.

3. Reverie takes place in the mind of a character or a narrator.

Your person is thinking of something that, although he may not know it, is a symbol for something he experienced in the past. Or something he dreams of experiencing in the future. In one sentence, write about the metaphor in the person’s mind–without telling us what it stands for. Indeed, you do not even need to know what it stands for.

4. These next two are examples of dialogue—the rhetorical mode of drama.

a. (probably relevant to numbers two and three above,) Write the question you would love to ask this person. Just the question—as a sentence. Not, I would love to ask. Just the question. As if it were in quotation marks.

b. The person looks up or toward you, notices you there, gives an answer that suggests she didn’t entirely hear or understand your question. One sentence.

NaNos, you can stop there or expand on what you started. Poets, find the poem in your sentences. Feel free to make changes—small or radical—that seem to make it a better poem. Feel free to leave out bits.

I don’t usually show examples, but this exercise might cause furrowed brows, so here’s my take:

1] Her hands are translucent with age, her skin leafy to the touch.

2] Spidery fingers poke the earth around the bottom of the plant.

3] Once a deep purple, now faded to pale blue, veins like spikes of delphinium.

4] It’s cold; are you coming in?

The weather has changed; I must prepare the bonsai.

The poem:

Her Hands

Spider fingers
poke the earth
around the bonsai’s base.

Once a deep purple,
now faded
to pale blue,
veins like spikes
of delphinium,

hands translucent with age,
her skin leafy to the touch.

Go forth and write and I will see you again, Thursday for links and then, my friends, not for a week. My husband, having decided we need a break, booked us into a hotel in New Orleans. Who am I to argue?

Happy writing, all.


Posted by on 10/11/2015 in exercises, poetry


Tags: , , ,

32 responses to “Tuesday Tryouts: The Modes

  1. Jane Dougherty

    10/11/2015 at 10:24 am

    Thanks for the idea! Just written one.

    • margo roby

      10/11/2015 at 10:33 am

      Wonderful! I’m always glad to hear it. Thanks for the reblog.

  2. Jane Dougherty

    10/11/2015 at 10:25 am

    Reblogged this on Jane Dougherty Writes and commented:
    While you’re waiting for tomorrow’s prompt, why not try out this exercise?

  3. georgeplace2013

    10/11/2015 at 3:51 pm

    • Misky

      11/11/2015 at 6:44 am

      Gave me a shiver, this one…

    • margo roby

      11/11/2015 at 8:26 am

      The good news is that once you start writing a poem, the prompt can effectively go out the window.

  4. Misky

    11/11/2015 at 6:38 am

    Greetings. Howdy. Good’ay. Top of the morning. Hello.

    • margo roby

      11/11/2015 at 8:27 am

      My weren’t you perky. All of the above and a tip of the hat to ye.

  5. writersdream9

    11/11/2015 at 7:16 am

    Hello and thanks for a fine exercise! Here’s my homework 🙂

    • margo roby

      11/11/2015 at 8:27 am

      Grin. As a retired teacher, I love your calling this homework.

  6. markwindham

    11/11/2015 at 10:20 am

    Did not lend itself to happy thoughts…but I am somewhat pleased with the result, rarely a good sign. One of those that kept writing itself while I was trying to sleep, finally got up and typed it out. You know, because you wanted all of this information. 😉

    • margo roby

      12/11/2015 at 8:13 am

      You know me. I love the chat 🙂

  7. julespaige

    11/11/2015 at 6:23 pm

    Something to further delve in when I have oodles of time.
    I chose a nap over creativity today.
    And I’m going to retire early as well.
    Dang this sun setting early is, well it is just dark out there!

    I wrote this for another prompt, and well it does have ‘hands’ in it. Enjoy:
    Pasta and Beans

    • margo roby

      12/11/2015 at 8:14 am

      That’s okay, Jules, you hibernate your heart out.

  8. purplepeninportland

    11/11/2015 at 10:45 pm

    Very challenged by this one, Margo. Also intrigued enough to try it!

  9. rosross

    11/11/2015 at 11:01 pm

    this made me think of my mother and her hands after many years of rheumatoid arthritis.

    • margo roby

      12/11/2015 at 8:18 am

      There is something about hands that is powerful when focused on.

  10. Jane Dougherty

    13/11/2015 at 2:36 am

    Here’s mine. Thanks for the suggestion—it was about time I wrote about this old lady 🙂

    • margo roby

      13/11/2015 at 9:15 am

      Think of the time you haven’t written about her as marinating time.

      • Jane Dougherty

        13/11/2015 at 9:21 am

        I hope I do her justice. She’s a tremendous old lady 🙂

  11. Hannah Gosselin

    13/11/2015 at 3:41 pm

    Oh, this was magical. Thank you, Margo!

    I’ll be back to read the person whose hands I wrote about is visiting…

    • margo roby

      13/11/2015 at 10:17 pm

      I love that the person is with you!

      • Hannah Gosselin

        16/11/2015 at 2:58 pm

        Thank you, Margo!! She read it when she arrived and loved the poem – made her teary and she was intrigued by the way it came about with your prompt! 🙂


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