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Category Archives: exercises

exercises and prompts I have written to encourage poetry

Poem Tryouts: Eat This

7:47 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Sink the Bismarck sung by Johnny Horton

Hello, all. I almost forgot, I am so busily running errands through my head. My brother and his wife arrive this evening. However, you before sheets and towels.

Every year, during NaNoWriMo, I talk about the importance of eating for character development. Then I try to do a variation on what is basically: ‘Describe a scene where…’. So, let me talk a minute on the subject. It is not easy to show a character’s personality without a string of adjectives. The easiest way is through actions and interactions. One of the best of these is a scene where the character is eating, either alone, or with someone, or at a party. Think about it a moment. Think of different meals and what someone might learn about you were they to watch your approach to eating. Think of other people you know and how they eat and what you learn. Heck, go sit at a coffeehouse and watch people. What judgments do you make based on how they eat and drink?

As Skip and I were just in New Orleans, and I was thinking about this prompt, I noticed the differences in the way we approach food and drink. If you were with us when we hit Felix’s Oyster House, and you ordered a half-dozen of these briny delicacies, what would we have seen? Do you jab a fork into the oyster, dunk it in sauce and move it to your mouth before it falls? Or do you pour sauce on the oyster, lift the shell to your mouth and slurp? When drinking a Bloody Mary at Maspero’s, where they believe in a varied assortment of condiments, do you ignore the toothpicked vegetables until your drink is done or do you eat them first, one by one, before your first sip? When eating beignets at Cafe du Monde, do you try to remove as much powdered sugar as possible, before taking a bite of the hot and crispy pastry, or do you bring the heaping whole to your mouth, powdered sugar be damned (along with your face and clothes}.

You get my point. NaNoWriMo-ers, you know what to do. Poets, pick a scene you remember, or envision, of a single person eating. Don’t tell us what the scene depicts about the speaker, or character, but allow us to know through your description. The scene can be a part of a larger story or the sole focus. First, or third person. You can even wait until Thanksgiving, if you are celebrating, and see if there is a likely candidate for your poem.

I’m giving us Thursday off and I will see you next Tuesday for an image prompt (which this would have been in the normal course of things).

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours whether you celebrate or not. Happy writing, all.

 
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Posted by on 24/11/2015 in exercises, poetry, writing

 

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Tuesday Tryouts: The Modes

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.

 
32 Comments

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

 

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Poem Tryouts: Turn, Turn, Turn

8:O6 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to a medley of The Scottish Fight Song and Amazing Grace — I found it so uplifting to watch the video of this being played that the heck with the prompt, here’s a link, go watch and listen

Okay, okay and a prompt, but I’m going to take breaks to go back and watch the cellist. Hi, everyone. Settling in NaNoWriMo-ers? Have your plan in hand? For those new to Wordgathering, in the past year, I spend November talking to the novel writers. Sometimes I will have a prompt they can work on within their novel; sometimes I will discuss things to keep in mind. I always have a suggestion for the poets.

Some of you will be leaping in for the first time. Several of you have been participating for years. A few of you will be using the time to revise a novel in hand. No matter which, somewhere in your brain you’ll need to be conscious of the structure of the whole, and within the whole, each chapter. The same goes for poetry, but unless we are writing epics, we have a much smaller area within which to work and only one turn to consider. For both, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. The key component is the turn, the moment when the story stops moving forward, but instead heads to a resolution.

In a novel, there are many mini-turns because there are sub-plots. If you are panicking about the novel as a whole, focus on the sub-plots. As in poetry, the first draft is getting stuff down on paper. It’s not writing until the revision happens (except for one or two people who have a gift — we aren’t sure we are speaking to them). For today, be conscious of the forward movement of your narrative, and thinking of where the several plots will eventually turn, in particular, the main plotline.

Poets, write a poem where the turn is particularly obvious. The best form for this is the sonnet, which sets up the problem in the first eight lines, and then comments on the problem as a way of resolution (not, necessarily solution), in the final sestet. Don’t panic. I’m not asking you to write a sonnet, although you certainly may. But, be more conscious of laying out an observation, or a problem, of where the poem turns and how you reach the end.

If you need something more specific by way of a spark, check Quickly’s House of Curiosities.

I shall see you Thursday for links and such; and Tuesday for another of my prompts.

Happy writing, everyone.

 
25 Comments

Posted by on 03/11/2015 in exercises, poetry, writing

 

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Poem Tryouts: If You Could

8:09 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Yellow River sung by Christie (I’ve always loved this song but didn’t know the group singing it, or that they are British)

Hello, everyone. Ready for an image, or two? I came across one, recently, that I immediately fell in love with, then stumbled on one that offers a contrast in perspective. Hang on, while I get them up.

cube setting

by Gustavo Fernandes

Say we live in a time where you can order your own pillar of setting. What would you choose to have depicted in your pillar?

Or, if you want to feel cosier about it, how about a jar you can place on a shelf.

scene in a jar

What is in your jar?

As always, you can approach this in any way your mind takes you. You can be literal, you can be figurative, you can link to something your brain tosses up. You can use both images, or one. You do not have to mention the images from which your poem arises, but you may. I look forward to seeing what happens.

I will see you Thursday for links and Tuesday for a prose based prompt. It’s NaNoWriMo time.

Happy writing, all.

 
44 Comments

Posted by on 27/10/2015 in exercises, poetry

 

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Poem Tryouts: The Right Words

8:23 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to John Grant singing You & Him

Hello, all. My apologies for the non-appearance, Thursday. I was in the throes of a cold. You don’t want me anywhere around when that happens. I be a wretched and woebegone person. After several days of pills and rum toddies, I have emerged from the miasma. Let us write. We are borrowing from Diane Lockward, one of my favourite sources for ideas, both from her newsletter and her book The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop.

Early in the book (craft tip #5), Diane talks about finding the right words, no easy thing, if we want to elevate our poetry a notch, or two. Where to go for the right words? The dictionary is an awfully big ocean. A thesaurus can be helpful, but not necessarily poetic. We want words that sound and look and taste. She suggests keeping speciality catalogues, such as flower and seed catalogues, or any of the food catalogues (that come out about this time of year). These lists are also useful for found poetry, but that’s another road.

Aside from the catalogues, Diane tells us that she will Google an item. She gives as her example, blueberries, which took her to the website for the Gierke Blueberry Farm where she found ‘words like cultivars, domesticated, antioxidant and these lovely names of different kinds of blueberries: Rabbiteye, Primadonna, Sapphire, and Snowchaser.’ Aren’t they gorgeous? Another source is Wikipedia, which we can use in the same way as Google, the difference being, we get one article.

What would I like you to do? Grab pen and paper and sit at your machine. Pick a subject. For the purposes of today — unless you already have an idea — pick something simple like spiders, or snakes, or apples. Your objective is to find and use the best words in the best form to give us a poem about your subject. Or, have fun with a list poem.

For an idea of rich word use, Diane suggests some poems to read. Two of my favourites are Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ‘Pied Beauty’ and Sharon Olds’ ‘One Year’.

Go forth and seek words. I’ll await the results. See you Thursday for links and such, and Tuesday for our image prompt. Yes, it is already the end of the month.

Happy writing, everyone.

 
31 Comments

Posted by on 20/10/2015 in exercises, poetry

 

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Poem Tryouts: Look Out

9:43 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to George Ezra sing Budapest — talk about fascinating — Wikipedia this child and listen to his voice while staring at his portrait. Surreal.

What? Oh, hi. I got caught up in George. Shall we write? Short and sweet, as a friend said earlier this morning.

I was going to do a borrowed prompt, but I looked out my window just now and changed my mind. Look out a window now. NOW, not in a bit. If you have to walk to one, carry paper and pen. Jot down everything you see. If something, in particular, catches your eye, focus on it, that one thing, and write a poem. Otherwise, write your scene.

Sometimes, we get caught up in the personal and forget about what draws people into a piece of writing, the visual context provided. We need anchors to what we read, and the visual is one of the strongest. If you happen to have an audio, or other sensory thing going on, throw it in, too.

Go to it. Give me your window. The window, by the way, does not have to be part of the poem. Neither do you.

I will see you for links, Thursday (let me know if you have anything you want mentioned); and we’ll go for the borrowed prompt on Tuesday.

Happy writing, everyone.

 
30 Comments

Posted by on 13/10/2015 in exercises, poems, poetry

 

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Poem Tryouts: Influences of Life

9:10 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Abba sing Waterloo

Hello, everyone. Enjoying the Fall or Spring weather? Good. Keep doing so. South Texas isn’t there yet, although the mornings are cooler and stay that way longer, before we climb into the high 80s, low 90s. (she wept into her morning coffee, thinking of autumn in Atlanta…)

Although this isn’t one of my word prompts, I became curious, just now, as to the etymology of influence. Given what I was planning to write, I was fascinated by what I found. Originally Latin for inflow, it quickly became associated with the influence of the stars on human destiny, the flowing of their ethereal fluid, as it were. The sense of an indirect or imperceptible action that causes change, came later.

Okay, the idea. Think of, jot down, people, or things, that caused you to do something you might otherwise not have done. Or, to not do something you might have done. Is there one that caused a chain of events? My mother joined the CIA and moved to Hong Kong, to get away from the influence of her strong-willed mother. That put her out there shortly before my dad’s company sent him out on a tour. (sidebar — this always amuses me, especially as they both went to college in the same city, but met in HK).

Straightforward. I don’t think you’ll need my influence (snicker) as to a direction to take the poem, but you can write about the influence itself, or the results of the influence, or take a tangent from your thinking, should your brain lead you that way.

I look forward to reading the poems — last week’s were a lot of fun, by the way — and will see you Thursday for links (feel free to send me any you come across) and next Tuesday for another prompt.

Happy writing, all.

 

 
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Posted by on 06/10/2015 in exercises, poetry

 

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Poem Tryouts: This is Where I Want to Be

8:54 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Bohemian Rhapsody sung by Queen

Hello, everyone, new, old-timer, and in between. I hope you are well. Today is our image prompt and I have a place to get lost in for a while. I often use images from the Facebook group, I Require Art. We have the same tastes. In fact, I began following them in order to have a source for images. Then an unexpected thing happened. My Facebook friends enjoyed seeing the paintings I chose. I have almost as much fun seeing who likes what. Sometimes, we even discuss the paintings.

Today’s choice is a recent find and evoked more comment than almost anything I have posted. I remarked that I would like to be there, sitting, looking out over the water, sipping a cup of coffee. Apparently, plenty of people would like to join me. I’ve had to add a guest cottage around the corner.

12043129_895662533821595_1064952773297469079_n

The painting is Fisherman’s House at Varengeville, by Monet. You can approach the prompt in a number of ways. With each, remember that the painting itself does not have to be part of the poem.

1] Respond emotionally to what you see.

2] Go over the painting jotting down every single thing you note. Look at your notes and find your direction among them.

3] Make the painting part of the poem.

4] Write about your tranquil place. You can do this with, or without, the painting. It depends if you want to use the setting as a character, as in having it to specifically refer to. This might be your anti-tranquil place.

5] Do what your brain started as soon as it saw the painting.

Yes? Good. I shall see you Thursday for links and Tuesday for another prompt (and on your blogs, should you respond to this).

Happy writing, all.

 

 
37 Comments

Posted by on 29/09/2015 in exercises, poetry

 

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Poem Tryouts: Indelible

9:08 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Daylight by Maroon 5

Hello, everyone. All well, I hope. The car fit in the garage, yesterday, for the first time in weeks, thanks to a niece and her husband, who carted off a load of furniture. The house is habitable. Now we fine tune.

The idea for the prompt comes from a poem written by Sara way back in January, in  response to another prompt of mine. That prompt asks for a moment in a movie, or on television, that evoked a response from you. This is similar, but it’s not the response as much as an image, I am interested in. Read the last six lines of the poem then come back.

…..

Okay? Okay. Is there a television show or a movie you cannot rewatch because of an indelible image? There are plenty of shows and movies I don’t watch because my imagination is far too active, but only one I won’t watch and that’s the movie The Great Escape. Possibly if I had watched it as an adult, or at least an older teenager, I would have been okay, but I was twelve and the scene where the escapers hit the fence and are frozen in the lights gave me nightmares and has never left my consciousness.

Think of one such image for yourself and write the image, or write the moment, or write the part of you that cannot deal with the image. Although I am asking for an autobiographical moment, feel free to write in third person and to make up details, as needed.

But I have none, you cry. I’ll take a photograph you saw in the news, or a magazine, even an image so well described in a novel that you remember it and have not reread the novel. For me that would be something from Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Let’s see what you come up with. I look forward to visiting you. Yes, I am finally back (yes, it’s about damn time). I’ll see you Thursday for links and next Tuesday for our image prompt.

Happy writing, all.

 
29 Comments

Posted by on 22/09/2015 in exercises, poetry

 

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Poem Tryouts: Beyond the Pale

9:45 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Hotel California sung by Vocal Sampling

Hello all. I hope you are well. Parents, I’m sure you are heaving sighs of relief. West Coast USA, stay safe. Those fires are even scarier than usual. The unpacking and putting away has gotten to the point that we can see what finished rooms will look like. We may even be able to pull the car into the garage, soon.

I have used my family as prompt inspirations, often. This time it’s an email back and forth between my two brothers. They had been talking about one thing and shifted off on a tangent.

Steve: Speaking of beyond the pale, did you know that there actually was a Pale you could be beyond? There was also a Pale of Calais, which now consists of a large Muslim refugee camp. When you break it down to its “roots”, a pale is a fencepost.

John: You’re all wrong. Read Rutherford’s Russka. It has to do with Jews in the Ukraine. Beyond the pale that is, not the book.

Steve: That was a Pale, but it was from the earlier English term applied to Ireland, which itself was ultimately from the Latin palus, or stake.

I love having a family that has this kind of discussion. I had looked the term up some years ago, being curious about the usage. I looked it up again, yesterday, and found myself fascinated by the other words that derive from the original pale, or stake: Pale is an old name for a pointed piece of wood driven into the ground and — by an obvious extension — to a barrier made of such stakes, a palisade or fence. Pole is from the same source, as are impale, paling and palisade. (worldwidewords)

Where does this leave us? Somewhat undirected, I think. Some possibilities:

1] Go with one of the other words that derives from the original.

2] Use the idiom in some way. You may, but don’t have to, quote the actual idiom.

3] Use two or three of the italicised words together.

4] Run with your own idea.

I shall see you Thursday for links and then I’m off for a week. Skip is homesick for Atlanta. We’ll take a quick road trip and I’ll be back here Tuesday the 15th for another prompt.

Happy writing, everyone.

 

 
15 Comments

Posted by on 01/09/2015 in exercises, poems, poetry

 

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