or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;
or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;
or 100 Pencil Exercises;
or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night
Table of Contents
- Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
- Imaginary Worlds
- Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
- Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
- Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
- New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
- Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
- Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
- Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
- It’s All About You
Miscellany; or Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
Bridge Building, or Setting up House
I’m sure all of us have many strong, individual poems. And I’m sure many of these poems have relationships with each other, and I imagine many have no relation one another. And I imagine these unrelated poems would like to be collected & find a home in a book or a chapbook, but their inability to relate with each other keeps them in their own little poetic studio apartments.
Ok. Here’s the assignment: Get those poems out of their apartments. Gather those unrelated poems & make bridges between the poems by writing poems that can find/make relationships. Do this for as many of the poems as you can. Let your poems make friends with each other. Let them share their talents & let them split the mortgage.
I guess this would be considered a personae piece.
You will take on the voice of a character in a story who is one of the following: someone we are told is there but not talked about (a scenery character), someone who is mentioned in passing, or someone who is known to be there but not mentioned. Then give that person a voice. For instance, I did the voice of one of the crew members that was sailing with Odysseus when they encountered the Sirens. There are plenty of others. For instance, one of the spear-carrying warriors fighting with Lucifer in Paradise Lost.
[This assignment arose from a Michelle Bonczek idea, and is used with permission.]
Write a poem about a dream a famous person (real or fictional) may have had.
It can even be done without allusions!
a: First Things First . . . Second, Third, Fourth, . . .; Indices Are So Useful; or Amateurs Borrow. The Great Ones Steal, Part Two
This idea came from reading the index of first lines in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry and realizing the string of first lines sounded like a long poem.
Within The Truant Lover there is the poetry assignment that I am assigning, but that Juliet Patterson got to first. Here’s the poem, which is used with Nightboat Books’ permission:
Index of First Lines A slash of blue Asphalt/colorless Again the cry that But she is/a stranger yet By the time you read this Coming late, as always Darling, Dear Dear/I could/send you Dear/I would/have liked Dear friend/I regret to inform you For love we all go I’ll send my/own two answers Many times loneliness No words/ripple like Oh, The things of which we want The proof of those we knew before There is another loneliness We meet no stranger, but our self We had not expected it When I hoped/I feared/When I feared/I dared – where we/owe but/a little You must let me/go first
(What’s good about Patterson’s poem is that it actually works within the context of the book, as you will discover when you read it.)
Here’s the assignment: go find a poetry book with an index of first lines, like a Norton Anthology, or the new Migration by Merwin, or The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats (Volume 1), or whatever. Then string together the first lines to make a poem. Or, as it seems Patterson did, use the second line to push the poem forward a bit. You can even make a series of poems. And remember, you can also just use this as a “trigger” to begin a poem. When you’re done with the first lines, you can stare & revise until something else arises.
b: Making New Use of Your Bookcase
Your bookcases are lined with books, & for the most part, the spines of the books face out so you can read the titles.
Here’s the assignment. Use the title of the books, as you did with the index of first lines, to string together a poem.
Ok, go forth line by line, or title by title.
[This assignment arose from a Michelle Bonczek idea, and is used with permission.]
You need to be in a coffee shop or bar or diner or restaurant & be writing a poem. The moment you get stuck or pause in your writing is the moment you listen in on a conversation. The first phrase you hear will then have to be worked into the poem within a few lines.
Should you get stuck or pause again, repeat the process.
A variant of this can be done at home & with no one around. Instead of listening when you pause, you can flip through a dictionary, randomly stop on a word, & then bring that word into the poem within a few lines.
The Boring & the Mundane
This is your assignment: watch a pot of water boil, or coffee brew, or a bathtub fill with water. Look at a crack in the sidewalk. Put your ear on your front lawn & listen. Put your ear to a tree. Put your nose over a clean drinking glass & smell. Lick the back of a book you hate or your favorite book. Touch an iron rail.
Observe something ordinary – but observe. Later, reflect.
Maybe even watch your computer reboot.
That is all. Except maybe do it when you are completely bored out of your skull, or when you have far too much energy.
a: For the Slackers; or Pound, Merwin, Hemingway, & You; or the Art of Discipline
Some of you are already performing this assignment, & you are therefore excused from it. The rest of you, including myself, must do this. It is imperative to get yourself writing consistently.
In the recent issue of Poets & Writers [I think it’s the July/August 2005 issue] there is an article about & an interview with W.S. Merwin. We learn that Merwin once visited Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. One piece of advice Pound gave to Merwin: write seventy-five lines of poetry every day. That’s your assignment – write seventy-five lines per day for at least one month.
If that seems too many lines per day, or not enough, then adjust to your personality. (I will be writing one page per day – approximately forty lines per day). But you must write enough to form a sustained amount of time for mediation.
b: No Cop Outs
Already some of you are finding excuses out of this assignment. “Oh, I’m going away this weekend. I won’t have time to write.” In that case, I refer you to Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway, as I have read, wrote 250 words per day. If he was to go fishing on Saturday, he wouldn’t wimp out on writing. On Friday, he’d write 500 words to compensate for his lost day of writing – thus keeping up his 250-words-per-day average. So, if you are going away for the weekend, on Friday write 225 lines – seventy-five for Friday, seventy-five for Saturday, & seventy-five for Sunday.
c: The Cop Out to the Cop Out
Someone, probably me, is already planning this one: “Oh, I managed to write one hundred lines of poetry yesterday, so I only have to write fifty lines today, & then my average will still be seventy-five lines per day.” No. No back-ended compensation. Future compensation is ok because you are planning & anticipating. You are making up for a period of time when you know you cannot write. With backwards compensation, you are just slacking. There will be no slacking. If you have time to write, write your seventy-five lines.
This one came from Renée Roehl’s kid, Dario, & his writing class.
Start a poem with “Ok Pardner, this is it.” Partner can be used in place of pardner should you choose. This seems to provide for a strong, exciting opening.
One might also want to refer themselves to Ed Dorn’s book-long poem Gunslinger. One might also want to refer themselves to Chris Howell’s poem “The Holdup” as it first appeared in Third Coast Spring 2003 (quoted in full below).
The Holdup Give me your money, he said. We don’t have money, they replied, we have eggs. Oh, very well, he sighed, give me your eggs. We don’t have complete eggs, they said, only the shells. Well, then, give me your shells, quickly before I become tense. The shells we have are broken, they said, we will give you the pieces. (“The Holdup” is used with the permission of Christopher Howell and Third Coast.)
This one comes to us by way of Aimee Nezhukumatathil. As I understand it, she looks up information about a phobia, & then she takes on the voice of the phobia or the voice of someone with the phobia & writes a poem with that voice. The poem she read at AWP 2004 was about the fear of poetry (metrophobia). The poem appears in her book Miracle Fruit (Tupelo Press, 2003). But make sure to not make of the fun of the person with the phobia and try to create a three-dimensional character, a character who has the phobia but is not defined by or limited to just the phobia. You can be playful and have fun, just don’t make fun of the character, because there is at least one person out there suffering with the phobia you choose.
A place where one can start to look for theses phobias is: http://www.phobialist.com/.
The Rainbow Connection
Compose a poem with the phrase “choking on a rainbow.” This is a phrase that comes from a satire article in The Onion about a young poet. Variants can include “eating a rainbow” or “cooking a rainbow” or whatever. You know?!
The Reader’s Digest Experiment
Write a poem titled “An Abridged Version for the Modern Reader.” I found this sentence on the title page of a Stendhal book published by Reader’s Digest that I found in an antique mall in the-middle-of-nowhere, Washington.