Poetry Exercises Wanted!

I am teaching a Writing Poetry course this July, and while I have a curriculum in place, I’d like to change things up a bit and try out some exercises that have worked well for others, which is where you come in. Plus, there are PRIZES!

* My students will range in age from 18 – 84 (it’s true!). The average age is about 20.

* The students have taken a basic Creative Writing course in the past, so they have a working knowledge of the basic elements of poetry.

* The two standard texts I use for reference are Ron Padgett’s Handbook of Poetic Forms and Sleeping on the Wing by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell.

* I always bring in supplemental material and am easily able to photocopy materials suggested.

* This course will result in the production of a chapbook for each student, so exercises that are geared towards that feat are helpful.

That’s the gist of it. I’d love to hear about exercises that worked well for you!  Additionally, I am aware of Charles Bernstein’s list of experiments, Bernadette Mayer’s Writing Experiments, and Daisy Fried’s Poetry Exercises, so no need to point me in those directions.  I want your personal successes!


Please add your poetry exercise suggestion(s) as a comment on this post. I have a few rewards to send out if I end up using your exercise. Gifts to choose from:

* Rod Smith’s audio CD, “fear the sky“, compliments of Narrow House Records.

* Anselm Berrigan’s audio CD, “pictures for private devotion“, compliments of Narrow House Records.

* Matthew Rotando’s “The Comeback’s Exoskeleton“, compliments of UpSet Press, Inc.

* Amy King’s “I’m the Man Who Loves You“, compliments of moi.

* Kate Greenstreet’s “case sensitive“, compliments of moi.

Thank you in advance!


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AMY KING View All →

Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.

53 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I call it Renga, Renga, Renga. Basically, for the number of students in the class, print out the rules for each renga link (in season) next to the link, and then all of the allowed season words, etc. Give everybody one; when each person finishes one link, they pass it, as in a renga party, and receive a new renga to write the “next” link.

  2. I like cut up exercises. have your students take a book of poetry they love (by a dead person, preferably) and have them copy out words from the poems. these would be words they like for one reason or another. when they have a page or two filled with words, then have them make a poem out of those words (they can add their own prepositions and articles).

    I write this way myself – I steal constantly.

  3. How about this one: this object is to write a good political poem. Give the students a task of writing a poem that’s a love or hate story featuring two people they know (they can be one of the people), with as much detail as possible. When they’re done writing tell them to substitute the names of those people with names of presidential candidates.

  4. 1. have students “steal” lines from their favorite poems, then ask them to build poems around these lines
    1.1. have students steal their classmates’ lines and build poems around them
    2. Cento – create a poem using only stolen lines
    3. Ask students to find poems they like, usually poems with end rhymes. Have them make a list of these words then use them in a poem. But ask them not to use these words as end words but middle words. This will give them a sense of internal rhyme-rhythm.
    4. cut up sonnets then put the lines in a box. ask students to build chance-sonnets by blindfolded selection.

  5. Found you tag-surfing; that is, I was tagsurfing and found this post . . .
    Hi Amy. I’m David.

    Two things work very well for me:
    1) paintings [I write sonnets on nudes mostly – and use public domain images of 16th-19th century paintings]
    2) write a poem in response to a poem [in blogging, I call this surf-by poetry and generally write in sonnet form]

    I recently read an article on sonnets in which the author challenges poets to re-interpret anthologized poems as sonnets. Same thing with news articles. Those sound like pretty good exercises, but I haven’t taken the time to attempt it.

    Best of luck!

  6. Hello Amy,

    Here are two:

    I have examples of this one as well – I call it “What Work Is: For You” and it has nothing to do with the Philip Levine poem.
    In the past, great and not-so-great poets have spent much time contemplating the stars and the sea — this assignment changes all that! Write about a job you have had, whether you loathed it or loved it – it doesn’t matter. Write about picking grapes, pouring coffee — write about teaching an eleven year old how to ski or stealing tea bags from your boss. Write from your own experience. However, you are encouraged to go beyond the literal!

    Keep the poem in the present tense, and BE SURE THERE IS A PHYSICAL ACTION INVOLVED such as scrubbing floors, dissecting chickens, helping someone use the toilet. The job should be one you have some experience with – but the poem might work well in the third person. He or she or they – that’s for you to decide.

    Another fun one is a poem of exaggeration. I’ve had students introduce themselves telling the group a food they love or loathe. There assignment is then to write a poem about their relationship to that food using wild exaggerations. The one I remember is a great one about “I am in love with a wild salmon.” Very enjoyable and good work

    Thanks for posting this on Wom-Po.

  7. 1. Not exactly an exercise, but for the last couple of years when I’ve done NaPoWriMo, a friend and I have come up with 30 weird titles beforehand, so we have to write to suit the title. It results in some very interesting poems. Silly titles can make fabulous poems (and of course the title can be discarded later).

    2. One thing I think many poets have to train themselves to do is really listening to a poem, so read a poem aloud (or a student could read one aloud) and have everyone in the class try to translate the poem into their own poem without the text in front of them.

    3. Depending on how long the class will be meeting and how familiar with each others’ work everyone can get, do a poetry identification contest where people try to match up poems with the students who wrote them. Some people are astonishingly good at this, but everyone can benefit from close reading that tries to find patterns.

  8. I have students write down the first line that comes into their head; what they’re thinking that moment. Then, I call our their names, going around the room at random. Each time I call a name that “name” says their line. Sometimes I repeat…but always at random. I use this to show students how to position lines, and how lines change with context. Most are delighted (teacher too, in my case) when we turn something “banal” into a poem. Ex. “I hope he doesn’t call on me” takes a whole new meaning when placed next to “and why am I wearing this sweater?” in our poem.

  9. Two things I’ve been doing recently:

    *Take an old, crummy poem of your own and rearrange the lines in alphabetical (or reverse alphabetical) order. This works best with skinny (short-lined) poems.

    *Take a bad poem (however you define “bad”) by someone else, preferably someone who is still alive, and “improve” it by rearranging lines, phrases, or words (without adding or deleting anything).

  10. Hi Amy,

    A few years ago while still in Japan I put together a number of poetry writing exercises for students of English. The exercises have been used for teaching native speakers as well as language
    learners. The later exercises — featuring Moore, Creeley, Stevens, Wieners, Towle — are the more challenging; parts of the earlier ones — Williams, Bishop, Ceravolo, Schuyler, O’Hara — though easier, could be adapted for native speakers as well. Here’s the url —


    — Jack

  11. Hi Amy,

    see below an excercise we’re at right now in a course I’m teaching this summer – Writing that Matters – in Ruth Danon’s program at NYU. I won’t know what happened until next week… best, Andrew

    STEP ONE: Read Freud’s “The Creative Writer and Daydreaming,” and the following 28 steps on *How to Become a Blues Musician*:

    1. Most Blues begin ‘Woke up this mornin’…’
    2. ‘I got a good woman’ is a bad way to begin the Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, ‘I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town.’
    3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes… sort of: ‘Got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Yes, I got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher, and she weigh 500 pound.’
    4. The Blues is not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch – ain’t no way out.
    5. Blues cars: Chevys, Fords, Cadillacs and broken-down trucks. Blues don’t travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sport Utility Vehicles. Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Jet aircraft and state-sponsored motor pools ain’t even in the running. Walkin’ plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin’ to die.
    6. Teenagers can’t sing the Blues. They ain’t fixin’ to die yet. Adults sing the Blues. In Blues, ‘adulthood’ means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.
    7. Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or any place in Canada. Hard times in Minneapolis or Seattle is probably just clinical depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City are still the best places to have the Blues. You cannot have the blues in any place that don’t get rain.
    8. Breaking your leg cause you were skiing is not the blues. Breaking your leg ’cause a alligator be chomping on it is.
    9. You can’t have no Blues in a office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster.
    10. Good places for the Blues: a. highway b. jailhouse c. empty bed d. bottom of a whiskey glass. Bad places for the Blues: a. Nordstrom’s b. gallery openings c. Ivy League institutions d. golf courses
    11. No one will believe it’s the Blues if you wear a suit, ‘less you happen to be a old ethnic person, and you slept in it.
    12. Do you have the right to sing the Blues? Yes, if: a. you older than dirt b. you blind c. you shot a man in Memphis d. you can’t be satisfied. No, if: a. you have all your teeth b. you were once blind but now can see c. the man in Memphis lived d. you have a 401K or trust fund.
    13. Blues is not a matter of color. It’s a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing the blues. Sonny Liston could. Ugly white people also got a leg up on the blues.
    14. If you ask for water and your darlin’ give you gasoline, it’s the Blues. Other acceptable Blues beverages are: a. cheap wine b. whiskey or bourbon c. muddy water d. nasty black coffee. The following are NOT Blues beverages: a. Perrier b. Chardonnay c.Snapple d. Slim Fast.
    15. If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it’s a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse and dying lonely on a broken down cot. You can’t have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or while getting liposuction.
    16. Some Blues names for women: a. Sadie b. Big Mama c. Bessie d. Fat River Dumpling
    17. Some Blues names for men: a. Joe b. Willie c. Little Willie d. Big Willie
    18. Persons with names like Michelle, Amber, Debbie, and Heather can’t sing the Blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.
    19. Make your own Blues name Starter Kit: a. name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.) b. first name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Kiwi, etc.) c. last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.) For example: Blind Lime Jefferson, Jakeleg Lemon Johnson or Cripple Kiwi Fillmore, etc. (Well, maybe not ‘Kiwi.’)
    20. I don’t care how tragic your life — if you own a computer, you cannot sing the blues.
    21. People with the Blues eat barbecue, corn bread, beans, and their last meal.
    22. Good blues instruments: guitar, slide trombone, saxophone, and harmonica.
    23. Bad blues instruments: everything else, especially the flute, oboe, french horn, and violin.
    24. You got the blues if you have lumbago or a bad back. You don’t have the blues if you have a mental disorder ending in ‘syndrome.’
    25. Black Jack is a good blues game. Bridge is not a good blues game.
    26. Blues jobs include working on the railroad, picking cotton, musician, or just got fired.
    27. Blues animals include the junkyard dog and mule (not donkey).
    28. Epitaph on a blues musician’s tombstone: ‘I didn’t wake up this morning’.

    STEP TWO: Write an autobiographical fiction, poem, play, children’s story, or some combination thereof (the choice of genre is your own) about the biggest BLUES that’s happened to you within the past 10 months. You are free to make full use of self-deception, distortion, repression of painful experiences and memories, self-aggrandizement, difficulty with chronology—yet implying a “blues story” vs. a seemingly random collection of images and anecdotes. Disrespect any of the above 28 steps that get in your way. Consider remembering and analyzing conversations you’ve either been a participant in and/or overheard. Think about using sensually specific images (experiential) vs. recording your cognitive experience. Perhaps you’ll desire to compose some combination of the two. Remember – embellish your blues interests.

  12. This exercise might be more useful later in the class. Take a book or chapbook, photocopy it, then remove the table of contents and page numbers. Photocopy again (one copy per participant), clip the poems apart and shuffle, so that each person has a randomized packet of poems. Next meeting, each student brings their own reassembled version of the book, and be able to explain why they picked which piece to go where. Contrast with author’s version of the book.

    This exercise is really helpful in sparking discussions of book structure and coherence, strategies for turning a pile into a book.

  13. We had to write poems on an assigned random object such as a lemon. Then we were given a list of words we could not use such as yellow, sour, bitter, fruit. It was challenging and fun. We also had to read our poems aloud, made for a good time. Ü

  14. A few writing exercises I’ve used with EFL university students:

    1) Write from the perspective of an object you own. (The example I give is of my alarm clock complaining about me yelling at and hitting it.)

    2) I have them write cinquains, but before introducing the form, I have them choose a subject and brainstorm related adjectives and verbs

    3) I take them outside and have them focus on each sense in turn (usually combining smell and taste) and write notes on each. Then, we return from the site and have them choose an organizing idea to turn their notes into a poem.

  15. After giving students a prompt based on a poem we’ve just read, I break them into smaller groups (4 or 5) and then ask them to make a column down the left side of the page with the first initial of each of their first names in alphabetical order. This is hard to explain in the abstract but easy with examples. Each of these letters must be the first letter of the first word in each line of the poem. This is just a good way to get beginner’s writing without thinking about how to start. After sharing in groups, and then picking one from their group to share with the larger group, we continue by having each of them go back to their poems and revise the order of the lines to see what effect if any this change might have. They can tweak a word or two, if necessary. It gets them to think about the possibilities of discovery in playing with syntax. The same sharing takes place within the smaller group and then the larger group and then the final part of the exercise is to have them take one line of the poem and play with the word order in the line, again allowing for minor tweaking. A variation of this exercise is to have them switch poems within the smaller group before playing with the line order/word order. It’s a simple exercise series but one I found useful with newer-to-the-trade writers.

  16. My favorite exercise is ridiculously simple but actually hard. It’s best for the journeyman poet, probably not for beginners:

    Rewrite your favorite famous poem without using any of the original words in a poem of no more than 12 lines.

    I look forward to seeing your list evolve. This is fascinating stuff.

  17. Bernadette Mayer has a wonderful list of exercises available on-line. As does Charles Bernstein and most of the Teachers and Writers publications have tons of stuff.

  18. John Tranter sent along “John Ashbery in conversation with John Tranter 1985” — http://johntranter.com/interviewer/ashb85.shtml

    And “John Ashbery in conversation with John Tranter 1988” — http://johntranter.com/interviewer/ashb88.shtml

    Some helpful thoughts on process and writing in both interviews:

    ¶ The surrealists used and abused it a lot, didn’t they? They talked a lot about the unconscious and the subconscious, and letting things happen in a random way. People have often said that some of your writing looks like automatic writing.

    Yeah — I don’t think the surrealists really did that, even though they claimed it was what they were doing, because there’s something so classical and planned about French surrealist poetry. In my own experimental phase in The Tennis Court Oath I was probably closer to that kind of thing … but those poems are quite ungrammatical and their language is very disjunct, whereas with French surrealist poetry you can always expect the subject to be followed by the predicate …

    ¶ They kept to the rules of grammar when they broke all the other rules.



    ¶ And do you revise much? Do you go over and over things?

    Well, when I’ve finished writing I go over and make a few changes, but usually nothing very extensive: I either decide this is not worth bothering with, I’ll write something else; or I just make some minor revisions.Then I put it away and let it sort of ferment for a while, and take it out later, maybe make a few more changes then, but usually not very much.


    ¶ That’s remarkable. Most writers, I think, go through five, ten maybe, drafts of a poem.

    Well, I used to, but I think it’s something that with practice you …

    ¶ You get better and better.

    Me, at any rate. I don’t like working on something once I’ve done it, so I’ve trained myself to either write something that I like or something that I will simply forget about and then go onto something else. One poem I hadn’t read in a long time, by the way, that I liked a lot, was the translation of a poem by Arthur Cravan in The Double Dream of Spring.

    ¶ And what was it that still appeals to you about it?

    Ah, well … it was written in purposeful doggerel alexandrines.

    ¶ A difficult line in English.

    Well, it turned out to he very easy to preserve those limping rhymes in English just by making all the inversions that you’re not supposed to. I discovered that it had a very nice quality as a result of that, a sort of combination of high-flown rhetoric and a very limping, bad, patched-together quality. And I liked that damaged would-be nobility of the language.


    ¶ Your work is so oblique at times that it might be difficult for the reader to see clearly that’s what you were doing.

    Well, if my poetry is oblique, it’s because I want to slant it at as wide an audience as possible, odd as it may come out in practice. Therefore, if I’m writing a love poem it won’t talk about specifics, but just about the general feeling which anybody might conceivably be able to share. And ‘A Wave’, in my last book, is really a love poem. And ‘Some Trees’, which I think is the earliest poem in that first book, was definitely written about somebody I was in love with.

    From “John Ashbery in conversation with John Tranter 1985” — http://johntranter.com/interviewer/ashb85.shtml


    ¶ Whereas now you must think with each poem you write that it will appear in print, it will be examined by tens of thousands of readers.

    Well, I did that at that time to shake my mind up, to get out of my habitual ways of thinking and writing. I had intended at some point to go back and put things together again, and indeed I began doing that while I was still living in France, even before The Tennis Court Oath came out. Since that time I have written things I hoped would be presentable to anyone who cared to read them, and I don’t think that I’ve been conditioned by the success I’ve had in the past decade or so to write differently than I would have otherwise. It might have happened if I’d been an overnight success as a young poet but this didn’t happen. And being an art critic too I saw what happens to some of these young people who become nine-day wonders and then burn themselves out very quickly. It’s something you really think about, and you know that you mustn’t write either for or against somebody’s expectations about your writing. You have to tread a narrow path between two things.


    “The title ‘Europe’ was suggested to me by the title of one of the stations of the Paris Metro which is in a section called ‘Europe’, where all the streets are named after European capitals.
    These were… experiments which I thought would perhaps lead to something, but I didn’t really intend them to be finished poems. I didn’t at that point know how to write a finished poem in the way that I felt I had done so before, at least in the new way that I wanted to write. And quite unexpectedly I had an opportunity to publish another volume. So I used what I had.
    My intention was to be after… kind of… taking language apart so I could look at the pieces that made it up. I would eventually get around to putting them back together again, and would then have more of a knowledge of how they worked, together.”


    “Yes, I think it did. My idea probably was ‘Well, if nobody’s listening, then why not go ahead and talk to myself, and see what I get out of it.’”


    “Oh yes. I am obliged to give a final examination in my poetry writing course, which I’m always rather hard put to do, since we haven’t really studied anything. The students have been writing poems of varying degrees of merit, and though I give them reading lists they tend to ignore them, after first demanding them. And the way the course is set up there is no way of examining them on their reading. And anyway they shouldn’t have to pass an examination because they’re poets who are writing poetry, and I don’t like the idea of grading poems.
    So in order to pass the examination time I had to think of various subterfuges, and one of them is to use one of Malley’s poems and another forbiddingly modern poem — frequently one of Geoffrey Hill’s ‘Mercian Hymns’. And asking them if they can guess which one is the real poem by a respected contemporary poet, and which one is a put-on intended to ridicule modern poetry, and what are their reasons. And I think they are right about fifty per cent of the time, identifying the fraud… [the] fraudulent poem.

    ¶ I was going to ask you if you’d like to talk about how you actually write a poem each day. What do you do?

    I postpone it as long as possible, which is probably why I write in the late afternoon. I also think that my mind in the morning — though it might be fresher and have more ideas in it — is not as critical as it is later on in the day.”


    “I used to think that it wasn’t good for me to write very often. I thought one a week was perhaps the maximum. Otherwise it seemed as thought it was coming out diluted, or strained.
    However I seemed to have changed my mind about this, and am writing just about every day. And feeling okay about what I am writing.
    Also I think the fact that the older one gets — for many people, at least — the more prolific one gets, realising there aren’t the oceans of time that seem to be stretching ahead when one was young. And one learns to use it, and realise how precious it is.
    I also used to think that I had to wait until I was ‘inspired’ before I could write, and then I realised that I hardly ever was inspired, so that I’d have to come up with something… something else.
    So usually my poems, when I write, I’m just in a sort of… everyday frame of mind. Which is all I know, really, I suppose.”

    From “John Ashbery in conversation with John Tranter 1988” — http://johntranter.com/interviewer/ashb88.shtml


  19. When One Can Become Two or More

    We do this on the board — students list things that have “touched” them in some way during the past 21 days. This can be a lost cell phone or a parental divorce. It can be a beating that has occupied the local / national news. We make a list of these things. Then I ask the students to write for 10-15 minutes about one of the items on the list. Next I ask them to consider what was vibrant and strong about what they just wrote, ask them to exchange their accounts and ask for the reader’s comments. Following on this 10 minute writing “opportunity,” I ask them to write a poem in free verse. We discuss what works in this poem and what might be added. After this, I ask them to write a sonnet (it doesn’t have to rhyme–and we discuss this, looking at older and newer ways sonnets can be written. Then, I ask the students to use the same initial material and write a villanelle and then a sestina. In the process, we discuss how sound can be employed, color, taste, dialogue, etc

    — and finally, we look at how the differences that occur in each rendering.

    Sue Walker
    Stokes Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing
    University of South Alabama
    Mobile, Al 36688


    1) Read the same poem, silently, three times in a row. Then close the book and rewrite the poem, using your own language as well as language appropriated (recalled) from the author. You may emphasize style or content or theme or even simply one word. This works particularly well if it is done in series (using collections that are thematically linked, like Rilke’s ‘Sonnets to Orpheus.”

    2) Visit a graveyard. Use the most curious, alarming, incomprehensible, or passionate epitaph as the first line or title of your poem. Invent a life and praise it. Or a death, but don’t praise it.

    3) Write a series of odes based upon the names of forgotten artifacts from cultural history. For example: odes to the characters of GOOFY GRAPE (ROOTIN’ TOOTIN’ RASPBERRY, for example, or narrative poems based upon images on 1960’s cereal boxes (I am partial to Puffa Puffa Rice, myself: http://theimaginaryworld.com/kelloggs2.html)–why, even the Bond Girls could work (http://www.jamesbondmm.co.uk/bond-girls.php) actually–probably not. It’s like writing about Elvis. Perhaps one of the best sources for this general period can be found in the Prelinger Archives (an exhaustive resource of Industrial Films from the ‘40s-’70’s.) Even if you do not write directly about what you see, they are crazy-filled with inspirations. (http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger)

    4) Write a series of haikus based upon all of the proper nouns listed in Cole Porter’s YOU’RE THE TOP (http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/de-lovely/yourethetop.htm)

    5) Return to a spot: inventing a weekly pantoum or sestina, for a year. Sit in the same spot each week, and observe and record all the impressions about you. The pantoum (or sestina) form is particularly effective here because by returning to the same spot many of the same images and impressions (nouns and verbs) will be a constant in your poems. And yet the order, place, and actions upon these images and impressions will, in all likelihood, change over the course of a year. In a way, it’s time lapse photography for poetry.

    6) Write about what you don’t know: The Web is a smorgasbord this way. You can use either an image, a fact, an event, a period, a word (antiquated) to compose a flash fiction or small narrative poem. Emphasize orderliness, structure, coherence, sense, and use the less familiar/unknown/obscure frugally, letting whatever surreal may be just seep slightly into the work. For example: a short narrative poem about breaking up with a girlfriend that references Elizabethan hatwear–the toque and muffin cap perhaps? You never know.

    7) FIND A COPY OF BILL ANTHONY’S BIBLE STORIES: published by the late great Jonathan Williams. In this work, Bill Anthony tells the story of the Bible in about, I believe, roughly, 30 single line pages. Mr. Anthony’s work eerily resembles Beavis & Butthead stuff, although he predates that considerably–in case you get a chance to see it.

    Since he only did the Bible, you are free to rewrite (and illustrate) your own. Try THE AENEID for example, or one that has always tempted me: BOSWELL’S LIFE OF JOHNSON. The futility of this sort of exercise can be really liberating.

    I also recommend that the author do his own illustrations. Particularly if he or she says “But I can’t draw.”

  21. I would get them out of the classroom. Either you take them out as a group, but maybe more effectively ask them to go out on their own in their free time. Maybe suggest that they go some place they don’t go often. Or possibly in manner of travel they normally don’t use. Like if they normally drive, they could take the bus or bum a ride off a friend etc. To a town, city, park, anywhere. Ask them to maybe pretend (only to themselves) that they are someone other than themselves. The reason for their travel? Ask them to pretend they are going to see an old friend, lover, the grave of someone close to them. Maybe they are going to pick up a pound of heroin, or something ordinary even. In reality they will just go on a trip on their own, taking in the scenery and observing their own experience of simply going somewhere they don’t go often. They could mix the fiction story they create in their head with what they actually do and see, and create poems that are sort of scenes that could make up a chap book. Of course you want them to be careful, so make sure to stress that the intense imaginary fiction side stay fiction and that what they really do should be pretty mundane or at least safe.

    I think you could get interesting and creative responses to this.

  22. Here’s a bunch (most of which you’ve seen from my project emails):

    I had Arielle Greenberg and I swap each other’s dreams and then turn the other poets dreams into poems. A good one to get you out of your own head and learn how to collaborate.

    anne tardos once had us do 7 x7’s, something I’m sure everyone does, whatever the numbers, but I dug the restrictions, always do

    I used a sheet of star wars stamps and wrote short little poem songs based upon each stamp. Each poet could instead pick their own artistic source material. The good thing with those stamps, though, was that on the back of the sheet they each had a descrip that you could riff of. So if they do pick their own art one with some source material, however tiny, would be cool.

    The July Project is finished. Last month I saw the Star Wars stamps at the post office and thought of my friend Brian Robinson. I bought a sheet of the stamps (there are 15 to a sheet) for starters.

    Once home I went through my cardboard box of cardboard to see what cardboard I had enough of to use for the 31-day project, and picked my Goobers boxes. I ripped 16 of the old design boxes on the seam, and alternated fronts and backs until I had 31.

    I then placed the stamps on the cards in descending order as to how they rested on the stamps’ sheet (see link below). This is why, for example, there are three cards with Darth Vader stamps.

    I would then write little poem songs, most of which ripped off pop songs, about the Star Wars stamps (and using the text on the back of the sheet about each stamp—can’t locate that online, apologies).

    And here they are, The July Project, for Brian Robinson:


    So the poet Christina Strong and I did a February Project last month, with me writing the first poem each day, her responding to my poem, me responding to hers, and so on, and so on.


    And I was enjoying myself and wanted to continue writing this month, but I thought I needed a little kick start. So I called my good friend and frequent collaborator Sean Cole and asked him to give me a first line, which I then made an epigraph. Each day since, Sean has been giving me a new epigraph to begin a new poem. You can see The March Project 2008, in progress, here:


    **The February Project 2005
    A month-long poem inspired by the postcard stamp of late track star Wilma Rudolph. I used her autobiography, dividing it by the 29 days in February, and turning each day’s seven pages into a section of this work.


    **The January Project 2006
    I wrote a one-line poem on the 1st, a two-line poem on the 2nd, on through to a 31-line poem on the 31st.


    **The March Project 2006
    The following poems are rewrites of im’s composed each day to different people (perhaps you).


    **The October Project 2006 with Sean Cole
    The first poem each day is by Sean, the second by me.


  23. Fun exercises. I have one I use for undergrads that they seem to like–I have them write down all the cliches they can think of in 5 minutes. Then they pick the one that seems to them to have intriguing multiple meanings–and they freewrite for five minutes jotting down all the images and ideas that the cliche calls forth EXCLUDING the one that is the traditional meaning of this cliche. Then they pick through the bits and pieces and create a poem from them.

  24. Amy,

    These are part of a talk I gave at the It’s About Time Writing Series in Seattle, WA

    The web address for the talk that goes with these three exercises is: http://itsabouttimewriters.homestead.com/CraftRich.html

    A Poem of Exaggeration

    This is an opportunity to play. Write a poem exaggerating your appreciation or distaste for a food you know well. Permit yourself to go wild. I began a recent workshop asking participants to introduce themselves by naming a food they loved or hated. “I’m Stan and I loathe lobster” one older man proclaimed, “I’m in love with a wild salmon,” a nursing student confessed. “A cheddar sharper than I am ought be outlawed,” another participant offered. The results included a poem where a salmon stood in for an erotic lover and an aged cheddar cheese began a meditation for one woman’s self-reflection.

    Try a historical appreciation of the eggplant or an ode to an artichoke.

    This poem requires research. How fun to delve into the history of what we eat. For a poem still in progress I’ve learned the lurid past of the eggplant and why the Imam fainted, as in the fabled Middle Eastern eggplant dish. While researching a poem concerning the fantasies of a lonely baker, I found one website http://www.epicurious.com that listed over eight hundred different kinds of cake. Intersperse historical fact with your own taste sensations to create thirteen ways of looking at an artichoke.

    Challenge yourself to write a political poem that uses food as a central image.

    There was a common joke among Palestinians in the early 1990’s before the creation of the Palestinian Authority that referred to the fact that the red, green and black colors of the Palestinian flag had been outlawed by the Israeli government. “Did you hear,” the joke went, the Israelis have outlawed watermelons! It’s a common site to see farmers selling watermelons in late summer by the side of the road. In Gaza, watermelons were political. Write a poem where a food is inextricably linked with a social cause.

  25. Line Break Exercise.

    Provide a mini-lesson about the importance of line breaks and enjambment, etc. Provide examples.

    Pick three poems and type them up as a paragraph. Give them to your students in groups or individually to rearrage into poetic stanzas. Ask them to explain their line break choices and discuss the double meanings created by line breaks.

    I Know a Man
    by Robert Creeley

    As I sd to my friend, because I am always talking,–John, I sd, which was not his real name, the darkness surrounds us, what can we do against it, or else, shall we & why not, buy a goddamn big car, drive, he sd, for christ’s sake, look out where yr going.

    The Red Wheelbarrow
    by William Carlos William

    so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens


    We have all been in rooms we cannot die in, and they are odd places, and sad. Often Indians are standing eagle-armed on hills in the sunrise open wide to the Great Spirit or gliding in canoes or cattle are browsing on the walls far away gazing down with the eyes of our children not far away or there are men driving the last railspike, which has turned gold in their hands. Gigantic forepleasure lives among such scenes, and we are alone with it. At last. There is always some weeping between us and someone is always checking a wrist watch by the bed to see how much longer we have left. Nothing can come of this nothing can come of us: of me with my grim techniques or you who have sealed your womb with a ring of convulsive rubber: Although we come together, nothing will come of us. But we would not give it up, for death is beaten by praying Indians by distant cows, historical hammers by hazardous meetings that bridge a continent. One could never die here never die never die while crying. My lover, my dear one I will see you next week when I’m in town. I will call you if I can. Please get hold of please don’t Oh God, Please don’t any more I can’t bear . . . Listen: We have done it again we are still living. Sit up and smile, God bless you. Guilt is magical.

    I Know a Man
    by Robert Creeley

    As I sd to my
    friend, because I am
    always talking,–John, I

    sd, which was not his
    real name, the darkness sur-
    rounds us, what

    can we do against
    it, or else, shall we &
    why not, buy a goddamn big car,

    drive, he sd, for
    christ’s sake, look
    out where yr going.

    The Red Wheelbarrow
    By William Carlos Williams

    so much depends

    a red wheel

    glazed with rain

    beside the white

    By James Dickey

    We have all been in rooms
    We cannot die in, and they are odd places, and sad.
    Often Indians are standing eagle-armed on hills

    In the sunrise open wide to the Great Spirit
    Or gliding in canoes or cattle are browsing on the walls
    Far away gazing down with the eyes of our children

    Not far away or there are men driving
    The last railspike, which has turned
    Gold in their hands. Gigantic forepleasure lives

    Among such scenes, and we are alone with it
    At last. There is always some weeping
    Between us and someone is always checking

    A wrist watch by the bed to see how much
    Longer we have left. Nothing can come
    Of this nothing can come

    Of us: of me with my grim techniques
    Or you who have sealed your womb
    With a ring of convulsive rubber:

    Although we come together,
    Nothing will come of us. But we would not give
    It up, for death is beaten

    By praying Indians by distant cows historical
    Hammers by hazardous meetings that bridge
    A continent. One could never die here

    Never die never die
    While crying. My lover, my dear one
    I will see you next week

    When I’m in town. I will call you
    If I can. Please get hold of please don’t
    Oh God, Please don’t any more I can’t bear . . . Listen:

    We have done it again we are
    Still living. Sit up and smile,
    God bless you. Guilt is magical.

  26. Amy,

    Two more for you:

    1) Ask students to choose a common noun and then quickly rattle off every descriptor that comes to mind (e.g., tomato: red, round, juicy, ripe, vine, etc…) until all the obvious choices are exhausted. This will take all of 60 seconds, for you, writing these words down on the board. The assignment is then to write a piece titled after the original noun. But using none of the descriptors you’ve just written on the board. With any luck you get 20 more Tender Buttons in the world.

    2) Alphabetize (tip: use an online alphabetizer) the words of one of your fave short poems. Then have students write poems using only those words, or as much as they can manage it. The results are often mindblowing, but for widely varying reasons.



  27. Hand out strips of paper. Have each person in the class write a simile on his or her strip. Have them read the similes aloud and discuss why they work — what connection they find between the two parts of the simile.

    Then collect all the similes. Cut them in half. Mix them up. Tape them back together (color code them so you’re sure you’re not taping anyone’s simile back together).

    Pass the strips out again. Have each person read the new mix-and-matched simile aloud, and have the class discuss how this new simile works. The human mind is a connection-making machine. Your students will always find something, and they’ll be opening up their minds to wider possibilities of image-making.

  28. Mill — I’ve used that one, and had excellent results with it. I always stress that it’s not about a right or wrong way, it’s about them discussing their decisions, and the class discussing how different line break decisions affect the poem.

    Here are a couple I’ve had good results with:

    On The Death Of Friends In Childhood

    We shall not ever meet them bearded in heaven nor sunning themselves among the bald of hell; if anywhere, in the deserted schoolyard at twilight, forming a ring, perhaps, or joining hands in games whose very names we have forgotten. Come memory, let us seek them there in the shadows.

    Donald Justice

    On The Death Of Friends In Childhood

    We shall not ever meet them bearded in heaven
    Nor sunning themselves among the bald of hell;
    If anywhere, in the deserted schoolyard at twilight,
    forming a ring, perhaps, or joining hands
    In games whose very names we have forgotten.
    Come memory, let us seek them there in the shadows.

    Donald Justice

    Or this one, which is a can’t miss for this exercise:

    William Carlos Williams

    To a poor old woman munching a plum on the street a paper bag of them in her hand they taste good to her they taste good to her they taste good to her you can see it by the way she gives herself to the one half sucked out in her hand comforted a solace of ripe plums seeming to fill the air they taste good to her

    William Carlos Williams
    To A Poor Old Woman

    munching a plum on
    the street a paper bag
    of them in her hand

    They taste good to her
    They taste good
    to her. They taste
    good to her

    You can see it by
    the way she gives herself
    to the one half
    sucked out in her hand

    a solace of ripe plums
    seeming to fill the air
    They taste good to her

    And of course, if you’re doing Williams and plums, you can have a lot of fun, and really break the ice for a class, with a parody of the old Williams chestnut about apologizing for eating the plums.

  29. Hi Amy
    I have been following the new poetry digest and the wom po recently and find both stimulating. I love all the ideas and have had little experience in teaching but did a bit with younger folks last year. The first thing I did that excited them was a collaborative poem. each elaborated on I dream… There is a book with lots of collaborative examples that give many more examples of collaborative work “The Saints of Hysteria” David Trinidad editor.
    You can team the students in pairs and have one write a line in response to something of interest,a news article, a picture post card, a color etc, some object that is hard to identify. After each line is written,pass it back and forth between the two,folding the paper to cover the last line about 7 times. They will be surprised and delighted at their combined results.

    Then I continued with Haiku’s but suggesting that they not be nature oriented but give a sense of the cityscape-still with the sylabic count and seasonal hints.

  30. English 251 Introduction to Poetry, Spring 2008
    J.P. Craig

    Creative Writing Assignment 2: A Procedural Poem & Essay #8: Analysis of Your Poem
    For this project, read the two poems below. The first is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130. The second, “Dim Lady,” is Harryette Mullen’s alteration of Sonnet 130 (Western Wind 71) using a procedure similar to the Oulipo n+7 procedure. Figure out what it is you think Mullen did or a way you can achieve something like what she did, and then use that method to alter one of the sonnets in Western Wind that I’ve listed below. Then write about 350 words explaining what Mullen did and why, your method, the poem you chose to work with, how that poem changed as a result of your procedure, and what you think we can learn from the transformation. This assignment is due on Monday, 4/21.

    Sonnet 130
    My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
    I grant I never saw a goddess go;
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
    And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
    As any she belied with false compare.

    Dim Lady
    My honeybunch’s peepers are nothing like neon. Today’s special at Red Lobster is redder than her kisser. If Liquid Paper is white, her racks are institutional beige. If her mop were Slinkys, dishwater Slinkys would grow on her noggin. I have seen tablecloths in Shakey’s Pizza Parlors, red and white, but no such picnic colors do I see in her mug. And in some minty-fresh mouthwashes there is more sweetness than in the garlic breeze my main squeeze wheezes. I love to hear her rap, yet I’m aware that Muzak has a hipper beat. I don’t know any Marilyn Monroes. My ball and chain is plain from head to toe. And yet, by gosh, my scrumptious twinkie has as much sex appeal for me as any lanky model or platinum movie idol who’s hyped beyond belief.
    — (From Sleeping with the Dictionary, 2002)

    Sonnets you can choose from:
    Donne. “Death Be Not Proud” (380); Shakespeare: #18 (374), #66 (210), #116 (374), #129 (375), #73 (374), #29 (312); Sidney “With How Sad Steps, O Moon” (373); Spenser “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Sand” (373).

  31. English 251 Introduction to Poetry, Spring 2008
    J.P. Craig

    Creative Writing Assignment: A Repetitive Poem

    For this assignment, write a poem of 175-250 words that emphasizes some form of repetition. Some forms of repetition you might consider using: rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, anaphora, and assonance. You might look through chapters 7-9 of Western Wind for more possibilities as well as for examples of poems using repetition. Be sure to give your poem a title.
    After you have written your poem, write another 200-300 words that describes what you were attempting to do in the poem. Tell what the poem is about. Tell what forms of repetition you used and where you used them (referencing line numbers) and how you intend those repetitions to work with the meaning of your poem. You might also address how successful you believe your poem to be.
    Grading: I’ll evaluate your poem on how accomplished it is technically and aesthetically, and I’ll evaluate your discussion of the poem based upon how thorough and thoughtful it is. This is due Wednesday before spring break.

  32. some poetry exercises by Christopher Kit Kelen

    first thing I remember

    first thing I remember was
    first thing I saw
    my first smell
    first taste
    first steps

    before that
    but I can’t remember

    after that
    who knows?

    my father’s first memory
    and my mother’s

    first human
    or that of the oldest animal
    the oldest memory of all…

    the poem finds you if it’s there
    words travel on the page

    the tree run

    the bridge catch

    the ship turn

    the sea spin

    is I

    as you

    for it

    why moon

    my hands bare

    my feet tight

    so that belonging

    and yellow

    since blue

    book breeze

    ink last

    sky ten

    see down

    go up

    into tomorrow

    out then

    today as it always was

    connect the words as you see fit or read them where they’ve fallen

    listen and write
    a walk in the woods

    you – the body
    in the picture
    so you won’t see yourself

    see out

    you’re in among the trees
    give colour, light, density –
    eyes up, eyes down
    what do you see?

    you’re on a track
    what kind, how wide
    and where does it go?

    you come to a house
    how’s it made?
    how’s it seem?
    and who’s in there
    when they’re at home?

    no one today
    on the table
    there’s something you open –
    describe it
    inside it –
    what would you say?

    out in the fresh air again
    but the forest is gone
    there’s blue in the sky
    what else can you see?

    follow the track
    say where it goes

    the water you come to
    has to be crossed

    the wall you get by
    tell me how

    and do we get home
    in the end?

    things and happenings
    arrows between
    (change noun or verb forms to agree as appropriate)

    my feet
    come unexpectedly
    the planet
    dance with
    dog’s breath
    take me for granted
    a ship
    cousins of the king
    turn on
    a round

    add to the lists till the arrow takes shape
    then let the poem go

    the day has a hundred pockets

    in the outermost pocket I put…

    then under the first fold, cloth, I see…

    in the skin also…

    clock in the pocket
    but speaks to me

    inside a locket
    my love as described…

    tick tock of the heart beneath

    in the place innermost I find…

    folk morphing
    (with the Propper apologies)

    somewhere – where?
    not just any magical forest, but the place has a name

    now you’ve named it, original magic applies
    and with this thing gained, something is lost

    someone goes – who? – it’s one you love

    before you get over this
    there’s something that’s not allowed –

    then you do it, of course you do

    it’s just at this point
    the villain sticks his/her nose in –

    what does the wicked one want, find out?

    you’re taken in and you don’t mean to
    but still you help that devil along

    so someone you love is hurt
    feels a loss, or wishes for what won’t come

    and now everyone knows about it

    they know that only you can fix things
    … but of course you can’t

    so you set out hopeless
    eager for a lucky break…

    along the way you meet the main magic

    the magic tests you first

    a trial

    you pass the test, the magic’s yours

    and now you’re led to what’s required
    how did you get there?

    no time to worry about that
    the evil one is there before you
    and there to be faced

    you fight
    and it looks bad for you
    at first and for a while
    but in the end you win

    they chase you back
    through all disguises

    home again
    but no one knows you

    there’s even someone claims to be you

    and now there’s something tough to do
    you’re up to it this time

    the fake’s exposed

    you get your reward

    throne and a shiny new wedding

    now yours is the kingdom
    yours is the glory

    time to start telling again


    before we decide on the magic of the day
    we need a list of possibles –

    magic glasses which can…
    a magic watch which…
    fish in my ear to…

    I drive an invisible car…

    in my wallet one note which brings me change in any currency

    then there’s the coin – heads takes me to the future
    tails back to the past… there’s never knowing which way it will fall

    I bring my talking dog with me
    tour guide, worldly-wise advisor –
    s/he says…

    there’s a camera takes me back to wherever I’ve pictured
    lets me run the scene again

    with this
    and my rewind TV
    I can improve on life
    but there’s one scene I fancy
    I can’t get right ever

    I’ve a mindpod to read my neighbour’s face –
    surprising what’s under there

    reverse the polarity
    and it gives face when needed
    for instance when

    magic thermometer measures their love
    and it can cool the heels as well

    a magic pen writes all my poems – there’s no need to think

    a flying dragon takes me higher
    and when I tire stroking its luxury
    I curl into a magic ball
    and roll

    there’s a folding door I keep in my pocket always gets me where on time

    magic shoes bring me home in the wink of an eye

    and when I wake I cry to dream

    and mine are magic tears

    time stops

    hands of every clock come still
    and with them every body, machine

    no one sees this

    it’s only I have still the freedom of…

    so this is where I go

    and this is what I do

    time stops
    and I go out on the street

    nothing moves but me
    not a breath out of mouth
    not a breeze to the tree

    but I can

    time stops
    and I step into the machine

    take it all apart

    time stops
    and the sun hangs stupidly waiting

    and all of the stars on the world’s wrong side

    and the groom at the altar waits

    time stops
    and I look in the mirror

    only then do I learn that
    I was a dinosaur

    this is the only immortality available

    how will I start time again?

  33. “Create a Movement” (a writing exercise)

    1. Come up with a list of “bad” qualities that you see in contemporary society. These are usually “feminine” or “weak” qualities.

    2. Draw totally bizarre paranoid connections between these qualities and certain formal characteristics in poems that are “unsuccessful” (ie, long lines represent a failure to “get to the point”)

    3. Make a list of “good” qualities. These are usually silly, heroically naughty, and hyper-masculine, a little like Elvis Costello’s song “Pump It Up” but without the irony.

    4. Make sure the list of “bad” qualities and the list of “good” qualities are totally unrelated. This will keep people too busy scratching their heads to argue with you (ie, we represent “a poetry of concentrated emotion” as opposed to “a poetry of the unkempt”)

    5. Write a manifesto in the form of “talking points.” These should be koan-like and obscure, yet also simple and memorable. If possible, the manifesto should be stated ironically so that if you run into problems you can say you were “just kidding.”

    6. Read your manifesto to a classmate and have them play devil’s advocate. If they win the argument, rewrite the manifesto to ensure they will NEVER WIN THE ARGUMENT EVER AGAIN.

  34. I ask that writers enter the building of their lives, take the elevator up each floor which represents eachyear of their lives.If you are 40 years old, you have 40 floors.If you are 5, you have 5. The writer gets out of the elevator and looks down the hallway wherever the elevator stops. Most likely s/he will see an episode from the past not emotionally finished. Just run that film and commit it to paper, margin to margin, Later comes the voice phrasing and vertical stacking of the lines. It is a good place to begin. I like this site, Amy. Come see me when you are in Baltimore this summer. please.

  35. Fun Meter Exercises:

    Metrical Dada Hat A metrical version of the Dada hat game. Each student writes a dozen of their favorite words, I cut them all up and put them in a basket
    and they pull out a bunch of words in small groups. Then each group needs to rearrange their words into a line of trochees, then dactyls, then iambs, then anapests. They write the lines on the board and all the ones in a certain meter combine into some pretty cool poems. Meter is a lot less scary/boring when the pressure to “make sense” is removed. Look at Lisa Jarnot.

    Sound of Sense I assign syllable by syllable rhythmic imitations of nursery rhymes, and the rest of the class has to guess which one it is–sometimes I
    bring in a drum to drum out the beats.

    Meter Hunt They scan their names, and they get assignments to go on field trips and look for found poems in a specific meter.

    Call and Response I read a line and they need to write a line to go with it in the same rhythm

    sometimes we do metrical talking, dancing—I encourage them to feel
    the beats and not worry about logical meaning–

    When I posted this elseswhere, someone asked:
    How do you keep them from counting on their fingers and
    writing mechanically to get the beats and the counts right? Or is that
    simply a stage they need to go through?

    My answer: yes, it’s a stage some of them need to go through—I don’t worry
    about quality at the beginning, just tell them to get the beat down
    even if it’s mechanical (if they think it is frustrating I just
    remind them that it is a lot quicker to learn than playing the guitar
    or the piano, and there aren’t any complaints after that).

    Once they have clear ears for the basics, then we work with
    variations and turning it into a “poem” for those who need it–of
    course many of them write wonderful poems from the start; meter
    really opens up a lot of their imaginations, especially, in my
    experience, trochaic and dactylic meter. They turn in many drafts of
    each poem–Nothing like meter to make them so attached to a poem, and
    clearly aware of their goal with it, that they are willing to go
    through multiple drafts–

    You know, they almost always say it was the most useful and valuable
    thing in the class, and that they had been so afraid of meter before,
    and are so relieved.

  36. Amy,

    I taught from Letters at the end of a term on modern poetry. The
    students had to go to a local reading by some of the poets, and then
    read around in the book, pick out poems they liked, and teach them to
    the class in pairs. No duplications–their choices were fun (I posted
    about them here in early April). It would be good for a creative writing
    class, too, because there are SO many different modes to consider as


    Lesley Wheeler, Professor
    English Department Head
    Payne Hall 23
    Washington and Lee University
    Lexington, VA 24450

  37. Write a poem in which you ask a fairy tale character an important question.

    Thing of something you are very afraid of and write a poem to it in defiance.

    Collect words or phrases that interest you from either a single poem or a book of your favorite poet or other text and create a cento using your collections in new and innovative ways. My students did this with “Night” and the results were powerful!

    Write a poem in which you write words only using the vowel “e.” (saw this at an Oulipo workshop at the AWP)

    Take a poem you adore and substitute each word with one of your own, a noun for a noun, etc.
    The poem will serve as a template for yours and will force you into different syntactical constructions and perhaps yield other surprises as well.


  38. Another great exercise I learned from Tad Richards at a Ct. Poetry Festival was to enter the text (might be from any source) into a foreign language on-line translator like Babelfish. Translate text, for example, from English to French, then French to Swedish, then to Italian and back to English. Of course the syntax will be a bit mixed up which will provide great raw material for poetry.

  39. I am foeced to pray to God,Gentle Jesus and any Ancient Saints still able to use their powers because this is a disaster. The pathetic attempts at “getting” people to write poetry is exactly what is wrong.
    Point 1: It is important to first realise that Poetry writing is not FUN. It shouldn’t be FUN and you will fail if you try to make it fun. Do you honestly think that Shakespeare wrote
    “Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious Summer by the Sun of York” and went godamm that’s comedy gold!
    Please listen to me before it is too late. If you are going to get people to write poetry they have to “respect” it first. Read the classic out loud. The students shouldn’t write more than a couplet for ages. If they can master the metre of two lines then let them go further.
    Here’s what I am talking about:
    Death will come to me as gentle as a wind swept cloud,
    But disappointment will surrounded me like a shroud.
    You have to count the syllables to be sure of the metre.Exactly 13 syllables per line.
    Now that’s poetry.
    Point 2: Great poetry comes from PAIN. For the most part it is the voice crying in the wilderness. Get the students to talk about the painful experiences in life. Suicide attempts;Child birth;lost love. etc
    Now write a couplet that expresses that event.
    I’m not talking about Sylvia Plath here although I love her work, I am talking about taking it seriously and coming writing from sorrow.
    Anyway I have know doubt you are incapable of grasping what I am saying and will go ahead and turn another class of poetry forever.

  40. Um, David – I have “know” doubt that you are in “another class of poetry forever.” I also have no doubt that you haven’t read any of the comments posted above nor have you actually studied poetry, except to romanticize it in the name of “Gentle Jesus.” Good luck with that.

  41. Bad Country Song Ballads
    A ballad is a poem that tells a story. It is often sung and has a very musical quality. The theme is often tragic—a love gone bad—and it may contain dialogue or a refrain.
    The following is a list of country song titles for real songs. The teacher should copy these and cut them apart into strips. Allow each student to draw a song title to use in writing a poem. The poem must be at least sixteen lines and tell a story. The poem may rhyme or be free verse.
    1. How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?
    2. She Made Toothpicks out of the Timber of My Heart
    3. How Can You Believe Me When I Say I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life?
    4. I Changed Her Oil; She Changed My Life
    5. I’ve Got the Hungries for Your Love and I’m Waiting in Your Welfare Line
    6. I Keep Forgettin’ I Forgot about You
    7. If My Nose Were Full of Nickels, I’d Blow It All on You
    8. I’m Just a Bug on the Windshield of Life
    9. Her Teeth Were Stained, but Her Heart Was Pure
    10. I’ve Been Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart
    11. If You Leave Me, Can I Come, Too?
    12. Oh, I’ve Got Hair Oil on My Ears and My Glasses Are Slipping down, but Baby I Can See Through You
    13. I Flushed You from the Toilet of My Heart.
    14. Mama Get the Hammer (There’s a Fly on Papa’s Head)
    15. They May Put Me in Prison, but They Can’t Stop My Face from Breakin’ Out
    16. I Fell in a Pile of You and Got Love All over Me
    17. If Love Were Oil, I’d Be a Quart Low
    18. You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too
    19. You Were Only a Splinter As I Slid Down the Bannister of Life
    20. You Done Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat
    21. I Wouldn’t Take Her to a Dawg Fight, Cause I’m Afraid She’d Win
    22. Thank God and Greyhound She’s Gone
    23. My Wife Ran off with My Best Friend, and I Sure Do Miss Him
    24. When You Leave, Walk out Backwards, So I’ll Think You’re Walking In
    25. You’re The Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly
    26. If You Don’t Leave Me Alone, I’ll Go and Find Someone Else Who Will
    27. I Would Have Wrote You a Letter, but I Couldn’t Spell Yuck
    28. Here’s a Quarter; Call Someone Who Cares
    29. If the Phone Don’t Ring, Baby, You’ll Know It’s Me
    30. I Don’t Know Whether to Kill Myself or Go Bowling

    Here is an example:
    I Changed Her Oil; She Changed My Life
    By Harmon Carson

    She pulled up to the station
    Doin’ a Faith Hill imitation.
    She wore cowboy boots and a Stetson hat,
    And she drove her Chevy up to where I sat.
    She had a blue tick hound just like mine.
    Both of ‘em together looked mighty fine.
    She stepped out of the truck, and with a southern drawl
    Said, “Excuse me, sir, could you change my oil?”
    I said, “Yes, ma’am,” and went to where she stood,
    Pulled the switch, then opened the hood.
    I looked at her and she looked at me.
    Right then and there it was meant to be.
    I changed her oil and that was that.
    Then we both got under her Stetson hat.
    It was paid in full by that big kiss.
    That’s one oil change I’ll never forget.

  42. Hi Amy,

    This is a great page! I’m teaching a grade 7 literacy class and all of these suggestions are just completely inspirational! Thanks to all your contributors – there was “know” idea that was boring or banal… only one that was seriously hilarious. I could write a mind-blowing poem with that kind of vocabulary!


  43. When a teacher asks a class to write a poem they moan with the horror of the idea. Why?
    Because it is difficult.
    The only way to get people to write poetry is to teach them to write and then make them suffer.
    Ironically the very exercise listed here would in fact make a lot of stduents suffer but alas would not produce any poetry.
    A frail heart and a gentle soul can only endure so much,
    Poetry has become an “exercise” and death is human touch.

  44. Hi Amy,

    I am here from Goodreads. Here is an un-exercise. Have everyone bring in his/her favorite poem. Tape up the poems in a long quiet hallway or large lunchroom that isn’t being used for an hour. Add in a variety of your own poems for good measure. Turn on some quiet music. Ask everyone to go around and read a good portion of the poems for about 30 minutes (or less) and take notes on ones they love or hate or remember or write down a line or the title or the poet’s name or whatever. So often we forget to READ and relish the work of others. This un-exercise is wonderful balm for the soul, for the writing life, for wamazing discussions, for stirring up memories, for de-stressing. I’ve done it with high school students and teachers and a book club. Each time offers new ways of looking at poetry. Maybe this is the only un-exercise you’ll ever need!

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