Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Poem a Day--Drawing Down the Muse

Not a contest winner, but one of my favorite
photos from Cairo, Egypt.  It's the hallway
to an 11th centruy mosque, built so that 
they'd hear any invaders and have time 
to rise from prayer and pick up their weapons.
I taught writing for a long time.  Now that writing is my full time job, I find that living with a writing teacher (me) is a pretty sweet aid.  Comments from friends make it clear to me that not everyone has their own little writing assignment generator living in the same house with them.  But I do.  So I thought I would share some of the recent writing assignments I’ve given myself.

1.  Find a photo contest and study the winners.  I did this with Kolga Tbilisi and Sony photo competitions, but you could do this with any of the big competitions.  Sit down, browse through the images, and when one of them speaks to you, sit with it a little longer.  Then enter into it.  Become a person or a thing already pictured or step into the photograph and experience it from the inside.  Write from the POV of the photographer.  Write about an object.  Imagine the interior life.  Make a list of words from the photograph: nouns, verbs, adjectives.  Write with those.  Use your senses in the photograph. What would it smell like, taste like, feel like?  What’s beyond the frame.  What will happen next. 

I spent nearly two months last year writing every few days from the amazing photos I found on photo contest sites.  In most cases, I didn’t even reference the photograph, just used it to open me up to new images and words.

2.  Write from a news story far away.  Take yourself out of your daily world.  Read BBC and Aljazeera and then make the big story more personal.  Where does that story intersect with your life? 

Here’s the beginning of a poem I wrote recently about a news story I heard on the BBC. 

While we stuff turkey
and sew shut the space
between its thighs
so that the bread and sage
will stay and sweeten flesh
men in Macedonia, at the edges
of the life they fled
and the lives they hoped for,
sew each other’s lips closed
with nylon string.

So much of what we hear in the news moves us because we can see those same impulses, those same actions, those same desires in our own lives.  Take some time and explore those connections.

3.  I talked about this practice in the last post, but it’s worth mentioning here.  Read an earlier poem and chose a word from that poem.  Write that word as the title at the top of a new page.  Then, write a poem using the same form of the earlier poem that earns the title you gave it.  Same general line lengths, same stanza structure, same length.  Let your mind float free in association to the word, but keep it reigned in with an external structure. 

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