28 July 2011

What does one do in a poetry workshop? (Updated)

A couple of HancAquam readers have written to ask what does one do in a creative writing workshop. Well, we spend most of our time reading and critiquing student poems. When we aren't doing that, we read and critique published poems. In this summer's workshop, we are focusing on contemporary poetry published in the U.S. and the U.K. We spend one day a week writing in class using exercise I've cobbled together. Here are a few examples:

Epigraph Exercise

Choose one of the quotations below as your epigraph:

“What do you love better: the ruin or its repair?” – Eric Pankey, “Prayer”

“Repetition is the death of art.” – Robin Green

“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.” – Plutarch

“Earth, is it not this that you want: to rise/invisibly in us? – Is that not your dream,/to be invisible, one day?” – R.M. Rilke, “Ninth Elegy”
“The woman wants a salad.” --Ange Mlinko, “A Few Leaves of Salted Rocket”

Compose a twelve-line free verse poem that argues against the idea/sentiment presented in the epigraph.

No form of “to be” may be used.

You must include the phrases: “ducks and oranges” and “beats me” in the poem.

Each line MUST be exactly eight syllables.

Junk Drawer Exercise

You are looking for a rubber band.

In your kitchen junk drawer you find the following:

a can opener
a box of staples
a screwdriver
several broken pencils & dried pens
a watch w/o a wrist band
two used tubes of Chapstick
a handful of coins
a bottle of baby aspirin
two Christmas cards from 1983
a plastic spoon
several packets of soy sauce
a couple of crumpled receipts from WalMart
a seed catalog
five keys on New Orleans Saints keyring
a pocket-sized bottle of bug spray

Choose nine of these items and compose a free verse poem consisting of seven couplets.

You need the rubber band to save your life.

Not-guilty Confession Exercise

In a prose poem of no fewer than 75 words, confess to a crime you did not commit. You may not mention your innocence; however, it must be clear that you are innocent.

Give specific details of the crime—details that only the criminal would know.

Include the penalty for the crime and how you intend to deal with it.

You are confessing to your “victim” or the victim's family/friends.

Missing Persons Exercise

Media sources all over the world are reporting that individuals seem to be randomly disappearing.

Not only are these people disappearing physically but memories of them are fading as well.

Choose five of these people and compose a twenty-line elegy for them.

Include enough detail to distinguish them from all the other individuals who have disappeared.

Questions in Heaven Exercise

After a long and happy life as an award-winning poet, you die in your sleep and arrive at the Pearly Gates.

St. Peter greets you with the following request, “You've lived a long and happy life as an award-winning poet. The Angelic Host needs your help. The questionnaire we use for admission into Heaven has become a bit outdated. Would you compose a list of questions for us that tests a soul's grasp of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty?”

St. Peter needs no fewer than eight questions that never mention Truth, Goodness, or Beauty nor do they hint at their true purpose.

The questions may not refer in any way to religious/spiritual concepts or use language that might betray their religious/spiritual nature.

The idea is to ask recently separated souls questions that only indirectly test their humanity.

Antique Store Exercise

While on a road trip to __________ you come across an antique store called Noah's Next Ark.

You stop for a bathroom break and decide to explore the store.

Compose a longish (20+ lines) poem about what you find in the store.

While exploring the store, you discover that you have been killed in an auto accident.

What do the things in the store teach you about the nature of chance?

NB.  My students did not like this last exercise at all.  They said it sounded like the plot of a cheesy movie!

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  1. Does art live in repetition?
    Yes, art lives in repetition.
    Boy, art lives in repetition!
    It really lives in repetition.

    (Why include "ducks and oranges"?
    Beats me. "Ducks and ducks" sounds better.
    I suppose a chef could make art
    From ducks and oranges. Not me.)

    'Cause art lives in repetition!
    Yes, art lives in repetition.
    Oh, art lives in repetition.
    See? Art lives in repetition.

  2. This sounds like great fun, Father! You could easily turn any of them into the next "tagging" blog meme!

  3. I must be a writer of phone books.
    Dog eared phone books.
    Creased cover phone books.
    Phone books with blank pages.

  4. What could a salad offer me
    or anyone, beyond a few
    leaves, wilted and bitter, lying
    there, indigestibly? Beats me.
    Oh, for a hunk o' meat! I yearn -
    as when some lion, stretching, yawns,
    and padding softly down onto
    the plain, picks out a zebra or
    a young giraffe, and coldly stalks
    throughout the night, until at dawn
    she kills, and gorges mightily -
    thus I on ducks and oranges fall!

  5. WOW! I had no idea there were so many poets reading HA! You guys are good.

  6. My first to contributions (to #1):

    My wife has taken beating me
    To new heights: as a form of art.
    My wife beats me with diverse birds:
    She beats me with hens, gulls, and ducks—
    And oranges! She beats me with
    Citrus, with such fruits she beats me!
    She beats me with fowl and with fruit,
    And should they run out, she beats me
    With words: she beats me to punchlines,
    To witty retorts; she beats me,
    Like a naughty egg she beats me!
    What on earth makes this art? Beats me.

    St. Peter, I'd always wanted
    to picnic in the Grand Canyon.
    I cared little for Florida:
    for her alligators, marshes,
    ducks and oranges near the beach.
    Why do folks still go there? Beats me.
    I took in rocks, snakes, and burros,
    all while eating lunch, in full sun,on a creased red checkered blanket.
    I shouted for joy, not knowing
    my shout dislodged great chunks of earth,
    which fell, quite visibly, on me.