Posted in How to, Photo, The Writing Life, Writing Exercises

How to Write a Poem (#1)

Try this image as a "Source"

Level of Difficulty = Easy!

1. Find a source. A source can be an object, a memory, a topic, a phrase in a book, a person, a feeling in your body…. Anything you can think of or perceive can be a source. (Example: “rain”)

2. Set a timer for 10 minutes or use your watch.

3. In your writing notebook, write as fast as you can, stream of consciousness, starting from your source. It doesn’t matter if you get far away from your first topic or stay close to it. If you get stuck, just go back to your source and continue writing again. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or sentence structure. These things will slow you down during this part. You can work on them later when you are revising and shaping.

4.  When 10 minutes are up stop writing. Or, don’t stop writing. Keep going if you are hot on the trail of something interesting. Go ’till you are “done”.

5. Take a pen or pencil of a different colour and read what you wrote. Reading out loud can be very effective. Underline any sentences or phrases that sound good or look interesting to you. Don’t worry about whether they make sense or not. Go with your intuition. What attracts and interests you?

6. Take all or some of these underlined sentences and write them on a new page. Put them in the shape of a poem. That is to say: arrange them on the page putting in line breaks and stanzas based on your intuition. You can add new words and phrases as you are doing this. Try not to get bogged down by wanting it to be “good” or “make sense”. You are exploring and beginning a poem.

7. Now you have draft #1 of your poem! Congratulations! Feel good because you have begun something that wasn’t there before you started writing. Give it a title.

8. Do some revising. My favourite and easiest way to begin revising is to write the entire poem again, changing lines and words, rearranging things, adding new ideas.

If you are doing this process on the computer, start your 2nd draft below your 1st draft and type the whole thing again. Similarly, type your 3rd draft below the 2nd. When you have come to a draft that you feel reasonably good about, save it as a separate file with the poem’s title. Save your earlier drafts with the title plus “drafts”. It is REALLY USEFUL to be able to refer to all of your drafts. I do my first drafts longhand and when I have a draft I like reasonably well, I put it on the computer.

9. Let it sit for a day or two (or a year or two) or get some feedback on it. You will probably go through other cycles of revision with it. No need to be mad at it for not being as beautiful as you want it to be—with more revision it will be. It’s good to feel satisfied with what you’ve created at the stage it’s at right now.

Posted in Diary, The Writing Life

Frozen Food & Poetry

Because of the numerous restrictions in my everyday diet, I brought my own food on the 1800 km drive from PEI to Ontario which I made this Wednesday and Thursday. In Drummondville, Quebec, I took my breakfast (and “second breakfast” of spinach soup) up to the fridge in the hotel room, but I left the 2 coolers (big blue and little blue) in the car. This is so much easier than travelling in June, when my boyfriend and I had to mess around with ice, take all the food upstairs, get new ice in the morning, and make sure everything stayed cold, I thought to myself. It’s winter, so of course the food will stay cool in the car. Well, Thursday morning was -14, and I don’t know how cold it got during the night; suffice it to say that the food was frozen solid when I encountered it again in the morning light. Not a problem for the container of chicken and asparagus, which I warmed to pleasantly cold by placing it on the floor on the front passenger side for an hour or so. But have you ever eaten semi-frozen hardboiled eggs? The whites become something entirely different—almost like delicate layers of leather. I figured that they had the same nutrients as the usual eggs. They weren’t awful, but not something I would plan to eat again. 

The cucumbers that I’d peeled and cut into chunks also warmed up to a pleasing and crisp coldness after a time by the heating vent. It was the pickle-sized fresh cukes that really suffered, however. I had 6 or 7 of them along to eat when I arrived at my parents’ house and now that they have thawed it seems pitiful the way they bend when I peel them. And the taste…. The flesh is slightly bitter and very watery. They seem to say, We aren’t real cucumbers anymore—put us out of our misery and so I will.

Just now, eating slices of fresh and delightful cucumber from my mother’s stockpile, I thought about the simile that had risen in my mind: cucumbers limp as little boys’ penises. But then I thought (from my limited knowledge and babysitting memories), not that limp, not that soft. And I wondered about whether I could write a poem (an effective poem?) about it anyway—even though the small cucumbers are not quite like the little human appendages—there was something like enough to make me think about the connection, and there was something in that thought that brought tenderness. Yes, tenderness and solicitude to half a dozen frozen and thawed cucumbers in a plastic container with a light green lid.

The answer, of course, is yes. To the poem. What on earth is there to lose in trying it and so much to gain! I have no idea where the poem will ramble until I write it—out from the heat, into the cold, across 5 lanes of traffic, over the hill, around the bend, over the moon. I’m thinking It’s so strangely thrilling. And my heart is hot and glad for the fire of the creative life.

Posted in Diary, Prince Edward Island, Self Nurturance, The Writing Life

Getting Up Early

I used to have a “rule” that I wouldn’t get up before 6 am unless I had a flight to catch. I have 2 friends that get up at 5:30 to go to the gym or to go for a run. I admire them for their fortitude and determination, but I used to secretly suspect there was something almost masochistic about rising at dawn to exercise.

At the end of November, I accepted a temporary office job in the downtown area beginning at 8 am, and now I’m walking to work at sunrise. And loving it! Who would have thought?

The first couple of days, I got up at 6 am, but I discovered that I didn’t have enough time to write my morning pages. So, I took a deep breath and set my alarm for 5:45. Now, after I’ve done my other morning tasks, when I sit down at my desk, I can still see the moon in the Western sky. As I write, I watch the sky move from indigo to robin’s egg blue, or on a cloudy morning, to a slumberous grey. Throughout, the crows ramble in raucous strings across the skyline above the neighbour’s roof, rising early and heading out to their mysterious daily work.

I suspect it’s not only the time of day, but also the walk along the downtown streets that I love. This morning in particular was stunning. The wind was still, the lawns and trees were snow-covered, tipped in ice, and in the pre-dawn light, all colours were delicate. As I walked South, I admired the sky over the harbor, a blend of creamy pink and light blue, shot through with orange. A few blocks from the water, I saw a silver spoon half revealed, reaching up through the ice.

Gifts this season come from the most unexpected places.

Posted in Diary, Prince Edward Island, The Writing Life

At the Pen & Inkling Festival

The idea comes from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: a poetry stall where people request a poem, and poets write the poem then give it away. It’s about not letting your writing get too precious and cooped up. During the Pen & Inkling Festival last weekend, we had a “zen writing” table, where poets wrote a poem for a $1 or $2 donation to the PEI Writers’ Guild. During my stint, I engaged a young man in conversation and discovered he worked for the Sierra Club, something to do with October 24th, a day to raise awareness about climate change. When he said something about 350 parts per million, he lost me. “I couldn’t write a poem about that,” I said. But a moment later, I joked, “If you pay the $2, I could.” So he did. The topic: How I Feel About Climate Change. I wrote a poem, not a great one. (I usually do from 3 – 30 drafts on a poem before leaving it to face the world.) When I tried to give it to him later, he looked at me with gentle eyes and asked if I could give the poem to a stranger on the street. And I did. I have no idea what the young woman walking slowly along Victoria Row thought of me as I gave her the poem and explained why I was giving it to her, but may it do some good in the world, of what nature, who can tell?