Week 2 – May 14+15, 2016
This week was taught by Miriam Barr and Ya-Wen Ho, on Poetry.
We began with introductions – why we write, and our experiences of poetry. Some love and use poetry regularly, others don’t quite know what it is! So this was the perfect segue into the discussion about poetry. We discussed different writers’ experiences of writing poetry, and what makes a piece of writing a poem. This included things like imagery, emotion, music, sounds, language, symbols, metaphor, space, structure, rhyme, rhythm.
We then split into smaller groups for writing exercises. Miriam ran two writing exercises, one that focused on building a poem out of parts, by choosing an experience that shaped or affected you, and then using different poetry techniques to create different parts; these were a realistic observation of a scene from the experience (create a mental photograph and describe it); a simile for it (something it is like or reminds you of); a metaphor for it (a symbol, something that you could pretend your experience is), a list of three objects or things from the experience, carrying on from the list a line with words that have similar sounds in them (e.g. similar start sounds; vowel mouth sounds), describe what the experience tastes like, describe what it physically feels like to be there (using sensations not emotions), go back to your original mental photograph – fast forward or rewind in time to another scene, and describe it.
The second exercise was to take a page of text from another source, we used painting titles on day 1, and national geographic articles on day 2, and make it say something different, by deleting unwanted words and rearranging the found words into something new. They were pretty hard exercises as they each involved a bit of experimentation and ‘searching’.
We talked about how writing poetry can be practiced deliberately by building parts and refining them into a whole, rather than being some mysterious process or having to wait for inspiration to strike, which can sometimes happen rarely depending on what life is like at the time.
Ya-Wen also did two exercises. We swapped groups so everyone got time with both of us.
Ya-Wen’s exercises were aimed at details, mindfulness, and becoming aware of the criteria we use to choose what to write about: what is interesting to us, and why?
For the first exercise, Ya-Wen asked her group to divide a page into four quadrants and create four headings: 1) Things I have done, 2) Things i have heard, 3) Things I have seen, and 4) A drawing. Next, under each heading, create a numbered list from 1-7. Finally, give yourself 10-15 minutes to populate the list with things you have done, heard, seen within the the last twenty-four hours – so if you try this exercise at 10am, Wednesday morning, think back to 10am, Tuesday morning, and all the living you did between then and now. You will certainly have more than seven things to record in each category, and the point of the exercise is to really think about what is the most interesting to you, why that is so, and whether what interests you would also interest other people. The drawing quadrant is there as an unblocking device – if you are stuck, feel free to doodle. Poets struggle with language too, and sometimes non-verbal expression is a great way to think through hard questions.
Ya-Wen’s second exercise hones in further on how to choose. Our minds are busy with so many ideas, but more is not necessarily better. We cannot fit all the ideas into one poem, but we can write many poems and treat each poem as a container for a tightly curated handful of ideas. The 5:3:1 idea is a way to hone in on that one idea for your next poem. The exercise happens in three stages:
- 5 minutes of free writing: whatever goes, just record everything that is in your head at the moment, everything that is interesting you, in whichever form and degree of completeness suits you. It can be full sentences, bullet points, lists, random words. Whatever. Free write!
- 3 minutes on 2-3 ideas: immediately following the 5 minutes of free-writing, choose 2-3 ideas from the writing you’ve generated so far, and write about these in more depth for 3 minutes
- 1 minute, 1 idea: immediately following the 3 minutes, choose 1 idea and try to distill all your thinking into one minute’s worth of writing.
It is okay if your final minute’s worth of writing is unfinished. That’s not the point! The purpose of the exercise is to achieve a clarity of thought, of arriving at a single idea you can now go away and flesh out.
Renee has spare handouts – please contact her if you need a copy.