Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Learning to write poetry the mechanical way

I learned two techniques for generating poetry material at an all day workshop on Saturday with Jack Grapes and Richard Jones. Both techniques were to ensure that we as writers had no reason to experience writer’s block. And, in both cases the techniques are entirely mechanical.

Inverted Pyramid
Jack Grapes, who teaches method writing in Los Angeles, (http://jackgrapes.com/grapes_approach.php) presented the inverted pyramid method. He told us to write down several unrelated sentences or thoughts – the keyword here is unrelated. However, he told us what kind of sentences to write. And if you can visualize an inverted pyramid these sentences would go into the upper wider part. We wrote: two or three images, a couple of pieces of dialogue, a flowery description, a memory or two, a couple of deep thought about ourselves until we had five to eight in total in random order.

The next step was to take these entirely unrelated sentences and form them into a cohesive poem so that by the time we came to the tip of the pyramid at the bottom it would look like we had intended it to come out that way all along.

Of course this is exactly the opposite way I form a poem. I usually start with what I know I’m going to write about and build on that until I get to the end. That looks like a pyramid right side up. The inverted way made me feel like I would write a poem by pulling something miraculously out of the air, so needless to say my first attempt on Saturday wasn’t very good. I will try again, though, because I heard several beautifully finished, deep-feeling poems at the end of that workshop.

I found Richard Jones’s technique much more doable. (Richard is a writing professor at De Paul University in Chicago http://www.amazon.com/Blessing-New-Selected-Poems/dp/1556591438.) He had us write a list (inventory) of things that reside at a place we are familiar with. I wrote a list of all the things that sit on the low dresser next to my side of the bed. And as I wrote I could feel poems coming from each one of them. (I wrote one a long time ago: "A Stone Called Son.") 

I read my list to the group and Richard noted that I could create a year's worth of new poems right from that page. Richard did not intend for us to create a list poem per se (although one of the people did as she wrote down her list), but to have material for writing several poems – one for each of the items on that list. And, that’s what we proceeded to do. I started with a short poem about a little dark blue vase.

Then the fun part began. Richard told us to use several lines from the poem we had just written to create a triolet. Next he asked us write a haiku from that same material. And for our last assignment of the afternoon, he had us write another short poem about another item on our list. Amazing! We wrote four poems as a result of one technique in an hour and a half.

Here are my two inventory poems – though rough, I definitely have something to work with. Sorry, my inverted pyramid products are not ready for the light of day yet.

Blue Vase
The small glass vase on my dresser
is a shade of deep blue.
It stands about five inches high,
the bulbous base, narrowing as
the neck swirls around and around
until it reaches the flared top.
Paul brought it home for me
on his first holiday break
from New York’s New School
He knew what I liked in those days:
the color blue, art glass, and gifts from him.
I miss all of that
now that he is gone.

The Small Gray Stone
I picked up the small gray stone
from the path at Dachau.
I needed it to
always remind me
of what went on there
in those years right after
I was born.
So many people want to forget.
I can’t let that happen.

1 comment:

Paula said...

Dear Madeleine, this is an interesting posting! I know nothing about writing and poetry. It seems as if the US cultivate writing way more then Europe does. greetings from Austria, Paula