Poetry Writing Exercises
This is an exercise that I learned from Grace Cavaleiri. I like the idea of exploring early memory because of the fact that we are all, as George Kelly, a Psychologist, said, little social scientists plunked down in the crib, and our earliest memories serve as a template which we use to overlay the world we see and interpret what is going on around us. This may very well explain why each member of any family remembers the history of the family in their own unique way.
Grace recommends an exercise for exploring your personal history that involves having ready on a table a pen and paper, or your computer, or quill and ink pot. Then find a comfortable chair nearby. Settle yourself, breath easy. Now, half close your eyes and imagine a beautiful building -- a tall crystal building. Think of this building as your life. Think of it as having one floor for each year of your life. Imagine that in this building there is a crystal elevator.
Imagine yourself going onto this elevator and riding it up and down and allowing it to stop at whatever floor it chooses to stop on. Notice what floor it stopped on. There is some reason why the elevator chose to stop at that floor. What happened in that year of your life that is of interest to you on this particular day?
Step off the elevator, and look around. What do you see when you step off the elevator?
Now, go to your writing place and pick up your pen and write down what you see when you step off the elevator. If it is an object, describe it. If it is a person, write what you know about what that person means to you.
Do this writing in an uncensored free flowing way for ten or twenty minutes or so. I am always surprised what I write down. I am sure you will be, too.
When you have finished your free write, read over what you have written. Circle the thoughts that resonate with you and allow them to arrange themselves into a poem.
An example of a poem I wrote using this exercise follows.
I got off the elevator on the fifty eighth floor. What I found there on a shelf in the wall was a small, mass produced clay horse that I bought from a vendor in the courtyard of the tomb of the Clay Soldiers in Xian, China. After doing the freewrite and circling the pertinent ideas, I wrote the poem below. (I have to admit that when I found this horse in my memory, I went to my actual storage closet and brought out the horse and made notes about the details I saw there as a means of getting closer to the mystery of why I am attached to that insignificant cheap geegaw I bought in China so long ago.)
Sometimes it is the refusal to see
that holds the image in place
Sometimes only the memory
within the cool breath of slurry holds
Evelyn broke the terracotta war horse
we brought back from Xian
I left it on the lamp table as a reminder
to her or to me of failures unspecified
5 broken pieces gunmetal gray stayed
stark against white marble table top
in five rough pieces
Unable to throw them away, I resorted to glue
The five pieces fitted together perfectly
Wet glue seeped into raw edges
filled the air with that primordial
smell of damp earth
I rubbed away that white ooze of glue
For the first time I recognized the power
The pride pressed into that horse by those anonymous hands.
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