Well, not just anywhere. Today’s exercise comes from Stephen Dunn’s “Stealing the Goods” in The Practice of Poetry.

Take a poem that isn’t working and choose the line that most interests you. (Hmm…, maybe one of those darlings that you sense you should kill but really don’t want to.)

Write a new poem from that.

Sounds pretty, basic, right?

But Stephen Dunn goes on to say:

“Your charge is to keep finding both cooperative and surprising language even after you’ve found out what you’re talking about, what the nature of your subject is. Think in terms of distinctive phrasing as much as you think of extending subject matter or completing an argument.”

Having heard Stephen Dunn at Seattle Arts and Lectures, I’ll take the challenge one step further: Be sure to include a turn.

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Today, take the original poem from day 12 and turn it into a question.

What are you asking for?

Then, take all the writing you’ve done for the past six days and see what poem emerges from it.

Is it similar to the original poem? Is it completely different? Please let me know!

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Today, we continue with the original poem from day 12.

Or, if you’re just arriving here, choose a poem that’s been vexing you.

Change the person–if it’s an “I” poem, switch it to “you” or “he” or “she.” You get the picture. (If it started as a “you” poem, now you show more about who “you” is.)

Next, change the tense. If it’s past, try present; present, past–or future. I find that writing in the future has an incantatory undertone that’s fun to explore.

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Today we take the original poem from day 12 and trade everything.

Swap verbs for other verbs that are already in the poem.

After you switch verbs, do the same with nouns.

Then swap adjectives (if you have adjectives–see day 8).

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What if you switch everything?

I know that yesterday I said “Axis of Evil”–but it isn’t that bad (maybe).

Print out your original poem from day 12 (might help to center it), and then fold it in half. This is your line of demarcation.

Now switch sides: Make the last half of a line the first half. For each line

If this looks like a hot mess, remember that it’s part of the process. And look more closely. Is there anything to discover?

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