Today, we take our storytelling a step further, or a step way back. Rewrite your poem as a myth. Use either characters from an existing tradition or create your own. I confess: This sounds more like a prompt than an exercise. But it’s a good chance to go larger than life.
Today’s exercise comes from Kevin Prufer’s “Braided Narrative” in Wingbeats II. The goal is to bring together two distinct stories, to intertwine them. The stories can be set in different times, told in different styles, or told by different voices. Make them as different as possible.
Yesterday, we worked on a poem that told a story. Today, do you have another poem somewhere in the back of your files that tells a story? Bring them together, either by alternating sections, or by alternating lines in a kind of call and response. If you don’t have a second story poem at hand, write about a memory that follows you around like your shadow.
I’m excited for this one, because I think that some of my best work has come from combining poems. But usually they are similar poems. Today, I’m looking forward to the tensions that come from combining dissimilar narratives.
Narrative or lyric?
I’ve been telling myself that I shy away from writing narrative poetry–especially narrative poetry situated in the past. I am concerned that it will be too linear, too much like prose, or that it will get mired in nostalgia.
Other people have pointed out that my poetry isn’t actually lyric, that it doesn’t push far enough into that space, that it isn’t song-like enough to be considered a lyric–post-modern or otherwise. (I also recently received a suggestion to try putting more of my poems in past tense.)
While I continue to sort that out, let’s look at the kind of narrative poetry that tells a story–the narrative poem in which something happens.
Today’s exercise: Write your poem as a story. To help you get going, you can even start it with “Once upon a time.”
I’ve stopped writing about food–and I don’t know why. I still like to eat. Sometimes I enjoy cooking.
But I was intrigued by Karla K. Morton’s “The Foodie Response: Pushing through Writer’s Block” in Wingbeats II, and I wondered whether we could use it for revisions.
Take a look at one of your favorite food poems. For example, I love “Osso Bucco,” by Billy Collins. Some other options are “French Toast,” by Anya Krugovoy Silver, “Blackberry-Picking,” by Seamus Heaney, “This is Just to Say,” by William Carlos Williams, and “Lychees“, by Meena Alexander.
Spend some time with that poem:
What do you love about it?
What does it make you think or feel?
Can you taste the food that is in the poem?
Where does the poem go?
What memories does it evoke?
Now, here’s where this assignment might get tricky.
That poem you’ve been working on? What food fits with it?
Write about that food, delving into its tastes and textures and all of its associations, the memories and feelings that come up. Where does the writing go?
Now, look at the poem and the food writing. Do they fit together? Do they talk to each other? Are there images or sections that will fit? Or does the process of refitting lead you to a new direction?
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.