Poetry Exercises

A month after completing the exhausting-exhilarating Poem-A-Day exercise for National Poetry Month, I find my muse fast asleep. I must have written a sum total of one poem in May. So I am turning back to poetry exercises to stimulate the juices, as well as reading.

My favorite jumpstart is to open a favorite poetry book at random and read a few pages. My current no-fail book is Dart by the mellifluent poet Alice Oswald. Mellifluent -- I just made that up. I think either my muse stirred and rolled over on the couch, or I'm developing disturbing mental symptom (making up your own vocabulary is a clinical symptom).

Poet and blogger Amy King is compiling a list of poetry writing exercises for a class she's teaching this summer. She promises "prizes" if she uses your exercise. Check it out!

My current favorite exercise doesn't appear on her list so far. Here it is - simple to articulate but hard to pull off:

Rewrite your favorite famous poem without using any of the original words in a poem of no more than 14 lines.

The short length makes it hard, and the aim makes it even harder. I like difficult exercises, as they make failure interesting. Most poetry writing exercises tend to revolve around things or ordinary actions, and so I find them trivializing. Good poetry doesn't trivialize life, in my view. But that's a different blog.


Went to Los Angeles last weekend to visit my father, who has Alzheimer's. Also to visit the ocean, inescapable, as my father's house overlooks it. Hard to say which has more impact on me. I grew up beside this Pacific, and with this now-diminished man. One by one I shed memories along with him, not in terms of forgetting, but in terms of finding them distant, like those freighters on the horizon you know are stacked six deep with containers full of cars but small as a feather against the sea and sky.

Losing someone by inches is an interesting experience. It inclines you to appreciation, then sadness, then an odd cheer. The person in the room can barely speak, can hardly share your memories anymore, but still is there. You look up; he looks up. You smile. What does all that history mean anymore, tucked into its containers and floating away, light as a feather.