Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet

Poetry Exercise – 50 word portraits

Lately I have the feeling that my poetry is changing. It’s going in a new direction but I am as yet unclear as to what that direction may be.
Certainly, over the last year I have paid far more attention to punctuation and line breaks, experimenting with various formats. Do I really need to use commas and full stops for instance?
I’m also finding that my poems are getting longer. They used to average (leaving aside strict forms such as sonnets and haiku) around 21 lines but lately they’ve been venturing into the 30s and occasionally beyond into scary uncharted lands.
There’s also a greater element of surrealism creeping in.
Perhaps to subconsciously subvert this trend I’m currently working – in tandem with my regular poetry – on a series of vignettes comprising of exactly fifty words each, based on customers of various coffee shops I frequent.
Here I am eschewing commas and full stops, replacing them with line and paragraph breaks. I am as yet undecided about capitalisation. I’m not even sure what I plan to do with them. It’s a work in progress.
It’s also an excellent exercise in brevity, in making every word count in order to put over a short portrait or narrative. The result is therefore sometimes a little impressionistic.
Try it out. It’s a good exercise. Use a place you visit regularly and which has a changing population, like a supermarket or a bar or a prison. Study one person for a couple of minutes; their mood, their clothing, what they are doing, looking at, reading. Write a poem of exactly fifty words for each one. See where it takes you.
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