Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet

Posts tagged “Poetry Exercise

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.

Poetry Exercise #002 – A Simile Portrait

Think of someone you know quite well, or at least well enough that you know how they speak and some of their mannerisms.
Now, produce your notebook or laptop or phone or the back of a bus ticket and begin to create a list of similes related to aspects of this person e.g.

Her hair was like a web holding her thoughts in..
Her tongue was like a knife for slicing bitter fruit…
Her house echoed like an empty heart.

Try to write at least some of them while in the company of this person. Your aim should be to write ten to twenty similes. Once you have gone as far as you can read it through to see how accurately you have portrayed the person. Then, pick one line to use as the first line of a poem about that person. Feel free to use or amend any of the other lines… or not.

What you will find is that the very act of carrying out this exercise will force you to concentrate on many aspects of this person and may well open up avenues to explore.
Additionally, good similes (and indeed metaphors) are things to hoard. You may end up using something in another piece.

A variation of this exercise, which may be useful to those who have absolutely no friends or family, is to take out your notebook in a bar, cafe, airport, on the bus or tube and carry out this exercise on a stranger. Take your time. Study their clothes and accessories. In true Sherlock Holmes style use the clues you see to produce your collection of similes.
I find shoes an interesting place to start. Footwear often gives a fascinating insight to character dependent on the style, age and the amount of wear and tear going on.
I once wrote a whole sequence of poems about people sitting directly opposite me on the tube, and although only one or two of them eventually got to the first base of being tagged as ‘this might be an interesting’ it was a worthwhile exercise, and one I may pursue again.


Poetry Exercise #01

Cryptic crossword clues.

It has always seemed to me that cryptic crossword puzzle clues have a strange poetry of their own. By their very nature they are both surreal and mysterious, being an abstruse definition of a seemingly unrelated single word or phrase.
Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to find a cryptic crossword puzzle and choose a clue to use as the first line of a poem. It might be additionally interesting if you were to solve the clue and use the word as the subject of the poem.
Please let me know how you get on. I plan to do a follow up post about my results.

Some examples, to get you started

Humming end of song through a small glass (5)

Spaniard has to pass over square to get money from bank (5)

a bit brassy my mum would have said (4)