To see a World in a Grain of SandOften times in my workshops I ask my students to go "small." What I mean is that picking large, abstract topics to write about (like love, loss, war) can lead to cliche and vague poems. When you focus on the details of life, and think in concrete images, the more abstract will emerge. You can start off writing a poem about a snail and get to a poem about love. The poem's meaning will come through the objects themselves.
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
When you want to write about loss, don't try to explain loss, don't tell me what loss is, show me loss. Think of images of loss. And start small.
Part #1 - Find a small moment
In my adult workshops I ask participants to go outside and find the smallest "political" moment they can. There are a lot of politics in small things. Politics means the use "of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control." Do the cats in your neighborhood vie for control? Do the leaves? Does the wind?
If you find the idea of the "politics" of things too difficult, simply watch small things in action. Watch the wind blow the seeds off a dandelion. I like watching the pigeons gather on the roof of the tallest house on my block.
In the first part of this exercise, go outside and find this small moment and describe it. This can be done in poetry or prose. DESCRIBE and don't judge or try to make it mean anything. Then, after you've done that for a few lines, look around the object and see how it interacts with the other things around it.
(Thanks to one of my Creative Writing for Children (age 14) participants for the below examples)
The Top Leaf
The top leaf hides in the gray sky with a sigh
above all the other leaves, pointing to the sky
in between winter and spring it beats
its own drum, no wind, no rain, no tide
A plane buzzes overhead, a gull cries
the leaf stares straight up, holding a bud
that no one will ever see, except me
writing in my blue notebook, looking
for the mystery of small things
Part #2 - The Dreams of Small Things
Now that you've made friends with your leaf, or dandelion, or spider, or bird - go one step further and put yourself in the place of your object. Live like the object, and dream what the object dreams. Remember to use its surroundings.
If you'd like, you can use the start line "In my dreams..."
The Dreams of Leaves
In my dreams, at the top of the world, I open
my bud and bloom all year round, soaking the sun
up and never getting wrinkles
The gulls flock overhead in V-formation, calling down to me
an invitation to the beach
One plucks me in its beak and we fly to the shore
the wind laughing in my skin
as airplanes soar, caring for
passengers traveling to distant lands
I fall to the sand, as the gull gets bored
The waves tease slowly and grow
lifting me up to float
through the night by the moon's glow
through the day by the sun's gloat
I am golden and lost, like a delicate
NOTE: I did not make rhyming a necessity for this poem, my student discovered that herself. I like the way it moves in and out of an unpredictable rhyme pattern.
Have a great weekend!