Saturday, March 22, 2008

Weekend Writing Workout - Wishes, Lies, Dreams #5 or 6

I've been having a blast writing these weekly exercises for Puget Sound Community School poetry students. If you have some time, please do check out some of their work. They've done a great job with the exercises (as a matter of fact, I may need to borrow some of their examples for a book I'm writing on teaching poetry).

I've been spending more time on wishes and dreams, so I though it was time for some more lies. Or, at least not exactly the truth... How many of you have been in a situation where you don't know the answer to something, and rather than admitting you don't know, you make something up? Little kids tend to do this a lot, but I bet adults do, too.

Then again, some questions are simply unanswerable...


I decided this week to take one of my favourite writing exercises and give it a little bit of a twist.

For this exercise, everyone in the class/group needs to put a few objects on the table. I like a balance of natural objects and man-made objects, so perhaps each students could get one of each. I've used bricks, rocks, tree bark, glasses, pens, shoes, keys, flowers, a bottle of water, anything will work, really.

Exercise #1

Pick three objects that you will use for this exercise. Pick at least one natural object and one man-made object.

Write a question at the top of your page. It is important that the question be open ended rather than yes/no or answerable in one word. Examples would be:

Why is the sky blue?
Why does rain make people sad?
What is space made of?

How do birds stay in the air?

What is fame? love? war?
Why must we grow up?

What you will do is ask each of these objects your question and they will answer you in the form of a list poem. Keep in mind, though, that your object doesn't really know the answer to the question, so it makes the answer up.

Why would the object make up the answer? I suppose it depends upon the personality of the object. It's too egotistical to admit it doesn't know, it's afraid to tell you it doesn't know, it's ashamed it doesn't know, it thinks it should know, etc.

The challenge is in keeping the object's perspective in mind as it answers your question. Remember, it has a skewed and limited view of the world.

Set a timer for 3-5 minutes. Have the first object answer your question. Start each line of the poem in the same manner to give it repetition. You will do this with each object so that at the end you will have 3 stanzas.


(objects: bark, popsicle stick, brick)

Why Can't I Sleep at Night?

Because you dream of chainsaws
Because you worry about nesting birds
Because your grandparents are sleeping next to you
Because the seasons make you tired

Because you dream of teeth
Because you are disposable
Because you have forgotten your childhood
Because you aren't finished yet

Because you dream of wild oceans
Because you want to grow arms, legs, or vines
Because there is something blocking the door
Because grey isn't your favorite color

I like that this one repeats the "because" each line and each stanza begins with the same idea, that there is some dream involved.

Exercise #2

Now you can turn it around and have the objects ask YOU a question. Meaning, each object asks you the same question, and you answer it for them. You can use the same objects in the first exercise or different ones. You can ask the same question, or try a new one.

Why would you make up the answer or lie to this object? Maybe you are teasing it, maybe you have an attitude. You can decide to tell the object what you think it wants to hear, what it needs to hear, try to convince it of something, or assuage its fears.

(objects - pen, leaf, shoe)

What is love?

It is straight lines and no smudges
It is unmailed letters in a drawer
It is being both right and left handed
It is learning to write your name

It is straight branches and no bird poop
It is unwritten graffiti in someone's mind
It is having branches on the east and west side of the trunk
It is leaning to fall

It is straight lines down a car-free road
It is unopened boxes of fluevogs
It is having socks for every occasion
It is learning to walk

Have fun with this! I've always gotten really interesting results from this exercise.


artpredator said...

this is another great exercise

this summer i'm gonna do them all!

Danika / OpenChannel said...

is that a threat?