Three Poems Writing Assignment
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For Three Poems Writing Assignment, you will be writing three poems using the following guidelines:
Sit down with your notebook and jot down a few words or phrases for each memory that comes to you as you answer the following questions so that you will have an abbreviated record of the incidents you recalled. Something as brief as “crazy man in green hat” would do nicely. If some of these memories bring with them strong emotions, so much the better. The stronger the emotions the “hotter” the material! If a question fails to call forth an answer, that’s okay too: just skip it and move to the next question. The incidents that you come up with do not have to be memories from your childhood.
Write your first poem following the prompt for Poem 1 below. Use one of the answers from your list above.
Poem 1: A Childhood Memory
Out of all the details and facts you have written down, choose the ones that will permit you to write a poem of no more than thirty-five lines, telling your story as effectively as you can. Tell it in a manner that makes the reader continually want to know what happens next. Make sure the incident is held to one scene—one physical location. Sometimes this means you will have to choose one particular incident out of many. If the memory that you recalled while doing the memory process jumped around from locale to locale, find the one that seems the most vivid and intense, the one filled with the most action, drama and conflict. Be sure it is one that will permit you to reveal, with a minimum of explanation and background, what you want to show us. As indicated earlier, that focus, what it is you want to show us, often emerges in the process of writing itself. Good writers can give us necessary background quickly and painlessly, without seeming to interrupt the flow of the story. A poem that begins “Again he took out his strap and hit me” lets the reader know, simply through the use of the word “again,” that this has happened before. Starting with the action rather than with a lot of background information is an important storyteller’s device. The reader must know what the poem’s narrator (the “I” of the poem) is feeling. The more intensely you can get us to feel, the more successful you have been. It is important to remember that the power of poetry rests to a large degree on the emotional intensity it generates. Try to make the reader feel the humor of the situation or its pathos or the narrator’s grief or something of the mystery of the world, or the small, significant triumph of a character’s life—or whatever it is you wish to call forth from the reader’s emotions.
Remember to show us rather than tell us: use vivid, expressive details to give the reader the picture you want us to see before our eyes. Concentrate on describing the action in such a way that the reader will understand the feelings of the characters without having to be told them.
If thirty-five lines doesn’t seem like enough space in which to tell your story, so much the better: the more concise you are forced to be, the more likelihood that you will select your details carefully and maintain the narrative and emotional intensity that you want.
Do not use end-rhyme (rhyming words at the ends of lines) in this poem. Far from making a poem more musical, in inexperienced hands end-rhyme often forces the author to write awkwardly, keeping a poem from becoming musical and graceful. Instead of rhyme, let the compression, precision, and clarity of your phrasing, the accuracy of your descriptions, the drama of your narrative, and the intensity of the emotion shape this into a powerful poem.
The Three- or Four-Sentence Prose Poem
Take one of the experiences that you want to write about but which you feel can be done with great conciseness and tell the entire story in three or four sentences. This will probably mean that you will have to write a couple of relatively long sentences, which in itself is good writing practice. But don’t make those sentences awkwardly long and overburdened with information and details. Look back at that traumatic scene from childhood by Fred Moramarco and notice how the author handles the first sentence, which is seventy-three words long. Observe how colloquial and natural the sentence sounds—despite its length.
Though your impulse may be to go into great detail about this incident in your life, in order to get it into three or four sentences you will be forced to condense the material radically, to set down its very essence. Remember to center the telling on an action and to charge it with emotion. Revise those three or four sentences until you feel you’ve said them as well as you possibly can, and that your story has been forcefully and memorably told. If this short prose poem proves successful and stimulating, try your hand at another. Make this one five to eight sentences long.
Write a poem based on “Those Who Died.” It might be “Those I’ve Kissed,” or “People I’ve Hurt,” or “A Few of My Failures.” Keep each item spare, but vary them enough that the poem never gets monotonous. End each item with a date if you wish, but in the final draft you may wish to leave out the dates altogether. You may wish to vary your lines more than Berrigan does, so that they do not all start with the name of a person. Here, for example, is the beginning of a poem called “The Ones I’ve Kissed”:
Poem 8: A List Poem
My mother, the first kiss, red cheek and rubbery nipple and breast soft as my own,
And my dad with his tickle-face prickle I’d wait for at dusk
And Timmy Arno, smelling of mushroom and soap who couldn’t find my lips,
and Mark Hampell. At 14, sweet Mark. His lips a bolt through my belly, a shorted-out wire humming with sparklers. I kept my eyes closed and cried afterwards—
Then those awful dates with boys whose faces have vanished. Laughter and sighs in the back seats of souped-up Chevys and Hondas….
Submit the Three Poems Writing Assignment
Three Poems Writing Assignment Part Two:
Review “Revising the First Poem” below. Talk about sense imagery, tension and conflict, honesty, etc. Keep in mind that these are first drafts – so be kind! Discuss what is interesting to read and what you want more of in your poems.
Revising the First Poem
After you have finished writing a first draft of one of these poems, look it over and see if you have actually told your story clearly and effectively. Often inexperienced writers find it hard to separate what they know about an incident from what they have told the reader, with the consequence that crucial information never gets conveyed. An additional problem is that the excitement of writing down one’s memory and creating a poem is sometimes confused with a sense that the poem, since it delighted you, will surely delight the reader.
Sometimes in a second or third draft, dissatisfied with their previous attempts, writers will start the story at a different point in time or find better details for their purpose. Perhaps there is not yet enough suspense or emotion, or you got bogged down in background material that was inessential. Perhaps your word choice is not precise or trenchant enough to bring a scene to life. Perhaps the reader is given too few clues to the emotions the characters are feeling or cannot tell what emotion they themselves are supposed to be feeling.
Looking over your draft a few days later is often an effective way to see the poem with fresh eyes.
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