Today’s post marks the conclusion of my series on poetry prompts and exercises. Huge thanks to all the poets who responded so generously to my questions and offered their unique approaches and experiences. No two responses were alike, and each poet offered a different, creative perspective on their processes when it came to working with generative techniques in poetics.
To finish this series, I thought it only fair if I tried out some of the suggestions and offered you my results. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to work through every single prompt, but they’re here online for us to return to whenever we need them. I really wanted to try Domenica Martinello’s exercise, where you write while listening to the same four minutes of a documentary four times and then work with your results. Sadly, I took too long agonizing over what documentary to utilize and ran out of time. But I'll definitely try this one out in the future.
I did however try Alice Burdick’s suggestion, wherein you take a technical book or instructional manual, then select chapter titles or short instructions to write a poem in which you make or fix something entirely different from your source material. This was a really fun and fruitful project for me. I used an old text called Stereo Microphone Techniques (I live with an audio engineer and musician), and chose a bunch of chapter headings and fragments of chapter titles. Early on, I saw the layers of meaning in the terminology, and quickly decided to work with the material through the lens of dating. Suddenly, the sound jargon took on entirely different, often hilarious, meanings.
I didn’t add any of my own words or phrases, though you certainly could within this exercise. I just didn’t feel I needed to. Then I reordered the phrases until I liked the sequence, and chose which ones I wanted to repeat. It’s still only the second draft, but I enjoyed it, so here it is:
Reasons to Quit Online Dating
Stands and booms
left-right balance is faulty
Too dull, too bright
rumble from air conditioning, trucks, and so on
Self-noise self-noise self-noise
Next, I tried Gary Barwin’s suggestion of writing between the lines of other poems. This is an old favourite of mine, and I’ve often had interesting results that found their ways into published poems. So I chose a couple of poems, then added Gary’s other technique of using trending topics of from my Facebook feed. It was also fun, though I’m not as enamoured of my results here as I am with the mic poem above. It’s a very rough draft, but I’ll share it anyway.
The first poem I wrote between the lines of was Kim Hyesoon’s “The Salt Dress inside of Me” from her fabulous book Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream. Then I wrote some more between the lines of “My Stiff Organza” by Selima Hill, from Jutland. Then I considered how my two different batches of lines could work together, and drafted that. I cut a few lines here and there, and tweaked the tenses of others, and once I had a draft of something, I scanned the “trending topics” of my Facebook feed and added in some phrases culled from those headlines. I’m not convinced those really worked for me; maybe I’ll try another day with different bad news. Regardless, I think I have a couple of decent lines that I may use in something else.
Here’s the draft:
No one has been injured
This brine pools in every room
like flat summer seas
concealing weighted limbs,
pinches your eyes shut tight,
is sharp, doesn’t move, even after you pounce
hot and shadeless and full of lizards.
You go swimming anyway and don’t come back.
Your village follows, is part of the sea now.
Your walls stay upright, crusted,
hiding the stolen commercial and military cargo planes
and a startling new report.
Rub your face on my hands
and learn how to cry,
shells all smashed underfoot
on the basement’s dirt floor
where it burns the animals’ paws,
just hours after administration officials
kill other administration officials for fun.
Your village, thriving in my ribcage
pushes hard against its walls
not to shrivel up and disappear,
stranded on a crane.
I am sick of straight lines.
I roll over and splash into
the shouts beyond your window,
celebrity investors and reality-TV stars
connected by dozens of trails of slime.
My skin is a siege of blisters.
This is obviously very disappointing for me.
I encourage you to try all of the participants’ suggestions and see what you come up with. It’s always a good idea to shake up your creative process a bit and learn some new techniques. Have some fun.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Jennifer LoveGrove's latest book is the poetry collection Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes (BookThug). She is also the author of the Giller Prize–longlisted novel Watch How We Walk, as well as two other poetry collections: I Should Never Have Fired the Sentinel and The Dagger Between Her Teeth. In 2010, LoveGrove was nominated for the K.M. Hunter Artist Award for Literature and in 2015, her poetry was shortlisted for the Lit POP Awards. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications across North America. She divides her time between downtown Toronto and rural Ontario.