Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Creative Writing -- Experience Poems

For the last two classes we have been digging through our memories for experience poems as a group. The poems that came out of this two part class have been very powerful and I thought it would be good to share with the education community at large. The original idea of the Experience Poem and instructions were from Rick Monroe. Thanks, Rick, you have influenced me as an educator more than you could ever possibly know.

Experience Poem

Part one
This assignment is designed to help you write a poem based on an experience, memory, or place. The idea is to generate as much raw material as you can before you commit to the form of the poem. Feel free to draft this many times.

Follow these steps:
  • Recall a specific time or place when you were younger. Generate a list of as many things as you can remember about the experience, memory, or place. (20 or more items is a good beginning.) Include everything. Note sights, sounds, smells, colors, textures, placement of items. If it helps, draw a picture of the experience/memory/place and then label everything. Invent whatever you can't clearly remember.
  • Now add at least eight "personal specifics" that get at the tone or mood. Use the past tense.
  • The goal is to write a two-four (or more) stanza poem of a least four lines each that is based on the experience/memory/place. This means, now that you have generated more raw material than can be used, decide which items are the most promising. Highlight them and then begin.
  • Do's: write in the past tense; focus on details (concrete nouns and active verbs); try using a repeating line (or refrain) to help with rhythm and organization; cut lines to the bone taking out connecting words or adverbs; rearrange the lines to establish a tone, mood, or theme; use a metaphor to create an image or make a connection.
  • Don't's: Don't use any rhyme (rhyming often distracts a reader from the content); don't write about love or death.
  • Write a draft at least four stanzas long. Step back from the first draft, let it sit for a day or so, and then reread it. Now write a title for the piece. Try to use a noun and a verb in the title so it doesn't read like a label.
  • Read the draft again and distill it some more. Think about moving lines or whole stanzas, take out "explaining words" (words that don't show), examine the line breaks and read them aloud so you can hear the cadence, or change point of view so the voice isn't yours.
  • Read the draft to at least two other people. Read your draft aloud to them. Ask them what is most memorable. What words or images can they recall? Than ask them if they have any suggestions or questions.
  • Read the example below and then go find and read a few poems like the one you are trying to write to see how other poets have written a memory poem. Write a more polished draft now, and at the bottom of the page include a "with thanks to" the people who helped you.

South Carolina
by Marcella Powell

We drive over hills into
flat fields, tobacco and
cotton plants.
Curing shacks stand
abandoned on land
littered with
wild flowers.

Along the road, power
lines droop and we pass
a run-down filling station.
A farmer stands there
filling his tractor,
with diesel fuel
and waves to us
just to be friendly.

(Thanks to Susan Meyers and R. Monroe)

Part Two: After this part of the assignment, we had a class discussion about taking risks as writers. I showed two short videos to help us discuss the concept. After the discussion, we all shared a very personal story with someone in class to help us experience risk taking. Then in the next lesson, we wrote about those stories we shared verbally in the previous class. I have added my poem from the second round of Experience Poems.