Thursday, May 15, 2008

Writing Toolbox: Spring Boards

Ever since I was introduced to the concept of freewriting, early in my undergrad college days, I have been a big believer in keeping loose, especially in the early drafts of any piece of writing. In the last few years, I have found a few specific techniques that help me to keep writing and, in some cases, lead to poems.

One such method has been spring boarding off a line in some other poet’s works. My favorite resource has been Carolyn Forche’s collection The Blue Hour, in particular her poem "On Earth", a forty-six page chant of images and phrases which are alphabetically arranged. I copy a single phrase from the poem on the top of the page in my notebook. Then I free-associate as I write, thinking about what the line evokes for me.

Sometimes I write about memories from my own life. Other times, I imagine a persona who has spoken the Forche line and write a monologue in that voice. I might write down a series of related images or ideas. Occasionally I write down the road of whimsy imagining a surreal universe where anything can happen, as in dreams.

To give you the flavor of Forche’s lines (my favorite prompts), here’s a sample:

as for children, so for the dead
as gloves into a grave
as God withdrawing so as to open an absence
as he appears and reappears in the unknown
as if a flock of geese were following
as if there were no other source of food
as if to say goodbye to his own mind
as if we had only one more hour
as if with the future we could replace the past
as in the childhood of terror and holiness

I have used all the above lines as prompts to keep me writing for hours and hours. Why not give it a try yourself? Even if you use only the 10 lines I have given above and write for only 15 minutes in response to each prompt, you will write blissfully for 2.5 hours.

This strategy for writing typically works best for me if I don’t worry too much about the results. In other words, I don’t start with any expectation of producing a poem. Often I leave whatever writing that results from this in my notebook for a year or more. Then whenever I finally get around to it, I open up my notebook to discover pages and pages of writing that I know I wrote, but I don’t remember actually writing. That is to say, I have given myself enough distance on the writing that it is as if someone else wrote it. At that point, I have the correct perspective to discover whether any of these bursts of freewriting have any potential to become poems. To my delight and surprise, many poems have resulted from this process. Of course, there are also many pages of writing that are hopelessly terrible and deserve only to be burned. But the process must be endured for that wonderful result of a few good poems.

At some point soon, I’ll share some other techniques along these lines.

Oh, and by the way, I am anxiously awaiting your challenges and/or assignments for my Spontaneous Poetry Friday. Please do send me something. I will guarantee use of the first one I receive (and will allow the possibility of using some of the others.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your efforts to find inspiration and subject matter for poetry fits right in with the Jack London quotation from the Quotation section of yesterday's Columbus Ledger: "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."