Kenneth Koch’s Rose Where Did You Get That Red is classic book of poetry invention exercises geared to fourth graders. He uses the structure and premise of existing poems as a template or recipe for a new poem. For example, the recipe you might extract from William Blake’s “Tyger” is: ask a magical creature how it was made and what makes it tick, and make each question describe an awe-inspiring aspect of the creature using metaphor. This recipe technique is a common writing prompt for adults, also.
Inspired by Koch and the “Where I’m From” poetry template broadly available online, I developed a template based on Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Facing It” which has resulted in some excellent student work in my college introduction to creative writing classes.
If you haven’t already, outlining some basic components of poetry reliably steers students in the right direction, especially those afraid of poetry.
Rough Poetry Rules
- Uses images and more than one of the five senses to show rather than tell
- Balances concrete and abstract word choices
- Uses the space on page for evocation (line breaks to emphasize last and first words, white space and stanza breaks, etc)
- Comes from the unconscious and speaks to the unconscious
- Reverberates with more than one layer of meaning the more you read it
- Uses language concisely (is compressed)
- Involves leaps of association (from light to dark, inside to outside, etc)
- Progresses (as in change of mood, plot, character-development, or perspective)
Good class discussions also occur when I ask students to extract their own recipes from published poems.
The Writing Prompt
Preparation: Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Facing It” takes place in front of the black, reflective surface of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. Read the poem two or three times, each time asking students what images they remember ( as per Sheridan Blau’s literature workshop). Note how Komunyakaa uses reflective surfaces to shift from outside to inside the reflection, from flesh to image, from surface to depth, from past to present, and from illusion to reality.
Directions for students:
Compose a poem following these steps. Break the rules wherever inspired. The numbered directions loosely correspond to the lines of the poem. When confused, notice how Komunyakaa’s poem does it and substitute your own images/ideas. Read the rest of this entry