Focused Workshops for Poetry Writing

Workshop on Rhyme

Notebook Exercise: Write at least twelve lines of a poem that rhymes using one of the following rhyme schemes: aba aba aba aba, aba bcb cdc ded, abba cddc effe, abab cdcd efef, or aaaaaa bbbbbb. You may use exact rhymes or slant rhymes, off rhymes, etc. You may rhyme the final syllable or a whole word (or words) for a two or three syllable rhyme. You need not worry about the meter of your poem, though I would suggest using lines that are all roughly the same length. The poem may be realistic or surreal. Sense is less important than the rhyme for this exercise. Bring this exercise with you to class for the Workshop on Rhyme.

In groups of three, first read the poems (fragment) you came up with to the group

  1. Pass your rhymed poem to the person on the right. That person should choose three of the rhyme words. Write them below the poem, then list two or more words that would rhyme with each of those words. Now list two or more words that would be off rhymes or slant rhymes for those same words, where the (final) consonants rhyme but the vowels don't rhyme perfeclty. Finally, list two or more words that are vowel rhymes, where only the vowel sound is the same.

  2. Pass the poem to the right again. The next person should look over all the rhyme words (in the poem and in the list below) and pick the four most interesting pairs. For each pair write a sentence (or fragment) that includes them. It doesn't matter how far apart the rhyme words are or whether the sentence makes logical sense. It may seem surreal.

  3. Pass the poem to the right again. You should now have your poem back. First, take the four sentences that the last person wrote and break them up into lines. The rhyme words need not be at the end of the line. Take advantage of internal rhyme or circular rhyme, and vary the line length of the lines or changes words for assonance or consonance if you want to highlight the sounds. Then look at the rhyme words that your group has come up with and mark the new words that you think would work best in the poem you initially wrote.

  4. As a group, take one poem at a time. Read back over the initial poem and suggest lines where you could cut some words. Rewrite the poem together, deleting the words that could be cut, adding rhyme words that the poet chose (or the group likes), adding whatever is necessary to draw connections to the new material and changing end rhyme to internal rhyme as in the previous four lines. If you need to use elipses or empty space to indicate connections that still need to be completed, then do so.

    You now each have three poems (or fragments of poems): Your initial poem, the four sentence poem, and the poem the group wrote together.

Workshop on Rhythm

Notebook Exercise: Write a free verse poem half a page long. One line must extend at least three fourths of the way across the page. One line must extend no more than one fourth of the way across the page. Other than that, vary the line lengths, but do not worry about meter or rhyme. You may write on any topic, but make this a new draft of a poem, not a revised draft--it need not be complete. If you don't know what to write about, then write on traffic, the joys of registration, or swimming (or all three combined). Bring this to class on Friday for our Workshop on Rhythm.

  1. Pass your poem to the left. Read over the poem that you have now. Beneath the poem in a column, list two or three emotions you think underly the poem. Those emotions may not be mentioned, but may be an undercurrent. Beside each emotion, write down an animal or thing that moves that you think could represent it. (Ex: Peace Dove) [Your animal doesn't have to be this obvious or cliche. It's better if it's not.] If you wrote 2 emotions, you should still come up with at least 3 animals or things that move

  2. Pass the poems to the left Read over the poem you have now. Look at the list of emotions, animals/things, and how they move. Pick two animals or things. Look back through the poem to see where it might sound like that animal or thing. Below the list of animals, rewrite that passage in new lines. Feel free to rearrange it however you like, to add words, cut words or change a word in order to accentuate the rhythm you're going for, or to break it up into more or less lines.

  3. Pass the poems to the left You should have your poem back. If not, pass the poems back to the original writer. Look over the emotions people found and the changes they suggested to your passages. How has the rhythm changed? Do you like that change? Go around the room and discuss the poems and their changes. Read each original poem out loud, then read the suggested changes. What does the group as a whole think? Could you find other passages in the poem to work in that rhythm? Did others agree about the emotions you had in your poem?

  4. As a group, choose the poems with the strongest sense of rhythm -- or the passages in each poem that have the strongest rhythm. These can be in the original or in the suggestions. Let the poet read the passage again while everyone else pounds out the rhythm on your desks, using your left hand to mark the unstressed syllables and you right hand (harder) to mark the stressed ones. Do this two or three times (or more) until you can all agree on the stress and can stop laughing.

Workshop on Image

Notebook Exercise: Find a small object or living thing, smaller than a house and bigger than your thumb, preferably. Spend some time looking at it until it becomes strange to you and you see it in a different light. Then try to describe what you percieve. Feel free to use other senses than sight, and feel free to make comparisons to other familiar or unfamiliar things. Do not worry about writing in complete sentences. Jot down your impressions. Do not name the thing you are describing.

In Groups of 2 or 3:

  1. Pass poems to the Right. Read over each other's paragraph and circle all the words or phrases that present an image.

  2. (Pass Right if 3) Copy these words under the poem, grouping the words that go together or about the same thing: for instance, if I had nose, eye, hair, etc. I might group them if they described the same face; in another group I might put things related to the table or to a bouquet of flowers. Pick out at least 3 groups of related images that build one complex image. It doesn't matter where those images are in the paragraph. Next to each group, write down what emotions you associate with the words from that group. First, don't think about the group as a whole, but look first at the individual words. Then write what emotions you associate with the thing being described (the group)

  3. [Pass back to Poet] Discuss these associations with one another.

  4. Pass Right. Look back over the groups of associated words. Do you see any sound patterns: rhyme, alliteration, consonance, etc. If so, note what it is. If not, suggest synonyms changes that might highlight the sound (blue eyes could become aqua eyes, perhaps). What emotions do you associate with the sounds of the words in the (revised) list.

  5. Pass Right. Look at the groups of associated words again. Consider other image words in the original paragraph. What words could fit with another group? Could you suggest any? (iris could go with eye or flower) What individual images have similar shapes? What connections might that imply? Which images contrast with one another the most?

  6. Pass back to Poet Discuss these visual or semantic rhymes. What connections or tensions do they imply for the poem?

  7. If there's time, look over all paragraphs and discuss how they might be revised to bring out the associations, emotions, connections, and tensions. How might you rearrange them to make a poem? Would it help to keep the word groups together or to alternate between words in each group?

Workshop on Line

Notebook Exercise: Write a prose poem, about half a page long, and bring it to class on Friday, 2/11. Go to a favorite place (or least favorite place) and write a paragraph of description about it. Try to use some assonance, alliteration, consonance, internal rhyme, interesting rhythms, etc. Try to make the language as dense as possible; omit any unnecessary words. Do whatever you can do to make the language sound poetic, but do not break it into lines.

  1. Take the prose poem you wrote for this workshop and pass it to your left. Go through this person's poem and underline the words you think are most important. Rewrite the poem as a free verse poem, putting most of those words at the ends or the beginnings of lines. You may need to omit some words or phrases or rearrange the sentences. You can go for even lines or irregular lines, depending on the content of the passage.

  2. Pass poems again. Using the original prose poem, rewrite it in lines by syllables. Choose a pattern, maybe 8-10 syllables per line or an pattern of syllables across a stanza. You might use the free verse poem as a starting point for the pattern. Write out at least six lines of this poem to get the pattern established. Feel free to omit words, rearrange, or add a little if necessary.

  3. Pass the poems again. You should have your own poem back. Using the original prose poem, rewrite in lines by accent look for four or five beats in each line. Don't worry about unstressed syllables. Try to get some of important words at the end or beginning of the line.

    You now have three versions of your original poem. Look to see which lines are most interesting. Together, talk about the difference in the feeling of the version. What elements of each version stand out that don't in the other versions. What is different about the way the poem sounds. If there's time, read the poems to each other.

Workshop on Stanza

Notebook Exercise: Write out a poem you've been working on in lines without stanza breaks. The poem should be at least 12 lines long and not too long for us to revise in class. It should be a poem you are willing to let your group make dramatic changes to. Use the poem you had from the workshop on rhythm or on line if you don't have something else. Choose the line pattern that worked best and write out at least 12 lines of the poem with no break.

In groups of 2 or 3 exchange poems

  1. Read the other person's poem and mark where you think the topic changes. If this were an essay, where would you put the paragraphs. If this comes in the middle of the line, okay: draw a line in the text where that is. Now look at those as stanza breaks. Is there a regular pattern (number of lines) per stanza? The pattern can alternate or be progressive (3,4,3,4 or 2,3,4,3,2). If so, great, if not, then what would you have to do to make it regular? Where would you cut a line, rearrange line breaks, add a line, etc. Rewrite one stanza (that needs changing) to fit the pattern you found. Discuss the patterns you've found together. What does the poet think of the pattern? Does this pattern bring out the poems topics?

  2. Pass the poems back to the original poet, if in pairs. This time look over the initial draft to see where the music/rhythm is the best. What lines or phrases strike you as the strongest in the poem? Choose 3-4 that you want to work with as the strongest. Circle those lines in the original draft, then underline them in the revised stanza. Discuss how this might affect the stanzas you've come up with. Where do the most musical lines fall in the revised poem? How might you revise the poem to highlight this music? Consider using indentations or breaking the lines differently to bring out this quality. What patterns emerge when you do that? Are the strongest musical phrases similar or different? Should they be in separate stanzas? How might you organize the poem around music. Rewrite at least one stanza to show the new pattern.

  3. As a group: what have you learned from each poem through these discussions? Do you think the poem worked better with or without stanzas? Did you agree on where the stanzas ought to fall? Do you think regular stanzas are the best solution or would you go with irregular ones? Would you choose stanza lengths by topic or by sound? Would you suggest any enjambed stanzas?