I wrote a blog that I thought was merely an exercise in simian self-flagellation. Yet, it got one of the best responses of anything else I’ve written. The nice thing about doing a blog and avoiding payment in exchange for doing it is that I have no committee or higher-ups to determine what I’ll write next. God bless the internet, people.
When you write poetry and are out of ideas or want to try something new you find that there are others who have been there before you. In less than two minutes of searching for ideas, I found a great site that is obviously the result of a lot of time and effort by Ariadne Unst and J. Zimmerman: Poetry at Ariadne’s Web . They have a veritable dictionary of resources which include reviews of poets, their work, poetic forms and a number of exercises for generating your own poems.
The exercise, copyrighted by J. Zimmerman, is an effort to have you write a poem in the emulation of the poems of Billy Collins. Since I’m gaining the inspiration from them already, I’ll adjust their notion for my own uses. I’ll quote material whenever practical. Consider any shortcomings in this exercise to be mine and refer to their website for the original, please.
Billy Collins’ line breaks … simply reflect the normal punctuation and pauses for breath. Many of the poems are written in couplets, triplets, or quatrains. They do not have end rhymes….
You will need a small animal. It could be a mouse or a snail. It could be a small, caged bird or a goldfish. Pick one. The animal will usually stand for you. Or you might stand for it.
Collins’ poems are primarily about his own daily, non-confessional experiences. He appears in his own poems as a friendly and unpretentious “I”.
Collins likes to address “you”. Remarkably, even to readers who usually detest such poems, Collins does not offend. That is because he is flatters and teases the addressed “you”. Be prepared to walk the dangerous “you” path!
Think of a slightly squeamish element that you can include, such as a dead mouse or a still-living bird brought in by a cat.
Include an extended metaphor that flourishes for stanzas, rejoicing into the surreal.
Include a conscious (in fact, self-conscious) descent into bathos (in the sense of anticlimax).
Refer to one or more famous people (such as Ken Kesey or David Hume) or a town (such as Omaha or Kathamandu) or a state or country (such as Florida or China).”
Use commonplace language as much as is practical or challenge yourself to be more workaday in your language choices than you usually are.
Here we go. Time to start using the features in your work.
Line 1: Begin with a line that mentions a time. Most commonly, Collins picks a time earlier in the morning
Line 2: Continue with a line containing a verb—an action of what you (or something) did.” Zimmerman gives examples from Collins on ways this has been done.
Line 3: Good advice is given here not to introduce the surreal or disturbing too early. However, Zimmerman advises starting with an extended metaphor at this point which will then be carried through. I have nothing against this advice, I simply won’t give it.
Lines 4-6. This is when you begin your career as Billy Collins. Bring in your small animal (bird, fish, whatever). Introduce your slightly squeamish element.
Lines 7-9. Reference “you” in a charming yet clear-eyed way.
Conclude with a flourish that shifts the mood to one that complements the prevalent mood so far.
Zimmerman’s exercise doesn’t give a line limit, which is more than fine. For my exercise, I want to go to thirteen lines which somehow seems slightly off-kilter compared to an even dozen, for example. I also am going to include a color in the last line. If I can swing it in one-and-a-half revisions I’ll do it as the last word of the poem.
After I woke at 10 a.m.
I drove along the Minnesota, it slides
north, curve by curve up to St. Peter.
I stopped before I got there, parking
at a public water access. Across the river,
was a blue heron as still as sticks. If you
were along you could have seen it, too.
The neck tensed back on its loop
like someone pulling a bowstring and
sploosh, the bird speared a frog
and bobbed its head to move the meal
down its neck. The heron saw me and
squawked, opened its blue wings and was gone.
That’s mine. I hope yours fared better. Mine lacks any real surrealism other than the whole incident being an imagined one. Funny. Real stuff happens to me and I like to make it into fantasy. Yet my fantasies look like natural occurrences. I guess I’m eager for spring.
Non sequitur: I just watched U2 give their first performance of the week on the Dave Letterman. After almost thirty years of performing together they still seem to believe in what they’re doing.
P.S. You can probably tell I’m having real trouble with formatting. I’m not trying to go in over my head, just trying to get it consistent. I’d appreciate direction toward any resources or ways that you’ve handled similar shortcomings in this editing software. Thank you.