Posted by: rationalpsychic | Monday, March 9, 2009

A Better Poetry Exercise for March

I was not particularly happy with my last poetry exercise. Partly because I adapted someone else’s writing exercise (even with attribution) and because I’ve had no responses regarding that blog. Disappointment filled my heart. : (   Where are the emoticons when you need them?



I like a more free-form approach to challenging folks, anyway. So, I’m going to encourage you to write another poem. Let’s try thirteen lines again.


Night Shining White, a handscroll attributed to Han Gan (active 742–756)

Night Shining White, a handscroll attributed to Han Gan (active 742–756)


The challenge in this one is to start with one of the lines I’ve given you and to allow it to draw you on to a second line that is all your own. It’s conceivable that you would want to extend the line beyond what I’ve given. That’s OK so long as you start with what’s given you.



When I call the second set of lines “middle lines” I again am playing somewhat loosely with the term ‘middle.’ It can be anywhere in between line 2 and line 12. If that’s too easy then you should challenge yourself and use on of the lines I give you as line 7 exactly.



Rather than fulfill the pattern exactly and give you last “lines,” I thought giving a last word might be more evocative (consider how often that word is misused or only used correctly in a film review).

If you have never done an exercise of this kind, I’m sure you’ll think the “last word” notion is very permissive (liberal poets will be the death of American capitalism and values, mark my words!). See if it doesn’t actually make things a bit harder as you try to find the right words or phrase work to result in the last word making a dovetailed fit.



I hope that this exercise is more enjoyable for you! Please post your attempts here when you’re done. Think of it as a form of self-publishing without the large check made out to some swindler with a copy machine. Your name, a time stamp, and even a few witnesses to the publication of your work are provided through the instantaneous action of the tubes! Is there anything better this side of the letterpress printing?




Some first lines

The baseball landed at my feet …

My favorite animal is the …

The old woman’s house was built …

I love that boy, even after …

She doesn’t know how to tell me …

In the dawn, the sense of gray over …

If I were the magician and you were …

Sitting at the table to eat, Gerald …

Sitting at the table to eat, Amina …

Across the table, I could hear my mother …

In Iraq tonight, the air felt …


Middle lines

The distance held his eye. A quick …

Monkeys and the rain. Monkeys and the rain.

Every rice dish had cinnamon added…

Giving respect was the price she was …

In flying over Missouri, I learned …

She touched the turquoise, the silver.

What he held to be evidence, a bit of wood, a $5 bill …

Under the water, eyes open, then …

He only thought of asphalt as …

The woman’s body, glowing in this …


Absolutely last words

salt    garlic

earth     skin

Morocco Duluth

red muscle

gift emptiness

thread wood

cloud phoenix

bench beat

sing (all forms of the verb are fair game)

fly drive

Note: You may laugh at the juxtaposition of “Morocco” and “Duluth,” but if you were raised in Minnesota I’m betting that you equate Duluth with the exotic, foreign, and romantic in much the same way as I do.




  1. Reconstruction

    The old woman’s house was built
    Just after four score and seven years ago.

    The strong, Southern man bent his backs,
    Lowered his head.

    Then, the South will rise again.

    Why yes, the man is paid.
    What he held to be evidence, a bit of wood, a $5 bill
    Stood up for dignity, progress–brotherhood.

    The sweeping veranda the old woman,
    Remembering the rippling muscles–virility–
    Taboo of the strong, Southern man,

    Feels the shame of decades.
    Hoping for time’s forgiveness–a gift: emptiness.

    So I never write poetry, as I’m sure is evident, but this was fun. Thanks for the exercise!

  2. Your poetry-writing virginity was NOT in evidence. I thought the last two lines were especially good. I thought “emptiness” would be a really difficult word to end on–especially without bringing in Buddhist philosophy. Thanks for entering! You should find a red 1958 Edsel parked in your driveway sometime in May.

  3. […] Poetry Exercise for March […]

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