Monday, May 27, 2019

BLOG OF THE WEEK - How To Write a Poem When You're Blocked: A Reprise With Elizabeth Crawford


There are times when the words won’t come, when our cupboards are empty, and there is not even a bare old bone for the dog to be had. I had such a time in 2016, and our friend, Elizabeth Crawford, who writes at Soul's Music,  offered me a step by step exercise in how to write a poem when you’re blocked. As I followed the steps, and produced a poem, it occurred to me that this info might be very handy for many of you. So we did a chat about it. Recently, I was looking through some of the chats we have done here at Poets United, and happened upon it again. I thought it might be nice to re-visit this exercise, for those of you who are more recent members. And those of us who have been around a while can always benefit from a refresher. Let’s dive in!





Elizabeth: How about I walk you through a step by step process of building a poem? Giving you the steps one at a time, maybe three or four steps.

First step is a stream of consciousness list. But you must make some preparation. Make sure you are in a place and time where you won’t be interrupted. Have clean paper and pen. Have some kind of timer near at hand and set it for five minutes. Sit down and relax. Breathe in through your nose, then slowly release it through your mouth as though you are blowing out a candle gently. Do that three times. It is a signal to your subconscious that you are ready to begin.

Sherry: Ready!

Elizabeth: I’m going to give you a word.


Let it float through your mind and begin your list. One or two words, a short phrase, whatever comes into your head. Try to be specific. Use actual names of whatever you see or feel coming at you. People, places, feelings, things, animals….whatever. Continue to write for as long as you can, but for no more than five minutes. No going back to look before you are finished. This is a stream of thoughts, associations, reflections, feelings, nothing more. No sentences, just a few words to remind you.

(For those following this at home, I have a couple of suggestions. 1. What I call word roulette: open a book, or a copy of a favorite poem and after closing your eyes, drop your finger on the page anywhere. Use the word your finger is pointing at. 2. Call a friend and ask them to give you a word, any word that pops into their head. 3. A dictionary works fine, or a thesaurus. 4. Go to past Wordle list posts and do the same thing. 5. Spend a few minutes thinking about your favorite season of the year and create the list of sense imagery from that. Then select a second word from a stream of conscious writing about your favorite activity. 6. Choose a favorite color and write about what it says to you and how you feel about it. Then use that stream of consciousness writing to find a second word by closing your eyes and simply dropping your finger into those contents. 7. Last, but never least, write about writing. What you like most, and least about it. And I also find that words in opposition often work into quite interesting pieces. Choosing the first word and then using an antonym for the second word brings out some very challenging and entertaining ideas.

When we originally did the exercise, I chose your two words very deliberately because you use them more than any others to define your own person, so I knew you wouldn’t have a difficult time relating to them and would have a wealth of material to choose from. I also knew it would make you laugh and that in turn would relax you and make it far easier to write.) 



Sherry: At my end, I followed Elizabeth’s instructions to the letter. She sent me the word and it made me smile. It was “Wild”. I started writing and word after word flowed across the page. In four minutes I had written 27 phrases!

I was amazed. Since I was not inspired, not writing at all at that moment, that week, that month, I was impressed at how this process revealed itself to be so productive. This is when I began to think, if an actual poem resulted from this exercise, we would bring it to you to help you through your own thorny moments.

I emailed Elizabeth. What’s next?

Elizabeth: Another word, of course. And the same process repeated with the second word. I will send the word separately, so you can do it at your own convenience. Follow the same instructions that you used for the first word. Just jot down impressions, associations, memories, images, colors, feelings…..

Sherry: I dutifully printed off the second word, eyes averted, and set it aside till I had some time.

The second word was: “Woman”. LOL.

I cracked up! I did my five minutes of word-gathering. Along trotted the words, like eager little puppies. I dutifully wrote them down. Not inspired. Just whatever came: seventeen phrases, full of wildness. I was rather thrilled.

Elizabeth: Next Step: Take each of your lists created from the words and study them. Choose three to five from each list that best illustrate your personal sense of the word itself. Sense imagery is best, what we can touch, feel, taste and smell. But don’t eliminate something that you respond to strongly because it doesn’t seem like sense imagery. This is your poem, your words, thoughts and ideas. Choose items from both lists that best express that reality. 

Sherry: I went back and looked at my lists. I took those words and phrases that spoke to me most strongly, and listed them on a separate page from top to bottom, with lots of space around each. I was ready. It was Go-Time.

Elizabeth: The next step is the first line of the poem…..using the two words. Your first line is:

This poem is a wild woman…

And, yes, it may take the boomerang form, or go wherever you wish, using some or all of those items you got from your list.  Above all…have fun.

Sherry:  I applied myself to my list. What emerged on the page was a first draft. Then it was time to get serious. I didn’t have to work very hard before the poem was complete. A poem I was pleased with – and rather amazed by - emerged easily after the requisite trying, discarding and substituting of any repeated words.

Wow.



Poet friends, this process absolutely works. We are excited to share this with you again, in hopes it may spark some poems when you need a little nudge.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your wisdom and techniques, for the love of poetry. You are a wonder. And thank you, Sister Wild Woman,  for all these years we have been so privileged to read your wonderful and amazing poems and chat with you about your dragons!

Elizabeth: Sherry, I haven’t been writing anything new for months. Thanks for this reminder and shoulder tap of invitation. My focus has been completely absorbed by the manuscript I'm working on. 

I’ve had a few things pop into my head that might go in the direction of poetry, but dismiss them because of that other Call. I just want to thank you for this opportunity to remember that I am a whole lot more than a “Book Maker.”

Sherry: Indeed you are. You are a very talented poet, and teacher. Thanks for a second look at this highly effective guide for writing a poem when we're blocked. 

We hope you enjoyed this, poet friends, and find it useful. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


27 comments:

  1. We hope you find this interesting and helpful, kids. It sure works for me. Thanks, Elizabeth!

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    1. Thank you, Sherry. I've been a bit busy today and almost forgot you would be posting this. My apologies. While teaching, I found so many ways to get people on the page, including my own person. It was fun. And there was always a bit of grumbling to begin, but it usually ended in a lot of laughter. Just hope there are some reading this, that find it helpful in some manner.

      Thanks again, Sherry.

      Elizabeth

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    2. Hi kiddo, i was travelling myself. Am now home from the farm, tired but happy. I imagine there must have been laughter in your classroom! I would love to be in a writing group with you. Wait a minute! We did that! Lol. And it was great.

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  2. Fascinating process! And quite well-timed for me. I'm not exactly blocked, but not my usual prolific self either.Even when the words and lines are flowing, I am always very interested in new ways of making poems. Many thanks, Sherry and Elizabeth.

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    1. Thank you, Rosemary. It is for me as well, lol. I've got several other projects going at the present moment, and finding it a bit difficult to make the time and space to post on my blogs. I particularly like the idea of two words in opposition, because it means I have a beginning and a middle, and what is left is the ending. After some writing, I can usually find an ending that satisfies me. But it is simple to replace the words with images, photos, drawings, and the like. All the steps remain the same, just a different type of source. Memory is a wonderful source for filling in the blanks. The mind very quickly steps in with numerous associations, and that's half the work, ready and waiting.

      Elizabeth

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  3. THIS IS GREAT! Looking forward to finding a quiet space and giving the prompts a trial run. I'm intrigued and excited to give-it-a-go. The timing of this share, couldn't be better. Thanks so much, Sherry and Elizabeth!

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  4. Thank you, Wendy. Glad to know that you are eager to try some of this out. If you run into any kind of snag, let me know. I am always eager to lend a hand, especially when it comes to writing poetry. Two of my favorite subjects.

    Elizabeth

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  5. Wendy, when you post the resulting poem, let Elizabeth and I know, okay? Or link it in the Poetry Pantry? Would love to see it.

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  6. Yes, please. I agree with Sherry. Would love to see it.

    Elizabeth

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  7. Dear PU Thank you. Wonderful creative guidance, simple yet profound. Love the Stream of Consciousness part. Will try soon Thank you All Thank you Friend Elizabeth

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  8. Thank you, Anjum. I find that a stream of consciousness writing usually offers up a great deal more than we expect. I sometimes get more than one poem from such a session. Lots of other ideas to be explored. And because I kept a journal for many, many years, it comes quickly and with some amount of ease. Hope you try and let us know if you do,

    Elizabeth

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  9. This makes me smile in all sorts of ways. I feel a tad silly because my writing partner and I have used several of these for fiction, but I have never thought about doing the same for poetry (I know, makes no sense).

    I can't wait to try one (or three)!

    Thank you so much for sharing.

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  10. Magaly, please don't feel silly. Although I came to writing in my late thirties, I came to it through poetry. Once I was out of college, and working full-time (I was divorced and a single parent), I realized that I wanted to be a writer. So, I decided that although I wasn't actually writing, I could at least put on the appearance of writing every day. I started by keeping a journal and wrote in it the first thing every morning. And please understand, this was nothing fancy. It was a three-ring binder, filled with lined loose-leaf pages. What I didn't understand back then, was that those three or four filled pages, each day, were stream of conscious writing. The poems I occasionally had accepted for publication, found their beginnings on those pages. And by the way, when I started blogging, it wasn't with poetry. It was prose and about creating a regular writing regimen. Eventually, I did open another blog for poetry and then found the poetry circuit and of course, Poets United. It's called discovery, one step at a time, and yes, it makes all kinds of sense. Let us know when you try one (or three). We'd definitely be interested.

    Elizabeth

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  11. It is awesome, looking back, seeing how, whatever was going on, however busy or heartbreaking (especially during the heartbreaking times), we kept writing, charting our journey. It is invaluably important at this stage of life, to look back and read our journey in our poems.

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  12. I agree Sherry, 100%

    Elizabeth

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  13. I must try this the next time the muse decides to pack up and go fishing. Thanks so much Sherry and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, always a pleasure to read your poems!

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  14. Thank you, Rajani. Oh how I wish I could pack up and go fishing! I think even my muse would enjoy that. Please let me know if you do try it. I always enjoy reading your words.

    Elizabeth

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  15. Oh great Thanks so much Elizabeth and Sherry. I often can't write when I had a busy week at work. I will try this straight away in the weekend

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    1. Thank you, Marja. We do need a let down period after a week of busily working. You might find that the stream of consciousness writing will ease that for you. It's one of the reasons I continued to keep my journal. It is a wonderful tension re leaver.

      Elizabeth

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  16. Sometimes words are so obstinate that they won't come at all at the right time. Dear Elizabeth, you've shown a very practical way to compel them to come and behave like pets. Great. Thank you so much ladies for the wonderful post.

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    1. I'm not sure the words are obstinate, so much as we are resistant, Sumana. We humans seem to have a reluctance to the very idea of discipline even though when we actually put it on, it usually works wonders. I don't see words as pets, but most often as very young children, running away laughing and giggling but leaving some sort of path for me to follow. Even their laughing whispers let me know where to go and find them.

      Elizabeth

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  17. I'm saving this to read when i am able to sit down with that peace and piece of paper. Thank you Elizabeth and Sherry. Thank you for reposting.

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    1. Hi Susan and thank you. I find that writing when I am most stressed often brings me that peace that I am seeking. It really does take me to a different and deeper place within.

      Elizabeth

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  18. I loved this before, and I love it now!! That is the way of the mind, it never stops, so full, and as a women, " I say, we may not know, but we have an opinion." We have but to get quiet so we can hear what our hearts say.

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    1. Oh, my dear friend, I so agree. As women we have been silenced for so long and thus have so much to share. And yes, when we deliberately set out to still ourselves the words come tumbling forth. Who knows, perhaps we are the bearers of that peace so many are seeking?

      Elizabeth

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  19. this is an interesting guide to writing poetry. i think it is quite organized (steps to follow and such) though it feels quite random. i must give it a try the next time my muse goes AWOL. :)

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  20. Thank you, dsnake1 for finding the organization within the process. But then I have to ask, why wait, if you can already see its possible value? Shouldn't we all be reaching to further polish our skills?

    Elizabeth

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