This is the first in a set of prompt/formal ideas for starting poems or other writings.
Make a list of song titles from an album. You could select the collection at random, perhaps one you have on hand, or alternatively you could select a collection that has specific meaning for you, already.
For example, here are the titles from“Johnny’s Greatest Hits” (Johnny Mathis, Columbia).
All the time
The twelfth of never
When sunny gets blue
When I am with you
It’s not for me to say
Come to me
Wild is the wind
Warm and tender
I look at you
Use the titles as the spine or structure for a writing. I love vinyl and tried it with quite a few collections. I was doubtless influenced by the object itself, the photographs, memories associated with the music or the physical object, etc. As the goal for the first draft, at least, I made a few rules. I used all of the titles. I kept them in the same order. I made only slight changes (like a pronoun or verb form). My strategy was more to expand on the word or phrase. Usually I’m ending up with poems that are (at least in early form) 14-16 lines.
I tried to allow myself to use the words/ideas suggested by the titles. A phrase like “warm and tender” is familiar, almost too familiar–next door to cliche, really. So using those words is a good challenge. Isn’t defamiliarizing language a big part of writing, after all? I’m cautiously optimistic, having written numerous poems–at least some have potential to be finished.
Recently my parents gave me a bunch of their old records. I’m finding it most appealing to use albums for this writing with which I’m not familiar. Before editing, I might listen to the songs a time or two. Even if you usually don’t need a “prompt” for your writing, this writing could still work as warm-up, or as a section or chapter in an ongoing project you have, even relating to a theme or character you are developing.
These directions are presented as a lesson plan. You just need index cards, pencils., paper. More art supplies for Part 2 if you have time for that. For a workshop setting, you could ask students to return to the next class with a revision.
For writers working alone, just use a timer, and go down the list.
In place of the part where you are writing while someone reads the Ono instructions, if you don’t have the book, why not find a suitable substitute (evocative sounds, music in language you don’t know—something to create a shift at that stage)?
PART ONE (20+ minutes)
Go back and forth (2-3 minutes time spent on each step) Draw a self-portrait, perhaps yourself as an animal, or, yourself in a dream
Write about an incident involving an animal. Are your nurturing it? Hunting it? Is the animal part of you, like a sphinx or a centaur or some other creature?
Draw yourself or a person or thing from different directions; or, draw yourself experiencing a strong emotion.
Imagine what is going on outside the borders of your picture. Write about it.
Draw while listening to Yoko Ono promptsfrom Grapefruit: A Book
of Instruction and Drawings.
Switch one of your cards with someone else’s. Write in response to that picture.
Draw yourself inside some kind of structure. The structure could be a building, a natural structure of even the belly of a beast.
Write in response to that picture. If it helps, suggest questions like these:
If you turn your head to the left, what do you see? To the right? Above? Below?
What is the temperature like?
Use your drawings/writings as the basis for a poem that makes a strong visual impact.
Use your drawings/writings to make a collage or new drawing that incorporates letters and words.
Thanks to Kelly McQuain, Melanie Farley, and Jacklynn Niemiec for helping to devise this activity for a workshop given at Drexel University on May 12, 2016. Several participants read or talked about their new works, right after. One participant noted that while the parts seemed very different, and didn’t necessarily make sense, that she found a way to connect the parts, that her “brain” found a way to make sense of the parts.
Locate a poem that is in progress—you are willing to add to it or change it a lot. It just isn’t where you want it to be. This could be an older poem.
Rewrite the entire poem. Start by adding lines between each line of the poem. So if the poem is a ten-line poem, you will be adding another ten lines. If you are working on a poem that is already really long, you may want to devise a slightly different scheme.
Try not to censor yourself. Add a significant amount of writing.
One way to do this might be to print out the poem, and then hand-write the lines between the lines.
If you are a minimalist, this might feel a little strange—but keep in mind you can always chip away at the poem later!
The poet Peter Gizzi has this term he uses, the “shadow” poem—it is the poem behind the poem. That might be a way to think of this too. Is this two poems or one poem? Which version seems most intriguing to you, and why?
Description of Workshop
(Happening at Dornsife Center at Drexel University, Nov. 3, 4-6 p.m.)
Black-out and Cross-out Poems and Stories
There’s a strategy for making poems and stories and art that has come to be known as “black-out.” It’s called that because it involves marking out or partially marking out words or images on pages. This is a close cousin to “found” art, or writing based on found materials. These poems or stories can be all about the words, or, they can contribute to a visual work of art.
Why try this? Using this method to write or make art has a way of engaging language in unexpected ways. It can have a lot of heart and humor. It can turn a story on its head. It can make a strong impact by how it combines word and image. It can reveal hidden, subtle messages by the very way it removes or obscures certain words or parts of words. It can act as social critique. Perhaps most importantly, it sure feels like playing. So the activity has a way of helping you to get started with a new story or poem. And while it may feel like play, it may lead you to serious insights.
In this writing workshop, everyone will write and share numerous works based on books and texts that will be available. In addition, feel free to bring your own book that you think you might like to use in your writing. Old newspapers and magazines work well, also. If you are drawn to collaborative works, or to art that combines words and pictures, you should have a great time in this workshop.
Examples from “Love, Teach” class
You can find many examples of blackout poetry online. These examples from the “Love, Teach” blog struck me as poignant. I could imagine these poems (for the individual writers) as the start of some longer works, perhaps including the pages, perhaps using the pages as inspiration for how the words could be used across the “field” of a blank page.
Review of Travis Macdonald’s The O Mission Repo
The reviewer notes how Macdonald uses an entirely “worldly” text (as opposed to literary). The O Mission Repo (Philadelphia’s Fact-Simile Press), is based on The 9/11 Commission Report.
Write, share, write, share–simple as that.
Cutting, pasting, and drawing will happen, also.
Some tips for teachers or for your individual practice– –Allow plenty of time for a little planning and pre-writing.
View some examples (for example from Kleon links above).
Talk about previous experiences with this style of writing.
Most importantly, give a few minutes to find the right source-text.
Choosing a page or text you feel resonates with you–that speaks to you–may be important.
Recommended: read the source carefully, at first. Make a few notes, a few underlinings–in preparation for the drawng part.
–Have those Sharpies ready! But also have colored pencils, regular pencils, graphite pieces (and perhaps other materials) on hand. Different writers like different materials and implements.
–People settle into this–let them do so. They begin w. some note-taking, but proceed to a kind of combination of reading/drawing, etc. Not rushing at the start seems important.
–Have “back-up” pages ready. Someone who doesn’t want to use a newspaper article might prefer a page from a literary work. Old self-help books, cookbooks, and so on can be good sources. In Dornsife, many students chose pages from a dream interpretation book–this seemed very fruitful. Many also chose an article from NYTimes or Inquirer on a current event–also very successfully.
–Allow at least 30 minutes. If someone finishes (and time allows), encourage them to start a second one.
In the Dornsife workshop, everyone wrote for about 80 minutes (with some brief discussion/sharing at the midpoint, and then at the end).
–Follow up. If possible, find a way to share finished works (as many will finish their works later, or replicate this activity and come up with something they are eager to share).
When I moved into my house, an old piano had been left behind. It wasn’t until some time had passed that I realized that the piano bench contained dozens of music books and sheet music selections. These formed a time capsule of sorts, from the 1960’s. (I added a few newer pieces too, like the Into the Woods score you can see in the picture.)
I’ve shown these to friends and students, with the challenge: Write a poem or story that incorporates the artifact as an image or “prop.” Use some words found in the music. The prompt has been very successful. It may be self-evident that one might use one’s own artifacts as prompts for writing, but using found artifacts brings in some “wildcard” elements. People really enjoyed handling the artifacts and reading the music and the lyrics.