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Writing Exercises

Tools & Techniques

Common structural components of English language poetry:


~        Rhyme

~        Assonance or near-rhymes where vowel sounds repeat but are not exactly rhymes

~        Consonance or the repetition of consonant sounds

~        Alliteration where every word in a sequence begins with the same consonant

~        Syllable count patterns

~        Meter, the patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables used to achieve rhythm

~        Common meters include the iamb ( - ` ) trochee ( ` - ) spondee ( ` ` ) pyrrhic ( - - ) amphibrach ( - ` - )

amphimacer ( ` - ` ) anapest ( - - ` ) and dactyl ( ` - - )


Cynghanedd harmonies common to Welsh and Irish poetry:

Cynghanedd is focused on structure within individual lines


~        Cynghanedd Groes, the line is split in half and the consonants in the first half repeat in the same order in the second half

~        Cynghanedd Draws is similar to Groes except there is an extra group of consonants in the middle that is not repeated, usually no more than one or two syllables (a variant of Cynghanedd Draws and Groes would be to repeat the consonants in reverse order)

~        Cynghanedd Lusg, the first half of the line rhymes with the second to last syllable of the second half of the line

~        Cynghanedd Sain is a combination of either Groes or Draws with Lusg, so the line will contain both repeated consonants and internal rhyming


Japanese poetic techniques:


~        Kire-ji or cutting word, a reference to the two part structure of the ideas or images found in Japanese and Japanese style poetry

~        Renso the loose association of images sometimes called Leaping, or the comparison and or contrast of two loosely associated images

~        Kigo season word, a word which implies a specific season

~        Shasei sketching from life, observational, describe the scene rather than telling what you feel about the scene

~        Wabi-sabi quiet elegance beauty loneliness simplicity or the realization of the finiteness of the moment that helps one appreciate the moment all the more


Other poetry techniques:


~        Switch between various senses

~        Narrow focus, begin large and broad but then focus on individual and specific

~        Use words that have double meanings

~        Use nouns as verbs, play with language and mess with syntax

~        Hint imply be subtle, suggest there is more going on beneath the surface

~        Keep language simple and clear remove words which do not add to the meaning

~        Be aware of rhythm and breath as well as space on the page

~        Duende the presence of death, lend the poem a sense of immediacy

~        Reinforce, when repeating make the repeated part mean more due to context


Prompts for One Person:


~        Pick any poetry book, pick any page ending in the number (0-9), find the last line on that page and write a poem beginning with that line.

~        Write a brief poem (in any style) giving voice to an inanimate object.

~        Write a rejection letter in the form of a poem.

~        Write an “I am” “I am not” poem.

~        Choose an adjective as a title and write a poem which fits the title.

~        Write a confession poem. (It doesn’t have to be true.)

~        Write a poem in the manner of a recipe.

~        Write a poem where each word (except the first) in each line begins with the last letter of the previous word.

~        Write a poem about the end of the world.

~        Write a series of couplets where each line of the couplet has the same number of words and the words; in the second line begin with the same letters as the words in the first.

~        Pick a color and write a poem which includes as many specific variations of the color as you can.

~        Write a conversation poem in two or more voices.

~        Find an interesting quote and write a poem in response including the quote as an epigram.

~        Write a poem which explores the passage of time.

~        Write a poem which includes both internal and end rhymes.

~        Read the ingredients label of a food item and write a poem including those ingredients. The ingredients do not have to be literal, they could be used as place names or turned into adjectives and such.

~        Write a short line and make two anagrams of this line. Use the line and the anagram lines as the first lines of a three stanza poem.

~        Write a poem where each line says the opposite of the line above it.

~        Find step by step directions to something, write a poem which alternates lines of poetry with lines of directions.

~        Write a poem which includes unusual ingredients for a recipe, they could be inedible or exotic or intangible things such as emotions or ideas.

~        Write a poem in the form of a mathematical equation.

~        Write a four line poem where the lines begin with, If, Then, But, and Therefore.

~        Write a poem about a sandcastle.

~        Use consonance, pick a consonant and use it in each word of a line, pick another for the next line and so on. Try for eight lines.

~        Write a poem which includes elements of architecture, and write it in the form of your choosing.

~        Reinvent the wheel, write a poem that goes in a circle but takes you somewhere else. Begin and end the poem with the same line, however try to make it so the context of the poem changes the meaning of the first line by the time you get to the end.

~        Pick a random line from a book of poetry, write the opposite of this line. Use the opposite as your first line and the random line as your last and write the poem between.

~        Find a piece of music without words, listen to it and write a poem as the words or simply inspired by the piece.

~        Write a poem in the voice of an extinct animal.

~        Write a concrete poem, a poem physically in the shape of something.


A Few Poetry Prompts for Groups:


~        Have each person say a random word, write a poem which includes all of those words. Each person can also be assigned specific word categories to choose from such as colors, places, verbs, or occupations.

~        Write a line of poetry on a scrap paper and fold it over so no one can see it. Then write two lines of poetry and pass the folded piece to someone else, this will be the third line. Now write a fourth line connecting the first two lines with the random third line.

~        Write an Exquisite Corpse. Put your initials on the bottom of a piece of paper. Each person writes a line of poetry with the last word on the line below, then they fold the page so only the one word is showing and they pass it to the next person who writes a line beginning with the one word showing and leaving their last word on the line below. Then they fold it so only the one word is showing and pass it along until it gets back to the person who started it and they write the last line.


Some Favorite Short Forms:


~        Write a Lune, 3 words, 5 words, 3 words.

~        Write a Cinquain, syllable count lines of 2, 4, 6, 8, 2.

~        Write a phrase Acrostic, write a line of poetry down the page so the first line of the poem begins with the first word of the line down the page and the second line begins with the second word and so forth.

~        Write a phrase Telestich, its like the Acrostic except the line written down the page are the last words of the poem.

~        Write a Diamante, a seven-line poem in the shape of a diamond with a word count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1. The first and last lines are the opposite of one another and both are nouns, the second and sixth lines are adjectives, 2 describe 1 and 6 describes 7. Lines three and five are “ing” words, line 3 refers to line 1, line 5 refers to line 7. Line four contains two words about line one and two words about line seven.

~        Write a Disyllabics poem, a poem in which each line only has two syllables. Traditionally they are five stanzas of three lines, the second and fourth stanzas begin with spondees and the rest are trochees.

~        Ch’I-Yen-Shih meter is a Chinese style stanza with four lines of seven syllables apiece and a rhythmic pause after each fourth syllable, this pause or caesura can be created by a shift in idea and imagery or via writing the second half of each line as an indented line by itself. The end rhyme scheme is A, B, C, B and each word in the poem is only one syllable long, so seven words per line.

~        6 Word Memoir, or six word story. Created as a challenge to Earnest Hemmingway, a 6 Word Memoir tells a story in six words. It could be your life story to date, what happened last week, or the story of a fictional entity, but you can only use six words to tell it.

~        A Septolet is a French form of fourteen words in seven lines set in two stanzas of four lines then three lines. Each stanza creates a picture, both pictures relate to each other to create another picture. So in the end you have created three distinct pictures, the first stanza, the second stanza, and the poem as a whole.

~        Travel Poem, a four-line poem written by wayfarers, the first line has a number in it, the second has a place in it, (it could be a city name or geographical feature or location) the third and fourth lines end rhyme and also begin with the same word.

~        Triolet, an eight-line poem that repeats certain lines. Lines four and seven repeat the first line and line eight repeats the second line. The rhyme scheme is A, B, A, A, A, B, A, B.

~        Sonnets have fourteen lines with specific rhyme schemes written in iambic pentameter. Petrarchan (Italian) Sonnets, after the first eight lines, the last six lines have a shift or change of thought. The rhyme scheme begins with an Italian Octave, A, B, B, A, B, B, A, then it can be either C, D, C, D, C, D, or C, C, D, D, E, E. The Shakespearean (Elizabethan) Sonnet is written in four parts, first four lines state the main theme, metaphor, question or problem. The second four lines elaborate, the third four lines add a twist or conflict, and the last two lines create a resolution. The rhyme scheme is A, B, A, B, C, D, C, D, E, F, E, F, G, G. Spenserian Sonnets have a rhyme scheme of, A, B, A, B, B, C, D, C, C, D, C, D, E, E.

~        Seadna, an Irish form so the first and last syllable, or word, or phrase is the same. The stanza is a quatrain with a syllable scheme of 8, 6, 8, 6 and end rhymes of A, B, C, B. Lines one and three have two syllable last words while two and four end with one syllable words. Line three rhymes internally with its end word and line four rhymes internally first with line two’s end and then with line three’s end. There is alliteration throughout and the last word of line four alliterates internally with the nearest stressed syllable.

~        A Schuttelreim is a German form, a rhyming couplet where the last two words of the first line exchange their first consonants as the last two words of the second line.

~        A Rubai is a Persian quatrain with the rhyme scheme A, A, B, A. The traditional rhythm is bacchic: (` ` -) (- `-`) anti-bacchic: (- ` `) anapest. This is the version created by F. Scott Fitzgerald when he translated The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

~        The Novem is a poetry form created by Robin Skelton. A Novem has stanzas of three unrhymed lines containing three words apiece. All of the words are monosyllabic except the last word of the first line, the middle word of the second line, and the first word of the third line. Each stanza is tied together with consonance.

~        The Landai is a two line poem written by Afghan women which cuts like a knife. Landai are often used to vent anger and despair but can be used as satire or to make a political point stating the obvious when people don’t want to see the obvious.

~        Katauta, a Japanese form of question and answer. 5, 7, 7, syllables (or onji) the first two lines are questions the last the answer. Sometimes it is one question and two obscure answers.

~        A Sedoka is similar but consists of two stanzas of 5, 7, 7 onji apiece. Often in English it is changed to syllables and formed as a question in the first stanza answered by the second.

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