National Poetry Month is almost over, and I haven’t written more than a haiku or two. I’m determined to pen some lines today and am using this post from 2015 to get me started. (It can sometimes be good to take your own advice.) If you’re in a poetry slump as well, maybe these exercises will help you, too!
If you’re like me, when it’s time to pen a poem, your brain tends to wander in the same directions over and over—regular routines, similar themes, well-mined locations. There’s nothing wrong with revisiting the same concepts, especially when you find ways to see them through new eyes, but sometimes it’s exciting to step outside your comfort zone completely and make room for fresh ideas. I recommend allowing a little randomness into your brainstorming sessions. Some of the best poems come from unexpected places.
In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share three poetry exercises that are fun, easy, and great for generating unique ideas.
(Image from Cliparts.co)
#1. Audio Found Poems (a.k.a Effective Eavesdropping)
This wasn’t one of those situations where you accidentally bump into a mannequin and instinctively say “Excuse me” before realizing it wasn’t a real person. No, I was a good fifteen feet from this mannequin when I glanced up and said, “Hi!” and smiled behind my double layer of masks. Looking back now, I’m not even sure it had a head. I just saw a human-shaped torso in a cute cardigan out of the corner of my eye and enthusiastically greeted it. This is when I realized I need to get out more.
The pandemic has made us weird. And for those of us who were already weird, the pandemic has made us noticeably weirder.
Take clothing choices, for example.
Our school used to have a “Pajama Day” a couple of times a year where students and staff came to school in their pjs. It was a fun day where everyone looked cute and comfy and silly. Ever since students came back to campus from virtual learning, many of them wear their pajamas every day. And I don’t mean cute, matching flannel outfits they picked out to wear to school. I mean old, faded pajamas that I truly believe they slept in the night before and are going to sleep in again. On the one hand, I don’t care. I’m just glad they’re at school and wearing a mask. It doesn’t matter to me that they’re also wearing ratty fleece SpongeBob SquarePants pants and a hoodie that says, “I paused my game to be here.” On the other hand, I worry that these kids will one day have to wear actual clothes to their future jobs, and I’m concerned they won’t know how to dress. On the third hand*, I sometimes wonder if there will be any jobs in the future where people have to wear something other than pajamas. **
* I told you, the pandemic has made us weird. It seems I am growing extra hands.
** I might be wearing pajamas right now as I write this at 2:00PM on a Sunday.
Our guest lists have changed in odd ways, too. In the past, we wanted to surround ourselves with the most interesting people, the ones who had the best stories to tell or exciting news to share. A few years ago, the perfect guest list for a dinner party would have included a successful doctor who could describe the details of saving a life, a teacher with hilarious anecdotes from his classroom, a journalist with tales from her intense field experience, and the friends who just returned from a trip around the world. These days, when deciding who to invite over for an intimate game night, the conversations are a little different.
“How about Name? He’s really nice.” “Yeah, but he’s always going to concerts and volunteering at clinics. What about Name?” “She’s a little strange. She never leaves her house, and she’s kind of a germophobe.” “Exactly. Call her.” ***
*** By her, I might mean me. I am triple vaxed, obsessive about masking and handwashing and am tentatively available to hang out outdoors with you, provided the daily number of covid cases at my school is not alarmingly high the day before we’re scheduled to meet.
I don’t believe anyone is going to come through this pandemic without being altered in some way, and I am known to embrace weirdness, so it’s okay if you’re a slightly stranger version of yourself right now. You have a right to be. Go ahead and trade handshaking for elbow bumps, cut your own hair, and shout, “It’s just allergies!” every time you sneeze. It’s all good. But if you find yourself having a more than one word conversation with a mannequin or going to a job interview in your pajamas, it might be time for a gentle intervention.
[Why are both words of the title in quotation marks? Because it’s not really winter, and these aren’t really woes. I mean, technically, it is winter, according to the calendar, but it’s a woefully weak one so far. And these are woefully weak woes to be experiencing during a woefully weak winter. But let’s get on with it.]
Today, at 11:00AM, I slathered myself in sunscreen, put on a lightweight t-shirt and shorts, packed a bottle of water, and went for a walk at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, one of my favorite places. Nothing about this excursion sounds unusual until I remind you that this was TODAY: December 30th.
It’s a balmy 78 degrees in Austin, Texas, today. I’ve experienced warm winter breaks before, but this one takes the cake. Austin is currently wrapping up its hottest December on record and, as an added bonus, the city is topping off the record heat with a more than generous sprinkling of cedar pollen. The cedar count here yesterday was 24,875 grains per cubic meter. Not sure what that means? Let me put it in perspective for you. Cedar is considered in the HIGH range at 500.
“So…” you may be asking yourself, “…WHY did you go for a walk in nature if the cedar pollen is in a range best described as ‘MURDEROUS’?”
Good question. The answer is because I listen to fortune-telling objects more than people.
Yesterday, I asked my Magic 8 Ball, “If I take a walk at the Wildflower Center tomorrow, will I die of cedar allergies?” And Magic 8 Ball replied, “My sources say no.”
Who (or what) the Magic 8 Ball’s sources may be is a mystery for another time. I was satisfied with my answer. Although, when I shared my plans with friends, they passionately tried to talk me out of my mission, overusing shocked-face emojis and lamenting my imminent and impending doom.
I mostly ignored them. However, on their advice, I did wear a face mask to filter out at least some of the vile allergens.
The mask– along with my t-shirt, shorts, and whole self– was drenched in sweat within just a few minutes. Austin knows how to do humid. Plus, there’s just something about warm weather in winter that makes it seem stickier than usual. It’s like the temperature is mixed with a layer of betrayal.
Despite the heat, I felt pretty smug about my decision to take a hike until I came face to face with one of the offending trees and, letting curiosity get the best of me, poked it.
This is when I realized I may have made a mistake.
Thankfully, I am not as allergic to cedar as most of my friends (sorry, friends) so I did not actually die from my excursion through cedar country. I did, however, see this hearse on my way home.
I’m glad to know that if someone did succumb to the cedar, they had a sweet ride waiting for them.
After I got home, showered, used my neti pot, and took some medicine, I was totally and completely fine except for a little sneezing and some brain fog and a general sense of remorse. And a headache. And one itchy eye.
So, in conclusion, the Magic 8 Ball is always right, cedar pollen is the devil, and warm winters are just weird.