I like using the tag line “pondering poetry” because pondering is often how a poem forms: I sit (or walk or swim or run), asking myself questions about something or another (or sometimes both something and another). When I answer the question, I try to think my answers in images. In other words, if I as myself, “What is a cat?” Instead of thinking “Grey, fur, small…” and so on, I try to picture a grey-furred, small cat sitting next to my desk. I then write out the image by describing it as well as I can using metaphors, sensory description, and other figurative language. It’s a basic process, and maybe I’m slow but it’s one that took me some time to arrive at after through years of trying to think my answers in words that created an image, not the other way around.
Sometimes a poem results from one of the images right away. Most of the time it does not, and I play around with the images, placing them next to each other and on top of one another in different ways, ways that interest me or make me sit up straighter. I then keep pondering those images and brainstorming and riffing off them, often using stream of conscious-like writing, until the poem forms. It always does. It isn’t always amazing, but those less-than poems I set aside for a day when I want to work from old exercises.
I recommend giving it a try – if it works, you may end up with poem; if not, at least you tried and completed your writing/writing warm-up for the day!
- Freewrite a list of at least 10 questions. Don’t think too hard, just write some questions. Here are a few examples: What are cats? Why do people marry? When will I die? How are flip-flops made? You get the idea. Just write the first questions that come to mind until you have at least 10 but no more than 15.
- Choose one of the questions. You can choose at random, closing an eye and tossing a paperclip and going with the question on which it lands, or you can go with the one that tugs at you the hardest.
- Now start answering the question in images. Don’t question the pictures that pop into your head, don’t worry if they’re weird/creepy/sexy/scary – just focus on them one at a time (it’s okay to tell a pushy one to wait or to skip right to it – this is your exercise!). Start with the obvious, and keep going following the images that come. For example, if when you think of an answer to “What is a Cat?”, you see a small, grey kitten sitting by your desk – write about that. Then follow the cat if it decides to move. If it doesn’t, think about what else a cat is, and let an image come to you. Write it out, then follow where it leads. And so on.
- When one answer leads somewhere really interesting, see if there’s a poem in it and write it! Write the first draft and let it sit before rewriting it. See if you can keep thinking in images even during the revision process.
Good luck and happy writing!