A Found Poetry Writing Prompt

by Le Anne Devol

If you haven’t discovered found poetry yet, you should check it out because it’s pretty cool. Actually, I’d recommend doing an image search because it can be a really interesting combination of poetry and visual arts. Which means that it may be a little different from the poetry you’re used to writing, but don’t worry – here’s a found poetry writing prompt to get you started.

A Writing Prompt for Found Poetry

Like most poetry, found poetry is extremely easy to do and quite a bit harder to do well. These steps will help guide you in the direction of doing it well, but the follow-through is up to you. Here goes:

  1. Find a source. It could be an old classic, a modern novel, a short story, or a scientific article. It’s really up to you and what interests you.
  2. Copy the page(s) you want to use. You don’t want to write in the book, right? Especially if you screw it up the first time.
  3. Pick a relationship. The poem is going to relate to the source simply because its words come from the original writing. What you need to decide is how you want the poem to relate: is it honoring the original, restating it, changing its perspective, or satirizing it? Remember that relating to the original doesn’t mean the poem has to agree with the original.
  4. Find the words. Look for options that tell the message you want. If you feel like there are too many options, set up rules for yourself like having to use only 1 word from each line or each paragraph. Take notes in pencil or write them on a separate page until you have the combination you want.
  5. Decide how you want to mark the words in the final copy. Are you going to circle them? Do you want to black everything else out? Do you want to draw a picture around them? There are plenty of different options.
  6. Mark the words and color. Basically, follow-through on your decision from step 5.

I know, I know. Steps 5 and 6 could be combined. Since making decisions and follow-through are two major parts of poetry writing, however, I decided they deserve their own steps in the writing prompt. As usual, you can use these steps in whatever manner you choose.

And, of course, if you’d like to post the results in the comments, I wouldn’t object. 😉 Happy writing!

Should Lyrics Be Universal or Specific?

should lyrics be universal lyrics specific lyricsHave you seen Moana? Several of my family members have, and we ended up discussing a contradiction we encountered with the music – the music is catchy, but the lyrics aren’t or aren’t as catchy as the music. Mostly because they’re so specific to the story. But is that really a problem? When should lyrics be universal or specific?

The Pros & Cons of Story-specific Lyrics

Like many of my random, babble-analysis, I’m gonna have to define a few things. Not because you don’t know what they are but because my definition might be different and cause mad confusion. Or because I’m anal retentive. Take your pick.

Specific Lyrics v. Universal Lyrics

When I talk about specific lyrics versus universal lyrics, I’m talking about how well the song stands up taken outside the story. For example, many of Stephen Sondheim’s songs can be taken entirely out of context and still be beautiful songs. In fact, many of them are more beautiful separated from the story because the story is rather dark, and without it, the songs have a new, less disturbing meanings.

Here are some lyrics from “Unworthy of Your Love.”

I am nothing.
You are wind and water and sky,
Jodie. Tell me, Jodie, how I
Can earn your love.

The melody is sweetly lyrical. Put the music and lyrics together, and you have a sweet, pretty love song. You hear it and know that Charles and Jodie are singing about their unrequited love for each other. Bittersweet but beautiful.

That is, until you realize that it’s about two people who tried to assassinate different presidents singing their separate loves to Jodie Foster and Charles Manson (It’s from Assassins.). Not so sweet and pretty in that context, is it?

In that song, the only two words that are specific to its context and story are “Jodie” and “Charlie.” The rest are metaphorical, figurative expressions of love and feelings of unworthiness, which is what makes the song work outside of that context.

On the other hand, Sondheim’s “The Worst Pies in London” can’t really be taken out of context. It tells that it’s about a pie maker in London who makes awful pies because of a meat shortage. That’s what I mean by story-specific lyrics.

Think of it as explicit versus implicit. Story-specific lyrics are explicit: the story is stated clearly in the song. Universal lyrics are implicit: the story is implied in the song through more big-idea words and imagery.

Why Pick Universal over Specific Lyrics?

Because you can sell it to more people. There. I said it.

Ok, ok. Greedy capitalism aside, universal lyrics do have the potential to appeal to more people simply because they make sense out of context with the story. If you’re trying to spread a message or simply share your art with as many people as possible, universal lyrics might be more your cup of tea.

Why Pick Specific over Universal Lyrics?

If your main goal is advancing the story, vague details may not cut it. Especially if the character is having a major epiphany or making an important decision in the song. You can try to portray that through universal lyrics, but if you can’t, are you going to sacrifice the strength of the story for a single song? I’m guessing not. (I hope not.)

Which Lyric Style Is Best?

Assuming that you’re using the song in a story, the best option (IMHO) is to do a nice mix. If you can make it a little stronger on the universal side without sacrificing any plot strength, then, that’s great.

Compare Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go” to Frozen‘s “Let It Go.” “How Far I’ll Go” weaves from specific to universal and back again. Sections of it are very compelling and can be taken outside the story. Other sections don’t make a lot of sense outside of the story. And the universal ones tend to be catchier (so meter and rhyme might be involved, too).

“Let It Go,” on the other hand, uses lyrics that support the story but can also stand on their own out of context. To me, that makes its lyrics more impressive. Don’t get me wrong – “How Far I’ll Go” is a catchy song, but the island-specific imagery and language aren’t as catchy as the melody. At least, that’s the best reasoning I can think of.

What do you think? Am I totally off-base? Should lyrics be universal? Or should they be specific? Does it matter at all?

Happy Valentine’s Day from twytte

“Of Love” may not be my best poem, but I certainly had fun putting it with different pictures. In any case, happy Valentine’s Day!* *(Or, if you’re not romantic or not in a relationship, Happy martyred saint day, or happy Lupercalia. If you are a romantic who loves Valentine’s Day, ignore everything I just said). […]

via Of Love: A Poem to Wish You a Happy Valentine’s Day — twytte

What Makes a Good Love Poem?

book-what makes a good love poem valentine's day

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s kind of like asking, “What’s a good pick-up line?” Some people will say that there are none. Some will say not using one. Some will say that something funny is best. While it’s not quite the same thing, if you ask, “What makes a good love poem?” you’ll get similar answers (That’s kinda scary, actually…).

So is there any point in asking? Do good love poems really exist?

The Good Love Poem: Fact or Fiction?

Clap if you believe that good love poems exist!

Anybody?

Come on, guys. I know there are some of you out there. Don’t worry – we’ll get to you. If we’re going to talk about perspectives on good love poems, however, we’re going to start with the harshest verdict.

There’s No Such Thing As a Good Love Poem.

What?!!! What about sonnets by Shakespeare? Or Elizabeth Barrett Browning? What about Byron or Keats?

If you like poems at all, you’re not going to be in this category. The same goes, I suppose, for love – but I’m guessing no one’s writing or reading love poems to people who hate love (I could be wrong…).

On the other hand, if your sweetheart falls into this category, maybe a love poem isn’t the right Valentine’s Day gift. That’s like getting a woman flowers when she’d rather have a potted plant. Remember: the best gift reflects the wants and needs of the person you’re giving it to (free life lesson – you can’t say you didn’t know now).

Good Love Poems Are Funny.

I think the people who say this have a prejudice against mushy stuff, especially if they say that love poems are only good if they’re funny. You know the type. People who go for serious stuff, and when they’re looking for a date, they look for people who make them laugh (something that shouldn’t be devalued on the dating scale).

These people might also be slightly on the side of the first category – poetry isn’t really their thing, so they only like it if it’s funny. A sincere sonnet may not be the best Valentine’s Day gift for someone who fits this description.

Now, am I saying that if you’re dating or married to someone like this, you shouldn’t try to show that you care? No. They may be ok with being serious about emotions in other ways.  Just don’t write him/her a mushy love poem – go for a limerick instead of a sonnet.

Good Love Poems Come from the Heart.

Is it the gift that counts? That’s what this one feels like. Even the most horribly-written love poem could be considered good (in a way) if the person who wrote it was really trying – if he/she meant what is said.

If you don’t believe me, I’m about to blow your doubt out of the water.

A gruff, manly man who doesn’t know anything about poetry and hates anything to do with writing is married to a woman who loves poetry and yearns for a small sign of her gruff husband’s love for her (not jewelry or furs). How do you think she would feel about a love poem that he wrote for her? Would she think it was a good love poem?

Don’t kid yourself. She’d think it was a great love poem. She’d be so in love with the effort and care that went into writing it that she wouldn’t care if a 5-year-old could write a better poem (artistically speaking).

You, on the other hand, might think the story of it is better than the poem…

Good Love Poems Are Written Well.

Hmmm. That’s not really very specific, is it? Couldn’t you say that about any poem? Come to think of it, what do they mean by “well”? Are they saying that it follows the rules of a specific form or that it uses imagery and makes you feel something? Or are they saying that it advances the art somehow?

To tell you the truth, I don’t think this would be the first answer that most people would give to this question – love is too emotional for most people to give only a logical or rule-based response. The form could be on the list, but I wouldn’t expect it to be the first thought (unless the person is a poet with extremely strong prejudice against poorly written poems…?).

So What Makes a Good Love Poem?!

The logical conclusion is that whether a love poem is good or not depends on who’s judging it.

I know what you’re saying: “Duh! It’s an opinion – of course, it depends on who’s judging it!”

Ok, call me Captain Obvious. But let’s take this a step further and figure out what makes most people decide that a poem is good. If you bothered to read my blather above (and if not, how did you make it this far?), you’d probably guess that it takes a combination of factors for a love poem to be considered good (like most poems).

Well, you’d be right. The most important considerations (IMHO) are…

  • Taste in Poetry: Do you like poems? Do you like that type of poem?
  • Emotional Stake: Do you know the author? Was it written for you or someone you know? Does the effort or feelings of the person who wrote it matter to you? (This includes the gruff husband example, but some people get emotionally involved in people they’ve never met – often because they admire them or empathize with them.)
  • Emotional Response: Does it make you feel something? Is it a strong reaction? Do you like the reaction? (Not “Is it a good reaction?” – people can like poetry that makes them sad or angry even though those are generally considered negative emotions.)
  • Quality of Writing: Is it written well enough that the quality of the writing isn’t really noticeable? Is it so poorly written that you can’t stand to look at it? Is it so well written that you are more interested in the writing style than the content? (The last is very uncommon. I would say that when poems are truly well-written, the writing methods and techniques become invisible because the emotional and sensory responses are so strong.)

The answers to these questions determine the quality of the poem. The more positive answers, the better the poem is (in general).

So if you’re trying to write a good love poem, would you want to think about these things in advance? For example, if you’re writing for a specific person, what types of poetry does he/she like? What emotion do you want to express – what do you want to make him/her feel? Can you write well enough to do that?

Actually, I’d probably stop with the first question (what poetry does he/she like). The only time I’d consider the others would be if I was trying to write a universally good love poem.

Or I might just write a poem and see how it goes. What about you?

Poetry Writing Prompt for Free Verse

Plank Page Pen Cup ready for Poetry Writing Prompt for Free Verse

Have tea. Will write.

This poetry writing prompt for free verse is really a tactic for overcoming free verse writing block. It’s particularly handy for people who are writing poetry on a schedule for the first time (the ones used to writing poetry only if the muse takes them), for those new to poetry and trying to dip their toes into free verse, and for any time when your brain just doesn’t want to write poetry.

Free Verse Writing Prompt

It’s pretty simple. All it really takes is a topic and some imagery. Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick a topic. What scene, moment, activity, career, person, etc. do you want to write about?
  2. Write a sentence or 2 describing it. Pick out the core traits or features you want to emphasize. This is still in the brainstorming section – it’s not necessarily a poem yet.
  3. List metaphors, similes, or other imagery that capture that impression, the essence of the subject. You’re looking for a more abstract, less literal way to describe one or more of the traits listed in step 2. Something that captures the idea or feeling of that trait but is also open to interpretation – it could mean something else.
  4. Take your favorite metaphor and write the first few lines of your poem.
  5. Keep going and try to match the mood/ambience of the first lines. If you get stuck, take the idea you’re working on and go back to step 2.
  6. Repeat as needed. Until it feels finished – you’ve painted enough of a picture to capture the motion, the moment.

Then, let it go. You’re finished.

Well, you probably need to pick a title, and after a while, that ends up the hardest part. Should I be literal and pick a name that summarizes the poem? Should I pick something that relates to the poem but that most people won’t get how it relates from reading the poem – or that has a relationship to the poem that is also open to interpretation? Should I take the easy out and call it “Untitled” or use the first line?

Ugh.

Worry about that later. Like someday when I do a naming writing prompt. When I have it all figured out (*loud guffaw*). For now, have some fun! Use this poetry writing prompt for free verse and write something interesting, entrancing, or tragic. Make the reader feel. Then, you can worry about the naming.

The Line Between Prose and Poetry

line between prose and poetryI got on facebook to reply to one invite and, predictably, spent the next hour distracted by various people’s posts. The one that finally inspired me enough to break the fb tunnel vision was a shared article about anxiety called “Anxiety Is an Invalid Excuse” from Just Cut the Bullshit. Besides the gripping illustration of a hard situation, the post caught my interest because it almost inexplicably blurs the line between prose and poetry.

Here’s the start:

   Anxiety is an invalid excuse. I just got back to my room after a failed attempt to go to class. I’m sitting here, writing this, trying to think of something to email my professor to sugarcoat what I’m feeling, to really drive home the point that class today was unbearable for me…

The first line (bolded here as it is in the original) repeats at the start of each new paragraph. Or perhaps each new stanza – it’s hard to tell. It acts as a refrain, driving home the author’s point, the message that is communicated over and over again to people with anxiety (explicitly or implicitly, verbally or nonverbally): “Anxiety is an invalid excuse.”

The lines following the refrain are written in a paragraph of sentences (with line breaks dictated by the browser rather than the artist’s will). At the same time, they have a rhythm, an emphasis on imagery, and an emotional appeal that lends a feel to the piece that is more like poetry than prose. It’s not hard to picture the piece being recited at a poetry slam, and yet, looking at the formatting and structure, my knee-jerk is to say that it’s prose.

Suddenly, the line between poetry and prose seems less easily defined (a pretty high compliment to the writer IMHO). From a writing standpoint, it’s also an intriguing puzzle for technique: how was it done and how can the effect be duplicated?

Is it the formatting? The lack of continuous line of thought between paragraphs? The intimate nature of the topic? Are those aspects combined with the imagery, rhythm, and use of refrain enough to sort of merge the genres of poetry and prose?

Or is there some detail, some technique that I’ve overlooked?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not up-to-date on more recent poets and poetry techniques. It wouldn’t shock me at all if this has already been discussed, and I am simply late to the table; however, all I’ve been able to find when searching the topic is a discussion of how to define and categorize the two – nothing about how to create a piece that deliberately blurs those lines.

I can definitely see how the details and techniques that I’ve listed would help create the effect. What I’m most uncertain of is whether all those facets are needed, or would a combination of a few work? If it were a less emotional topic, but the other techniques remained, would it still feel like poetry? Or if the paragraphs were less separate or had a line of continuity, would that mar the effect?

I’m honestly not sure. I’m going to have to think about it some more. And probably experiment a bit.

What do you think? Am I simply off my rocker, or is the article poetic prose? (Prosaic poetry? [No]). If you agree with the effect, I’d be very curious to hear what you think the cause might be. Comment away.

Thought-provoking Writing

Lord Byron Quote “But words are things, and a small drop of ink, Falling, like dew, upon a thought produces That which makes thousands, perhaps millions think.” George Gordon Byron

It makes you think (funny how that works).

For a quote about how writing is thought-provoking, this is pretty darn thought-provoking, which, I guess, proves his point. But we expect poetry to be thought-provoking. We don’t normally think of general fiction as thought-provoking. Oh, sure. Books like Animal Farm and 1984 were written to jar people’s perceptions. But those are classics. The books that people read most of the time, they’re written to entertain, not make you think, right?

Then, you start thinking about books you’ve read and how they’ve affected you.

  • Did Ender’s Game make you think about how we deal with bullying, how schools are set up, what makes an enemy, or even whether the end justifies the means?
  • Did The Lord of the Rings make you think about nations working together, about how greed corrupts, about trained prejudices, or perhaps about how trauma can have lingering affects?
  • Did any Stephen King book make you think about human frailty and powerlessness? Did it make you want to lock your doors while at the same time make locking them at all seem pointless? (But I digress)

Part of what makes a book great is its power to seem real when you read it. Even when set in a fantasy world or some futuristic society, there have to be elements that we can relate to. And any time there are elements of reality, there will be the potential for inspiring thought – whether or not that was the author’s intention at all.

But that’s good, right? After all, I don’t think it would hurt our society to think more. Do you?

Sometimes, Poems Just Happen

There are times when you spend hours, days, or more working on a poem. A poem that you tweak and re-write and struggle with. Then, there are the other times – when poems just happen. When it’s like you’re walking through a field, trip on something, and unbury it only to find that it’s something wonderful and new. And somehow it didn’t exist until you tripped on it (wrap your mind around that one!).

There Comes a Time in Every Life” was one of those poems. I was driving home, and suddenly, it was there in my head. Line after line. No hesitation, no fumbling. It just appeared. Like I waved a magic wand. One minute, I was thinking about a hard situation and people’s reactions to it, and the next, I could practically see the poem take shape in my head.

Em T. Wytte Poem There comes a time in every life when the choices all are hard when the options all are dim and dark the chances all are slim to none when the house holds the cards there comes a time in every life when something has to give but even once it bends or breaks you somehow have to live

Originally posted on my creative writing blog, twytte.

Of course, I spent the rest of the drive home chanting it in my head over and over again because when poems just happen they tend to happen in the most inconvenient places. Places where giving them the right amount of attention or even writing them down is hard. Or impossible. Here are a few places where I’ve run into this issue.

  • In the shower
  • On horseback
  • On a treadmill
  • During a presentation in class
  • Driving on the freeway

It hasn’t happened on a date yet, but I imagine it’s only a matter of time. With “There Comes a Time in Every Life,” it was the freeway – a fast-paced one with a lot of curves, ramps, and reckless drivers. Sad to say, even knowing how dangerous and stupid it would be, I was tempted to pull over long enough to write it down. I also considered getting off a few exits early to find a convenient parking lot.

This is where voice recognition software might’ve come in handy (very handy). But I, of course, didn’t have one. I decided to drive straight home and do my best to keep it in my head until I got there. Apparently, my brain didn’t think that was enough of a challenge. When I got about halfway home, still chanting the poem to avoid possibly forgetting any of it, my brain decided to “discover” another poem.

Did I mention that when poems just happen, they often come in multiples? Or in multiple stanzas?

It’s like when ideas attack. You never know for sure how big and ruthless they are going to be about holding you hostage. You could have a few lines to think about and miss 5  minutes of class. You could have a novel to think about and miss most of class. All in all, I guess I got lucky. I only had 9 lines to remember (well, 13, if you count the other poem, too).

And out of both poems that appeared, there was only 1 word choice that I went back and forth on, and it was in this poem. Can you guess which one? (Hint: It was a conjunction conundrum.)