Tag Archives: poetry exercise

Weekend Workout from FaerieCon West

Greetings from FaerieCon West, where I will be storytelling and causing mischief all weekend.

Danika and Spring Faerie

Before the workout, I have a few announcements:

First, today is the LAST day to enter the drawing to WIN a copy of the FUTUREDAZE anthology of YA science fiction. Co-editor Erin Underwood has generously donated a copy. (I’ll close comments at midnight PST)

Second, the 2013 Nebula Award nominations are in and Hydra House’s own Cat Rambo was nominated for her short story “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” from her Near + Far collection.


The Nebula’s Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy nominees are:

Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
Black Heart, Holly Black (S&S/McElderry; Gollancz)
Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
Every Day, David Levithan (Alice A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

CHECK OUT the entire list of nominees and congrats to all (I wouldn’t want to have to pick a winner from this lot).



This is a BRAND SPANKING NEW exercise that has nothing to do with character or plot or editing. I developed it for a recent writing workshop and had such a good time with it I wanted to share it here.

The workshop was for kids, so it’s broken down into small steps. Feel free to take whatever you’d like from it…


Create 5 columns across a sheet of paper and write:  Colour, Fruit or Vegetable, Instrument or type of Music, Location, Day of the Week. Then, below each, list something or place you’ve never really liked in this category. Something that doesn’t appeal to you and you’d never choose it voluntarily.

For instance, you do not like the colour brown, brussel sprouts, harmonicas, Los Angeles, or Tuesdays.


Next, under each category, write a sentence like this: “When I think of ______, it reminds me of ______.” Example:  When I think of brown it reminds me of camping in the rain with my Dad.


Choose one of the things that don’t appeal to you and write for 10 minutes straight using the start line:

I never picked you _____…

(without stopping, editing, or rereading – the more you write, the more material you will have)


From the 10 minute stream of consciousness writing, circle all the images, phrases, and lines that appeal to you and pull them out of the piece. Rewrite them on another piece of paper. When done, it might look like this:

orange reminds me of my softball jersey in 6th grade
we were the “losingest” team that year
I got in trouble for picking a bouquet of orange California poppies that year
orange is like a prison uniform
orange was never in my favour and i never had an “orange phase”
I had a “purple phase,” my bedroom was purple and pink with white curlies on the bedpost
I also had a “green phase” where everything I wore was green and I looked like a forest
I had a very brief “red phase,” I was trying it on for size
Even though sunsets and fire are orange, I still don’t like orange


Carve out your poem from these lines. There are many ways to do so: rearrange lines, leave out words, change words to create alliteration, add interesting space for breath, etc. Expand and change the language where necessary. Add more imagery.

never orange

I’ve never picked you orange
as a favour as a phase        my youth
spent through pinks and purples
stringing the edges of my bedroom
with the white curliness
of imagination

orange was never curly it was
twang and offense
a softball team jersey hoisted upon
the losingest team on the playground
where only once      for a moment
I thought I might find comfort in you
orange, the poppies, sprung about the hill
and me picking a bouquet only to be told
those are California poppies,
you can’t pick them
it’s illegal

orange, you betrayer, you
prison sentence
you were never the greens of my wardrobe
of my fern forest         nor were you
my brief liaison with red
when it offered a chance
a sports car
a mini-skirt
a swiss army knife

orange, I’ve never loved you
never let you under my skin
even in your soft sunrise I’ve taken you
for an imposter even in your flames

Have a Great Weekend! I’ll be HERE. 🙂


Filed under poetry, weekend workout, writing exercises

Monday Potes (on Tuesday, of course!): On the Day of the Bicycle Mammogram

A few weeks ago I gave a weekend workout assignment that I enjoyed so much I haven’t stopped. It was a writing ritual I had created for myself 9 years ago that became the manuscript for my chapbook Her Red Book. Once I got back into the ritual (very basically: writing in 3rd person early in the morning and just before going to bed, and always titling it FIRST with On the Day of, On the Night of, On the Morning of. . . etc) I quickly realized what a gem it was and couldn’t believe it had taken me so many years to try it again.

I’ve wracked up several of them that I’m already editing and have decided to post a few, even though they still feel a bit precious.

On the Day of the Bicycle Mammogram

She rides on an uneven day west
a straight shot that curves     but
does not stray     In the waiting room
the receptionist speaks loud English
to the Chinese lady     nods in another cyclist
eyes the father holding hands
with his woman-girl

They are all beyond guessing ages

She makes polite naked conversation
in the machine     her breasts
vised in like fruit to juice
nothing to it   she thinks
walking over the fading footprints
of visitors to the objectionably yellow building

She admires rooftops
the array of shingles     ceramic and wood
She cycles past the cars and buses
daring them to make her feel
It’s just a test this
is only a test     not the last
not the truth     not the point

When she reaches her door
the winds have died down
the sunset has been postponed and
all she wants
is to finish her book
the one she is trapped inside
the one she has climbed into
volunteering herself
for duty


Filed under her red book, monday poetry thang, poetry, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: On the Night of Recreating a Ritual

(UPDATE (Feb 5) – I just started this workout and I have to say I am amazed and loving it. I think the combination of the ritual of writing first thing and last thing each day, introducing the piece through the “title” ritual, and writing 3rd person about oneself somehow draws deeper meaning from what could be seen as very ordinary experiences)

A big thank you to Gautami Tripathy for reminding me about Marvin Bell, who I hadn’t read in a long while. She was experiencing some writer’s block and Big Tent Poetry suggested their readers write versions of Bell’s Dead Man Poems (click on links for examples).

Dead man poems come out of an old Zen admonition that says, “Live as if you were already dead.” But you needn’t feel remorse. The dead man is alive and dead at the same time. He lives it up, he has opinions, he makes bad jokes, he has sex.

~Marvin Bell

Years ago when I was reading the book The Poet’s Notebook (which also contains a few “Dead Man” poems) I was inspired by several of Bell’s journal entries that began with phrases like: “The Journal of a Few Minutes to Midnight,” “Journal of the Perverse Nature of Ice,” “Journal of the Night of Blue Ice.” I merged these two ideas, the “Dead Man” and “The Journal of . . .” and encouraged my students to create a ritual for a set period of time during which they would start each piece of writing this way:  The Poem of ______, The Journal of ______, etc.

I was writing in a red notebook at the time, and for my own ritual I wrote every night before bed and first thing each morning in this book.  Each poem started with the title “On the Night of . .  .” or “On the Morning of . . .” or “On the Day of . . .”

Each poem was written in 3rd person, like Bell’s, but whereas he says the Dead Man isn’t necessarily him, my poems were all recording the small events of my own life, observing myself at a distance.

My intent was simply to write at the beginning or end of the day as an observer of my own thoughts and actions.  It was an experiment in objectivity. What emerged was a sometimes surreal, sometimes poignant 3rd person story-telling . . . Becoming a character in my own poems allowed me to maintain a common story-thread while increasing my sense of freedom within the work.

Eventually, these poems ended up in a chapbook called Her Red Book.

I’ve included an example below. Other titles from the series include: “On the Night of the Pork Chop Billboard,” “On the Day of the Hospital Window,” and “On the Morning Before the Morning Before the Plane Took Off.”

Much of the time we title things after we’ve written them. In this case, the title should be the first thing written as a jumping off point.

(Suggestions for prose writers to put this exercise to use are below.)

On the Night She Didn’t Feel Like it Anymore

She stuffed herself to claustrophobic proportions
belly ache a reminder she still had work to do
she baked during moments of frustration listening
for the difference between fireworks and gunshots
she had been startled the week before by a
strange man in the yard      tonight
she baked without looking out the window

perhaps it was the New York Times story
the Israeli tank blowing up two little boys
on bicycles who didn’t know the curfew was still in effect
the whole one     the one who maintained his limbs
was buried with his chocolate bar in his hand

perhaps it was Noah’s impending flood God with crumbs in his beard
or the appearance of an angel-afraid-of-dogs in the forest

perhaps a lot of poets had died in the last few weeks
and with them their hats

or perhaps it was the rose on the bus lying on the dashboard
in wet paper towels confiscated at the border     a memento
a kiss       an apology

what she really wanted was to stay up all night creating a path
of words burning clay singeing the wick of mortal time

what she remembered was this is not a dress rehearsal
what did it matter the embarrassment of being human
when we are all pedaling away from the same tanks
with our chocolate bars and
our misinterpreted dreams

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

I’ve never used this technique for my prose or for story or character building, but I think it would be an interesting experiment.

Of course, you’re probably already writing and thinking about your characters as “other” than you, so this exercise would simply be to use the ritual and the writing prompt as a way to write in a different direction and discover what’s there.

You could focus on a particular character and each morning when you get up, and each night when you go to sleep, simply write an observation of them around an incident, large or small. Just observe them and see what they do. It could be a great way to write about something you’ve been stuck on. Remember to write the “title” first.

for example:

The Story of the Ethereal Observation: she could not have seen them descending. At least, she should not have been able to see them. Standing there in the middle of The Shift, one hand on her friend’s arm, the other to her own mouth. Her heart, she could always sense it speaking to her, and now it was pulling as if it wanted to escape her chest. Her friend looks at her, at first teasing, then concerned. She could see them but not describe them. How can you describe a shape made of air? She moves forward, pulled by ghost. She knows she must leave, although she also knows if she leaves at that moment, she will not return. (etc)

By forcing yourself to write first thing in the morning and again just before bed, and using the “titling” method, perhaps you can sneak up on your muse.

Have a great weekend!


Filed under her red book, poetry, weekend workout, writing exercises