I had a great time facilitating the “Tactics for Sneaky Poets” workshop at Theater 150 this morning. The workshop is a flurry of creative exercises designed to demonstrate various “tactics” that poets can use to be “sneaky” with themselves in the creative process — to outwit the negative critic and analytical mind, and keep on keeping on in a free, creative space. While none of these ideas are are “new” in any universal sense, they are all tried-and-true techniques that have helped me along in my own creative process.
I have also been remiss in my role as a “sideshow barker” for the excellent Big Tent Poetry project. So here is a contribution to that ongoing poetic circus — a list of sneaky ways to keep the plates of poetry spinning.
Get inspired. Prime the pump before writing by reading poems you love by poets you love. Transcribe them. Memorize them. Carry them inside you.
Trigger yourself. Smells, sights, sounds, textures. Let your eyes and your mind wander. Memories, fantasies, reflections. Start anywhere. Just go.
Keep going. Try pushing past where you think the ending occurs. Write a “Part II.”
Use constraints. Use word groups, poetic forms, made-up assignments from friends. Constraints spark creative freedom.
Read and listen. Read your own work aloud, get others to read it back to you. Listen to the music. Tune it up.
Focus on language and lines. Read the poem bottom-up, focus on each line. Does it stand alone on its merits?
I am pleased to announce a promising new community website for poets and poetry lovers called Big Tent Poetry. According to the history section of the site, “The founders of Big Tent Poetry became acquainted in 2006 through the popular prompt site Poetry Thursday and, from 2007 to 2010, were members of the creative team that produced Read Write Poem (RWP).” I look forward to contributing my thoughts as a “sideshow barker” and watching this web site’s progress.
I also have to admit I had no idea that writing prompt websites have been around since 2006. Nor did I realize the popularity of responding to writing prompts online until I contributed a prompt to RWP for National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo to the initiated.) I had been swapping prompts by email once per month with a few fellow poets from my MFA program, and sent in my most recent concoction at one of the RWP site organizers’ request. That prompt, and every other prompt this month, received about two hundred responses — mostly poems! Witnessing this frenzy of writing, reading, and critiquing caused me to question some of my previous remarks about where poetry might be headed in the twenty-first century.
And so, I will watch with interest as poets and poetry lovers find new ways to reach out and connect. Though poetry may indeed be a sideshow in this media-dominated era, sites like RWP and Big Tent Poetry prove that it remains an act that many still want to get in to. Perhaps, to do so, we must be willing to redefine words like “reader” and “audience,” even as social networking websites have redefined the concept of “friend.” Or perhaps, amid all the fire juggling and sequined vaulting online, the opportunity remains, under a sufficiently large and encompassing tent, for words to transcend the horn-toots and clown cars of entertainment, reaching up into the rafters, to where the trapeze artists of language still make art.