Breaking the Sentence

Write a poem that is simply a list of things.

Here is an example:

"Letter to Milwaukee" by Roger Mitchell
The empty stapler, the unsharpened pencil, 
The dry rubberstamp of a dead executive, 
Instructions for the care of lenses, 
The closed pipe case, recipes for soap,  
Unanswered letters from Puerto Rico, 
Back issues still in plain brown wrappers,  
Bookmarks stuck into slanted texts 
Like flags in the sides of whales 
Hunted by other men in another time.

An Emotional Landscape

1. Listen carefully to a poem as it is read aloud.

Two excellent poems are “A Blessing” by James Wright and “To Go to Lvov” by Adam Zagajewski.

2. Afterward, without looking at the poem, write down all the evocative words you remember, or any words that the poem triggers.

3. Imagine a journey you might take in a real (concrete) landscape, one that is familiar to you. Use the words you have chosen to guide your way into a poem in which you take that journey, literally or figuratively. Let the borrowed language prose ways to break through your familiarity with the landscape, by suggesting details, a mood, the bare bones of a narrative, a kind of diction, or maybe even something specific as the name of the place, or words spoken there.

By adopting the mood and tone the poem evokes through its particular language, you enter an emotional landscape which is crucial in the recovery of memory. That sensibility then determines the location of your poem. The poem might focus on one specific incident or aspect of the journey, it might follow the complete route, or it might end in a place that no longer exists.

After you have the first draft of the poem, you might find it useful to “copy” the poem you heard. Taking the poem line by line, you might model your own poem after the original by progressing similarly from subject to subject, observation, metaphor, tone, etc.