On Wednesday, our guest Ed Bok Lee ended his presentation with a generative writing exercise–something designed to get you writing a poem. We’ll be doing lots of these as the project progresses, and this is a great one for starters.
He started by reading two great poems that explored identity and love, one by Sandra Cisneros and the other by Bao Phi.
Sandra Cisneros wrote “You Bring Out the Mexican in Me.” Bao Phi, responding to Cisneros’ poem, wrote “You Bring Out the Vietnamese in Me.”
Then we started exploring our identities and memories by making lists. Ed encouraged us to be as specific as possible, because nobody else knows our memories like we do. It’s also important to write whatever comes, and don’t try to edit yourself.
- Write a list of ways you identify yourself, from the obvious to the hidden. Example: Minnesotan, brother, writer, doubter.
- Now think back to your childhood bedroom. What color was your blanket or bedspread? Example: Zebra-print quilt with pastel flowers, faded and stained, made by Grandma.
- Four smells you associate with Sunday mornings in your childhood, or a specific room in your house. Hair gel, burned food, wet little shih-tzu/yorkie dog named Buttons, that sort of thing.
- Four or five things adults talked about that you didn’t understand as a kid. Ed mentioned the war in Iraq as a possibility.
- Four kinds of food you loved as a kid.
Now, Ed said making a poem is like baking a cake. We have some of the ingredients, above, and now we’ve got the baking instructions.
- Begin your poem with the words “You bring out the ________________ in me.”
- Use that line five times, at least, throughout your poem.
- Use everything in your lists. (Feel free to add more.)
Happy writing! When you’ve written your poem, feel free to send it along to your mentor or small group for some feedback.
Ed Bok Lee, from MN Original.
In preparation for our first session of Teen Voices, here are some poems by Ed Bok Lee. Take a look–the first is a video, followed by three poems from Poetry Foundation, where you can also find biography information about the poet.
Ode to Bruce Lee, the video version.
Poetry is a Sickness.
If in America.
In response to Marcia’s post, I’ve been pondering inspiration for a couple of days now, stuck on what to say about my sources. What’s the problem? Maybe this: for me, inspiration doesn’t often appear spontaneously, like some benevolent lightning bolt. Instead, it takes some work on my part to create the conditions for receptiveness. Setting aside distractions, opening myself to random possibilities, maybe simply moving pen against paper to see what comes up to the surface.
Given the right conditions and some luck, inspiration can come from any direction. At this time of year, I look to the seasonal shifting of color and light. A glowing maple leaf caught on the surface of the birdbath. Dry husks blowing across in front of my windshield, like a ticker tape parade down Corn Street.
I can be inspired by the sounds of language, the percussion of consonants, the chime of rhyme. I can be inspired by my heart lurching against my ribs in excitement or sorrow, or even when it’s humbly, reliably tick-tocking along. I can be inspired by the expectant gleam in a co-conspirator’s eye.
And I am busy preparing myself to be inspired by Teen Voices.
Poetry can be about anything, from outdoor fountains to Candy Crush to depression to lunch. Sometimes life is so hectic I can’t come up with a single idea for a thing to write about, even if I am surrounded by potential subjects. So I think it’s useful to keep a mental list of things that inspire me. Things like good photography, abstract art, news stories that make me mad, walks outside, or poems by my favorite authors. When I am short on ideas, I look for them in these places. And when I’m looking to write a poem, I let anything that pops into my head onto the page, no matter how unimportant it might seem. Because poems have a way of growing out of the most unassuming piles of dirt.
Poem idea: Think of a favorite song or movie, and write a poem starting with a quote from it. Like, “We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams,” from Lorde. Only borrow one line–the rest is up to you.