Exercise: You bring out the (unique something) in me


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.

  1. Write a list of ways you identify yourself, from the obvious to the hidden. Example: Minnesotan, brother, writer, doubter.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Four or five things adults talked about that you didn’t understand as a kid. Ed mentioned the war in Iraq as a possibility.
  5. 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.

  1. Begin your poem with the words “You bring out the ________________ in me.”
  2. Use that line five times, at least, throughout your poem.
  3. 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.


One comment

  1. scottlowerywriting · October 29, 2015

    One additional note: After you’ve come up with your lists, look at your first one (ways you identify yourself) and pick the one that is the most unique or intriguing. That becomes the (Something Unique) in the title of the exercise and the repeated line in your poem. Check out the examples from Cisneros and Bao Phi to get the idea. Also, feel free to add to your lists as you go along. Have fun!


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