In the left column, please find links to five sets of writing exercises that we hope will inspire, cajole, and tease you into writing new work.
Exercises in the Five-Session group represent exercises which, over the years, have produced striking and surprising results. This group, when done as a series, will guide and familiarize you with some of the fundamental tools of poetry writing. The results of these exercises almost always turn out to be amazing.
These exercises may be enjoyed by beginning-, intermediate-, and advanced-level writers. If you are a beginner looking for the basics, start here. If you are an intermediate or advanced poet, have a look, and perhaps these exercises will give you a refresher course in well-familiar techniques. Please give one or all of them a try, and submit your results for consideration on the APW Forum and Guests' Pages.
Exercises in the Seven-Session group move beyond the basics. They are grouped here to give the reader/writer a seven-session challenge, and they incorporate techniques from the first five exercises. Some of these exercises ask you to consider humor, irony, and paradox as the foundation of your poem.
While the Thirty-Session Writing Challenge looks like a task for Sysiphus, once you roll the rock of poetry uphill, it may well stay there. According to Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals. But he stole secrets from the gods; for that, and for his hubrus, his punishment for trickery earned him the role of laborer in the underworld.
Writing exercises presented by Guest Techers are prompts prestended by artists and educators from around the U.S. These writing ideas are designed to spark your creativity, push you forward to develop your gifts and craft, and engage you in the ongoing dialogue of poetics.
The purpose of poetry is to remind us how difficult it is to remain just one person.
-- Czeslaw Milosz
How to Critique a Poem
To help you to offer constructive comments and criticisms to the authors in the APW Forums, here are a few suggestions to consider when preparing your remarks.Offer Praise
A well-written poem should receive acknowledgment; a successful piece should be noted as such. Remember, these are drafts. No one expects you to submit finished work. You may wish to compliment the author on images or passages that are particularly meaningful or striking.Comment on Clarity
In order to evoke emotion in the reader, a poem's imagery must be clear. Bring to the author's attention any image or line which you do not understand or find unclear. Also, standard spelling, punctuation and grammar are crucial to the clarity of the poem; if you spot any such errors, point them out, but avoid the nit-pick.Locate the Subject
What is the poem really talking about? Is the subject implied or stated? State what you feel is taking place in the poem. If the subject of the poem is unclear or appears to be obscure, then your comments on the work may not benefit the author. Look for the Heart of the PoemAddress the Occasion for the Poem
Why was the poem written (other than to fulfill an assignment)? The reason that the author wrote the poem must be clear and visible somewhere in the poem for the reader to determine whether the author has effectively treated the subject.Offer Suggestions for Revisions
The more specific you are in your comments about lines, images or stanzas, the greater chance the author will find your ideas helpful for revision. Many times, fewer lines are better -- which lines could be cut from the poem without damaging its intent or integrity? Which ideas or images need expansion? Sometimes the addition of just a word or two may help to clarify the author's intent.Use the Comments to Revise Your Poem
Along with the comments you receive, you will find the commenter's name. Seek and cultivate relationships and alliances with those whose insights and comments you trust. Work independently of this class via e-mail with other poets and show them your early drafts and subsequent revisions.
Flag fellow Twitter and Facebook poets to let them know that you have poems posted here and ask them to comment on your work.
Poetry must have something in it that is barbaric, vast and wild.
-- Denis Diderot
Selected books from the APW bookshelves for more writing exercises and to guide your poetry writing practice.
Criticism and Poetics
- The Poetics of the New American Poetry, Donald Allen & Warren Tallman, eds., Grove Press, New York, 1973
- The Poetic Image, The Creative Power of the Visual World, C. Day Lewis, Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles, 1984
- Poetic Meter & Poetic Form, Paul Fussell, Random House, New York, 1979
- Blue Notes (essays), Yusef Komunyakaa
- The Art of Syntax, Ellen Bryant Voigt
- The Flexible Lyric, Ellen Bryant Voigt
- The Necessary Angel, Wallace Stevens
Books of Poetry
- Quilting Poems 1987-1990, by Lucille Clifton
- Death Tractates, by Brenda Hillman
- Vice: New and Selected Poems, by Ai
- Usher: Poems, by B.H. Fairchild
- Tongue, by Rachel Contreni Flynn
- Bar Book: Poems and Otherwise, by Julie Sheehan
- 3 Books, by Galway Kinnell
- Selected Poems 1969-1981, by Richard Shelton
- New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver
- The Open Boat, Poems from Asian America, ed. Garrett Hongo
- Perdido, by Chase Twichell
- Above the River, The Complete Poems, by James Wright
- Neon Vernacular, by Yusef Komunyakaa
- Chinese Apples, by W.S. Di Piero
- Tulips, Water, Ash, by Lisa G. Stonestreet
- At the End of the Day: Selected Poems, by Phillip Lopate
- Poetry‚ Jan. 2010, Dec. 2009, Mar. 2010, Feb. 2010
- Best American Poetry, 2009, ed. David Wagoner
- Field, Spring 2009
- Antaeus, The Final Issue
- Zyzzyva, Winter 1994
- Hand to Mouth, 1994
- Story, Autumn 1994
- Gilmmer Train, Winter 1995
- Mockingbird, Winter 1994-5
Poetry has become the higher algebra of metaphors.
-- José Ortega Y Gasset
Early APW Writing Exercises
Poem for the End of the Century (1999)
Sometimes we look to our inward lives for material for our writing, and other times we also outward toward history and society -- to those events which link personal experience with our culture and which give us hints as to our promise as a culture.
Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz has given us an example. On his page, we find his poem entitled Poem for the End of the Century.
Please take a moment now to read and listen to the text and audio versions of the poem. You may find it helpful to print the text and read along as you listen. Please return here afterward for a brief discussion of the poem and a writing exercise.**********
Now that you have familiarized yourself with Milosz's poem, here are a few observations to get you started with this writing assignment.
In Poem for the End of the Century, the speaker grapples with "the notion of sin" in the first stanza, observing a time when "everything was fine and the notion of sin had vanished." In the second stanza, and for unknown reasons, he still searches for an answer. He is tortured by the question, sleepless and ashamed to speak of it aloud, and he believes that to do so, in the third stanza, would "seem an outrage against the health of mankind."
In stanza four, the speaker stands alone with his own memories of the notion of sin, saying that "each has its own pain." As he looks backward into history and to the sufferings he has seen across time, he also looks forward, standing on the edge of his century.
In the next stanza, the speaker wonders about the apparent innocence which he sees on the beaches and in the "impeccable sky." The tale of the saintly Arab in the next stanza reveals both God's malice, as well as mankind's doubt in God. The saintly Arab, were he to reveal God's mercy to the people, tells God that people "would not care for" God if they knew of his mercy.
Since the speaker seems unable to abolish the cause and effect of "that affair of pain and guilt" in the world, he has no one left to whom he can turn for solace, not even the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Christ had consented to allow "all that is," and the speaker of the poem must accept it.
In the final stanza, the speaker accepts the "jubilation" and "harvests," as well as the world's suffering, knowing that in the end, "not everyone is granted serenity."
Here is a striking poem asking larger questions about the nature of our suffering and our sin. This poem deals with questions of public and private sin and it asks these questions at the end of the century (and millennium) in a personal and humble fashion.
Write your own poem for the end of the century.
Pick a subject that you are closely familiar with, and consider it in its historical perspective. Milosz has chosen the notion of sin as his focus, but you may choose some other focus. For example, if you are a mother, speak about child-rearing at the end of the century. If you join segments of steel together in your daily work, talk about welding. Consider your position as a poet writing at the end of this century and into the next.
Write your poem with the humble and understated tone in Milosz's poem for the end of the century, and employ plain, everyday language that mixes a variety of concrete and abstract images.
APW Poets respond with their fin de siècle poems.