Poem in a Brown Paper Bag
For this exercise you will need the help of a friend. A family member could help, but the exercise works better with someone who doesn't live with you.
Ask your friend to collect six plain brown paper bags. They must be the same size. Smaller paper bags work best, and plastic bags won't work because you can see what's inside.
Ask your friend to collect six household objects from his house and put one object in each paper bag. The items he collects must be from the following categories:
- 1) something you can put in your mouth (taste)
- 2) something with an aroma (smell)
- 3) something with a distinct tactile quality (touch)
- 4) something you can hear (sound)
- 5) an object you would be able to recognize (sight)
- 6) an object for the emotions (feelings)
Ask your friend to put one object in one each paper bag and label each paper bag with the words: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and feeling -- the words correspond to the objects inside the bag.
Ask the friend bring you the paper bags and go have a cup of tea. When the friend has gone, you are ready to begin this writing exercise.
Arrange the paper bags on a table and sit down with your notebook and pen.
Draw the first paper bag over to you and put your hand in the paper bag. DO NOT LOOK INSIDE. Reach in with your hand, touch the object; roll it between your fingers, take it in your hand. If it is something for you to taste or smell, close your eyes and put it in your mouth or sniff it.
Don't try to guess what the object is. You'll probably recognize it anyway, but this is not the point of this exercise.
On your paper write down an image, a two- or three-word phrase, or several phrases, and a memory that you associate with each object when you encounter it.
What you are recording are responses to each sensory stimulation. Write down how the object feels, and write a memory that comes to mind when you touch this object.
As soon as Proust's narrator in "Remembrances of Things Past" touches the fluted valve of a scallop shell madeline teacake on his palate,
An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?
In this exercise you explore the relationship between experience, memory and writing.
When you have written a few phrases and a memory about the object in the first bag, place it aside and move to the next.
Continue in this fashion until you have touched and responded to the objects in each paper bag.
When you open the paper bag marked "smell," with eyes closed, inhale the air inside the bag. Write a few phrases and a memory.
With the bag marked "taste," reach in blindly and retrieve the object (eyes closed) and pop it in your mouth.
If the object is something you immediately recognize, that's fine, but don't just write down "banana" on your paper. Write down the sensation associated with banana, and a memory that the taste of banana brings you.
For the paper bag marked feelings, reach in blindly and touch the object, then write down a few phrases describing your emotions, and the memory of an emotion that comes when you touch the object.
Once you have written a few phrases and a memory for each object, set the bags aside.
Turn now to your paper and review the images you have written.
Use these images to write your first draft. Add or subtract lines as you wish. Allow the poem to write you, instead of you writing it. Permit the imagery itself to lead you into the idea of the poem.
Discover what the poem is about through the process of writing. If you find one image or memory overpowering the others, use that image to interrogate and inform the rest of the poem.
Please write a "Brown Paper Bag" poem in fifteen lines or fewer, and submit it for consideration on the APW Forum/Guests' Pages. Email subject line: Brown Bag Poem.