Saturday, February 7, 2009

Exercise with Lines and Stanzas

The other night, I was working with my Poetry Workshop class on line breaks and stanzas. I always bring in poems of my own, written in paragraph form, and have them rewrite them with line breaks and later, with stanzas. On Thursday, one of my poems referenced Ash Wednesday, and since I like to explain how I come up with ideas, I had to explain Ash Wednesday. That led to some interesting information about pets at Ash Wednesday services and pet baptisms (I wrote about that concept in more detail at my other blog--go here if you'd like to read more).

Then, after we've had fun with my poems, it's time for students to do the same thing with their own work (or if it's a beginning class, I let them continue the experiment with the work of others). With so many people about to leave town for the AWP convention (some day, some day, I'll be there) and cold and flu season upon us, I thought I'd post the exercise instructions here, in case others would find it useful. It would be easy to cut and paste, and voila! Instand handout!

So, here's a handy exercise, for days when you need your students to be busy, without much input from you. I think it might even be useful (perhaps with some modifications) for Composition classrooms--you could have an interesting discussion about which words deserve emphasis and how poetry composition gives one different options than prose. And in Literature classrooms, I've always claimed that one learns as much from trying to write a type of literature than trying to write a piece that analyzes a piece of literature.

Creative Writing Exercise: Lines and Stanzas

This assignment will consist of 4 parts. It will probably be easier if you do it on the computer, so that you can play with lines and stanzas, without having to do much retyping. You may use a piece that you’ve already written before, or you may write something specifically for this exercise. You may also use someone else’s poem; just tell me who wrote it. You will be working with the same chunk of words for parts 1, 2, and 3. You probably need a minimum of 150-200 words to have enough flexibility to do this assignment. Don’t try this with haiku!

Please clearly label each part that you’re turning in.

Part 1: Write out the words in paragraph form.

Part 2: You will not break the words into stanzas. But you will break the paragraph into lines.

Part 3: You can keep the lines the same, or you can experiment with different lines. In addition, you will experiment with stanzas. You must break your experiment into 3 stanzas—or more.

Part 4: Write a brief analytical essay (at least 500 words, or 2 pages) that explains the choices that you made, and how well you thought they worked. For example, in part 2, how did you decide how each line should end? And in part 3, how did you decide which chunks belonged together in each stanza? And most importantly, as you look at each part, which one do you think works best as a poem? Explain.

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