Category Archives: Story Starters

Prompts to get you writing

Mad Libs Poetry

I recently contributed a post about Mad Libs Poetry (a form of erasure poetry) to the Literatures in English blog. It’s a great programming idea for teachers and librarians of all stripes!

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Filed under Are You Reading...?, Field Trip, Klickitat Recommends, Poem Project, Professional Practice, Story Starters, Stray Observations, This Business of Writing

‘dog ear’ poetry

'dog ear' poetry

Something else to try — “The above ‘dog ear’ poem was found by folding over the corner of page 110 in Willa Cathers’ Pulitzer winning novel One of Ours.” via Winston Plowes’ April 18th entry on Pulitzer Remix

At the beginning
mothers died
and spurred
another
orphan

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April 18, 2013 · 2:30 PM

NaNoWriMo in the library

National Novel Writing Month, more commonly referred to as NaNoWriMo, is under way. Have you considered inviting participating writers into your library for an “open swim” writing event? The official website offers a publicity kit for the price of shipping but you could always create your own promotional materials as well.

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Story Starter: Smithsonian Flickr

I recently posed this Story Starter to Story Problems and I thought I’d share it with you too. It was inspired by this post on the Smithsonian’s blog.

Visit the Smithsonian’s Flickr (or your favorite Flickr page) and select an image (like above?) that intrigues you.

Write about (choose one of the following):

  • What’s happening at that moment, or, if you’d prefer, what is about to happen.
  • Imagine you’ve just found this image in your grandmother dusty attic. Do you recognize it? Do you not? What’s your reaction? Oh no! Don’t tell me a deep and troubling family secret has been revealed at a most inopportune time?
  • You are very, very old and used to be very, very famous. One day a reporter comes to visit you and asks you about the photo. What do you tell them? What do you keep to yourself? What do you only tell us, the reader of your tale?

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Inspiration Sold Separately!

Image

You may remember that I recently taught a workshop where I asked the students to write stories in the form of catalogs.

I realized something while preparing for it. While it’s true that junk mail refuses to die, even in a world where Print is supposedly shaking a death rattle, catalogs just aren’t the artifacts for the 12 – 15 year olds in my class that they were for me at their age. I doubt any of their families keep photo albums. If they do, they call them scrapbooks.

This meant there was a bit of a communication gap when it came time to describing how and why catalogs make for compelling, innovative storytelling vehicles. It didn’t help that my main example, (deep breath) Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry is not age-appropriate (due to lack of life experience on the part of the students) even though it is PG, content-wise. Neither is a reference to Norton’s narration in the beginning of Fight Club.

If you have any ideas on how to update this workshop for the (cringe) Millennial generation, I’d love to hear it. Something to do with on-line shopping perhaps? Or maybe I should just wait until the hipsters reclaim analog purchasing methods along with rendering their own lard.

Generation gaps aside, preparing for the workshop helped me realize that determining what a person might own is a great way to build a character. I think of it as my twist on Alice Munro’s maxim that you should always decide what a character would carry in her purse (or his wallet or backpack).

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May 29, 2012 · 10:15 AM

Some more thoughts on erasure poetry

In March I taught a workshop at 826michigan about erasure poetry. That workshop, which I called “The Poetry of Absence,” was inspired by a post I’d published here on Klickitat a few months earlier. I wanted to report back and share some tips with you, in case you’d like to hold a similar workshop or program. As always, please credit me if you do happen to use my ideas, especially in a professional context.

I’m happy to report that the workshop was a success! We had a lot of fun and some fantastic work came out of the session. I was shocked and humbled that complete silence fell over the room when it came time for writing. Pretty awesome.

The basic format of my workshop (90 minutes):

  • Getting Started (15 minutes):
    • Pages of “raw material” and art supplies were on the tables when students arrived.
    • I explained what erasure poetry is, illustrating points throughout with a few images in a PowerPoint:
      • Definition:
        • Process for creating erasure poetry
        • Duality: artifact/art object and a written document
        • Unique nature of erasure poetry: An editor of the Poetry Foundation’s podcast, Off The Shelf, describes the white spaces in erasure poems as being “more loaded” than in regular poetry. The parent text will always be just out of sight, even when we look for it. Maybe the text will bend in ways we didn’t expect.
      • Possible directions for erasure poems:
        • Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer: die-cut “erasure” story of an entire book (The Street of Crocodiles)
        • Political commentary (Janet Holmes’ The ms of m y kin—poems about the Iraq War cut out of the text of Emily Dickinson’s Civil War poetry)
        • Thematically/experimental interpretation (Yedda Morrison, visual artist and poet, erased all evidence of humans from the text of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, leaving only natural imagery—rivers, rocks, trees)
        • Spur of the moment/gut instinct (Newspaper Blackout, Austin Kleon – adapts newspaper articles to kill time on his morning bus commute)
    • Together, using Wave Books’ on-line erasure poetry website, I led the class through the process, creating an example poem with feedback from the class. (Note: We didn’t actually get to do this because of technical difficulties but, if I taught the class again, I’d plan to do this.)
  • First Free Write (15 minutes)
    • Encourage students to create their first poem (or more, if they finish their first one).
  • More Things To Try (5 minutes):
    • After most students appear to be done with their first attempt, pause to offer new suggestions (different brushstrokes, trying to connect words in different ways – i.e. with lines or “speech bubbles,” incorporating color), again with examples in PowerPoint or by demonstrating on the whiteboard. (Note: This is the second to the last slide with all the images and no text.)
  • Second Free Write (25 minutes):
    • Ask students to create another poem (preferably more, if they have time) with a new technique.
  • Wrapping Up (10 minutes):
    • I offered suggestions of what more students can do with their poems: Start a story? Link several poems into a short story? Is it possible to make images or patterns with the words? Etc.
    • Ask students and facilitators if they have ideas. Brainstorm together other materials to experiment with (i.e. textbook or newspaper article with pictures – how do the pictures change the way the poem is read?)
  • Presentations (20 minutes):
    • I ended the class with students presenting their poems to one another.

Some general tips:

  • Wave Poetry has a fantastic on-line erasure app on their website. I used their public domain readings as the bulk of my source texts. You can do this by viewing the image as a PDF and printing them off. Alternately, if you happen to be teaching in a computer lab, you could always have students use the app on the website (as intended by the creators). A poem I wrote using the app.
  • On a whim, I grabbed a stack of the (free) campus newspapers to use along with the Wave Poetry cut-outs. They were a big hit! The students really responded to the chance to cut up the newspapers. (Granted, it got a little messy.) If I teach this workshop again, I’d definitely include newspapers (if they still exist in the future, that is.)
  • It’s probably a good idea to hold this workshop in a well ventilated space. The marker fumes get a little thick.
  • If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend this Poetry Foundation podcast, “Writing with an Eraser.”

Happy erasing!

P. S. I’ll be teaching another found object workshop on May 19th at 826. Check the workshop page for details and to sign up.

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Filed under Adventures in Tutoring, Professional Practice, Story Starters, This Business of Writing, Youth Literature in the Wild

Press Release: Third Annual Found Poem Student Contest (New York Times)

A while back, I wrote about the practice of erasure poetry. Now you have a chance to put your skills to use! Through April 16th, The New York Times is accepting entries for their third annual Found Poem contest from persons aged 13 – 25. Rules follow.

The rules:

  1. Each poem must be 14 or fewer lines long.
  2. You may give it your own original title if you like.
  3. The poem itself should use no more than two of your own words. The rest of the words and phrases should come from some article or articles published in The New York Times, past or present. (Note: We check. People have been disqualified for not adhering to this rule.)
  4. You might choose to write in a traditional poetic form, or not.
  5. Remember that in a poem, every word, line break and mark of punctuation carries meaning, so have fun experimenting with repetition of words, alliteration, assonance or anything else that enhances what you’d like to say. (Note: Our commenting system doesn’t recognize fancy spacing, so using words to create interesting shapes is unfortunately not an option.)
  6. Please, only one poem per person.
  7. You must be between 13 and 25 years of age.
  8. Don’t include your last name because our privacy rules still apply, but you must give us your first name, your age and your hometown.
  9. At the bottom of your found-poem post, please provide us with the URL(s), or Web address(es), of the article(s) you used. To find a URL for an article, just copy and paste what comes up at the top of the page in your browser. So, for example, this post’s URL is http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/our-third-annual-new-york-times-found-poem-student-contest/, while the URL for the film review of the first “Hunger Games” movie is http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/03/23/movies/the-hunger-games-movie-adapts-the-suzanne-collins-novel.html.

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