I’ve devised a little exercise called “poem du jour” for when I want to get riffing on the page, laying ideas and images and rhythms down. It’s a good calisthenic for those cold and rusty mornings. Sometimes it results in a poem I want to keep, other times there’s only a good little bit in it, and sometimes it’s a throwaway. But the nice thing about this exercise is that it gets the mind focused on poetry quickly. Here are the guidelines:
- Find a poem that’s going to provide your template, the poem du jour. Page through a favorite book, or a new book you’re reading, or scroll through a website like Verse Daily. It should be a poem you admire.
- From this poem, you’re going to extract your “rules” for writing your own poem. Give your template poem a good read and from this devise several rules regarding form that will give a framework for your poem. Some examples might be a specific number of lines, line length, stanza length, and the use or non-use of punctuation. Another way to think about the form the model poem takes is its mode of expression — is it addressed to someone else or a musing to the self? Is it a rant or an apology, a regret or a litany? Your poem could take a cue from this, too.
- You can stop there or go further and use the content as a guide for your own poem too, especially if you are feeling low on ideas and the pump needs priming. What is the main emotion of the poem, how does it leave you feeling? Your poem can try to evoke that emotion in its own way. What complicates the poem? — hopefully something, because anything that’s a poem is pushing against something. Get an inkling of what your model poem is up against, what’s needling it, and you might try getting up against that or being needled by that, too. Or push against something else entirely, but use a strategy similar to the model poem’s.
It shouldn’t take much more than a few minutes to devise a set of rules based on your chosen poem du jour. When I use this exercise, I usually set 3 rules or so for writing — nothing too complicated. Go ahead and write. Don’t worry that your new poem will be derivative — ultimately, your voice will come through. And don’t forget that as you go back and revise, you can throw out any or all the rules that got you writing. If they got you writing, their job is done.