“One does not simply describe a barn, then. One describes a barn as seen by someone in some particular mood, because only in that way can the barn–or the writer’s experience of barns combined with whatever lies deepest in his feelings–be tricked into mumbling its secrets.”
-John Gardner in The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
Enough piddling around with exercises for now. Write a little something this week to begin your collection in earnest. Why not start by paying tribute to a loved one?
Poem Prompt: In Admiration
Pick someone important to you. Consider traits you admire in this person and choose one to provide the foundation for your poem.
Now think hard: how do you know the person actually has this admirable quality? No narrator in the sky speaks to you about it in a resonant voice-over. You ascertain people’s characters by their actions and words, demonstrated in patterns over time.
Pinpoint one gesture, habit, choice, saying, or other concrete example that reveals the strength you want to highlight in your loved one.
Describe the example in vivid detail. He wipes the crumbs off the counter methodically. She punctuates the apartment with those bright, blaring flea market treasures. He plunks the keys for hours, lips pursed, shoulders hunched, neck stretched like a turtle’s, until he works out that earwig melody that’s got under his skin. Her laugh plops out with a loud wheeze and a witty zinger at just the right moment to melt all the stress in the room.
When you write, take great pains not to directly mention what it is you admire – just show it. Note the details that bring the moment alive and, if appropriate, show the effects of the action, but don’t analyze within the poem itself the quality you’re studying. In the example above about the woman with the infectious laugh, I have stated that she has the ability to lighten up tense situations. In the actual poem, I wouldn’t say this; I’d show it through telling details instead. Her laugh plops out with a loud wheeze and a witty zinger. A beat, then the ladies abandon their pursed-lip glances for chortling and whooping.
You may wish to correlate your poem with a photograph or video as a way of communicating the significance behind the moment already captured visually.
As You Write…
Work to convey your message intuitively. Choose details instinctively.
Select the following with care so that every element of the poem works together to point to the quality you want to highlight:
- Form: A specific number of syllables per line or not? Stanzas? Formal or free verse?
- Diction: Lilting, chipper words? Crisp and neat? Soothing? Mellow? Energetic?
- Sound: Long or short vowels? Hard or soft consonants?
- Rhythm: Verse or free verse? Feel like a waltz, a punk concert, or a Sunday amble through the neighborhood?
- Pauses: Break for effect at a significant moment using punctuation, sentence structure, or a line break?
- Details: Unexpected, authentic, and useful to the poem’s cause?
- Compression: Spartan and terse language or more expansive style, with plenty of adjectives and articles?
Have fun, and feel free to ask for clarification in the comments section. As always, you’re invited to share what you write!