Poetic Exercises to Loosen the Joints

One of the most useful lessons I learnt on the writing retreat was to use all sorts of ridiculous rules and constraints to exercise the poetic brain. It’s like using an elastic band to exercise your muscles, making them stretch just a little further than they might normally do. Here are some examples:

Quick Riddle

Flashes of remembrance
your friendly pings
your bossy tone
sole guide and friend on country lanes
until you die

(Mobile phone)

Cinquain – 2-4-6-8-2 syllable lines

It’s May.
Nests are feathered,
Twiglets picked, earth clods primed,
with hasty visitors in mind.

Careful trickle
Weighing, counting, tasting…
Beat and simmer, don’t stir and pour…
Too late!

Invent a list of ten words and give them to the next person to write a short text with it (a poem, prose, textbook, whatever the words inspire).  Here is my text, see if you can spot the made-up words.

The plupracy had already decided to sputify all private property. First, they demoked the fusils (Mairstone, 2082: pp.15-16), but, when this took far longer than expected, they had to add propylate to the mix. The late-Nematic propylate, however, was full of brimstone (Johnson, 2011; Rheinhart, 2059), so the olzeous metaphycitate they had in their makeshift laboratories exploded. The sputified masses tried to caffer, but it was too late. Contemporary eye-witnesses agree that the instare was complete and irrevocable (Mairstone, 2082: pg. 562).


Journey of a Poem: Part 2

At the beginning of October, I share the first draft of a poem which, in all fairness, was more of a rant. In the meantime, I’ve shared it with my beloved poetry mentor in Provence, Karen McDermott, and also read it out at my local writing group, so I’ve had some feedback and made some changes.


One major area of reader concern was that I need to make it clearer from the outset that there are two people involved in the poem: a couple quarrelling. The other suggestion was to include more ‘out’ words, like outshine, outrun, outdo. I took both of those onboard.

I also decided that one whole stanza, the one with the invalid in bed expecting to be waited upon hand and foot, didn’t work very well (although it was what triggered the furious poem initially). So that came out and I reworked some of the other ideas, extending them into stanzas of their own.  The passwords and apps in the first stanza became much more about a certain type of masculinity which uses technology as a weapon and rolls his eyes when women are not interested in constantly playing with gadgets. The scientific depth became more of a weapon of derision in its own ‘mansplaining’ stanza. The Facebook foxiness and offshore squirreling references became more obviously financial with the introduction of a game of Monopoly.


So here’s the second/third draft. The fourth stanza is deliberately longer than the others, which are all composed of four lines. It’s the break in patterns which makes things interesting. As Laura Kasischke said during her masterclass: ‘If I were in the hands of a poet who obviously has no idea where line breaks occur, just chops up a piece of prose into shorter lines, then a break in pattern is random, but if it’s a poet you can trust then you can see it’s deliberate and it adds to the meaning.’ That longer stanza marks how endless the Christmas season can seem when you are trapped in the house with someone lacking empathy and determined to always be in the right.

Outwit with passwords
you outgun me
fat on apps, encrypted accounts,
grin at attempts to follow your technology

Outrun me in the gym
keep yourself trim
belly sucked in and crow superior
while flab won’t cease to haunt me

Facebook foxiness masks
offshore squirreling
in a Monopoly game where
you outdo my every move

Holiday season and you outfrown
my anxious hiccups
drowning out conversational gambits
with incontrovertible evidence
well-placed asides
oh that scientific depth

Outmother me, won’t you,
all laughter and mad tickling
masking the many hours of boredom
which you refused to partake

Soon you will outsource me
but still keep allure of long-distance parenting
Swiss chocolate vs. squished pies
drowned in bitter custard.


I’ve not added much punctuation to the original, but am wondering if it might be more effective to have a large first letter for each stanza, especially if it’s all O, like in an illuminated medieval manuscript. Or is that too artificial? I’d have to change stanzas 3 and 4 to start with O, but can leave the last one as is, for more of a contrast and resolution.

Now for the most difficult thing: the title. I vaguely thought of ‘Outnumbered’, or ‘Outfoxed’, but other possibilities include ‘Outlier’ or ‘On the Way Out’ or ‘Getting Out’. But I am not sure that insisting on the repetition of ‘out’ in the title isn’t overkill. What do you think?