WordPlay

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WordPlay

Welcome to the WordPlay homepage! Because language is at the heart of poetry, we created this site with its exercises to help you think more about the power, flexibility, and fun of language. Each week we will highlight a poetry experiment in a style of our Poet of the Week.


Although great poetry can be written without practice, most poets write a dozen practice poems for every poem they publish. Have fun with these, be challenged by your work and others, and enjoy what others have to say.


Post your or view others' WordPlay here!

Experiment with one of the WordPlay exercises below and post your own creative reconstruction of it on the Your WordPlay page. Respond to others' work by clicking on the link to that work and then clicking the discussion tab.


(We reserve the right to edit out poetry or responses which we deem abusive.)

Sample WordPlay


WordPlay Experiments

Poetry can be emotion-filled and it can also be about sounds, rhythms, and creating unique word combinations and metaphors. Whether you wear poetry on your sleeve or run it through the machinations of your imagination, these experiments are for you! Click Your WordPlay to view or post.

Acrostic Chance

Pick a book at random and use title as acrostic key phrase. For each letter of key phrase go to page number in book that corresponds (a=1, z=26) and copy as first line of poem from the first word that begins with that letter to end of line or sentence. Continue through all key letters, leaving stanza breaks to mark each new key word. Variations include using author's name as code for reading through her or his work, using your own or friend's name, picking different kinds of books for this process, devising alternative acrostic procedures.1
Poet of the Week: Vikram Seth (6/20).

Alphabet Poem

Make up a poem of 26 words so that each word begins with the next letter of the alphabet. Or write another alphabet poem but scramble the letter order.1
Poet of the Week: Theodore Roethke (5/25).

Anti-Cliche

Write a poem which hinges on interpreting a cliche ("home is where the heart is," "many hands make light work," "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link," "any friend of yours is a friend of mine," etc.) in an unusual and witty way.5
Poet of the Week: Dorothy Parker (8/22).

Animal Poem

Follow these steps: 1) Write a poem about an animal or using an animal. You can describe the animal, talk to the animal, or you can use all three approaches. 2) Whatever your intentions, knowing the animal intimately- its habits, idiosyncracies, anatomy, habitat, diet, and so forth- should prove helpful. The library might help (try the IPL!). Direct observation surely will.4 Sample Animal Poem.
Poet of the Week: William Butler Yeats (6/13).

Attention

For half an hour, write down everything you hear, either in terms of the noise it makes, what the sound reminds you (metaphor), or a detailed description of what makes that sound.1
Poet of the Week: Amiri Baraka (10/7).

Awe Poem

Write a poem, reliving the experience of awe. Themes could include, but are not limited to, the following: awesome size or power (ex. first trip to a large city, stadium, etc.); awesome mystery (how did s/he do that, whether a work of art, an athlete, a fireman or doctor); awesome language or attitude (in the face of a very difficult situation); or awesome presence (somebody who profoundly changes the way you think, feel or act just by spending a few minutes with them).4 Sample Awe Poem
Poet of the Week: Christopher Marlowe (2/6).

Autobiographical

Write an autobiographical poem without using any pronouns.1 If you get stuck, think about the objects that are important to you and how you use them, the people around you and how they influence you, the particular details of the routine of your days and the objects that inhabit those details.
Poet of the Week: Anne Sexton (11/9).

Automatic Writing

For 10-15 minutes (use a timer!) write as much and as fast as you can without stopping to think about direction, narration, grammar or punctuation. The idea here is to attempt to get past all the rules of writing and just enjoy writing for the pure discovery of it. This is sometimes called stream of consciousness writing.1
Poet of the Week: Jack Kerouac (3/12)

Blues Poem

Traditional blues songs and poems have a particular structure about them: each song is made up of at least 4 verses; each verse is made up of 3 lines; the singer/poet repeats some variation of the first line in the second line and then improvises the third line with a near or exact end rhyme to the first two lines. Early blues singers did this because they were usually working in a field by themselves and the blues were a way to keep company. What do you have the blues about? Give this a try.5 Sample Blues.
Poet of the Week: Henry Dumas (7/20).

Brochure/Document Poem

Take a brochure or school/team document you’ve been given. Block out words/punctuation to make new contexts and meanings. Re-write with your own line breaks. Can you change the tone? How well can you subvert the original context?5
Poet of the Week: Randall Jarrell (5/6).

Burrough's Fold-In

Burroughs's fold-in: Take two different pages from a newspaper or magazine article, or a book, and cut the pages in half vertically. Paste the mismatched pages together. (Cf.: William Burroughs’s The Third Mind.)1
Poet of the Week: Charles Bukowski (8/16).

Change Poem

Follow these steps: 1) Write a poem describin a single change or multiple changes using one-word lines and stanzas. 2) The changes you show should be unpredictable and surprising. Your changes should show leaps through time. 3) Note that the sample Change Poems are primarily events.4 Sample Change poem.
Poet of the Week: Adrienne Rich (5/16).

Circle Poem

1) Write a poem where your title "triggers" the next word or phrase of your first line, which, in turn, "triggers" the next line, and so forth. 2) Try to surprise us with each new line, taking us each time to a new world - taking us on a rich, various trip through time, place, ideas, objects, colors tastes, names, and so forth. 3) Your poem will end when your last last "circles" back to the beginning, approximating your title.4
Sample Circle Poem
Poet of the Week: Langston Hughes (2/1).

City Poem

Write a poem which gives a descriptive impression of your favorite city, either one you live in, one you have visited, or one which you imagine. Try using most of the five senses to give your readers a vivid experience as they come to your city.5
Poet of the Week: Carl Sandburg (1/6).

Collage: Favorite Lines

Create a list of your favorite lines from poetry. Re-arrange the list into a poem that makes sense to you (i.e., it doesn't have to make sense to everyone). You don't have to use every line (or every word) that you've copied down. Sometimes it is more effective to make your point with fewer lines and words. List a few of the poets you've used after you sign your screenname with the four tildes (~).1
Poet of the Week: Dudley Randall (1/14).

Collage: Random

Pick out three books. Randomly turn to one page in one book and start writing down all of the sentences, phrases or words that stand out to you. Do this with each successive book. When you get a list of 25-30 words/phrases, compose a poem using only these words/phrases. Alternative: Write a poem composed entirely of phrases lifted from other sources. Use one source for a poem and then many; try different types of sources: literary, historical, magazines, advertisements, manuals, dictionaries, instructions, travelogues, etc. 1
Poet of the Week: e.e. cummings (10/14).

Dickinson's Rhymes

Locate an Emily Dickinson poem on the internet. Copy down the end words of each line and then rewrite a poem filling in the lines before the rhyme. Keep the same set of rhymes Dickinson uses throughout her poem for your own.5
Poet of the Week: Emily Dickinson (12/10).

Excuses

Write a poem made up entirely of excuses said to parents, teachers, coaches, siblings, friends, by you, by people you know, by famous people, etc.1 Construct into collage-type poem of your own imagination.

Extended Metaphor

1) Using Extended Metaphor, write a poem about poetry, the poet, or the poem. 2) First, establish through a simile (metaphor using "like" or "as") what the poet, for example, is like (He may be like a magician). Then, throughout the remainder of the poem, talk about poet (or poetry or the poem) exclusively in terms of the magician (or a flame or mason or lion or season, for other examples): what he does; how he practices, thinks, feels, and so forth. For famous poems on this subject, see Marianne Moore's "Poetry," Gary Snyder's "As for poets," or Archibald MacLeish's "Ars Poetica."4 Sample Extended Metaphor
Poet of the Week: Edna St. Vincent Millay (2/22).

Found Poem

Follow these steps: 1) Copy one or two unique, rich, musical, or odd sentences found in a newspaper, magazine, history book, encyclopedia, letter, and so forth. 2) Break the sentences into poetic lines, arranging words and phrases in the most meaningful and surprising ways. 3) If you can't think of another title, just title your work Found Poem.4 Sample Found Poem.
Poet of the Week: William Carlos Williams (9/17)

Haiku

Everybody has heard about the form of haikus, but the content of a haiku of the haiku is much more important. "Haiku poets write about common, everyday experiences usually involving natural objects. They avoid complicated words and grammar; many haiku don't have complete sentences." Attempt a haiku of your own. Keep it at 3 lines, the lines containing around 3-5, 5-7, and 3-5 syllables (in that order). 3
Poet of the Week: Confucius (8/27).

Headline/Opening Line

Write a poem starting with a headline or opening line you take from a newspaper, magazine, etc. Let your imagination take the headline in any direction you see fit. Fill in the headline with new and unique characters, events, changes in circumstance, or quotes put into new contexts. Try writing a whole poem using the headline or opening line as your jumping off point. Then try writing a new poem using new lines from the articles as the start of new stanzas.
Poet of the Week: Carolyn Forche (4/28).

"He do the Police in many voices"

In this exercise named after the original title to Eliot's "The Wasteland," translate or compose a poem or other work into a different dialect or idiolect, your own or other. Dialect can include subculture lingo, slang, text messaging shothand, etc. 1
Poet of the Week: T.S. Eliot (9/26).

Identity Poem

One of slam poet Patricia Smith's more famous poems is called "What It's Like to be a Black Girl (for those of you who aren't)." The poem builds in rhythm because each sentence starts with the contraction "It's... ." For example: "it's being 9 years old and feeling like you're not finished, like your edges are wild, ... ." Create your own "What it's like" poem for a particular part of your identity you identify strongly with (be it race, culture, a sport, religion, a school group, etc.). Try to get ten or more lines starting with "it's." 5
Poet of the Week: Jean Toomer (12/26).

Image Poems

Follow these steps: 1)Make three poems each constituted of two concrete nouns. The first word of each poem is the "subject," which the second word describes by suggesting similarity. 2) Avoid word combinations that suggest cause and effect, object and quality, object and environment. 3)Make sure you title your poems, so your audience knows to read them as poetry.4 Sample Image Poems.
Poet of the Week: H.D. (9/10)

Instrumental

Write a poem to a piece of instrumental music, be it electronic, jazz, rock, classical, etc. Try to present both what you see when you hear this music and also what you hear (people, cars, dogs, eggs crackling in a frying pan, etc.). Write until the song is complete. Alternative: Listen to a piece of music while you walk outside somewhere. Take notes of impressions, details, whimsical connections. Configure into a poem (you can use parts of lyrics to create a collage or set a rhythm).5
Poet of the Week: Michael S. Harper (3/18).

Let Them Speak

Pick out a poem, favorite or not, in which the speaker of the poem addresses a specific audience (it may be clear from the title, it might not be; just as long as the audience is obvious to you). If you don't know any, you could ask a teacher or librarian to help you find one. After thoroughly reading the poem so that you create a good understanding of it, write a response from the audience to the themes and emotions the poet touches on in the original. Include the title of the poem your audience is responding to in your title or after you sign your screenname with 4 tildes (~).5
Poet of the Week: Muriel Rukeyser (12/15).

Letter To Celebrity/Character

Write a letter in poem or prose form to your most (or least) favorite celebrity or tv/movie/game character, questioning their motives or actions in a particular movie or scene. You can include: other characters (from the show and/or your own life), their motives for being there, pieces of the scenery, context, bits of conversation, and a colorful explanation as to what you would have done.5
Poet of the Week: Louise Erdrich (7/7).

List Poem

List poem 1: Write a poem consisting of favorite words or phrases collected over a period of time; pick your favorite words from a particular book. You can also create a list poem out of the objects in a room in your apartment or house, your classroom, a friend’s apartment/house, a favorite restaurant, stadium, park, etc. Or, try List poem 2: write a poem consisting entirely of a list of "things", either homogenous or heterogeneous (common lists include shopping lists, things to do, lists of flowers or rocks, lists of colors, inventory lists, lists of events, lists of names, ...).1
Poet of the Week: Kamau Braithwaite (5/11).

List Of Twelve Poem

1) Choose 4 cateories from the List of Twelve (click on "List of Twelve" to see the list). 2) Brainstorm (write down a running list of associations) for 1-2 minutes of all the words and phrases that come to mind when you think of each category (don't put it in sentence or poem form yet).
3) Create a poem using the words from that list (though you are not restricted to only the words on the list nor do you have to use all of the words). Note: you can try this exercise with a friend, each of you brainstorming for the same categories and then using all of the words both of you come up with as the pool of words to create your poem. 4
Poet of the Week: Chinua Achebe (11/16).

Memory Poem

1) Write a poem based on a memory (include attention to the senses- sight, smell, touch, sound- to make this person a reality for the reader). 2) It may help if you speak, in your poem, to the person or thing with whom you shared your experience.4 Sample Memory Poem
Poet of the Week: Audre Lorde (2/18).

Now I Am...

Write a poem with each line filling in the blanks of "I used to be _____ but now I am ______." ("I used to write poems, but now I just do experiments"; "I used to make sense, but now I just make poems;" "I used to be a tree-climber, but now I am a star-watcher;" etc.). 1
Poet of the Week: Sylvia Plath (10/27).

Ode

Neruda wrote a whole book of odes (songs of praise) to commonplace objects like his suit, the drive-in, a large tuna in the market, a lemon, and salt. Think of an object which most people think of as commonplace, but which you couldn't do without. Try writing this like the Change Poem, with one (or two) words per line.
Poet of the Week: Pablo Neruda (7/12).

Paradox Poem

Write a poem illustrating a paradox. A paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory statement that expresses a possible truth- pointing ultimately to mystery.4 Sample Paradox Poem.
Poet of the Week: Wallace Stevens (10/2).

Pastoral/Lyric Poem

Write a poem which gives a descriptive impression of your favorite place in the country, either one you live in, one you have visited, or one which you imagine (these can be located in fields, forests, mountains, a mixture of these, complete with animals, insects, etc.). Try using most of the five senses to give your readers a vivid experience as they come to your country place.
Poet of the Week: Robert Burns (1/25).

Pits

Write the worst possible rhyming (or not) poem you can imagine. (Not that Poe is one of the worst poets, but his style is often mimicked in ways that don't do him justice). 1
Poet of the Week: Edgar Allen Poe (1/19).

Postcard Poem

Remember back to your favorite vacation or read through a vacation magazine or National Geographic-like magazine. Write a postcard poem to a friend or family about the literal or virtual trip. Pick out unique details that you can add to the poem that convey your tone while on vacation. The poem doesn’t have to be fun; these poems can relate disgust or frustration or sickness. Sentence brevity is key.5
Poet of the Week: Blaise Cendrars (9/1).

Questions Or Directions

Write a poem composed entirely of questions or directions1 (think of the second like a recipe). Alternative: Ritual poem: these can be thought of as a form of the list poem, one which shows how a person (usually the speaker) prepares for a certain event. It is often written as a list of directions which show how the person put themselves in a specific state of mind. Used by indigenous cultures as a way to put themselves in a spiritual state of mind.3
Poet of the Week: Gerard Manley Hopkins (7/28).

Recount A Dream

Write a lyric or prose poem which recounts as best you can the events and instances of a dream. This may be best done by keeping a journal near your bed and, upon waking, write down as much as you can remember in the details that seem to fit best. If it is difficult to come up with interesting material, negate or reverse all statements ("I went down the hill to "I went up the hill," "I didn't" to "I did"). 1
Poet of the Week: Alfred Lord Tennyson (8/6).

Repetition

Write a poem in which each line starts with the same words like "I remember ..." or “I don’t remember …”; “I know …” or “I don’t know …”; (or one of your own).1
Poet of the Week: Maya Angelou (4/4).

Skeltonic Verse

Like rap, this forms utilizes rhyme to convey its point. Unlike rap, Skeltonic verse can simply be about having fun with wordplay, rather than telling a story. You can do either with this one (and you certainly don’t have to have the same end rhyme for each line).3 If you find it hard to get going, try end-rhyming four lines together, then use another end-rhyme for another four lines, until you get on a roll.
Poet of the Week: Robert Frost (3/26).

Sonnet

One of three options here: 1) write your own 14 line sonnet, using 10 syllables or 10 words per line; 2) construct a sonnet using a mixture of your own lines and lines from other sonneteers; and 3) construct a sonnet using only lines from other sonnets.5
Poet of the Week: William Shakespeare (4/23).

Synchronicity

Synchronicity: Write a poem in which all the events occur simultaneously. 1 Consider all of the sensory details which occur to different people, animals, plants, things in a room or outside, etc. in the span of a single minute.
Poet of the Week: Odysseus Elytis (11/2).

Take A Walk

Structure a poem or prose writing according to city streets, miles, walks, drives. For example: Take a fourteen-block walk, writing one line per block to create a sonnet; choose a city street familiar to you, walk it, make notes and use them to create a work; take a long walk with a group of writers, observe, make notes and create works, then compare them; take a long walk or drive-write one line or sentence per mile. Variations on this include listening to music while you walk and including elements from the music (rhythm, lyrics, sounds) in your poem.2
Poet of the Week: Adrienne Rich (5/16).

Teacher Poem

Write a poem describing a teacher whom you find, for one reason or another, unforgettable. Try to see that teacher as clearly and honestly as you can. This teacher can be a teacher in school, a mentor, a coach, a counselor, etc.4 Sample Teacher Poem
Poet of the Week: Rainer Maria Rilke (12/4).

Things You'd Like To Say

Write a poem consisting entirely of things you'd like to say, but never would, to a parent, lover, sibling, child, teacher, roommate, best friend, mayor, president, corporate CEO, etc. 1
Poet of the Week: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (3/6)

Transformation Poem

Follow these steps: 1) Write a poem describing a worker becoming a part, a tool, or a product of his or her work. This requires your intimate knowledge of the particular work process and the attitudes, responsibilities, and language connected to the work. 2) Do not use any form of the following words: become, change, transform. Instead, make us experience the transformation.4 Sample Transformation Poem.
Poet of the Week: Gwendolyn Brooks (6/7).

Translation

Translation exercise: Three options here: 1) Write a poem consisting entirely of misheard song lyrics, clichés, overheard conversations, news headlines, menu items, etc. Arrange to your liking.* 2) Translate or compose a poem or other work into a different dialect, your own or other (make sure you tell us which poem you’re translating, so we can compare).* 3) Take a poem in a foreign language that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand and translate the sound of the poem into English (e.g., French “blanc” to blank or “toute” to toot).1
Poet of the Week: Seamus Heaney (4/13).

Visual Response Poem

1) Freewrite about a representation of a painting, collage, or photograph (or, even better, visit a museum and do this with the real thing!). 2) Comment on the details in the piece of art. What do you see that you think others see? What do you see that you think others don't? (a story, characters, other particular senses?) 3) Revise your freewrite into a poem with line breaks. Include the title and creator of the work in your title.4
Poet of the Week: William Blake 11/28.

The Audience

To see the responses to a poem, go to that poem's page and click the "discussion" link.

If you read something that you really like or makes sense to you in profound and/or interesting ways, PLEASE become a registered member by clicking the Join this wiki link to the left.

Once you have a username and password, you can click the "discussion" link on any poem submitted here and leave your response.

Every writer is happy to get feedback from their peers. Let them know you've read their work by starting out each response with at least one positive comment on their poem's "discussion" page. Here are some questions which might help you get your response started, though you are not restricted to these:

  1. What was different or unique about the way the writer portrayed their experiment here than past responses?
  2. What words or phrases did you particularly like?
  3. Did you like the writer's use of imagery or sound (read the poem out loud or have a friend read it to really hear it)?
  4. Did you connect with the emotion? the style? How so?


You don't have to write a lot but try to get a sentence or two down regarding your understanding of the poem. If writing the response inspires you to write your own poem, go ahead and enter a creative response on WordPlay page.

Sources

  1. Bernstein, C. (1996-2005). Poets Ludicrously Aimless Yearning (PLAY). Retrieved February 3-5, 2006 from http://writing.upenn.edu/bernstein/experiments.html.
  2. Mayer, B. (1996-2005). The Poetry Project: Bernadette Mayer’s Writing Experiments. Retrieved February 4-5, 2006 from http://www.poetryproject.com/features/mayer.html.
  3. Padgett, R. (ed.) (1987). The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms. Teachers and Writers Collaborative: New York.
  4. Tsujimoto, J. (1988). Teaching poetry writing to adolescents. ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills, National Council of Teachers of English: Urbana, IL.
  5. Schuck, A. (2006). IPL Staff.