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Sample Assignment Sheet

Summary:

This handout discusses some terms and techniques that are useful to the beginning and intermediate poet, and to instructors who are teaching poetry in writing courses at these levels. The distinction between beginning and intermediate writing is provided for both students and instructors, and numerous sources are listed for more information about poetry tools and how to use them. A sample assignment sheet is also provided for instructors.

Contributors:Kenny Tanemura
Last Edited: 2010-04-21 08:10:40

Some teachers have found it helpful to introduce poets and poems for beginning and mid to advanced level students to imitate. This gives them the opportunity to read and discuss a poem, while at the same time generating their own poems. Wislawa Szymborska’s poem “Unexpected Meeting” is a good example:

We are very polite to each other,

insist it’s nice meeting after all these years.

Our tigers drink milk.

Our hawks walk on the ground.

Our sharks drown in water.

Our wolves yawn in front of the open cage.

Our serpents have shaken off lightning,

monkeys---inspiration, peacocks---feathers.

The bats---long ago now---have flown out of our hair.

We fall silent in mid-phrase,

smiling beyond salvation.

Our people

have nothing to say.

Szymborska is famous for writing about particular objects and creatures that are neglected. Her work also tries to incorporate neglected feelings, and she is skeptical and ironic. J.D. McClatchy characterized the tone of her poetry as “detached sympathy.” Try to write a poem based on a very particular event, such as Szymborska’s poem about a reunion with friends. There is little that is particular about such a reunion, but the comical moment of “smiling beyond salvation,” and the idea that creatures are more articulate than humans, is very particular.

It is likely that Szymborska does not go around having these idiosyncratic thoughts all day, but in her poetry, she pays special attention to those thoughts that are nearly forgotten, or dismissed as trivial. Consider some thought or idea that you would ordinarily dismiss as random or trivial, and write a poem around it. Try to use the random or trivial thought to make a statement about life, human relations, or some other big topic.

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The Brazilian poet Joao Cabral de Melo Neto is known for assimilating the style of pop song lyrics into his poems. He writes his own lyrics in a very abstract language. A good example is his poem “End of the World”:

At the end of the melancholy world

men read the newspapers.

Indifferent men eating oranges

that flame like the sun.

They gave me an apple to remind me

of death. I know that cities telegraph

asking for kerosene. The veil I saw flying

fell in the desert.

No one will write the final poem

about this private twelve o’clock world.

Instead of the last judgment, what worries me

is the final dream.

Joao Cabral de Melo Neto, unlike Wislawa Szymborska, doesn’t try to say anything about life or the world. He tries to bring poetry closer to what he considers its original form as song, and he thinks of his words as the material of song. Often in pop songs, the words are elliptical and don’t make much sense, but they resonate in a mysterious way. Write a poem that doesn’t make any logical sense or doesn’t add up to a final meaning; think about the way lyrics in pop songs suggest meaning without directly stating it or trying to explain it.

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