"Alien" Poetry Exercise at Ariadne's Web.

"The Alien" Poetry Exercise:

* History. * Writing Exercise - Overview. * Writing Exercise - Details. * Hints. * Books.


This is essentially a "Byzantine" exercise suggested by Bev Momoi, who resceived it from Stanford teacher Nan Cohen, who received it from the writer J.D. McClatchy.


The start of the exercise uses a poem by another poet as a scaffold for the first draft of your poem.

You will write lines that interleave with the poem you have chosen. Then you will chop away that scaffolding to make the poem your own.

Pick a poem whose form, style, and vocabulary catch your attention, preferably one that is in contrast with your usual usages.


Here are the ground rules, as I have contorted and adapted them:

  1. Pick a poem of 8-to-12 lines by another poet. This is your "scaffold" poem.
  2. Write a copy of the scaffold poem with enough space between each line for you to write another line there, a line that you will create to fit with the sense of the scaffold lines.
  3. Beneath each line of the scaffold poem, write a line of your own that "fits," making sense in the context of the "scaffold" line above and the line below.
  4. Do this for each line of the scaffold poem.
  5. When this is complete, you delete the lines of the scaffold poem. This leaves only your own lines. You now have the first draft of the first half of your poem.
  6. Edit your words so your first stanza flows smoothly.
  7. Write a second stanza to complete the poem.
  8. Revise. Revise. Revise.

Some hints.

You may feel as dubious as I was about this exercise: I was doubtful before I attempted it; and my concern increased while I struggled to draft lines for my first stanza.

Have courage and persist!

Perhaps for you, as for me, your rough first draft may insist overnight on its own life.

Because of that hatching, I call this method "the Alien."


Buy Strand The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, Edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland.

Books on Writing Poetry.

Other Books of Poetry Form.

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