Open 100: The 100 Word Poem

Tomorrow is Pearl’s 100th day of school, a big holiday in Kindergarten, I am realizing. She wrote a 100 word poem for the 100 Museum, and I’m going to do one too, although it won’t get to be in any museum. If you’d like join us–and I hope you will–please leave a link in the comment section. Ready? Write.

[photo by Leo Reynolds via flickr]

To review the Big Window archives of writing exercises, click here.

DIY Dream Poem

Here's a fun sounding exercise from Read Write Poem. It's by Bruce Covey. Let us know if you give it a try!

X=13, Y=21

Where there are coins, there’s matter,
A narrow strip of over 700,000 in this province.
Today the birds are green and the roofs are woven
Of string. You pick the spot, please:
Its zoo built with moment upon moment of cola fountains
(although the one at the center sprouts ginger ale), or
The checkerboard landscape with a single checker making me sweat.
A nest of spiders spins its lines of code — where something is and isn’t —
underneath the netting, the surface para-graph,
A wooden barrel in front of every scrap.
Half kangaroo and half gorilla would be very versatile,
Especially here, where rain has turned the road to muck.
Next to the thicket and upon a rock, my translator
Teaches card tricks to all the babies, changes their diapers.
Later we played an asphalt fight until the killer bees,
Digitally enhanced, came — an extensive natural race
That brings the good in night, its tropical players.

by Bruce Covey

Open 48: Death and Shoes (Stolen from Linda Jacobs)

HMMTSUSHback09smallI like this writing exercise by Linda Jacobs so much that I’ve stolen it. Well, provided a link to it anyway.  Check out her idea of writing about death and shoes on the blog, Totally Optional Prompts. I think it’s a keeper. If you give this one a try, let us know. And you get extra points if you remember the old gospel song, Traveling Shoes.

Death Came A Knockin (Travelin Shoes) – Ruthie Foster

Open 46: Erasure

Erasure, another kind of writing exercise, begins with an existing text. As the name implies, you 2661928061_edf56c0255 create a first draft by eliminating most of the original text, creating (one hopes) a brand new one. These are great when you're very stuck. Which I am often enough!  I did several of these during NaPoWriMo this April.

I usually start with a long poem, and removed probably 7/8 of the original words and add my own, liberally. If you're feeling truly geeky, you can even use the cut up machine. It's not an instrument of torture but rather a William Burroughs inspired gadget that eliminates words from a text randomly.

If you're not sure where to begin, here's a text that you can experiment.  It's a poem by John Ashbery. If you try this prompt, feel free to leave a link to your poem in the comments.

You nam here flickr


But how can I be in this bar and also be a recluse?
The colony of ants was marching toward me, stretching
far into the distance, where they were as small as ants.
Their leader held up a twig as big as a poplar.
It was obviously supposed to be for me.
But he couldn’t say it, with a poplar in his mandibles.
Well, let’s all forget that scene and turn to one in Paris.
Ants were walking down the Champs-Elysees
in the snow, in twos and threes, conversing,
revealing a sociability one never supposed them as having.
The larger ones have almost reached the allegorical statues
of French cities on the Place de la Concorde.
“You see, I told you he was going to bolt.
Now he just sits in his attic
ordering copious plates from a nearby restaurant
as though God had meant him to be quiet…”
“You look like a portrait of Mme. de Stael by Overbeck,
that is to say a little serious and washed out.
Remember you can come to me any time
with what is bothering you, just don’t ask for money.
Day and night my home, my hearth are open to you,
you great big adorable one, you.”

The bar was unexpectedly comfortable.
I thought about staying. There was an alarm clock on it.
Patrons were invited to guess the time (the clock was always wrong).
More cheerful citizenry crowded in, singing the Marseillaise,
congratulating each other for the wrong reasons, like the color
of their socks, and taking swigs from a communal jug.
“I just love it when he gets this way,
which happens in the middle of August, when summer is on its way
out, and autumn is still just a glint in its eye,
a chronicle of hoar-frost foretold.”
“Yes and he was going to buy all the candy bars in the machine
but something happened, the walls caved in (who knew
the river had risen rapidly) and one by one people were swept away
calling endearing things to each other, using pet names.
“Achilles, meet Angus.” Then it all happened so quickly I
guess I never knew where we were going, where the pavement
was taking us. Or the sidewalk, which the English call pavement,
which is what sidewalks are made of, or so it seems.

Things got real quiet in the oubliette.
I was still reading Jean-Christophe. I’ll never finish the darn thing.
Now is the time for you to go out into the light
and congratulate whoever is left in our city. People who survived
the eclipse. But I was totally taken with you, always have been.
Light a candle in my wreath, I’ll be yours forever and will kiss you.

by John Ashbery

Open 45: Negative Capability

This poetry prompt is based on "Today I Didn't," a poem by Terry Ehret from her booDog and bone clipartk Lost Body.  As you can quickly see, it's a structure in which you describe what-is by describing what-isn't. This example by a boy in juvenile detention is about a dozen years old, but I still remember the powerful voice.

I Didn’t

I didn’t wake up when I felt it was a good

time.  Today I didn’t wake up in my comfortable

bed.  Today I didn’t eat what I wanted to
eat.  I

didn’t go to McDonald’s and order
a large orange

juice and two hash browns. 
Today I didn’t smoke a

satisfying Marlboro Light.  I didn’t go to Stop-N-Go

and beg the clerk to
sell me a pack of cigarettes. 

Today I
didn’t watch TV.  I didn’t watch X-Files

or The Simpsons.  Today I didn’t
wear a nice shirt.  I

didn’t wear my
favorite Gap or Polo shirt.  Today I

relax on my hammock and swing back and

forth while getting dizzy.  I didn’t listen to the radio

and find the
similarity between the song and

experiences in my life.  Today I didn’t drive to the

mall.  I didn’t pick up my friends.  I didn’t even

hang out with my friends.

I didn’t curse out the staff.  I didn’t
bother to

get upset over their demands. 
I didn’t get upset

over their comments. 
Today I didn’t go to Special

Class because I didn’t do any of the above,

would cause me to go.  I didn’t sit
in an isolated

room for thirteen hours. 
I didn’t feel as if I were

about to die of boredom.  I didn’t throw a chair or

table due to
receiving a black mark.  I didn’t get

slammed against the walls, on the floor, not even

against tables, or in better
terms, get restrained.  I

didn’t get
handcuffed to the door of the Special

I didn’t get hog-tied and thrown into Time

Out.  I didn’t cry out of my fury.  I didn’t cause any

problems that would have
caused me to spend my

46th day in the Special Room.  Today I didn’t have a

bad day.


If you try this exercise, feel free to share your link with the rest of us.

Open 42: Chance

Do you ever revise a poem dozens of times but it never really improves? I find old poems in folders sometimes for which a remix is the only possible salvation.  Perhaps you'd consider using an online application and invite the forces of chance to enter the process. The example above is a remixed version of "Mottled Tuesday" by John Ashbery. It's made with an online ap called Wordle © 2008 Jonathan Feinberg.

Open 40: Twitter Poetry


You don't have to understand twitter to do this writing exercise. I'm simply using the "rules" of twitter to provide some formal constraint. 

1) This poem will be construct from prose stanzas (verse paragraphs?) of no more than 140 characters.

2) Each stanza should answer the question (re that particular speaker) "What are you doing?"

3) Like a drama or screenplay, each stanza will have the speaker identified first. For example:

dooce: A friend and I just agreed: absolutely no good can come from your mother seeing your boyfriend naked.

fraying: The woman with the "my friend is a slut" t-shirt was walking alone.

caterina: Watching Hungarian Idol


phlox & flax

yobird: are you ready to yobird?

I think you could actually do a collaborative poem on twitter by using "favorites" function to create a group. Let me know how this works out.

Open 39: Darkness Visible


This writing exercise requires a little bit more preparation than most of the ones I post on Big Window.  You will need a large piece of butcher paper or poster board, a pen or pencil, and a dark place where you can write without interruption. Give yourself 20 minutes in darkness and write through your thoughts. Let us know how it goes.