Friday, June 4, 2010

We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled ask for more writing exercise ideas (win a book!)!

Happy Poetry Friday
!  Poem and Writing Workout below.

Our blog topic is reading as a writer.  I'm going to modify it and list some books I'm currently reading as a writing teacher

You may remember that after ten years as instructor with the UCLA Extension Writers Program, I'm teaching a brand-spanking-new class this summer.

My vision is to make this class as playful as the theater games class I took years ago.  No matter how tired my friend Steve and I were after a day in the corporate world, we couldn't wait to get to class.

What was so special about it that energized us?  We were moving or we were mediating, we were reacting to smells or blindfolded, we were hugging or we were chasing each other, we turned into gorillas or bananas.

I want my picture book students to be equally energized.  I want them out of their desks with exercises that get them stretching, walking, laughing, observing, closing their eyes, tasting, singing, crying, playing group games.  I'll be covering such topics as point of view, dialogue, rewriting, publishing and more.  Here are a few of the books I'm using:

Writing Workout
The poet William Stafford wrote a poem every morning all of his life.  Since taking the National Poetry Month Challenge to write a poem a day for the month of April, I'm continuing, inspired by the book, Early Morning--Remembering my Father, William Stafford by Kim Stafford. 

Today part of a sentence Stafford wrote inspired me: "At a certain sound today I hear Father turn onto the gravel drive at supper time..."  It reminded me of our dog, Eli, sleeping on his couch in the upstairs bedroom as I write.

As soon as he hears my husband at the front gate, he runs to the open window, peers down, sees Gary and wildly wags his tail.

So I wrote this for my daily poem:

by April Halprin Wayland

shoes on cement               
key metal gate                   
whistle of man                
done with day’s work              

lifting an ear                   
wrinkling wet nose
twitching a tail

putting big paws on the ledge
dog looking down—man looking up
wiggly rump

galloping over the hall
tearing down all of the stairs
bounding outside

tangle of legs
plough into man
crash to the ground

licking this
most beloved

happily ever after

(until man leaves for work the next morning)

*     *     *     *     *     *
The dog's excitement seemed to lend itself to a short, clipped rhythm.  In poetry, a stressed beat is noted with a slash (/) while an unstressed beat is merely a period.  The rhythm I used in this poem was mostly: /../  (Shoes on cement  /../).

What about your memory of someone coming home?  Can you put it into a poem?
If the rhythm I used feels appropriate for your poem, try it yourself.  (For more guidance regarding poetic meter and rhythm, see Myra Cohn Livingston's book, Poem-Making.)

Remember to breathe.  Remember to enter to win my book by posting an exercise and including your email address.  And above all, remember to write with joy ~

poem, drawing and photo (c) April Halprin Wayland


Carmela Martino said...

April, thanks for sharing the book titles--two of them are new to me. Also, I love the poem, especially the "wiggly rump." :-)

Caroline McAlister said...

A fun activity I have used with my college composition classes is to find their horoscopes in the newspaper and rewrite them making them as specific as possible. The students have fun doing this in pairs and they learn the difference between vague, can apply to anyone prose and detailed, can apply to only one individual prose.

Doraine said...

April, I was at the Highlights Chautauqua conference a few years ago. I went to a workshop done by the guy from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History--I probably have his name somewhere in my notes. He did two activities geared toward writing about nature. I'm not a science writer, but I was so glad I went to his workshop. The two activities done together in the same hour were revelatory for me.

The first was a sound map. Find a spot to station yourself. We were outside, so each of us found a space underneath a tree or beside a stream. Then you draw a map of the area around you noting the sounds rather than the objects nearby and faraway. It gives a marvelous insight into the larger picture.

Immediately after this, we were instructed to find something small that we could pick up and hold in our hands. I found a leaf. Then on a blank page, without looking at the paper and without lifting your pencil, you draw the object. Just by looking at the object itself. My little leaf didn't turn out too wacky.

By combining the two exercises, it gave me insight into both the macro and the micro, the larger picture and the tiniest details. Try it and let me know how it works. I'd be interested to hear your opinion.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Dear Caroline and Doraine,

Thank you! For these exercises!

Caroline--I'd love for more info on you mean that you'd say, "Today you will trip over a cord in the kitchen--careful!" as part of the horoscope? That specific?

Doraine, I am going to try this myself this week. I'll have to figure out how to modify this for my UCLA Ext. class, as our building is in the middle of busy Westwood, too far from the grassy, woodsy area to go for this class...unless...hmmm...unless I teach outside one day. Hmmm. I'll have to think about it.

So. I'll try it in my backyard...and then maybe I'll try it as a dry run near our classroom and see what areas may lend themselves to it.

If I use this I'll send you a book. I'll let you know!

Many thanks!

April Halprin Wayland said...


I'm not going to use your fascinating exercise this time, in this class. I can't justify the time it will take (given our setting) and I can't quite make the tie-in to picture book writing. But I'm keeping it in my file for workshops and to try myself. Thank you!