Friday, August 12, 2011

A Play Doh Poem for Poetry Friday (and a Play Doh writing exercise, too)

Howdy, Campers!  Happy Poetry Friday!
Poetry Friday is hosted by Karen Edmisten this week.
Thank you, Karen!

I was fiddling around with dactyls and double dactyls this week.  A dactyl contains three syllables: one stressed followed by two unstressed (/ - - ). So, for example, the word marmalade (MAR-ma-lade), which we say with a stress on the first syllable, is a dactylic word.  The phrase, "Talk to me!" is also a dactyl.

The rhythm of a dactyl makes you want to dance.  It's light and suits playful topics.

Dactyls remind me of pterodactyls.  But that's not where I went.  Instead, I took out a handy can of Play Doh and opened it. WOWZA!
photo from Morgue Files

I read a bit about Play Doh's inventor and history and then, in honor of National Play Doh Day, (September 18th), I wrote this poem:

by April Halprin Wayland

Play Doh, invented by Joseph McVicker,
is putty that's squishy and spongy and soft
and supple and yielding and malleable colors--
its bouquet bewitches, it lingers, it wafts

across much of our planet--
over two billion sold!
There's even a fragrance (and who wouldn't want it?)
a perfume in honor (it's fifty years old!)

The recipe's classified--
water and flour, and a sprinkling of salt?
I can fiddle with Play Doh for hour after hour
and if I'm not writing, it's McVicker's fault!

poem (c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

For today's WRITING WORKOUT, let's think out of the box.
You'll need:
  • twice as many small cans of Play Doh as you have students
  • plastic forks, knives and spoons
  • writing materials
1) Let each student choose one can of their favorite color Play Doh...then scatter other cans on everyone's desk so they can share.  Make plastic forks, knives and spoons available, too.
2) Give them five minutes (or more) to make a person, animal or other creature.
3) If there's time, let everyone walk around the class to look at each creation.
4) Now tell each student to move to the next desk and make one radical change in the figure there.
5) Have them return to their desks and let the class walk around again, looking at the changes.
6) Discuss.  How did it feel when someone changed your art?  Do you like what it looks like now?  Which do you like better?

In one of the classes I teach through UCLA Extension Writers Program, most of my adult students are surprised that they like the changed creature best.  One woman admitted that she liked the changes...but also missed her own creation and felt slightly violated.

Yes...that's exactly how I feel when an editor or my critique group wants to edit (gasp!) my work.  Hurt, resentful, violated.  Sometimes, if I sit with the suggestions, I end up liking them.  I can see how it can take a village to create a vision bigger than my own.  Sometimes, though, I reject the changes.

If you'd like to make this more of a writing exercise, you can have your students write a story or poem during the process.  You might decide to have them write as soon as they've made their creature, before it is changed.  If you have time, you can also have them write after the changes--either about the changed creature or about how they feel now that it's different.

So--dive into Play Doh!  Let your room fill with its delicious perfume!
And remember to write with joy!

poem and drawing (c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved


  1. What a fun workout, April! And I lived on McVicker Street for years, but never knew the inventor of Play Doh had the same name. :-)

  2. I think I'll try this as a get-to-know-you activity. Thanks for a fun idea!

  3. I'm off to the Dollar Store to look for some Play Doh! This sounds like a fun activity for the beginning of the year in writing workshop!!

  4. What a playful poem! I love the repetitive sound of O in the title, too. Funny, I was reading about dactyls, also. In Rules for the Dance, Mary Oliver says their music can mute the sound of the poem's subject if dactyls are used as a pattern, but as variants, they are useful.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Carmela, Linda, Mary Lee and Joyce Ray!

    Yes, Linda and Mary Lee--this would definitely be a fun getting-to-know-you exercise. It would be fun if you took before and after photos of each creature, too.

    And thanks, Joyce Ray, for giving us food for thought from Mary Oliver regarding dactyls ~

  6. What an interesting social experiment. Were there any overzealous editors in the class? Loved the poem's sensory adjectives.

  7. did you find this old post? I read it again and thought, "that's a great idea...I think I'll do it with my upcoming class!"

    Yes...I do think one or two of the adults were a bit overzealous...

    Thanks for stopping by!


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