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Try This: The List Poem

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

A lot of people are frightened by the very idea of writing a poem, and who can blame them? Visions of high school English papers dripping with red ink--or, in my case, a painfully earnest imitation of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet--swim into view. We don't want to make fools of ourselves, and attempting to write poetry seems like the surest route to perdition. However, in the Amherst Writers & Artists method, we believe poetry can be fun! Because no one will EVER say a critical word about your writing, you can focus on experimenting with language and form.

This is exactly what we did a few weeks ago at the "Write Away for Day" mini-retreat I led at Just Right Studios in Bentonville, VA. When I was looking for good poetry exercises, I came across this wonderful poem by Gary Snyder. I invited participants to write their own "things to do" poem centered around their daily life or an activity they especially loved, using Snyder's poem as an example. Why don't you try it?

Things to Do Around a Lookout

Gary Snyder

Wrap up in a blanket in cold weather and just read. Practise writing Chinese characters with a brush Paint pictures of the mountains Put out salt for deer Bake coffee cake and biscuit in the iron oven Hours off hunting twisty firewood, packing it all back up and chopping. Rice out for the ptarmigan and the conies Mark well sunrise and sunset - drink lapsang souchong. Rolling smokes The Flower book and the Bird book and the Star book Old Readers Digests left behind Bullshitting on the radio with a distant pinnacle, like you, hid in clouds; Drawing little sexy sketches of bare girls. Reading maps, checking on the weather, airing out musty Forest Service sleeping bags and blankets Oil the saws, sharpen axes, Learn the names of all the peaks you can see and which is highest Learn by heart the drainages between. Go find a shallow pool of snowmelt on a good day, bathe in the luke warm water. Take off in foggy weather and go climbing all alone The Rock book, - strata, dip, and strike Get ready for the snow, get ready To go down.

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