The Blog of John Hewitt

Write a poem using a random source – 31p31d

Day 17 of 31 poems in 31 days

Wild Assignments

Towards the end of my undergraduate education, I stumbled into Peter Wild’s poetry class. I hadn’t actually intended to take a poetry class that semester. I had signed up for Literature in Film and I had even attended the first session of that class, but then the University made a mistake (not that they would admit it) and dropped me from all of my classes. I managed to get my other classes back, but not Literature in Film. I had to round out my schedule and Peter Wild’s class was the latest to start, so I chose it. I was cursing my bad luck, but it turned out that luck was on my side. I was about to enter my favorite poetry class ever.

By this point in college, I was a veteran of many poetry writing classes. Most of them were, you might say, free form. The instructor tried to guide you in your work, but most of you assignments were general “bring in a new poem this week” assignments. There is nothing wrong with that approach. It allows people to work in their own way and their own style. Peter Wild’s approach, however, was totally different. Peter gave assignments. He would tell you how many lines to write, what subjects to pick, whether to write in the first person or the third. At one point he gave both the first line and the last line of the poem we were to write. I still remember them.

The first line was:

For centuries lovers have looked to the stars

And the last line was

And the three-legged dog chased the beer truck out of town

Not all of his students liked this approach. It was too hard. It stifled their creativity. It made them write about things they didn’t care about. The other students complained, but I didn’t. I loved having the constraints and challenges. I may not have always produced my best work, but I learned to become more resilient as a poet. For the first time in my life, I felt like poetry was something I could control and shape at will.

One of the benefits of constraint is that it gives you something to start from. If you know what your last line has to be, you start to think of ways that you can get there. If you know that you have to write a poem about the constellation Orion, you go out and stare at the stars. You are no longer dealing with a blank page. You know that at least one of those words is going to be “Orion”. That’s a place you can start from.

We have, of course, been dealing with constraints throughout this project. Form and meter are constraints. Style and tone are constraints. It is important to realize a constraint is a tool. It helps bring focus to a poem. You won’t always want restraints, but when you are stuck, a constraint is a good way to get the words flowing again.

Today’s Assignment

Wikipedia’s random link is a great and magical thing. Click the link and it takes you to a random article. Click it a few times, and you will find something that can inspire a poem.  Here are some items I found:

Click the link for yourself a few times to find some inspiration, or choose one or more of the entries above.