Scott Wiggerman & David Meischen (eds.),Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice In Poetry, Dos Gatos Press, 2011
by Ramona Davis
1. Write a poem of at least 100 words.
2. Let the poem be a single sentence.
3. Let the poem be at least 14 lines long.
As an editor/proofreader, a sentence of 100 words is a nightmare in itself. This is something we NEVER want to see in a piece of writing; don't writers realize that there are such things as commas, and semi colons, and periods (OH MY!)? As a poet, however, this prompt ("Stretching the Sentence," William Wenthe, Page 288) drew me in immediately. It is free form at its best, with a bit of structure thrown in (and what writer worth their salt wouldn't love a challenge?).
While not all of the prompts in Wingbeats were this succinct, there were quite a few that I will gladly use for my own personal use, and maybe even adapt to use alongside my own prompts in my writing workshops. I am a free write poet at heart, but even I have to admit that you gain so much more from your writing when you broaden your base by writing through structure...and structure can be fun and brain challenging, as in "A Manipulated Fourteen-Line Poem," (Ravi Shankar, page 269) that was “designed to help stimulate the imagination and provide a launching pad for a potential poem- also to introduce poets to some of the basic techniques of prosody and poetic composition...”
A Manipulated Fourteen-Line Poem (The Guidelines)
- Write a line that has a smell in it.
- Make a one-line, end-stopped statement about a city.
- Comment on the time of year, season, or the weather.
- Use an internal off rhyme.
- Use syntax in an unexpected way.
- Write a line with personification and a color in it.
- Finish a sentence that begins: “Next year at this time...”
- Make an allusion to a book, movie, or artwork.
- Be sure this line includes a metaphor and enjambs.
- Make this line a question.
- Alliterate at least three words in this line.
- Make this line longer or shorter than the previous line by no fewer than five words.
- Write whatever you like.
- End on an image.
A few other of my favorite prompts from this book were:
- "The Postcard Poem" (Andrea Hollander Budy, Page 200) which propels students to write poems “saturated with detail...”
- "Seven (or Ten) Line Poem" (Susan Terris, Page 202) which uses a phone number to “determine the number of words (or syllables) in each line of the poem.”
- "The Self-Portrait Poem" (Lisa Russ Spaar, Page 277) that invites “the practicing poet to investigate and portray the self through manifold lenses, indirection, and what Anne Carson would call poetic “ruses...””
and the interesting concept of:
- "Twenty Ideas for Titles" (Susan Terris, Page 32) which is an exercise to help writers create “interesting and unusual titles” for poems. A few examples of this process are:
- A polysyllabic noun
- A string of adjectives with a noun
- A question
- A gerund or interesting participle
- A strong or unusual verb
Not all of the prompts in Wingbeats were as exciting or as attention grabbing/holding. I found more of the prompts to be too thought provoking and more like work for my taste. They seemed to take the fun out of the spontaneity of poetry writing for me and go more into the research and whys and why nots of writing, the delving deep into our words on the page. For some, this may be a wonderful jumpstart. For those of us looking for a quick way to unblock our minds or whittle away time with a challenge, the more in-depth prompts are just too mind consuming.
The sections of Wingbeats are set up so that you can jump around the book, working on what resonates with you, without feeling like you have to do everything in order. That said, a couple of my favorite sections were:
- I. "Springboards to Imagination," which focused on list making, where to find ideas, playing with words, and creating those interesting titles that editors want to see.
- VI. "Going Difficult Places," which focused on reaching inside yourself to write about those things that are not only difficult to face, but even more difficult to share.
I was drawn to "Springboards to Imagination" because I am an avid list-maker. If I can't figure out what I want to write about, or I feel as if I am on system overload, I make lists and they always send my muse on a treasure hunt for wonderful things to explore. "Going Difficult Places" had a different kind of draw for me because I design poetry as therapy workshops and facilitate those workshops with at-risk youth and adults in 'seemingly hopeless situations.' It was a section that delved into the secret places without intruding, while allowing the writer to reach self-awareness and work towards healing...if that healing is so needed.
Overall I truly enjoyed Wingbeats. It is not often that I find a poetry writing book with prompts that makes me want to at least sample something in every section and find a way to use it either in my own groups, or for my own writing. It was an added bonus to see prompts/poems from some poets that I admire such as Naomi Shihab Nye and Ellen Bass. A number of Wisconsin poets also provided prompts.
I also enjoyed that each prompt brought something different to the book's pages without being repetitious in nature. Even though a couple of prompts had the same idea surrounding it, the prompts differed enough in scope that if you did each of them in one sitting, you didn't feel like you were being pushed to examine a particular point.
What I would have like to see more of in Wingbeats were prompts that were short (much like the 100 Word Sentence) or even consisted of challenging guidelines (like the Manipulated 14 Line poem), because that is what I think sparks the imagination and results in more ideas when you are trying to get past 'writers block.'
However, if you just have no idea what to write about and want to create lists upon lists, "The Abcedarian Corset" (Barbara Hamby, Page 172) is an excellent push in that direction...I know I enjoyed it!
Ramona Davis owns and operates Altered Words, offering publishing and proofreading services. In addition to her business ventures, Ramona holds a Diploma in Creative Writing, has facilitated poetry writing workshops through the DC Public Library for youth in underprivileged communities, holds a Certificate in Advancing Youth Development, and owned an after school program to benefit youth in at risk areas of Baltimore, MD. She has also done volunteer editing for a variety of authors.