Poetry Lesson Plans and Life Lessons

Deir Al Assad MapOn June 6, I leave for Israel. Next Thursday, I will be in the classroom at Al-Bashaer High School in Deir al Assad teaching poetry to 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. The program is an English immersion experience for the students. I haven’t been in a classroom for many years, so I am both excited and nervous.

Our six-member team of teachers, led by novelist, Martha Moody, will arrive in Deir al Assad on Tuesday, June 10. We begin teaching on Thursday, June 12. Approximately 60 students will attend four classes per day for ten days between June 10 and June 26. We only have the students in one hour classes each day we teach, and each class is full.

When I first sat down to work on the lesson plans, I had grandiose ideas about teaching them all about American poetry and poets. I envisioned them writing sestinas and sonnets. In the course of my preparation, I realized that these are students who, even though they study English, don’t often get to hear English spoken by individuals for whom English is a first language. On top of that, we have them in our classrooms for such a short amount of time. I changed my plan.

Here is a summary:

Day 1  Focus: What is poetry and how is it different than prose?

Poem to share and discuss: “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” by Emily Dickinson

Practice: Write a few lines of poetry in English describing a body part or personal characteristic but don’t say what you are writing about. Other will guess what you wrote about.

Day 2   Focus: Reading Poetry written in English, aloud

Poem to share and discuss: “Two More Papayas” by Thanhha Lai

Practice: Reading our poems aloud

Day 3     Focus: Haiku

Poems to share and discuss: Two Basho poems

Practice: Writing a Haiku

Day 4     Focus: Images in poetry—metaphor and simile

Poem to Share and discuss: “Fog” by Carl Sandburg

Practice: Write at least 4 lines of poetry that includes a simile or a metaphor

Day 5   Focus: Writing poems about pictures and objects of art

Poem to share and discuss: six lines from “ode to a Grecian Urn” by John Keats

Practice: Bring a picture from home and write a poem about it.

Day 6    Focus: Writing poems about pictures and objects of art

Poem to share and discuss: four lines from “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran

Practice: in-class writing sharing drafts aloud

Day 7     Focus: Making a Collage Poem—Does poetry have to make sense?

Practice: class is divided in to two groups, then the two groups work in pairs to come up with phrases or sentence clauses. We then come back together and make complete sentences out of our parts of sentences to create a poem.

Day 8     Focus: Continue working on a collage poem and copying it into chapbook

Poem to share: from “New Moon, a Collage Poem” by Kathryn Winograd

Day 9     Focus: Writing poetry about nature.

Poem to share: “A Bird Came Down the Walk” by Emily Dickinson

Day 10   Focus: Wrap-up, talk about what we’ve learned, say our good-byes.

I am taking blank, hand-made chapbooks for the students to fill in with the poems they write. Check back often for updates and any poetry the students let me post. Oh, and lots of pictures too!

Here are a few of the books I referenced in my preparation:

Stepping Sideways into Poetry Writing, Kathryn Winograd, Scholastic, 2005

Painless Poetry book coverPainless Poetry, Mary Elizabeth, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. 2001

Poetry Matters,  Ralph Fletcher, HarperCollins e-books, 2002

Outspoken, Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook, Heinneman, 2006

Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?, Kenneth Koch, Vintage Books, 1990



Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

© 2013-2015 Grace Curtis

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Teaching Poetry in Summer Camp & How to Make a Chapbook

In less than a month, I will travel with six other individuals to a small town in northern stack of booksIsrael called Deir Al Asad to teach for two weeks in a summer camp for 60 junior high school aged children. Deir Al Asad is an Arab town in the Galilee region of Israel, near Karmiel.

The camp is an English immersion program for the children who study English in school but have little opportunity to interact with English-speaking people. It’s the pet project of Dayton, Ohio novelist, Martha Moody. This will be her ninth trip to the area. Each year she takes volunteers who teach a variety of subjects.

Last October, I heard Martha speak at a fund-raising LitSalon event held to benefit the  Antioch Writers’ Workshop scholarship fund. At the event, she talked about her writing and about this project. I knew immediately that I wanted to go, and Martha thought poetry would be an excellent subject. Now, here it is just a few weeks until we leave and I am busy working on lesson plans.

We have to take all of our own supplies, and there is a fifty pound weight limit for our suitcases. Yikes! Still, I decided to take blank handmade chapbooks with me. My plan is to have students look at poems written by both English speaking poets and by Arabic poets whose poems have been translated into English. I’m going to provide prompts for them to use to write their own poems for their chapbooks. The focus will be on fundamental poetic devices such as language and rhythm, tough things to think about when writing in a language other than your own. I’m also trying to be sure the prompts and the poems we look at are age appropriate. It’s harder than I would have thought since much of the Arabic poetry I’m finding is about love—too heady for a thirteen-year-old.

As much as I want to generate enthusiasm for poetry among these children and to actually teach them something, I suspect I will be the one doing most of the learning. I haven’t been in a classroom with kids this age for a long time, and I have no idea how much of a barrier the language will be. I suspect it will be challenging, but, I’m excited!

I’m hoping to post some of the poems the kids write and pictures of their chapbooks. Check back often for updates and photos!

How to Make a Chapbook

Fold a cover stock weight page and three (or as many as you want) blank printer pages in half.

Mark the spine with a light pencil mark at 1 ¼ inches, 4 ¼ inches, and at 7 ¼ inches.



Use something sharp (I use a sewing seam-ripper), poke a small hole at each of the marks being sure to go through all the pages.


Using an 18 inch length of embroidery floss, or tatting yarn, or another similar weight string and a needle, thread the string downward into the book at the center hole, bring it up from the inside of the book through the top hole, then tread it back down the entire length of the spine into the bottom hole. Bring it back up and out of the center hole. Make sure there are two ends coming out of the center hole and that there is an end on either side of the long length of string on the outside of the book. Tie the two ends together twice, making a knot, over top of the longer spine length.

Final thread

Cut the ends to leave about an inch and a half or so.

final cut

© 2013-2015 Grace Curtis

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A Night of Art and Poetry–Double Delight

A Night of Art and Poetry--Double Delight

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A Poetry Reading for Dos Madres Press

poetry reading

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Reveling in poet, Carl Adamshick’s poems

I’ve just reread, again, Carl Adamshick‘s debut collection, Curses and Wishes (Louisiana State University Press). I can’t get enough of his surprising, elegant, streamlined poems.


Listen to Carl read his poems –

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To the Christmas Tree

SAnta on tree


Bathed in the act of forgetting
still upright light endowed
upright on crutches drinking
only what I give it giving
all that it can a few winks
now and then ball-catcher.
What other relic withstands
this kind of stand-up once
cut letting its light emanate
only for delight like a hundred
stars in the night fractured
by its own limbs? In this chaos
it is difficult to tell what’s true
what’s green what’s there
what’s to be had against
what’s to be hadn’t—hadn’t
happened hadn’t been cut hadn’t
seeded tiny sprouts—
earth’s soft down. A hundred
eyes calling out singing yes
yes. They are saying yes to me
with white eyes yes to us yes to the cat
yes to this room yes to these gifts yes
to O Holy Night holy cow hollied bough
glass birds and beaded eggs in springly nests
yes O holy tree yes.

Poem first published at Every Writers Resources.

© 2013-2015 Grace Curtis

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What’s a Short Story Doing on a Poetry Blog?

Crazy, Right? I write short stories, too. Did I mention that? Here is one I had published earlier this year at The Smoking Poet.


As Em lay in bed trying to wake up, she found herself recalling the noisy banter between her mother and sister. Neither possessed the ability to communicate telepathically as she did. They were speakers. She thought about the rise in volume as each hurried to make a point, sometimes talking even before the other had finished. She remembered the quick repartee and the way the words heightened and released in a burst of emotion as they spoke.

She hadn’t joined in. On the rare occasions when she tried, her words didn’t match what she wanted to express. Instead, she found herself…what? Listening? No, it was more like absorbing it. Their high-spirited squabbles would come and go, and the three of them would be off shopping as if it had never happened. This morning, she realized, she missed the garbled sound of their voices in her ears. She missed them.

Em and Sebastian had had their own quiet quarrel last night. In fact, they had been having the same discussion for some time. Em thought about how different were their quiet thoughts from her family’s noisy conversations. As she replayed the argument in her head, she wondered if the internal nature of telepathic communication played on her predilection to ruminate. She struggled to contain it. Did explosive vocal displays serve as a therapeutic release mechanism that was unavailable to her and Seba?

In this argument, and in others that had come before recently, Seba had expressed a desire to engage more verbally with their speaking friends. Em did not share this desire. On the few occasions they went out with speaking friends to a party or to a restaurant, she was content to listen to their words. Occasionally she tried to join in by sending them her thoughts on a subject, but they usually missed it. When she was able to enter their minds with input, they misunderstood her point, not recognizing its source, or they took credit for her idea. Em was more comfortable with other telemuters. Seba had expressed the fear that they were becoming isolated. He told her it was important to continue to be able to vocalize ideas in order to…how had he put it?  {Stay relevant, engaged.}

Both Em and Seba were part of a small but growing segment of the population called intra-telemuters, meaning they communicated almost exclusively telepathically.  They rarely vocalized and this had been at the center of their ongoing disagreement.

{We are too isolated. I want to talk also. I want our children to be able to talk,} Sebastian had thought to Em.

{But the world is moving in our direction. We are the future.} Em replied.  She couldn’t understand why Seba did not see that.

Em’s worried that they would grow apart if they started to speak to others more. And, she was afraid she couldn’t learn to speak because it has been so long since she had seriously tried. Even though her brain continued to create complex thought it had stopped sending commands to her mouth, her tongue, her lungs, to create word sound. At home alone, she would sometimes look in the mirror and try to say a word, but it made her feel silly even though no one but the cat was listening.

And, there was the issue of children. For the past year, Seba had been talking about starting a family. Em had resisted, saying she didn’t feel ready. Em worried that this was at the heart of Seba’s frustration. She wondered if he was manifesting his discontent about her foot-dragging on the matter in his recent insistence that they learn to speak aloud. Was he pulling away from her? She suspected that Seba was vocalizing more at work and Em felt threatened by the thought.

Despite a truce, they fell asleep with the issue once again unresolved. That morning Seba had left for work with barely a good-bye thought.

{He’s in a huff,} Em mused to the cat.

The fact was, there was a high probability that Em and Sebastian’s children would not be able to speak. Em and Sebastian were both products of genetic changes set into motion during the Information Age that started in the late 20th Century. The field of predictive and preventative medicine exploded just a few decades following the first successes at sequencing the complete human genome in the year 2000. Once the genome sequence was fully decoded, along with the concomitant understanding of how genes work, the world was changed forever. What started as early efforts to combat cancer, as well as, cardiac and autoimmune diseases, quickly led to further toying with genetic structure, or to G-tuning, as it became commonly known. G-tuning for every genetically-based human malady began on a large scale by 2020. Even when it was used appropriately, G-tuning created a variety of unexpected—and now evolving—characteristics causing many to dub G-tuning, the Pandora’s Box of medicine.

Telepathic communication was just one of the paths down which scientists had inadvertently taken humans. Other paths led to equally new and unusual traits. There was a small strain of people that could stay under water for long periods of time, or individuals that possessed exceptional computational ability. By 2025, many humans possessed super-organs that out-performed—and out-lived—their unmodified counterparts.

From the first efforts to genetically alter humans, demand was high. Couples lined up to custom order their children hoping not only to remediate potential genetic problems but also to place orders for specialty traits as if making a purchase for a new home or family car. Often decisions were made on a whim, something many came to regret. In the early days, it was difficult to predict just how far or how significant the restructuring would be in any given case. More importantly, genetic tuning affected not only the fetus but also its off-spring.

By 2035, even as human frailty was fading, the world was in unprecedented ethical turmoil over the practice of G-tuning. Indeed, many individuals were saved by bio-technology, while others began to exhibit freakish attributes. There was even a segment that ordered up physical characteristics that mimicked vestigial apparitions from billions of years ago—gills, elongated sacrum, webbed fingers and toes. Such traits were sought after much like tattooing had been at the turn of the century.

Telepathic communication resulted from genetic tuning employed  to correct what was thought of mental or intellectual learning disabilities in which, among a variety of other problems, individuals had trouble expressing themselves vocally. In most cases, these individuals had rich and highly evolved interior lives. A mere century earlier, they had been sequestered into special hospitals and group homes. By the end of the 20th Century attempts were being made to mainstream them. At the same time, the number of cases was increasing at an unprecedented rate. The torch to correct these types of problems using G-tuning was the first to be lit following successful efforts to repair problems involving the heart, kidneys, or pancreas.

Genetic tuning to fix problems of the brain represented the greatest frontier for the scientific community since it was an area about which they knew little. Serious errors were made early on. In just one or two generations, individuals who were born to those treated with genetic tuning to fix learning disabilities, not only spoke aloud, but they also began to share thoughts with other likewise affected individuals using thought transference. It was as if G-tuning had opened blocked sensory channels allowing electrical impulses from one individual to cross directly to receptors in other similarly affected individuals.

Throughout the 30s and 40s, telemuters, as they were called, quickly pushed the depth and breadth to which they were able to engage in thought transmission with one another. The irony was that the G-tuning employed to enable non-speakers to communicate audibly also enabled them to communicate inaudibly with one another. And, many found inaudible communication more satisfying and efficient.

Em’s father had been one of the original telemuters. Fetal genetic testing had labeled him a candidate for G-tuning. Now he was only able to communicate simple thoughts telepathically because the only time he communicated in this way was when he was with Em and Sebastian. Em’s parents had known that she too would possess this trait. They opted as more progressive parents did, to forgo additional G-tuning. Even before she was born, they agreed that they would do everything they could to ensure their daughter’s life would be as normal as possible.

As a child, Em made attempts to speak aloud, although she found it difficult. By the age of twelve, she no longer tried. She engaged in activities such as reading, listening to music, or communing with nature that did not require her to communicate with speakers.

Em met Sebastian in high school. Like Em, he was a second generation telemuter. They fell in love, attended college together, and got married in 2063. Because of their exceptional intellectual capabilities, their stellar academic performances, and because they were telemuters, both had easily obtained life-work in prestigious bio-development firms. In many ways, their life together seemed perfect. At least Em thought so until a few weeks ago when Seba had begun to communicate his wish to speak aloud.

That morning, Em made a decision. She would learn to talk for Seba. She would push past her fears. She didn’t know where the path would lead but she knew it was important to Sebastian. Em felt more peaceful than she had in weeks.

Over lunch that day, Em asked her friend, JJ to help her learn to speak. JJ was also a telemuter, though she was equally fluent in both thought transference and vocal speech. In fact, Em suspected JJ used her to hone her telemuting skills, but Em didn’t mind. She liked having someone to commune with.

JJ picked up a fork, handed it to Em, and slowly said the word fork emphasizing her mouth movements. “Now, you try it.”

Em looked at JJ’s lips. She tried to recreate how her friend’s upper teeth pressed against her slightly extended lower lip as she formed an f. And, she pushed air through her slightly opened mouth just as JJ had done to finish the word with a k. Even Em knew she sounded ridiculous. They both laughed.

Em worried that she would never be able to create a complete thought aloud even though JJ was relentless in her tutoring. In just a few weeks, though still sounding awkward, words seemed a little easier for Em to form. She continued to practice reading aloud words JJ wrote on napkins. JJ began to string two words together. Em struggled to finish one word, create a vocal break, and then to begin the next.

Em and Seba’s third wedding anniversary was just a few weeks away and Em was determined to surprise her husband with a complete sentence.

On the day of their anniversary, Sebastian sent Em flowers at work. She felt reassured by the gesture and realized she had been silly to worry. At dinner in a restaurant that night, he gave her a necklace. It was a silver circle that on one side he had had engraved,  “Now and Forever,” and on the other, “I love you.” Seba expressed to Em how much he loved her, and how sorry he was about his recent nagging on the subject of vocal language.

When they got home, he continued sending her thoughts on the matter, as if needing to get them off his chest. Em held an index finger to her forehead, a sign indicating she wanted him to stop transmitting. She kissed him. Then, she spoke aloud in a halting, awkward voice, “Let’s … just… make… a… baby.”

© 2010-2013 Grace Curtis

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A Wellspring of Poetry Happenings

Ohio Poetry Association Anthology Launch Party

On April 16, at Bexley Library in Bexley, on the eastern edge of Columbus, OPA Anthology the Ohio Poetry Association held the launch party and reading for its first anthology, Everything Stops and Listens, edited by poet, Steve Abbott. I am honored to have a poem in this book that also includes some of Ohio’s most notable poets such as David Baker, Stephen Haven, Kathy Fagan, George Bilgere, and Cathryn Essinger, to name only a few. Everything about the book is top-shelf: the poem selections, the layout, the paper; not to mention, the beautiful cover art by Deb Grenert. Technical assistance with the book was provided by a cadre of Ohio poets including, associate editors, Mark Hersman, Chuck Salmon, Janet Ladrach, and Rinda Sansom. Lisa Van Doren designed the cover and Jonathan Johns provided technical assistance. Patricia L.K. Black, Janet Ladrach, Melanie Boyd, Carolyn Dandelides, and Chuck Salmons provided editorial assistance.

More than a hundred people gathered at Bexley Library to help launch the book, to bask in a day of poet camaraderie, and  to hear many of the poems from the book read by those who wrote them. Here’s a small sampling:

from “At the Pond” Afterwards” by Erica DeWeese

…The fish, bloated with eggs,
Lay their futures in mud and silt,
Moving ever forward,
Ignoring the split-second turns above:
The lovers’ quarrel ending moan-sticky mornings,
The boy reeling in his fishing line too soon,…

from “Simile” by David Baker

…But there is no likeness beyond her body
in flames, for its moment, no matter its moment.
Yet the fringe bloom burns. Yet the moth shakes
and chews, as in sex…

from “Your Brass Bell Calls Me” by Phyllis Lee

…The mantle clock slices hours
into quarters and in a west window
the geranium saved from a killing frost
throbs its redness.

from “Pacific Coast Highway Blues” by Chuck Salmons

…elevating the bebop spirit
above the sea and trees.
I want that Kerouac

on-the-tracks railing, railing,
railing past brick-a-brack shacks
with the clickety clack,

Jump-back-Jack rhythm
of the blues in my head.
I’m going’ home to my baby,…

Ohio Poetry President, Mark Hersman, under whose tenure this beautiful collection has come to fruition, wrote in the forward that the book highlights the diversity of voices from across Ohio. He says,

“This anthology is a showcase that any Ohioan will be proud to own and any non-Ohioan will envy. The Ohio Poetry Association is please to present this long-awaited, much-anticipated collection. It is a testament to the creativity, talent, and insight of the people of Ohio—evidence of not only what words can do to us, but what they can do for us.”

You can buy a copy of Everything Stops and Listens on the Ohio Poetry Association website.


A Poetry Workshop in Dayton, Ohio

This year during National Poetry Month I was invited to present a two-part poetry workshop at Wright Memorial Library in Oakwood, (Dayton,Ohio).

In the sessions, we explored contemporary poetry. Attendees brought their favorite poem to class to read aloud, then talked about why they liked the poem. This lead to a discussion of what it is that makes us enjoy reading or hearing a poem; what are the attributes of a memorable poem. We also did in-class exercises to awaken the muse.

During the second session, participants read a poem they wrote from a prompt. It was thrilling to hear what these individuals had created.

It was a delight to facilitate such eager and talented participants.  Here is a concrete poem by one of those who attended, Mia Pitsinger, who gave her permission to publish it on this site.

MIa's poem


Author followed the line of poetry within her“–An Article in the Dayton Daily News

On April 29, I met with Sharon Short, staff writer for the Dayton Daily News. Sharon writes a weekly column called, “Literary Life.” Sharon asked me questions about my writing,  my background, my poetry, and my writing process. She was so easy to talk to and so engaging that at one point, I felt like I was just blabbing on and on. (The secret of a good interviewer!) The result is a beautifully written account of my writing journey. I am so grateful to Sharon for chronicling it so accurately and so kindly.

MyOneSquareInchAlaskaCoverIn additional to being a columnist, Sharon is also a novelist. Her latest book,My One Square Inch of Alaska came out at the end of January this year. My book club read it and we all loved it! I can’t recommend it enough. Sharon says of the book on her website,

This coming-of-age ‘book club’ novel is about a pair of siblings in a gritty 1953 paper mill town in Ohio, yearning to break free of the strictures of their family, their times, and their town.

She has written two mystery series, the Josie Toadfern Mystery Series and Patricia Delaney Mystery Series, and has a short story, Downriver, available as an ebook. Sanity Check: A Collection of Columns, brings together articles that Sharon wrote for the Dayton Daily News for over a ten year span. The humorous articles are about the foibles of everyday living

© 2010-2013 Grace Curtis

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Borderlands Reading

In mid-March, I was invited by Mark Sebastian Jordan, curator of the newly created monthly poetry event, Borderlands, at Main Street Books in Mansfield, Ohio, to read reading posterpoetry along with Columbus poet, Andy Roberts.  The event and the venue were perfect. Mark says he named the reading series Borderlands because Mansfield, poetically speaking, sits on the borders of  Columbus and Cleveland. Both of these cities have distinctive, well-established poet tribes. Dianne Borsenik, who I think of a prominent member of the Cleveland area tribe, came to the reading and read some of her delicious poems during open mic.

This was my first introduction to Andy Robert’s work even though Andy is a well-known Ohio poet from Columbus.  (This speaks to the fact that there are so many wonderful poets in Ohio and I am finding new ones every day.) Andy is an accountant, social worker, and poet extraordinaire. His poems have appeared in hundreds of small press publications and literary journals such as Atlanta Review, The Aurorean, Barnwood, Chiron Review, and Coal City Review. Andy’s poetry is surprising and possesses a kind of edginess that I find appealing. Here is a short segment from his poem, “The Blank Need That Eats.” It is taken from his chapbook, Who’s On My Land?

I will put on a clean shirt and walk to the party
and if you still don’t like me
talking about the black eyes of birds
that give back nothing
—no light, no fear, no brain—
while pecking at insects, I’ll leave. 

Borderlands takes place at Main Street Books in Mansfield, Ohio, which is sandwiched between Columbus and Cleveland, on the third Saturday of every month from 2-4 p.m.

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Five Unexpected Benefits of 30 Poems in 30 Days

poemsThis is the first year I’ve committed to writing a poem every day during National Poetry Month. So far so good! In the past, it has always felt a little gimmicky or forced. Now that I am doing it, it feels like neither of those things. Perhaps it is like so many things in life–you get out of it what you put into it.

Of course there are the obvious benefits: a cache of poems to work on and a helpful flexing of the poetic muscle. But, I have discovered several delightful consequences, as well.  Taking up the 30-poems-in-30-days challenge has forced me to…

1. think about poetry throughout the entire day

Because I am looking for poetry, every act, every delay, every bird, every item on the shopping list feels poetic. Since poetry is a slow process for me, thinking about poetry throughout the day slows me down, which is a good thing. It puts me into a poetry-writing frame of mind. And in a more contemplative mood. I carrying that with me through my day.

2. organize my poetry files

Each individual Word Document is labeled by day of the month and saved in a new folder April Poemsidentically named on both my hard drive and also in Dropbox. This enables me to feel organized which in turn puts me into a better frame of mind for writing a poem. And, I am rewarded by seeing the number of poems I am writing arrayed chronologically. That feels like progress.

3. remember that poetry is everywhere and in everything

For instance, I observed two ducks outside the entrance of an abandoned grocery story. They looked like they were arguing. Knowing that ducks mate for life, I thought, that is not unlike human couples who have squabbles from time to time. Because I am looking for poetry, I made a connection I may never have made otherwise. It made that moment in my day more interesting.

4. get creative with my poems

I’ve been exploring list poems, concrete poetry, experimental, traditional forms, found poetry, series, and more. I am trying to expand my definition of poetry as well. It is easy to get into a rut. I am using this forced-writing approach to reconsider my habits.

5. read other people’s poems more deeply

I have made it a personal quest to analyze other poets’ work more closely as I write my own poems this month. I am asking: How is she doing what she’s doing?, What is this poem about?, How is this sound being created? In some cases, I am mimicking line lengths, rhythms, forms, and style of poems written by poets whose work I admire. It is very useful.

If I end up with one good poem this month, it will have been worth it. If nothing else, I will have a pile of poems to review, revise, and cannibalize. It’s not too late to start. I’d love to hear what value others are seeing (or not seeing) with this approach.

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