Friday, September 20, 2013

Poets: Prepare to Start Your Engines - Poetry Pre-Writing Tip

Note in the title I did not say START your engines. We have ten days left until the “big” day appears.

Car racing is part of the life blood of the family I was raised in and is even showing up in parts of the next generation of Jordans. When I was a young girl, I would spend hours and hours and hours in the garage, handing my brother, the race driver, tools. You know, sort of like a doctor asks for scalpels.

All that gorgeous, seemingly without effort grace on the race track doesn’t start when they raise the flag, it starts long before, when the drivers work on their cars and finally warm up their cars during the days before the big race.

I am going to share with you one of my favorite poetry writing warm ups.

I use my old fashioned notebook and simply write lines of poetry. Not poems, but lines of poetry, sometimes smoothed together into several lines, but usually just lines.

Because I love the haiku form, I often write lists of five syllables and lists of seven syllables and then I randomly put them together.

This has two effects: one is it sharpens my observations and helps me write clearly and concisely with carefully chosen words, it also allows me to the space to see the grace in simply showing up at the page to warm up.

Sometimes those non-effort haiku have actually been better than when I was trying.

I just saw a play, so I am going to revisit some of the scenes in a list of five syllables:

Stripes of glitter
His ears were not his
Gold dust  all around
Thees, thous, Entreats, huh?
Only one in white?
Bookish Helena
“Hermia” now blonde
Thin Lysander
Bottom stole the show
After Puck, he died

And now, how about some seven syllable lines?

Demetrius, more wispy
Dead Poets society
Plays in my head while I watch
Love the feathers in that crown
Feathers, can they sing like birds?
Pixie like face glitter smile
Down home music strums, struts, pounds
Yee haw, let’s try some moonshine
Animals always woo us

 + + + + +

The first time I made up this exercise I was sitting in a coffee shop, just writing what I saw, lines like:

Red deck sneakers squeak
Mommy takes baby
Baby takes Mommy
Purr, computers, purr….
Espresso smells so….
Who does she wait for?
Textbooks in a pile
Awkward laugh hovers
“Forgot my back pack!”

It is more fun than it looks – I guarantee it.

I also guarantee that warming up through using this very simple exercise over the next few days will assist you in being more attentive and writing more concretely, with more details and fewer “fluff” words.

If I happen to see one of you at a coffee shop scribbling in your notebooks or pretending to text on your phone, I’ll know what you are doing. I won’t tell a soul!

-- Julie Jordan Scott


  1. I did one of those exercises on Durham station last year, and it produced oodles of useful lines!

  2. Julie, this is brilliant! I'm going to HAVE to try this in my own writing! Thank you for such a wonderful idea (and for the racing analogy - I was raised in NASCAR country!)