Learning with the Teacher

Getting the opportunity to talk about poetry with new persons is always exciting for me. I can readily assess the emotional tone of a poem and talk about specifics like concrete images and metaphor, yet it is difficult in one sit down session, to instruct on the mechanics of writing original pieces (and this is usually what teachers want to learn). The writing of poetry for me has always been organic, unable to be broken down into finite elements. The best instruction I could give was read, imitate, and critically assess for the elements that convey the heart of a poem.

Enter Eric Chock; aka Poem Carpenter. In one session geared towards getting teachers to not only have a tool to teach poetry, but also be able to discern what is good poetry vs lovely cliches on a page; the poem carpenter was able to break down the tools of a poet (word structure) and reassemble them into shining nuggets of poetry. Using a three paper technique, writers were asked to assign random nouns to random verbs and use this as the starting point for the poem. Examples would be petals splashed, or darkness smoothed . These were discussed not only in terms of originality, but also what these new combinations triggered for the writer in terms of content to follow. The options were as limitless as the experiences of those attending.

Breakout sessions that followed grouped teachers with a poet to discuss the merits of the poems they had written using this technique just minutes before. My group had several kitchen poems with appliances talking to one another, along with an abstract piece with strong zen overtones. We discussed the merits of specific image (sink talking to microwave) and how not only was that original but accessible to anyone who spent time in a kitchen. We reflected on Eric's discussion of general and specific in regards to the zen poem and how word choice and appropriately placed pauses would strengthen/clarify the piece. We had opportunities to hear the work of other groups, what their choices of "best poem" were and the inner workings towards those creations.

What struck me most was the fearlessness with which these teachers charged this assignment. Usually people are shy about their poems in these on the spot creative writing sessions. I think primarily because these quick poems usually are contrived to produce something, anything. With this technique however, the launching point to write was easy and inherently original. Almost, I daresay, fool proof. Like any apprentice that wishes to perfect his craft and emulate his master, I look forward to using and sharing this technique in future sessions.


Talk story

  1. Darrell Lum says:

    Ho you guys was lucky to learn from da master! I think many folks think poetry is whatever comes out and that's it. Pau. The idea of working the words, looking at unexpected juxtapositions, and getting feedback to make a piece better is something that few get to experience. The willingness and discipline to rework something and to explore the possibilities is tough to convey. And the daunting task of how to get started is what Eric does best. He's coaxed poems out of elementary kids, kindergarteners and first graders who couldn't write their words but could certainly use them in meaningful ways.

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