Thursday, November 21, 2013

Art Gives Birth to Art: Poetry Born of Photo Prompts

My students, when writing fiction, have heard me coach them with a lot of film references:

  • "Your words are the cables that connect the DVD playing in your mind with the DVD player in your reader's mind." (I used to say "video" and "VHS player," so you know how long I've been using this metaphor!)
  • "When you write dialogue, think of yourself as a film or TV director, and make your characters do interesting actions while they talk, actions that show us who they are. Like the old saying goes, 'Actions speak louder than words' sometimes."
  • "Be sure to add description and action to a dialogue to bring it to life like a movie in the reader's mind; otherwise, if you use only dialogue, it's like listening to a radio show, not a movie."
  • "Movies don't start with 'once upon a time'; they pull you right into a scene, and then allow you to figure out what's going on. Write that way, starting with a scene."
  • "When you switch speakers in a scene with a lot of dialogue, you indent to help the reader follow who's speaking; it's like a close-up shot in a movie, alternating from one person to another, during a conversation."
  • "You can show a character with greater depth, sometimes, via the reactions of other supporting characters. Like in a movie, when an actor says a line, and the others raise their eyebrows and nudge each other, the viewers question their first impression of the main character, which makes that character more interesting."
  • "If you rely on adverbs, rather than vivid verbs, to show how an action is done, you're not showing a scene."

My students also hear me comparing the editing process to sculpting or painting:
  • "Your first draft is like a piece of wood or stone that you've carved with a basic shape. Then you start editing, or sanding your sculpture, adding texture and changing the form in certain spots. You might chip off certain pieces and then smooth them over again. That's what I call 'editing for substance.' Finally, you polish the sculpture with shellac, or whatever polish you use--and that's the proofreading stage, where you fix the spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes and make the whole piece shine."
  • "Start your scenes like a painter starts filling a canvas. Add color with descriptions and actions. Add texture with words that convey a certain mood."
  • "When you overuse figurative language, it's like filling a wall with beautiful paintings that all compete with each other so you don't know where to look or what to focus on. One well-placed painting, like a strong metaphor or simile, will draw your eye and make you think, but too many will overwhelm you."

And when I teach poetry, I often give musical references:
  • "A poem is a song without music; its rhythm can evoke mood as much as its words."
  • "You can rap a couplet poem!"
  • "Repetitive phrases act like a song chorus, to make the reader remember the point of the poem."
In short, what I'm writing about today is this:

The appreciation of art prompts the creation of art--and vice versa.

That is why I not only talk about other art forms to teach writing, but also use those art forms as prompts. Today's exemplary student work was prompted by a photo of a boy blowing bubbles while sitting in a wheelchair. The poem, by P.K., age 11, reflects extraordinary empathy from the able-bodied poet. 

Popped Bubble

have courage
whereas I
have fear.
They have courage to fly away,
but I have a fear of standing up.
They have the courage
to face danger in the world,
but I have a fear
of confronting life.
can fly
as high as they like,
but nobody
will get in their way.
always get in my way.
They push me till I can no longer stand.
If I try, they will push me again.
They do this until
I am powerless,
I am a popped bubble
in a wheelchair.

Enough said!