Writing Prompt. 1.

Photo: Darius Baužys, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It looks like we’ve all got some more indoors time heading our way. I thought I might, over the next few months, share some of the prompts I’ve been giving my students in Creative Writing.

If we gotta hunker, we might as well write.

This month we’ve been writing calligrammes, aka concrete poems. Here’s a charming and quick introduction to Guillaume Apollinaire, who did not invent the concrete poem but most certainly perfected it.

Take a look, for example, at his La Tour Eiffel, where he uses the shape of the iconic French monument to suggest a tongue stuck out in derisive defiance at the German forces during World War I. The French “langue” (which translates as both tongue and language) takes a metaphorical and literal shape as Apollinaire’s tower of words stretches up the page. The Eiffel Tower, in Apollinaire’s hands, becomes an evocative and multi-layered symbol—a monument to nationalist pride, a declaration of French technological and cultural superiority, and a childlike gesture of defiance in the face of German power.  

His La Cravate is another example of the way the image selected supports and enriches the meaning of the poem; in this case, the suffocating constraints of arbitrary social customs on the human body and spirit.

(If you’re a teacher, both of these examples provide ample discussion opportunities for young people around the themes of power imbalances, authority, and identity.)

How to write your own calligramme?

Start with snakes.

Brainstorm by coming up with snake-y words.

Focus on verbs in particular. Ex. Snakes slither, slip, slide, sneak, sun

Senses : What do you hear, smell, see, feel (touch), taste when you are near a snake? What does a snake hear, smell, see, feel, taste?

Ask? What can a snake represent? Look at your words. Do you find any words that make you think of ideas or themes?

Ex. betrayal, cruelty, liars, backstabbing, rebirth, change, growth, privacy, eternity, secrets and keeping or revealing them

If you’d like, do a google search on snakes. Can you find out some facts or scientific terms that you can work in to your poem?

Remember that poems generally have 3 things : condensed language, rhythm and figures of speech/imagery

Condensed language : which words can you take out of a sentence and still keep the meaning?

Rhythm : rhyme, repetition, alliteration, assonance, create patterns with sounds

Images/Figures of speech : metaphor, hyperbole, pun, simile, personification, and remember, your poem’s structure is always an image too, whether it’s as explicit as a calligramme or not

You know I want to see your snake poems! Typed or written by hand, please share them with me, and let me know if I can share them on my website 😊