Writing Exercise: Twenty Poems

(developed by Jim Simmerman*)
Write a poem that strictly follows these rules. If you’re not happy with the result, you can deviate from the regulations in your revisions, but take the rules seriously on the first draft.

1. Begin the poem with a metaphor.
2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
3. Use at least one image for each of the five senses, either in succession or scattered randomly through the poem.
4. Use one example of synaesthesia (mixing the senses).
5. Use the proper name of a person and the proper name of a place.
6. Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.
7. Change direction or digress from the last thing you said.
8. Use a word (maybe slang) you’ve never seen in a poem.
9. Use an example of false cause-effect logic.
10. Use a piece of “talk” you’ve actually heard (preferably in dialect and/or which you don’t understand.)
11. Create a metaphor using the following construction: “The (adjective) (concrete noun) of (abstract noun)…”
12. Use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities.
13. Make the persona or character in the poem do something he/she could not do in “real life.”
14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.
15. Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.
16. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.
17. Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but finally makes no sense.
18. Use a phrase from a language other than English.
19. Make a nonhuman object say or do something human (personification).
20. Close the poem with a vivid image that makes no statement, but that echoes an image from earlier in the poem.

Begin your poem with #1 and finish with #20. Otherwise, you can use the projects in any order you choose, giving each at least one line. Try to use all twenty projects. Repeat those you like. Don’t panic! Think of this as a game. Before beginning, you may want to look at the poem Simmerman wrote (below) in accordance with his own instructions.

Moon Go Away, I Don’t Love You No More
by Jim Simmerman

1. Morning comes on like a wink in the dark.
2. It’s me it’s winking at.
3. Mock light lolls in the boughs of the pines.
Dead air numbs my hands.
A bluejay jabbers like nobody’s business.
Woodsmoke comes spelunking my nostrils
and tastes like burned toast where it rests on my tongue.
4. Morning tastes the way a rock felt
kissing me on the eye:
5. a kiss thrown by Randy Shellhourse
on the Jacksonville, Arkansas, Little League field
because we were that bored in 1965.
6. We weren’t that bored in 1965.
7. Dogs ran amuck in the yards of the poor,
and music spilled out of every window
though none of us could dance.
8. None of us could do the Frug, the Dirty Dog
9. because we were small and wore small hats.
10. Moon go away, I don’t love you no more
was the only song we knew by heart.
11. The dull crayons of sex and meanness
scribbled all over our thoughts.
12. We were about as happy as headstones.
13. We fell through the sidewalk
and changed color at night.
14. Little Darry was there to scuff through it all,
15. so that today, tomorrow, the day after that
he will walk backward among the orphaned trees
16. and toy rocks that lead him
nowhere I could ever track,
till he’s so far away, so lost
17. I’ll have to forget him to know where he’s gone.
18. la grave poullet du soir est toujours avec moi–
19. even as the sky opens for business,
even as the shadows kick off their shoes,
20. even as this torrent of clean morning light
comes flooding down and over it all.

Kristin’s Entry:

Laughter wafts upward, steam-like
Condensing and slathering itself upon my eardrums, then dripping outward as it cools. Persistently moving the tiny hairs there, tickling my skin. Dancing through vocal chords like the smell of raspberry bushes in heat.
Here, on the tip of a cherry tree with Georgina Patrick. Her parents’ back yard, bloated to almost-explosion in Spokane, Washington. Our giggles sound like dogs howling.
Like the sweet sound of a church choir. Smelling of chastity.
Down the block, on the south side of the street my parents sit, I imagine, in the far left corner of the house.
Inside. Never out where their delicate blue irises would surely go the route of the Dodo, zipped out of reality.
I imagine my father asking, as the result of a lengthy internal dialogue, “Why don’t they have two boats, that way they’d never be late.”
His speech the slow molasses of oldness and disconnect.
My father as old as a freshly born child,
Leaping from then to now, now to then. A time traveler with leather suitcases that you would notice from great distances due to the creaking.
Echoing into my child’s birth, there will be creaking as she comes into this world,
As she coasts from my porcelain body into the expanse before her, it will taste of leather.
And her life will be seen only through blindness.
Ma petite… je t’aime
The leather will reveal itself to be cherry blossoms,
and blindness will blossom into laughter.

Tabby’s Entry:

Cobwebs dangle in a corner, long forgotten. I want to tear them away, rip their inanimate souls from the room and destroy their meaning, but something stops me. I hear a drip and focus on the darkness, the deepness, and the chill of dank. My mouth fills with the bitterness of the past, the underwire of the frame that shapes me. Abandoned and alone, the blackness calls out, surrounding me and pressing itself into my skin. I tune into the sound of rot and imagine what lays beneath it.

Rita Johnson sent the news today down from Austin, which is what prompted me to sit in my mind and observe memories that I managed to keep just beneath the surface, safe from me. Safe. That’s a joke. It’s always a joke, in the end. The caramelized captured photographs embedded into my brain spews forth emotions I’d have liked to never revisit except on the occasional post-date jaunt into my psyche as I try to explain away the silly things I’d done and said. Stupidosity at its best arises and I stumble and feel the heat rising into my face.

“Always better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” runs through my head as I grasp at the edge of the bed. What do they know. I’d prefer the innocence over the stupid any day. The fiery past of romance flings itself past me and I begin to cry. The love that I gave bore upon me and I began to feel as long-lived as a healthy fruit-fly.

My daughter races at a super human pace by my side, asking mommy what’s wrong and where the boo-boo is. I merely touch her, to remind myself of the goodness about the choices I’ve made. Tab will come back from this… I always do, and I suspect that there will probably never be a time where I don’t.

Love and loss is common. I rely on these shaky truths to propel me out of my personal tumult. I’ll bounce back in and never bounce away again. Hasta la vista, I think again. My phone looks back at me as if it knows I’m lying. Cobwebs creep up over it when the lights go out.

Featured/Guest Writers:

Ariella’s Entry:

Warm autumn sun reached between leaves as we lay under the soft auburn canopy of the delicately aging tree. We could have been the only ones there.

I felt its warmth move through me and the cool, wet grass on my back. The air was so fresh we could almost taste it: crisp leaves that blew, smoke from fireplaces and brownies burning. Kids yelled out to neighbours in their new September sweaters. Bright reds and blues jumped as they played hopscotch down the street. That last bit of sun felt the way a sweet cherries taste after dinner: sweet and smooth, completing.

This is how I remember you, Alex Dempsey, on High Drive, in September. While everyone else yelled and ran around us.

We all knew it would be the last sunny day. You said the sweetest part was that it was Sunday too, and I was there with you because soon the kids would go back in to their warm homes for dinner.

Moms chatted it up on telephone wires that ran across tended lawns, the fiery hearts of family blowing their love out across streets and into beds all over.

They loved each other like lead, walked through walls to speak.

Ella rode her bicycle to come meet you that day, and from now on, she always will, her gluey bike seat holding up her frame in the picture frame of your mind.

I will always hold that memory up to its own lighted darkness: je t’embrace toujours,

even as the blowing leaves themselves doubt me

even as the soft canopy of this tree shudders at early-evening wind.


10 Responses to “Writing Exercise: Twenty Poems”

  1. gaL Says:

    great stuff girls.. i love them …. i like “Dancing through vocal chords like the smell of raspberry bushes in heat” kristin …

    i like “That last bit of sun felt the way a sweet cherries taste after dinner: sweet and smooth, completing” Ariella..


    i like “I merely touch her, to remind myself of the goodness about the choices I’ve made.” Tabby .

    you girls are amazing..

    if only poetry was the way love sounded and the way the world turns.. i will be reminded of the peaceful, beautiful, wonderful words that was said here..

    -much love-

  2. Denise Says:

    Damn these keep getting harder and harder hahaha.

  3. Marilyne Says:

    Well, all I have to say is that I’ve never been a big fan of poetry, but you guys just showed me I was wrong all along! “La poΓ©trie donne de la saveur aux mots!”

  4. Emma Says:

    I love this bit:
    “Inside. Never out where their delicate blue irises would surely go the route of the Dodo, zipped out of reality.”
    Gosh I love this assign. – stretching my brain!!…

  5. skahahoo Says:

    OHHHHHH! Is the GBD throwing DOWN now with the writing assignments?? lol. Seriously though…twenty? TWENTY?? lol. πŸ˜‰ It’s cool though…the most challenging one yet I think. Good brain workout.

    I second Emma’s comment…I like the “zipped out of reality” bit. Also liked the repeated “oh” sound in “bloated to almost-explosion in Spokane.”

    And welcome back Ariella! Whoohoo! Really liked your opening…sets a very nice mood. πŸ™‚

    Tabby, I liked “the past, the underwire of the frame that shapes me” because it totally makes sense as a metaphor AND it’s feminine at the same time. Yeah Tabby! πŸ™‚

  6. Emma Says:

    Clustered pebble pathways steer my journey through the mountain; fields and valleys tremble as the sun pays its final respects.

    Wind stings my cheeks, as the birds shriek their evening song. A faint hustle bounces off the ground as the insects prepare for sundown. Dryness and desperate thirst stick as I notice the clouds shifting sneakily.
    The kinks in the road soften the skew line.
    But Jessica would know how to conquer the Drakensberg terrain.
    As the sun peeks again, I notice how it winks at the nightly bustle.
    Who were those people back in the mountain, did they not hit up prior to embarking on their torrid task.

    As rain drops decorate the leaves, the river throbs with a loud speed.
    β€œIt’s about the ride,” they would agree, cutting short the solid anchor of the discussion.
    I tilt my shoulder in awkward delight as I dance down the steep rocks.
    Souring along the darker skies I sense the end in sight.
    Lulu is a spirit of hope, she will always see the skyline through the grey fog and bladed mist.
    There is no journey without rocky perception or convincing direction.
    Je voudrait faire une bonne figure..
    Clouds tap my forehead softly bringing me back to the now, and the pathway clears my journey once more.

  7. skahahoo Says:

    1. Oh oven-baked happiness!
    2. North Star of my gastronomy!
    3. How often your oreganoed smoke
    guides me through grumbling hunger
    til at last my eyes alight upon
    your delightfully round form
    embracing me in the warmth
    of those fragrant fruits borne
    from nightshade and buffalo.
    4. To savor the sweet synthesis
    of red and white hues
    5. is to marvel at Mangieri
    that most meticulous master
    of the Margherita from Naples.
    Oh impeccable pie of epicurean bliss!
    6. Mere happiness you are not!
    For such profound perfection as yours
    exceeds even ecstasy.
    7. But there are those who would corrupt your crust.
    8. Those charlatans from Chi-town
    who are not so shy about their pie
    and dish deeply about their deep-dish
    despite my deep wish that their deep-dish did disappear.
    9. I dare say the wind from their city
    has blown away their bitty sense
    and their doughy decadence the dreadful consequence.
    10. I know not whether Jesus is coming
    nor if the end is near
    but I fear even the Apocalypse
    cannot eclipse the quick dip into doom
    11. hastened by the unchaste pies of perversion.
    12. Oh charred and crusty joy!
    13. Your melted mozzarella moves mountains!
    So mild and mellifluous
    14. like the fluid melodies of ska. Ha! Who can contest
    15. that you will conquer all cuisine
    16. with your volcanic tomatoes?
    17. You are a gustation sensation so pristine
    even extra-virgin olive oils blush at their impurity.
    For in the words of your motherland
    18. Lei Γ¨ supremo!
    19. Oh pie of paradise!
    Bless me as I genuflect
    20. before your wood-fired altar
    with its glowing embers, bricks, and flames.
    May you deliver unto me
    your succulent sustenance
    from your hearth to my heart
    and my stomach.
    In the name of San Marzano,

  8. skahahoo Says:

    @Emma – Yeah Emma! Representin’ for the members! I really liked “The kinks in the road soften the skew line”…that’s a very creative way of describing that image. πŸ™‚ Are you an artist? Just asking because you used “skew line.” πŸ™‚

    And where the other poetry peoples be at? GBD has thrown down the gauntlet! Twenty friggin’ poems yo! Y’all can’t scatter now! πŸ˜‰

    Also, here’s a question. So, it seems to me that Ariella’s nickname is Ella and Tabby’s nickname is Tab. Does this mean that Kristin’s nickname is…..Dodo? lol. πŸ˜€

  9. Emma Says:

    hehe, I’m no artist! I guess GBD is bringing out a different side to me!
    Love yours too by the way, ‘Volcanic tomatoes’ is such a great image and the other one I really like is: “is to marvel at Mangieri
    that most meticulous master
    of the Margherita from Naples” so much alliteration in that one! so cute πŸ™‚

  10. skahahoo Says:

    @Emma – Oh yeah? You’re not an artist? That’s so cool you thought of the skew line! Neat! πŸ™‚

    You know, I also liked the idea of the volcanic tomatoes, but I can’t really take full credit for that being oh-so-original. lol. It’s actually a reference to the famous San Marzano tomatoes, which are grown on volcanic soil. I only know about this because I love Neopolitan style pizza, and the best I’ve ever had was made by Anthony Mangieri, owner of Una Pizza Napoletana, who uses San Marzano tomatoes. So if you’re ever on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and you like pizza, check it out. It ain’t cheap (lol), but it’s goooood. :d Dude is famous too (well, famous in pizza circles…lol). If you Google him, you’ll see all these food critics raving about his pizza.

    Also, I’d like to take this moment to say to all the Chicagoans and/or deep-dish lovers out there…much love! lol. Seriously, no disrespect. I myself have been known to enjoy a deep-dish in my time. πŸ˜‰ If I were more creative, I would have thought of another way to fill the requirements of the poem, but the deep-dish made it so easy to knock out 4 of those requirements. lol. I’m sorry! πŸ™‚

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