It's time for some more nuggets from my workshop with poet Kurt Brown. These are somewhat random jottings that come from my class notes. So don't blame Kurt Brown for the lack of organization here--I just wrote down the things that especially applied to me at the time. What you have is "Kurt Brown as translated and sometimes mangled by Darlene Young." So here we go:
Stop thinking and start describing. "No ideas but in things"--William Carlos Williams.
Frost said if there is no surprise for the writer, there will be no surprise for the reader. Start with your trigger, then explore and surprise yourself. (Kurt mentioned the book Triggering Town,which I have read and which is good.)
Face the reader. The poem should not be directed inward to self. Outward.
Every poem is a fragment of a large narrative, a background that isn't in the poem.
Try to detach from your subject sometimes. Range. Let go of the urge to get to an end in the poem or follow it logically. Try to loop around and meander. [Note from Darlene: this addresses my biggest weakness as an artist.] If you know where you're headed before you start, your poem will be flat. Let yourself find the surprise. Think of jazz: riff (but keep the chord structure). TRY to move away, jumping, following your subconscious. Your subconscious will take care of the connections.
One of Kurt's assignments to help with this very thing was to create a poem in which we use a word from the first line (none, ver, adjective or adverb--a strong word) in the second line, then a different one from the second line in the third line, etc. Then in the last two lines, use as many of those words as you can. [I was amazed at the poem that resulted when I did this exercise. It is one of my strongest poems ever, I think. Paying more attention to the structure than what I was saying freed me up to follow my subconscious more, to meander. This exercise helped me realize how much I benefit from having a teacher to give me assignments (even if the teacher is only myself reading like a writer and thinking up projects for myself).]
A poem is an opportunity to explore what you think, not to tell everyone about some interesting, unique thought you've had. (Because no one can come up with something truly unique anyway.)
Exercises are to shake you up from your usual topics, forms, relationships with language, ruts of how you think of things. [Amen!]
Interrogate your poem. Watch for the true subject which will come clear like a lightbulb. You should be looking for it to appear about 2/3 through the poem. Then the poem transforms itself. You know you've succeeded when the last line doesn't mean the same thing as it would have if the rest of the poem hadn't come before it.