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A Found Poetry Writing Prompt

by Le Anne Devol

If you haven’t discovered found poetry yet, you should check it out because it’s pretty cool. Actually, I’d recommend doing an image search because it can be a really interesting combination of poetry and visual arts. Which means that it may be a little different from the poetry you’re used to writing, but don’t worry – here’s a found poetry writing prompt to get you started.

A Writing Prompt for Found Poetry

Like most poetry, found poetry is extremely easy to do and quite a bit harder to do well. These steps will help guide you in the direction of doing it well, but the follow-through is up to you. Here goes:

  1. Find a source. It could be an old classic, a modern novel, a short story, or a scientific article. It’s really up to you and what interests you.
  2. Copy the page(s) you want to use. You don’t want to write in the book, right? Especially if you screw it up the first time.
  3. Pick a relationship. The poem is going to relate to the source simply because its words come from the original writing. What you need to decide is how you want the poem to relate: is it honoring the original, restating it, changing its perspective, or satirizing it? Remember that relating to the original doesn’t mean the poem has to agree with the original.
  4. Find the words. Look for options that tell the message you want. If you feel like there are too many options, set up rules for yourself like having to use only 1 word from each line or each paragraph. Take notes in pencil or write them on a separate page until you have the combination you want.
  5. Decide how you want to mark the words in the final copy. Are you going to circle them? Do you want to black everything else out? Do you want to draw a picture around them? There are plenty of different options.
  6. Mark the words and color. Basically, follow-through on your decision from step 5.

I know, I know. Steps 5 and 6 could be combined. Since making decisions and follow-through are two major parts of poetry writing, however, I decided they deserve their own steps in the writing prompt. As usual, you can use these steps in whatever manner you choose.

And, of course, if you’d like to post the results in the comments, I wouldn’t object. 😉 Happy writing!

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Should Lyrics Be Universal or Specific?

should lyrics be universal lyrics specific lyricsHave you seen Moana? Several of my family members have, and we ended up discussing a contradiction we encountered with the music – the music is catchy, but the lyrics aren’t or aren’t as catchy as the music. Mostly because they’re so specific to the story. But is that really a problem? When should lyrics be universal or specific?

The Pros & Cons of Story-specific Lyrics

Like many of my random, babble-analysis, I’m gonna have to define a few things. Not because you don’t know what they are but because my definition might be different and cause mad confusion. Or because I’m anal retentive. Take your pick.

Specific Lyrics v. Universal Lyrics

When I talk about specific lyrics versus universal lyrics, I’m talking about how well the song stands up taken outside the story. For example, many of Stephen Sondheim’s songs can be taken entirely out of context and still be beautiful songs. In fact, many of them are more beautiful separated from the story because the story is rather dark, and without it, the songs have a new, less disturbing meanings.

Here are some lyrics from “Unworthy of Your Love.”

I am nothing.
You are wind and water and sky,
Jodie. Tell me, Jodie, how I
Can earn your love.

The melody is sweetly lyrical. Put the music and lyrics together, and you have a sweet, pretty love song. You hear it and know that Charles and Jodie are singing about their unrequited love for each other. Bittersweet but beautiful.

That is, until you realize that it’s about two people who tried to assassinate different presidents singing their separate loves to Jodie Foster and Charles Manson (It’s from Assassins.). Not so sweet and pretty in that context, is it?

In that song, the only two words that are specific to its context and story are “Jodie” and “Charlie.” The rest are metaphorical, figurative expressions of love and feelings of unworthiness, which is what makes the song work outside of that context.

On the other hand, Sondheim’s “The Worst Pies in London” can’t really be taken out of context. It tells that it’s about a pie maker in London who makes awful pies because of a meat shortage. That’s what I mean by story-specific lyrics.

Think of it as explicit versus implicit. Story-specific lyrics are explicit: the story is stated clearly in the song. Universal lyrics are implicit: the story is implied in the song through more big-idea words and imagery.

Why Pick Universal over Specific Lyrics?

Because you can sell it to more people. There. I said it.

Ok, ok. Greedy capitalism aside, universal lyrics do have the potential to appeal to more people simply because they make sense out of context with the story. If you’re trying to spread a message or simply share your art with as many people as possible, universal lyrics might be more your cup of tea.

Why Pick Specific over Universal Lyrics?

If your main goal is advancing the story, vague details may not cut it. Especially if the character is having a major epiphany or making an important decision in the song. You can try to portray that through universal lyrics, but if you can’t, are you going to sacrifice the strength of the story for a single song? I’m guessing not. (I hope not.)

Which Lyric Style Is Best?

Assuming that you’re using the song in a story, the best option (IMHO) is to do a nice mix. If you can make it a little stronger on the universal side without sacrificing any plot strength, then, that’s great.

Compare Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go” to Frozen‘s “Let It Go.” “How Far I’ll Go” weaves from specific to universal and back again. Sections of it are very compelling and can be taken outside the story. Other sections don’t make a lot of sense outside of the story. And the universal ones tend to be catchier (so meter and rhyme might be involved, too).

“Let It Go,” on the other hand, uses lyrics that support the story but can also stand on their own out of context. To me, that makes its lyrics more impressive. Don’t get me wrong – “How Far I’ll Go” is a catchy song, but the island-specific imagery and language aren’t as catchy as the melody. At least, that’s the best reasoning I can think of.

What do you think? Am I totally off-base? Should lyrics be universal? Or should they be specific? Does it matter at all?

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Happy Valentine’s Day from twytte

“Of Love” may not be my best poem, but I certainly had fun putting it with different pictures. In any case, happy Valentine’s Day!* *(Or, if you’re not romantic or not in a relationship, Happy martyred saint day, or happy Lupercalia. If you are a romantic who loves Valentine’s Day, ignore everything I just said). […]

via Of Love: A Poem to Wish You a Happy Valentine’s Day — twytte

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What Makes a Good Love Poem?

book-what makes a good love poem valentine's day

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s kind of like asking, “What’s a good pick-up line?” Some people will say that there are none. Some will say not using one. Some will say that something funny is best. While it’s not quite the same thing, if you ask, “What makes a good love poem?” you’ll get similar answers (That’s kinda scary, actually…).

So is there any point in asking? Do good love poems really exist?

The Good Love Poem: Fact or Fiction?

Clap if you believe that good love poems exist!

Anybody?

Come on, guys. I know there are some of you out there. Don’t worry – we’ll get to you. If we’re going to talk about perspectives on good love poems, however, we’re going to start with the harshest verdict.

There’s No Such Thing As a Good Love Poem.

What?!!! What about sonnets by Shakespeare? Or Elizabeth Barrett Browning? What about Byron or Keats?

If you like poems at all, you’re not going to be in this category. The same goes, I suppose, for love – but I’m guessing no one’s writing or reading love poems to people who hate love (I could be wrong…).

On the other hand, if your sweetheart falls into this category, maybe a love poem isn’t the right Valentine’s Day gift. That’s like getting a woman flowers when she’d rather have a potted plant. Remember: the best gift reflects the wants and needs of the person you’re giving it to (free life lesson – you can’t say you didn’t know now).

Good Love Poems Are Funny.

I think the people who say this have a prejudice against mushy stuff, especially if they say that love poems are only good if they’re funny. You know the type. People who go for serious stuff, and when they’re looking for a date, they look for people who make them laugh (something that shouldn’t be devalued on the dating scale).

These people might also be slightly on the side of the first category – poetry isn’t really their thing, so they only like it if it’s funny. A sincere sonnet may not be the best Valentine’s Day gift for someone who fits this description.

Now, am I saying that if you’re dating or married to someone like this, you shouldn’t try to show that you care? No. They may be ok with being serious about emotions in other ways.  Just don’t write him/her a mushy love poem – go for a limerick instead of a sonnet.

Good Love Poems Come from the Heart.

Is it the gift that counts? That’s what this one feels like. Even the most horribly-written love poem could be considered good (in a way) if the person who wrote it was really trying – if he/she meant what is said.

If you don’t believe me, I’m about to blow your doubt out of the water.

A gruff, manly man who doesn’t know anything about poetry and hates anything to do with writing is married to a woman who loves poetry and yearns for a small sign of her gruff husband’s love for her (not jewelry or furs). How do you think she would feel about a love poem that he wrote for her? Would she think it was a good love poem?

Don’t kid yourself. She’d think it was a great love poem. She’d be so in love with the effort and care that went into writing it that she wouldn’t care if a 5-year-old could write a better poem (artistically speaking).

You, on the other hand, might think the story of it is better than the poem…

Good Love Poems Are Written Well.

Hmmm. That’s not really very specific, is it? Couldn’t you say that about any poem? Come to think of it, what do they mean by “well”? Are they saying that it follows the rules of a specific form or that it uses imagery and makes you feel something? Or are they saying that it advances the art somehow?

To tell you the truth, I don’t think this would be the first answer that most people would give to this question – love is too emotional for most people to give only a logical or rule-based response. The form could be on the list, but I wouldn’t expect it to be the first thought (unless the person is a poet with extremely strong prejudice against poorly written poems…?).

So What Makes a Good Love Poem?!

The logical conclusion is that whether a love poem is good or not depends on who’s judging it.

I know what you’re saying: “Duh! It’s an opinion – of course, it depends on who’s judging it!”

Ok, call me Captain Obvious. But let’s take this a step further and figure out what makes most people decide that a poem is good. If you bothered to read my blather above (and if not, how did you make it this far?), you’d probably guess that it takes a combination of factors for a love poem to be considered good (like most poems).

Well, you’d be right. The most important considerations (IMHO) are…

  • Taste in Poetry: Do you like poems? Do you like that type of poem?
  • Emotional Stake: Do you know the author? Was it written for you or someone you know? Does the effort or feelings of the person who wrote it matter to you? (This includes the gruff husband example, but some people get emotionally involved in people they’ve never met – often because they admire them or empathize with them.)
  • Emotional Response: Does it make you feel something? Is it a strong reaction? Do you like the reaction? (Not “Is it a good reaction?” – people can like poetry that makes them sad or angry even though those are generally considered negative emotions.)
  • Quality of Writing: Is it written well enough that the quality of the writing isn’t really noticeable? Is it so poorly written that you can’t stand to look at it? Is it so well written that you are more interested in the writing style than the content? (The last is very uncommon. I would say that when poems are truly well-written, the writing methods and techniques become invisible because the emotional and sensory responses are so strong.)

The answers to these questions determine the quality of the poem. The more positive answers, the better the poem is (in general).

So if you’re trying to write a good love poem, would you want to think about these things in advance? For example, if you’re writing for a specific person, what types of poetry does he/she like? What emotion do you want to express – what do you want to make him/her feel? Can you write well enough to do that?

Actually, I’d probably stop with the first question (what poetry does he/she like). The only time I’d consider the others would be if I was trying to write a universally good love poem.

Or I might just write a poem and see how it goes. What about you?