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Since I write in a number of genres — fiction, nonfiction, journalism, etc. — sometimes when I sit down to write a poem, I don’t know how to locate that part of me where poetry lives. Here’s an exercise which I call Jumping into the Mud although it’s sometimes called by the more prosaic name automatic writing. The exercise helps to loosen my imagination, and every now and then a decent poem results as well.
It works like this: think of a difficult period in your life. It might have been an unhappy love affair, a divorce or a pregnancy. Or perhaps you moved to a new location and had trouble making friends; or you were ill or depressed; or you were grieving the passing of someone you cared about. Then think of a specific incident that happened during that period. Now take out your notebook (or boot up your computer) and write down all your impressions of that incident. Don’t try to make a story, and don’t try to explain or analyze the experience. Just capture the images and feelings of that incident. Write as fast as you can, not worrying about punctuation or grammar, just words and phrases one after another as fast as you can. Keep the pen moving or keep the fingers going on the keyboard. I find giving myself a time limit helps, usually 4 or 5 minutes.
Below is an example of my ‘jumping into the mud’ for four minutes. The version is pretty close to the original automatic writing; the only revisions I made were to insert the stanza breaks and to delete about 20 uses of the conjunction and. Of course, I hope it’s a good poem, but the point of the exercise is not necessarily to create a publishable poem, but to open the spigot and allow the imagination to flow. Please feel free to post in the comments section your own writing that comes from this exercise.
Seventh Grade I was 12 new in the school not adept at making friends when a petite blonde named Melissa paid attention I was flattered and flustered she seemed to think I was cute one day she took my hand held it firmly dug her nails into my skin I let her as it bled she kept asking does this hurt does this hurt how about this I kept saying no because the touch of her hand was so exciting it took weeks for my hand to heal and every time I saw Melissa she looked away which confused me one day I heard a girl say Melissa was in Mexico for an abortion illegal in Texas I said no not knowing what an abortion was but thinking it sounded bad later I heard her uncle had been arrested Melissa left school and I never knew what happened to her One day my hand was still healing I was alone in the house a woman came to the door from the Jehovah’s Witnesses she and I talked a long time the stillness of the afternoon the end of the world she said would come in 1975 when I was 21 I better be ready she gave me booklets seeing I was hungry I devoured the biblical proof of our demise just nine years away showed the booklets to my mother who got angry a strange woman would scare me and said pay her no mind but for years I carried A feeling the world of school home my angry father my overworked mother would soon vanish in an all-consuming nuclear fire I read science fiction which always began with the premise the earth had been destroyed in our age and a new earth had sprung up on a distant planet at night I would escape the deafening angers of my home step into the backyard and look up at the violet suburban sky and the invisible stars my mind would travel the long corridors of time where a traveler who looked a lot like Melissa lifted my hand to her breast
Copyright 2021 Michael Simms
Michael Simms is the founding editor of Vox Populi. His latest collection of poems is American Ash (Ragged Sky, 2020).