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Michael Simms: Writing Prompt #7 | Jumping into the Mud

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).

13 comments on “Michael Simms: Writing Prompt #7 | Jumping into the Mud

  1. Emily De Ferrari
    September 5, 2021

    Hi Michael, for me your poems are survival + more. Thanks.
    Here’s my muddy shot:

    Listening to the news before daybreak.

    this multi varied pestilence has devastated the impoverished and inconvenienced the affluent
    the stuffing under our bedcover of drought, flood, climate incineration, droning of the innocents, arms sales, forever war, ever war, evermore.

    write a poem, throw some salt over your shoulder, don’t cross a black cat, or pick up a tail penny, hold the crumbs to shake out in the morning.

    booster, rooster, crowing and caw.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      September 5, 2021

      Love this, Emily! Especially the last line.


    • Leo
      September 5, 2021

      Like your approach! Yes, survival is about much more than food, shelter and protection; mental survival is the most difficult part at times. This prompt helped me write and actually have a couple of near pleasant days as I continue reworking my first draft! Leo


  2. Rose Mary Boehm
    September 4, 2021

    Absolutely LOVE this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara Huntington
    September 4, 2021

    Wow! Great stuff. It seems a lot of great stuff can pour out at once while something you want to write puddles in the page. Thank you. May try this today

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Leo
    September 4, 2021

    Thank you for your poem! Revealing some of our history in poetry can be so cathartic and a lot cheaper than a therapist! My little incident actually happened yesterday.

    Brush and Comb

    When the first thing she said was, Somebody stole my brush and comb!
    I knew our phone call would be brief. Take some of my money and
    buy me a brush and comb and bring it to me! Tell a nurse; they will get
    you what you need. No! They won’t! Let me talk to a nurse. Nurse! Nurse!
    hang this up for me! In 75 years I had never been so dismissed by Mom.

    It stung; another prick in a bad day. You can’t reason with schizophrenia.
    I had tried for years, always, always suffering defeat. Maybe, not defeat;
    suffering acknowledgement, nasty moments of knowing helplessness. Yet,
    she is right. I’ve worn my twenty year old Corona Extra cap for two days.
    Even in the house! It’s time I shower and brush and comb my nasty hair.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ruth
    September 4, 2021

    What poignant and beautiful eloquence emerges from your immersion in that mud.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. christineskarbek
    September 4, 2021

    i was thinking of posting something very personal on my f/b wall until i read this. will have to think again. your childhood must have been un vrai cauchemar.

    Liked by 1 person

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