Lately I’ve been searching for new exercises and activities to do with my writing group. One which I haven’t yet tried, but always wanted to, was to take an existing poem (or other text), cut up all the words, and then create new poems from those words.
I rummaged around on The Poetry Foundation and came up with September Tomatoes by Karina Borowicz. I really liked the language and it was the right length (ie lots of words to play with, but not too many to become distracting!). I printed out several copies of the poem and snipped each one up into individual words. Each person at the group was given a little bag of words to play around with, and we came out with some really interesting results.
These are the pieces I came up with. Some of them are more finished than others!
This was the first piece I put together, and the one I had the most time for. I didn’t quite use all the words from the original text, but almost. I really enjoyed writing this, it felt like I was able to be quite creative and imaginative but within a limited framework. Other members of the group imposed their own additional structure, like dividing the words into smaller piles, and trying to make lines from one pile at a time.
I really enjoyed writing the short one above above; I felt like I had a really distinct voice in my head, so I might go back and write some more.
As you can tell, I was really enjoying playing around with the words ‘whiskey’ and ‘season’. Great-grandmother proved a favourite with everyone too, especially tied to words like ‘rot’, ‘stink’ and ‘dying’.
I found it interesting that our poems were, almost universally, very dark, but when you look at the original poem it is much more bittersweet.
If you’re struggling for something to write, or even just fancy having a play, I really recommend this game. I took the words back to the shop with me after and had a lot of fun encouraging customers to create poems on the counter. It’s a really relaxing exercise, because while it encourages you to be creative and lyrical, it also does a lot of the work for you in terms of language choice.