Category Archives: Writing Workshop Exercise

What’s your triggering town?

The Triggering Town Cover

The Triggering Town

One of the first critical essays I ever read was The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo. (You can buy it here for $1 !) …It was brought to me in my first writing class taught by BJ Ward…this essay and then the rest of the book of essays have been with me ever since and I read it at least once a year to refresh myself on things….this book has been a big influence when choosing pieces for The Idiom and a lot of little hints about quality writing come from this book.
In It Hugo compares each piece we write to its own triggering town and his advice focuses around treating your pieces like a town….Here is a link to the introduction of the book which is the essay I received in that class….Read it slow, absorb every paragraph and relate to it…..

Later in the book Hugo has a chapter called, Assumptions…He starts it like this….

Assumptions lie behind the work of all writers. The writer is unaware of most of them, and many of them are weird. Often the weirder the better. Words love the ridiculous areas of our minds. But silly or solid, assumptions are necessary elements in a successful base of writing operations. It is important that a poet not question his or her assumptions, at least not in the middle of composition. Finish the poem first, then worry, if you have to, about being right or sane.

Whenever I see a town that triggers whatever it is inside me that wants to write a poem, I assume at least one of the following:

Then he lists a bunch of one liners….Here are some that I liked,

  • The name of the town is significant and must appear in the title.
  • The inhabitants are natives and have lived there forever. I am the only stranger.
  • I have lived there all my life and should have left long ago but couldn’t
  • The town is closely knit, and the community is pleasant, I am not a part of it but I am a happy observer.
  • A hermit lives on the outskirts in a one-room shack. He eats mostly fried potatoes. He spends hours looking at old faded photos. He has not spoken to anyone in years. Passing children often taunt him with songs and jokes.
  • The population does not vary.
  • The population decrease slightly each year.
  • No music
  • Lots of excellent music coming from far off. People never see or know who is playing.
  • Dogs road the streets.
  • The town doctor is corrupt and incompetent.
  • No snow
  • Lots of rain
  • The jail is always empty
  • The team is in last place every year
  • People sit a lot on their porches

This isn’t the complete list but what stuck out to me as I flipped through the chapter….Check out the introduction and if you have any thoughts or comments or anything post them here….and hopefully you got something from this….

Patricia Smith’s Sonnet’s

Every Tuesday night before we attend the open mic at the Annex, a small group of us gather to workshop another person’s poem and use a prompt to try and spark another collection of words out of us.  Sometimes we don’t have a poem to workshop and Josh Ballard will get us to discuss some issue concerning poetry techniques or some dilemma frustrating the spoken word and writing world that we live in….This week we talked about the devices we use in our poems when writing them….

Many of the basic ones were addressed, plot, personification, allegory, setting, and of course form.  The form of our poems are mostly free verse, but occasionally you have someone try to write a villanelle – haikus are very popular with our group – but beyond all that Josh talked about keeping the form and tweeking them just a lil bit and briefly mentioned Patricia Smith’s collection of sonnets that she has….

That made me go back and search for some of her sonnets today as I sat in work looking for something to do besides work and I found Patricia’s ‘crown’ of sonnets entitled Motown Crown.  In case you fail to notice you’ll see its a collection of 15 sonnets the first line of each one using the last line of the previous one….then for the epic ending the 15th sonnet uses all 14 of the previous lines….$5,000 for the next writer who can do that successfully…..go
Motown Crown by Patricia Smith

First Workshop Exercise: In Order to be Good they are always Forgetting…

Basis for the writing exercise / workshop

Alright, so lately I have been creating little workshop ideas in my head.  Sometimes they are based off of poems, sometimes they are based off of things I do or see and write about.

I’ll be putting out a workshop exercise at the beginning of each month and you can share the poems you write based on them here in the comments section or perhaps send them for a possible submission to The Idiom Magazine at ….maybe you’ll hate what you write or not write anything and that’s ok too.  But keep writing and something is bound to happen eventually….I think the odds are for us if we do that….right?

First Writing Exercise:  Based off the poem, “The Noise the Hairless Make”

So this first assignment is based off of Stephen Dobyns poem “The Noise the Hairless Make”.  I have his bookVelocitiesand really love the whole book.  This was one of the first pieces that stuck out for me:

“The Noise the Hairless Make”

How difficult to be an angel.
In order to forgive, they have no memory.
In order to be good, they are always forgetting.
How else could heaven be run? Still,
it needs to be full of teachers and textbooks
imported from God’s own basement, since only
in hell is memory exact. In one classroom,
a dozen angels scratch their heads as their teacher
displays the cross-section of a human skull,
saying, Here is the sadness, here
the anger, here’s where laughter is kept.
And the angels think, How strange, and take notes
and would temper their forgiveness if it weren’t
all forgotten by the afternoon. Sometimes
a group flies down to earth with their teacher,
who wants them to study a living example, and
this evening they find a man lying in a doorway
in an alley in Detroit. They stand around
chewing their pencils as their teacher says,
This is the bottle he drinks from when he
wants to forget, this is the Detroit Tigers
T-shirt he wears whenever he’s sad, this is
the electric kazoo he plays in order to weep.
And the angels think, How peculiar, and wonder
whether to temper their forgiveness or just
let it ride, which really doesn’t matter since
they forget the question as soon as it’s asked.
But their muttering wakes the man in the doorway,
who looks to see a flock of doves departing
over the trash cans. And because he dreamt
of betrayal and pursuit, of defeat in battle,
the death of friends, he heaves a bottle at them
and it breaks under a streetlight so the light
reflects on its hundred broken pieces with such
a multicolored twinkling that the man laughs.
From their place on a brick wall, the angels
watch and one asks, What good are they? Then
others take up the cry, What good are they,
what good are they? But as fast as they articulate
the question it’s forgotten and their teacher,
a minor demon, returns with them to heaven.
But the man, still chuckling, sits in his doorway,
and the rats in their dumpsters hear this sound
like stones rattling or metal banging together,
and they see how the man is by himself without
food or companions, without work or family
or a real bed for his body. They creep back
to their holes and practice little laughs
that sound like coughing or a dog throwing up
as once more they uselessly try to imitate
the noise the hairless make when defeated.

Whether you believe in angels or not you can’t deny how well this story is told and how beautifully it is laid out.  Every line runs so smooth and I wish even my blog posts could do that….but now those first few lines
How difficult to be an angel.
In order to forgive, they have no memory.
In order to be good, they are always forgetting.
How else could heaven be run?

He starts off really explaining why angels are the way they are….how they differ from humans.  The idea that they keep forgetting is what allows them to forgive or to be good is a great introduction.

I want you to write a poem that explains how angels differ from humans, what traits make them exist in ways that we are faulted….try to tell a story about the angels and make them as descriptive as possible….don’t like angels?  Use devils instead with that same rationale….don’t believe in angels or devils?  Try to write a piece based around our souls or some kind of afterlife explanation or aliens perhaps….put the angels in some kind of common situation (not a classroom though, like Dobyns did)  maybe write the situation first and the differences between them and humans may come after you write that out….

any questions post them in the comments section and we can discuss them as a group.