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Is there any way to “jumpstart” a poem?

 Q.  How do I start a poem?  I have a lot of ideas and feelings but get overwhelmed.  Is there any way to “jumpstart” a poem? —Mercedes, Roseville, MN

A.  Yes, there are actual “tricks of the trade” to start the writing process.  First, it goes without saying, as writers, we are reading every night and carrying our notebooks around each day to collect images.  But there are times when this all turns to glue inside and we want to be free and just write.  Here are a couple exercises that might be helpful:

1.  Let go.  Leaf through books of poetry and pick out, at random, twenty “beautiful” words—not whole phrases, just words.  Jot them down in scattered fashion on a piece of paper.  Next, start connecting them to strands of thought.  You can add words as you go or drop some.  The result will be surreal, like the nighttime mind, but language will start creating thought-forms and lines will develop.  Place them vertically on another page.  The result will be unrealistic, but that’s okay.  You have officially “started” your poem.

2.  Enter the past.  Close your eyes and imagine your life as a building.  Each year is a different floor.  Take the elevator up to the fifth floor (5 years old).  Get off the elevator and look around.  What do you see?  Go through the home where you lived.  Who is there?  What’s happening?  Write down the emotional experience you witness:  Was it a gift?  A betrayal?  A disappointment?  A surprise?  A rejection?  If nothing is on that floor, go up to the next floor.  You have a story for every “floor” of your life.