Dave's Poetry Workshop: Exercise #3

By David Van Etten:

Exercise #3:


This month’s exercise outlines a tried-and-true set of prompts that I have returned to again and again over the past 25 years. It is my Ur exercise. It is derived from “20 Little Poetry Projects” by Jim Simmerman in the Practice of Poetry. I encourage you to try it, and I encourage you to return to it like I do, if it provides inspiration.


As in the previous exercise, these prompts are not intended to unreasonably restrict you, but instead to bypass your intention and more directly access your imagination. If you stumble on one of the steps, skip it. If you skip a step and later feel drawn to return to it, do so. The end product will be a poem of vivid sensation, and surreal logic, and expansive variety of idea and image and trope. Trust me on this one—you will love it. Enjoy!


1. Begin the poem with a metaphor.

2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.

3. Use at least one image for each of the five senses, either in succession or scattered randomly throughout the poem.

4. Use one example of synesthesia (mixing the senses).

5. Use the proper name of a person and the proper name of a place.

6. Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.

7. Change direction or digress from the last thing you said.

8. Use a word (slang?) you’ve never seen in a poem.

9. Use an example of false cause-effect logic.

10. Use a piece of “talk” you’ve actually heard (preferably in dialect and/or which you don’t understand).

11. Create a metaphor using the following construction: “The (adjective) (concrete noun) of (abstract noun) . . .”

12. Use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities.

13. Make the persona or character in the poem do something he/she could not do in “real life.”

14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.

15. Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.

16. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.

17. Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but that finally makes no sense.

18. Use a phrase from a language other than English.

19.  Make a nonhuman object say or do something human (personification).

20.  Close the poem with a vivid image that makes no statement, but that “echoes” an image from earlier in the poem.

Click here for of a Review of last month's lesson at Dave's Poetry Workshop.

David Van Etten is a lawyer, teacher, uncle, theologian and poet. Van Etten's poetry is regular feature on Flapper Press, and his newest collection of poetry. Twist the Blue Burlap Inside You, will soon be available for purchase. His regular poetry educational series—Dave's Poetry Workshop can be seen monthly, along with his ongoing series of posts about his journey through recovery from colorectal cancer.

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