Every Poet Needs a Great Tool Kit



A couple of weeks ago I posted a link to an Tweetspeak article discussing a toolkit to help poets when they are stuck. The article explored five online tools –rhyming dictionary, reverse dictionary, thesaurus, dictionary, and Google—and discussed the merits of each. This week I want to talk about my favorite tool for charging up my writing and it’s about as low-tech as you can imagine. Yes, I still use a paper dictionary, paper thesaurus, and paper rhyming dictionary. For me, there’s something comforting in the heft of the book and the chance to find words next to words that might lead to a new place…like sorting through old buttons and finding unexpected treasures.

This tool is simple, straightforward, uncomplicated, and my friend Grace Cavalieri shared it with me as one of her go-to tips. She calls it “points in space” and I just call it the ten word game. Collect ten words from anywhere-a newspaper article, a novel, a label, a poem. Use them to write a brand new poem or to help you revise a poem that isn’t working. I actually wrote one of the poems in my new book using the ten word technique to shift me into the right space.

There’s something about the limit of the ten words and the idea of forced association, a creativity tool widely used in problem solving that really helps to get me moving. I usually write the ten words on slips of paper or notecards and actually move them around until some kind of an association forms. Other times, if I’m blocked and just don’t feel like anything is working, I set a timer and write whatever comes to me with the ten words.

Here’s one I wrote last summer using the words habit, banal, sliver, outhouse, weep, crazed, plead, insanity, fading. I managed to use seven from this bunch.

You’re a Habit
impossible to break, no matter how I plead
insanity or dance crazed as a dervish in a hurricane.
Lock me in the outhouse
put the bell out of reach
hide the Precious –I’ll fight my way
back to you like an Iron Girl in a triathalon
water, roads, rusty bicycles
just to see the silver of your fading smile.
No more banal weeping
over what might have been.

Try using the same ten words above or select ten of your own at random. Give the technique a try and see if it helps you with either rewriting a poem or coming up with a fresh idea. I’d love to hear about your experiences

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