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Workshop - Poetry Boot Camp

Stuart Ross

December 8, 2003

Ottawa Writer's Festival, National Library & Archives

Block Busters - Things to Get You Writing

Ground Rules

· No rhymes.

· No poems called "loneliness".

· No abstractions. Concentrate on images.

List Poem

· Example - Joe Brainer "I remember"; bpNicol "Silent Writing"; Elaine Equi.

· Each line begins with:




· Writing the second half of the sentence. Write a fragment of a sentence.

Limited Vocabulary

· Poem using words from a limited word list.

· No "I", "He", "She", "Our", "We".


· Three lines (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables).

· Don't worry about the syllable count for the first draft.

· Ron Padgett's rules of Haiku:

- Write 2 lines that are nature based.

- Third line is completely unrelated and is in an urban setting.

- Makes an unconscious leap between them.

· Successful poems make a leap or turn at some point. Example - Robert Bly "Leaping Poetry".

List Poem - Inventory

· Inventory of items or things.

· Think of an important room in your life.

· List the things found in that room.

· Evoke the feeling of the room by your description of the items.

· Do not mention self.

· Do not use any emotional words.

"After" Poems

· Pick a poem that uses a variety of shifting images. Example - "The Sun" by Georg Trakl.

Copy the poem so that it is double-spaced.

Read the lines of the poem.

Write between the lines - write the missing line. It can be what you think the missing line is or your reaction to the imagery of the line. It can relate to the line directly or not.

The final step is to remove the lines of the original poem.

2nd Person

Write a poem in second person, second tense.

Chose some incident that happened to you. Write about it in second person voice.

This is a narrative poem.

Use direct language. No ideas, no consequences, just what happened.

"You" - the person it happened to or the person it is being explained to.

Foreign Language

Choose a poem in a foreign language you do not understand.

Translate the poem.

The "translation" will have the same form and punctuation as the original poem.

1st Person Thing

Think of an inanimate object like a paperclip.

Write a poem in first person from the point of view of that object. Example - Nicanor Parra.

Question and Answer

This is a series of misunderstanding.

Create a list of questions.

The answers to those questions don't quite correlate. They are sort of related but they are evasive.


1. Question.

2. Answer.

3. Question.

4. Answer.

Other Possibilities of Block Busters

Letter Poems. Example - Gabriel Gooding "The Defense of Poetry".

Write a poem from the bottom up. Start with the ending and work backwards.

Bread and Butter


Get rid of all the words that don't belong.

Be specific.

Be detailed.

Get rid of generalities.

"to be" - kill it, there is no action.

Put in action.

Make the language as rich as possible.


Submissions to publications, magazines, publishers. Know the magazine. Look through the Mags & Fags literary section - send 3 to 6 poems (for selection and range) to the ones you like.

Query if publishers will accept unsolicited manuscripts.

E-mail or mail (with SASE) with a cover letter that reviews where you've been published, awards, etc.


Copyright is automatic on anything you write in Canada. As backup, write "copyright" on the publication with the year and your name.

Good for feedback.

Handout at readings.

Make a limited number of copies (25-100).


Toronto Small Press Book Fair.

Ottawa Small Press Book Fair (Span-o).