Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Poetry, Prose and Peripheral Vision

By Alice Trego             

Usually when I go to a writing conference, I attend workshops I believe will enhance my writing style, develop my voice, and hone my vocabulary.

This year at the 21st Annual Women Writing the West Conference in Redmond, OR, one of the Thursday pre-conference sessions, “From Shadow to Dance: Form, Function and Peripheral Vision in Poetry,” became a writing stepping stone for me. One that motivated and inspired me to pick up pen anew and set to paper the stories I’ve been wanting to write.

This presentation, given by WWW member Ellen Waterston, is where I learned that observing via our peripheral vision, noticing the things around us we take for granted, are impetus that can heighten our creativity and writing. Ellen suggested we might use a “frame,” an actual picture frame or shape our fingers together to form a different kind of frame, so we can find a focus. She also recommended we “…notice the temperature of words, the sounds of words…” to help polish our own words for our poetry or our prose.

Ellen showed the small group how we can find the right words that most elude writers. Besides using a thesaurus, incorporating various prompts can be effective writers’ tools. One prompt she described involves writing a list of 20 nouns and then listing 20 “subject-specific” verbs, blending them as many ways as possible to form “word collisions,” which all compel the reader to notice our deliberate vocabulary.

Another prompt she introduced is called “Borrowed Lines.” Each of us in the workshop opened a poetry book to a random page. We chose the first sentence that attracted us, and wrote it down on a piece of paper. We then passed the book to our right and the paper to the left.  This we repeated twice more, and each of us ended up with a paper that had three sentences retrieved from three different poems. Here are my three sentences:

               “A fragrance heavy as dust, and two young women…”
               “The sound was purple…”
               “So expertly she plays the chords…”

The next step was to choose single words, or phrases, or the whole sentence from the three sentences to begin our own poems. Ellen gave us a few minutes, and the result I found astounding. I have no idea where my words came from! But I know that writing a poem using this method can lead to an interesting piece of prose, as well. This is the poem I wrote:

               “The purple sound gave fragrance to the night women
               Expertly standing on the pavement,
               Their garb and makeup heavy as dust
               Reflecting off the buzzing neon.”

What intrigued me first in these “Borrowed Lines” -- “the sound was purple.” Immediately in my mind I saw a neon sign, two young women of the night standing on a corner, their makeup “heavy as dust,” their faces reflecting the neon light that buzzed.

For me, this exercise was an eye-opener. I discovered I had enhanced my writing style, developed my voice to another level, and I had honed my words. Maybe I paid attention to my peripheral vision, too? 


Alice Trego, WWW Past President, enjoys reading poetry, especially to discover what the poet is really saying to the reader by reading between the lines. This workshop was the third time she’s actually written a poem or two. 

For more information about Ellen Waterston, check her web site


Susan J Tweit said...

Clearly you did, Alice! I'm so glad that Ellen's workshop was so inspiring for you. I wish I could have gone too, but since I was teaching at the same time... Next time!

Shanna Hatfield said...

That is so inspiring, Alice! Cheering on your new level of writing and an extended peripheral vision.

Ginger Dehlinger said...

I attended, as well, and was amazed at the poem I came up with using Ellie's "borrowed lines" technique. And it jelled quickly, I might add, for a writer like me who takes forever to finish something.

Unknown said...

Alice, So glad you shared this. If I'd been able to attend, this is one workshop I wanted to go to. Getting a little snippet and your examples you shared was inspiring. Thanks again.

Judy Krueger said...

Nice! Inspiring as well.

Alice Trego said...

Thank you all for your kind comments here. If anything, this workshop was truly inspiring!

Carmen Peone said...

Oh my goodness. I love this! It's do hard to choose which session to go to. this was one obviously worth attending. Thank you for sharing, Alice.