One of the things I think my students and new poets find most difficult about writing poetry is that they want a set of rules to follow: start each sentence with a capital, use complete sentences, make things rhyme, and make everything make sense. What I try to teach them is that some of the best poems or at least the seed of a good poem, can often be found more easily if you break the rules or throw the idea of rules out the window.

Now I’m not saying I find this easy to do. But when I do it, and when I share, it often cracks something open for the writer. To do this I go back to my giant stash of things cut from magazines. (I keep a stack of magazines and a pair of scissors near where I sit to watch TV. It’s a good thing to do at that time.) I go through a magazine and I cut out phrases that I find interesting. In this stash they are all phrases, no individual words. No punctuation marks. In the classroom I put a pile of phrases in front of each student.

The rules are this:
1. Use as many or as few of the phrases as you want.
2. Do not cut/tear the words apart to make other words. You have to use them just as they are.
3. Do not write new words or punctuation on scraps of paper to add to the poem.

You’d think these would be easy rules to follow but a lot of people get hung up on not having complete sentences or not making perfect sense. You can give this a try using the phrases that I share in the picture or you can grab a magazine of your own and cut out a stash of phrases that speak to you.

Here’s my set I chose to work with for this poem (click on the picture to see it full size):

And here’s the poem I came up with as a result.

Family is what you have
at break of day
listening around corners
like father, like daughter
tell me lies one by one
imagine the possibilities
behind the mask
and still the story
something very sorry
in my home

I like it. I might choose to go back and revise it into something more but I also like it just as it is.

Your turn.