Ex #1: Take a big piece of paper and sketch out, draw, the neighborhood (or the place, wherever it may have been) where you grew up, where you spent your childhood: the beautiful places, the places you weren’t supposed to go, the dark and shadowy places. Write a poem about it.
Ex #2: Make a map of your life: a life map. Include the places where you have lived, the people who have been important to you, the decisions you have made that have shaped your identity. Once you have made it, choose part of it and write about it in a poem.
Ex #3: Look at old maps. These could be copies of Renaissance maps online or maps stashed in your car or maps folded into old copies of National Geographic. Just look at old maps. What did they make you remember? Write poems about those memories.
Picturing the past
Ex #4: Find a photograph from your childhood that is particularly meaningful to you. What story does it tell? What does it hide? Is there a hidden truth, whether comforting or cutting, in the composition or collage of images in the picture? Write about these questions and their possible answers in a poem.
Ex #5: Look at a painting. It could be a painting in a museum or in your house or in a college art exhibit. What inside of you connects with what’s pictured in front of you? What part of your past experience resonates with the painting and why? Write a poem about this.
Imagining voices in dialogue
Ex #6: What if Queen Elizabeth I met John the Baptist? What would they say to one another? What if Napoleon met Sappho or Sophocles? What if Homer met John Keats? (In a way, they did meet. See “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer”!) Write a poem that is a dialogue between two people from history.
Ex #7: What if you could send a message from yourself, with the wisdom you have now, to the soul of yourself when you were a child? What if the soul of the child you were could speak to you now? What would you say? Write out that conversation.
Ex #8: What do you want to hear God say to you? Or your guardian angel, who has watched over you since you were born? Or your old lover who won’t speak to you in real life? Or a friend who is far away? Or your child who is not yet born? Use your imagination to listen. Write a poem in response to what you hear.
Ex.#9: Write one poem in the style of another. To start thinking about how to do this, read John Keats’ odes to Autumn, the Grecian Urn, and the Nightingale, and then read Countee Cullen’s poem, “To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time.” Then find two poems by two different poets and write the one poem in the style of the other. Consider form, diction, and theme.