Week Four: Exchange

After three weeks of daily writing, you will have a stack of new work that you might not be sure if you like or not. That’s normal. A key element in any sustained creative practice is to cultivate an active engagement with others and to participate in an exchange of ideas and energy. Follow your curiosity, be generous, find friends who challenge and inspire you to try new things in your writing.

This week, keep doing everything you’ve been doing that works, but start looking back at what you’ve already done. Have you written anything you’d like to share? Be sure to treat your work with respect — even if someone else doesn’t like it, don’t throw it out or decide that you were wasting your time. Finding supportive readers for your work is excellent, but it’s also ok if you really only want to show a poem to your best friend, or a member of your family, or a great teacher. The idea is to find ways to connect writing — which is generally a solitary activity — to a community of people who inspire you to do more.


Ideas for engaging in the circulation of poetic energy:

Put together a folder of everything you’ve written and take care of it. Make a point to type up new drafts of poems as you work on them.

Consider submitting a poem or two to your school literary journal.

If your school doesn’t have one, consider starting a literary journal for your school. Find a friend or group of friends to help.

Make your own online poetry magazine or handmade zine and publish your friends. (Don’t use any work without the author’s permission!)

Make a list of the writers you admire who are alive. Write one of them a letter. You can send it in c/o their publisher, or maybe you just write it to write it. In that case, why not write a letter to a dead poet too? I’m sure they’d love to hear from you.

Write a short review of a book that you’re willing to read very closely (and that means reading the whole book at least twice). Be honest and engage with the work on its own terms. What worked for you, what didn’t work? Do some research online and read at least ten book reviews before you try to write one, paying attention to the range of approaches different reviewers use.

Go online and find out what kind of readings and book launches might be happening where you live that are open to young people attending. While some poetry readings take place in bars, others take place at local universities, libraries, and bookstores. Find your local literary calendar and pick something you’d like to check out.

If there’s an open mic night that you can attend in your town, go and read. And listen. If there isn’t an open mic night available, consider starting one at your school.

See if there are any local writing workshops or groups that are open to young writers.

Get together with one or more like-minded friends and write together, in a public place like a café or someone’s house. Just writing in the same room as someone else, silently, can shift your attention in an unexpected way.

The filmmaker Robert Altman said, “Everyone should operate in the way that suits them best.” Find your way! Operate!


Writing Exercises:


Try writing collaboratively with a small group of friends. Take a cue from the French Surrealists and play their “Exquisite Corpse” parlour game. Have the first person write a line at the top of a piece of paper and then pass it to the second person who writes the second line and then carefully folds the paper so that the third person can only see what the second line says. The third person adds a line and then folds again so that the fourth person can only see the third line. Do a few rounds of this and then unfold the paper and read the whole thing out loud.


Write a poem with a friend by trading lines as you pass the paper back and forth. In the world of improvisational comedy, the spirit of collaborative creation is boiled down to these two words: “Yes and….” Which means you never shut down a direction the other person opens up, you just add to it. See where 15 minutes of this takes you.


From the Library

  • Check out some literary journals, like Brick, Poetry, Little Brother, Riddle Fence, or go online and check out websites like The Puritan or The Town Crier. Look for poems that you like and copy them in your Inspiration Book. Look out for poets who might live in your town and, if you find ones you like, pay attention to whether or not they are giving readings or teaching workshops that you can attend. Get their books out of the library. Or you can check out a biography on a poet you love and take notes on how they engaged in literary exchange. (Did he or she start a literary magazine? Teach? Did they hang out with other poets? Collaborate with artists in other fields, like musicians or dancers or painters?) And while you’re at the library, check the listings board for readings, workshops, and other events.


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