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American Sentences
Organic Poetry
Duo Corpse Exercise

Grid Exercise


Here is an exercise Danika Dinsmore created during her work at SPLAB! She took a page (a magnet, really) out of the poetry rage at the time Magnetic Poetry. (You probably still have some of these magnets on your fridge, still organized in the poems a child or guest left them in.) Like other poems with shared authorship, the pressure is off the individual because of the exchange aspect of the exercise. Participants are not as self-conscious about their work.




Hand out a grid with at least 25 boxes. (The one here has 28.) Pick a topic that is specific, but not too much so. The town in which you live is a good idea, (or watershed), a season, or, as in the case below, Animals. Give the students about three minutes to fill the boxes with words that they think exemplify that topic, one word per box, no repeating words. They can write a sentence, one word per box in whatever comes up spontaneously.








king salmon





After the grids have been filled, the participants exchange them. Using someone elseís words, they get ten minutes to create a poem. They donít have to use ALL the words and can repeat them. In fact, repetition is one trope that can work well in this exercise. Changing tenses and making words plural is fine, but adding substantial words is frowned upon. The notion is that we get stuck in our individual vocabularies. Remember Jack Spicerís alleged famous last words: My vocabulary did this to me! Well, you can blame someone else for the result of the poem and this is a trick which takes the pressure off.


Participants are encouraged to read across, or down, or diagonally to find new word combinations that sound good to them. As Duke Ellington said: If it SOUNDS good, it is.


An example:†††


Animals: A Translation


humans†† harvest


in the distant


exotic kisses slither

(are) endangered

piglets love

growling together††† it all changes

now†† in wild cycles






the distant



at last


††††††††††† (Michael Ricciardi)


Ricciardiís love for humanity shines through this poem. Truth is, this can kick folks out of their comfort zone and works amazingly well, as long as folks are not too hung up on part one, getting the boxes filled with words. Really. You have to crack the whip on the first part of the exercise. When done well, the poems are full of what Allen Ginsberg calls Surprise Mind, a quality difficult for some people to get into their own work. It also forces participants to bust up normal syntax, a difficulty for grammar-addled folks.



11:42P Ė 7.15.09