These “tricks” are from a worksheet written by John M. Bennett, handed out during national poetry month (April 2016), for the occasion of a workshop we were invited to give to members of the Ohio Poetry Association:
SOME OF JOHN M. BENNETT”S POETRY TRICKS
Rewrite a poem backwards
This can be done in several ways. Rearrange the poems with the words in
backward order or rearrange the lines in reverse order, for example. Or, for a
special treat, spell each word backward, drawkcab, while leaving the words
themselves in the same order, or rearrange them in reverse order, etc.
Start a poem in the middle
This can be done by rearranging an existing poem by rewriting it starting
from a point in the middle. When you reach the middle of the rewritten
poem, add the title (perhaps in bold), and continue with the “first” part of the
poem. With a little practice, you can write a poem from scratch in this way.
Constantly repeat a word or a phrase
This can create some great rhythmic effects. Don’t worry too much about
proper syntax. You can emphasize the repeated elements with italics, upper
This can multiply the apparent number of voices and perspectives in a
poem, and have other effects. In general, you can mix syntactical and
grammatical structures to create multiple layers of meaning and resonance.
Use popular misspellings to create multiple voices or perspectives. You can
also create your own misspellings for expressive or performative effects.
Cut-ups and tear-ups
The numbers of ways to do this are only limited by your imagination. By
disassembling and reassembling existing texts you will discover new meanings
and resonances you might not have thought of. With some practice, you will
come to be able to write in this manner skipping the step of cutting or tearing
up. You will have found a whole new dimension of language in which to
express yourself. It is especially thrilling to cut up your own texts in these ways.
If you have any level of knowledge of a foreign language or languages, use
them freely in what you write. If you know no other language than your own,
learn a new one. It is amazing what this does for your ability to express
yourself in general, and to understand how language can work.
This is a kind of fake translating, in which you “translate” a text from one
language to another without regard to what a bilingual dictionary might suggest.
It is not necessary to know the language you are transducing from. One way to
do this is called “homophonic translation” in which you use words in your
language that merely “sound like” the words in the original. You can also
transduce by opening your mind to the resonant associations a word in a
source language suggest to you. It is also fun to transduce within a language: ie,
transduce an English text into a new English text.
Create a new form
All poetry has some kind of form, even so-called “free verse”. The
possibilities of creating new forms are infinite. Try writing a “formless” poem,
and then using the result as a form: that is, write more poems in the same
form. You can also modify existing forms: how about a 15-line sonnet in
which the central line is a title? You can imagine forms using any of the
techniques in this list. You can thunk of a form before you write anything, and
then see how it works. Or you can let a form evolve out of something
“formless” that you write.
Written language that cannot be “read” because it has no apparent words or
letters in it, but looks like it does. Fake writing, if you will. This is often done
with handwriting, but can also be done typographically. It can be used as a
score for Dada-like sound-poetry performance.
March 2016 – John M. Bennett
More info about John M. Bennett from the back cover of his latest publication, THE WORLD OF BURNING:
John M. Bennett’s poetry encapsulates the chaos characterizing our experience of and in this world, giving it a form and presence in words, phonemes, languages, and metaphor so compact and multi-meaningful, so ambiguous, that his poems glitter in their condensed expressive emotionality. The result is a universe that is gritty, carnal, and at the same time metaphysical and sublime, resonating in multiple worlds, cultures, times, and consciousnesses. Bennett does not “write poetry”, but uses poetry as a means of understanding and creating what cannot be understood and what cannot exist, but does very much exist in these pages. In the over 50 years of his writing, he has published more than 400 books and chapbooks, each quite different, yet distinctly Bennett, and has developed a startling variety of innovative techniques and approaches. His Select Poems appeared in 2016.