Structure and Surprise, ed. Michael Theune (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2007)

This week’s prompt is less of a prompt and more of an invitation to check out this book on poetic structure published by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative.  Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns is a collection of essays by noteworthy poets like D.A. Powell and Prageeta Sharma, which discusses the use of “the turn” in poetry writing; that is, the energetic leap or shift that occurs as the mind works through form to create dynamic patterns of thought.  In his introduction to the essays, Michael Theune says:

Poetic structure is, simply, the pattern of a poem’s turning.  As such, poetic structure identifies a vital feature of poems: the best poems very often include convincing, surprising turns… [I]n a lecture called “Levels and Opposites: Structure in Poetry,” Randall Jarrell claims that “a successful poem starts from one position and ends at a very different one, often a contradictory or opposite one; yet there has been no break in the unity of the poem.”

One of the structures discussed in Structure & Surprise is the retrospective-prospective structure, a two-part structure that begins with a retrospective discussion of the past and then moves toward a future orientation that shows, as the essay’s author, Mark Yakich, puts it, how “inconstant and dizzying” time really is.  While you’re welcome to browse the list of structures on the book’s extraordinarily helpful website to find one that might work better for whichever writing/revision process you’re currently in, I’d recommend trying this particular approach for starters.

Prompt: write a two-part poem that uses the retrospective-prospective structure to narrate a past event or memory.  Midway through the poem, shift to the present tense to “acknowledge some kind of change” (p. 72) that allows the speaker to either look prospectively into the future, or reconsider the past through a different lens.

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For a list of additional structures and supplemental materials, check out the Structure & Surprise website .

For more writing prompts on structure, take a look at Iris’ Ordering, Reordering, Reversing or last October’s prompt, Complicating Narrative Structure.

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