Susan Tichy
George Mason
Bouncing Off Walls

G e t  S o m e t h i n g  G o i n g

Free Writing 
Do this exercise at least twice a day for anything up to 20 minutes. It may help to do it when you are tired, just waking up, have just worked out, or are upset, agitated, elated -- in other words, whenever you are not feeling average.

Start at the top of a page and write without stopping for a set period of time or until you reach a certain predetermined point on the page. Keep it short at the beginning, maybe 5 minutes, but gradually lengthen your time. Once you start writing you may not stop till your time expires. ° Try to write concretely, sensuously, in images and sounds. Don’t worry about sense, logic, grammar, etc. ° Stop when your time or your space runs out. Put the page away and don’t look at again for at least a week..

After a week, take out your Free Write pages & read them. Underline whatever seems strangest, most interesting, most bizarre, even scary. Pay particular attention to things you don’t remember having written and to things you would not ordinarily write.

Pull out the fragments, which may range from single words to whole paragraphs. Clean up the grammar or spelling or whatever -- unless the mistakes are themselves interesting or useful. Type them out double or triple spaced; you will probably have a couple of pages or so. ° Repeat this process on the new, reduced pages, being a little harder this time in your definition of “interesting”, but keeping the strange. At this stage you can begin to change or add to them, paying attention to where they are leading you, not to how you can whip them into shape.

Put those that seem to belong together on a single page and use them as the basis for a draft of a poem. You may produce more than one poem from this process.

Variation & Return
Choose as a “base line” a line or part of a line which you find rhythmically and sensuously compelling. Write it down. Now read it aloud and write whatever comes to mind. Keep writing, line after line, without stopping, editing, or reflecting. Write as quickly and continuously as possible. ° If you get stuck, or have the urge to stop and read what you’ve done, intervene by writing the base line again. ° Keep writing it until the unmediated flow of words resumes. Write at least to the bottom of your page; several pages is even better. Put the page away and don’t look at it again for at least a week.

After a week, take out your draft of “Variation & Return” and use it as the first draft of a poem. Shape your poem on the idea of improvisation that returns repeatedly to something fixed. Let your base line repeat whenever and wherever you need it. Don't push it into a regularized refrain that pops up in the same place every time, such as the end of each stanza. You want something less predictable, but just as compelling. The metaphor might be variations played by a Jazz musician, or a young child straying tentatively away from its parents but always returning to check that they are still there. In any case the pattern is write / repeat / write / repeat. 

If you liked this one, you may want to write a poem next in which a phrase, motif, or bit of diction recurs -- not as a refrain but each time in some slight variation. Place its recurrences at regular or irregular intervals. The end of the poem may complete our sense of pattern or release us from it.

Homophonic Translation an exercise invented by Charles Bernstein
Take a poem or part of a poem in a foreign language--preferably a language you don’t read. Translate it word for word according to what it sounds like in English. Make free use slang and nonstandard English. Don’t worry about syntax. Put the page away and don’t look at it again for at least a week. ° After a week, take it out and read it and begin to make it into a poem. The poem may stay "nonsense" or an idea may begin to emerge. In either case, don't refer back to the model poem, and don't try too hard to tame the new poem's strangeness.

Total Transfusion 
The poem below is called a "transfusion" because it transfuses language from one context to another. Study the poem below, then choose your own source and write your own transfusion based on punning and sound resemblance.

© Evan Oakley, ENGL 564 1991, used with permission

What's so specious about
oat bran? Plenty! Oat
bran contains two hypes
of fibrosis, curable
and incurable, both of
which are condemned as
impotent parts of a
stealthful, unbalanced
Most other serial brains,
such as sweat and porn,
do not have significant
amounts of global fire.
But because it's made
from whore rain,
(including all the
coat lint), Cheroots
contains the molecule
that's preternaturally
sent in the ode itself.
A fast that eludes
an owl of cherries,
low-fact milquetoast,
a bandanna, is a castaway
to get morose bran
and insoluble ire
into your Fiat.

Collage Cut-Up derived from work by Tistan Tzara
Take a page of text, any kind of text as long as it in no way resembles your own vocabulary. Intercut lines and phrases from this text with lines and phrases of your own. You may want to literally alternate lines, cutting up syntax and disregarding sentence completion, or you may want to use larger chunks. Think of this exercise as shifting frames around, as a film-maker does.
° You may also do this exercise using two or more sources. Choose texts that do not resemble each other.

Random Generation
For this exercise you must, as the poet Jackson Mac Low says, 'make your own system' for collecting material out of a text.  You may collect sentences, phrases, or words. The key is to choose your source text subjectively, but make your method of extraction objective.

First, choose a text that has resonance for you, whether aesthetic, moral, philosophical or otherwise. Don't choose a poem, but there are no other restrictions: newspaper, biography, travelogue, whatever. ° Next, devise a method for selecting from it words, phrases or sentences. It is important that you make your own system, but here are some examples:

a) Choose a key word, then select the first word that begins with your key word's first letter, followed by the first word that begins with the second letter, etc. For example, if your key word was "select" and you used these instructions for your source text, you would list says, excercise, low, examples, collecting, this. If you were using a longer source text (as you probably will be) you could get a wider sampling of its diction by taking your words in order instead of taking first words. That is, the first word starting with 's', the next word starting with 'e', and so forth.

b) Choose a book as your source text. Quickly, without much thinking, write down a list of page numbers. Take the first sentence on each page with that number -- or the fifth sentence, or whatever. If you've listed a page number higher than the number of pages in the book, subtract the number of the book's last page from that higher number and use the page number that results. You could vary this method, and get shorter fragments, by taking the first five words on each page.

A quick comparison of these two systems reveals that the system you devise will have a lot to do with how random the resulting text will be and what kind of work you might do with it next. In my first example, your raw material is a lexicon; in my second example, your raw material is a series of sentences.

How Random Is Random?
In some exercises you may be working with rough material whose origins are less rational than you are used to. If you want to bring this material into dialogue with your rational side, or with your sense of poetic charm, try one of these methods:

a) Interlayer your poem with illocutionary effects -- that is, with words and phrases that either address the reader/listener directly or signal the presence of a speaker. Examples might be cue words like listen or look, self-tagging phrases like all I'm saying is or that isn't really what I meant. Walt Whitman and Marianne Moore are two of many poets who use this method to good effect.

b) Interlayer your poem with rhetorical effects associated with argument or logical exposition, words like then, therefore, however, or phrases like it stands to reason, anyone can see that, or with markers of sequence, like first, second, or in the beginning, later, or in April, in May.

c) Write your poem as a single periodic sentence, whose grammatical completion is delayed but always anticipated, so that the conclusion of the grammar conveys a sense of logical or emotional conclusion as well. Neruda's early poems in book one of Residence on Earth provide many examples of this.

d) Forget rational closure, but use methods of aural closure: repetition, variation from and return to a pattern, metrical regularity, a strong rhyme or other increased density of sound effect at the end of the poem, etc.