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How to Write a Poem: Jealous Poem Stacks

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How to Write a Poem Sundial

How to Write a Poem: Jealousy Can Serve

It’s true. I love this red flag: jealousy.

Jealousy is that piquing of the soul: “I’m not happy. I want. Why not me?” It’s a key which I never, ever throw away (nor chide myself for). You could say I honor emotions for what they try to tell me—rather than judging them, feeling guilty, or sweeping them aside. As humans, we’re built to feel. I like to pay attention.

Paying attention to emotions is a great start. But if all we do is feel and sit still, it is quite likely we will drown in our feelings. So I always act. (And, sometimes, yes, my action is the seemingly sit-still choice to wait and figure things.)

Yes, I sometimes wait. But other times I act immediately. That’s how it went with my Jealous Poem Stacks.

I was reading the poems in Satellite Convulsions and feeling very simplistic. Such words these poets use! Such style they sport!

Part of me knows I’ll never be the kind of poet who uses complex words, but I didn’t care to shoo the feeling away. Instead, I took a very simple action and wrote down the words I loved. Unusual words. Words that felt good in the mouth. Words I’d never heard. Words I wished were mine. I sprinkled a few mundane words between. No one is really going to call these poems. They are poem stacks. Good for starting something. Good for jealous days.

Jealous Poem Stacks

Satellite, pp. 36-46

Deniers
shudder
desire’s
pallina
galehot
rapt
hard
licked
unobstructed
labyrinth
pillowed
passages
pledge
gelato
unknow

Satellite, pp. 1-35

Plum
jacaranda
eaves
weft
blurred
gestures
interlaced
symmetric
rotation
striation
suffused
crest
vertigo
autumnal
umbilical
pewter
marigolds
tongued
riverbeds
wandering
collide
nothing
desists
no
siren
chimes
surfeit

Teaching With Poem Stacks

Now the really fun thing is that I thought I was done with my poem stacks. I thought they were a private deal. It’s not like I was going to do anything further with them.

But last week I taught a workshop, and I wanted to get across the idea of how “mining” is part of the writing process. I brought a pile of books on rocks and minerals, North American birds, trees, wildflowers, mushrooms. And I asked the workshop participants to “mine” the books for words or phrases they loved, which they could then simply stack. The exercise was presented at two possible levels:

1. just “mine” and stack

2. “mine” and stack to answer a question like “How will I find my way?” or the Susan Wooldridge Goldsmith question “Who were you in my dreams?” (Or you could make up your own question or switch one of these around, like Donna did below.)

The results were most wonderful when participants read their stacks back to us. What might have initially felt like nonsense to the participants suddenly made sense, especially at the level of sound. Poems were being born, if only in the simplest way. And that is something to which I like to pay attention.

Who was I in your dream?

I was the
magnificent
descending
wail

rattling
voice
shink
shink
shink

I was the
green
winged
kestrel.

—Donna Falcone

Who were you in my dream?

details
hardness
carbonates
cleavage
rhombohedral
transparent
powdered
invisible
beautiful crystals
obsidian
primitive
razorsharp
concentric
crystalline tourmaline
weathered surface
rocksalt luster
subvitreous
visibly biogenic
conchoidal fracture

—Michelle Ortega

Who were you in my dreams?

star lily
immortal
bright yellow
tiger lily
the golden color of ripe wheat
ghost flower
lemony
golden ear drops
devil’s claw
fragile prickly pear

—Maureen Doallas

Poem Stack

Yuccas
Palmettos
Bipinnate
Catawba
Baldycypress = Swamp cypress
Loblolly Pine = Mud Puddle Pine
Persimmon = Possum Wood
Fringetree = Old Man’s Beard
Wild Olive = Devil wood
Pinckneya = Fever Tree

—Nancy Franson

Poem Stack

paw paw
edible autumn
dry to moist woodlands
husk
conspicuous
petallike bracts
poisonous lookalikes
phragmites
spotted touch-me-not
storksbill
rocky crevices
unadulterated
nanny berry

—L.W. Lindquist

How Can I Find My Way? (unfinished, based on poem stack above)

Next to the edible autumn,
between the conspicuous paw paw,
follow the husks, the petallike
bracts that grow out
of rocky crevices.
Avoid the poisonous touch-me-nots.
Turn when you see the storksbill,
keep going past the nanny berry
and the phragmites…

—L.W. Lindquist

Try a Poem Stack?

How about you? You needn’t be feeling jealous. You could be feeling inspired. Find a book of solid source material to “mine” and try stacking. We’d love to hear what you pick and place, word by intriguing word.

Photo by Basheer Tome, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by L.L. Barkat.

How to Read a Poem by Tania Runyan

Buy How to Read a Poem

Your Comments

30 Comments so far

  1. Marcy says:

    Well, I’m just blown away from all this writing, all of you had a mouthful of words to share. I can really relate to cleavage when I where my boat neck red sweater. Just had to throw that one in for my babies.

  2. LW Lindquist says:

    I’m in a Mary Ruefle state of mind this week. Just read this last night, which makes me think of the way the poem stacks felt different when read aloud vs viewed on the page. She quotes Cecilia Vicuña:

    ‘Words have a love for each other, a desire that culminates in poetry.’

    The poet has an intuitive way of putting words together, perhaps without even realizing at first, that creates a feeling whether or not the actual words are understood.

  3. Nothing desists:

    jacaranda, suffused with plum,
    shudder with vertigo;
    marigolds, in a blurred rotation
    of symmetric gestures, rise rapt
    from their hard-pillowed labyrinth.

    With every unobstructed roll,
    the pallina travels,
    no interlaced passages striation-licked.

    At the crest, Galehot, wandering
    below the eaves where seasons collide.
    The weft of umbilical cord frayed,
    he cannot unknow desire’s siren calls.

    Though autumnal deniers be pewter-tongued,
    they sound as mere chimes in the riverbeds.

  4. I will have to do this exercise in the morning when I’m firing on more than one clogged cylinder. It’s an intriguing exercise that gives so much room for interpretation.

    For now, here’s one with the words from the above poems.

    Jealousy – Possibly Tainted by a Woodland Mushroom

    Deniers
    ought to
    shudder
    plum
    sirens –
    I
    was
    the
    magnificent
    (me! me! me!)
    the winged
    detail of
    your
    fragile
    prickly
    swamp
    puddle.

    Take your
    loblolly
    fever and
    touch me not,
    (you! you! you!)
    poisonous
    nanny
    berry.

  5. Red Eyes and All That

    The words of my poem
    spilled from my very own blood,
    captured the fleet feet
    of my lamb’s innocence,
    yet the judge was only Abel to see
    the basket of lentils
    sorted in iambics, parsed
    in quatrains that grained
    the wilder growth. Cain I
    care for darkened lessons
    of acceptance and rejection?
    No, my active voice
    sounds deadened
    past tense.

  6. Callie Feyen says:

    Oh, good gracious, I absolutely LOVE this idea! I’m printing this out now so my daughters and I can mine for words. Thank you.

  7. I know I’m a little late on posting mine, but here it is.

    axis
    bristled
    consensus

    covenant
    cutlass

    departure
    economic

    indomitable
    integrity

    intervention
    pilgrimage

    rigging

    Secesh
    tenets

    volley

    * These are “Words We Want to Know” in our home school co-op group. (I actually got this idea from L.L. a few months ago. Students place words on slips of paper into a container and then at a given time they each draw out three. Definition discussions ensue and then the dictionary and encyclopedia definitions are read aloud, followed by more discussion — specific to the “Need to Know-ers” reason for including the word.

    This collection shows the diverse reading of the three students, age 10 (boy), 12 (girl), and 14 (girl).

  8. Marcy says:

    Where Were You When The Sun Went Down?

    Dreaming
    Blissfully.
    Aura
    Amidst,
    Billows of softness.
    Cozy with only
    Candle light.
    Demure
    Dazzled
    Dare say?
    What a damsel.
    Enchanting
    Envisioned,
    Fingertips play.
    Fantasy
    Glimpses yet graceful,
    A glow of allure.
    Visions at night,
    What are yours?

  9. Sandra Wirfel says:

    I want to give someone the proper acknowledgement or credit for introducing me to stack poetry from your website, who would that be? I chose stack postry for my 2014 Poetry Goal, and I want to give credit where crdit is due. can you please tell me who the right person to give creid to would be?

    • L. L. Barkat says:

      Sandra, where did you first see it? (Are you looking for the person who tweeted or Facebooked it, or the person who wrote the post? Might be me in either case, but let me know what you’re interested in finding out :) )

      • Sandra Wirfel says:

        I saw it here first, under these guidelines, “teaching with poem stacks” and although mine are not all mined from books, they are all stacked poems. The only other reference I was able to find was someone stacking books from ther books shelves where the titles kinda make a poem. But when I comeplete my book, I want to be able to credit someone, as to the idea, each year I pick a style of poetry or a theme, of poetry to write about, my goal was 52, one stack poem a week, right now I have 243, some might seem monotonous, and others are just downright silly, but I still have 243 and the year isn’t over yeat, I changed my goal to 365.

        • L. L. Barkat says:

          Ah. Well, that would be me.

          I taught a workshop in NYC and wanted to help people do some poetry writing that didn’t feel so much like poetry writing, and culled from excellent, arresting language. Thus was born, Jealous Poem Stacks.

          Thanks! Cool project.

          • Sandra Wirfel says:

            Cool. I am going to be doing some poetry projects in April, at a local venue, do you have any special way I shouldcredit you…credentials and stuff?

            So, tell me…how do you get to be where you are at, where so many people get to enjoy your poetry guidance? Do you ever come to Pa?

          • L. L. Barkat says:

            L.L. Barkat, Managing Editor, Tweetspeak Poetry.

            Hmmm. Time, I guess. Writing for various venues. Having poetry books. Becoming an editor. A long process.

            Not generally in Pa. But I can sometimes be found at a function in NYC :)


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