Begin with a free-writing exercise of the plot of the narrative. After reading what you have written. Circle or highlight the areas of the story that you think are poignant. Next, create short haiku-like verses for each of the areas you have identified. (You can also write couplets or single lines.) Make sure that you choose strong action verbs and rich words which conjure up the emotions that you would like to infuse into your poem. Create images that appeal to the senses, for example, “The sun kicked heat in our faces” or “Daylight like a fine fan spread from my hands.” (“Litany” George Campbell)
Connect the haikus, couplets, lines; you may play around with the order in which you do so. (For instance, you can start with the middle or the end. The narrative poem doesn’t have to start at the beginning of the story.) When you are satisfied with the order of details in your poem, examine the poem for clichés, worn-out expressions, such as “hard as a rock.” (The idea is to come up with a fresh way of expressing the thought.) Review the poem for word choice and grammar.
Read the poem out loud and listen to it. (This will help you with revision.) Finally, you may want to put the poem away for a few days, then come back to it. You may think of new ways to revise it. At some point, have it read by someone who has experience with poetry; s/he may give you useful feedback.
Suggested Narrative poems:
“My Brother at 3 A. M.,” Natalie Diaz; “The Fish,” Elizabeth Bishop; “Rescued,” Meg Kerney; “Providence,” Natasha Trethewey.
- Write a poem about a memory of a significant event in your youth.
- Write a poem about a family legend.
- Write a poem about a dream you’ve had.
Heather Archibald lives in New York City, where she has taught English composition at a number of CUNY colleges for the past twenty years. Her poetry has been published in The Caribbean Writer, Mom Egg Review (VOX MOM), and A River of Stories and in her recent book, entitiled Home-Home.