PEAKS AND VALLEYS
Sometimes, when you’re having trouble getting started writing, it’s helpful to begin with a list that doesn’t ask you to immediately come up with brilliant poetry. So for this prompt, start by listing two things:
First, think of some peak experiences that you or someone else have had. A story that was on the news that delighted you. A friend’s good news. A happy memory from your childhood. Or a recent thrilling occurrence. List as many peak experiences as possible.
Then think about some terrible experiences—again, casting a wide net: not just your own stories, but moments in other lives and in the world. Again, list as many as you can think of.
Spend no more than 5 minutes on each list.
Now put the two together in a poem. They may or may not be based on your own experience. You might take a friend’s wedding as a peak experience, and a bombing in Yemen, or a car crash in Los Angeles, or your apartment fire, as the terrible one. The aim is to explore what to do with two contradictory elements: Treat them one at a time in a three-part structure—thesis, antithesis, synthesis? Interweave/juxtapose them? Let most of the poem be about one event, and then complicate it with the second? These are all possible ways through. You want to create tension in the poem between the light and dark aspects of life. Maybe you’ll find yourself leaning toward one aspect or the other by the end of. your piece. Maybe you’ll try to keep them in some kind of balance. Write your way into these two events, and see what you have to say.
And finally—as you revise, aim for ending up with a poem of no more than 16 lines. If you’re writing prose, limit yourself to about 250 words. Think about compression, concision, how to include only essential information about the two events.
Kim Addonizio has authored a dozen books of poetry and prose, most recently the poetry collection Now We’re Getting Somewhere (W.W. Norton). Her honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and her work has been widely translated and anthologized. She leads Zoom workshops from her home in Oakland and will be teaching this summer in both Greece and Italy. You can keep up with her readings and events at https://www.kimaddonizio.com .