Poem Boxes and American Haiku

by Erin Brenner on May 20, 2010

Last month, I attend NHWP’s Writers’ Day at SNHU. One of the sessions I attended was “Block? What Block?” with Peter Money, Alice B. Fogel, Kristen Laine, and Joni B. Cole. Each writer generously offered some great ideas (and encouragement!) for what to do when you hit the writing wall. Today, I’ll detail what I learned from Money. In future posts, I’ll offer exercises from the rest of the panel.

Crafting Your Writing

Poet Peter Money studied with Allen Ginsberg. His works include Finding It: Selected Poems, Today-Minutes Only, Instruments, and Between Ourselves. He also runs a publishing house, Harbor Mountain Press, that specializes in poetry.

Money readily embraces Ginsberg’s mantra: first thought, best thought. Abandon metaphor, he advises, in favor of direct observation whenever possible. Your writing will be stronger and more powerful for it.

One of his recommendations for conquering writer’s block is trying a different creative outlet. He’s made several poem boxes over the years, one of which is pictured at right. He’ll take one of his poems and somehow intertwine it with a matchbox or similar small container. Shutting off the writer/editor can help you understand your words and what you are trying to say from a different angle. Here are some more of his poem boxes:

Poem boxes by Peter Money

In an interview with Červená Barva Press, Money said of his poem boxes:

In my 20s I was frustrated that my poems on the page weren’t necessarily as visceral as I wanted. So, I took to collage and paint and print on boxes … They started out being artifacts, keepsakes, manifestations of emotion which could be held in the hand, opened, and in some cases played — or played with.

Observation in Juxtaposition

Money led the audience through a writing exercise he got from Ginsberg that is a sort of American haiku, or three-fold logic. The goal is to synthesize your observation. Remember, you want to capture your observation rather than rely solely on metaphor. On piece of paper, you will write three lines:

  1. A reaction to something.
  2. Your response to the something.
  3. A conclusion or synthesis of your observation.

The lines reflect a Buddist outline of ground, path, and fruition. Here’s one from Ginsberg:

My father died.
I won’t know anyone at the funeral.
Did he leave me any money?

And one from Money:

He dropped his garbage.
How did he know
I would see through him, into him?

Here’s what I came up with during the session:

Phone vibrates.
Who is it?
Never mind, I’m here.

I don’t claim to be a poet; I tend to write instructional pieces (like this blog) or marketing copy, but the exercise allowed me to think of what was happening around me in a different way. You don’t have to be a poet, either, to give this a try, nor do you have to compose something for the ages. Work those creative muscles and see things in a different way, so when you sit down to write your copy, you breathe new life into it.

Try this American haiku or a poem box (send me pictures and I’ll post them!) and let me know how it worked for you.

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