In 1983, he was invited as a visiting poet to a public school. "I was working with "remedial English students" the first three days were Seniors. The first poem I received after guiding them not to rhyme, just play with words...moved me so much I put it in my first poetry collection by young people, "Ten-Second Rainshowers". I remembered my vision years later, when I found a journal I wrote it down in." He has since then, taught poetry writing to over 50,000 young people and several thousand adults.
Sandford shares how when you write a poem your circle of awareness changes. "It can grow by a mite or a mile." He suggests a journal to write in, to gather your words or thoughts. He calls his journal his writer's studio. Today we are going to try out his concept called, "Poem Sketching".
When artists want to paint, they usually sketch first. Sandford uses his journal to sketch words. He uses phrases he loves, words, fragments, anything that catches his eye. He believes that everyone who writes a poem reinvents poetry. He states writing poetry sharpens our inner and outer vision.
Poem sketching is taking a group of words, usually four, but can be any number and develop them into combinations of sentences that "feel" like poems. This helps awaken your ability to produce images in words.
His idea is to get the (word group) words into sentences or fragments that fit together, that make sense to create a poem. YOU can change the form of the words, instead of silent, use silence. You can use the words in any order and repeat them. You can also add sentences that don't use any of the words or substitute a word, instead of bird, perhaps crow. You can create your own word group and make it larger a dozen+. The author suggests you think of this process as an uncarved block. YOUR challenge is to pick a word group and see where it leads you. If you see a second word group you would like to use, add it on. You might want to pick one that doesn't fit with your poem. "One of the purposes of writing poems is to surprise ourselves." if you prefer to write your own poem-sketch words. Here is how: Word groups used for poem sketching have three things in common: variety, concreteness(the reader sees a picture in their mind), and surprise(an unexpected word that pushes the writer's imagination). He divides the words into categories: emotions-angry, sad; human conditions-
blind, homeless; pick indoor or outdoor places-porch, kitchen or mountain, beach. He doesn't recommend proper nouns. Pick a season and select some weather words-rain, wind; select a specific creature-a butterfly, a crow, fox; general or specific plants-dogwood, trees, flowers, roses; minerals objects-stones, silver, diamond; man made items-fence, chair, overpass; spiritual things-God, angels, a cross; celestial things-moon, sun, stars, comet; things from literature, history, or the imaginary world-warrior, dragon and add an earth, air and fire elements-ice, flame and dust. Ideally he suggests you want three words from different categories, but they could fit. Now add a fourth surprise element word and an energy one. He suggests Emily Dickinson poems are rich with word-group ideas, as well as Basho and Issa, and Pablo Neruda.
Here is a poem sketched by one of his students, Jalyn Ayo
Word group: wheelbarrow, soil, compost, seeds
was hauling soil
into a wheelbarrow.
hauling a heavy
mixed the soil
with the compost.
mixing her happiness
was planting seeds
in the ground.
hiding her fears
gave the flowers
time to grow.
But to me
trying to find
she really was.
Here is one of the author's poems:
you will be free,
your hour come
without the dread,
without the weight,
your ropes as soft
as rain-soaked bread-
and then the light.
He recommends keeping your poem sketches in a journal and come back to them. "Some poems need time to ripen, to bring in associations not available to the first draft. The wait can be worth the rewards."
His tip: "...the most important work you will do as a poet is the work of watching and listening-watching your inner and outer worlds, listening for the voice of the Knower within."
When you write your poem, be sure to share your word group with us. It can be from the list or create your own. The author mention one inner and outer poem he loves is from Mary Oliver, "Why I Wake Early". He suggest after reading five of her poems you are longer the same person. I look forward to your sketches!