Posts tagged with ‘projects’

How to Write like a New York Poet; or, City Poem Project

The poets of mid-century New York have changed American poetry forever, and I would guess that any serious poet nowadays needs to learn how to think and write like them. Imitation is the best way to learn, and I’ll be trying my hand at it in the coming weeks. Feel free to try it yourself and submit the results. I’ll tag them as “city poems.”

Poems of this type usually include the following:

  • trivial reflections on daily news, global or local
  • a reference to a literary figure from the past
  • mundane reports of speaker’s recent or current actions or observations
  • references to city life, particularly the city you live in/near (hence the name of this project)
  • idiomatic phrases
  • urbane sensibility and sophistication indicated by reflections on modern life and lightly philosophical self-awareness
  • oscillation between the following moods: lighthearted  happy, pensive, sentimental/melodramatic 
  • at least one question mark
  • at least one exclamation point
  • medium to medium-long, smoothly-flowing lines, gracefully enjambed
  • a persona who is sincere but self-aware and in love with life
  • an ending with a light but suggestive thought or image creating a sense of infinite stream of sensations whirling by in life without definite meaning

Additional, optional:

  • the poem is written about or to an acquaintance
  • at least one absurd thing happens or is said and is taken seriously
  • a reference to the season, usually the month

Examples, inspiration:

What3Words Poetry Contest

What3Words and Uut Poetry are pleased to announce the following contest:

What3Words has named every 3x3 meter square in the world with a unique combination of 3 dictionary words. The basis for this poetry competition is to use the three word address where the most significant event in your life took place as the title of your poem. The event could be anything from your birth, to the place you got married, to the exact place where you got your dream job. In addition to making the three words the title of the poem, use the three words, any associations with them and the memories of the time and place in your poem.

Entries will be reviewed by Brooks Lampe, editor of Uut Poetry, and the finalists will be judged by literary agent Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates. Sallyanne was also a judge for the 2014 Undiscovered Voices Award. First prize for the competition will be a year’s full membership to the Poetry Book Society, second and third places will receive complimentary what3words t-shirts.

To find your three words, go to the app (iOS/Android) or to the website You can search by address or postcode and then move the pin over the 3m squares to find the individual three word address for your poem’s title.

Submit your poem here. One entry per contestant. Please follow formatting guidelines and select the “contest” tag. Finalists will be posted on Uut Poetry. Ends Aug. 3.

Logopoetics V: Surreal Sonnet

Logopoetics prompts focus on dancing between levels or categories of language. They incorporate both automatic and consciously-controlled elements.

This one is structured like a sonnet, with a distinct disruption or turn in the middle. 

  1. Start with a meditative statement. Interesting, substantive, not cliche. The kind of thought that starts an O’Hara poem. You might have to work yourself up into a poetic mind-space with caffeine and reggae. 
  2. Elucidate or illustrate (elliptically) the kernel of that meditation by describing very briefly a narrative or dramatic situation. If only banal things come to mind, pull up an instagram from instaroulette and somehow work that photo into a narrative situation.
  3. After a few lines of this (and about the middle of the poem), jump to a surreal image. Make the image seem like a vision, dream, hallucination, by constructing an implied causal link from the dramatic situation to the image: “I closed my eyes and there was a [image].” “She walked through the door and suddenly [image].” This is the volta of the poem. Chance methods to create the surreal image are encouraged. Ideas:

    + the half and half technique (open a book randomly and use the phrases your eyes land on—and improvise your own phrases to finish or connect the phrases you use from the book)
    + make a sentence with two or more random words from a random word generator such as this one or this one
    + follow the traditional surreal sentence structure (adjective-noun-transitive verb-adjective-noun), filling in the blanks with a seed text or random word generator
    + coordinate two random sentences from this page

  4. Resisting the urge to coordinate the surreal image to what precedes it, write a sentence that obliquely “processes” or “explains” the image (as if in a vacuum) with pseudo- or sham-reasoning. Use your ludicrous powers of induction. For instance, try answering the question, “How (in a vacuum) did what this image describes happen?” or “What fact about life is evoked by this image?”
  5. As if issued from the Abyss, your attempt at reason is answered with another surreal image. Use any of the chance methods in step 3. If you have room, feel free to improvise and comment.
  6. Now tie it all up. Your original meditative thought + the images that follow add up to tell us something profound: what? If you’re stuck, go back to your seed text for inspiration, this time using the bibliomancy method. Present the sentence or phrase you land upon as a quote with attribution: “I thought of Walcott’s ‘tribal sorrow that Philoctete could not drown in alcohol.’”
  7. Give it a title, possibly conjoining the first and last phrase of the poem or using the bibliomancy method (see step 6).

Logopoetics V poems.

Submit with the tags “Logopoetics” and “V.”

Ekphrasis prompt: Modern Gallery Project

I’ve been posting tiny poems I wrote about dozens of pieces I encountered last week at the Art Institute of Chicago’s fine European Modernist collection. 

But I couldn’t do all them. So try your hand at writing and submitting a short poem in response to this painting by Lyonel Feininger, "Longeuil, Normandie."

Look at the painting for a good half minute. Don’t interpret, just experience.Write the poem quickly, semi-automatically. Express your feelings, your senses awakened by the poem. But don’t use “I feel” in the poem. Just write the images, sensations. Write synesthetically—letting the language act like paint, shape, form and tone. Let the visual, aural and emotional slip seamlessly between each other.

Ekphrasis prompt: Modern Gallery Project

I’ve been posting tiny poems I wrote about dozens of pieces I encountered last week at the Art Institute of Chicago’s fine European Modernist collection.

But I couldn’t do all them. So try your hand at writing and submitting a short poem in response to this painting by Lyonel Feininger, "Longeuil, Normandie."

  1. Look at the painting for a good half minute. Don’t interpret, just experience.
  2. Write the poem quickly, semi-automatically. Express your feelings, your senses awakened by the poem. But don’t use “I feel” in the poem. Just write the images, sensations.
  3. Write synesthetically—letting the language act like paint, shape, form and tone. Let the visual, aural and emotional slip seamlessly between each other.

Modern Gallery Project

On Friday I visited the Art Institute of Chicago and spent the entire day on the third floor, in the European Modernists gallery. Every piece was stunning. In addition Picasso and Matisse, this gallery has one of the finest collections of surrealist works, including the largest collection of Joseph Cornell boxes. I found myself responding to these pieces, and I started taking notes/poems in ekphrastic-automatic mode. This lasted all day, and I ended up with 47 short poems, each on a work in the gallery. I’ll post a few of these a day over the next few weeks along with the corresponding art work.

Buzzfeed Title Generator - Ravi Parikh's Website →

Those consulting the world wide web for clickbait fodder, neglect not the Buzzfeed Title Generator.

Courtesy of scarcelymurmuring.

Clickbait Project addendum

To help fuel your clickbait writing, try this great clickbait article title generator. I especially recommend using the “list” option. Grab the nearest book to you and use the bibliomancy method to find a word for the “topic” box. I got the word “elm” for instance and am now writing a poem called “The 7 Worst Things You Could Do For Your Elm.”

Also, the poem itself needs to be somewhat enjoyable. You might try the half and half approach, and I love to have a list of idioms to draw on. You could also borrow from other prompts like the love poem prompt or the bibliomancy prompt.

Clickbait Project

Find a clickbait headline (such as something from Upworthy) (or generate your own). This is the title of your poem. Write a poem in an idiomatic, informal style. New York School-like discursiveness recommended. Do not elucidate the title, or perhaps only mention it once, obliquely.

Submit the results with the tag “clickbait.”

An article about clickbait.

Examples here.

Long live the surrealist revolution!

Addendum: Two other clickbait generator sites to use: the Buzzfeed Title Generator and this Link Bait Title Generator.

Love Poem Project

Over the past few years I’ve gotten quite a few folks asking me to look at their poems and give some advise. And while I have hidden behind the excuse of my dissertation, the truth is that I couldn’t see a way “in” to these requests—partly my proclivities are so different from the poetic mainstream that I just want to see most amateur poets throw everything away and start from scratch. But then I feel like I’m ruining their love for poetry writing.

So here’s an idea. Instead of mentoring tumblr poets individually, I’d like to take a crack at giving you the tools to do some self-directed training. These will mostly be in the form of poetry projects, which have worked well for the Tumblr environment.

So here’s your first challenge, in honor of Valentines Day: transform a cliched love poem into a surreal love poem.

Uut poetry is the antithesis of sentimental love poetry and individualistic angst. I still get a lot of these kinds of poems in my inbox, and my guess is that these submissions are coming from new poets who think they are really stretching themselves to be “wierd.” But it’s not weird enough—it’s not charged by contradictory images and startling incongruity. It’s still centered on a persona whose emotions are the point of the poem.

Let’s try an experimental project that arbitrarily and artificially wrenches you out of this dependence on expression.

  1. Find a poem you’ve written recently about love, sex, friendship, your anxiety about x, your pain. If you don’t write poems like that (go you!) find a love poem on the Tumblr hashtag.
  2. Underline all of the nouns and verbs with the following exceptions: Pronouns (I, you, my, your, me)
    - Any to be verbs (are, is, were, was, to be, being)
    - Any really unusual or interesting verbs
  3. Underline any adjectives that sound especially cliche: “pathetic, whiny, sad, painful, etc”
  4. Chuck sentences that have too few replaceable words, such as “I don’t want any of it, / and I sure as hell / don’t want to write about it.”
  5. Use a seed text or one of these random word generators to replace to underlined words with words of the same part of speech.
For example, take the following heartfelt but boring poem by @vucked:

Now, here is my rewrite:

There’s an apartment in my giblet
that has been enlarged
by you.
and a splinter in my skull
that intertwines our gunk.
Please motorize
because you are my jumpiness
and I am exonerated.
Better. But it still needs something. So here are some additives to play with if desired:
  • insert a simile (“like” and “as” phrases) at the end of a sentence
  • insert a “jump cut” sentence that describes something that’s happening at the same time but in a different place, a totally disconnected event
  • insert an extra adjective before one of the nouns you have replaced
For example, to add a little flavor to the poem above, I generated at random a simile, “like a defrauded flea / conversing with firebombs” and added it to the end of the poem. Let’s take another example. Here’s a poem (actually just the first few stanzas) posted on @drunkology:
“If I write about my heart one more time,
I swear I’m peeling off my skin, breaking open my rib cage
and using my bones as a baseball bat to hit
my rusted heart across the universe.
I don’t want it anymore
whatever it is.

This heart. These words. This world.
How pathetic and whiny my voice sounds
even to me. I don’t want it.
I don’t want any of it,

and I sure as hell
don’t want to write about it.”

My rewrite includes an extra adjective, excision of lines 5-6 and the final stanza entirely, and ends with a new jump cut sentence:
If I gather my pirouettes one more time,
I swear I’m peeling off my white zither, breaking open my datum
and using my thread as a narcosis to blast
my rusted email across the universe.

This dibble. These granddaughters. This lettuce.
How cuddly and hallucinatory my mouthpiece sounds
even to me.
In Parisian louvres, mice are listening to bugles approvingly.

This example doesn’t have any second person pronouns (you, your), but my theory is that poems rewritten along these lines that contain a higher degree of first and second person pronouns will sound just as erotic and romantic as the cliche expressive version. Help me test this hypothesis out—and start your journey into non-expressive, chance-based writing, by trying this project and submitting the results. When you submit, please include a link to the original poem or paste it below your new version.

what3words Project

In projects like “Metaphor-a-minute” and “half and half,” language is the trigger for irrational thought. It is also the entire trick of microdreams. In a similar vein, this automatic writing exercise comes courtesy of a brilliant web/iOs location app called what3words. Go to the app and you’ll see instantaneously what the point is—and its great potential for generating word phrases that can be exploited heuristically.


  1. Go to the app and drop the pin wherever your heart pleases. If on your iPhone, you could use your current location for kicks. The corresponding three-word phrase is your poem’s title and seed text.
  2. Write automatically for a few minutes without interruption. The form should be either a short prose poem or a poem of about 10-25 lines.

Aspects of the phrase to consider before and during writing—

  • the context in which the three terms could be found—i.e., the context or situation the three words implies or suggests
  • the larger associational evocations of the phrase: “navy nasal” to me sounds like British imperialism, and thus I subconsciously began my poem with “mammal tusks,” because of something vagely postcolonian, Marlowian and jungle-ish. This “chronotope” or narrative context carried the poem’s first several lines, in fact.
  • the phrase as a syntactic unit with its distributive properties—i.e., what does the phrase say or imagine as as a phrase? This takes the arrangement of the words into consideration. Usually the terms will unfold sequentially in a relation of modification, such that the first term modifies or is predicated on the second, and the first and second words as a sub-unit together modify the third. So “lobby navy nasal” is a phrase describing a “nasal” that belongs to a “lobby navy.”
  • after you hit a lag, push through by thinking associationally about each term independently. Somehow I got “eagle’s perfume” by thinking about “nasal,” and I got “sawdust” when I thought about “navy,” thus my final sentence: “The eagle’s perfume is / a whisper of sawdust.”

Additionally, one could incorporate unique geolocational dimension of what3words by including the location associated with the three words. For instance, “lobby navy nasal" is a on a residential block near St. Alban’s Community Living Center on the outskirts of Queens, New York. I did not do anything with that in my poem, but I could have introduced old people/Queens associations as further fodder for my writing.

As always, submissions welcome. No image required for this one.

What3words poems here.

Instaroulette Project

Today we begin a series of projects focused on automatic writing.

The first project is called Instaroulette. Go to and write a short prose poem based on the instagram photo that appears. Gaze at the photo for several seconds or a full minute before beginning to write. Write automatically, whatever comes to your mind. You may describe the photo in visual terms, but do not describe literally or proceed with a systematic description. Aim rather a discursive journey of abstractions and impressions rendered with the photo as a starting point. Other tips:

  • What happens immediately before or immediately after this photo was taken?
  • What is happening in the next room or beyond the frame of the photo?
  • Do not continue to look at the photo after you’ve begun writing. Set it aside or hide the tab.
  • Follow the basic rules and intuitions of automatic writing: Do not revise. Keep writing (free write). Allow the mind to generate irrational images.
  • If at some point a narrative takes over, let it, but do not be controlled by it.
  • Light revisions allowed.
  • After writing, look at the image once again and quickly write a longish title. Alternatively, save the instagram’s url for later and refresh the page, then write a longish title based on the next image you get.


Submit your prose poems along with the instagram photo it is based on.

Someone with antiquated evangelism methods left this tract in my mailbox the other day. It’s actually a horribly written, predictably naive, 380 page account of church history and speculations about the apocalypse. 

I’m doing the only thing one can do with such drivel—turn it into poetry. Today’s poems feature this “book” as the source text.

Someone with antiquated evangelism methods left this tract in my mailbox the other day. It’s actually a horribly written, predictably naive, 380 page account of church history and speculations about the apocalypse.

I’m doing the only thing one can do with such drivel—turn it into poetry. Today’s poems feature this “book” as the source text.

Surreal Image Contest

What is the craziest, most twisted, multi-layered monstrosity of a surreal image you can (im)possibly imagine or have ever read?

Find it, or write it, and submit. Winner gets a prize to be named later. :-p


  • One sentence or phrase, grammatically correct.
  • Preferably a simple or complex sentence structure, not compound (one main clause, with subordinate clauses, not multiple main clauses).
  • Adjectives and adverbs and obscure words are your friends.
  • Paraphoric structures, where one context is framed inside another context, which is framed inside another context, is usually a good way to get insanely surreal effects going. (E.g. “The dog that lives inside the left lung of my pet parrot, which was born from the harmonics of the soundtrack to the third level of Super Mario Brothers…)


  • "I take a benjamin and give it to a pair of sickly gloves, / whose mewling palms are the ‘you are here’ / treasure maps of the universe." -Deadpan Poetry
  • "an infinitely small, opulent swan, / ornamented with perforations / glides through the zeroth dimension / exhibiting no width, height, or length" -Chromeopoetry
  • "Fake grand masters / are building empty cathedrals / for the the death dances of gaping rose windows." -Bernard Bador
  • "Blue negroes on the verge of a true foreignness / escape nevertheless the chromaticism of occidental death / by traffic" -Frank O’Hara

Martian Poetry Project

a collaboration with Zjoot

Martian Poetry or Martianism is a minor British poetry movement from the 70s developed by Craig Raine, with ties to surrealism and experimental poetry. According to Dr. Wiki, “Through the heavy use of curious, exotic and humorous visual metaphors, Martian Poetry aimed to break the grip of ‘the familiar’, by describing ordinary things in unfamiliar ways, as though, for example, through the eyes of a Martian.” The most common example of Martian poetry is Raine’s "A Martian Sends a Postcard Home."

Here’s how to write your own Martian poem.

Start by picking an object. It will be the subject of your poem. Do not refer to the object by its actual name but by a figural abstraction, nickname, or the name of a specific subtype or species of the object. In Raine’s poem, he calls books “Caxtons.” Similarly, you could refer to hats as “Stetsons,” coffee as “Sumatra” and so on. Your description should deliberately avoid common identifying qualities of the object. Defamiliarized it. Vascilate between phemenological and figurative language. As in the opening lines from Raine’s poem:

mechanical birds with many wings
perch on the hand
cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain

With all this in mind, draft a poem along the following lines.

Stanza 1. Description

  1. Define the object. The definition should be abstract, obscure, figural.
  2. Describe what happens to that object when it interacts with your hands.
  3. Describe its mechanical motion.
  4. Describe its purpose. “A [object] is something used to/for __________.”

Stanza 2. Now you are going to do things with this object.

  1. I take the [object] and give it to [person/animal/etc…], [relative clause describing, in a surreal image, the person/animal etc.]. “I take the corkscrew and give it to the ape, whose arm becomes two-hundred emeralds.” “I take the nine-iron and give it to my elbow, where grows a garden of mistiest zen.”

  2. The object is different in different places. Write something along the lines of the following: “Where I’m from, [the object] __________. Where you’re from, [the object] _________________.” The images are related topically. One is surreal and one is mundane/normal. “Where I’m from, only trees experience love and the rain ties them in knots. Where you’re from, trees do not even talk.”

  3. Insert a transitional phrase followed by a description of a profound interaction between you (the speaker) and/or “you” (the reader) and the object. “After all this, I go cliff diving with the horseshoe into the bluest water I have ever seen and neither of us ever emerge.”

  4. Describe your surroundings/a person/etc when you interacted with the object two steps earlier.

Stanza 3. Other/obsolete uses.

  1. Begin “The [object’s] other purpose is….” and continue with a quote from a seed text of your choice. “The soup of the day is first paint a cage with an open door." Alternatives: "The [object’s] brother is…" "The [object’s] worse best/worst quality is…" "The [object] is…"

  2. Punch the previous line into Google and find a line from the list of results.

  3. "When [the object] encounters [or "is mixed with" or "is combined with"] a [randomly generated concrete noun or noun phrase], it [surreal image]."

  4. Finish by describing the “secret life” or the “true nature” of the object. For example, Raine finishes his description of the book,

At night when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs

and read about themselves —
in colour, with their eyelids shut.

As always, post and/or submit your results here. Eat Mars bars.

Uut’s Martian poems
Zjoot’s Martian poems

Automatic Listening project

Automatism + receptive writing = cross the wires of Surrealism and Language poetry. The phrase comes from Bob Perelman:

One of us would read from whatever books were handy and two of us would type. These roles would rotate; occasionally, there would be two readers reading simultaneously to one typist. The reader would switch books whenever he felt like it, and jump around within whatever book was open at the time….This was not automatic writing; automatic listening would be more like it. There was no question of keeping up with the stream of spoken words; one could attempt to attend to them or not.

But the technique has been perfected independently by Clark Coolidge. From one of his works using this technique:

You reach the neck, then the sand house, then high waves occulting. The last land, a mile Atlantic, the pick sound. Totals a name list long’s the Mississippi. A light, then Tennessee. Pumpkins in collapse. And what, the name of those stone fir downtowns. Cross X by a drug stop, a fencer stalling, a crypt by the sound. A laze in pecking opens. Fields, the label on a can itself.


  • Play a talk source or two: the radio, a podcast, an audiobook, movie, TV or other media with constant talking or reading. Coolidge does one, Perelman and co. did two.
  • Type out words and phrases as you hear them, but let the stream of words slide by and bring you other words/phrases to finish the phrases/sentences you are typing. Freely change syntax or introduce your own words in order to form grammatical or semi-grammatical phrases. For example, in my first session doing this, I heard this:

Boston pitching is seeing cracks. The Red Sox have absorbed so much damage to their pitching staff this year… I think the Orioles are getting him and getting some protection… Over on the other side, the Brewers are only done if they can’t find someone else to make a deal with, right? I think that they’re going to work it, because there is such a weak relief market and there’s so few options…

and I wrote this:

The fact that they are Boston cracks,
absorbing a staff of pens. At some point the orioles
are getting protection to change a part of guy.
We think brewers are a market of weak relief.

  • As you write, lightly filter the stream so that Pronouns are distributed lightly and minimally in your writing. A good trick is “mishear” a Pronoun. E.g., in my poem, a sentence about baseball containing terms like “the AL” and “Trout” become “The AOL version of a trout.”

Bonus points: I like what Coolidge has done by using antimeria—the substitution of one part of speech for another. He makes nouns into the place of verbs and adjectives: “He that had bearded the lynx in the eye,” “I snack my head back down by the / crane lake,” “an intrusion sky.”

  • Do this for 5-10 minutes. The first time through, you’ll probably throw away the first few sentences you write, as I found it take a few second to get in the flow.
  • Don’t stop or pause the talk sources.
  • When you’ve had enough, turn off the talk sources and do one light pass through for revisions/typos. Lineate if desired.

Example 1
Example 2

Of course, please submit your poems!