Miami Poetry Teachers Institute: Turning Up The Dial: Poetry Through Play by Neil de la Flor

This Tuesday, June 25th I’ll lead a poetry workshop for teachers during the Miami Poetry Teachers Institute at the New World Center. The five-day event is hosted by The Poetry Foundation and its primary goal is to help teachers “to develop lesson plans to bring back to their classrooms.” During my one-hour workshop titled Turning Up The Dial: Poetry Through Play, I’ll focus on using elements of chance, game theory, collage, collaboration & magic. (I promise no spells will be cast that can’t be unbroken.) We will read traditional, experimental poems, non-literary texts, such as science and math books, and we will listen to music. We’ll use these resources to create new works in solo and collaborative actions. Teachers will gain vital classroom tools, tips and a cache of writing games (prompts) that to bring back to their classrooms and, hopefully, encourage students (of all ages) to find their unique expression.

Schedule of Activities

Exquisite Corpse/Cadaver : A Collaborative Writing Ice (Not I.C.E.) Breaker  – Exquisite Corpse/Cadaver “is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. “The adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun.” as in “The green duck sweetly sang the dreadful dirge.”) or by being allowed to see only the end of what the previous person contributed” (from wikipedia). As a teacher, you can ‘control’ and/or modify the prompt by adding ‘rules’ or ‘parameters’ to the game. For example, you can require students to use vocabulary words, use consonant or assonant sounds, adhere to a theme, limit number of syllables per line, etc. You can mold this prompt to fit your purposes. Note: open-ended Exquisite Corpses can be fun, but will often veer off into bizarre directions. If you’re worried about vulgarity, set a parameter.

Writing Prompt: For this Exquisite Corpse, we will analyze a work of art, identify it’s theme and use that knowledge base to write an exquisite corpse in small groups. Once we collectively determine theme and identify interesting elements from the work of art, we begin. 1. Everyone in the group will start a poem 2. Participants write two lines of text 3. Fold paper just enough to leave the last line exposed 4. Exchange poem in clockwise fashion. 5. Repeat steps 2-4 for 7 exchanges. 6. At the end, students open poem, read and assign a title. 7. Share poems. 45

Resources: Sample poems, Exquisite Corpse and

Found Poetry (Visual Poems): Recycling Existing Text To Create A New Work – Found poems involve using words, phrases and whole passages from other texts to create a new poem. You can do this with any existing text: the science textbooks, Vogue Magazine, cereal box cartons, novels, court filings, arrest warrants, contracts, divorce papers, bank statements, thesis papers, etc.

Writing Prompt: For this exercise, participants will comb through existing texts to find ‘interesting’ words, phrases or passages to create a new poem that is different from the original text/texts. This is a great tool to use when you’re starting a new chapter, short story, novel in any kind of class. I love when science, math and history teachers use this prompt. It forces students to engage a text in a non-threatening way and maybe even pick up a few terms or ideas before you jump into formal lessons or discussions of the text. *Note: Just like the Exquisite Corpse writing exercise, you can apply controls or parameters to fit the needs of your classroom. For example, you can ask students to cut out the words, phrases or passages and then reassemble them blindfolded or use the words to create a found concrete poem.

Resources: Tom Phillips A Humument: and science-y journals

Free Verse: Dinosaurs in the Hood: a free verse poem is a poem free from the limitations of convention, but may also use the conventions of poetry–alliteration, metaphor, repetition, etc.

Writing Prompt: For this writing prompt, students will read and analyze “Dinosaurs in the Hood” by Danez Smith, and then write a poem in the style of Danez Smith that subverts a popular film, tv show or pop culture phenomenon, such as Pokemon. The poem can place an emphasis righting a personal, social or political injustice using all or any of the conventions of poetry available so long as it doesn’t fit a traditional form, like a sonnet or villanelle.

Resources: “Dinosaurs in the Hood” by Danez Smith

Confessional Poetry: An Introduction To Who We Are

In this exercise, participants will write a vividly descriptive confessional narrative that reveals something hidden about the self or they can write about an experience that changed their life. Students should be given absolute freedom to write about what they want to write about, but let them know any crimes may have to be reported. The goal of this assignment isn’t always about creating a final product, but allowing students to confess and/or reveal what’s hidden. In the end, you can ask students to destroy the prompt, keep it as is, turn it into a poem or redact it (see below).

Writing prompt: 1. Participants will sit in circle. Group leader asks group members to make a confession that no one in the room knows about and/or write about an experience that changed their life. See L. Lamar Wilson’s “A Patch of Blue in Tenleytown”. Group leader will ask students to share, but group leader will share first. Students are not required to share, but are encourage to say what needs to be said.  2. Students will then break off and write about their experience for 15 minute intervals with 2 minute breaks in between Students will come back to circle. Each will share the last 3 – 5 lines of their writing (only if they want to share). Students will then go back and write & revise for another 15 minutes and/or take home to complete. .*Note: this process can take up 2 to 3 classes to fully develop ideas and revise. Some students need time to open up. Some are eager to reveal. Give students the chance to develop over an extended period of time.

Example poems: Rigoberto Gonzalez:, Regie Cabico: and Wendy Wu

Personification Prose Poem: ___________ Saves The World From Destruction  

In this exercise, participants will personify an object, such as a violin, that saves the world from silence. As an added bonus, you can use this exercise to personify other objects, such as microscope, that will save _________. It’s a great way to have students incorporate vocabulary words, musical terms, scientific terms/theories, historical events and even mathematical formulas to stimulate creativity and interest in other fields. Students are given 30 – 45 minutes to craft and mini-epic drama, poem or prose piece in which this object saves something.

Ekphrastic Musical Poems/Ekphrastic Visual Poems an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning. However, in this exercise, we will replace “a work of art” with either “a song” or “a portrait of my family”.

Writing Prompt: 1. Participants will listen to a song (group leader can allow individuals to select their own song or limit choices in another way to serve a particular purpose). For a longer class session or multi-day projects, students may listen to a variety of songs in any genre to wrote a series of poems related to music. *Keep in mind, you can replace music with art, photographs, sculptures, etc. 2. Participants will free write while the song plays and then go back and revise for a final piece. 3. Group leader my ask participants to further complicate the ekphrastic piece by asking them to write their poems in a form, such as a sestina or a sonnet. The level of complexity is up to the workshop leader. *Note: The goal is to capture the moods, feelings and memories that the music or photograph/image conjures up

“Joga” or “Hyperballad” by Bjork during her performance at the Royal Albert Concert Hall


Resources: “Ode to Country Music” by Sandra Simonds, “I Live in Music” by Ntozake Shange and “Sestina: Altaforte” by Ezra Pound

Incredible Bridges: “Translation for Mama” by Richard Blanco

In this final prompt, writers will write a poem in two languages that bridges two cultures. The poem can be written in the point of view of another family member, as a letter to a family member or as a letter to oneself imagining who they’d be if their family had not migrated. Link to Blanco’s poem: See detailed lesson plan here:


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