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Writing Workshop Blog: Riddles, Spirals, and Exhalations

Riddles, Spirals, and Exhalations

November 6, 2012: We began our time together with some riddle poems from Behind the King’s Kitchen: A Roster of Rhyming Riddles by William Jay Smith and Carol Ra. The group guessed what the short, clever poems described: a saw, a rooster, or a road map, for example.

Then we had a great time sampling some of the writing experiments in Rip the Page! by Karen Benke. We answered some questions:

If you stand on your hands, where will you walk; how will you fall? Who’s going with you?

If you peak under the tent of life, what do you hear? What do you see? What makes you sneeze?

What do you most love to count? What can’t be counted?

We took on the challenge of creating a word spiral of at least one hundred words written as one word from the edge of the paper to the center. With that general rule, we each generated very different responses. One person wrote a free association of words. Another documented an interior monologue about the production of the assignment. Another person created a free association of sentences, and another’s spiral recounted the words of an overly caffeinated elderly woman speaking to houseguests.

We discovered that they were physically challenging to read; it was difficult to keep one’s place, and it could be dizzying to read a spiral quickly. The shape was very inviting, though, pulling us in to write more and more to fill the page.

As a group, we created a Breathe In/Breathe Out poem. Benke’s idea is to imagine the ability to breathe in a negative thing and transform it into something positive when exhaled. We read the example that a group of eleven-year-olds created, and then each member of our group contributed a pair of images to build our own poem:

Breathe in war
Breathe out donuts (no, wait—give them back!)
Breathe in anxiety attack
Breathe out a trip to London
Breathe in my baby squirrel dying
Breathe out my baby squirrel coming back to life
Breathe in sweltering summer days spent being bitten by mosquitoes and dying in the slightly air-conditioned basement
Breathe out cold winter air and cold showers and snow
Breathe in the yuckage of a dump
Breathe out pretty things in springtime
Breathe in seizures
Breathe out or puke rainbows
Breathe in kale chips
Breathe out happy mother
Breathe in floods
Breathe out a gift
Breathe in faulty polling booths
Breathe out the aroma of pine needles after rain
Breathe in the chit chat constant chatter chirp choir in my head
Breathe out the calm cool closed mouth collected could hear a pin drop hush of silence
Breathe in telemarketers
Breathe out new pens and music
Breathe in the loud neighbors
Breathe out the feel of the pulled bow string

Independent writing time could have continued another hour beyond the workshop. I met with each person who had emailed me drafts of his/her work to give specific feedback. We cut short our sharing time to maximize the time to write, and we ended our session with great enthusiasm as our fictions lengthen and deepen.

-- Paige

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