“Poetry. It’s better than war!” Michael Rothenberg, cofounder of 100,000 Poets (and friends) for Change
Introduction for grownups
In 2013, I originally developed this exercise for some poetry workshops geared to upper-elementary school children in English language classes at The Jerusalem School of Beit Hanina, in East Jerusalem. The school’s motto is “Peace begins with me,” also the name of a poetry anthology for children. My workshops coincided with Peace Days at the school. This version is modified here a wider audience.
I posted it on my blogZine, Meta/ Phor(e) /Play in 2018. It has been a very popular post, one of the most popular on that Zine.
Please feel free to use this exercise with children, teens, adults you know or work with, and to modify it to your needs. I ask only that you give me credit for it and include the credits for the poems, if you use them.
Introduction for everybody
There are some words a poet might call “big.” They are not long words, with lots of letters. However, they are “big” because when you say them or when you read them, they hold a lot of things in them or a large, important meaning.
Now, if a word is very big, a poet may not want to use it in the poem at all. The whole poem may be about this very big word. If I put the word in my poem, though, it could break the poem. A person reading it would not know exactly what I meant by it. Or a person may mean one of the other things the word could mean.
Peace can be a very big word like that. We can all say we want peace. Every person might make a wish like this: “May Peace prevail on Earth.” (When something “prevails,” it wins, it is everywhere and leads everything.) Yet, the poet asks, “What do I mean by peace? What exactly is this peace I want?”
Poets can write about a big word like peace though, if they ask questions about it. They write about the answers they find. They do not always use the word “peace” when they do.
Let’s try to write a poem now, about peace. But don’t use the word peace!
Instead, ask some questions about peace, and write your answers down.
What kind of questions do poets ask?
Some of the questions poets ask have to do with the senses. Others have to do with places, or people, or things.
Below are some questions a poet might ask. They are here to help you write a poem about peace. You can ask your own questions, too.
Write down some answers to these questions (or your own, or both). You can make a list of words or phrases, write a sentence, a paragraph, a story, or a piece of a poem…
But you don’t have to write the whole poem. You will do that after answering the questions.
Some questions to help you start
1. What does peace look like? Is there a place that you go to or have gone to where you can see peace? Where the view looks like peace?
2. What would peace feel like, if you could touch it? Is there something you touch that feels like peace to you?
3. What does peace sound like? Is there a sound you hear every day or just sometimes that sounds like peace for you?
4 What about a taste? What would peace taste like ? Do you eat anything that tastes like peace?
5. What would peace smell like? Do you ever smell peace? What other things might smell like peace?
Some more questions
Your answers from the questions you just answered can help you answer some of these questions. Or, write new answers.
Imagine someone who doesn’t know what peace is. Try to describe peace to this person as though it is an object in the world.
What does it look like?
What does it sound like?
What does it smell like?
What does it taste like?
And, what does it feel like?
Imagine someone else who doesn’t know what peace is. Try to describe peace as something people do.
Who does it?
What do they do?
Where do they do it?
When do they do it?
Why do they do it?
How do they do it?
What do they look like doing it?
What do they sound like?
Write your own poem
Look over all of your answers. Can you think of other things to write to say more about your answers? Do you have other questions that you want to ask about peace?
Do some of your answers help you think of a poem to write?
Are some of your answers fun? Funny?
Do some excite you?
Do some seem very true to you?
Do the answers to one question seem connected to the answers to another one?
Now write down a poem. You can change it as you go. You can change it after it is all written down the first time, too. Your poem can rhyme, but it doesn’t have to. The lines of a poem are usually short, but you can also write them longer. Usually, they are not really, really long. Sometimes, they look like prose (and are called “prose poems”).
Try it now!
Now that you have written a poem
Go to page 2 to read two of my poems that I share with classes.