Tuesday Tryouts: Conversations Aren’t Just for Prose

01 Mar

9:15 am, Tuesday — Atlanta

Conversation, or dialogue, can enliven, set the mood, add drama, create tension in poems as well as prose. We will look at a couple of different types of dialogue poems over the next two or three Tuesdays. Dialogue in poetry has a tradition going back hundreds of years.

For today’s exercise, compile a list of completely different conflict situations (gentle, or profound); in each situation two people are going to have a dialogue.

For each pair, list: Who? When? Where? Why? What?

Examples: WHO  1?    WHO  2?    WHERE?    WHEN?    SITUATION?

Crooked gas station attendant. Gas station customer. Deserted country road. High noon. Gas station attendant hopes to cheat customer.
Old man. His friend. City park. Morning. Old man is dying.
Jack. Jill. Town. Beautiful morning.  Jack wants to go up the hill.
Ventriloquist. Midget pretending to be dummy.  Backstage. Just before performance. Dummy hates this.

Take a few minutes to invent a few of your own Who? When? Where? Why? What?

Pick a couple and  draft dialogue poems made up exclusively of title plus talk.

Two speakers only!

Use no speaker tags (such as Jack said). Use no narration or description (such as They met at the top of a hill. Jill said . . . ).

Length: at least as long as the below poems. Write at least five exchanges: each speaker must speak at least five times.

Hint: Start in medias res: in the middle of things. No hello!


CONOCO SAM by Jim Heynan

Fill it up, regular.
Sure thing. My eyes are bad.
Could I fill my canteen?
Sure thing. Got maybe a year of
sight left.
Windshield’s pretty bad, isn’t it?
Yep. Good thing cows don’t fly–
but I could see them.
Looks like rain.
Sure does. Feels like it too.
You didn’t give me enough change.
Damn! Can’t see a thing any more.

Who’s who here? How are they different–these two first persons. What clues are there on where and when the poem takes place? How does the writer establish place? Mood? Tone?

TWO FRIENDS by David Ignatow

I have something to tell you.
I’m listening.
I’m dying.
I’m sorry to hear.
I’m growing old.
It’s terrible.
It is, I thought you should know.
Of course and I’m sorry. Keep in touch.
I will and you too.
And let me know what’s new.
Certainly, though it can’t be much.
And stay well.
And you too.
And go slow.
And you too.

How do we keep track of who’s speaking?   Who is speaking? Where? Why do you think so? What do you read between the lines?

Based on an exercise by James Penha.

Here is a link to a good article on dialogue poems and how to write them, if they take your fancy and you wish more detail.

I will see you Thursday for our continuing conversation on nouns and other parts of speech.

Illustrations courtesy of Microsoft.


Posted by on 01/03/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

3 responses to “Tuesday Tryouts: Conversations Aren’t Just for Prose

  1. pamela

    01/03/2011 at 1:51 pm

    Margo, I am going to write to this prompt. I never did
    the one last week, it was just too crazy, never enough
    time. I love dialogue poems. They always have interesting

  2. margo roby

    01/03/2011 at 2:54 pm

    Pamela – you can always go back later. If you don’t have time to trawl through, drop me a comment and I’ll find the exercise you want. Meanwhile I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

  3. pamela

    05/03/2011 at 6:17 pm

    Margo, here it is as promised. My third and final try.
    Several conversations not exactly to the form, but it
    is the best I could come up with.


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