Follow a Conversation Poem Model

29 Mar

8:35 am, Tuesday — Atlanta

Hello all. This will be the last of the dialogue, or conversation poems, to which many of you may be saying: Yes! The reason for spending so long on them, is that I have found, where I never played with conversation in poems before I did these exercises myself, now I do and I find it to be effective when I do use conversation. Think of it as adding dimension.

What I would like to do with today’s post is to give you excerpts from, and the links to, four very different examples of conversation poems. I would like you to choose at least one to use as a model. You can follow the general form or, in the Ai poem for example, pull out the nouns and verbs and replace them with your own, to arrive at a first draft. This is called a copy-change and is a legitimate way to learn a structure.

The first poem is an excerpt from “Conversation,” by Ai:

We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor
and burns a hole through it.
Don’t tell me, I say. I don’t want to hear.
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper…

Next, a very different language from what you are probably used to, but also a good example of a dialogue taking place within the poem. Look at how Keats achieves an immediacy, and a tension, in this excerpt from “The Eve of Saint Agnes”:

He startled her; but soon she knew his face,
And grasped his fingers in her palsied hand,
Saying, “Mercy, Porphyro! Get you from this place;
“They are all here to-night, the whole blood-thirsty race!


“Get hence! get hence! there’s dwarfish Hildebrand;
“He had a fever late, and in the fit
“He cursed you and yours, both house and land:
“Then there ’s that old Lord Maurice, not a whit
“More tame for his gray hairs—Alas me! flit!
“Flit like a ghost away.”—“Ah, Gossip dear,
“We’re safe enough; here in this arm-chair sit,
“And tell me how”—“Good Saints! not here, not here;
“Follow me, child, or else these stones will be your bier.”

One of my favourite conversations takes place between a man and his dead best friend in A. E. Houseman’s “Is My Team Ploughing?“:

“Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?”

Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.

“Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?”

Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.

And, finally, an excerpt from an anonymous Chilean author, “Two Women“:

Written by a working-class Chilean woman in 1973, shortly after Chile’s socialist president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown. This is to be read by two people, one reading the bold-faced type and one reading the regular type.

I am a woman.
I am a woman.

I am a woman born of a woman whose man owned a factory.
I am a woman born of a woman whose man labored in a factory.

I am a woman whose man wore silk suits, who constantly watched his weight.
I am a woman whose man wore tattered clothing, whose heart was constantly strangled by hunger.

I am a woman who watched two babies grow into beautiful children.
I am a woman who watched two babies die because there was no milk.

Do leave a link in the comments if you write a poem. I love to read the results of the exercises. And always feel free to ask questions.

Join me again Thursday for a review of one of the books I use as a staple in my writing, and Friday for the week’s wrapup of prompts and exercises from other blogs. What are we shifting to next Tuesday? Come along and see. Happy writing.


Posted by on 29/03/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 responses to “Follow a Conversation Poem Model

  1. pamela

    29/03/2011 at 10:43 pm

    Oh, am I embarrassed:( I’ve yet to finish the conversation poem, but I will sometime this week, Margo.


  2. margo roby

    30/03/2011 at 7:34 am

    Pam, I am just thrilled that you are doing them!

  3. poetrydiary

    31/03/2011 at 5:15 pm

    Hi Margo,

    I really liked the feel of the Ai poem, and have had a go as promised.

    Thanks for this – I have looked at your previous conversational exercises and felt they were not for me, but this, or maybe the Ai poem, somehow clicked with me, and I enjoyed it.



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