Tuesday Tryouts: Poetic Counterpoints

04 Oct

9:59 a.m. — Atlanta

And it is now 10:51 and me without my second cup of coffee. Hello all. I had a draft of today’s blog written yesterday when my computer crashed. Did I have my notes saved? Let’s not go there. I thought I could do a fairly quick rewrite. Hah! An hour has gone by and, as all I have managed is to pull things onto the page but not yet coherent, I have made an executive decision: the form gets pushed off for another week. Oh, stop cheering. You know I’m going to get there.

So, for today. It is getting late [coffeeee….] and I will need a minute to duck into my files…okay, we have a winner: Counterpoint as a poetic exercise, an adaptation. I wrote a form of this when I was learning to write poetry in James Penha’s class. Adding to the fun of this exercise was that we crafted a visual way of presenting the poem. I shall leave that part out.

You are looking for contrasting but parallel elements, items, or themes.

List opposing pairs, such as:

sun / moon
cats / dogs
hopes / fears
sea / sky
sunny day / stormy day

You can pick small personal pairs: cooking supper / getting takeout; or, you can pick something on a world scale: freedom / oppression, which you can make personal, or keep it on a grander scale; you can choose two places.

When you have about ten pairs [remember: we are always building resource pools], choose the one that you want to play with. Start by freewriting for 5 to 10 minutes on each side of the counterpoint.

Go back over the freewrites, looking for the elements of a poem. Jot notes, add to, or cut, as needed. Try and expand the writing on each to roughly 100 words. That’s the reach. It will allow you more choices in how you present your counterpoint.

Look for a structure that allows you to present the polar aspects in a poem. The 100 words gives you enough to write full-fledged poetic monologues on each part of a pair [like a duel between two speakers, or one speaker torn in two]. As always, adapt the exercise to what you want to do. It might be just as fun to write a haiku on each side, or a limerick.

Do ask questions, if I have not been clear on a point [remember? no second cup of coffee, yet]. I shall see you Friday for the week’s roundup of prompts; and next Tuesday, fingers crossed, for the form.

Happy writing!


Posted by on 04/10/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing


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21 responses to “Tuesday Tryouts: Poetic Counterpoints

  1. Ruth

    04/10/2011 at 6:47 pm

    Well, I decided to give this one a try – my first here:

    Thanks for the prompt!

    • margo roby

      04/10/2011 at 8:33 pm

      You are welcome, Ruth! I’ll head over and read your poem.


  2. rosross

    05/10/2011 at 4:07 am

    I know all about losing copy. Have had blog issues this week which hopefully are fixed. In the stars I am sure.

    • margo roby

      05/10/2011 at 9:11 am

      As is everything, Ros! The stars must get full to bursting with all the things they need to negotiate.

  3. wordsandthoughtspjs

    05/10/2011 at 12:23 pm

    Margo, this is a very interesting exercise. I will be back something in the next day or two. I am sooo disappointed about the form prompt 😉 (wink wink)


    • margo roby

      05/10/2011 at 12:26 pm

      Uh huh, Pamela, so it won’t surprise you that I had you at the forefront of my mind when writing that I had to put it off ;-)? But I think you’ll like it. It will work nicely for a window into the area you live.


  4. Mike Patrick

    05/10/2011 at 12:24 pm

    Margo, this took off on its own. It is not what you asked for, I’ll be finishing your counterpoint poem later, but this is an unexpected result from the list I created. Sorry to get so far off your path.

    • margo roby

      05/10/2011 at 12:28 pm

      Mike, By now you should know what’s important is not the map, but the path you do go down and what you discover. I love the poems that appear when we think we are thinking of something else.


  5. vivinfrance

    06/10/2011 at 7:26 am

    Mine may be the first of many to this fascinating exercise:

    • margo roby

      06/10/2011 at 8:03 am

      It is fascinating, isn’t it, ViV? With so many possible topics and variety of approaches, this can be a standby exercise to pull out at intervals. I loved Ruth’s response.


  6. Mike Patrick

    06/10/2011 at 12:38 pm

    I have to say, I enjoyed this. It worked. The proof in the pudding is in the unexpected poem it generated yesterday. I fear I went too deep into the detail of my notes, I like to hear myself talk. Hopefully everyone will skip over them to the poem(?)

  7. pmwanken

    07/10/2011 at 11:21 am

    I dove into contrasts…but not too deeply…

    Thanks, as always, margo, for your lessons and challenges!

    ~ Paula

  8. wordsandthoughtspjs

    07/10/2011 at 6:43 pm

    Hi Margo! Happy Friday! I didn’t have but one class today, so I was able to write. I loved this prompt. My end result was interesting, as I took away extraneous words. I keep my list for future writing 😉


    “To look at Life without Sorrow”

    • wordsandthoughtspjs

      08/10/2011 at 11:38 am

      Good god! I meant * I kept my list for future writing. I sound like one of my entry level students. 🙂
      Came to see if the link worked, and glad I did.

    • margo roby

      08/10/2011 at 12:56 pm

      Lol, Pamela! I found after teaching a few years that I had to check my own writing for the mistakes I corrected most often in my students’ work. I still have to!

      I love this prompt too, but it’s form time, lady. Hang onto your hat.


  9. Annette

    11/10/2011 at 12:48 am

    Oh, my — this did not go where I expected! But I’m pleased with the result nonetheless. I called it Desert Living — and my pair was arid/moist.

    • margo roby

      11/10/2011 at 9:06 am

      Annette, Some of my favourite poems are those that take me down their own path!


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