Copy-change a City: Tuesday Tryouts

13 Mar

7:31 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello everyone! How are you, as we march towards Spring with unseemly haste, in some quarters, and Winter appears in the southern hemisphere?

Today’s prompt is the last I have in the series on Place, which is not to say I won’t occasionally have a prompt to do with place, so we remember its importance. Have you ever wanted to write about a place but felt overwhelmed by the immensity of things to describe? Here’s an exercise that will allow you to come to some sort of grips with it.

We are going to try a copy-change. For those who have never done a copy-change, it’s a valid strategy to create a poem, with the style and structure already in place. Rather like a Mad Libs, only, one that makes sense. I chose Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” and have reproduced the text below for you to read. The indents  indicate a continuous line.

We don’t need to worry about the line breaks too much, as it is the way the speaker tells us about the city, more than anything, that we want to imitate. First, choose a city, town, place, you know intimately. Write down everything you think of, associate with, conjure up, when you think of your chosen place. With it in mind, read “Chicago,” making notes of how the speaker is describing the city.

For example, I note he apostrophises, or addresses, the city directly. The first five lines are names, or phrases, describing its personality, and the last four repeat but in a different form. The parts of the next several lines that you want to note are the beginnings: “They tell me you are…” and the repetition. I have made orange the parts to consider as your framework.You can copy them exactly. The -ing indicates a verb of your choice in that form. The pink indicates words, and phrases, that you should follow but replace with the words for your place. The rest gives you an idea of the sort of thing you can say. Note, also, Sandburg’s punctuation.

Yes? I feel a break in the force, young Jedis. Trust me, here. Jump in. Don’t over think this. Make a ton of notes. Write. Remember? There is no wrong. I think this poem can bring wonderful, surprising things, but if you feel panicky, then do an adapted form; follow your own path.


     HOG Butcher for the World,
          Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
          Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
          Stormy, husky, brawling,
          City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
     have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
     luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
     is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
     kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
     faces of women and children I have seen the marks
     of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
     sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
     and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
     so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
     job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
     little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
     as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
          Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
     white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
     man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
     never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse,
     and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
     Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
     Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
     Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

As always, I look forward to reading what you write. Draft, post, read!

A question for you: April is fast approaching with all the mind-numbing, hair tearing glory that is Poetry Month. Would you prefer frivolous prompts, no prompts,  images…? How can I make your life a little easier on the writing front? I shall see you Thursday, for an account of how I use comments when I revise a poem; Friday for the roundup; and next Tuesday, for something (I haven’t decided).

Happy writing, all.


Posted by on 13/03/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , ,

61 responses to “Copy-change a City: Tuesday Tryouts

  1. markwindham

    13/03/2012 at 10:10 am

    It gets worse in April?!?!?!?

    • b_y

      13/03/2012 at 10:11 am

      Oh, Mark. You’re going to loooove April.

      • markwindham

        13/03/2012 at 10:22 am

        Is this excitement,fear or intimidation I suddenly feel.

        • b_y

          13/03/2012 at 10:25 am

          It’s a poem a day. Or more. First time I did it, by the second week I was writing poetry in my sleep.

    • margo roby

      13/03/2012 at 11:43 am

      Oh yes. Not only a poem a day, but Poetry Month, as well. I sit back and watch. For me, it’s a highly entertaining month.

      • markwindham

        13/03/2012 at 12:20 pm

        Figure there is only so much I can take on anyway. Going to be out part of the first week, planning the trip now. 15 th anniversary! Such a patient woman.

        • vivinfrance

          13/03/2012 at 12:41 pm

          Mark, you’ve been doing at least one a day for ages now. You will absolutely love Napowrimo. I’ve done it twice, and there are at least half a dozen poems I’m actually proud of!

          • markwindham

            13/03/2012 at 12:49 pm

            It should be fun. I did the Poetic Asides November challenge and enjoyed that. That is actually what led to the blog, etc.

        • margo roby

          13/03/2012 at 3:34 pm

          Good for you two young ‘uns 🙂 Skip and I reach 40, forty, four zero (whew) in August. Where are you taking the patient woman?

          • vivinfrance

            13/03/2012 at 4:20 pm

            What? Only half my age? WoW!

            • margo roby

              13/03/2012 at 4:27 pm

              You beat Mark to it. I was waiting for “I wasn’t even born when you married’. Yours, I laughed at.

          • markwindham

            13/03/2012 at 5:23 pm

            New Orleans for a few days.

            • margo roby

              14/03/2012 at 8:15 am

              Nice! We’re thinking of taking the train, sometime this year — the price isn’t bad and we love trains. Have a blast and let me know how the city is doing, when you get back.

  2. b_y

    13/03/2012 at 10:11 am

    All that exuberance is going to take a load of coffee first.

    re April with his promptes soote: I vote you throw the book at us. Mix it up.

    • margo roby

      13/03/2012 at 11:47 am

      Feeling feisty, Barb! I shall think about it. I don’t want to lose good prompts to a group mind-bent on getting to the end of the month. Although, several of you will thrive: the droughte of March we’ll perced to the roote.

      Coffee, always, anyhow.

  3. The Happy Amateur

    13/03/2012 at 10:34 am

    Hi Margo,
    Hope you had a great time with your beautiful granddaughter! Where are the pictures? 🙂 (Maybe, I missed them somehow?..)
    Thank you for the prompt, very interesting and challenging as always..

    • margo roby

      13/03/2012 at 11:48 am

      Hi Sasha — I haven’t figured out quite how to integrate photos. I may have an all photo day this week 🙂

  4. pmwanken

    13/03/2012 at 11:56 am

    Hello!! 🙂 Though I have not been keeping up with your prompts as I would like, I will throw out my two cents re: April. Since most of the poem-a-day prompts are on a topic or idea, perhaps you could offer a form to be used somewhere throughout the week for one of the daily prompts.

    And…speaking of pictures from your visit to TX…darn if I didn’t forget to get one of the two of us together! …next time! 🙂

  5. margo roby

    13/03/2012 at 12:01 pm

    Clever, Paula! I like it. As the poems really are drafts, people might play with form more willingly. I’ll have to think about whether to see the week’s offerings and then suggest a form for revision, or ask you to send me Tuesday’s prompt and address that (Having you send me Robert’s prompt will get it to me hours before his arrives in my inbox).

    You would think, as phones make it so easy, that we could manage to remember!

    • pmwanken

      13/03/2012 at 12:07 pm

      Yes, I could certainly forward the prompt to you…or you could just pick a form to be used with that day’s prompt…or any prompt between then and the following Tuesday.

      • margo roby

        13/03/2012 at 12:15 pm

        Hmmm… that would be fun, wouldn’t it? Robert’s prompt: Write about something joyful in your life. Margo’s exercise: Whatever the prompt, write it in the form of an elegy.

        I like it, Paula 😀

  6. vivinfrance

    13/03/2012 at 12:39 pm

    Please can we have a mixture of prompts, to please all people in all moods?

  7. whimsygizmo

    13/03/2012 at 12:53 pm

    Words. De wants words. She likes forms, and specific prompts. But sprinkling an arbitrary word in there is what really gets her poem-blood pumping.
    Robert: Write about something joyful in your life.
    Margo: Write in the form of an elegy. Oh, yea, and stick the word “soliloquy” in there somewhere.


    • b_y

      13/03/2012 at 1:48 pm

      Isn’t it funny what works and what doesn’t? I look at Robert’s prompts and see huge fuzzy nothing, but a recipe: one line of image, two smells, how many hairs on an angel’s lip. Those AND images AND words. wheeeeee!

  8. margo roby

    13/03/2012 at 3:32 pm

    Y’all having fun up there? 🙂

    You are, however, giving me ideas, heh heh heh. Oh, yes.

  9. vivinfrance

    13/03/2012 at 4:21 pm

    All this lovely chat, and nobody’s posted a poem yet. Here’s my cringeworthy first draft:

    • margo roby

      13/03/2012 at 4:27 pm

      But it’s a poem! I’m heading over.

  10. Hannah Gosselin

    13/03/2012 at 4:24 pm

    Am I supposed to put my link here? I had a really great time with this, Margo! Though, I’m poetically peeved because after getting all just right with the indentations etc., my blog will not hold the indents! The poem is SO much more dramatic and visually appealing with those details. Do you have any idea how to make them stay?

    Thank you for such a fun “Tryout,” and I too, am looking forward to April!!

    Smiles to everyone!

  11. margo roby

    13/03/2012 at 4:31 pm

    Yes, Hannah. I’m not sure I want Mr. Linky, so, as of now, links go into comments. We sift through the chat, pausing for coffee, and then visit when we find links 🙂

    Try this for your formatting. It has worked for me. Write your poem and save it as you usually do. Close the document and reopen it in Wordpad, or Notepad, whatever your computer has. Copy and paste into your blog. That allows you to keep the formatting. Do you want to try it and repost?

    • Hannah Gosselin

      13/03/2012 at 5:32 pm

      That’s perfect, Margo! I have no preference one way or another toward a Mr. Linky.

      I tried what you suggested and it still automatically switches to all left-side non indented lines. It is irking me. If any one else has had trouble with this and have figured out how to tell their computers what to do please drop me a line. It stinks to go to all the work of having it written a specific way and have all efforts thwarted.

      Any way, apologies, I’m venting a bit!

      • margo roby

        14/03/2012 at 8:16 am

        No, no. Vent! That’s odd, though. Now I’ll need to go back and see if I do have indented poems, and it’s not in my head.

        • Hannah Gosselin

          14/03/2012 at 9:48 am

          Oh, thank you, Margo!! It is a dual purpose vent…hoping for a remedy. Thank you for looking into it, you’re so attentive. Smiles and a good day to you!

  12. Annette @ Aspen Meadows

    13/03/2012 at 4:37 pm

    First, I knew that there was a reason I was dreading April.
    Second, I didn’t know about that formatting trick and I’m gonna give it a try! Thanks.
    Third, this prompt sounds like fun! Although work may keep me occupied until the weekend. My brain seems to be fried in the evenings after work and unable to do anything remotely creative.

    • margo roby

      13/03/2012 at 4:43 pm

      I hear you, Annette. My brain stops about three o’ clock.

      It is a fun exercise, so make notes during the week, when you don’t need to think, and when you are rested, your brain will have been working behind the scenes, and you will be ready to try writing the poem on the weekend!

      • aspenmeadows

        16/03/2012 at 12:05 am

        Aargh, this is my third attempt at a comment. WordPress seems to think I don’t exist, then they say I’m a duplicate… and won’t let me leave a comment. Almost as bad as blogger! Last try… I am struggling with this prompt. I have lots of notes, lots of words but no big city to play the big themes. My quiet life in suburbs and small communities doesn’t seem to be working too well. Any suggestions? I haven’t given up yet.

        • margo roby

          16/03/2012 at 9:30 am

          Good Morning! First, re the wordpress thing. Did you have your own blog open on another tab? I find, and I can never remember to do it, that if I don’t have my own blog open, then someone else’s WordPress blog will insist on my filling stuff out. What I usually do is to copy the note I have written [as it disappears], open my blog on another tab, and refresh the blog page I am visiting. Yes, it’s much easier if we can train our brains to remember to start with our blogs open. I haven’t had luck, so far.

          Okay, smaller, quieter places I think can be done with the same format, but the speaker’s tone of voice will be different. Pick the suburb, or community, with the most personality, or the most details, or the most sense of place. Not worrying about how ‘Chicago’ sounds, list the details, the names, the things that are and the things that were [or the other way around], and see what happens when you go back to your list and reorder it i8nto something that makes sense structurally. Let me know how that goes.

        • tmhHoover

          16/03/2012 at 10:01 am

          Annette- Like you this is the third time trying to reply-. Three days ago WordPress began giving me an Error message. After many attempts I found I have been given a WordPress account- I do not have a WordPress blog and did not sign up for an account. I just added a comment on Margo’s most recent post… and of course that one went through. It appears I now need to login to WordPress every time I want to comment- very frustrating.

          • margo roby

            16/03/2012 at 10:06 am

            That’s odd, Teri. WordPress has never been heavy handed about that kind of thing before. I’ll sniff around after I post the roundup. I don’t want to lose my Blogger friends!

            • aspenmeadows

              17/03/2012 at 3:18 pm

              Teri and Margo — I have had the exact same experience as Teri. I know have to log in to WordPress to leave a comment on any WordPress blog (its not just you, Margo). This just started happening a day or two ago. Now that I get it, I can do it but it was sure frustrating until I figured it out!

              • margo roby

                19/03/2012 at 7:43 am

                Well, that’s irritating. I wonder why wordpress felt the need.

  13. Joseph Harker

    13/03/2012 at 4:45 pm

    Oh wow… I’m going to have to nestle this prompt for a little while. The fellow is in town, and I am going to be paying no attention to him, just thinking about cities instead.

    As for April: someone has to pick up the slack of Big Tent (which picked up the slack of RWP), and it’s sure as hell not going to be me, so I say, daily prompts! 😉 Big Tent actually had a great idea before, which was to post them seven at a time, once per week; took some of the slack off and let people do them a bit more flexibly. But if the prompts are like this, you will leave me breathlessly excited for the next one, and the one after, and the one after that.

    (Reveries will continue, though. Woo-hah!)

    • margo roby

      14/03/2012 at 8:13 am

      Oh, good god, like I need the pressure 🙂 A month of prompts would put me out of business. But I am having fun incorporating everyone’s wishes into one prompt. Heh.

      I’ll remember this is your kind of prompt. You do know ideas run thin after a while, yes? However, I will try and stay ahead of your breathlessness for a while, yet.

      I love the idea of you off in a city world while the fellow is with you. I hear a poem in that itself.

      Hmmm… Venice. Btw, if you have not been there, top of your list, lad. Back to the wretched Welsh stuff, no disrespect meant. This English brain is trying not to implode.


      • Joseph Harker

        14/03/2012 at 9:00 pm

        Venice is definitely on the list, no worries. Hell, Italy is on the list, period, I’ll settle for Bari if it means Italy.

        But, in the meantime, I’ll jive with Philadelphia.

        • margo roby

          15/03/2012 at 8:56 am

          Thank God my parents adored Italy. We spent a lot of time there during vacations. You will love it. I shall zip over and learn about Philadelphia’s personality.

  14. Misky

    13/03/2012 at 5:12 pm

    Margo, I want to apologise in advance if I can’t find the time (or mental fortitude) to finish your (and Joseph’s) prompt this week. This week is going from bad to really bad. My cousin (in the US) just had heart valve replacement surgery,and I’ve been Skyping with family daily. I’ve wrenched my back lifting a laundry basket, and on Friday we’re driving to Denmark to care for Mother-in-Law who starts chemo next week. I’ll be in Denmark for 10 days caring for her so I’ll be offline for the most part. I just wanted to say welcome back before my week takes on a life of its own.

    • margo roby

      14/03/2012 at 8:06 am

      Misky, I am so sorry. Life sounds hellish, at the moment. This may sound strange, but take moments to jot notes on things you observe, and feel, this week. You will want them later when you want to write stuff out. Just carry a notebook with you.

      Joseph’s and my prompts aren’t going anywhere. They’ll still be here when you come home.

      Safe travels. Buy a hot water bottle to take with you and some of those wonderful heat patches. They saved me when I put my back out


  15. tmhHoover

    13/03/2012 at 5:34 pm

    Boy you have a lot of feisty people up there!! I am still reading all the prompts on place!! Why? Because I am really drawn to the idea of place. I have been fondling the place idea like fabric for a new quilt, ever since the very first prompt. Then today I saw a clothes line loaded with laundry. I have written all afternoon. It is not much and it does not fit any of the prompts – except it is about place. Thank-you Margo for all your lovely prompts. Here is my attempt at place-

    • margo roby

      14/03/2012 at 8:18 am

      I feel the same draw, Teri. I wonder if we all do. I shall miss the place prompts. But, now we all know we should play with place in all our poems!

      I’m intrigued by your topic and am heading over now 🙂

  16. wordsandthoughtspjs

    13/03/2012 at 11:01 pm

    Margo, I see I am late to the party, 😦 Well, nonetheless, I love this prompt! I am filing it away for spring vacation, or if, I am so lucky maybe sooner.


    • margo roby

      14/03/2012 at 8:21 am

      But, always welcome, Pamela. Can’t wait to see what you do with this, no matter when it comes.

  17. whimsygizmo

    14/03/2012 at 6:21 pm

    Whew. This one is giving me fits. I love a copy-change poem, but I keep trying to write about Las Vegas (we live in the suburb of Henderson), and nothing is coming out sounding like me. May have to revisit, with a soul-home, instead…Lake Tahoe, or Cannon Beach, Oregon. Still trying…(and perhaps that is why they are called Tryouts…)

    • margo roby

      15/03/2012 at 9:21 am

      I know what you mean, de. I have been trying to write about Hong Kong for years, without luck. You say one curious thing: ‘nothing is coming out sounding like me’. Does it need to? Maybe the voice that has emerged is suited to Las Vegas. Give it another look. This does not have to be your voice, only how Las Vegas is perceived by you and described by the speaker you create to tell the story.

      Indeed, tryouts :-0 I dabbled with the possibility of trials, but thought that sounded grim.

  18. irene

    15/03/2012 at 3:20 am

    Did it! Challenging stuff Margo.

    Jewel of the East

    • margo roby

      15/03/2012 at 7:34 am

      I will come read the poem, after I get the blog posted, Irene. Am looking forward to it!

  19. purplepeninportland

    16/03/2012 at 7:10 pm

    I amazed I attempted this, but more amazed that I finished it. Had to play with the formatting quite a bit. Does anyone know how to copy without the spaces between each line. I know how to fix it, but that’s about it.

    • margo roby

      19/03/2012 at 7:59 am

      Feels good, doesn’t it? As to spaces, yes. That I do know. When you open the file with your poem, right-click and open it in wordpad, or notepad. Then copy paste to your blog. I have been doing that for several months. Now if I can learn how to do indents. I know there is a way. Let me know if you have a problem.

  20. aspenmeadows

    16/03/2012 at 7:16 pm

    • purplepeninportland

      20/03/2012 at 5:08 pm

      Can’t seem to leave a comment on your site, so I’ll just say that I thought this poem was wonderfully alive. Great job.


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