Tuesday Tryouts, Trials, Tests, Practices, Auditions, Demonstrations

20 Mar

7:46 a.m. — Atlanta

Good-day, all. I find I am much more enthusiastic about Tuesdays, than Mondays. I hope all is well with everyone. Today we are going to work with motifs. Motifs are one of my favourite literary devices. I shall endeavor to not go off into flights of fervour.

Motifs are most commonly found in plays, novels, and short stories [because they are longer and the motif, if well-used, is more subtle] and are defined as any recurring element that has symbolic significance to the story. Through its repetition, a motif provides a narrative thread, helps characterise people, underscores themes, and several other items that we don’t need to worry about. We create motifs through imagery, structural components, language, and other elements.

The beauty of a motif is that it gives us a larger scope for nuances. The repetition of a motif tends to be different aspects of one component. Joseph Harker, in his latest Reverie, suggests using a time motif: Another trick is to use lots of time-related words to outline the frame: “minute”, “moment”, “day”, “afternoon”, etc. to keep the time images fresh in your reader’s mind. These time elements support the frame, and underline the theme that time is fleeting.

You might be writing a poem about barriers, but you don’t want to say so directly. Throughout the poem you can use different images that imply barrier: wall, fence, coffin, body of water, age and a whole lot more, but you get the idea.

For this exercise, look for patterns, motifs, throughout your house, or place of work [yes, I know some of you are out there waiting for a reason not to work]. The pattern can be one of colour, shape, size, style, thing… you are looking for repetition. In my flat, as I look around, that might be the colour red: the double-decker bus in a black and white poster, the bubblegum dispenser, the Chinese calendar, a fire extinguisher, four tomatoes, a lithograph, a pair of chopsticks… and I haven’t moved out of my chair [my nest is part of the kitchen/living room area, in what should be the dining room — it’s a small flat].

I have to look more deliberately, but I have several things that are corkscrew in shape: a corkscrew [I know], an incense spiral, rotini, a pair of earrings, the spiral at the top of my notebook; you get the idea. List what you find. Go for a couple of motifs, so you have some elbow room.

Go outside [lunchtime, work people?]. You want to find parallels with the motifs you listed in your indoor place. List them and jot brief notes giving each a context, or take photographs, so you have them to look at when you are back to your writing place. Why the parallels? To give you more scope for writing. You may write about indoors, or outdoors, or both. You might focus primarily on one area and pull an image from another.

Without directly addressing it, write a poem that shows the motif working in your world, or a world you create. Below I have a sonnet by Robert Frost which does exactly that:


I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth —
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth —
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

Robert Frost

Thomas Hardy, in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, uses over fifty-five motifs. Hardy trained as an architect and he uses motifs to structure his stories. Shakespeare loved playing with motifs. The two he uses when Macbeth and Lady M appear are birds of prey, or something signifying barrenness. For the Macduffs and Banquo, Shakespeare uses gentle, defenceless birds, and fruitfulness. What’s that? Mercy? Oh, fine.

Don’t forget to post your poems and visit others to see what they come up with. I shall see you Thursday for either announcements or a possible reblog — if I find whatever I thought would make a brilliant reblog. I know: Should have written it down, Margo. I will see you again Friday for the roundup; and next Tuesday for an image prompt. You have been saved from homework by the last Tuesday of the month. I guess I will have to shift it to April… heh heh heh. Everyone ready for poem-a-day?

Happy writing, all.



Posted by on 20/03/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


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36 responses to “Tuesday Tryouts, Trials, Tests, Practices, Auditions, Demonstrations

  1. vivinfrance

    20/03/2012 at 10:31 am

    Oh Lordy – now you’re going all Harkerish on me. I’m feeling decidedly fragile, and incapable of making my brain work, so I may give this one a miss. Hmmm. I’ll wait and see what comes up in a sleepless night.

    • margo roby

      20/03/2012 at 10:43 am

      Great Leaping Whatevers! I am highly complimented. Not at you taking to your bed, but being referred to as Harkerish.

      Don’t make your brain work, other than spotting a pattern. Just list. No thinking allowed. It will happen in the way back of your brain, anyway.

      • Joseph Harker

        22/03/2012 at 12:01 am

        Some of us suffer from being Harkerish 24/7…😉

        • margo roby

          22/03/2012 at 7:41 am

          Maybe we can spell you Anytime you get tired of this Harker fellow, let us know and one of us will be Harker-ish for twenty-four hours.

          There’s a poem in there somewhere…

      • vivinfrance

        23/03/2012 at 8:21 am

        At last, the list emerged:

        • margo roby

          23/03/2012 at 8:38 am

          Feels good when that happens, doesn’t it? I am still mulling Joseph’s.

  2. ansuyo

    20/03/2012 at 3:25 pm

    Now I can’t stop seeing motifs!

    • margo roby

      20/03/2012 at 4:48 pm

      Ooops! I forgot to mention that part. It will fade in a couple of weeks… sort of

  3. b_y

    20/03/2012 at 5:06 pm

    Can’t focus, so this is, well, unfocused

  4. The Happy Amateur

    20/03/2012 at 7:56 pm

    maybe, the inspiration will strike unexpectedly… so far my mind’s completely blank. Maybe, I’ll work this into a motif!

    • margo roby

      22/03/2012 at 8:51 am

      Meanwhile, Sasha, keep looking and jotting down anything that repeats. Don’t worry about whether it will work for a poem. That will be happening at the back of your brain, while you are noting.

  5. The Happy Amateur

    20/03/2012 at 8:17 pm


    Empty-eyed, absent-minded, I stare at
    The white page on the computer screen:
    The dwelling of inspiration
    Inside my brain is vacant –
    Drafty halls, old echoes –
    My Muse has left me…
    What have I done?!
    Come back, fill
    In those

    • The Happy Amateur

      20/03/2012 at 8:37 pm

      Want to change the second line:

      “The whiteness of the computer screen”

      • margo roby

        22/03/2012 at 8:54 am

        I don’t know, Sasha, I rather like the first way. I love that you wrote this as an etheree, so that even your form is part of the motif!

        • The Happy Amateur

          22/03/2012 at 1:39 pm

          I think I prefer the first way, too, actually, thank you! And thank you for introducing me to the etheree, I find this form very comforting and soothing, counting syllables like counting sheep almost!

          • margo roby

            22/03/2012 at 3:34 pm

            I agree, Sasha, and you are welcome I like the focus and the wrestling with syllables and words.

      • vivinfrance

        23/03/2012 at 1:20 pm

        It scans better. I like this – you are obvbiously feeling a bit like I am at the moment.

  6. wordsandthoughtspjs

    21/03/2012 at 9:49 pm

    I love this, Margo. I am so far behind on all the prompts, but I am saving them.


    • margo roby

      22/03/2012 at 7:38 am

      I know what you mean, Pamela. I have three of Joseph’s hanging fire. I have a large save file At least we will never run out of ideas!


  7. Joseph Harker

    22/03/2012 at 12:01 am

    Gave it a shot… I think I could do a more solid one, need to put my observational eyes on more. Celestial Navigation

    • margo roby

      22/03/2012 at 7:40 am

      Motifs are such fun. I would think you can do some dynamite stuff with them, Joseph, but I shall be over to read your shot as soon as I stop procrastinating and write my blog post.

  8. Misky

    22/03/2012 at 8:14 am

    I’m still in Denmark. The oldies are sleeping, and I’m looking out the study window at the sea and the harbour: lots of memories here. So here’s a quickie.


    Day three, and we’re still adrift
    On a flat speigel sea, the main sail
    Soaking up fog as the weather swallows
    Up our moaning impatience
    With practised indifference.
    We sit and sit in Sønderborg harbour
    Knowing that Flensborg isn’t going
    Anywhere soon. With a bit of luck
    this holiday hulk will soon be underway again.

    • margo roby

      22/03/2012 at 8:22 am

      I miss you, woman! My father’s mother’s family are from Denmark and I enjoyed my visit there, many, many years ago to meet them and to see a bit of Denmark.

      Love the whole tone of voice in the poem. The phrase ‘the main sail Soaking up fog’ is wonderful.

      • Misky

        22/03/2012 at 9:22 am

        As always, so kind and generous with your comments. I miss you, too. I’ll be back home on Monday. I see that I managed to misspell ‘spiegel’ for crying out loud. Spiegel means mirror in German, and it was also the name our boat many years ago. Mirror on mirror seemed rather like infinity I thought.

        The rest of the list went into Joseph’s prompt, which I posted on his blog rather than on mine. I can’t keep a connection going for long. (grumble-grumble)

    • vivinfrance

      23/03/2012 at 2:31 pm

      This is lovely, so atmospheric, so reminiscent of sailing trips I have been co-erced into taking,. And the Danish names are beautiful.

  10. Pingback: Rebirth | Awakened Words
  11. markwindham

    22/03/2012 at 12:19 pm

    Well, something written anyway. I shall echo Viv’s sentiments.

    • margo roby

      22/03/2012 at 3:33 pm

      Something written is always better than not! how was your away? Was that this past week?

      • markwindham

        22/03/2012 at 3:43 pm

        away is not for a couple of weeks; first weekend in April (Wed-Sat actually, have to be home for Easter), which will put me behind for PAD. My writing time will be limited to when she is in the shower.😉

        • margo roby

          22/03/2012 at 3:45 pm

          You may find those are some of your best drafts. No chance for your brain to nay-say

          • markwindham

            22/03/2012 at 4:15 pm

            True. Will be using good ole pen and paper too. Being caught with a laptop would be dangerous. Might be allowed the I-Pad, maybe.

            • margo roby

              22/03/2012 at 5:13 pm

              Enh! Give pen and paper a try. I keep pushing it

  12. purplepeninportland

    22/03/2012 at 5:56 pm

    TOUGH prompt! I had trouble with forming the poem out of the motif. Not one of my better ones, but I tried.

    • margo roby

      23/03/2012 at 8:40 am

      Mmmm… maybe you were focusing too much on letting the motif inform the poem. Your poem on signs has a motif running all the way through… Check out Mark’s, if you haven’t. He has managed three motifs.

  13. Pingback: Themes and motifs in everyday life « Write on the World

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