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Laura Ingalls Poetry Exercise

by Silvia Hartmann

Laura Ingalls Poetry Exercise

For many years now, I have routinely recommended Laura Ingall's "Little House On The Prairie" as THE book to choose for people who want to learn to read properly - like a proper reader would, not sounding out words on a string but stepping into an alternate reality where you feel, see, hear and EXPERIENCE the story. The reason for this is that Laura Ingalls used to describe the world to her blind sister Mary and thus became an expert at "making the world come to life" for another person in as few words as possible. If, as a writer of poetry or a writer in general, you would like to make it easy for your readers to step into YOUR reality, then Laura Ingalls is the perfect model for this.

Here is a simple poetry exercise based on Laura Ingalls and her unique experiences.

It is true that as soon as you say "poetry" to some people, they tie themselves into knots thinking complicated words and even more complicated rhythms or rhymes.

Fabulous poetry doesn't have to have any of that, and to strip down things to their essentials is a really good practice to engage in, and a good poetry exercise to undertake, no matter how haughty you might think you are in the poetry writing game.

In the Laura Ingalls exercise, we are going to pretend to describe a scene, a vision, a something that moves you to a blind person in the fewest possible words.

This focuses your mind on the most important aspects of what you are describing first; for it makes no sense to say that something is blue and green, without telling them first that we are talking about a shiny sports car.

There may have been merit in also mentioning that this shiny sports car is only 3 inches long and is right in front of your feet, so don't trip over it!

This "tail first head last" example of description should have caused you to jar three times - first, when it was a car, second, when it was tiny, and third, that it was on the floor in front of your feet.

You really don't want to do that with a blind person, or with your reader, or else they get frustrated.

What else you don't want to do in this exercise is to add emotive terms that do not help with the description of the reality in question. For example, "a sad lonely forest" makes no sense to a blind person and doesn't help them navigate into it, or through it. You need to find a different way of conveying that idea, for example by saying that the forest is just a remnant of a few trees and bushes, surrounded on all sides by concrete and skyscrapers.

So now, think of something beautiful you have seen, something that really moved you, and describe it as quickly as possible in the fewest possible words to the blind person who sits beside you so they get to see it too.

Now turn those words into a poem. Allow it to be simple, direct, and instantly accessible - just as your description was, to the blind person.

That is today's simple exercise; you can do this exercise with other things, such as something funny you saw, something disturbing, something very strange.

But to really make use of this exercise is to do it often; when you are out and about, anytime you have a moment or two, to take a moment and in your mind, translate that which you are experiencing - seeing, hearing, feeling - for the blind person who is listening intently and who is counting on you to show them the world.

Silvia Hartmann

February 2010


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Interested in the structure of reading and writing? Check this out: "Can you read? Are you sure ...?"

  by Silvia Hartmann
"What do we do when we get stuck? When we have no answers? When there is nowhere else to turn? We do Project Sanctuary. Of course. What else?" Silvia Hartmann

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