Working with a Template (poetry drafting idea)

It’s December! My poem-a-day task  throughout the month of November worked really well (excluding a day of wanting to do nothing and two days of a sinus infection), and I now have 27 poems that have just enough muscle and light to maybe be worked into something better.

Since I was working in a limited time frame (writing a poem at 5:30 in the morning until I had to get ready for work at 6), I opted not to write draft notes for individual pieces, but I did want to give a run-down of my general process.

Most days, I used a “template” technique. I’d find a poem somewhere online (websites listed below) that jumped out at me for word choice or structure, and copy and paste it into a word document for me to play with. I end up changing everything, but having those words already on the page helped me quickly move from “OMG WHAT AM I GOING TO WRITE! IT’S SOOO EARLY!” to “oooo! bread and starlings…”

Sometimes, having the template didn’t work. I’d get caught up in how lovely the poem was that I didn’t want to change a thing. When this happened, I’d have to erase the template, maybe pull some words from it for a word bank, and start from scratch.

When working with a template, make sure to NEVER EVER plagiarize. Do whatever you can to change everything.

Ideas to help with that:

-Look up synonyms in the dictionary for words already on the page. If you find a word you like, replace the original and keep doing this. You may find a story after you’ve done a couple of these that will help you change the rest.

-Look up antonyms for words on the page. Replace the originals and keep doing this until you find your story.

-Pull words from that poem and another one and try to use one per line.

-If you’re stuck on the story, write it from another point of view (first person, third, from the voice of a character in the poem). Write it backwards chronologically, literally.

The important thing is to work WITH the template, to let its words and phrasing inspire new words and phrasings for you. It is not to copy, but to explore the interaction between yourself and someone else’s work. At the end of a draft with a template, I might have a poem that is still too similar to the original, so I let it set and come back to it later without the original on my mind and shape it into something totally new.

Websites I Used to Find Templates

1. Verse Daily (Particularly the archives section when the daily poem didn’t do anything for me)

2. Linebreak (Again, the archives section)

3. Poem-A-Day (This one was really hit or miss for me. Many of the poems aren’t contemporary, but some really helped me play with structure in a different way, so the poems here might work better for you than they did me.)

4. A Poem A Day (This one was sometimes helpful for me just to read through when I couldn’t figure out where to move next in a poem.)

5. [PANK] Magazine (Go through the online issues. Can be hard to distinguish between poetry and prose unless they publish more than one poem from the same author, but they choose such lyric prose that it’s not a bad idea to pull templates from the stories as well.)

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