Lately, I’ve developed the habit of typing poems I admire and pasting them in a notebook. The practice helps me understand the poems in a way that adds to the appreciation gained through close reading and annotation. Feeling the way a line wraps, trying on the punctuation style of another poet, and slinking into the shape of her formed work adds to the appreciation of her use of imagery and verb choices. In this way, I “write” a poem I otherwise wouldn’t. This habit also fuels my own writing and revising.
When I write poems, I tend to draft in a combination of handwritten and computer-typed lines. I write by hand as far as my cross-outs and rearranging make sense, and then transfer the lines to my word-processing program. When I type another person's poem, the feeling is similar to transferring a draft to my computer with the added benefit of moving immediately to a "finished" work (I put "finished" in quotes to allow room for revision post-publication).
Trying on the shapes of other people’s poems and lines helps me envision my own work in a new way. More than once, I’ve surprised myself by finding that the shape of a poem I’ve typed from someone else fits a draft I’ve just written. The same technique has been useful when I’ve gotten stuck in a revision. I look for a poem that has a similar emotional energy as the one on which I’m working and try on that poem’s shape for my own.
Sometimes, I look at an attractive shape and try it on for fun. Would long, enjambed lines better serve a draft I’ve crafted in short, stacked lines? How would freeing a poem across the page better get at its essence?
It’s more than just the shape. Using punctuation and capitalization that aren’t natural to my own style creates distance that helps me see my own work in a new way. I enjoy trying out several different paths for revising the same poem. Working out my poems this way feels like cross-training with various sports. Each approach is valuable. Stepping outside my own tendencies for a poetry workout this way balances my tendency to follow my instincts when I write and gives me a broader range of tools to use when writing and revising my own poems. The kinesthetic experience of inhabiting another person’s poem creates muscle memory that’s different from reading a poem on the page or speaking it aloud. What happens when you try this type of poetry workout? What practices do you employ to expand and improve your work?