In late March of 2017, about 3 months into my story project about training for a marathon, I discovered Bernadette Mayer and her list of writing experiments through an online poetry class. It changed my life and the direction of my writing. I began experimenting with new forms and ways of exploring and understanding what it could mean to be a body that moves, thinks, creates, questions, wonders, and pays attention, all at the same time. The laboratory for these experiments continues to be the Mississippi River Gorge in south Minneapolis, which I run or walk or bike beside almost every day.
Some of these experiments have led to bigger projects, some have been abandoned, and some are just waiting for when I decide to return to them. For a larger list of experiments that I’ve tried or want to try, see my ever-expanding list: Experiments: unabridged list
voice memo work
The first running/poetry experiment I did was inspired by Bernadette Mayer’s suggestion on page 10 of Please Add to this List: “Attempt tape recorder work. That is, recording without a text, perhaps at specific times.” During a 3 mile run, I recorded my thoughts as they occurred to me by pulling out my iPhone mid-run and speaking into it using the Voice Memos app. I enjoyed this experiment enough that I envisioned doing it a lot more, maybe even composing poems into my phone while I ran the marathon–a poem for each of the 26 miles. But the logistical difficulties of speaking into a phone while running have been hard to manage and an injury prevented me from running the marathon. Even so, I continue to experiment with using the voice memo app in different ways.
- march 20/3 miles (recording my thoughts while running, 2017)
- march 22/5 miles (recording my thoughts while running up a steep hill, 2017)
- april 24/WALK (recording my thoughts while walking and comparing it to thoughts while running, 2017)
- may 19/8 miles (composing chants/little poems and recording them mid-run, 2017)
- april 9/4 miles (recording dripping water, melting snow sounds, 2018)
- april 19/RUN (stopping 4 miles in, on lake street bridge, recording thoughts about the river, 2019)
- dictation project (recording spoken log entries after my runs, 2020)
- june 22/5.35 miles (run down the Franklin hill, walk back up it while recording sounds and your thoughts, 2022)
Running Log Erasures
In April of 2017, I began turning some of my log entries into erasure poems. With the help of my web developer husband (Room 34), I created these erasures online. Instead of blacked out text, the erased words disappear when you hover over the entry. One drawback: the effect only works on computers, not phones or tablets.
Variation: Playlist Erasures
Variation: Other Peoples’ Words
- O (an erasure of Poem by Charles Wright)
In April of 2017, in an effort to make thinking about injury less scary, I decided to derange its language by combining 2 experiments from Please Add to This List: 1. Systematically derange the language: write a work consisting only of prepositional phrases, or, add a gerund to every line of an already existing work (9) and 2. Get a group or words, either randomly selected or thought up, then form these words (only) into a piece of writing—whatever the words allow. Let them demand their own form, or, use some words in a predetermined way. Design words (9). Since then, I have relied on deranging language to help me find the magic and possibility in words and the things/experiences/ideas they describe.
Spells to Ward Off Injury
- Fun with Medical Terms!
- Let IT Be
- More Fun with the IT Band
- Deranging and Making Strange: Acronyms
- Deranging and Making Strange: Anagrams
Spells for Becoming Acquainted with the Body and Celebrating its Magic
- It Starts With A Step
- More Fun with Medical Terms
- The Parts and Poems of the Body
- magic and the body, some thoughts
Spells for Enduring Discomfort
Version One, 2020
When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, I memorized poems. I also decided to give myself a monthly challenge to create a poem (or a piece of writing) that might help me endure this difficult, scary time. The only rules: the poem is, in some way, about the month, was written during that month, and uses alliteration in the title.
Version Two, Poets (2021, 2022, 2023)
In March of 2021, I decided to devote a month to Emily Dickinson. I read one of her poems each day and read about her life and her work. I enjoyed this study so much that I devoted more months to other poets, a wide range of their poems, or a single work. In March 2023, I plan to return to Emily Dickinson. I also hope to devote a month to Lorine Niedecker.
- Dear March — Come in — (2021)
- April is for Mary (Oliver) (2021)
- March: Alice Oswald’s Dart (2022)
- February: Linda Pastan (2023)
Version Three, Subjects (2021, 2022)
In May of 2021, I decided to try a topic for my monthly challenge: birds. I found, read, memorized, and recited poems about birds. And I learned mnemonic devices for identifying birdsong, interesting facts about birds and birders, ways to be with birds without classifying them. Since then, I’ve focused on many other topics. Here’s how it works: early in the month, I come up with the challenge. Then, throughout the month, I wonder about it as I move, research it, experiment with it in some of my entries. I tag those entries with the challenge topic and post a summary of the challenge at the end of the month on that year’s page. My challenges have been inspired by something I’m wondering about, something I want to spend more time with, even something from a call for submissions for a literary journal.
- May is for the Birds (2021)
- June: Water and Stone (2021)
- July: Water, Water Everywhere (2021)
- August: How to Love Like the Lake Loves (2021)
- September’s Approximations (2021)
- October’s Apparitions (2021)
- February: What You See Is What You Get (2022)
- April: Dirt (2022)
- November: Sing a Song of Gray (2022)
Breaths, Chants, Rhythms
As I explore the relationship between movement and writing, I’ve been using my breathing patterns and rhythms while running and swimming to experiment with new poems and poetic forms. Many of my poems are composed later. I make a note of my breathing or cadence and then find words to fit. And many of them are composed while I’m running or swimming. I come up with words as I breathe and/or as my foot strikes the ground. These poems are intended to be fun, challenging distractions as I move. They also can help me keep a steady pace. And they enable me to listen and play around with how my words, phrases, and lines work and don’t work rhythmically.
When You Can’t Move, Memorize a Poem
One July night in 2017, my kneecap slipped out of its groove. In the days before I went to a doctor to find out what was wrong, I was scared, uncomfortable, uncertain, and restless. I couldn’t walk and was only able to move by hopping between the couch and a table. To make myself feel better, I decided to memorize a poem. It worked. I memorized almost a dozen poems in the next few weeks. Then I recited them to myself and for my family. As I memorized these poems, I kept a daily log about the injury and my efforts to recover. I used bits of these poems, along with the log entries, to craft a cento and 2 lyric essays.
- Subluxation, 16 Emotions
- P A T E L L A R S U B L U X A T I O N
- Unmixed Attention Is Not Will, a cento
- When You Can’t Move, Memorize a Poem: exercise
To Feel How Words Move, Memorize a Poem and Recite it While Running
Right as the pandemic was hitting Minnesota in early March of 2020, I decided to memorize some poems to make myself feel better. I started with one I’d memorized before but had forgotten: Auto lullaby/ Franz Wright. Then I decided to recite it to myself as I was running. I liked doing this so much, I turned it into an exercise. In addition to using this experiment to pay more attention to the poems I’m memorizing–the meter, the meaning–I often compose my own poems inspired by the poem I’m reciting during or after my run.
- Entries tagged with reciting while running
- Poems Memorized in 2020
- Ode to Green, a poem inspired by Rita Dove’s “Ode to My Right Knee”
- To Feel How Words Move, Memorize a Poem
Spending Time with Others’ Words
In February of 2019, after noticing I had only posted 31 poems in over 500 entries on my RUN! log, I decided to try posting one at the end of each entry. Oftentimes these poems were related to my mood, the date, or something I was paying attention to during my run. At first, the only purpose was to seek out and post more poems. Slowly, I’ve been experimenting with new ways to spend time with other people’s words. At the end of the 2019, I spent a month rereading all of the poems, picking out my favorite lines, and then turning them into a cento. And in February of 2020, I revisited all of the poems I had posted in Februarys (2019 and 2020) and picked out lines that best translated the feels like temperature into words. In December of 2020, I used lines from poems I’d gathered that year to create 3 lists: the IS, the OUGHT, the WHY NOT?. And, in February of 2022, I gathered favorite lines from Linda Pastan poems and turned them into a few centos.
Spending Time with my past Words
In January and February of 2020, I read through my log entries from 2017-2020 for those months, picked out some details I wanted to spend more time with, and had fun experimenting with how to shape them into a poem. In the future, I’d like to try this out with particular days, like March 14th on 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022.
Learning to Listen
As my central vision continues to deteriorate, I’ve been focusing more on sound, trying to learn both how to listen and how to describe sounds in my writing. In addition to making lots of lists in my log entries about what I hear when I’m at the gorge and doing focused runs where all I try to do is listen, I have picked particular sounds and spent time exploring them–recording and researching them, reciting poems about them, writing in my log and notebooks about my reactions to them, and then writing my own poems inspired the sound.
Crunching Snow, winter 2018
- Entries tagged with crunching snow
- dec 13, 2017
- feb 20, 2018
- march 2, 2018
- Snow, 6 Variations in Form