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Exercises to Stir Your Voice | Exercise 1

A photo of hand holding a black and gold pen. There is a piece of paper on a desk under the hand, and a steaming cup on a saucer in the background.

Grab a pen & paper and try the exercises below.

All exercises are adapted from Finding What You Didn't Lose: Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making, by John Fox (Founder and President of The Institute for Poetic Medicine).

Exercise 1: Playing with Words

Remember what Elisa Doolittle said in the musical My Fair Lady, "Words, words, words, I'm so sick of words!"

She practically shouts at Henry Higgins about life and their relationship, "Show me! Show me now!" Elisa was clearly the poet of the two! Elisa was on to the oldest adage in poetry "show, don't tell." She wanted action. Higgins was mostly attached to grammar, pronunciation and getting it right. He needed to loosen up and more of a poet's spirit to speak to her heart.

Perhaps Elisa would change her mind about words (and change Henry's) if she encouraged him to discover how words are meant to be as delicious as her favorite chocolates. After all, Elisa wanted to get endorphins firing!

Writing a poem is like making an artifact.

It is making something physical out of words.

~ Galway Kinnell

Do you know the kind of words we're describing? What words roll off the tongue or look like treasures on the page waiting to be opened? What words excite you as you say them, make you want to laugh at their sound or shout them out?

Treat words as if they were paint, clay or wood; allow words to be a physical material to shape, mold, chisel and blend. Liberate simple, seemingly ordinary words from the prison of habit (for instance, how they are used—or misused to make us consumers!) and free those words to breathe fresh air together.

Say this:

...say threshold, cottonmouth, Russian leather,

say ash, picot, fallow deer, saxophone, say kitchen sink.

This is a birthday party for the mouth—it's better than ice cream,

say waterlilly, refrigerator, hartebeest, Prussian blue

and the word will take you, if you let it,

the word will take you along across the air of your head

so that you're there as it settles into the thing it was made for,

adding to it a shimmer and the bird song of its sound...

~ Marilyn Krysl from Saying Things

Follow your heart and imagination...what will you create? Circle five words from the list below and include them in a poem.

Here are a few words to get you started for your artistic pleasure; more words appear on pages 111-113 of Finding What You Didn't Lose: Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making

dance | music | earth | tiger | farm | buckle | trees | monkey | peace | love | whisper | falcon | plucks | amaze | cook | regrets | urge | blast | smile | sadness | hands | listen | caress | splendor | sing | animal | leaf | asleep | purrs | sour | earth | magic | dreams | boat | snake | blaze |

Here's an example:


the fertile

trees from

where you

and I

whisper into

the secret

place and

smile. The

old mill

now half-

covered with

moss had

that joyful

eeriness to

it that made

us wonder.


what the


used to


~ Eric Kallman, age 16, from Finding What You Didn't Lose: Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making

Exercise 2 can be found here.

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