I bought poemcrazy at Borders (Remember Borders Books? Sigh.) when my oldest daughter entered Bennington College in 1996. Poetry was one of her areas of study (I think it was her original major), and I thought she would like it. But as I flipped through it, I decided I’d read it first, then send it to her.
I started reading it often, always meaning to try out the exercises, but never getting around to it. Meanwhile, Carly changed majors several times, graduated from Bennington with a degree in German, then got a Masters from NYU in English as a second language, earned a second Masters from Baruch College, and started doctoral work. I’ve never sent her the book.
Finally, last January I began a year-long love affair with poemcrazy: freeing your life with words, by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, which has resulted in twenty-seven babies (poems) so far.
Poemcrazy is an informal textbook on creating free verse. Wooldridge is a nationally known teacher of poetry workshops to students of all ages. She is more interested in playing with words to release their emotional content than in adhering to strict form or rhyme constraints.
Wooldridge advocates collecting words in a wordpool. She likes writing individual words on tickets, like those used at carnivals. Throughout the book, Wooldridge makes suggestions for additions to the pool.
I write my words on quartered 3×5 cards, color coded: blue for adjectives, yellow for verbs, orange for nouns, green for colors, and pink for feelings. I rubberband each color together and store them in a Ziplock baggie in my desk drawer.
The wordpool can be used to generate poems. For me, one or two cards drawn from each category create weird juxtapositions that ignite bizarre images and bring long-repressed memories back into my consciousness, releasing floodgates of emotion—a perfect breeding ground for poetry.
Using stories from her life and examples from her workshops, Wooldridge nudges the reader toward creativity:
…Erica [a high school student] stared at a perfect, round dandelion gone to seed. When Stacie knocked some seeds, off, Erica went outside for another. She wanted a perfect sphere. I asked her to look closely, name it and then describe what the dandelion looked like, reminding her that close observation is important in poetry.
Then I asked her to think about a quality of the dandelion that could enrich her life. I felt discouraged and I was pushing her. I asked her to begin, What does it look like? What does it look like that it isn’t? When Erica finally wrote about her dandelion, I was reminded of the power of comparison (or simile and metaphor) to expand our sense of possibility in ourselves and in everyday objects.
it looks like someone shot
an arrow in the moon
or even a golf ball on a green tee.
A domed jungle gym
with small people growing out.
An octopus tarred and feathered.
It smells like starbursts…
I can smell the arrow
it flew by so fast.
Bring me the light touch of a bubble
the freedom of air
the firmness and strength of a rock.
Before I read this book, I didn’t think I could write poetry.
Now I know I can.
Poemcrazy was first released in 1996. It is now in its twenty-sixth printing.