The Poetry Walk

It was many years ago, for a program we were teaching in at Bard College, that Dawn Lundy Martin scripted this idea of the Poetry Walk in order to teach students that there is order in seeming randomness, and shifting one’s perspective in time and space is the best way to experience how language, when not directed into a premeditated “meaning” creates complexities of syntax and form. In other words, don’t set out to write a poem — set out to have an experience, and mark that experience through language.

The Poetry Walk remains one of my all time favorite exercises — it elicits incredible pieces that genuinely startle and wake up the imagination. Most responses are akin to: “I had no idea that these seemingly disconnected fragments of just me walking around and noticing the world around me could create such an amazing poem!”

I’ve amended Dawn’s initial exercise a bit, and included a “salon” at the end of the walk where students meet and share their poems — but the heart of it remains the same:

This is a 45 minute exploratory walk. Spend 45 minutes walking, and return to this spot where you began. Please do this exercise ALONE! Write short passages or sentences for each instruction, spending a maximum of 5 minutes in one place. First thought, best thought.

1.   Walk outside for in a random direction to an area that appeals to you. Stop and sit down. Write a sentence that describes where you are and how you got there.

2. Write an invocation to someone/something you miss terribly. (Begin your line with an Ode: Oh, _____).

Walk to another location. When you have arrived, sit down.

3. Close your eyes and listen. Write what you are hearing that you didn’t notice before.

4.  Describe a memory of your childhood using details from an architectural structure that is visible from where you sit.

Turn around and face the opposite direction.

5.  Use one example of synesthesia (mixing the senses).

Walk somewhere else. Sit down.

6. Write a sentence in which you contradict something you wrote earlier.

Face another direction.

7. Pull out your phone and write down the last text message that you received. Write what you really want to say to this person.

8.  Write a sentence in which an emotion springs into action as in: “the frustration cleaned the house” or “the depression switched off the lights.”

9.  Study another’s body movements/gestures from a distance. Mention at least two of these gestures.

Walk for 5 minutes.

10. Write a sentence beginning with the phrase, “I remember.”

Walk to another location. Stop.

11.    Imagine yourself at a time in the not to distant future, feeling the way you want to feel and living the life you want to be leading. Write into this future tense, as if what you are writing is a prediction.

12.     Write a consoling phrase from a language other than English.

13.     Mention something about the weather without making it known you are talking about the weather.

Spin around. Sit down.

15.     Close your eyes. Breathe out for a count of 6, and in for a count of 3. Do that four times. Write: What’s everything that you are not thinking about?

16.     Make a nonhuman object say or do something to someone who injured you as a child.

17. Make up an instruction and insert it here.

18.   Give this piece a title that comes from one of the lines you have written so far.


Return to where you started, and pair up with the first person you see there. Assign a time-keeper – make sure that each person gets at least 10 minutes.

  1. Writer: Read your poem out loud.

  2. Partner: practice radical listening. As the writer reads, jot down words and phrases that stand out to you. You’ll want to have a list of these words by time the person has finished reading.

  3. Read back words/phrases, “popcorn” style

  4. After writer has finished reading, offer your first impression: where were you most pulled into the piece? What is the center of gravity of the piece? what part would you want to hear read out loud again? What would you like to have happen to this poem? What does this poem want to have happen?

#poetryexercises #poetrywalkDawnLundyMartin

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