Community Studio: “A Million Ways to Make a Poem”

“A Million Ways to Make a Poem” might seem hyperbolic, but poet Matthew Kosinski chose the name with the utmost sincerity. During the studio’s first session, participants encountered a few nontraditional poetic possibilities, including visual and conceptual poetry. Through automatic writing and challenging prompts, participants reconsidered their preconceptions of poetry in a casual, encouraging environment.


Each poet was given a packet containing information on poetry and a collection of curated poems. The following is an excerpt from that packet:


A Brief Introduction to Poetry:

“Poetry is like a curvy slide in a playgroundan odd object, available to the publicand, as I keep explaining to my local police force, everyone should be able to use it, not just those of a certain age. The only things that all poems have in common is that they are all strange in some way, because all great literature is strange, the way all good slides are slippery.” – Lemony Snickett

 Poetry gets a bad reputation. Most of us encounter it for the first time in classrooms. We’re taught that poems are riddles, that reading poetry means “figuring out” what a poem “means.”  We’re taught there is a “right” answer and a “wrong” answer.

This is all wrong. Poetry isn’t a riddle – it’s a slide. It’s not meant to be difficult; it’s meant to be enjoyed. We don’t ask “What does a slide mean?” We just go down the slide, and it’s exciting. The same with poems: We read them, and they are exciting. We don’t have to ask, “What does this poem mean?”

You can ask that, of course. For some people, asking what a poem means is part of the fun. For other people, the fun comes from evocative imagery, or it comes from the way the poem sounds, or it comes from the questions the poem raises, or it comes from the surprising ways the poem uses language.

Poetry is different from other language. We don’t write poems to tell people something. When you say, “I’m hungry,” you’re telling someone you’re hungry. When you say, “Two plus two equals four,” you’re telling someone that two plus two equals four. Poems don’t tell us things – they give us experiences.

When we experience a poem, we experience the world in a new way. Think about how you experience the world differently when you’re going down a slide: You’re flying through the air, the wind is rushing past you, you see the people and the trees and the park all blurring together in a smear of imagery. That’s what poetry is like: It’s like seeing the world from a new point of view; it’s like seeing the world all rearranged, and you can really feel it. Poetry isn’t just about seeing, it’s about feeling.


Poetry Is for Everyone

“Every single human being is creative. If our creativity is an organ we need to start thinking of it as a vital one. When we commit ourselves to nurturing our artistic capacities we improve our ability to more deeply discern the world around us and make the constructive decisions needed in order to thrive in this world.

“It is absolutely necessary, right now, at this very moment, to embrace our creativity. No matter who you are, having a daily creative practice can expand your ability to better form the important questions we need to be asking ourselves about how to best change the destructive direction we are all headed.” – CA Conrad

Poetry makes the world bigger. When you write a poem, you change the world. Before you wrote that poem, it didn’t exist. Now, it does exist – and the world is a little bit bigger.

It is everyone’s duty to make the world bigger, to make a world that contains enough room for everyone and everyone’s experiences. Poetry is one of the ways we do that.


Download the Community Studio: “A Million Ways to Make a Poem” packet here, and click on the images below to read the poems we discussed during today’s session.



Community Studio: “A Million Ways to Make a Poem” meets every Tuesday from 6 – 7:30 pm (with the exception of July 25th) at the Empower Youth Ranch (2800 State Rt. 125, Bethel, OH 45106). Ages 13 and up are welcome. No experience required!

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