Daily Detail for Poems

Wow! We’ve had an overwhelming number of responses to our Memoir Writing 101 class at the Bixby. As a result, half the writers will meet Tuesdays from 3-5pm, and the other half will meet Thursdays 6-8pm.


The founders of Zig Zag Lit Mag visited the long running Otter Creek Poets group in Middlebury to discuss our Issue No. 2, the editorial process, and our vision for the magazine. I prepared a prompt for the group, but didn’t get a chance to present it. Instead, I will share it with you.


Starting with an old reliable writing exercise, we will craft a poem using detail from today (or whichever day you try it). Specific detail is vital to bring a poem alive for your reader, so the “4-minute diary” is one of my favorite exercises to cultivate attention to detail. Repeatedly performing the exercise over a long period of time at regular intervals helps to see the world as a writer, and it only takes about four minutes at a sitting.

I first learned of this exercise from Lynda Barry and its a classic. Take a blank piece of paper (in a notebook, loose-leaf, etc.) and divide it into quarters with two lines. Each of these boxes will contain different types of details from your day. You can write them as plainly or ornately as you wish. In the top left box, take 90 seconds to write things you SAW today (imaginary, televised, out your car window, etc.). In the top right box, take 90 seconds to write things you DID today (tasks, projects, actions). In 35 seconds or so, write things you HEARD in the bottom, left box. In 35 more second, fill the final box with a quick sketch of something from one of the preceding lists without worrying about technical skill.

From this exercise, take one phrase, statement, or question from your HEARD box and use it to open a poem. Craft the poem, repeating this detail that you heard, if possible, two or three times like a refrain.