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Fun Writing Exercises Using Magnetic Poetry And A Picture Of A Natural Scene

Updated on July 19, 2016
I am using a sunset picture for my exercises.
I am using a sunset picture for my exercises. | Source

Recently I was rearranging the pictures on my fridge, and by doing so I realized how using magnetic poetry with pictures could be a valuable writing exercise. Convinced this will help me with my craft, I am eager to share my insights with a wider audience. I naturally hope my ideas will inspire other writers to tinker with words in new and worthwhile ways.

For this article I will be using only the words found in my Original Edition Magnetic Poetry set. There are many varieties of magnetic poetry—from a Zombie Edition to a Genius Edition—and therefore you are not limited to the words you find in my examples.

You could also use a scene like this one.
You could also use a scene like this one. | Source

These exercises involve finding a picture of a majestic scene in nature. This can be anything from a sunset picture you took while camping in the Adirondacks to a professional picture of a glacier in Iceland. Whatever you use, you will need a physical copy of this picture in order to do these exercises. The picture I have chosen is a multi-colored sunset in Florida which I found in a magazine. Around this picture I’ve placed words which could be used to accurately describe this scene: flood, dream, elaborate, lake, and beyond. I’ve also included words such as “see” and “you” so I can move on to the next exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to think realistically as well as imaginatively about the image. For this reason I had no issue including the word “flood” along with the word “lake” even though this image doesn’t suggest this is a flooded area.


Once you’ve gathered enough descriptive words and helper words such as “see” and “you,” take all of the words surrounding the picture and make a poem out of them. How realistic this poem is will depend on your preferences. As you can see in the picture, the poem I made from these words is neither completely realistic nor surreal. Placing the magnetic words atop the picture added an extra sense of freedom and innovation, and for this reason I recommend this approach. After you’ve created a poem out of your initially selected words, you come to an inevitable crossroads. You can obviously leave the poem be for a few hours, days, or longer. There is also the option of moving one word around every time you pass by this creation. This seemingly idle work can be enormously helpful in freeing your mind from any thoughts about how this poem “must” or even “should” appear. A third option is taking away one magnetic word each time you pass the poem and arranging the poem accordingly. There is also the option of adding a new word each time until you reach a saturation point and do not wish to add any more.


Finally, you can rearrange the entire poem—without adding or removing any of the words—each time you see it. I have done this final option as an example for this article. As you can see, the poem has changed considerably. This poem has more of a stream-of-consciousness feel to it, and I find the phrase “elaborate sun dream” oddly compelling considering this is a picture where the sun, despite offering a delicious explosion of color, is retreating.


The next exercise involves removing any previously used magnetic words. Put these in a bowl while you select words which do not automatically correspond to the picture. As you can see from my example, I have selected words such as “repulsive” and “milk” because these words don’t easily represent the image. They may not be clear opposites, yet it isn’t the same as using the word “lake” as I did previously. Next take all these words and use them to create the most discordant poem possible. This exercise is helpful because one way to know when words are arranging in a pleasing fashion is to be more familiar with words when they are arranged in a less appealing manner. After all, one reason sunsets are considered beautiful is because of how many other sights are less visually spectacular.


Notice some of the bewildering collection of phrases in this poem. Whereas the first two poems mentioned in this article made some sense, this poem does not appear to correspond to the picture or to anything else. It is, in some respects, akin to gibberish. After all, does the phrase “juice trudge milk like tongue” mean anything to you? Where else have you ever seen the word milk after the word trudge?

The exercises in this article are intended to stretch you perception of language in order to make it more fluid and flexible. While you may never have reason to write a poem about a sunset which includes the phrase “sweet repulsive goddess,” the use of magnetic poetry may inspire you to consider associating the word tongue or smear in association with a sunset. Or, on the other hand, you may become convinced these words do not belong in such a context. Such conclusions are useful because effective writing involves wisely deciding which words do and do not belong. These exercises can also help you realize there are numerous ways to describe a natural phenomenon such as a sunset without resorting to cliché expressions about the sky being ablaze with color and so forth. By working with these poems by removing or adding one word per time, you are able to see how much of a difference this deceptively simple act can make in the way the poem appears and sounds. Language is exciting because of the many possibilities it offers, and learning to make the most of this—whether using magnetic poetry or otherwise—is invaluable.

A song from wordplay master Jason Mraz


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