- Books, Literature, and Writing
Helpful And Fun Writing Exercises Using Magnetic Poetry
In the 1990s my Grandma Glenna had magnetic poetry on her fridge. One of my favorite things to do—aside from raid the candy drawer and discuss writing—was rearrange the magnets on her fridge to create humorous and occasionally scandalous new word formations. Over the years I’ve arranged words using magnetic poetry on the fridges of others, and even on my own fridge. While this isn’t a method which will sit easily with all writers, it is worth considering if you need to shake up your writing routine.
Many varieties of magnetic poetry can be found for sale online and in certain stores. These range from the original edition to a haiku kit to a love magnetic poetry kit and beyond. In other words, even if you would rather create magnetic phrases using words favored by Edgar Allen Poe and not “feel good” love poems, there is likely a magnetic poetry set to suit your tastes.
I own two sets of magnetic poetry: the original edition and the genius edition. I’ll discuss them both in turn and give examples of how these editions—and how magnetic poetry in general—can be used as a helpful and diverting creative tool.
The first writing exercise I did with my original set of magnetic poetry was to pull out only a handful of words—about thirty or forty—and try to make a nonsensical poem out of these words. My goal was to create phrases so far removed from normal thinking they would surprise and delight (though perhaps momentarily disarm) me. The phrase “blue bitter peach” fits nicely in this category of nonsensical phrases. After all, most of us know that a peach isn’t the color blue, and, unless they are unripe when eaten, peaches tend to be miraculously sweet and not bitter. However, by putting together these three simple words, I have stretched my mind’s ability and willingness to engage with words beyond the more ordinary and expected phrases I typically create.
This poem also includes the phrase “mist rust,” another phrase that doesn’t make much logical sense. What’s helpful at this moment is to consider changing my original poem and putting the word “blue” in front of rust so that I now have “blue mist rust.” It helps to say these words out loud to recognize their otherness, as well as to get a sense of what it is to play with language with an enjoyment and freedom comparable to children playing with Play-Doh. While you probably shouldn’t use the phrase “blue bitter peach” in a non-fiction piece about the mayor of your town, learning to entangle yourself in language in a playful manner will help you form innovative phrases and sentences for even the most serious pieces.
Magnetic poetry can even liven up a party...
Another way to interact with a set of original edition magnetic poetry is to create a meandering poem which contains phrases or full lines which can be used to start a timed writing. For example, the phrase “smooth but purple tongue” is a deliciously oddball expression to start a five, ten, or fifteen minutes free write with. The possibilities are seemingly infinite when you beginning a free write with a line like this instead of a more conventional line such as, “She noticed a barefoot skinny boy walking across the street.”
If this doesn’t sound worthwhile, however, you can always create a poem from the magnets, read it out loud to better interact with the words you have chosen, and then immediately rearrange the poem without adding or subtracting new words and once again read it out loud. Repeat this process as many times as you would like, and notice how your brain slowly becomes more able to treat individual words in a distinctively flexible, malleable way.
The genius edition of magnetic poetry offers other excellent writing activities. You certainly can apply the ideas I’ve already suggested to other editions of magnetic poetry—and, in fact, I urge you to do so—yet the genius edition offers a few specific ideas for writing prompts. The first is to create a poem using the words from the genius edition even if you don’t exactly know what all the words mean. Before you crack open a dictionary to define any words which give you pause, stop and read the poem. Listen to the combined sounds and the flow of what you have created. Notice where you stumbled over awkward or dense phrases, or also where your mind immediately associates one word—such as “juggernaut”—with a potentially related word such as hurricane or tornado. Once you have done this, now you can consult your dictionary and define the words you don’t know. I’m always on the lookout for new words; in fact, I have lists of words all over my office I hope to look up eventually. One helpful thing about looking up words such as “unctuous” and “tantamount” is this gives you a better idea of the synonyms of these words—which may be more commonly used—as well as alerting you to possible new words you could use in your writing. Unctuous is a word that packs a lot of punch, and, if you are describing a smug or insincerely earnest person, it might be appropriate. (As an aside, the Harry Potter character Dolores Umbridge comes to mind when I hear the word unctuous.) However, depending on the type of piece you are writing, the word tantamount would be better replaced by the term comparable.
Do you find Dolores Umbridge unctuous?
Words from the genius edition of magnetic poetry
The genius edition can also be used in creating absurd word pairs by taking one word from the genius edition and adding a color, name of a common food, or the name of a city or state in front of this word. For example, you could take the word “fulminate” and turn this into “pink fulminate” or “Chicago fulminate” or even “orange juice fulminate.” These expressions are deliberately absurd, and by putting together words which do not ordinarily belong together, you are stretching your mind in new and exciting ways. It’s possible you will never use such silly expressions in what you write, but this isn’t necessarily important. Writing is a cumulative act, and for this reason it’s essential to do the footwork in the form of writing exercises even if you don’t see this directly translated onto the page. Recently I watched a YouTube video of the members of The Okee Dokee Brothers brainstorming song ideas, and it was educational to watch them discuss several song ideas which never went beyond—to my knowledge at least—the idea stage. In other words, engaging with your medium of choice—whether words, music, and beyond—typically pays off if you are willing to do the work and have a little fun in the meanwhile. Good luck!