Many fiction writers and memoirists seek inspiration from reading poetry. I’m not a regular poetry reader, but I never tire of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and I enjoy Frost, Cummings, Crane, Rich, Dickinson.
I’m going to let you in on a cool writing exercise (great for both writers and teachers) courtesy of nonpareil writer/academician Sara McAulay, founder of the popular ezine Tattoo Highway. Sara’s assignment is simple: pull out a poem you like, study it, and let the poem inspire you to create a work of fiction or creative nonfiction. (What you take from the poem, along with your interpretation, is entirely up to you.) Playing with writing is a great way to loosen your muscles and have fun, too!
If you try this exercise, please send it to me. And if you dare, I’ll post your work and share it with our readers. Let me know what you think.
To get your creative synapses firing, I am posting the poem that I used and below that the piece I wrote. Though I have loved this Stephen Crane poem since high school, it resonates with me now more than ever during this time of political polarization and dogmatic posturing.
Here is the poem:
"Think as I think," said a man,
"Or you are abominably wicked;
You are a toad."
And after I had thought of it,
I said, "I will, then, be a toad."
Here is the piece I wrote:
We were meeting at my house for our monthly reading and discussion group. The topic of tonight’s discussion: “Should We Be Toads?”
Sharon had brought sushi to share, which I thought rather wicked of her (though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it abominable) because I had specifically informed everyone I was serving French Caribbean. I managed to confront my rigidity, and as it turned out, there was something about sharing seaweed and fish eggs that lent a certain veracity to our task.
Escargot followed, from my favorite French restaurant, La Grenouille. I passed on frog legs for obvious reasons.
“Good evening, everyone, glad you could make it,” I said, puffing cheek kisses all around. “Please sit. Now, I know you were all looking forward to hearing Dr. Stone’s remarks, but he called this afternoon to say he’d caught a bug and would be unable to join us.”
“Oh, I so wanted to ask him if it’s true toads give you warts,” Suzie said.
Just so you know, Suzie is our token airhead.
I sighed. “I can assure you warts are caused by viruses.”
Since I attend night school, I’m the unspoken leader.
“Natalie, why don’t you get us started?” I handed around bowls of fragrant shrimp bisque.
Natalie toyed with a fly in her soup. “I see Toad as the ultimate nonconformist. Pure iconoclast.”
“But isn’t Toad’s greatest virtue his patience?” Jan asked. “He must wait and wait for the princess to kiss him so he can turn into a prince and marry her.”
“Jan,” we whined in unison. “That’s nothing more than frog propaganda. Hello.”
“What is marriage, but a kind of conformity? Frog is the one who changes his colors to match his environment,” Sharon, the scientist among us, offered. “Toad would never put himself in that position.”
“I think you’re forgetting Toad’s dark side,” Melanie said, flicking her tongue.
We rolled our eyes. Melanie invariably seeks negativity. At last month’s meeting—Opportunities for Optimists—she would bring up global warming and species extinction.
“Certainly if we consider Kenneth Graham’s toad of the industrial age,” I said, “we see a toad who’s de-amphibicized—selfish, manipulative, deceitful. The classic conflict: Toad vs. Machine. And yet still capable of redemption through intervention.”
“Yes, and Arnold Lobel’s early work displays a fascinating juxtaposition of the amphib psyche,” Natalie said. “Toad Id battling Frog Ego.”
“That begs the question, how do we ultimately balance our own impulsive, creative toad with moral, controlling frog?” I asked, over crawfish stuffed zucchini and hollandaise artichokes.
Everyone had a pet theory ranging from meditation to hottubbing to hormone replacement, but no definitive answer emerged.
We rallied over key lime pie and café crème de menthe. So much so, that we had no time to discuss our sub-topics, The Toad’s Way, and Unblocking the Toad Within.
In the end, some of us felt we had been rubbed the wrong way. But we all agreed that original, nonconformist philosophy was ideal, tempered by sensitivity to others’ feelings.
All in all, a success, I felt, as I watched my friends depart into the warm night. Nocturnal music drifted my way, playful, sonorous, romantic.
Did I have the right stuff? I wondered. Dare I, could I…be a toad?