Writing the Poem of Place | John Davis Jr. | Skillshare

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Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Lessons in This Class

4 Lessons (32m)
    • 1. Intro to Place Poetry

    • 2. Finding Imagery for the Place Poem

    • 3. Generating Memories for the Place Poem

    • 4. Combining Ideas; Finishing

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About This Class

In this course, you'll learn how to generate and use imagery and memory to write a poem inspired by location. Whether you're writing about far-away travels or familiar landmarks, this course will help you to engage readers with poems that celebrate place.


Meet Your Teacher

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John Davis Jr.

Florida Poet and Educator


Hi! I'm a seventh-generation Floridian with deep roots here in the Sunshine State. I write poetry predominantly, and I've received quite a few awards over the years. My four books are Middle Class American Proverb (Negative Capability Press, 2014), Hard Inheritance (Five Oaks Press, 2016), The Boys of Men (chapbook by Kelsay Books, 2014), and Growing Moon, Growing Soil: Poems of my Native Land (self-published). I currently teach English, Creative Writing, and Literature at the university level, but I teach what I most love here on SkillShare: Poetry! I hope you join me on this journey. 

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1. Intro to Place Poetry: hello again, students. In this series of videos, we're going to be learning about how to write the poem of place. Place can take on a number of different meanings, But specifically, through this series of video lessons, we will be looking at how to write the poem of home that is the hometown poem similar to another lesson that we've had previously. And then we'll also learn about how to write the poem about travel, specifically the travel poem and that could be travel abroad. It could be domestic travel. It can even be very short distance travel. But the two things were going to be emphasizing throughout our time together in this series of lessons, our imagery and memory, because really imagery and memory are the two components that make up a really good and memorable poem of place. So stay tuned, and we'll learn how to use imagery and memory as we go through the steps of writing a poem of place 2. Finding Imagery for the Place Poem: so we have spoken before about the value of visual organizer's and graphic organizers. When we are creating poetry has. Certainly when we start creating the poem of place, we have said that imagery is very important. Imagery, however, doesn't often immediately occur to us. Sometimes we have to do things that provoke that impulse or that reflex of finding the sights and sounds and smells and textures and tastes of a place. This kind of visual organizer that you see here can help you out. Make sure that when you begin to do this five column note chart that includes each of the five senses that you have a very specific place in mind. For example, today I'm going to be doing one of these based upon the location of Black Rock Mountain State Park, and that is located in Georgia, North Georgia, to be exact Mountains City. Georgia is just between Clayton and Dillard, so if you're interested, certainly you can look that up at your convenience. Now I want to think about what I see whenever I go to BlackRock Mountain State Park, and certainly there's a lot of wildlife there. There's a good chance that you could see bears. But in addition to the wildlife, there is a lot of vegetation that you don't see anywhere else. For example, you might see Mountain Laurel growing on the sides of the hills. In addition to that, we have the old Kevin that serves as the store, the camp store there in the campground, and it's really got a nice selection. Among other things, that sort of reminds me of Eudora Welty's description of the corner store from her essay by that same name. Some other things you might see there when you're in the mountains at BlackRock Mountain State. Part you might see eight a high folds. Now that is not the actual pronunciation of that. It's pronounced a daki because it comes from the Native American language of that area. And I would be lying if I told you that I remembered what a dot he actually means. But here again, that's one of those things that could be researched hand discovered. This is not a terribly large waterfall. Usually the waterfall itself is really more of a trickle over the rocks that you see there . But since we're on that subject, let's talk about those moss covered rocks. How green and how slick they are that sort of thing. So we have a lot of sites here and let's talk about some of the sounds. And, of course, when we come to sounds, we have lots of bird songs there in North Georgia, and that is something for us to consider. Other sounds. The gushing water from the waterfall that we just mentioned, not gushing too much. I just got done saying It's more of a trickle, but here again, you're able to hear them. Uh, other sounds that you might encounter while you are there include other campers and visitors and young families allowing their Children to play because it is a very open state park now. When I went there many years ago, one of the things they had was Horseshoe Pit's and you would hear the clank of the or shoes being thrown by visitors. So we have a few sounds. Let's move on to smells. We've already said that there's mountain laurel in this area, and we will duplicate that here because it has a very distinct smell. You can also this is difficult to explain, but the air on top of a mountain just smells different. It is very clean. It is very clear. Um, it has a certain essence about it that is different than air anywhere else. So you have the smell of that mountain top air, which has clouds influencing it, among other things. So in addition to these kinds of smells, also there in the campground and elsewhere, you may encounter the smell of various wildlife. They have their raccoons and squirrels and all of the woodland mammals that you may be familiar with. And so certainly there could be animal smells that you might encounter. Um, textures. How do things feel there? Well, you have rough rocks like those we decided we saw back at eight high falls. You also have Let's see here the very thick leaves of the trees in that area also very smooth. Okay, we'll add that little detail here. Typically, they're not rough, like the rocks are. In addition to that, you have something I've always enjoyed is the feeling of gravel. And of course, if you're traveling by foot, you can hear this gravel as well. So it could also double into our sound column. But the feeling of gravel, either in your hands or beneath your feet. Certainly that's Ah, that's a texture that is unforgettable. Then let's talk about tastes. We talked over here about how there's an old camp store there at the campground, and one of my fondest memories is that they serve or they have on hand IBC Root beer. And they used to have it, and big split barrels filled with ice water so you could plunge your arm into that ice water and pull up a brown bottle of IBC Root beer and drink it there on the porch. Here again, this is very similar to the Eudora Welty essay, the Corner Store and that reward. I know I keep mentioning that, but it is a fine essay, and it would probably be beneficial for folks to read them. You got IBC Root Beer. They also in the camp store, used to sell something that we here in the South. No, as moon pies. Moon pies are hard to describe for those who have never had one. They're a marshmallow cookie dipped in chocolate on, so that in and of itself is a whole other set of descriptions that need to be explored. When we start thinking about that delicacy, sometimes also, there is the taste of smoke in the air, especially of the campground, because their campfires and people are gathered around them and you could literally taste that in the air. And this is a very vivid sensation. In fact, it would probably do well, uh, to be included in a poem about that. Now we have said before that imagery is very important to any poem of place, and certainly we have demonstrated that to be true with this exercise A little later on, I'm going to show you a poem that came about from this very kind of experiment or experience, and you'll be able to see how these kinds of things begin to work their way into the diction, chosen four poems and poetry more on that very shortly. 3. Generating Memories for the Place Poem: So we have said that there are two critical components to writing a poem of place. One is imagery and the other is memories. For this segment, I'd like to present you with a different visual organizer. This is obviously a circle within a circle. How did you get those circles so perfect, You might ask. I'm just that good. No, I'm not. To be very honest, I used roll of duct tape and a dessert plate. But all of that aside, now that you know the magic behind the filmmaking here I'm using this to examine memories of mine from Lisbon, Portugal, and my family and I visited Lisbon, Portugal, and 2016 as part of the Disquiet International Literary Program. Um, I was very fortunate because a friend of mine was running the program, and I believe he still does. And I was able to learn from a lot of really strong writers. While I was there for quite a few days, I was in poetry workshops. I attended readings. I had dinner, had the ambassador's house who serves Portugal from the United States. And while I was there, I made a lot of memories, obviously. So I'm going to use this double circle visual organizer to demonstrate how you can take memories and put them into a somewhat unconventional form and then transplant or transposed these memories into an actual literary work. So I mentioned dinner at the ambassador's house. That was really, really impressive, and I was quite honored to be invited their beautiful home and a beautiful part of the world. I also was exposed to photo music while I was there. And Lisbon. It is different than any music you will hear anywhere else hand if you're not familiar with this kind of music. Certainly there are examples on YouTube and elsewhere. Other memories of Lisbon tile tile. Everywhere there's tile on the buildings. There's tile that makes up the sidewalks. There's tile just about everywhere you look and an interesting historical fact. When Lisbon was a much younger country, um, one of the things that was used as a marker of status was whether a home had tile on it or not. If you were a rich family, your home had tile on the outside, and if you were a poorer family, your house did not, and so tile became a cultural marker as well as a building material, which is kind of a fascinating fact. If you think about it, other memories off Lisbon that I can think of. Well, we actually took a boat tour near Sintra, which, of course, is not Lisbon. But we did take a boot there and we swam in the North Atlantic, which was cold, very cold, and we all jumped from the boat into those very, very cold waters. And it was quite memorable, as you might imagine, other memories of Lisbon. Let's see the people that I met in my writing workshop. They were very interesting individuals, and they themselves might make interesting subjects for memory based poetry in addition to these memories. As I'm thinking now about the time that I spent in Lisbon, I think also of the streets in particular and the sidewalks and how everything was within walking distance, including lots of little stores, little mom and pop shops that sold everything from groceries to batteries to what have you also there? There is the Magnum ice cream store, where they will make your own Magnum bar per your instructions, they will customize it, and they will include everything from different types of chocolate to gold chips. Aunt, um, it's really ah, unique experience because you get toe watch your magnum bar being made right there in front of you. And I understand they have these and other parts of the world, in fact, even here in the United States but having Magnum bars there in Lisbon Waas something that was fairly unforgettable not to overuse that word. But that's true. So I have quite a few memories here surrounding Lisbon in 2016. In addition, the Europe Cup was happening at that time, and Portugal had just one. And so there was this big festival taking place in the streets, and their biggest soccer celebrity actually made an appearance at the Nike store there in Lisbon. He came out onto the balcony and all the people below. Um, they cheered and saluted him, that sort of thing. So there's that kind of memory as well. The reason that I'm showing you this is because often times when we sit down to write a poem about a place, sometimes we get so hung up in details like these that we can never quite pick just a handful and we can never do justice to just one thing or another thing, because all of this is out there. What I would encourage you to do once you create one of these is I would invite you to choose maybe 33 of these things that have the most potential four poetry. And in my opinion, I think these little stores that air kind of mom and pop shops on the sides of the road those really have greater potential than a place like this one. Because, of course, this is a big international brand, and you can have this experience somewhere else. Even though it was a very valuable experience. It's not completely unique toe Lisbon, whereas these certainly are. Um, in addition, I might want to say something about this since it is so very connected to this location and on a personal note, this over here, uh, this would probably make a nice little narrative poem, a good, reflective piece connected to place, of course. So now that you have seen how to use this double bubble or ah, circle within a circle visual organizer, hopefully this gives you a police to begin looking at thinking about and analyzing memories that can be worked into poems of place in our next video segment will be talking about how to take imagery and memories and began compiling those into words and phrases and lines and stands is and ideas that can then produce poetry through the poetic process. Hopefully, you have seen the video segment about the poetic process prior to engaging in this lesson, but if you have it, you can certainly go back and take a look at that one, and it will help you in this endeavor as well. 4. Combining Ideas; Finishing: So what we have here is our final installment of creating the poem of place, and you can see over here on the left and entire two column note chart that I have put together. You saw something similar to this in the pre writing section of the Siris of videos about the poetic process. And this time I used this format just so I could see the images and the memories side by side and then begin to put those into some text into either some pros or just lines. You know something, some written product, that he uses the language as we would ordinarily use it. And frankly, I'm very dissatisfied with this draft that you see right here right now. But of course, that's the whole function of a draft. I mean, eventually, this turns into something else. Now I may get rid of a great majority of what you see on this page right now, but I have taken the images and the memories from Trout Lake, where I once did some kayaking. In 2019 I was the poetry faculty member and fishing guide at Mary Would Franciscan Writer's retreat, Ann Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin And while I was there, I did some kayaking, as you might have guessed. And so I have taken some images and memories from that experience, and I have attempted to transpose them over here into the text you see on the right hand side. And it, frankly hasn't been that successful, probably because I am merely doing this in a somewhat formulaic way. I'm doing this strictly for the sake of example, and so that is candidly inhibiting my creativity just a little bit nonetheless. Let's take a look at what I've done over here and how that has translated over here, and that will give you some idea about what you can do with the imagery and the memories that you are attempting to take and put into a poem of your own. And then we'll finish by looking at some poems of place that were successful. So some images from kayaking trout Lake. Of course, there was the rippling, clear water that you see here at the top. There were houses on shore with big windows. Very clearly there was a shaker influence in that part of the country, and I remember that the paint was very old. It was crackling. It was peeling. And so I thought I'd include that detail as well. The water that I referred to appear was cold, even though it was summer, even though it was the middle of the hottest part of summer. That water was extremely cold for my Florida blood. I also remember there was a great deal of wind, and in fact, this wind gave birth to some memories. That, of course, should have gone over here into this column. But we'll talk about those shortly. Also remember the image of that fat orange life vist that I had to put on for safety reasons and because I was there as a guest, which I did not mind, but nonetheless, it was a little bulky. And then finally, where I waas, there were ST Francis Francis statues in the woods, which I thought was kind of an interesting detail. You don't see you don't think about this terribly often. Some memories that I have of this event of kayaking Trout Lake. That was the first time I had ever heard a loon. Understand, I'm down here in the southeastern United States, and loons where I am are definitely not common. And so the first time I ever heard a loon was Ann Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin. Um, in regard to the houses that were on shore, I began to wonder with those homeowners, lives were like, What was it like to live on Trout Lake and look out your window every day and see that beautiful water and the scenery and the surrounding trees and all of that vista? Um, the cold water. I remember feeling that cold in my ankles. That's how cold the water was when I was launching the kayak, I had, of course, to take it into the water a short distance, and so that cold water was right there at ankle level and it was very memorable. So I said before there was a memory associated with wind. And that memory is the fact that I was worried about overturning in the kayak, which is not a normal thing. I am usually a very good paddler. I have canoed. I have kayaked. I have even white water rafted on some pretty serious water the Nada, Halo River and the Carolinas on. And so this this was a little different. I was actually sort of concerned as little anxious that Gosh, what if this thing turns over? Well, I'll just bob back to shore, certainly, but nonetheless, I mean, it's Ah, it was a little disconcerting because that high wind was creating a very choppy environment , but only in one direction you could paddle with the waves and things were fine. However, when you try to paddle against the waves, you wound up getting really kind of roughed up on DSO. That was an experience that I felt was memorable here again, that fat orange life vest. It was very rough around my chin and neck kind of chafed me somewhat. And then finally, another memory was that of being without my family, the fact that I was very deeply in solitude there, which was good for my writing and good for my teaching. But at the same time, I very much missed the people who were in my life. So we have images, we have memories. And then I took those images and those memories, and I began to translate them over here into the text that you see on this page. I started with the image of ST Francis just because I thought that was something that a lot of people would relate to. And also because sometimes when we start a poem with a familiar image like Saint Francis of Assisi and those downcast eyes it hooks are reader into going on to the next thing, whatever that happens to be. And the first part of this is even, perhaps a little bit comical, right? The downcast eyes of ST Francis looked away as I snapped my life vest. Well, of course, he wasn't looking away from that. But think about every statue of ST Francis that you have encountered. And he's almost always looking downward, either at a bird in his hand or at the wolves by his side or at an animal of some sort. Because, of course, that is what he is known for. Um, but in this case, I've made him look down, would have made him look away, as though you know he's preserving my modesty or something, which that will probably be worked out later on. It probably won't stay just because it's a little silly. It's kind of a week way to start a poem. Um, so then I just relied upon my memories right, preparing for dawn kayaking on a Wisconsin Northwoods lake. Even in summer, the water lapped, icy against my ankles as wind began to carry the high whistling cry of a distant loon toward shore. Now this port starts to sound like an actual poem. It starts to sound like something that could develop into a legitimate poetry. And if I'm going to be editing this, if I'm going to be thinking about the potential of this piece, what I'm probably going to do is I'm probably going to keep this section right here. I am probably going to hold on to this and then make small edits to it, and I might move it. How might move its positioning as well. Um, let's look at this. An export here launched what was launched. The kayak was launched, but I haven't said that here, So I'm probably going to need to do something to fix that launch, because right now it sounds like I was launched launched. I stroked hard against the chop and threat of whitecaps certain and overturn, waited like houses onshore, their windows watched. And then I just kind of stopped there because, of course my thoughts were still processing. But this is a good example of how terrible a first draft can really be. It has some potential. It has some details in it that will probably work their way into a later draft. But for the most part, this is really just absolute garbage. It's probably not going to go anywhere. Now. Let's take our mind away from this for just a little bit. And let's have a look at some homes, a place that were, in fact, successful, the 1st 1 that I'd like for us to look at his entitled Black Rock Hike and I'm gonna try to make this is visible as I can for you. Hopefully, that is in frame. I'll check that out here in just a little bit. But as you can see, I referred earlier to BlackRock Mountain State Park in one of the earlier videos, and this poem is actually set there. So let's take a look at it. BlackRock hike for Jerry off the trail. We reached that drop off a 15 foot would allege shortcut down toward camp. You'd made it looking back up with an old shouldered shrug. I can't catch you this time son. Nothing for my one decade of life, not diving boards, barn roofs or hay lofts with your up stretched arms below them had prepared me for this moment of self. Your to big you'll just have to jump. Abandoning 10 years Trust teaching to favor faith In my own young frame, I launched an awkward, jarring slalom, a downward pitch and scrape grabbing for trees. Your breath held silence was amplified by wind. Knee deep leaf colors cushioned my descent, a perilous proving ground plunge into nature apart from man toward new manhood found in the North Georgia wilderness fall. So there's a good example of a place poem that worked out how place poem that certainly demonstrates imagery and memory, both within the same within the same work. Uh, I'm gonna go ahead on, and maybe we'll take a look at one that's a little more localized. This one is entitled where our tunnels went, and it incorporates both imagery and memory as well. Hopefully, this is within focus. Where are tunnels went? We liked to glamorize those two metal covert, supporting the road into town as tunnels replete with treasure, varied pirates, gold and reptiles. We ventured into those holes closest home almost daily, swapping off routes and dirt like so many battered favorite toys used and loved by us, both. Returning from a day's plunder we had to compare to brag bottle caps to squirrel skulls, pebbles to marbles, Buccaneer booty for certain. One day we just reached the end. We found the city waiting with vehicles, jobs and girlfriends sucking us out of separate mutual adventures. Yet I never drive over those bridged road sections without wondering what boys could be swapping tales underneath while my car passes above. So as you can see, a place bone doesn't have to be about somewhere exotic. It doesn't have to be about travel. It can be about someplace that simple, some place that is home on and will take a look at another piece here very shortly. That is also home based, because I think that's important. Here is our final poem of place As we wrap things up, this is entitled a return to the barn roof at age 40 from a favorite riding spot of boyhood . Today, every acre begs you to be somewhere else. Twin silver water towers and town glint glint like survival kit mirrors flashing for aid while the red and white radio tower signals stay way. You know that those steeples have crosses on top, but from here, they might as well be needles or birds. You cannot see south for the house close behind you, though if you could, you would serve a green nothing Spire, lis and shadowed expanses of for gotten farms. Their tenders have gone drawn by dawn or by dusk to one coast or another. Some start some end with shushing sand with salt and light and gravity. Climb down how you came by door or by ladder, and forget that this once was your summit. Your piece Clear your throat and your path. Remember toe lock the gate. So this is a good example of a place poem based upon a familiar landmark. And of course, this is more of a home poem than it is a travel pool, and I feel like this makes another good example of poetry that can involve both imagery and memory. Hopefully, has you now begin to write your own poem of place. You will take what you have learned here about imagery and memory and also about the various devices of place poetry and you'll be able to write something successful of your own. I look forward to reading your final dress.