Don’t Worry! It Can’t Be a Masterpiece

Three minute poetry

The first time I ever got to be a writer in public was when I was sixteen or seventeen and my friend and mentor Sykie invited me to be a visiting poet in the 6th Grade Language Arts class she taught. I took the ferry to Bainbridge Island, stood in front of the class, read some of my poems, wrote Three Minute Poems with the kids, and was paid well in confidence and glory.

How Three Minute Poems work:

You collect three random words, maybe from three different people, maybe by flipping open a book and pointing. Everyone (and this is best done with at least one other person, I think) has three minutes to write a poem that used all three words. Then everyone willing reads them aloud.

Why they are awesome:

This is a nice warm-up for reluctant writers, especially older ones who have bad ideas about Good and Bad jamming up their pens. Nobody can write a masterpiece in three minutes, so perfectionism has a good reason to take a hike. And it’s fascinating to see all the different things people can do with the same three words in the same three minutes. (Though comparisons get stinky without a general mood of lighthearted enthusiasm for all the poems, so if you’ve got a very reluctant/self-judgmental writer on your hands, sharing the poems might be something to downplay.)

A whole can of possibilities

I also like to write poems (again, with a buddy or two) that just use the random word piece of this prompt. Over the decades, my friend Naomi and I have spent many happy afternoons on beaches and mountains and in my parents’ sheep pasture writing side-by-side poems generated from random words. Sometimes we’d use another restriction too, like writing in couplets, or stopping all lines at the end of a phrase – whatever the rules were, they helped give our brains little problems to solve, shut up our inner critics, and invited crazy things into our poems. Occasionally we’d turn up something wonderful, but no matter what, we’d get words down on the page.

So: do you have three minutes? Go write a poem!

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