Narrating a Simple Conflict:
Dramatic Situation, Meaning, and Verb Usage
This exercise will review the basic elements of the
poem. Narrative poetry contains
a clear speaker, a distinct setting, and a conflict(
all things we’ve already dealt with in our
It also tells the story of an event or a series of events. Narrative. Get it?
These elements combine to create the meaning or theme of a poem.
Another important element in poetry
is discussed toward the end
of the exercise.
The poems included here, by Sharon Olds and Yusef Komunyakaa contain clear dramatic
situations, meanings that are easy to access, and powerful verbs.
Each poem’s story is told
by a speaker perso
nally involved with the events. These speakers narrate simple stories
attached to powerful emotions. The power of a good story is not always in the events being
told: a poet does not have to create high drama with drastic consequences. The power of a
story is creating an emotional experience that is accessible to the reader. What
emotional connections do the following narrative poems create for you?
As You Read
The poet’s first task in narrative poetry is to build a foundation of basic, concre
orient the reader. For each poem, be able to answer the following questions:
Who is the speaker? Be as specific as the poem allows.
What is the setting? When does the action of the poem take place?
In “Milk Bubble Ruins,” what is the conflict reveale
d by the speaker’s brief memory?
Why would the speaker tell such a simple story?
In “My Father’s Loveletters,” what is the conflict between what the father wants and
what the speaker wants? Why is the speaker telling this story?
In the long, indolent mornings of fifth
spring vacation, our son sit with the
ends of breakfast, and blows bubbles in his
with a blue straw, and I sit and watch him.
The foam rises furiously
a dome over the rim of his cup,
we gaze into the edifice of fluid,
its multiple chambers. He puffs and they pile
they burst, they subside, he breathes out
slowly, and the
multicellular clouds rise,
he inserts the straw into a single globe
and blows a
little, and it swells. Ten years ago
he lay along my arm, drinking.
Now in late march, he shows me
the white light
pop and dissolve as he
conjures and breaks each small room of milk.
My Father’s Loveletters
On Fridays he’d open a can of Jax,
Close his eyes, & ask me to write
The same letter to my mother
Who sent postcards of desert flowers
Taller than a man. He’d beg her
Return & promised to never
Beat her again. I was almost happy
She was gone, & sometimes I
To slip in something bad.
His carpenter’s apron always bulged
With old nails, a claw hammer
Holstered in a loop at his side
& extension cords coiled around his feet.
Words rolled from under
The pressure of my ballpoint:
Love, Baby, Honey, Please.
We lingered in the quiet brutality
Of voltage meters & pipe threaders,
Lost between sentences… the heartless
Gleam of a two
On the concrete floor, a sunset in the doorway
Of the tool shed.
I wondered if she’d laugh
As she held them over a
My father could only sign
His name, but he’d look at blueprints
& tell you how many bricks
Formed each wall. This man
Who stole roses & hyacinth
For his yard, stood there
With eyes closed & fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word,
Opened like a
fresh wound, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.
Writer’s Practice 2.1
Imagine a place you visit regularly, even daily. Select a place where you felt a small tension
between you and another person. Do not r
each for a dramatic conflict, such as a major fight;
rather, search for a place with tension, something that might occur in anyone’s life.
Consider places where tension occurs frequently: a communal room in your home,
such as the kitchen, bathroom, or
family room; a room or place in school or at work.
Describe the place. Use sensory language. What do you see? What do you hear? What
do you smell? Include descriptions of objects or people. Include colors.
Insert a person into the place (real or imagined)
. Include an action for this person that
explains the person’s presence.
Don’t explain the person’s presence; the action should
do it for you.
Allow yourself to slip into reflection: the and
means aspect of
the poem. Accomplish by reread
ing your concrete description of the place. Then
consider why you selected this place. Add a sentence or two reflecting on the possibly
hidden importance of the place.
Writer’s Practice 2
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What is at the root of our tension?
What do I want from this person?
What do I want for mys
Try to make the language sound as realistic as possible. Use short phrases and sentences.
Remember to write fast, correcting yourself as you go causes you to second guess what you
want to say.
Try to write 5 exchanges
five lines from you, five lines
Poem #2: Write a Narrative Poem
Return to your prewriting and select moments or details or moments that illuminate the
tension or conflict you have discovered in the writing.
Begin the poem with a word such as “When,” which forces you to contin
ue by telling
Write a sentence that places the speaker in a clear setting and introduces the conflict.
As you work your way through the story, use words to signal shifts in time, such as
“Years ago,” “Later,” or “Now”
Write in first person and
in present tense.
In the final three or four lines, attempt to insert a detail, metaphor, or simile that
connects the story to a larger meaning.
Then look into the poem for a phrase that might help connect the story’s details and
the final lines. Use those
words for a title
Your poems should run somewhere between 16
25 lines and should tell a story.
Remember to focus on creating a clear narrative with a clear speaker.
Complete Draft in Class Next Time!!!