Narrating a Simple Conflict: Dramatic Situation, Meaning, and Verb Usage

middleweightscourgeUrban and Civil

Nov 29, 2013 (4 years and 7 months ago)


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
previous writing).

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

using muscula
r verbs

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
te detai
ls to
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?

Milk Bubble
Sharon Olds

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
pound wedge

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.

Poem #2:
Narrative Poetry

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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瑨ese ques瑩tns⁴漠来t⁳tar瑥dW

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
from them

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
the story.

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!!!