Experiments: an unabridged list

In the spirit of Bernadette Mayer’s Please Add To This List. Some of these experiments have been attempted already, some have not (but might be in the next few months). All of them are taken from log entries on my RUN! site and inspired by thoughts I have had before, during, and after my runs (or occasionally, swims and walks). This list is in progress; I’m slowly working my way backwards from 2020 to 2017.

The List

  1. Run by your favorite parts of the path (above the floodplain forest, where the mesa slopes down to the river, on the part that curves farthest from the road and hovers above the Minneapolis Rowing Club) and pay attention to how they look as you glance at them quickly. Later stop, stand still, stare at the same spots. Now describe them. (How) have they changed from when you saw them while in motion? Write about it.
  2. Is there a certain spot (or time) during the run when you lose your unease? Describe it in as much detail as you can.
  3. Read Lines for Winter by Dave Lucas. Write your own miscreant psalm. (Make sure to look into the form a psalm takes).
  4. Make a list of collective nouns for Saras. Pick one and turn it into a poem (see jan 25, 2020).
  5. What do you imagine when you imagine a pretty snowy winter scene ? Write about it. (see jan 23, 2020.)
  6. Write an occasional poem about something mundane that happened on your run or your walk beside the gorge. (see Occasional Poem/ Jacqueline Woodson)
  7. Pick a word and list as many different meanings for it as you can find. Play around with the definitions. Make a poem out it (see Pine/ Susan Stewart)
  8. Find your blind spot, both eyes version. Stand 1 foot away from a white door. Stare directly into the center of it for several minutes until a dark oval with a small white center appears. Stare at it, then draw it in your notebook. This is your blind spot. (note: not sure if this works for people with normal vision.)
  9. Find your blind spot, one eye version. Get into child’s pose and stare at the center of the carpet with your right eye open, left eye closed. Stare until a small, jagged circle appears. Stare at it, then draw it in your notebook. This is the blind spot in your right eye. Repeat, opening your left eye instead.
  10. While you’re running by the gorge pay attention to the smells. Make a list of particularly pungent smells, pleasing smells, smells that trigger memories, smells that make you choke and cry out for better air. (see jan 20, 2020).
  11. What sound does your striking foot make on the sandy grit at the edge of the path? What does it feel like? Why does it make you curious or delighted? Make a list of sounds and sensations. 
  12. Think about My Weather/ Jane Hirshfield and her “three large rabbit-breaths of air.” How big are rabbit-breaths? How big are rabbit’s lungs? Think about lung capacity and all the different lungs, big and small, residing together by the gorge. Breathe deeply and wonder, how many rabbit-breaths is one Sara-breath? 
  13. Still thinking about Jane Hirshfield’s poem and how she holds: “Wakeful, sleepy, hungry, anxious, restless, stunned, relieved.” What do I hold? What is my weather? Turn it into a poem.
  14. When feeling anxious or scared or irritated, make room for some more joyful thoughts by remembering some moments running by the gorge.
  15. While you’re running, chant in triplets, using berries: raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, blackberry, gooseberry, mulberry. Make a list of other, non-berry, triplet words or phrases. Is the stress always on beat one? Can you think of any that have the stress on the third beat? The second beat? Turn your list into a poem.
  16. Compose an abecedarian poem that uses “Xanadu (the movie or from the poem)” or “xylotomous (boring into or cutting wood)” as the x-word.
  17. Either find or make up a word for the feeling of a familiar sensation out of normal context, like feeling a brain freeze but from cold wind, not eating ice cream too fast. Think of a few examples. Choose one and write a poem about it.
  18. Write about thresholds–literal and metaphorical ones in your life.
  19. Listen to Dolly Parton. Memorize the lyrics to one of her songs–at least a verse and chorus. Sing it to yourself as you run. Think about Parton as a songwriter and a storyteller and a poet.
  20. Make a list of words for the sounds that birds make. Do not include chirp or caw or sing.
  21. Instead of typing your thoughts about your run, speak them into your phone. Try using an app that transcribes your speech. Also try transcribing your own thoughts.
  22. Write an acrostic poem that casts a spell.
  23. Think about the word cast and how it’s used in casting a shadow and casting a spell. Similarities? Differences? Write about either or both or some other definition of cast (seeTO CAST/ Yesenia Montilla).
  24. Make a list of machines and the animals they mimic (off the top of your head, or by doing some research). Turn each animal-machine into a lune or haiku.
  25. Memorize a poem and recite it while running. Write about it: how you experienced your run while reciting, or how you experience the recited poem while running.
  26. Using Lynda Barry’s Instagram posts about panic over the Corona virus as inspiration, create your own response. (see march 10, 2020.)
  27. Start collecting bits of songs or poems that you can recite for 20 seconds while you wash your hands. Or write your own series of poems that last 20 seconds.
  28. Read 3 of Mary Oliver’s poems in which she imagines the outside as a classroom (see March 8). Think about the gorge as a classroom–who is the teacher, the student? what is learned? Make a syllabus for the river.
  29. Record yourself reading a draft of a poem you are working on. Listen to it before heading out for your run, or during your run. Think about it as you run. Write a different version of it when you’re done running.
  30. Write about your love of shadows and why you find delight in the shadow of a bird or a plane flying above you.
  31. Why does the color brown by the gorge bring you joy? Write about it.
  32. Ponder the question, How do we (learn to) love our body even as we know it will betray us? Try to think about it as you run and then after you run. Write an imagined conversation between you and your knee or you and your lungs or you and some other part of your body.
  33. Overhear a fragment of someone’s conversation and imagine the rest of it. Come up with multiple possibilities.
  34. Think more about woodpeckers. Why do they peck? How do they peck? What does their pecking do to wood? What else do they peck on? Find a scientific-y article about woodpeckers and turn it into an erasure poem.
  35. Pick out a poem you have already posted on your RUN! log. Record yourself reciting it. Listen to the recording right before you start your run. What new things do you notice about the poem?
  36. Write an abecedarian poem in which each line, in alphabetical order, begins and ends with the same letter. Include one or more of the following: “x-box” or “xerox” or “fluff” or “intermezzi”
  37. Create a “better words” notebook with pages for words that start or end with each letter of the alphabet. Add to the notebook whenever you encounter a better word.
  38. Cast a spell on a scary word (like pandemic) by making smaller words out of it and turning those words into lines for future poems.
  39. Write a long sentence about the gorge or running or the pandemic or cone dystrophy or something. Shape it into a poem using line breaks. (see Stranger by Night by Edward Hirsch for inspiration.)
  40. Describe the gorge or the river much like you see it with your diseased eyes, in simple shapes/words/forms: cloud, rock, bird, tree. Use the words in a poem (see Sojourners in the Parallel World/ Denise Levertov) or turn one of the shapes into a concrete poem (see nov 12, 2019).
  41. Write about your body before/ during/ after your run. Turn it into an ode or a praise song or a prayer. (See Ode to My Right Knee/ Rita Dove, Ode on My Episiotomy/ Kimberly Johnson, I Sing the Body Electric, 9/ Walt Whitman). Then turn it into rhyming verses like those from Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein (see Sick/ Shel Silverstein.
  42. Memorize It’s all I have to bring today by Emily Dickson. Then recite it in your head while you run beside the gorge. Think about what you will bring back with you when you are done with your run. Make a list. Turn it into a poem.
  43. “Mostly I’d like to feel a little less, know a little more./ Knots are on the top of my list of what I want to know” (from Epistemology/ Catherine Barnett). What would you like to know how to do? Make a list. Learn how to do at least one thing on your list. Write a poem about it.
  44. In the spirit of Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place, find a few places/locations to write exhaustively about during this time of pandemic. Start with the view from your bedroom window, then your back deck, the window in your front porch, an isolated bench near the gorge (if that’s possible). Record “what happens when nothing other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds” happens.
  45. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and scared by a pandemic, distract yourself by reclaiming the letter P (or the letter C). Make a list of words that start with the letter. Turn them into a fun poem, like The Letter A/ Darren Sardelli.
  46. What does water coming out of the sewer pipes sound like? Make a list of as many versions as you can remember.
  47. “November breathes no flattering tales;–/The plain truth-teller of the year” (from November/ Lucy Larcom) As you run or walk by the gorge in November, think about what truths are revealed (see nov 20, 2019 and nov 13, 2019). Write a poem about it.
  48. Make a list of the strangest, most memorable, people you have encountered while running, biking, hiking, or walking beside the gorge.
  49. Write a poem about something that happened during the middle of your run–not at the beginning or the end, but the middle (see nov 27, 019)
  50. What do you remember–other than how difficult it is–when you are running straight into the wind? Pick a windy day, run straight into the wind, write about it.
  51. Write a poem that uses an ampersand to join two items (like cold, fresh) as partners or friends or co-conspirators (see nov 11, 2019).
  52. Pay attention to the interesting forms you see in the gorge: seeps, springs, eroding limestone, twisted and gnarled branches, water slowly dripping out of the sewer drain, mulching asphalt. Pick one and fit a poem or a lyric essay into it (see nov 11, 2019).
  53. Make a list of all the ways in and out of the gorge. Make a list of all the ways in and out of your house. Write about both (nov 9, 2019).
  54. Think about how much you look forward to when the leaves are off the trees and you can see further. Why do you need to see to the other side? Write about it (see nov 1, 2019).
  55. Run by the gorge. Write a log entry about it. Read the entry and pick out a letter that you used most often. Make a list of words related to the gorge that start with that letter. Edit your entry to feature that letter. Do not use a dictionary when creating your list, try to think up the words on your own. (see oct 30, 2019)
  56. During your run (or walk) by the gorge, think about how you are outside and inside. What are you outside/inside of? How does being by the gorge help you to go deeper inside, further outside? Write about it when you return home.
  57. Write about the color green. Why is it your favorite color? Why do you dislike its excess in late spring and summer? (see oct 28, 2019)
  58. Think about layers, both literal and metaphorically. What clothes do you wear in the winter as you run by the gorge? How do those layers feel? What layers–in your mind, your actions–do you move through as you try to pay attention to the gorge and breathe without worry? Why do humans add layers just as trees lose theirs? Write about it.
  59. Run beside the gorge. Afterwards, think about your run in terms of what wasn’t there, but usually is. Make a list of what you missed. Write a poem that creates something out of that lack.
  60. Create a map of gorge smells or the best places to see the river or trees that gossip and greet or every pothole and crack and fissure and dip and curve to watch out for when you have low vision (oct 11, 2019).
  61. Make a list of the spazziest things you have seen a squirrel do. Turn it into an acrostic poem that spells out “spazzy squirrels” or “squirrels are idiots” or something like that.
  62. Make a list of all things you plan to do but forget while you’re running. Why do you forget? What do you do instead? Write a poem about it (see oct 8, 2019).
  63. (from oct 7, 2019) “A women walk-running or run-walking or walking but trying to run or running but trying to walk–some combination I can’t quite describe.” Try to describe it then use it in a poem.
  64. What signals the change in seasons for you–a date? different colored leaves? School beginning or ending or being endured? Pick a season and write about how it begins. Or write about how it ends (see sept 25, 2019).
  65. Read through the “Great River Greening Management Plan, 2002” and Chapter 2 of the Mississippi Gorge Regional Park Master Plan 2018/2019. Pick out some interesting phrases and turn them into a cento. Or mash those phrases up with some of the text in your log entries. Or read up on ecopoetry (like this article, A Poetics of Tectonic Scale) and create an erasure poem from one of the documents.
  66. Play around with the word/idea/experience of bewilderment.
  67. In the poem, The Heat of Autumn, Jane Hirshfield writes: “The heat of autumn/ is different from the heat of summer./ One ripens apples, the other turns them to cider.” Think about your own experiences with heat in autumn and in summer as you run or walk by the gorge. (How) are they different? Similar? Why? Write a diamante about it. Or a series of multiple choice questions.
  68. Read and memorize Hayan Charara’s Elegy with Apples, Pomegranates, Bees, Butterflies, Thorns Buses, Oak, Pine, Warblers, Crows, Ants, and Worms. Recite it to yourself as you run (or walk) beside the gorge. What speeches does the gorge give to you? And which inhabitants give them? Imagine and write out some (or all) of 1 or 2 speeches.
  69. Read and memorize Howard Nemerov’s Learning the Trees. Recite it to yourself as you run (or walk) among the trees beside the gorge. How are you learning the trees? What does it mean to learn the trees? Can/will you ever know them? Write about it.
  70. Go run in the rain by the gorge. Compose a poem as you move (see sept 11, 2019).
  71. Take the images that you have from the mannequins at the State Fair, combine them with text and make a chapbook out of them. As part of it, polish/expand on these words from sept 8, 2019: “I find delight in this mannequin and her continued (and improbable) presence at the State Fair in a space barely touched by progress where the amateur is celebrated and beauty is never slicked up. Every year, walking into the creative activities building and seeing these cracked, faded, weathered mannequins still adorned in handmade hats and coats and scarves and sweaters, looking creepy and odd, I am delighted–and not in an ironic, hipster way. Here, the ugly and old and outdated have a space. 
  72. Memorize Sharon Olds’ lines from The Gold Cell: “I am doing something I learned early to do, I am/ paying attention to small beauties,/ whatever I have–as it were our duty to/ find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.” What small beauties can you find to love today? Make a list (see sept 5, 2019).
  73. Describe what the sun looks like as it shines on the water. Do not use sparkle or shimmer or dance. If stuck, look it up. Explore how other poets write about the sun. Collect a list. Write a new poem using your newly found words about the sun on the river during your run (see sept 3, 2019).
  74. What makes us human? How can you tell/see/know the difference between a tree and a person. Think about this as you run by the gorge and repeatedly mistake that far away trashcan for a runner, that brightly colored jacket spread across a rock for a walker. Write about it.
  75. It seems that the parkway is more crowded with cars and people at certain times than others. For a month, try starting your run at a different time each week. In your log, list how many cars and people you encounter at each time. Do you see any patterns? When is it most crowded? Least crowded? When is the most interesting or least annoying or safest or most delightful time to run? Write about it.
  76. What are/should be the rules when running on a trail? Why do we need them? Why do you need them? Make a list of what you think are the most basic rules to follow when running on a public path to keep everyone safe. Then imagine some more creative/unconventional rules we might follow for creatively paying attention (see aug 26, 2019).
  77. Study Jane Kenyon’s poem, Three Songs at the End of Summer. Using it as inspiration and drawing from the details in your august or early september log entries (from 2017-2019), write your own three songs at the end of summer.
  78. Run on the two trails loop beside the gorge. Listen to music as you run south, up above near the road. Take out your headphones and listen to the gorge as you run north, down below on the Winchell trail. Think about how you experience running and breathing and paying attention differently when you listen to a playlist versus when you have no headphones in. Write about it.
  79. Go to open swim at Cedar Lake, where the water, at its deepest point, is 88 feet. What do you think about when you are swimming with so much unknown below you? Does it bother/unsettle/excite you? Write about it in couplets. (see aug 21, 2019).
  80. Memorize a poem by Hailey Leithauser: O, She Says. Then go to the oak savanna at the gorge and head for the flat field at the top or the overlook with the stone slab bench off to the right, near the chainlink fence that’s falling apart. If you dare (do you? will you ever?) recite this poem with enthusiasm to the river and the fox and the old oaks and the crows. If you don’t dare, sit in the field or on the bench and quietly say it to yourself. What makes you say O! right now? Write an O! poem.
  81. Which is more annoying: bike surreys that travel too far from the park and cause traffic jams on the narrow trails or stupid squirrels who seem to deliberately try to trip you as they decide, at the last possible moment, to cross the path? Write about it.
  82. Why do you love Lake Nokomis? Make a list of reasons and turn it into a poem.
  83. Green looks different right before (and right after) it rains (see aug 10, 2019). Write about it.
  84. Stare at this picture of Cedar Lake from August 18, 2019. Stare at it long enough that you can put yourself back in it. How would you feel if you could be there right now? How do you feel that you can’t and probably won’t until the summer of 2021?
  85. Write a haibun about the little old lady and the annoying TED talks she listens to loudly on the otherwise peaceful Winchell Trail. Try to work in the fragment of the talk that you happened to hear as you ran by her: “which reminds us of why we are all here.” (see aug 5, 2019 and aug 15, 2019.)
  86. Write the story of how you began writing poetry. (see “When I Am Asked” from aug 13, 2019.)
  87. Make a list of the various ways in which to respond to other people’s (runners/walkers/bikers) jerky behavior on the path. Turn it into a hermit crab essay–find a fun form for it (inspired by my dreaded mom head shake from aug 9, 2019).
  88. Pay attention to your stroke/breath count while you’re swimming across the lake, or off of the big beach. Turn the strokes into syllables and craft a few small poems (see aug 9, 2019).
  89. Carefully study Shirley Geok-Lim Lim’s poem, Writing a Poem. Use it as inspiration for your own poem about an annoying sound or sounds, like the leaf blower.
  90. Make a list–big and small–of things you are obsessed with. Think about “obsessed with” versus fixated on or curious about or interested in or passionate about and pick which phrase you like best. Use The August Preoccupations for inspiration. Turn it into a poem.
  91. Be curious about the various surfaces you run on. What is the asphalt on the trail made from? Where is the quarry that produces it? What about the dirt–what is it and what was it before it was the dirt on this trail? (see aug 3, 2019 and july 15, 2019).
  92. If you are able (and it seems helpful and not harmful), read Eula Biss’s The Pain Scale and Dominik Parisien’s Let us for a moment call this pain by other words. Think about some creative and effective ways to describe the deep fear/anxiety/worry/anger you (and others collectively) feel about the COVID-19 pandemic and how terribly the US is responding to it.
  93. While out running or walking by the gorge or in the neighborhood, record some bird songs–maybe try to start with a cardinal. Listen to the recordings, paying close attention to the syllables the bird sings–how many? what do they sound like? Figure out words to match the birds syllables (people often think one cardinal song sounds like, cheer cheer cheer). Use your words in a poem. (see march 30, 2020).
  94. Before the pandemic and the fear of getting too close to people, you liked greeting them on the trail. No chance for sustained eye contact or long conversations, just a quick “good morning” or “hello!”. With cone dystrophy, you rarely see people’s pupils and struggle to make eye contact. Write as detailed of a description as you can of how you see (and don’t see) people’s eyes. Turn it into a prose poem.
  95. Open Swim is cancelled for summer, 2020. All beaches closed. No swimming for another year. Gather your log entries, notes, drafts of poems about swimming. Edit the drafts, write a few new ones. Swim in the words when you can’t swim in the water.
  96. Consider this statement about walking and poetry: “Just as a poet uses the same language as everyone else, only for other things and in other ways, a walker walks the same city as other pedestrians, only with a different purpose and perspective” (Sixteen Theses on Walking and Poetry). Think about how you use language, the purpose for your walks/runs. Write about it.
  97. While outside–by the gorge, in your backyard, around the neighborhood, find a new sound. Record it. Delight in it. Write about why you noticed it.
  98. Play around with Juan Felipe Herrera’s solar circle poem, Social Distancing. First, read the poem clockwise, counterclockwise, diagonally. Then print it out, spin it, and read it starting at the 12:00 position. Create a solar circle poem with your own words. Then experiment with changing the form.
  99. Once this pandemic is all over, stop at that bench–the one you’ve been longing to stop at when you run by it–and sit. Stare. Breathe. Listen. Compose a poem about being there. Speak it into your phone or write it down in your Plague Notebook (see April 7, 2020).
  100. Carefully read Daniel Halpern’s Pandemania. Rewrite the poem from an alternative perspective that imagines communication as something other than aggressive debate and that explores social distancing from a non-masculine, non-war point of view.
  101. Reread The Rules/Leila Chatti, especially this line: “This poem does not take place/at dawn or dusk or noon or the witching hour or the crescendoing moment/ of our own remarkable birth, it is 2:53 in this poem, a Tuesday, and everyone in it is still/ at work.” Write a poem that takes place at 2:53 in the afternoon, when everyone else is at work.
  102. Why do you love swimming in the rain? Write about it in three different poetic forms (see june 23, 2019).
  103. Using 13 Lines About Walls as inspiration, find (at least) 13 lines about fences or rivers or something else related to your running by the gorge.
  104. Write about irritating summer bugs–mosquitos, swarming gnats, big bugs flying in your mouth. Find a few poems that feature bugs and use them for inspiration (see june 15, 2019).
  105. How are the sound of wind and wind two different things (see Jon Loomis/ At the Lake House)? Write about it.
  106. Using Morningside Heights, July as inspiration, write a poem about Longfellow neighborhood that embeds a small story into lines with lots of descriptions of daily life.
  107. Try writing about the gorge or your run or your feelings about the pandemic or the different ways people are social distancing using a few different Abecedarian forms: a classic abecedarian, with each line starting with a letter of the alphabet in a to z order; a reverse abecedarian, like the classic but starting with z and ending with a; a double abecedarian, with each line beginning with a letter (a to z) and ending with a letter (z to a); a one word per letter abecedarian, with 26 words, each starting with a different letter in alphabet order; and a mixed-up abecedarian, with 26 lines, each starting with a letter of the alphabet but NOT in a to z order.
  108. Using Rita Dove’s Ode to My Right Knee as inspiration, write a story with abundant alliteration–entire lines beginning with the same letter.