Scissors, Paper, Poem

For years, I've loved Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I've given away copy after copy as a go-to guide for writing practice. With all my ardor, I don't know how I missed Wild Mind, Goldberg's second insightful book on building a writing life.

Thanks to a friend's suggestion, I'm immersed in the book. To both loosen and limber up, sometimes I simply need a nudge. Her suggestion of the Cut Up Poem is the perfect push.

How to Make a Cut-Up:  Take some old poems or journal entries and copy them onto a clean sheet. Cut apart the lines with scissors. Now mix the lines and arrange in a new order. Throw in additional lines from other sources. Play around with them, shifting lines, discarding some and adding others to make your own poem.

"It's good practice," writes Goldberg. "It breaks open the mind."

I agree.  And while I usually let poems settle and breathe before I edit and share, these exercises are so liberating that sharing fresh off-the-pen words feels just as good as writing them.


Instead of a letter

What will sustain this scattered joy?
This morning I woke to the word remote.

Perhaps you just need permission
for a do-it-yourself dream that will blossom.

Like the drive-in movie theater once novel and grand,
now dusty and sagging on bitten back roads.

Big Macs replaced smokestacks as an icon of American prosperity.

It takes so little to dream. It takes so much to love.

Instead of a letter, you text me, send a smile made of punctuation.

I’ve never needed much.


How to Breathe

Here, in my lungs, in the tight narrow space
where breath is taken and given away

I’m trying to learn something about love,
how it gives what cannot be seen

We can’t sense space without light, and
we can’t understand light without shadow and shade

I’m trying to learn something about faith,
like a farmer, a fisher, a lover wounded and waiting

Memories lodge in orchards, platforms, docks
Things we make, break, mark

The natural world has much to teach about order —
not the repetitive and simple sort
but the complexity of how we live
in storm and sun, in ebb and flow

As we move through days,
geometry holds the mind,
faith the heart,
and this land
where it juts, retreats and recovers
shows us how to love in the darkness,
how to breathe


These poems were composed from random journal entries, combined with lines extracted from Chambers for a Memory Palace, and Main Street To Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture.

Have you tried a Cut-Up Poem? If not, please do! If yes, please share!