NATIONAL POETRY MONTH WRITING PROJECT: An Ode to the ordinary

Ages: All ages (scroll down for a kid-friendly version of the writing exercise)

Description: In celebration of National Poetry Month, we invite you to use this writing exercise to generate a brand new poem of your own! Check back each week for a new writing exercise, and share the poems you’re writing with us on social media using the hashtag #visartspoet.

Prompt: An Ode to the Ordinary: People turn to poetry in all kinds of situations: when life is good, when things get hard, when a loved one dies, when a friend gets married . . . the list goes on and on. In good times and in bad, writing a poem can be an act of celebration. When we give something our close attention, when we take the time to describe it with words, we say, “This is important. This thing matters.”

An ode is a poem written to celebrate and sing the praises of its subject. (There are many odes in the poetic tradition we could look to for examples, but “Ode to My Socks” by Pablo Neruda immediately comes to mind.) Many poets have written odes to about well-known subjects, extoling famous places and public figures (such as Prince or Abraham Lincoln), but odes can also celebrate something more personal. Like many poems in the lyric tradition, odes might be associated with small moments and attention to tiny details. An ode might laud a subject that seems unlovable, or one that seems so small or insignificant that other people might not notice it at all.

Your challenge: Write an ode to something that may otherwise be seen as ordinary. Use specific, concrete language, to show the reader why this subject is special or important, through the poem’s imagery. Try to help the reader see it (and feel it, and smell it . . . ) in their mind’s eye. Try not to tell the reader how to feel about the object or explain what the object means; let the images do the work to show the reader how you know this to be true.

Get the words down on the page, then consider the poem’s form: you might look at how you’ve crafted the lines. Does your chosen subject warrant long lines (maybe 15 syllables or more?), sprawling out toward that right-hand margin, so that the reader might feel like your words of praise are spilling out with enthusiasm and adoration? Would your chosen subject be better served with short lines (8 syllables or less?), carefully drawing the reader’s attention to one small phrase or tiny detail at a time?

To get inspired, check out some of these odes :

Want to share what you’ve written? Take a picture of your poem, or make a video of yourself reading it aloud, and share it on social media! Don’t forget to tag us with #visartspoet and @visartsrva.

Kid-Friendly Writing Exercise: Think of an object that you see or use every day, that you think is pretty special (even if it may not be special to other people). Write a poem, showing other people why this thing is really great!

For example, the poet Pablo Neruda wrote a poem about how much he liked his socks! As you may already know, we call this type of poem an ode.

With your ode, try to use descriptive words, from all of your senses. (Think about colors, smells, sounds, tastes, textures, etc.) Try to make the reader picture that object in their imagination, as if they were sitting right there beside it.

You can even turn this writing exercise into a poetry game! Write an ode about something in your house or yard—but don’t say what it is—then invite your friends and family to guess what you are writing about! Everyone can write their own ode, and you can take turns guessing.

Want to share what you’ve written with us? Take a picture of your poem, or make a video of yourself reading it aloud, and share it on social media! Don’t forget to tag us with #visartspoet and @visartsrva.

Writing exercise created by Lauren Miner