Summer Adventure: A narrative poem writing exercise
Summer is often painted with a brush of adventure. There's something about this season, probably stemming from the time off school as children, that connotes endless possibilities and freedom.
Now September is here, and that means the end of summer is closing in. But that doesn't mean the summer fun has to come to an end. I like to use my writing life (which includes reading) to go on adventures, and this past week I tried my hand at a narrative poetry writing exercise using this concept. I thought I'd share!
As the season gradually comes to a close, it leaves behind a trail of sunny exploits and happy discoveries, both real and imagined. In this writing exercise, I tried to capture that wistful energy of summer’s "finale" by crafting a narrative poem that celebrates the idea of a last summer adventure.
What is a narrative poem?
There are so many types of poems out there, so before we get into the exercise details, I thought it might be helpful to review what a narrative poem is:
A narrative poem is a form of poetry that tells a story through a sequence of connected events. It often includes elements familiar to traditional storytelling, like characters, settings, and a plot.
With its roots tracing back to ancient epics, narrative poetry offers a blend of poetic expression and storytelling, allowing for exploration of complex themes and emotions through the lens of personal or fictional tales.
Here are some examples to check out:
"A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsberg
"Diving into the Wreck" by Adrienne Rich
"The Waste Land" by TS Eliot
"The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe
"Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson
"The Crossover" by Kwame Alexander
"Autobiography of Red" by Anne Carson
This exercise invites you to create a narrative poem detailing a real or fictional adventure at the end of summer. Whether it’s an autobiographical piece recounting a personal experience or a whimsical tale born from your imagination, your poem will weave a story that captures the essence and magic of summer adventures.
How to write this narrative poem
Step one: Develop a storyline
The first step is to craft a storyline. This creative process involves dreaming up and envisioning an adventure that embodies the spirit of summer’s end. This will set the stage for your narrative poem.
To do this, consider what adventure means to you in the context of summer ending. It could be a memorable trip, a backyard discovery, or a metaphorical journey of personal growth.
Then, create an outline the main events and turning points of your adventure. These touchpoints will serve as the backbone of your poem. Don't worry if you don't have all the details yet. You can add things in revision.
Step two: Create the setting and characters
In this step, you’ll breathe life into your story by developing a vivid setting and compelling characters. This step is crucial for immersing your readers into the world you’ve envisioned.
Don't worry about making a poem yet. Simply freewrite and describe the setting with vivid details that evoke the senses. Do the same with characters that are as dynamic and capture some elements of summer itself.
While it's not a summer poem, it might help to think Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” In this poem, the forest setting becomes a critical element of the narrative, imbuing the piece with atmosphere or "mood" and providing interesting symbolism.
Step three: Add poetic devices
The above steps give your poem a solid foundation. Now it’s time to think about which poetic devices you can weave into your narrative. This step is about choosing poetic techniques that will add beauty to your poem and elevate the emotional impact.
For example, you might think about ways to integrate devices like metaphor, simile, alliteration, and imagery to make your narrative more engaging and lyrical. These tools will help convey the emotions and themes of your adventure with greater depth and subtlety.
Take some time and create lists of possible comparisons (metaphors, similes). Select some key words from steps one and two and brainstorm additional words you can use for alliteration. Jot down possible images or descriptions.
Step four: Draft your narrative poem
After developing your storyline, creating a vivid setting and characters, and deciding on the poetic devices that will best convey your narrative, it’s time to combine all these elements to draft your poem.
Start by placing the main events and turning points of your adventure in a logical and compelling sequence. Introduce your characters and setting early in the poem, using descriptive language and your chosen poetic devices to bring them to life.
Allow the adventure to unfold naturally, building tension and excitement through the middle of the poem before bringing it to a conclusion.
Remember, drafting is an exploratory process. That means it’s okay if your poem doesn’t come out perfectly on the first try. Feel free to experiment with different structures, tones, and perspectives until you find the one that best suits your narrative.
Step five: Revise and share your work
After you have an initial draft or two, set it aside for a day, a week--however long you need to gain some distance from the piece. When you return to it, look at the narrative poem with fresh eyes and think about ways you can condense the piece to highlight the main theme.
Once your feel like your narrative poem is complete, consider sharing the adventure with others. Maybe you want to submit it to journals. Maybe you're more comfortable sending a version to a close friend. And there are always open mic nights to explore.
Until next time, happy writing!