This is an idea from a book called The Open Door. The exercise is written by a poet named Michael McGriff.
This is a timed exercise, so open the clock app on your phone or your web browser and set it up for the times listed below. It is important to stick to the time limits, so you don’t overthink it.
List 1: Important Objects
Make a list of at least fifty objects that are important to you.
These don’t have to sound special or “poetic.” They just have to be important to you.
Be as specific as possible with your list. There are no right or wrong objects to include.
If you have more than fifty, then even better.
List 2: Memories
Make a second list for the memories associated with the objects.
List the first twenty memories that you associate with the objects on your list.
List 3: Details
Select two or memories from second list.
For each memory, make a list of as many sensory details as you can think of.
Remember, a sensory detail is a detail that pertains to how something looks, feels, tastes, sounds, or smells.
This exercise may lead to new poems. Or it may not.
The important thing is that you are processing some material that will be more available when you are writing.
Feel free to repeat this exercise or expand on the items in your first two lists you didn't write about this time.
Adapted from the book The Daily Poet by by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano
What’s the story behind your first or last name?
Were you named after a a family member, someone in history or literature?
Were you named after a place? A relative?
Is there a family story behind your name?
Were you almost named something else?
Do you wish you had a different name?
Are you really proud of your name or hate it for some reason?
Here are some 4 variations on this idea that might help to spark a poem.
1. If you are not sure about any family stores, ask your parents and some other relatives. Get a few different versions of the story and all the details and context before you start writing. How do you feel about the story in relation to who you are now or could have / should have been?
For example, if I or my brothers would have been girls, my mother was going to name us Jennifer.
Example Poems: "Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah" by Patricia Smith & "Fanny Linguistics: Nickole" by Nickole Brown
2. Look up the origins / meaning of your first and / or last name in a baby name book (go to the library!) or on the web on a site like Behind the Name. How is the origin story like or unlike how you see yourself or others see you?
My name is from Old Norse and it is derived from two words that translate as: "ever, always" and "ruler". Not exactly me.
Example Poem: "Say My Name" by Idris Goodwin
3. Do a vanity search on Google. Search for your first and last name. Make sure to put quotations around the name (e.g. "John Smith"). Wes Moore wrote a book about discovering another man named Wes Moore that grew up two blocks from him, but the two men's lives had very different outcomes.
Is there another person with your same name? Write a poem to them or about them. What do you both share? How are you different? If you can't find enough details, make them up.
When I look up my name, there is a dude with my first and last name who is a slam poet, and possibly, an actor who lives Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Example Poem: Sarah Kay & Phil Kay's "An Origin Story" talks about how they met and found they had a lot in common, including their last names.
4. Is there anything unique about your name or do people often ask you how to spell or pronounce it? Do you go by a nickname or a shortened version of your name that is different than your given name?
Example Poems: "Unforgettable" by Pages Matam, Elizabeth Acevedo & G. Yamazawa or "Choi Jeong Min" by Franny Choi.