Cut & Shuffle Poem

This exercise by Jack Myers is from The Practice of Poetry edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell.

  1. Write out two completely unrelated and emotionally opposite six- to ten-line situations depicting: a physically inactive or quiet scene; a physically active or emotionally charged scene.
  2. Then alternate the first line or two from scene 1 with the first line or two from scene 2, and then the second line or so from scene 1 with the second line or so from scene 2, and so forth, until all the lines from the two scenes are roughly dovetailed into a single stanza.

By alternating the actions and characters from the two separate scenes, a third, implied quality arises. This will be true of any two things placed side by side: the creation of a third entity.


I completed the initial exercise in fifteen minutes, same as I gave my students. Later I spent another ten or fifteen minutes playing through versions of the final poem.

My Quiet Scene

I read a book I’ve read before
Sitting in a block of sun
turning one page
closing the book
because it isn’t doing anything
and I want to think instead

My Loud Scene

In the backseat the kids fight
She pinches his arm
he yells, Give her a consequence
She says sorry like she’s not
I shout, Be quiet
I shout, I want peace

Dovetail

I read a book I’ve read before
in the backseat the kids fight
Sitting in a block of sun
She pinches his arm
turning one page
he yells, Give her a consequence
Closing the book
She says sorry like she’s not
Because it isn’t doing anything
I shout, Be quiet
and I want to think instead
I shout, I want peace

Revised for stanza, tense, diction, cuts, capitalization, punctuation – and still untitled after all that!?

I read a book I’ve read before
In the backseat, the kids fight,
sitting in a block of sun

She pinches his arm –
turn one page –
he yells, Give a consequence

Close the book.
She says sorry like she’s not
because the book isn’t doing anything

I shout, Be nice
I want to think
I shout, I want peace

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