Tuesday, June 28

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 9 comments
Today's post isn't about smooth talkers in fiction (though they're always fun to read and to write), it's about a creativity tool I rediscovered: magnetic poetry.

I recall magnetic poetry being the hot new thing back in the mid-1990s, usually sold in bookstore gift sections. Several local coffee shops near me kept cookie sheets coated with the small magnetized pieces of type you could arrange into forms of expression.

The challenge was to work with the words at hand and arrange them into something at least partially coherent. The truly patient would dig through the sticky bits to find just the right words. The impatient would sacrifice coherence. The guffawing teenagers usually left behind suggestive little ditties like this: white curve / in a window / moon rise / blush and run.

I picked up a new set of magnetic poetry at a flea market over the weekend--the "romance" set, which I knew would have lots of fun additions to the two sets I already own. My daughter and I noodled around for a good forty minutes trying different combinations.

My creativity was spurred by three words that had come linked together on one of the perforated sheets: "slow," "velvet" and "dance."

Here's what resulted:

I noticed a few interesting things working in this medium. First, one tends to go light with using articles, because who wants to spend twenty minutes digging for an "a" or "an"? Second, odd combinations pop up all the time and can cause your subject and tone can shift dramatically as you compose. This piece shifted when the word "pleasure" caught my eye. I got thinking what a cliched concept it often is and let my imagination roam for new ways to conceive it.

If you haven't ever played with magnetic poetry, I highly recommend it as a warm-up tool. Seeing stacks of words randomly juxtaposed will stir your imagination in wonderful ways.

Have you ever played with magnetic poetry sets? If you were to take the words I used in my little ditty, how would you rearrange them?
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  1. I have not played with these, but I want a set. I will have to go get some. What a great exercise.
    THanks and love your combinations.

  2. I suck at poetry--usually, but I love what you did. So creative!

  3. Oh, your poem is so gorgeous! I like it. I used to play with those sets as a kid at other people's houses, but I'm too much of a concrete thinker to be inspired by such a medium.

  4. I love magnetic poetry and made my own (non-magnetic) set by cutting words out of magazines.
    I especially like the first poem, or first stanza, above.

  5. This is fantastic. You know, while I was at the poetry workshop last week, I was forced to write poetry to 'form'. I don't usually set myself these limitations. Obviously thinking that the limits will constrain me and stunt my creativity. But they didn't. They made me become even more creative with my words and I ended up with some very different stuff to what I usually write. Sometimes constraint is actually liberating. We should keep that in mind more often.

  6. I have a friend that sells word magnets. I love her magnetic tiles that line her kitchen and she daily changes them, making new phrases that reflect her mood or give her inspiration. Is it really out of style? I'm hoping not because I still dream of having my own magnetic wall with dozens upon dozens of words.

  7. Christine: I know sets are available online, but maybe you'll get lucky like I did and find a set at a flea market.

    Elle: Poetry is a very different way of thinking with words. Not everyone's shtick, but I love it.

  8. JEM: Thanks. I like how random word associations happen naturally with these magnets. Is that abstract? Never thought of it that way.

    Jenn: Cool idea. I've considered making add-ons to the sets I have by adding magnetic tape from the craft store onto computer-printed words.

  9. Jessica: The way the magnets limit your vocabulary choices (or guide it) does remind me of the strictures of form. I agree that inside those boundaries, our usual ways of thinking are challenged and forced to change.

    Lynn: I don't know if they're out of style. I just remember when the kits first burst onto the scene. Amazon carries nearly 40 different sets. I find that a fridge or filing cabinet works well, in lieu of a special metal wall.