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Writing Using the Senses

Take a slice of lemon and taste it. If it had a sound, what sound would it be? Perhaps someone dragging their fingers down a chalkboard, or an old fashioned alarm clock ringing. If the taste were a feeling what would it be? Maybe an electric shock, or the prick of a thousand needles against your skin. If the taste had a shape, what would the shape be? A zigzag, or possibly a triangle.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to begin writing a poem, especially if you think too much about the end result of your writing, or reach for an idea but nothing comes. Writing using the senses is a great way of making a start, and it can also open your mind to unexpected ideas. Here are 4 activities that will help you write a poem using your senses.

Pass the dice

You have two minutes to come up with as many ways of saying ‘Pass the Dice’ as you can think of. You will probably come up with very different ways of making this request. You can then ask yourself who might say “Would you be so kind as to pass me the dice?” or “Gimme the shakers”, or where you might hear “Tombstones, boy”, or “Hand over those Gaming Cubes.” Would the speaker be an old person, a younger person, a viking, or even an alien?

Sound chart

Take three or four poems and look through them for words that seem hard, soft, smooth, warm, cold, crunchy, billowy, sharp, angular, gravelly, and fluffy. You can add any other categories you can think of! Remember to focus on how the words sound and not what they mean. You might feel, for example, that hit is a hard sound, and rumble is soft, while gyre (a word from Lewis Carol’s famous Jabberwocky) is cold and/or smooth. If you want to go a step further, you can draw the word and give it a shape, texture, or colour.

Observation game

Engage your senses through observation. There are different ways of doing this. You can either take a random object from your desk and describe what it looks or feels like, or perhaps explore an unknown object with your eyes closed. Next, ask yourself some questions that mix the senses. For example, what colour is this texture? What does this texture smell like? What sound does this texture make? To go even further, you can create some abstract ideas by asking questions like what memory does this texture have? What mood does it have? What emotion does it have?

Colour response

Find a colour wheel online, or perhaps a paint-colour sample card (like these). Choose one colour and write its name at the top of a sheet of paper (paints often have great names – midnight blue, lava orange, python green, or dolomite silver). You now have two minutes to answer the following questions:

What scent is this colour? What taste is this colour? What texture is this colour? What place is this colour? What mood is this colour? What memory is this colour?

When you have done this, choose a second colour and repeat the process. This time, you only have one minute to respond. Changing the colour will allow you to have a change in direction or tone when you come to write your poem.

As soon as you have finished your colour response, write a poem which uses some of the language you have generated through the 4 sensory activities. You don’t have to use everything you’ve written, and you’re free to change the order and add some joining words. Writing the poem shouldn’t take you long – perhaps as little as 10 minutes.

The purpose of this exercise in using the senses is to give you a new way of writing. You’ll see that you don’t have to write a poem that tells a story, or to begin with a leading idea before you start. Instead, you can use senses and associations to produce unexpected results, and you’ll find that some great writing can come from chance discovery.