How Discovery Writing Works

Developing Your Poetic Intelligence: Choice, Consciousness, Awarenes

It’s all about associations. We associate the games we play with the people we played with and the places we played them; we associate the childhood books we read with the people who read them to us.

Throughout the semester, I will try to awaken ideas and imaginative possibilities that exist in you by asking you questions that you’ll answer in list form.  For example, one of my late summer approaches might be to ask you about favorite places to buy ice cream.  Here are my answers:

Dom’s on LBI
Caitlin’s store in Plymouth (Penny’s?)
Little place in Narragansett by the State Beach
Sundae School (Dennis?)
Carousel w/player piano in Barnegat

The point of such a quiz would not be to get you to write a poem about ice cream, but instead to awaken some perhaps overlooked details of a place.  Because vacation places are very likely to include ice cream memories, and because ice cream runs are not solo endeavors, it’s reasonable to assume that, used properly, the question can lead you to meaningful details of a meaningful relationship or memory.

Before discussing the significance of ice cream, consider how many places I didn’t put on the list.  I didn’t reflect on my choices, or decide that any of them were unimportant, and therefore not worth spilling any ink.  So somehow, Sundae School, a week’s worth of ice cream in 1976, finds its way onto this list, created in July 2009.  If I give it a moment’s consideration, I understand that that first Cape Cod vacation taken by the McAteer family was the last taken by my father.  I also remember that there was a hurricane that year, that week, and it made for a pretty cool nighttime walk on the beach.

Same thing, sort of, for the Narragansett ice cream, based on two weeks in 2001, when I was alone with 16 month-old Emma for three or four days of baby beach bonding.

No point in going on and on.  The point is that when you come up with a detail in a “quiz,” you’ve probably rejected unconsciously a lot of other possibilities.  In order to make the most of this process, you need to listen to what your answers are trying to tell you: why at this time, in this place, with this that’s going on in my life, did this detail pop into my head?

Engage in that question and you engage in inquiry.  Engage in inquiry and you engage in discovery.  Congratulations!  You do these things, and you’re on your way to being a meaning-maker.


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