In 2007,  after our friend Tim Chegwidden suffered a stroke at age 53, he had to painstakingly learn how to speak again. He immediately started figuring out systems to do the thing he loved most: talk, communicate, explore, ask questions, express the complexities of what he read or saw. Not satisfied with the level of nuance of the words he used, he developed a remarkable practice to try to deepen them: writing poetry under a strict time constraint, say 30 minutes or so. Many of his friends have followed suit.

Mira Keras
Mira Keras

The technique derived from Tim’s timed chess contests with his daughter Oriana.

Timing the chess contests not only saved time but it improved our game, as well.  And so, given that I was not out to play against Bobby Fisher, by the same token, I would not hope to create poems like Shakespeare, Lorca or Louise Gluck.  I’m happy just to create a single strophe…

Like the powerful last three lines of his poem:

The Pope and The Stones

The cabbie
in Buenos Aires said
“the pope is alright

but I love the Rolling Stones”
I do too
since I heard
Paint it Black
A Canadian station
in 1965
As black as coal
I knew what that meant,
having grown up outside
of Pittsburgh
where some boys
came to school
with coal dust under their fingernails.
I was in sixth grade then
and it impressed me how the guys
from Sardis were the ones who got
paddled the most by the principal.
The beginning of negation,
And The Stones.

poem writing practice dtl 2

Several of Tim’s friends have embraced the practice. One wrote:

I’m still trying the practice.  I don’t do once per day.  I try to do one per week. 

…I find it much more difficult to access my perceptions and feelings about day-to-day life. I also prefer to keep the poems short. Otherwise I drift into trying to sound like I think a poem should sound and it ends up a clumsy parody of Byron or Eliot. 

Sun and deep coffee
By the rushing creek
The wet grass
A forest of stars

We’ve tried Tim’s timed poetry practice ourselves. Critical is knowing that the poems don’t have to be great, or up to anyone’s standard; they are simply the result of interesting practice that helps us grow. We find ourselves accessing a different part of our brain, looking, thinking, feeling the meaning of words…

We’re reminded of Emily Dickinson writing fragments of poems on salvaged envelopes

emily_dickinson envelope poem

Thanks Tim!

If you’ve found illumination, joy, or inspiration in this post, please consider supporting Improvised Life. It only takes a minute to make a secure donation that helps pay our many costs. A little goes a long way towards helping Improvised Life continue to live ad-free in the world.

Support Improvised Life ♥

3 replies on “A Time-Limited Mind Sharpening Practice

  1. This is a very strong and brave and beautiful idea.. I awoke this morning, feeling that I had lost several

    friends because I was forgetting things. Then I opened this post ant felt I was not alone. Others were

    struggling either with loss or forgetting or fear of forgetting. Thank you, thank you, Sally.


  2. Imposing a constraint is a great spur to creativity. Try writing a poem in a rigid form like a sestina ( or a villanelle. A Haiku is a good place to start, or an abecedarian (each line begins with a letter of the alphabet) or an acrostic.The subconscious is released when the mind gets distracted by working to satisfy the conditions of the form.One can also invent a form (three words per line, Ten syllables per line. eg.) The results can be surprising and revealing. For more read Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms, an anthology in which the contributors explain the form of their contribution. There’s a useful glossary.

  3. All really great ideas. I especially love “inventing a form” as a personal constraint. I’m heading right to the site you mention.
    Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *