Sunday, December 26, 2010

Do a Verb

I just finished reading Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. I loved this book and will likely have more to say about it at another time, but for now I want to say that one of the aspects of the book I enjoyed was that so much of what Tharp says about her life and work as a dancer has parallels to the life and work of a poet. For example, some of her strategies for getting herself out of a creative slump could easily work for poets.

One activity Tharp uses to get out of a creative dead end is called "Do a Verb." She chooses a verb and acts it out physically. For example, the verb squirm leads to wiggling her hips, shrugging her shoulders, and moving her limbs in such a way that a "dance phrase" gets underway. She videotapes the process and when she plays back the video, she invariably finds something "strange and new" that revs up her dance engine.

I think that we poets could translate this exercise to poetry. Choose a verb and free write about it for five minutes. See what emerges. Or begin literally with the physical, as a dancer would. Then write about that.

Some verbs suggested by Tharp: dart, twirl, chafe. Then there is her "Civilian Big Ten," verbs consistently suggested by groups she's worked with: push, spin, run, jump, twist, roll, skip, turn, walk, fall. But feel free to choose your own verb, a snazzy one or an ordinary one.

This activity might be a good way to end 2010 or to begin 2011. Or both.



  1. Enlightingly motivational book. I, also, just picked it up from the library this last week and am enjoying it. Half way through, bed time reading for me. Glad someone else is enjoying it at the same time. Karma!

  2. Great idea! I'd heard of this book, and will ask my dancer/choreography brother-in-law, just arrived for a holiday visit, if he has had a chance to read it. He does do verbs!

  3. Morning reading for me, Nene. I read it with a red pen so I could mark the passages and lines I wanted to return to.

    Kathleen--I'm curious to hear your brother-in-law's response to the book if he's read it.


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