Exercise provided by Sofia Starnes, Poet Laureate of Virginia, author of Fully Into Ashes
Consider these things as you read “This River Here”
- What physical element does the poet use to connect the events of the poem?
- How does the contrast between “right here” and “a little farther down” affect what the poem wishes to say? What is the poet trying to express?
- In several places the poet uses subtle alliterations—or just sounds echoing each other— to draw our attention to a moment. Does this echo the sound of a river? Does it echo the rhythm of life?
- The poet uses literary exaggeration, or hyperbole, to create emphasis (the grandpa “scrubbing” souls, sweat and tears that mix with river water, fear that “drips”).
Think of a physical element—water, fire, sand, rock… something along those lines—and use it to connect several moments in a person’s life—yours or an imaginary one, if you prefer. You might recreate scenes, where the element appears, as the poet has done in this poem. Or you might do something different. Experiment with using hyperbole to emphasize an idea or image. At the end, do you think you have a poem? What makes it a poem?
Exercise provided by Naomi Shihab Nye, poet, novelist, anthologist
A simple but powerful exercise is simply to find a place you really love, as Carmen sings of this river that means so much to her. “This river here,” she says more than once, and “Right here” begins most of the stanzas. The reader feels like he or she is standing beside the poet, being shown something very special. Think of a phrase you like that refers to that place, or invokes it. Repeat and chant your phrase throughout the poem as a thread; include history or personal memory, or imagined memory, or descriptive elements of the place, and see what happens! As you write the poem, listen to see how the repeated phrase comes alive and takes on different meanings.
Exercise provided by Kamala Platt, author of On the Line
“This river here” has many universal elements because, for most people who live close to the land, rivers are important sources and markers. Yet this poem is also about a very specific place, significant to the life of the poet and to her family.
Choose a natural setting where you have felt comfortable in the past, or a place you imagine that you would find peaceful–a park, your backyard, even an image only seen in a photograph. If you can only get to this place in your head, try to find an appropriate place to write that will be consistent with the place-based poem you will be writing. The poem does not have to describe the setting, but the feeling you get from that setting. Let your senses drift, and let the setting influence the flow of the writing process.
Exercise provided by Dave Oliphant, publisher of Prickly Pear Press, poet and translator, historian of jazz
There is an implied metaphor throughout this poem—that time is a river. Tafolla never says this, but the historical moments that she describes all seem to “flow” with the river itself. Identify the various types of history involved in the poem, “This River Here.” Personal history and public history, ethnic, cultural and religious history, linguistic history, are some examples. Notice that there are different levels of diction that help to differentiate these. These are historical “lenses” through which the poet examines a single place. How and why they are important parts of the poem? Think about your own life and write a poem that describes an event using different historical lenses.