I teach poetry to young children. There is a game I like to play with the second and third graders, which I have named door lake tangle tangle. The idea of the game is to slowly move our minds to new associative places— we do it in a series of steps. Here is how it works.
Write a list of 5 or 6 nouns. You decide the nouns on your own list. A nice list has nouns that feel a bit distant from each other— each noun has a bit of space, a little breathing room.
These are my five words:
Now write down 6 adjectives for each of the words on your list. There are endless ways to think about each of these words and then describe them. But for now, just choose 6 words. It’s okay if the words you choose are a little slippery in their part of speech and are not exactly adjectives. The idea is to choose a word that narrows the scope of the noun so we can start to form an image of it. Here are the words I choose for ‘lake’, ‘bird’, and ‘door’:
Read all your word combinations as they appear on the page.
Read the words again but this time read whatever words catch your eye— don’t get too attached to anything you’re reading. Just read them (aloud, if you can).
This is where the tangle tangle enters. If something is tangled, it could be jumbled, mixed-up, knotted, knitted, confused, mismatched, or slither-slathered. So now read the words again but this time mix up some of the adjectives and the nouns in a more deliberate way (i.e. instead of a ‘mired lake’, maybe you have a ‘mired door’). Pause for a moment so that an image of each new association can enter your mind.
Write down a few of the new word combinations that you like and then sit with your list for a moment.
Choose one of the associations and start to build around it. Or see if you can thread a few of the associations together. Here is an example— these are the first four lines of a longer piece. I threaded a few associations together:
noiseless doors slide open to reveal glass lakes if we are lucky
luck is a feast that fits into my dogmouth when we’re thirsty
thirst is a condition exacerbated by the algae bloom lake
double doors slither slather in all directions until four to ten birds alight
It might take some time, but once you feel like you’ve exhausted one thread of associations, move on to a new one. Let the words slide a little. I find that with this kind of piece, I can enter and exit it in a different way than with other modes of writing. Maybe you’ll find that, too. You can leave it for a bit and come back and see what new words bind to one another. I love how the longer you look at all the words on your list, the more ideas you start to have for how to place them newly next to each other...
About the author
Asiya Wadud is the author of Crosslight for Youngbird, day pulls down the sky/ a filament in gold leaf, written collaboratively with Okwui Okpokwasili, Syncope and the forthcoming No Knowledge is Complete Until It Passes Through My Body. Asiya teaches poetry at Saint Ann's School and is a member of the Belladonna Collaborative. Her work has been supported by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Foundation Jan Michalski, Brooklyn Poets, Dickinson House, Mount Tremper Arts, and the New York Public Library, among others. Asiya is a 2019-2020 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Artist-in-Residence. her recent work appears in e-flux journal, BOMB Magazine, Social Text, Danspace Project's Utterances from the Chorus catalog, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.