Alice Friman Tells How-To #amwriting

Alice Friman is a fan-freakin’-tastic poet, but everything she says about poetry applies to prose, as well. Strong writing is strong writing.

These are notes I took at a workshop she gave. What a treat it was! Long post, but worth it.

Alice Friman, MWW, July 28-29, 1994

Art, according to Emily Dickinson, is “when I feel the top of my head come off.”

Art = Beauty. Beauty does not mean “pretty.” Beauty stuns. The poety Rillke says, “Beauty is terror that decides it isn’t going to destroy us.”

Art = Truth. YOUR truth. You must write from the center of your universe.

Artist – somebody who sees; spends life looking at life, and the world, then write what YOU see.

– knows how to HEAR

Exercises: Stand in front of something with a blank mind. Make believe your eyes are film and just look. Don’t try to interpret or get inspired and start constructing a poem, just look.
Shut your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Really hear? Again, don’t poeticize it, just hear it.

The window:

  • The first window is the “you” that everyone sees.
  • The second window is the “secret stuff” that only you see, or that you share with intimates.
  • The third window is the “you” that everyone BUT you sees, and you deny. “I’m not like that!”
  • The Fourth Window is the you that no one knows, not even you–“least of all, you.” This is where Art/Poetry come from.

How do you write from the Fourth Window, when it only comes unbidden?

The subconscious is a fountain connected to the sea of our experience. Consciousness is a fence that blocks that fountain. The fence collapses at night; during the day it keeps us on task. The dream state goes on all the time, sleeping or waking, but “the fence loves to work.” But sometimes the fence goes on automatic and leaves you free: Driving a familiar route, you suddenly look up, and don’t remember getting where you are–the fence went on automatic, and you were awake, but in a dream state. This is the purpose of repetitive prayers.

Ways to make the fence lie down:

  • Tell it you’re only playing. “You don’t need to monitor this, I’m not working, I’m playing.”
  • Take an “image walk” – ramble, with pen and pencil. Write what you see. When you come home, look at the paper. Play with the items you wrote down. Each thing you noticed is attached to something underneath within you; that’s why you noticed it. This play pulls the string that attaches the thing to the stuff underneath.
  • Pick up any three things on impulse. Bring them in and look at them, using as many senses as possible). Write about one.
  • Go to a public/private place (airport, museum, church, library) where you are surrounded by people who will leave you alone. The fence will be too busy monitoring the activity to bother you.
  • Take any book and open at random and point to a word. Pull out 15 words. Write 10 lines using all those words.
  • Get old photographs, such as one of your mother younger than you are now, or when she was pregnant with you. Take it to a strange place (cemetary, junk store, the post office). Write about it–not poetry, just stuff. Make it a poem later.


Rewriting–has two basic purposes:

  • To take these unconsious images and make them make sense
  • To evoke feeling–try to make the reader feel what you felt

Poems are about feelings–they are invisible–only experienced through language.

Say there is a ghost in the room; invisible. You have to throw a sheet over it in order to see it. The ghost is the POEM; the underlying emotion. The sheet is the language, the shape that shows the form beneath. The lighter the sheet, the clearer the form. Every word in a written poem must hold up a meaning or it overloads, blunts, suffocates the ghost.

The title also is working language.

Rhyme: Most people think of rhyme as end stop rhyme–where the phrase stops at the end of the line with exact rhyme.

Enjambment is when the phrase passes the end of the line and stops inside another line.

The rhymes are sometimes imperfect.

Interior rhyme lends a lyric quality to the poem.

Assonance is rhyme or near-rhyme of vowel sounds.

Consonance is “rhyme” of consonants: murder/dream/drama/ moored are rhymes like this.

l is lovely s is ugly d and hard th are final: death

Line length: the longer the line, the faster you read. The shorter the line, the slower and more purposefully you read.

For a philosophical, lyrical, romantic, thoughtful effect, use “ing” forms of verbs

For a strong and punchy effect, use stem of verb

Exercise: Finish these sentences:

1. The keys want
2. I wish you would
3. The sea has showers of
4. The clock hears
5. What is it that the piano loves?
6. Poems are made up of adjectives, nouns and verbs. Pick two of each from a thesaurus and make yourself use them in a poem.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Print out this post and keep it for when you need a prompt or an exercise!



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Alice Friman Tells How-To #amwriting

  1. Dan Antion

    December 8, 2014 at 8:00am

    This is amazing. Thought provoking to a higher power. Thanks for sharing this.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      December 8, 2014 at 8:44am

      If you ever have a chance to take instruction from a fine poet, do so. They’re experts in finding the heart of their subject and shining the right sort of light on it to illuminate it to the reader.

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  2. Jane

    December 8, 2014 at 8:32am

    Very nice. Thought-provoking.

    A lot of writing advice prompts veteran writers to go, “Uh huh,” “Know that,” “Heard that before.” Etc. These notes on writing are a whole ‘nother critter.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      December 8, 2014 at 8:47am

      Oh, it was terrific, being in her workshop! When we closed our eyes and listened and then wrote what we had heard, people said things like, “I hear the breath of a dragon.” She said, “No, you didn’t; that’s a furnace. What did you HEAR? What were the SOUNDS?” We had to listen again, because she didn’t want us to be writing poetry while we experienced. She wanted us to EXPERIENCE, not SHAPE the experience while we were having it. Good advice for living, as well as for writing.

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply

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