Finding the Words 2: The “Eight Words” Poetry Generative Exercise

In FINDING THE WORDS 1: BLACKOUT/ERASURE POETRY I presented a lesson on how to get out of your word rut and discover new vocabulary through that form. In this lesson, you’ll discover new words by playing the “Eight Words Game.” The game also works as a poetry generative exercise.

Part 1: Gathering Eight Words, Generating a New Poem

  1. Read through your favorite poems or a collection of new poems. If you’re looking to find poems online, I recommend The Poetry Foundation.
  2. As you read, make a list of eight words that you find interesting, unusual, and are not words you would usually think of using.
  3. Now, create an original poem that uses, in any order, and wherever you want to place them, all eight words! There is no required format – it can be free verse or a formal poem, and it can be on any subject. The only requirements are that you use all eight words seriously – no blowing off nonsensical lines just to get the word in there!

If you use the Eight Words Game for a class lesson or poetry workshop, you could have the participants vote on the eight words from the lists individuals create. In groups, you might have each group choose their favorite eight words from the lists. You can write the words on the board. My suggestion: don’t tell participants why beforehand! There are groans, some of secret delight, when the “reveal” is given that the eight words are being used as a poetry generative exercise!

As if often the case with on-the-spot generative exercises, some people will struggle to create anything meaning, and some will create “keepers.”

Below is a weird poem I created playing the Eight Words Game along with a workshop I was conducting. The result is a poem I NEVER would have come up with otherwise. Eventually, “Thug-Faced Moon” was published in a cool one-off nontraditional magazine a friend of mine created, called NULU Handwritten (yes, the gimmick was the magazine presented all the poems as written by hand by the authors. I loved it!). For those of you not in my “Indiucky” area, “Nulu” is a nickname for a renovated, revitalized area of downtown Louisville, “New Louisville.” 

Eight Words Poem, “Thug-Faced Moon” by Michael Jackman:

Eight Words Game generative exercise result: "Thug-Faced Moon."

The Eight Words List I Used:

  1. Moon
  2. Gravity
  3. Solstice
  4. Gangster
  5. Slogans
  6. Baby
  7. Bone
  8. Corpse

Part 2: Sharing the Poetry Generative Exercise

In a workshop setting, it’s important poets get a chance to share their creations, continuing to work as part of a community of writers, overcoming fears of sharing work, of perceived failures, and allowing themselves to receive the support and appreciation of the community for creating “something out of nothing.”

Part 3: Reflecting on/Discussing the Eight Words Game

As is usual, I try to add a reflective element to my lessons and exercises. I find reflection can potentially, “seal the deal,” where the poets themselves create their own new understanding of their craft. Coming back together as a community and discussing

Reflection: Write a paragraph or more, reflecting on the following question:

  • How has this exercise challenged your beliefs about composing poems? In addition, write any reflection about your process or other discoveries you made from doing this assignment. 
  • For teachers I might also ask: How has playing the Eight Words Game affected or challenged their beliefs about teaching poetry? What new behaviors might result as a consequence of playing this game?

Discussion: Share your reflections in group or with the workshop as a whole. Comment on other poets’ reflections and continue the discussion.

I hope you enjoy playing the Eight Words Game, and that it helps you discover new words and new directions in your poetic work. If you liked this poetry generative exercise, you will also enjoy my lesson, Finding the Words 1: Blackout/Erasure Poetry Generative Exercises. Discover more of my online writing lessons.

For several decades I have conducted writing workshops of all kinds, and for 14 years I have taught writing on the faculty of Indiana University Southeast. Now I have decided to give back for these opportunities by making my lessons available online. I hope you enjoy this lesson, and the other lessons here on my writing Web site, You may download and use any lesson here free of charge, provided you give credit as: © Copyright Michael Jackman. All Rights Reserved.

Although the lessons are free of charge, please help support all my work in writing and maintaining this site through a small contribution using the PayPal link on the top right of this post. Thank you for your support! – Michael

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