Long-time Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn once said, "You'll never get mixed up if you simply tell the truth. Then you don't have to remember what you have said." There’s wisdom in that statement even if it doesn’t address the ethical and moral aspects of untruthfulness.
Lies are successful when they control language to achieve the effect of truth. How do poets control language to make their poems believable? Have you ever read a poem in which the words, phrases, lines were beautiful but somehow just didn’t hold up under emotional scrutiny? Have you read poems in which phrases and lines sounded contrived or manipulated, almost as if they were listening to themselves with a kind of smug satisfaction? What it is that makes a poem “ring true?”
This week’s prompt focuses on how you can use a lie to create a poem. One goal will be to use a lie you’ve told to reveal a truth about yourself. Whether it’s a little fib or a glaring whopper, re-tell your lie in a poem, and add a layer of meaning by revealing something the lie tells about you.
1. Before you begin, think for a moment about the shape-shifting nature of truth, lies, white lies, fibs, and lies of omission.
2. Now make a list a list of lies you’ve told. Move out of your comfort zone and be completely honest (it’s okay – the list is for your eyes only). Think about real lies – not fibs or white lies told to spare someone’s feelings or to avoid unnecessary conflict – we’re talking “whoppers” here!
- Do you remember a lie that you told as a child?
- Did you ever cheat on a test in school?
- Have you ever lied to avoid something you didn't want to do?
- Have you told a lie to avoid judgment or to make yourself look “good” in some else’s eyes? How have you fibbed to improve your image?
- Have you lied to someone you’ve loved? Protected yourself with a lie of omission or selective truth?
- Do you recall a time when you lied because you lacked the courage to tell the truth?
- Have you ever told a lie and then not remembered the details, making it impossible for you not to be caught?
- In what ways have you lied to yourself?
3. For each lie you list, remember the consequences.
4. Pick one of the lies you listed and write a poem about it. What does this lie tell you about yourself?
1. Write a total fantasy, a poem based on fabulous fibs and delightful deceptions.
2. Make up a scenario that you’d love to live. Not the truth, of course – a fantasy. You might try prose poem form for this.
3. Write a poem about a liar you’ve known.
4. Write a poem about a time that some lied to you.
5. Write a poem about Pinocchio (Geppetto’s wooden puppet who came to life and whose nose grew whenever he told a lie).
1. There should be a sense of confidence in your poem, a revealing of something you’ve never exposed before.
2. For a poem to be completely successful, it shouldn’t reveal everything easily; strive for different layers of meaning and understanding that become clearer on subsequent readings.
“The Liars” by Carl Sandburg http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/carlsandburg/12954