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I’ve used a number of constraints for my daily rushes. The dominant one being something called a ten-minute spill. I picked it up from a writing book I used when I taught workshops to high school kids a few years ago. (And I mean highschool kids, not high schoolkids, though both terms probably applied in some cases.) The 10-min spill’s constraints are: 5 words, 10 lines, ten minutes. You pick five words somehow (this in itself is a constraint, of course) and in ten minutes, you build a ten line poem around them.

I have two lists of 50 words each, numbered 1 thru 50, at the back of my notebook, and each day I picked 5 numbers. I would draw from one list or the other, or mix them. Then I’d make something up. I often use the stretch of time between several stops on the lightrail that I know to be about ten minutes. Other tinmes, I’d simply go as fast as possible. Three, four minutes. I rarely revise. I’m not going to tell you what the 100 words are.

Other constraints include hay(na)ku of course, and what I call 5x7 and 4x4: seven lines of five word lines each, or four lines of four words. Some of these have also been built around words picked from the list, but I also might have the TV on and grab words as they go by.

It’s surprising what can happen when you stop being concerned about making sense. We make sense anyway, whether it’s “really there” or not. We invent sense, we don’t discover it.

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