Concrete Imagery in Poetry Scattegories

To begin:

I have students call out a list of abstractions. Usually we end up with some variation on the following:

  • fear
  • sadness
  • joy
  • depression
  • love
  • lust

Round 1: (10 minutes)

I put them in groups of three. Each group has to come up with three concrete images to represent each abstraction.

Round 2: (10-15 minutes)

For each concrete image they’ve come up with, I tell them to cross off any images they have that utilize cliché language. For example, if we’re writing for “sadness”, they have to cross out any images that involve “tears”, “crying”, or “sobbing.” For fear, I might have them cross out images that involve “screaming”, “wide eyes”, or “shaking.”

Whatever they have left, they read out loud. Anyone that is similar to another group’s imagery, they have to cross out. Whoever ends up with the most concrete images remaining “wins.”

Round 3: (10 minutes)

Redemption round: come up with a new set of concrete images for the same abstractions, being sure not to utilize any cliché language and seeing if you can get as surprising as possible.

We then read out loud, and this time I “judge” them based on the most evocative, exciting, unfamiliar images.


Write a poem with the “winning” images in it. Make the poem completely devoid of abstraction.



Feature image courtesy by drmakete lab on Unsplash
PhD Student at Texas Tech University

Jess Smith’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in JukedWaxwingWinter Tangerinecream city reviewSixth Finch, and other journals. She is currently a PhD student in English at Texas Tech University, where she co-founded and curates the LHUCA Literary Series.


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