The Hardest 5000 Words Assignment I’ve Given Yet…

I know this because it’s 5:25 PM and only half of my students have posted their work. I’ve received several emails about how difficult this assignment is, as well as some flat-out I’m-not-doing-this communications. I get it. Some prompts are harder than others. But the ones who did the assignment– who did what I asked– created some of the most intense and beautiful writing I’ve seen in a long time. Even the students who didn’t get it quite right, created some incredible vignettes. I’m sold. And my mantra of Hard-is-Good has been redeemed again.

What is this nefarious writing assignment that is plaguing my students? Book-blended poetry.

Here’s how it works: You take (at least) seven gorgeous sentences or phrases from a piece of literature. Strong phrases. We’re studying The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, so that is our clay. Then you come up with at least seven original thoughts about the book. These phrases or sentences get blended together (enter: exquisitely painful writing labor) to make a blank verse poem. And… voila! You have confused, frustrated, angst-filled students who eventually birth something incredible that defies even the teacher’s imagination.

My attempt at book-blended poetry:

Cain’s Heresy

I let my brother go

let him ride loose his passions

on a haggard shaft

in his own way.

I’m broken by his provocation


barely distinguishable.

I let my brother go

do that I do not want to do

the evil cords of life

his own conflagration

draw me back to his strange, thin light.

I let my brother go

to his lurid brown heaves

trenches in our memory

so pitiful

a provocation: vice.

I let my brother go

to the devil

in his own way.

And the life was quite gone.