When most people think about a “sixth sense” they’ll either think of psychics or a small child who sees dead people. When I think of a sixth sense, I think of the most wonderful sense of all: poetry.
“What?” you ask. “How on earth is poetry a sense?” Well, okay, to be honest in the strictest sense it isn’t. Poetry is made up of all the senses; what you see, feel, touch, and hear, and so on. If you don’t think you can taste poetry, just think about the classic “On Top of Spaghetti” and try and tell me you don’t wish you had some meatballs right now! But even this isn’t what I mean when I talk about sixth sense poetry. Rather than going on and on about the merit of the senses in poetry, let’s just go ahead and get started, and maybe you’ll see (or maybe even taste) what I mean!
When writing sixth sense poetry, the first thing you have to know is your senses; seeing as most of us learned that at a very young age, I don’t really feel the need to go over it! (In case you’ve forgotten, though, they are listed through the remainder of this “workshop,” so don’t worry) Sixth sense poetry is based off of these five senses; you will take time to think about what you see, smell, and so on before processing the “sixth sense” which is, in fact, the way in which we put together a poem. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
The first thing you’ll need is a sheet of paper. On this paper, you’re going to make lists, whose headings are the five senses. Each list should start with the question heading “What do you [sense]?” You will then number each list one through five. In these lists, your task is simply to answer the questions with the first things that pop into your head. To make this exercise interesting, then, you’ll want to be somewhere where all of your senses are enticed by different things. Write at a baseball game. Go to a park. Lounge at the beach. Take a seat in a doctor’s office. Just make sure each and every one of your senses is somehow active enough that you can actually complete the lists. For this example, I began with smell and completed my lists in my room:
What do you smell?
1. Fresh paper
2. Printer toner
3. Electricity from everywhere around
4. The remnants of perfume on day-old skin
5. Two-years-and-counting-old glue
What do you see?
1. A tiny yellow duckling
2. Poorly dried flowers dangling upside-down
3. A container of forty-five envelopes with only seven missing
4. Brown skin with nude fingertips
5. Desktop darts and an empty chocolates box
What do you hear?
1. The gentle whir of a computer
2. Clicking of keys
3. Bare feet shifting on an old carpet
4. Soft flutter of hair moving against a dry cheek
5. The movement of fabrics grazing against each other
What do you touch?
1. Slippery stained wood and a chipped corner
2. The smooth pages of a 365 day calendar
3. A Styrofoam week-old cup of devoured noodles
4. Bare toes picking at the carpet
5. Copper keys that fall when touched
What do you taste?
1. Morning breath
2. Remnants of last night’s cereal
3. Saliva that is quickly swallowed
4. Nameless taste that works its way down my throat
5. Raisins long digested
Note that rather than simply saying, in some cases, what I sensed, I tried to describe them a bit. This is because this form of poetry is very, very simple; you’re not going to be forced to add ideas to it, so unless you want a very basic list-poem, you may want to be as detailed as you think is necessary. However, you also don’t want to be too detailed; paint a simple picture. For example, rather than describing number three in the list of things touched as “An empty Styrofoam cup of Machuran Instant Lunch noodles that’s been sitting on top of my computer for a week” and describing exactly how it felt or what was in it, or in essence how it was in its placement, I tried to give a basic description that both described it and left some of the details up to the imagination.
Once your lists are filled out, you’re ready to engage the sixth sense. Basically, all that this means is that you will be taking your list and figuring out how you want your poem to be written out. You can simply work your way down the list, making each sense its own stanza. You could pair all the number ones, number twos, and so on. You could forget about stanzas and just write one big poem. You could decide you don’t want some lines and exclude them. You can, if you want, add more details between the lines. Mix-and-match, pair the senses you think are the most closely related, try to make it rhyme . . . whatever you choose to do from this point out is completely up to you! That’s how simple it is! Here is the poem I created using this method:
Eleven : Forty-Three
A tiny yellow duckling
The gentle whir of a computer
Slippery stained wood with a chipped corner
Poorly dried flowers dangling upside-down
Clicking of keys
The smooth pages of a 365 day calendar
Remnants of last night’s cereal
Electricity from everywhere around
A container of forty-five envelops with only seven missing
Naked feet shifting on an old carpet
A Styrofoam week-old cup of devoured noodles
Saliva that is quickly swallowed
The remnants of perfume on day-old skin
Brown skin with nude fingertips
The soft flutter of hair moving against a dry cheek
Bare toes picking at the carpet
A nameless taste that works its way down my throat
Desktop darts and an empty chocolates box
The movement of fabrics grazing against each other
Copper keys that fall when touched
Raisins long digested
The title of this poem is simply what time I wrote this poem. Note how some things are still left to the imagination with the title as well; did I write it in the morning or at night? How and/or why would that make a difference? The beauty of poetry is that each word, phrase, or idea that you sense within it carries with it its own sense of meaning. That is also the sixth sense of poetry; more than just writing it and figuring out how it should be put together, it is experiencing it! The basic goal of this type of poetry is not to do something new and amazing. This is more of an introduction to how the senses influence poetry, and an engagement of the ever-present “sixth sense” of putting a poem together. When writing poetry, try to really feel what your senses are sharing with you. What do you see, taste, smell, touch, or hear? What does the world around you have to say? What are your taste buds telling you? Write it down, and share your senses with the world!