5 Techniques Used by Surrealist Poets

surrealist sculpture

Inspired by Dadaism and the writings of Sigmund Freud, Surrealist poets give the imagination and dreams as much precedence as logic and reason. The writers use the unconscious mind to explain rational life. To free the imagination, poets use a variety of techniques that liberate the mind of conscious control.

Surrealist Poetry Techniques

Exquisite corpse game:

Writers use games as a way to have fun and investigate their minds when writing Surrealist poetry. Games break traditional thought patterns, allowing thoughts to be more random and ideas to flow more freely.

In the exquisite corpse game, players take turn writing down words on a piece of paper. After one person writes a set of words based on the rules (e.g., adjective noun / adjective verb / adjective noun), the individual folds the piece of paper to conceal the writing and passes it to the next person. Leader of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, developed the game with his friends, in which they wrote, “The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine.”

Palindrome poem:

Palindrome poems are visual works of art, creating a mirror image. They masterfully read the same backwards and forwards, as in the following poem by Jerry P. Quinn.

Unseen Travelers

Spoken Breath
Creating flesh and spirit
Souls stirring divine dances
Leaping, joyful with life
Entertaining harmony and grace
Angels of myriads and myriads
Sentinel watchers
Merging unseen
~Travelers~
Unseen merging
Watchers, Sentinel
Myriads and myriads of angels
Grace and harmony entertaining
Life with joyful leaping
Dances divine, stirring souls
Spirit and flesh creating
Breath spoken.

Echo poem:

In an echo poem, a technique invented by Aurélien Dauguet in 1972, one or more people write on a piece of paper divided into two columns. After the first poet writes a line in the left column, the second poet “echoes” by writing a stanza that rhymes or sounds phonetically the same in the right column. Many times the echo is one or two words. An example of an echo poem is Fred Chappell and John Niedzwiecki’s “Narcissus and Echo.” The echoing words create a poem of their own.

Shall the water not remember                   Ember
my hand’s slow gesture, tracing above    of
its mirror my half-imaginary                     airy
portrait? My only belonging                      longing
is my beauty, which I take                          ache
away and then return, as love                    of
of teasing playfully the one being             unbeing.
whose gratitude I treasure                         Is your
moves me. I live apart                                 heart
from myself, yet cannot                              not
live apart. In the water’s tone,                   stone?
that brilliant silence, a flower                    Hour,
whispers my name with such slight         light
moment, it seems filament of air,             fare
the world become cloudswell.                   well.

Automatism:

When Surrealist poets use automatism, or automatic writing, they write without controlling their conscious thoughts. In essence, they write whatever comes to mind. Breton stated that poets should not filter, edit or shape automatic writing because the words should be vivid and raw. The leader of the Surrealist movement used automatism when writing Soluble Fish:

The ground beneath my feet is nothing but an enormous unfolded newspaper. Sometimes a photograph comes by; it is a nondescript curiosity, and from the flowers there uniformly rises the smell, the good smell, of printer’s ink. I heard it said in my youth that the smell of hot bread is intolerable to sick people, but I repeat that the flowers smell of printer’s ink. …

Cut-up technique:

In the cut-up technique, a writer cuts text printed or written on paper and rearranges the words to create a new work. Latent news is a similar technique in which a writer cuts words or phrases from a newspaper article and quickly rearranges them. Many people unknowingly practice this Surrealist technique with refrigerator magnets that have words printed on them.

5 Reasons to Take a Poetry Class

poetry words

Poetry is a universal language. It is a fluid art form. Whether you’ve dabbled in writing a few lines of free verse on a napkin or can recite Shakespearean sonnets from memory, there’s always room for poetry in your life. One of the best ways to get the most out of the lines and stanzas that you read and write is with a poetry class. Keep in mind that there are different types of poetry classes. Some teach you about the masters, some encourage you to write, and others are a blend of both. Whichever you choose, it’s a decision that will enhance your life in more ways than anticipated.

Why Take a Poetry Class

Improve your writing skills: Everyone needs to know how to write. It’s essential for communicating with others or advancing your career, regardless of your field. A poetry class shows you how others used their words to emphasize a point. You will also learn how to give your words meaning and impact, making them something that others want to read.Poetry forces you to think about word choices, as well as the use of grammar, punctuation and capitalization. If these aren’t your strong suits, a poetry class will reinforce what you’ve learned. A fantastic aspect of poetry is that it also allows you to break traditional rules to give your work stylistic flair, like E.E. Cummings did. Take a poetry class to improve your writing and find your voice.

Enhance your network: Poetry students come from all walks of life and backgrounds. They aren’t taking the class because they’re good writers. They’re there to explore an interest, just like you. They offer different points of view—a different way to look at and interpret life. You might make personal connections with those who are seemingly the opposite of you, giving your life added vibrancy. An appreciation for the written word goes a long way, even if you are just learning.

Develop your critical thinking skills: In poetry, you’ll quickly find that words carry a deeper meaning than their dictionary-given definitions. When you read the works of others, you’ll learn how the events of the time—personal, political and religious—inspired a writer’s words. You’ll also learn to use your own experiences to shape the words and thoughts that you put on paper.

Improve your memory: Some poetry classes ask students to memorize and recite poems. If you do not enjoy public speaking, don’t let this aspect of a poetry class put you off. Memorizing poems may help improve your memory, as the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project When you commit words to memory, you make associations that assist with this and other memorization tasks. The more you train your brain to memorize, the more you’ll remember.

Learn to cope with negative emotions in a healthy manner: Poetry fosters emotional and social learning that builds resilience. Society doesn’t often promote talking about difficult and unexplainable topics in life. Reading the words of others may provide insight into your own emotions. Putting your emotions on paper may provide you with a new understanding of yourself and your strength. Exploring the arts provides you with an appropriate, healthy channel to discover and express how you feel by giving you an outlet for emotions.

Poetry class and poetry writing isn’t only about analyzing words. It’s about enriching your soul, making sense of the nonsensical, and finding words that communicate the deepest parts of your being. And, don’t forget, poetry is fun. Use a poetry class as a tool that helps you get the most out of what you read, write and love.

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How to Participate in a Poetry Reading

poetry reading

 

Poetry is a culture. For others to appreciate it, you can’t merely write it. You must also recite it. The purpose of poetry readings is to emphasize your joy for the art form. Hearing poetry is what first attracts people to it. Think about the nursery rhymes that you heard as a child. Those were poems, and hearing and speaking those words gave you a thrill. Poetry readings free verses from their pages. They create a community and allow you to test how your words reverberate with others.

Different Types of Poetry Readings

Poetry Conferences

Poetry conferences are like writing conferences. In general, a group’s leader recites poetry and provides a lecture about the work. Participants then complete writing exercises to nurture and strengthen their skills.

Poetry Festivals

At poetry festivals, several new, emerging and established poets gather to interact with the local community and gain press coverage.

Open Mic Events

Often hosted at bookstores, libraries, coffee shops or other venues where a group can gather, open mic poetry readings allow poets to recite their own works or the works of others. Open mic events have different rules about the length of a reading, the use of music or props, and the use of costumes.

Poetry Slams

Poetry slams are competitive events in which poets read or recite their works. Each poetry slam has its own rules regarding the originality of the poems read, time limits and the use of props and other items. The judges at these events are generally five members of the audience.

In the first round, all the participating poets read one poem. The top-scoring poets move on to the subsequent rounds. While the audience members can provide feedback (i.e., applause or jeers), judges must not let the audience influence their scores. The marrying of poetry and performance via slams has opened the world of poetry to non-traditional audiences, as the works become a tangible, intriguing experience.

Poetry Groups

Informal poetry groups are similar to book groups. The group reads a book or collection of poems and later meets to discuss the works. During the group session, participants read selected poems and may read their own original works.

Poetry Performance Tips

• Know the meaning of the poem, as well as the meaning of each line and word.

• Practice reading aloud before an event to know when to pause and how to pace the words.

• Have good posture and look confident.

• Maintain eye contact with the entire audience.

• If there are no microphones, project your voice so everyone can hear you.

• Enunciate and articulate the words in the poem.

• Avoid using a singsong voice when a poem rhymes.

• Use appropriate gestures, but don’t act out each word.

• Use your voice to give your words life and color.

Finding Reading Poetry Groups in Your Area

When you want to participate in a poetry reading, ask area libraries and bookstores about groups they may host. They may also be able to tell you about poetry groups or clubs that meet in the area. Keep in mind that nearby colleges might have poetry groups. If you don’t find a group in your community, create one with 10 to 12 people that meets each month.

In an October 2012 article in The New Yorker, poet Donald Hall advises, “Watch out. A poem must work from the platform but it must also work on the page.” Poetry was print before it became sound. By reading your works aloud, you’ll gain an understanding of how your poems truly resonate with all audiences.

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Significant Uses of Poetry Throughout History

poetry reading

 

Poetry is one of the oldest literary art forms. The earliest types of poems were often sung or recited to pass on oral histories, law and ancestral information because the rhythmic and repetitive forms made accounts simpler to remember before the development of writing. Poems that exist from ancient civilizations include fiction, historical accounts, love songs and instructions about how to perform everyday activities. The history of poetry is long and multifaceted as every culture used—and continues to employ—the literary form as a means of expression.

History of Poetry

Epics

The oldest known surviving written poetry include the Hieratic Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor from around 2500 B.C.E and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh from about 2000 B.C.E. Other well known ancient epics are the Iliad and Odyssey from Greece, Ramayana and Mahabharata from India, and the Epic of King Gesar from Tibet.

Ancient Greek Poetry

During the 7th to 4th centuries B.C.E., the poetic movement developed by ancient Greek writers was one of the most culturally and intellectually significant in the history of the literary form. These writers developed almost all the classic forms known today. Notable writers included Homer, Sappho, Hesiod, Anacreon and Euripides. Many credit Aristotle with influencing the Middle East’s Islamic Golden Age and the European Renaissance.

Provencal Literature

During the 11th to 13th centuries A.D., the Middle Ages, musicians in France began writing lyrics despite Holy Roman Empire’s stomping down on creative expression. Inspired by Arab writers (e.g., Rumi) and Latin and Greek poets, the troubadours originally performed for royal courts before performing for different communities. The inquisition doomed the Provencal movement, making way for new movements.

Sicilian School

Taking their inspiration from the troubadours, Sicilian poets during the 13th and 14th centuries wrote about courtly love on the cuffs of the Renaissance period. The poets used their unique dialect to create poems into works of art. Poet Giacomo de Lentini further developed the sonnets and canzones, and invented new words, which became part of the Italian language. Instead of playing music with the verses, the poets of this era wrote poems for others to read. Poets like Dante and Petrarch spread the literary form across Europe.

Elizabethan Era

Poets such as Sir Thomas Wyatt and Geoffrey Chaucer helped modernize English literature in the 16th and 17th centuries. Sonnets became wildly popular as William Shakespeare, Edmund Spencer and others added their own touches to create works that are still popular today. Poets during the Elizabethan era used poems to write about everyday life, love and religion.

Metaphysical Era

In the 18th century, poets looked beyond religion and themselves. They often sought to explain their subjects by comparing them to love, philosophy, nature and the afterlife. The works of these poets—such as John Donne, George Chapman, Katherine Philips and Samuel Cowley—paved the way for American transcendentalism and Romantic writers.

Romantic Era

The Romantic era spanned three centuries—from the time of William Blake’s popularity in the late 1790s to Lord Byron’s death in 1824. The movement was one of the most illustrious in literary history. The poets of this era focused on nature, personal feelings, freedom of expression and their relationships. Notable poets of this era included William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelly and John Keats.

American Transcendentalism

Led be Ralph Waldo Emerson at Boston’s Transcendental Club in September 1836, transcendental poets explored spirituality, the arts and utopian values. They rose against their seemingly puritanical culture and sought to form a socialized community. Many writers considered themselves Transcendentalists, including Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Sophia Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Beat Movement

The latest modern poetic movement, Beat poets created one of the most influential poetic eras within the last century. They expressed life as they defined it. The poetic form blended classical styles with narrative free verse, free-expression jazz and the seeking of spiritual meaning. Beat poets created a renewed appreciation for the writing and study of poetry. Well-known poets of this era included Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Tuli Kepfergerg, Diane Di Prima and Herbert Huncke.

Poetry takes on several forms, painting literary pictures of the cultures and civilizations from which they emerged. Whether they’re telling a story, describing a writer’s innermost thoughts, mocking a government or commemorating a life, poems have had the power to express the heart’s desires, fuel flames and entertain the masses more than any literary or artistic form in history. What will your words say about you?

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An In-Depth Look at Meter & Rhyme in Poetry

poem

Words in poems are like dancers; they have rhythm and movement. When you read the words aloud, the words might flow or bounce or halt based on how the poet arranges them. While this arrangement contributes to a poem’s rhyme scheme and metric pattern, they also contribute to its meaning and tone. By understanding poetry rhyme and meter, you’ll have better insight into what the poet communicates and the emotions expressed.

Poetry Meter

A poem’s metric pattern describes the arrangement of feet in a line. A foot is a group of syllables, the natural breaks in a word. To identify a poem’s meter, you must first identify the feet. Types of feet include:

• Iamb: An unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable (e.g., the word “destroy”)

• Trochee: An accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable (e.g., the word “double”)

• Anapest: Two unaccented syllables and an accented syllable (e.g., the word “intervene”)

• Dactyl: An accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables (e.g., the word “merrily”)

• Spondee: Two consecutive accented syllables (e.g., the word “hum-drum”)

• Pyrrhic: Two consecutive unaccented syllables (e.g., the words “to a”)

Identifying the meter in a poem requires identifying the type of line length, the number of feet in a line:

• Monometer: A line with one foot

• Dimeter: A line with two feet

• Trimeter: A line with three feet

• Tetrameter: A line with four feet

• Pentameter: A line with five feet

• Hexameter: A line with six feet

• Alexandrine meter: A line with six iambic feet

To determine the meter, combine the type of foot with the line length. Iambic pentameter, for examples, is a line with five iambic feet. Identifying a poem’s meter helps determine the type of poem it is, such as a ballad, ode or sonnet. Knowing the poetic type, or form, gives you insight into its purpose and the emotions that the poet may express.

Poetry Rhyme

The rhyme scheme in a poem is another tool used create or identify a poem’s form. The scheme identifies which lines rhyme with each other using letters. Common rhyme schemes include:

• ABAB: The first and third lines rhyme, and the second and fourth lines rhyme

• XAXA: The second and fourth lines rhyme, but the first and third do not

• AABB: The first and second lines rhyme and the third and fourth lines rhyme

• AAAA: All the lines rhyme

• AAXA or AXAA: All but one of the lines rhyme

• ABBA: The first and last lines rhyme and the second and third lines rhyme

• AXXA: The first and last lines rhyme, but the middle lines do not rhyme with each other

Rhyme schemes may incorporate more letters as needed. A Shakespearean sonnet, for instance, uses the following rhyme scheme: ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG. The number of letters in each section tells the reader the number of lines in each stanza. In a Shakespearean sonnet, the last stanza has two lines.

Some types of rhyme schemes have formal names, such as:

• ABAB: Alternate rhyme

• AABB…: Couplet

• AAABBB…: Triplet

• AAAA: Monorhyme

• ABABBCBC, ABABBCBC, ABABBCBC, BCBC: Ballad

• ABABB: Cinquian

• AABB: Clerihew

• ABBA: Enclosed

• AABBA: Limerick

• ABABABCC: Ottava rima

• ABABBCC: Rhyme royal

• AABA: Rubaiyat

• ABA, BCB, CDC…: Terza rima

In poetry, the elements within a work contribute to its tone and meaning, making the words multi-faceted. The next time you read a poem, study the rhyme and meter to see what new meanings jump out at you.

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Understanding Poetry Forms & Structure

reading poetry

 

Poems are like maps. All poetry styles have some type of form, a physical structure that makes it markedly distinguishable from prose. Reading poetry is about more than taking in the words. It’s also about using the arrangements of lines, sounds and rhythms to get to the meaning of the words. The relationship between sounds, repetition and movement push words beyond their literal meanings, making a work larger than the sum of its parts.

Common Poetry Styles

Acrostic: A poem that uses the first letter in each line to spell a word or phrase

Ballad: A poem that tells a story

Cento: A poem that uses lines from other poems

Double-dactyl: An eight-line poem in which each line contains two dactyls, a long syllable followed by two shorter syllables (e.g. Roger L. Robinson wrote in “Double-Dactyl”: “Long-short-short, long-short-short/ Dactyls in dimeter/…One sentence (two stanzas)/Hexasyllabically/ Challenges poets who/ Don’t have the time.”)

Elegy: A sad and thoughtful poem, often about an individual who died

Epic: Long narrative poem

Ghazal: A type of classical Middle Eastern poetry with 5 to 15 rhyming couplets and a shared refrain at the end of the second line

Haiku: Traditional Japanese poem with three lines; the first and third lines have five syllables, the second line has seven syllables

Lyric: A poem about the speaker’s feelings, moods or thoughts

Narrative: A poem that recounts a story

Ode: A three-part poem about a serious subject

Pantoum: A poem with two or more four-line stanzas; the second and fourth lines in one stanza are also the first and third lines of the next stanza

Sonnet: A 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter; common forms include English sonnets and Italian sonnets

Shi: Classical Chinese poems in which the even lines rhyme

Tanka: Similar to a haiku, but follows a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable pattern

Terza rima: A poem with stanzas that follow an aba, bcb, cdc, ded… rhyming pattern

Structural Elements in Poetry Styles

Stanza: A group of lines in a poem

Line: Individual line in a poem; it does not have to complete a sentence or thought

Couplet: Stanzas with two lines

Quatrain: Stanzas with four lines

Enjambment: When an idea in one line carries on to the next

Caesura: Punctuation that doesn’t occur at the end of a line

Feet: The type of two- or three-syllable unit on which a meter is based; a foot is the number and type of syllables in a meter; an iambic foot, for example, has an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable (e.g. the word “destroy”); types of meters include iamb, trochee, dactyl, anapest, spondee and pyrrhic

Meter: Patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables, or feet, in a poem; types of meters include monometer, dimeter, trimester, tetrameter, pentameter, hexameter, heptameter and octameter

Metrical patterns: The type of dominant foot in a poem and the number of times it appears in a line, such as iambic pentameter, a line with five iambic feet

Rhythm: The rhythmical sounds in a poem because of accented and unaccented syllables in words

Rhyme schemes: The pattern of rhymes at the end of the lines in a poem, indicated using letters; lines with the same letters rhyme with each other

Knowing about different poetry styles and the elements that make up a work is like having the legend to a map. Incorporate these elements into your own work to give yourself a challenge and to diversify your writing.

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Essential Poetry for Aspiring Poets

emily dickinson

Poetry is one of the most diverse forms of writing. Its long history dates back to the Epic of Gilgamesh in Mesopotamia, and often came from oral epics or folk songs. As poetry evolved with time and cultures, many of today’s poems reflect the elements and voices used in essential poetry as writers play and experiment with words.

Fundamental Poets to Know

The list of must-read poets is long. While dozens of writers are worthy of being on this list, the following provides a good starting point to jumpstart your creativity.

Rumi: A 13th-century Persian poet and scholar, Rumi is one of the best-selling and most popular poets in the U.S. His thoughtful, simple words reflect on love, religion and life, and continue to speak across centuries, cultures, genders and religions.

Pablo Neruda: A Chilean poet, author and diplomat, Neruda was hailed as one of the most influential poets of the 20th He started writing at 10 years old and used a variety of styles and genres throughout his life. Despite being exiled because of his communist ties, Neruda gained worldwide fame for his works and political views.

Emily Dickinson: One of the premier poets of the 19th century, Dickinson’s works are essential poetry to read. Her style was ahead of her time and she filled her notebooks with 1,800 poems (many of which she kept private) that explore the philosophy of existence.

Maya Angelou: A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Angelou’s works are largely autobiographical, detailing her life as a teen parent, prostitute, dancer and actress. In addition to her works, Angelou was well known for her role as a civil rights activist who worked alongside Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Angelou’s poems provided insight into the life of a marginalized society, giving a voice to those who could not speak for themselves.

William Shakespeare: After the Bible, Shakespeare’s works are the most quoted in history. His poetry revolutionized the English language, as he invented words such as “zany,” “downstairs,” “watchdog,” “radiance” and “birthplace.” Shakespeare gave lyric poetry an edge and sense of humor, making it continually enjoyable through the centuries.

Essential Poetry Styles

The various poetic forms that developed through the ages give you a sense of what civilizations found important and how they viewed themselves and others.

Epics: Long poems that tell the story of a hero; Beowulf is one of the oldest and most well known

Sonnets: 14-line poems often written in iambic pentameter; Shakespearan and Miltonic sonnets are among the most popular types

Ballads: Written rhythmically in iambic tetrameter and iambic pentameter on alternating lines, ballads often take the form of storytelling poems; they’ve shaped musical lyrics and genres since the 13th century

Pastoral poems: Poems about an idealized, peaceful rural life or setting

Haiku: A traditional form of Japanese poetry, haikus are three-line poems with five syllables in the first and last line, and seven syllables in the second line

Free verse: Developed in the 18th century, free verse does not follow any pattern or rhyme schemes

Studying great writers will make you a better poet. Use essential poetry as guide to shape your words and ideas. When you don’t know what to write, past works serve as great cheat sheets from which to launch your imagination.

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How to Inspire the Creative Process

colorful chalk

Creativity is the driving force behind every writer. It’s what motivates you, gets you excited and gives you the nerve to bare your soul. Without creativity inspiration, your work goes flat, like an open can of soda that sat on the counter for too long. Inspiring the creative process is about finding insightful ways to spark your imagination. It’s about allowing yourself to think differently and taking a break from your usual process to make room for the new and unexpected.

Creativity Inspiration: Invite the Process

Be Curious

If there is a subject that interests you, no matter what it is, learn more about it. Explore it even if it doesn’t seem relevant to your current project or life. Exploring your interests, new and old, exercises the mind, gives you a new way to look at the world, and allows you to build a new vocabulary.

Leonardo da Vinci’s famous notebooks were filled with to-do lists about items that interested him and people who could provide the information that he sought. Tasks on his list included drawing Milan after calculating its measurements, finding a book about Milan’s churches, examining crossbows, talking to a hydraulics master about lock repairs, asking a professor about the sun’s measurements, and more.

Build Your Bank of Ideas and Facts

Never stop learning and asking questions. Allow your mind to find patterns in the information that you learn so you can have those breakthrough moments where an analogy sings from the tip of your pen (or from your fingertips on a keyboard). Keep in mind that these breakthroughs can happen when you least expect, so never pooh-pooh those seemingly useless facts that your brain acquires.

Work on the Mystery, Not Just the Puzzle

Once you solve a problem, you’re done. Mysteries have longer shelf lives. Television shows, for example, solve puzzles in 45-minute packages. You watch the show, get a thrill and feel a sense of resolution at the end. The woman who inspired the Mona Lisa, on the other hand, is a mystery. Centuries later, people continue to ponder the story behind the curious smirk.

Take a Break

Every writer experiences this: suddenly getting a brilliant idea while falling asleep or in the shower. Depart from your usual routine to give your brain a chance to process, and keep your writing tools nearby. Don’t take a break with the intention of getting a genius idea. Do it to stimulate your mind. Ideas to try include:

• Meditation
• Trying new foods
• Working on puzzle book
• Going on a walk (If you regularly walk, take a new route or reverse your current one.)
• Listening to new, complex music

Exercise

Exercising allows your brains to develop new neurons in the hippocampus, which allows you to form new thought patterns. Exercising your body exercises the brain, which exercises your creativity.

Practice Mindfulness

Give yourself a chance to notice everything around you: how you feel and why, how your back feels as you sit in the chair, your breathing pattern, the sensation of blinking, the color of the leaves outside, the smell in the room, the sounds you hear through the walls, and so on. Give yourself a moment of awareness to unlock creativity inspiration.

While it may seem fleeting, creativity is an ongoing process. Pursue it, exercise it and welcome it. Give it a kick-start as needed. The important thing is to never let it go.

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