Poetry: Cause and Effect Exercise

When I was in high school, my English teacher developed an interesting assignment relating to poetry and the concept of cause and effect.  On the chalkboard – seriously, a chalkboard  – she wrote the following:


The only instruction we received was to write a poem; each sentence had to alternate beginning with the words put and let. We were given 30 minutes to write. She said, “Begin,” and we all just stared at her, blank faced. Finally, another student raised her hand. The teacher just ignored it. We just sat there, dumbfounded. Finally, I said, “Miss Knutson, is this poem supposed to rhyme? I just don’t understand what you want us to do?”  She responded, “Just write.”

So, with pencil in hand, I began to write. I then began to frantically erase. I would ‘start’ my poem, time and time again. I just had no idea what she was expecting me to do.  Finally, this is what I created:

Put a rainbow in your heart
Let it color up your soul
Put some clouds in your eyes
Let the rainy tears flow
Put some sunshine in your mind
Let it warm the bitter cold
Put these things into yourself
Let them be your pot of gold

I was proud of my poem. It rhymed. It had references to rainbows and other fluffy things. Another student, Sean, (if my memory serves me correct), had written a hilarious yet morbid poem about his brother.  It was something along the lines of this:

Put some tacks on chair
Let your brother sit on the chair
Put some dog poop in cereal
Let your brother eat the cereal

and so on…

Most students struggled with the assignment and did not complete it. When the teacher asked those of us with completed work to read our poems, I was more than happy to raise my hand. I read my poem, loud and clear. The teacher asked for feedback from the class. A majority of the other female students liked my poem. A majority of the male students just stared at me like deer in headlights.  Finally, she said, “It was cute but very superficial. I was looking for some more soul searching, something with more depth.”

Honestly, I was rather stunned. I had my fair share of teenage angst. I guess I could have done some more soul searching during this 30 minutes. This was the early ’80’s, though, and it just wasn’t socially acceptable to share such deeply personal feelings. I was told, early in life, to never publicly air dirty laundry’ for others to see. The whole concept of sharing my deepest feelings – especially during a classroom assignment – was not only incomprehensible but also horrifying. Somehow, I felt I had failed with this project. In hindsight, though, it has had a profound impact in my life.

First and foremost, this experience has stayed with me; a memory etched in my mind. Whatever actions I take, what ever decisions I make – I try to do with soul searching. I ask myself if whatever I am comtemplating feels ‘right’ for me. I do try to think deeply about my actions and decisions. Sometimes, though, my emotions get in the way and I may use rash words. This is all a part of being human, part of the human condition. I am sure I am not the only person who has suffered from ‘foot-in-the-mouth’ syndrome. Still, my life intent is to avoid these situations as best I can and say words and make decisions that are compassionate and sound.

Additionally, this poetry exercise of put and let really highlighted the conept of cause and effect for me. For every action, there is a reaction. For every positive word spoken, there is a possibility to spread this positive intention to others. For every negative word spoken, there is the ability to negatively influence others. As I reflect on my life, I realize that though I have been bullied by others – physically and emotionally, through actions and words – I have never much cared for displaying my dominance over others. For some reason, big dog posturing just doesn’t feel right to me. It just isn’t who I am. Rainbows, sunshine, cloudy tears, and pots of gold may seem superficial but I am drawn to this imagery. I am not drawn to it for being cute and fluffy but rather of an ideal of pursuing what is good in the world and what brings me happiness.

If you had to write a poem, alternating the beginning words of each sentence with the words put and let, what would you write? I am going to challenge myself and all writers to come up with the PUT/LET poem for the year 2012. Let’s have some fun and yet accomplish some deep soul searching.

Laura L. Roberts