Creative Writing: Eavesdrop Poetry

Local Artist Stacy Haynes-Moore

Stacy teaches language arts, writing, and education courses in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. 

Class 3 of 4 - Eavesdrop Poetry

As poets, we discover ideas from everyday conversations. This week’s activity gives us practice as keen observers and listeners– we’ll be writing poetry from conversations around us. You might discover inspiration from listening to online conversations through social media or noticing what’s exchanged among people during a TV show, or shared out to the audience during a podcast, or listening in to conversations that take place around your neighborhood and home.

Poet’s Brainstorm

An eavesdrop poem is all about being an observer. We listen in – eavesdrop – on the spoken
thoughts of others. Doing so, the conversations lead us to wonder about pieces and parts of
what’s said— from these conversations, what might we take away as the puzzle pieces to build
our Eavesdrop Poem?

Let’s begin by generating ideas about where to eavesdrop. Where can we hear others’ ideas and
thoughts? For example, conversations could be found…

  • on TV or online (example: a TV advertisement announces a new pizza place in town, or a reporter interviews an athlete who played a final game, a city announces pools closed for summer for the safety of citizens)
  • in social media (example: back-and-forth postings among friends discussing school or friends’ comments about a hilarious Instagram photo)
  • expressed in an email (example: a message sent to you from a friend, family, teacher, or school)
  • in the neighborhood (example: children as they’re playing street ball, a man hauling groceries up apartment stairs, the next-door teenager mowing the lawn)
  • in the community (example: a customer at the grocery check-out, the announcement over the store intercom)
  • at home (example: we listen to conversations of our siblings, parent, grandparents…)

Choose a conversation and listen. Listen. Very. Carefully. Then, on paper, capture from your
eavesdrop what’s said and who said what. Observe what you hear and how you feel about the
person’s speech. What’s the speaker’s attitude, their tone, and what does it express?  What do you learn or think about from hearing this conversation?

Similar to last week, start your poem with confidence. Know that you can keep it or find another
to work with as you brainstorm and then play with the language and stringing ideas together.

Poet’s Notebook

In your poet’s notebook or on a simple piece of paper, take a few minutes and write about these
questions. Your thoughts may lead you into the beginning lines of your own Eavesdrop Poem:

  • When I listen to this conversation, I wonder…
  • What does this conversation make me think about?
  • What do I visualize or picture while I listen to this conversation?
  • How do I feel about what’s being said in this conversation?
  • If I joined this conversation, what might I say?
  • What would I like to say about this conversation?
  • As I look back on my eavesdropping notes, do I notice a story there – does this conversation have a beginning, middle, and end? Is this a story that inspires my poem?


Poet’s playground

The playground is a place to see and hear how others are working with this kind of poem.

  • Here’s a recent writing by a teacher expressing her unease during the Covid-19 pandemic. She wrote and tweeted her poem, which then went viral. Many readers noticed her approach to this poem. It’s crafted so each line is the first line of received emails. Maybe your poem could be devised in this way?
  • As a second example, this young writer thinks about how others’ words makes her feel. Her poem “Unintentional Eavesdropping” explores what she thinks about while listening or hearing conversations.
  • A third example is a word of caution. This writer’s “Cautionary Tale” offers us a kind of playful reminder that – though we may enjoy being keen listeners of others’ conversations – the experience may demand of us some personal discretion and self-reflection.

I look forward to your Eavesdrop inspirations. Be sure to share with us – we’ll be listening. Have
a good writing day, everybody!

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We want to stay connected to our creative students when we get back to the new normal. While you are here, learn more about the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy. While we don't have much taking place in real space/time during the pandemic, we will get back to our regular live and in-person classes. When we do, we'd love to have you as a member!

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