Line Assembly

Six poets. One van. Lots of enthusiasm.

Road Madness: A Love Ballad, Plus Hot Tour Schedule Updates

First of all, a booking update: We’ve added a reading in Philadelphia! Come see us at L’Etage on July 25, doors at 7:30/show at 8pm. And many thanks to Steve McLaughlin of Principal Hand Presents! See you there, cool kids.

Well, then, my sweet gherkins, we have learned a thing or two over the last few weeks. We had a little Pop Tart phase, but now we hate them. We have bug bites and we smell like sweat and Pop Tarts. We’ve learned the finer points of luggage Tetris, and we invented a no-touching summer hug for sweaty times. The pure products of America go crazy. Who said that? Wallace Stevens? Your butt’s a Stevens, so snack on that. See? Road madness. (Ben suggested that attributing the Stevens quote to Stevens is “a little on the nose,” and I suggested his butt was a little on the nose. See? Road madness.)

In a lot of ways, we’ve hit all the standard American road trip tropes: gotten lost and rained on, developed our T-shirt tans, seen rainbows, crowed along with the radio, crossed the Mississippi four times. But my favorite trope of them all is the meandering conversation such vast vistas of drive time afford. We’ve talked about how narrative works in country music, witches, the inherent creepiness of carving your name in a cake, the social forces that determine which neighborhood is considered the bad part of town. I love this part of being together. And I love the part where we’re too punchy from coffee and the jokes stop making sense, except they don’t really stop being funny. Stay tuned for more road madness and parabolic wisdom, sports fans!

Official Tour Schedule (subject to change)

Official Tour Schedule (subject to change)

Meet Our Director of Photography: Mark Kelly!

Welcome aboard, Mark!

1 year ago - 1

Help Us Write Our Community Resource Zine!

Calling all poets! (And we mean all of you!) Close your eyes, if you will, and try to think back to when you first heeded the call of poetry. Perhaps there were furtive glances in the library, or long lingering afternoons spent at the bookstore. How did you discover poetry? How did you find more of it once you were hooked? Who did you write with? What kind of community were you a part of? What do you wish you’d known back then that you know now?

Line Assembly is all about community: It brought us together; it makes us stronger, more adventurous poets; and it’s one of the cornerstones of our project. We’re going to libraries and community centers in underserved areas and holding free one-day workshops focused on encouraging the growth of individual writers, as well as their writing communities. But a one-day workshop isn’t a sustainable long-term contribution to these communities, so to that end, we are creating an easily reproducible, digitally downloadable zine for libraries, community centers, and organizations. And, of course, it’ll also be available on our website for anyone and everyone.

We need your help! We thought, “Hey, this is all about community, so let’s get some ideas from our community.” What topics do you think we ought to cover? What advice do you wish you’d gotten? What would you consider indispensable to the poet’s life? How do you deal with the everyday hassles of being a writer—blockage, rejection, managing submissions, staying sharp? Just so you get an idea of what we’re thinking, topics we’ve already brainstormed include found poetry, collaboration, and how to host a reading series.

We’re sure you’re already brimming with ideas! So get at us: email us at We can’t wait to hear from you.

Teaching Activity: Musical Corpse Chairs—A Mardi Gras Celebration

All ages: 60-90 minutes

Materials: Computer (or other way of playing music), masks, desks, paper, and pencils

This is a great generative lesson that will introduce students to Mardi Gras if they are unfamiliar with it, or send your class into Mardi Gras break happy and excited if they live in an area that celebrates it. Students can bring their own masks, or the facilitator can provide them. For part two, desks should be arranged as an outward-facing circle.


Part 1: Solo

  1. *Open the activity with a short introduction to the Mardi Gras holiday and history. Lead the students in discussion.

    1. Bonus: Bring in traditional Mardi Gras fare like King Cake.

  2. Then students create a list of words commonly associated with Mardi Gras and write the words on the board.

  3. **Students write short Mardi Gras poems with the following constraints:

    1. If they are just learning about Mardi Gras, they must include one of the words on the board in each line.

    2. If they are familiar with Mardi Gras, they may not use any of the words on the board.

  4. Give students who wish to, some time share their poems.

*If your students are already familiar with Mardi Gras, feel free to skip step 1.

** Alternatively, step 3 could be homework.

Part 2: Collaborative

Before you begin part 2, describe the entire activity and have the students jot down some predictions about the poems they are about to write.

  1. Choose one volunteer. This student will be the first DJ. Have this student stand and remove their chair/desk from the circle.

  2. Pass out a blank sheet of paper and have students write their favorite line from their Mardi Gras poem at the top. This is the title of a new collaborative poem that they are about to create with the class.

  3. Have them pass this poem to the person sitting to their left.

  4. Have each student write the first line of the poem they just received.

  5. Have students fold the paper so that only the first line is visible.

  6. Now have all the students stand and don their masks.

  7. Turn off/down the lights.

  8. Instruct the students that they are about to play musical chairs: Review the directions if necessary. Let them know that while they are circling the chairs, dancing will be required.

  9. Have the DJ choose and start a song. Then have the DJ join the other students. (This is crucial, otherwise there will be enough chairs for everyone.)

  10. The students dance as they proceed around the circle. If they are hesitant about dancing, you should let loose first. Even if they aren’t shy about dancing, it will be more fun for everyone if you get into it, too.

  11. Whenever you choose, stop the music.

  12. Everyone scrambles for a seat. The odd person out becomes the DJ for the next round. Have them come choose a song while the seated students write.

  13. Turn the lights back on. The seated students write the next line of the poem, having only the previous line visible.

  14. Then they fold the paper back so that only the line they wrote is visible.

  15. Turn the lights off and repeat the process. Continue until you have 15-20 minutes of class left. Be sure to let students know when they are writing the final line.

Once you’ve finished, turn the circle inward and have the students share the resulting poems. Then discuss. The final odd-person-out won’t have a poem to share, but can open the discussion. If discussion slows, some of the following questions can keep it going:

  • How did these poems compare/contrast with the solo poems?

  • How did the poems compare to your predictions? Were any of your predictions spot on? Any surprises?

  • The same group of students is responsible for writing all of these poems, so we could have expected them to sound very similar. How do they actually compare to one another?

  • As a writer, how did the line you could see influence the line you wrote?

  • How did knowing that you couldn’t see the whole poem influence the line you wrote?

  • Did you do anything to intentionally influence the next writer? What?

  • What effects did the juxtaposition of lines with different voices/tones/styles produce?

  • What kinds of things delighted you about these poems?

  • What frustrated you?

  • What did you think about the process?

  • Would you consider these to be “collaborative” poems? Why or why not?

  • Etc.

I’ve tried this lesson with two groups of students, both in Southern Louisiana right before Mardi Gras break: one group was in middle school, and the others were undergrads. Both classes were extremely successful. In the discussion, the students revealed that the resulting poems challenged their assumptions about what poems can and can’t do. Students were especially surprised by how much the poems seemed to “flow” despite the wild twists and turns they took. Going forward, my students were willing to take more chances in their solo efforts.

Dancing and playing a kids’ game all together was also a great bonding experience, helping to forge a more trusting classroom community where the students were willing to be vulnerable in their work and in discussion. I think wearing masks and turning off the lights are both crucial to encouraging students to be a little more uninhibited in the activity: a feeling that carries over to future classes and assignments. In end-of-year reviews, many students cited this as their favorite activity of the semester.  —Ben Pelhan

Teaching Activity: Repetition

We use repetition all the time: From our songs to our instructions, it serves a vital rhetoric purpose, and is often just plain fun to boot. But how often do we think consciously about how we use it and what it is doing? The purpose of this lesson is to look at, and play with, repetition, rhythm, and form. In so doing, we hope to start a conversation about the forms we write and speak in every day, how they are, themselves, a strong poetry.


Mary Ruefle’s “Marked”

writing utensils


container (hat, bowl, or the like)

Activity time: 20 minutes, with sharing

Prep time: none

Read the poem. What feelingcomes across? Putting aside, for a minute, the poem’s meaning(s), listen to its rhythm: ba-dum da da da dun, ba-dum …. What does this do? Does it make you feel comforted? Anxious? Excited? Relaxed?

Now let’s think about some examples in our day-to-days in which we use repetition to convey a point, to get across these very feelings. We make grocery lists; we sing along to choruses and refrains—and maybe even write some of our own. What are some other examples you can think of?

All of these are forms, and all of them we adapt and play with to suit our purposes. Poetry, too, can play with forms, and today we’re going to start to do just that.

To start, write a “why?” question on a small piece of paper. It doesn’t matter what it is, just that it’s open-ended; generally speaking, the stranger the question is, the more fun the writing will probably be. Some questions might be: “Why is the moon interested in us?” “Why is grass green?” “Why is all the milk gone?” Stuff like that. Don’t think too hard about it. Just write a question that you think is fun, and that you want to know the answer to.

Fold up these questions, and put them in the container. Once everyone’s questions are collected, pass it around, with each person choosing a new question. The question you choose will be your prompt! So:

Write a piece in which each sentence is the answer to this weird question, a question that we, the readers, are not privy to.

Share, if you feel comfortable. What was this exercise like? Do you think you’ll do it again? In the future, perhaps you could try different types of questions—hows or wheres. You could try different types of lists altogether! Remember how many examples of repetition you came up with, that we use and see and read in our everyday lives? Choose one of these—and reclaim it. Write a grocery list for items needed to fall in love. Write a wanted ad for a perfect planet, a recipe for a poem.

If you want some other great examples of list poems that we like to teach, try Terrance Hayes’ “Wind in a Box,” C.D. Wright’s “Flame,” and Kim Addonizio’s “My Heart.”

What are repetition-hinged poems that you use in your teaching or your writing, or poems that you are simply inspired by? We would love to hear!

Crossing the (Finish) Line Assembly

Yeah, yeah, April, cruelest month, etc., we’ve heard it all before. Except April has been nothing but sweet to Line Assembly, and we’ve hit some incredible milestones this month. We reached our funding goal on Kickstarter a whole week ahead of schedule, and a few days after that, we became the most funded poetry project in the crowdfunding platform’s history! And all along, we’ve been learning how to work collaboratively, too, which is a huge deal since we’re going to share a van for a whole month.

There’s still time to support Line Assembly! Our campaign ends at noon (CST) on Tuesday, April 30. Just to sweeten the deal for any fence-sitters out there, we’re going to raffle a hoodie/puzzle/coffee mug (your choice!) customized with a collaborative poem by our very own Ben Pelhan and Anne Marie Rooney. To enter, support our Kickstarter campaign in its last 48 hours OR increase your previous pledge by $5 or more; we’ll choose the winner tomorrow during our Last-Chance Live-Tweet Luncheon starting at 11am (also CST). To follow the action, scope us out via #FinishLineAssembly. Oh yeah! Oh yes!

Thanks to YOU fabulous supporters, we have met our initial funding goal! 
And with 5 days to go!
This means we will keep pushing because more funding means more possibilities for poetry and for the tour! 
We will keep pushing until the closing bell and hope to get many more backers and *fingers crossed* become the highest funded poetry-related project on Kickstarter to date!  We are so indebted to you for continuing to spread the word!
With love, 
All of us here at Line Assembly! (Cats & dogs included!)

Thanks to YOU fabulous supporters, we have met our initial funding goal! 

And with 5 days to go!

This means we will keep pushing because more funding means more possibilities for poetry and for the tour!

We will keep pushing until the closing bell and hope to get many more backers and *fingers crossed* become the highest funded poetry-related project on Kickstarter to date!  We are so indebted to you for continuing to spread the word!

With love, 


All of us here at Line Assembly! (Cats & dogs included!)

Teaching Activity: Out-of-This-World Poetry Personas

In the summer of 2010, Line Assembler Adam Atkinson collaborated with artists Scott N. Andrew and Mikey McParlane on “Starship Astrotron,” a video, installation, and performance project staged at the Children’s Musuem of Pittsburgh as part of the museum’s ongoing F.I.N.E. Artist Residency Series. This lesson plan is derived in part from this collaboration, as well as from lesson plans by Line Assembler S.E. Smith.

“Out-of-This-World Poetry Personas” has four goals: 1. To generate poems with participants who don’t read or write, or are still developing these skills. 2. To introduce early readers and writers to creative writing that is exciting and easy to comprehend, without necessarily being narrative. 3. To illustrate the power of certain words: how they can resonate with certain participants in a manner (or to an extent) that a different set of words might not have, for reasons that are difficult to articulate. 4. To establish a lifelong relationship with words that is built around imagination, self-inquiry, and heroic levels of confidence.

The activity is similar to Mad Libs in form and execution, so some preparation is required of the activity leader(s): a template for participants to complete and bank of words from which the participant(s) can choose (if they wish). Templates should provide at least three blank spaces for participants, so they that their word selection truly makes the poem theirs. Here’s an outer-space-themed example from Starship Astrotron (printable version coming soon):

I am the most famous ________________

in space! Every ______________________

has heard of my _____________________

and my ____________________________!


is my name! Remember it, space monster!

Notice that the spaces are large, to accommodate strange and unexpected word combinations, and the tone is enthusiastic and proud, underscoring this exercise’s emphasis on proclaiming one’s awe-inspiring to the world. The mention of Crystal Crunchers might be confusing to Here’s how one participant filled out this template:

I am the most famous planet guard

in space! Every mom

has heard of my giant gloves

and my special dragon!

Monkey Foo Foo

is my name! Remember it, space monster!

Wow! The meek and nervous participant who began this activity quickly became the fearsome planet guard Monkey Foo Foo, she of the famed giant gloves, simply by picking the words that sang out to her from the word bank (and adding her own dash of Foo Foo). In short, the participant has crafted a persona poem. Persona poems adopt the voice of someone or some thing that is explicitly not the poet (e.g. a poem from the point of view of Amelia Earhart, a shooting star, or a northern water snake). The beauty is, of course, that this strange new voice is the poet, in one way or another. Monkey Foo Foo is a part of that writer now.


Above all, remember to give the activity participant(s) lots of room to make the poem theirs. Leave blanks in crucial places that will determine the tone and meaning of the poem, but make sure it’s not too hard to understand the incomplete sentence when you read it aloud to the participant(s). At the end of the day, though, “incorrect” parts of speech that leave the poem in a state of syntactical “nonsense” are perfectly fine—look at the last hundred years of poetry! Once you have one or more templates complete, print out a few copies for each participant. Suggested prep time: 30-60 minutes.

Names are not necessary to include in persona poems, but we find that picking out a new name is something that helps participants immediately understand that they are creating a new persona, and what form it takes is entirely up to them. (Plus, it’s fun!)


Do you read with or to the participant(s)? Do you know any of their favorite books, games, movies, or TV shows? If so, look through them and pick out some of the punchier words. This way they’re guaranteed to have at least heard the words before and perhaps even developed an affinity or distaste for them. How about words and phrases you’ve heard the participant(s) use before? Those aren’t just fine, they’re ideal! As Line Assembler S.E. Smith once wrote, “What poetry does, and what no other art form can do, is to elasticize our commonest material, the one we use to order pizzas and make small talk at the bus station and explain to nurses our source of pain.” Hear, hear!

Write all of these words down on individual scraps of paper, or type them onto raffle tickets, or type them and print them out and cut them into funny shapes. Picking out the right words should feel just like what it is: searching for diamonds in the rough. Who’s to say what the diamonds will be for your participants? Only them. So make as many words as you can, and be ready to sound them out with beginning readers. Suggested prep time: 30-60 minutes.

In choosing blanks for the template and words for the word bank, try your best to mix up the parts of speech. Adjectives, verbs, and nouns should all be in ready supply. No need to worry much about plurals, possessives, gerunds, or adverbs—you and the participant can alter the words as much as you like at any time. Rules were made to be learnt, bent, and broken!


Goodness, no! If you know the participants well (your child? your student? a friend who is learning to read and/or write?), it’s helpful to tailor the template and word bank to their age and interests. If outer space isn’t their thing, why not the great outdoors? Superheroes? A musical instrument? Their favorite sport? Whatever you think will bring out a persona they’ll want to proclaim from the mountaintop.


You might have written the template, helped to sound out the words in the word bank, and helped to write them into the blanks, or maybe not. Regardless, let there be no mistake: the participant(s) will have authored this persona poem, so long as you provide them the time and encouragement to make their choices for themselves. What they’ve done isn’t so different than what any poet does: work within the confines of language to construct something specific to their moment and perspective. Good going, budding poets! Suggested number of participants: 1-5 per activity leader. (With more than 5 participants, it’s especially helpful to have more than one template to choose from.) Suggested activity time: 10-60 minutes.


The sky is the limit (truly, and for years to come) once a writer has discovered persona poetry. Perhaps your participant wants to don costumes, props, and makeup and give a public reading. Perhaps they want to keep their new identity a secret for all time. Maybe the activity will inspire a video poem like those we Line Assemblers love to make! This exercise can be adapted and expanded in unending, exciting ways.

Teaching Activity: Fortune-Tellers


The main goal of this activity is to produce one- or two-line poems that can be used to fill a Line Assembly fortune teller. The poems will be written in the second-person future tense, like a fortune you’d find inside a fortune cookie. (Come to think of it, we’ve received some pretty poetic fortunes from cookies!) Once completed, the fortune teller can be used as a mobile, impromptu poetry delivery system. Dazzle your friends! Impress your neighbors! Have a poem anytime you want one!

Number of participants: any

Required materials

  • Line Assembly fortune-teller—find printable templates here for side A and side B. (Don’t worry! You’ll find folding instructions if it’s been a little while since you last folded one of these, say, in middle school!)
  • Scissors
  • Pens and paper
Time needed: 20-30 minutes
Participants can work solo, in pairs, or in groups. Furthermore, the activity can be conducted either as an oral prompt delivered by the facilitator or in the form of a handout that participants can complete on their own. A fun post-activity idea: Ask participants to come up with their own fortune prompts, which can be collected for future use.
The emphasis is on provoking the imagination. That’s why it’s a fortune teller—nothing stretches the imagination quite like trying to picture what might happen in five minutes, or in the next 50 years. The future is an unknown quantity—anything could happen!

All of us at Line Assembly are curious about the future, too. If possible, scan the completed fortune tellers and send them to with a short description of where the prompt was done and who participated. They could end up on this here website!
Some examples to share, gathered from our own work, as well as from attendees of the Associated Writing Programs’ Annual Conference, held March 2013 in Boston:

“A candy machine will give you

an extra Mallomar.”

“James Franco will mention you on his Twitter

and say the nicest things.”

“A band of bird musicians will begin following you around

and playing songs that reflect your mood.”

“You will discover a new type of insect,

and its venom will be used in a medicine that can cure acne.”

“A giant

will give you a pebble.”

“Every time you burp

coins will come out of your ears.”


Write a one or two line poem, inspired by the statement. Be specific, because the details are what make your vision of the future yours. Really let your imagination run free - anything could happen!

1. You will develop a superpower.

2. You will agree to do something you have never done before.

3. Fill in the blanks: You will meet a _______ who will give you _______ .

4. You will discover something no one else knows about.

5. You will see something on the street that will change your life.

6. You will grow a strange body part.

7. You will write a memoir with a confusing title.

8. Fill in the blanks: You will go to _______  in a _______ with _______.

9. You will wake up and something will be different.

10. You will eat the same thing for the rest of your life.

11. You will find a new spirit animal.

Now, choose your eight most creative fortunes and transfer them to the fortune teller. Fold it up and start prognosticating with poems!