1/ Distribute copies of the poems: "Staff Sgt. Metz" by Dorianne Laux and "The Writer" by Richard Wilbur. Introduce these pieces by explaining the interest in filtering the present through a past moment.
2/ Start with Laux, and read without the past moments. There is a beautiful description of the moment, but one note, missed opportunities to step into the figurative. Read again and read the full poem, including the past bits. There we have the hinge. How does this change the poem and its meaning? Examine first line: "Metz is alive for now" and later, earning "I don't believe in anything anymore: / god, country, money or love. / All that matters to me now / is his life"
3/ Turn to the Wilbur. Read aloud with only present moment. Read again with past included. See how Wilbur uses the frame of the present. See his use of enjambment to create urgency in the center of the poem, the memory part. Ask students about the extended metaphor: we start "at the prow of the house," we get the gunwhale and the passage. How does Wilbur return to this metaphor, what physical image? "clearing the sill of the world"--there it is, the horizon for the bird, for the daughter. It is in this way that Wilbur deals with cliches without having to completely eradicate them.
4/ Assignment: create your own poem, which takes on the past to filter through a present moment. Don't be shy--one expects at least a typed page, but no more than two. That space is enough for the two moments to marry one another well. Consider, too, the marriage of form and content, knowing what's at stake. These poems don't need that left-justified treatment. Take advantage of white space, of line breaks, of couplets, of tercets, of prose blocks.
All credit for writing exercise goes to Jude Nutter, who brought it to our full group poetry session at the Loft Mentor Series this weekend.