When did you feel you were no longer a child, and had crossed the threshold into adulthood? Was there a particular moment? Perhaps you were invited to sit among the adults at a holiday dinner. Perhaps it was the day you first had sex. Perhaps it was the day you realized your father was truly vulnerable, that he was mortal and would die one day. What emotions came with the transition? Tap into those emotions as you write this poem. Either write about what distinguishes childhood from adulthood for you, or try to recapture childhood in a poem. For inspiration, read Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies.
Have you ever wanted to step into someone else’s shoes? Write from another’s perspective? You can do this in your poetry. It’s called a persona poem, where the speaker of your poem is someone other than yourself. Choose wisely who you will write about- maybe you want to write from the perspective of a suicide bomber; maybe you want to write a poem that Trump or Hillary would write; maybe you want to write from your brother’s perspective when he saw his first child born. Whatever you choose, try to ground yourself in some emotion you think the speaker would feel. Use images and sensations that make sense for the speaker to use. Steer clear of anachronisms if you are writing about a historical figure- but if you find yourself doing that accidentally, maybe change the nature of the speaker. Perhaps Walt Disney was in fact cryogenically preserved and has now been reanimated with new insights about our modern society. As always, have fun with it!
For inspiration, read a classic persona poem by T. S. Eliot.
This is a particularly hard topic to write about, even think about so many years later. I want you to examine the way the poet attempts to honor the dead in this poem, Photograph from September 11. Does it work for you? Do you think the respect the poet offers the victims is sincere, the desire not to “add a last line”? Why might using metaphors and similes in poems about grief distance the reader from the feelings? It is hard not to be cliche, to try to say comforting things. I would like to encourage you to write about a grieving, not necessarily 9/11, perhaps something more personal to you, and attempt to allow yourself to simply describe things that happen in the poem, trying to evoke emotions that way, without resorting to metaphors that might allow you to wrap things up in a bow. Allow yourself and your readers to sit and experience the grief and pain. Can you leave the poem open-ended in some way?
Think of different foods and drinks. Imagine preparing a dish or think of the steps you take when you eat something. What toppings do you add to your pizza, and how do you eat it? I tend to like Hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapple, and I usually eat the crust first. Bring these details to a poem, but I also want you to transform your food and drink into a metaphor, to say something about an emotion or action that people take. See Naomi Nishab Nye’s The Traveling Onion for an example.
How do search engines impact your life? What story do your searches tell? If you commonly use Google, try this exercise: while logged in, start typing each letter of the alphabet into Google and see what searches it remembers or suggests to you. Pick the most interesting search for each letter of the alphabet and string them together in an abecedarian poem. If you don’t use Google, think about an interesting search you’ve done lately. What information did you find out? How did it make you feel? Also check out Amber Tamblyn’s poem Untitled, which takes you on an emotional rollercoaster as she reports a series of searches.
Write a poem in which the speaker is hearing voices. What do the voices say? Who seems to be speaking? How does the speaker feel, how does he or she react? Take a look at this excellent example by Jennifer L. Knox, Name That Tune.
This week, I want you to take a scientific fact and work it into a poem. Perhaps you will write about how babies are born with about 300 bones at birth, but over time, the bones fuse into 206 bones… what does it mean to you to be more flexible, to have more components in youth? When we harden into adults what do we lose, emotionally as well as physically? Perhaps you are fascinated by the fact that Venus is the only planet in our solar system to turn clockwise… is it love spinning on an axis, opposite of the rest of the universe? Perhaps only love can carry us through time. Make sure to personalize your scientific fact somehow, or make it so the reader can connect to it on emotional level. Images always help! Enjoy Jane Hirshfield’s My Proteins for an example of how it’s done.
What are your favorite (or least favorite) aspects of summer? Try to think of sensual details, like the heat, or perhaps the cool of dipping into the water at the beach, or the flash of a yellow butterfly against pink petals. Write a poem about summer, but allow it to morph into something more. Perhaps you are also writing about your relationship with your son, how the two of you play baseball every summer. Take a look at Jessica Jacobs’ Stridulation Sonnet for an example of a summer poem that is also a love poem. How can the summer details add to the rich emotional life of the poem?
How does living or working in a city affect you? Where are the boundaries between you and another person’s space? How does it differ from the country? Are there shared experiences in the city that bring us closer together? How about further apart? Perhaps there is a particular city encounter you can think of when you had a realization. Read Tim Seibles’ (recently named the poet laureate of Virginia) poem Faith and think about how the city will inspire your poem.