Try writing a poem in the voice of someone speaking to a small child. What sort of things do they explain to the child? What judgements do they place on the world around them (that’s bad, that’s good, etc.)? Try to remember things you learned as a child, or instead, you can think of a child in your life who extracts truths (or lies) from you.
Then write a poem that mentions or uses a shape in some way (a circle, or a square, or a triangle, or if you’re daring, a dodecahedron….) The word could refer to a love triangle, or perhaps someone is being uncool, a real square. You could alternatively draw the shape on a blank page and try to write to fill that shape. How does the shape influence your choice of words?
Since so many parents are trying to provide some schooling from home right now, I’m providing a free PDF of 7 kids poetry exercises, for ages 5 – 9, depending on their literacy level. Note that I am not a teacher, just a volunteer poetry instructor, but I have taught using these exercises for Big Brothers Big Sisters and at Word Bookstore in Jersey City, NJ. I think they are relatively self explanatory, but here are the instructions for each page: 1. Kids can write an acrostic poem with one word for each letter in their name (e.g., Sweet Apples Ran Away, Hiding). 2. Kids can try completing a classic “roses are red” poem, with the fourth line ending in an “oo” sound (eg, zoo, shoe). 3. Kids can fill in the blanks (you might need to explain the prompts to them- encourage them to be creative in choosing animals and animal actions). Exercises 4-7. Kids can write a sense poem for each season of the year, focusing on things that they typically experience during each season.
These exercises will help kids practice their letters (you may need to spell out some words for them) and use their imaginations. Encourage them to illustrate their poems, too, with crayons or pencils. If you have a 3-hole puncher and 3 hole punch folders, you can easily have them create mini-poetry books for themselves (or simply staple the pages together). The most important thing is to be encouraging as they develop their verbal skills. I hope these exercises help some parents or schoolteachers struggling to provide activities for kids. Also, if you want to read some poems good for kids, try Jack Prelutsky’s Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face, and Shel Silverstein’s Sick. Feel free to contact me with feedback.
One prompt I’ve shared recently is based off Peter E. Murphy’s poem, Doing Time, from a recent issue of Rattle. This is a poem that’s impossible for me to read without getting tears in my eyes. It offers us a frank look at teaching and the power of poetry to inspire and educate, even when administration and other systems put obstacles in our way. The idea I pulled from this poem is to write about a time when you let go of your expectations and took an action based on your gut feelings. What happened to you and those around you? You can also choose to write of a time when you worked against oppression of some kind, perhaps in an underground way. How will you use poetry to bring power to your people?
This week’s writing prompt is brought to you by the latest issue of The Nation: read Mark Wunderlich’s A Driftless Son. It’s a marvel in its form, so much internal rhyme (farm at the beginning, then barn and harm at the end). And when has the word “manurey” ever been more slippery, sliding up your mouth next to “slurry”? A sad and foreboding poem.
My prompt is: Have you ever inherited an heirloom or a sum of money from someone who’s passed away? If so, did you treasure it or sell the object? If it was a sum of money, did you use it wisely or do you admit it was wasted on you? How does the heirloom make you feel, now that the previous owner is lost? Do the blankets your Grandma knit warm your cold feet? Does the foreign coin collection your father left you remind you of your travels with him? How do talismans connect us to the people of our past? It’s up to you whether your piece is truth or fiction, joyful or sad.
Today, I did a series of writing exercises with Jersey City Writers based on writing after loss. I’m sharing the essence of them with you here. Don’t skip reading the poem suggested beforehand—I find reading good poetry before writing it is often like “priming the pump,” it helps your creative juices flow, and your writing will be stronger from the influence of the masters.
Read Hot by Craig Arnold, one of my favorite poems of all time. Then, think of someone whom you’ve lost, but not on account of death—someone you’ve lost to something else, such as addiction, or the end of a relationship, or perhaps to Alzheimer’s. For bonus points, try to write the poem in rhyming couplets, modeled after Craig Arnold’s work.
Read Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art, then think about an object from your childhood that you’ve lost, and write about that. Make sure to decide whether the speaker is still a child or if the speaker is an adult looking back… there will likely be differences in how speakers of different ages would express the loss.
I’m thrilled to have a poem published in the latest issue of Monstering, alongside the work of many others, including the poet Ada Limón. I’m especially excited about the audio work of Katarina Scaife, who brings my poem to life and makes it more accessible to disabled readers.
This Saturday for Jersey City Writers, I hosted a poetry workshop where we used a submission call from the literary magazine Territory as a prompt. They have upcoming issues with the themes Twins and Alaska. Some past issues include fascinating work from Dan Beachy-Quick and Jenny Xie.
This week, I’m listing anagrams of some classic phrases from literature (numbered 1 through 10 below). Use one of them to inspire a poem! Contact me if you’re interested in what the original phrases are. You can also take a strong phrase from one of your own poems and make an anagram out of it using this website.
Whether you enjoy autumn or prefer summer or winter, try to think of specific images, or sounds, tastes, etc. that distinguish one season from the other. Which season do you prefer? What actions do you carry out when one shifts to the other? Do you gladly dust off the pumpkin spice seasoning when autumn rolls around? Are you excited to unearth your favorite sweaters from their cardboard boxes? Or do you sadly touch a portrait of a loved one you lost in autumn? What sort of attitude do you want to encourage the reader to take about the season? Consider using anaphora and turn it into a refrain, like Zagajewski does with Try to Praise the Mutilated World.
One writer who has had a profound influence on me is Oliver Sacks, author of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, who passed away from cancer in August 2015. A year or so before he died, shortly after he received a diagnosis of terminal cancer, he and his partner, Billy Hayes, decided to record some of his thoughts on tape. You can listen to his voice via one of Radiolab’s latest podcasts. Here is a transcription of an excerpt from those tapes:
A Conversation on Dreams
Feb 6, 2015
“I’ve been having a lot of strangely archetypal dreams of a journey I have to make. Getting lost and getting found, full of surprises, maybe going through a door which I think will be a door unto another one, a door to a mountain landscape. Sometimes frightening ravines, or having to edge along very narrow ledges, but then finally coming to some gracious, heavenly mountain meadow, and then waiting. Dreams about journeys approach an end. It’s a journey from where to where?” -Oliver Sacks
The prompt, then, is to write your own dream of a journey from where to where. What do you imagine you would dream near the end of your own life?