What secrets do you keep from your friends, your lover, your mother, even yourself? I want you to write a poem this week which reveals something vital about the speaker in the poem. It doesn’t have to be true or about yourself- although hopefully it comes from a place of truth. Perhaps the poem merely reveals the reasons why the secret is kept, but only hints at what the secret might be. In what situation might the truth be revealed? For inspiration, read Stephen Dunn’s A Secret Life.
The example poem this week is Jack Gilbert’s Alone, in which he is mourning his late wife Michiko. Imagine someone you’re grieving– someone you’ve lost to death, or perhaps it is an ex-lover. What form would they take if they returned to you somehow? Would they be a certain type of animal, or perhaps an inanimate object? How do you interact with this loved one, now that they are in new form? Write a poem in which this interaction takes place.
The first prompt this week is inspired by Marie Howe’s poem Part of Eve’s Discussion. Think of a moment that was significant to you, heavy with meaning, with a lot of emotion behind it. Perhaps it was your sister’s wedding, the birth of your son, or a time you failed a math test. Get in touch with that emotion.Then think of other situations where you might feel that same emotion, or perhaps that might heighten that feeling. I want you to start your poem with “It was like the moment when…” and list some of those moments. Try using vivid language that engages the senses. See if you can take your readers to the same emotional place without mentioning what the actual moment was. Then, if you like, give a hint as to what the moment was in the title of the poem. Continue reading
I like to think of the Jersey poet William Carlos Williams as the originator of fridge poetry. Nowadays, even Kanye West is getting in on the action (“You left your fridge open, somebody just took a sandwich”). You can even buy mixable magnetic words to make poems of your own on the fridge. So, when I needed to come up with a prompt for Jersey City Writers‘ Tuesday night group, I thought writing a “fridge note” would be fun! To add a little challenge, I had folks draw a word from the magnetic poetry kit and use that word in their note, but for the online folks, try going to the Random Word Generator and use the first word that pops up for you. In the fridge note, think about who the speaker is (is it you or a character?), who the speaker is addressing in their note, and what they have to say. HAVE FUN!
Our example poem this week is by Marilyn Nelson. Her poem Green-Thumb Boy is about George Washington Carver, a black botanist who was originally born as a slave, but flourished as a scientist after slavery was abolished. The poem is from the perspective of another scientist, Pammel, a white man who taught Carver at Iowa State. I like listening to Pammel’s perspective, as he changes his mind about Carver, ultimately ending up impressed with him, and considering him a colleague.
This week, I want you to write a poem about a historical figure, either from the perspective of that figure, or from the perspective of another character observing the famous one. What are distinguishing features about this person that you can highlight? Note, you can either tell a realistic tale, or place the historical character in a new setting (like Walt Whitman in a grocery store, ala Allen Ginsberg’s A Supermarket in California). Have fun with it!
By the way, I retrieved the image of George Washington Carver from the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division, The New York Public Library. “Dr. G.W. Carver at Work in His Laboratory” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1935 – 1943.
The second prompt this week is to think of a disappointment, either a real one in your own life, or one that you imagine. Write a poem about that disappointment, using at least one simile or metaphor for how the speaker feels (read about the lonely tree in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet “What my lips have kissed…”).
At the latest Jersey City Writers Genre Night, which featured selected poetry, Claudia Cortese (pictured) gave me a great idea for a poetry prompt. She wrote a Mad Libs poem, which was fun to fill out in person at the reading. If you never played with Mad Libs as a kid, they are basically paragraphs where you blindly fill in blanks with nouns, verbs, and adjectives… you often get unexpected combinations, resulting in hilarity. I’m not going to assign an entire Mad Libs poem, but I am encouraging you to Mad Libs the title of your next poem, like this: The (Animal) Calls the (Type of Person) (Adjective). You don’t have to fill in the blanks blindly, as you would a regular Mad Lib, but think about an interesting scene to paint: The Frog Calls the Princess Beautiful (I wrote a poem titled this); or The Elephant Calls the Plumber Serpentine (think of the possibilities—sure the plumber uses a “snake” but couldn’t you call the elephant’s trunk serpentine as well?). Think about what the animal tells the person, and describe how the person receives this judgment.
For the second prompt this week, I’m going to encourage you to write a poem in response to Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge this month. Ekphrasis is poetry written about or in response to art. Rattle is a great journal that offers up a challenge once a month to write a poem about a piece of art (for a possible prize! Due April 30!). For an example of an ekphrastic work, read William Blake’s The Tyger, and check out the painting he made alongside it. Enjoy the prompts, and keep writing!
So, I wrote a draft of a poem yesterday where Bjork meets Bieber. It was tricky trying to capture the essence of their voices! I got the idea to write this one from a prompt from the book The Daily Poet by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano. This is the BEST book of prompts I’ve ever encountered, I recommend it. It has a prompt for every day of the year—their ideas are rich with triggers. Another poem I wrote in response to one of their prompts was published last year—it was a poem entitled You Only Have Three, about three wishes. The book of prompts has really come in handy as I did a poem-a-day in November 2015 and also currently in April 2016, for those days when the muse is elusive. Feel free to comment if you have a book of prompts (poetry, fiction, or even nonfiction) that has inspired you—I’m always looking for new ideas!
This week (Sat Apr 16) during the Jersey City Writers poetry workshop, we will be trying out two prompts. The first is to write a poem using some geographical terms in new ways. For inspiration, read Zachary Schomburg’s THE THINGS THAT SURROUND US. You can also check out Wikipedia for a glossary of geography terms.
The second prompt is to write about a blessing or sacred text (perhaps scripture, perhaps scientific document), but focus on your reaction to the text. How does it make you (or the speaker) feel? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a positive reaction. For inspiration, read Tony Hoagland’s Bible Study.
Check out this masterful poem by Craig Arnold, titled Hot. I still remember reading it in high school, fascinated by the tale of addiction, and impressed with the tight couplets. Can you write a poem about addiction that is this visceral, where readers can understand the draw of the drug, even if they’ve never taken it? Try it.
I’m assigning two prompts today to my poetry workshop. The first is to write a cinquain, a form similar to a haiku. The version I’m demonstrating is a counting of syllables, like this:
- 2 syllables
- 4 syllables
- 6 syllables
- 8 syllables
- 2 syllables
For a great example of this form, see Adelaide Crapsey’s November Night. For me, keeping the poem focused on one image is just as important as counting the syllables.
The second “form” is not a formal structure, but an idea to write a mobius strip poem. You know, when you take a strip of paper, twist it once, and tape it closed. If you run your pencil along the strip, it will eventually end up traversing the entire surface, and ending up exactly where it began. How can you write something like this? You want to end up the same place where you started (perhaps by repeating a line or refrain) but there is a turn along the way, so something new is gained by the time you return. The inspiration for this “form” is Mark Strand’s The Tunnel (one of my favorite poems). Enjoy your writing!