CarverOur 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 LaboratoryThe 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…”).

NJThis 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.

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.

mobiusstripThe 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!