Writing Prompts

Because I’ve neglected my blog here, I thought I’d copy some of the things I’m doing with my Senior Seminar class this Spring.

What everyone asked for was a way to write more, so we are doing in a month-long grind, writing at least a draft of a poem every day for the month.

Here are my instructions:

I’m going to set up a set of prompts to give you a way of beginning the grind. You can use them or not. You can strike out on your own one day and another day use the prompts. It’s totally up to you.  The point is to get you to write daily and generate more work. Try not to judge it too quickly. Write day after day and then at the end of the month you can look over and try to see what’s there.

Okay, so the easiest way for me to do a monthly grind is to simple write

A

B

C

D

E

F

and so on down a piece of paper and use those letters as prompts. What’s a title that starts with an A?  Here are seven:

Aubade, which is the name of a traditional love poem written at the break of day, usually regretting that the day has come and the lovers must part. See Philip Larkin’s poem Aubade for a much more cynical version of the genre, in which a lonely man meets the break of day.

Against…, this is a kind of poem in which you can take a side against something. Against Forgetting. Against Love Poems. Against the Idea that Wealth Brings Happiness.  The trick to poems like this is not to fall into a rant but to make a kind of argument that makes your point but also fulfills the characteristics of good poetry–beautiful language, complicated thinking and feeling, and surprising patterns of sound or image.

An Apology. A kind of poem that makes an apology for something you did. William Carlos Williams’ famous one This is Just to Say is an example of an apology that is really a non-apology to his wife for eating the plums in their refrigerator.

Anaphora. Anaphora is a name for the repetition of a phrase or clause over and over again, usually at the beginning of the lines. So a poet might write:   Because you are so lovely, I bought you an alligator for your lawn./ Because you are so lovely, I bought a swan and set it free./ Because you are so lovely and beginning to think I’m crazy, I bought you a butter croissant and left it on your front porch. / Because you are so lovely, I didn’t call you all day. /     and so on and on.  You can just start, as I did here, with something stupid and force yourself to write at least twenty lines and see if something weird and interesting doesn’t show up. It might not be autobiographical or even make sense.

Ode to an Apple (or an Avocado or to an Aardvark or to any thing that begins with A). The gret example is Pablo Neruda’s Elemental Odes, which you can find in several places.  My favorite is the Selected Odes that Margaret Sayers Peden translated. There are great ones to a Lemon and a Tomato.  The idea is to transform something so common no one even sees it anymore into something astoundingly beautiful.

Advice.  Write a poem of advice to someone who needs it, which could include yourself or a public figure who has screwed something up. Try to remember that everyone secretly hates people who give advice, so anything you say may have to be angled interestingly to distract a reader from the fact that you’re reminding them of their own inadequacy.

After _____ (fill in the name of a writer who has given you some inspiration or who you’ve stolen a line from to start the poem). Steal a line from Sylvia Plath that suggested a memory of your own. Here’s a line from Celan I liked: ” Whichever word you speak/ you thank–/corruption.” How would write the line of a poem that follows that?

So there’s a group of prompts for next week!  Just start and try to get to at least 14 lines. You might not manage it, but give yourself some goal. You get one and only one haiku this month!  But think about what you might want to try–prose poems, sonnets, a villanelle, etc. The point is to begin. Good luck!

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