I’ve spent much of the last year revising and submitting the same batch of poems, most of them from my current manuscript. I’ve written some new ones along the way and made tons of notes as fodder for “the next time I sit down to write,” but I haven’t been in a creative or generative period in quite a while. It seems like that’s changing.
One way I know is that as I’m reading poems (and I read several every day), more and more of them are sticking with me… and more and more of them are giving me ideas for my own writing. Since I’m working on my blog this month — and since I have been writing and sharing poetry prompts my whole life as a poet online — I decided to pull some of the poems and ideas together to share as poetry prompts / writing assignments. It’s something I’d like to do regularly.
So here’s a list (perhaps the first of many): 3 poems as writing prompts!
1. “Numinous” by Alex Manley
I’m loving this for its long lines giving, in this case, the impression of some kind of authority. And that’s precisely it: it’s only the *impression* of authority. It seems to be trying to convince itself, while really disguising a kind of insecurity: none of us knows what the hell we’re doing. Ultimately, it’s exciting when we give in to there being more questions than answers. Here are my favorite lines:
What do you do
when the sky opens? There are books about this, but
none written from experience.
POETRY PROMPT: Write a poem about something that can’t be known. Play with long lines if that seems to help.
2. “Self Portrait as The Other Girl” by Molly McCully Brown
It’s totally by coincidence that this one is a similar shape as the first on this list, and I think the long lines in this one serve a different purpose. Here, the form seems designed to require some effort by the reader by way of creating an experience: we’re going to go through this together. I enjoy how this list poem moves and twists and argues with itself. Initially, the list items are “lovely,” and then they become darker. Finally, the poem interrupts itself before returning to lovely (but stranger) items: “Girl tearing herself apart. No, no, Girl as floating piano. / Girl as blue clam boat.” The last item on the list is my favorite: “Girl who will not call one more awful thing into the world.”
POETRY PROMPT: Write a poem that argues with itself or write list poem that calls non-awful/lovely things into the world.
3. “The Tree of Fire” by Ada Limon
I keep reading this poem over and over, revisiting the fire throughout and also the words with lots of heat/energy: shooting, fucked, demand, howling, swear. The poem opens with a commercial for dying, blazes with passion in its middle and ends with this intentional, delicate act of making something. I’m fascinated by it explodes into tenderness. Its climax is actually its quietest moment:
your fingers under still
coaxed all my colors back.
I swear, I won’t forget
how the fire feels, or all
the care you took
to light it.
POETRY PROMPT: Write a poem that starts loud and then turns down the volume. (10 million bonus points if you do so while increasing, not losing, impact.)
What do you see at work in these poems?
Shout-outs to the publications/organizations who’ve published/shared these poems online: poets.org (Academy of American Poets), Pleiades and Thrush!! And I’d love to know if anyone ends up using these prompts!