My poem-a-day marathon for Tupelo Press is winding down (you can see my running commentary on the poems here), and I can’t believe how quickly it went. And I can’t believe how much easier it was than I anticipated. There were only a handful of days when I really struggled or felt burdened by the task. I guess the pump was primed, helped along by the free-writing practice I’ve established and also quite a bit of reading.
Nothing’s better than a poem that not only moves you but also inspires you to pick up your own pen and get down to it. So here’s what’s been doing it for me lately: List #2 (the first one is here) of 3 poems inspiring me right now to write!
1. “In the Street” by Mary Jo Bang
I love the way the lens/focus in this prose poem jumps around and even boomerangs. And I love how it fusses with the idea of what’s solid/oppressive (or airy/freeing). And how it ultimately wants to know what lasts (what’s worth believing). Form also comes into play in making this poem work. It’s both right and left justified, creating a brick of text that itself is the answer to its own inquiries. Spoiler alert –> Here’s how it ends:
“a balcony on which you can stand and call down to those in the street, Come over here and look up at us. Aren’t we exactly what you wanted to believe in?”
POETRY PROMPT: Write a poem where the perspective (as in the literal view) shifts and zooms around. Follow it where it goes, but think about the dizzying effect of that… and how the end of the poem can settle it.
2. “On Alcohol” by Sam Sax
I am a sucker for section poems, and this one is a tour de force! This poem explores alcohol in religious ceremony, in medicine and as science. It also describes the consequences of drinking: how it can destroy lives and relationships. Since it ends with the narrator at the liquor store, the reader understands that the poem (and alcohol/drinking) are on a continuum. The narrator not only implicates himself in the continuum but also the process by which alcohol is made. In doing so, he creates an anchor/context for the poem’s other sections:
“if you look close at the process of fermentation
you’ll see tiny animals destroying the living body
until it’s transformed into something more volatile”
POETRY PROMPT: Pick an item and examine it from many different angles, such as personal/family history, world history and purpose/use. Consider its cultural, political or religious implications (if that makes sense). Consider what it gives and what it takes. Describe how and where it appears for you. Go deep, even cellular, like Sax does. String together snapshots of the items into a section poem.
3. “Fortune Cookie” by Daniel Arias Gomez
Cleverly, this poem manages both to reject reality and to immerse itself in it. In saying what he wishes, the narrator takes a journey through the harsh reality of a father’s death… and not getting what we need from people in the end. The layers are impressive because in the poem, the father is out of touch with reality. The details in it are spectacular: “plastic shunt sticking out of his skull,” “a tuna sandwich you bought for him in the cafeteria” and “his calloused hands cutting up the beef for the pozole.”
“by the end, your father won’t even recognize
you, that he’ll be rambling about chickens
and horses, believing that he’s still in his ranch
in Mexico, that he’ll say he likes the pozole
when he’s eating a tuna sandwich you bought
for him in the cafeteria”
POETRY PROMPT: Write a poem that riffs on a short piece of text and then spend the poem discussing what you wish it said instead of what it actually says. Name your poem with the source of the text, like “newspaper,” “assembly instructions,” “contract” or “recipe card.” Use vivid details like Gomez does.
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), Poetry magazine and Sugar House Review!! And I’d love to know if anyone ends up using these prompts!