New to prompts? Take a look at these notes on how to use writing prompts. Otherwise, jump right in!
GO GET SOME INSPIRATION –>
For this poetry prompt for adolescence — where you were (and who you were) at that time or any period of great transformation — start by reading “Northern Florida, Thirteen” by Suzanne Grove and give some thought to what resonates with you.
It’s really difficult — at least for me — to capture how intense it is to be perched on the cusp of the changes that take place for us in puberty and our teen years. I wrote a poem years ago that attempts it but doesn’t quite get there. As a result, it’s buried in my drafts folder, but it has enough energy for me that my mind returns to it (and noodles on it) way more than any other failed draft. I suspect that’s because of its subject matter vs. anything grand I’ve hit on craft-wise. Weren’t those teen years insane?!
In “Northern Florida, Thirteen,” Grove aptly describes what it’s like to have a female body transitioning from childhood to womanhood. The poem begins with the “dull cramp and frank blood,” those early signs everything is rushing forth without our consent and there’s no way to go back (even if we wanted to… but do we want to?). Once the narrator (the plural “we) begins to compare bodies with others at the pool, however, the “we” goes from being along for the ride to taking control: “So we trimmed our fine fuzz / and slicked our legs with oil.” Still, the “we” doesn’t really know what it’s all about: “We played at it / before we felt it.” By the time the poem is ending, it more plainly addresses a core question: how do we begin to understand desire and its accompanying gaze? It concludes, “We knew then we were nourishment / for ourselves and all flesh / for someone else.”
For me, the poem’s wildly pumping heart is in this pair of lines: “A throb, a gnawing / oh god we thought we’d invented it.” Oh, my, that returns me to those early excitements! Surely, it was love, true love. [Insert grown-up Carolee’s eye rolls.] How “clear” it was, then, when we sat in the center of absolutely everything and no one could convince us otherwise, that the heat we felt was the first spark ever in the universe and that all of creation depended on us fanning the flames. In other words, the raw material of “Northern Florida, Thirteen” took me back.
But I also enjoyed its poetics. Specifically,
- The line Grove draws from wanting no attention to preparing the body for all sorts of attention isn’t a straight one. Even after the trimming and slicking, the “we” in the poem still roams through childhood, as connoted by baseball fields and fireflies, and so the poem is satisfying as a representation of how “we” zigzag through this transition.
- The line I noted above as the heart of the poem — “oh god we thought we’d invented it” — is a terrific pause in the action. It’s a moment of reflection, as in a documentary when the narration stops and we hear directly from the people involved.
- Grove’s use of sentence fragments interrupts the narrative flow of this poem, and her instinct in that regard feels just right to me. Without those fragments, the “this happened” and “then this happened” could risk being without texture.
NOW START WRITING –>
- Choose a time in your life where you were straddling two worlds, as in adolescence, and make a list of items/scenes from each world.
- Title your poem, at least temporarily, with where you were geographically and how old you were at the time (following Grove’s example).
- Open with a physical description of place/setting, bring in the details from #2 above and follow them wherever they take you.
For an extra challenge, slip in and out of the narrative thread by abandoning your sentence structure and using phrases/fragments as Grove does.
IMPORTANT NOTE –>
Do not copy the poem that inspired this writing prompt. It’s a good idea when you harvest material from these exercises to either credit their inspiration (i.e. make a note at the top of your poem, like after Suzanne Grove’s “Northern Florida, Thirteen’) or remove the scaffolding provided by the example and keep only the material you crafted. In other words: make it your own.
Be sure to let me know if you write a poem or other piece in response to this poetry prompt for adolescence (or other period of intense transition). I’d love to read it! I’m going to attempt to share at least two new poetry prompts with you each month in 2021. You can find past poetry prompts here, including writing prompts from prior years.