poetry prompt for the dead or wounded

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New to using prompts? Take a look at these notes on how to use writing prompts. Otherwise, jump right in!


For this poetry prompt for the dead or wounded, start by reading “Fall” by Didi Jackson and give some thought to what you like/admire.

Quite simply, I’m in love with Jackson’s poem. The tenderness in it, not only for the injured bird but also for the little girls as they learn about death, is just lovely. And isn’t it paced perfectly? Its short lines — along with the space between the couplets — allows the moment to unfold slowly. It eases us into the ceremony of caring for our dead and makes room for us to feel the loss. We’re also given space to wonder along with the narrator how we may be teaching children (or others) how to grieve. The narrator is aware of the weight of her words. She is careful with what she shares and what she withholds.

Ultimately, as is so often true, we carry on for the dead, make their work our own. In this case the girls “pick the song // and sing it / over and over again.” And somehow the poem’s form — a long string of short couplets — contributes to the sense that we, in tribute to what we’ve lost, carry on… even if that itself is a sense of falling, stumbling forward as if drawn there (down the page, perhaps inevitably, by a certain kind of gravity).

In addition to how the poem works on the page, its language gives us so many terrific moments:

  • The dead bird, for example, is a “feathered envelope /crumpled.”
  • Jackson describes the needs of the girls, in both concrete and abstract terms, which is exactly what we seek in the face of loss: “She wants a box // and a small towel / some kind of comfort // for this soft body.”
  • In the middle of “Fall,” the narrator draws us in, as though this is our rare moment, too: “How many times / in a life will we witness // the very moment of death?”
  • And I love the four or five lines during which the narrator wonders about her our own limited time: “I know, too, // it is the darkest days / I’ve learned to praise — // the calendar packages up time, / the days shrink and fold away.”


  1. Describe a moment, real or imagined, in which a person or creature is fatally wounded.
  2. Consider a ritual or ceremony you could offer in response and give us details of the tribute, including what it stirs in you.
  3. Make a deliberate decision about form — short couplets like Jackson’s? long, single lines? prose poem? — that gives some additional texture to the reader’s experience of the material you’re sharing.

For an extra challenge, include how your behavior in the moment may impact at least one other who’s present.


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 Didi Jackson’s “Fall”) 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 the dead or wounded. 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.

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