New to using 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 about caregiving (specifically the repetitive tasks inherent to caring for others and ourselves), start by reading “I Pump Milk Like a Boss” by Kendra DeColo and give some thought to what you like/admire.
“I Pump Milk Like a Boss” is a list poem about all the contortions mothers go through when trying to fit breastfeeding into their lives. I’m a sucker for a good list poem (and have written about Ray Bradbury’s take on lists and creativity), and DeColo’s poem doesn’t disappoint. It has enough repetition to remind me of the tedium inherent to the subject (the form serves the content, in other words), while mixing it up enough to keep it interesting.
DeColo mixes up more than the repetition in this poem; like Katie Manning does in “What to Expect”, DeColo also turns our expectations on their head. OK, maybe they’re just my expectations. I have lots of drama/trauma around breastfeeding, including its monotony, but I am fairly confident I’m not the only one who considered it a chore. The life-giving, loving task filled me with resentment, and I internalized my bad reaction to it as a sign that I was a bad person and a bad mother. Thankfully, DeColo doesn’t write that poem.
What she gives us instead is lactating mother as superhero. (It’s in the title: She pumps “like a boss.”) She offers pumping as sacred (“biblical” green grass, “swollen tits immaculate”) but not so precious that it can’t be done in a bathroom at the bar. She gives us hallelujah and sacrilege at once: “I pump // as if my hands have teeth, one combat boot hitched up on the toilet seat, / each hiss of milk chanting like a choir yes b*tch yes…”
DeColo unsticks pumping from its lethargy and turns it into an action-packed film. DeColo also — by casting her speaker as a boss and giving her the lead in an action movie — removes the gendered assumptions often attached to the task. There’s nothing quiet, soft, precious or nurturing about this poem. The speaker announces herself as bad ass and celebrates her ability to do a thing that keeps someone else alive.
It’s important to note that DeColo does all this without tipping over into parody. The poem never fails to honor the task and hold it up as something truly transformative:
- “I pump like I’m writing my name in blood / which turns to the milk my child sucks dry, which she turns into blood.”
- “every time I open the fridge, as if its presence is enough to keep me safe, / as if it’s enough to make me invincible.”
NOW START WRITING –>
- Free write about a task or offering that’s repeated many times in how you take care of yourself or others. DeColo’s poem is about pumping breast milk for an infant, but you could write about the caregiving you do for anyone, including yourself, a child, a parent, a pet, your garden, etc. Repetition is your friend here. Write, I _____ here. I _____. Doing this thing is like ______. It’s like _______. It’s like _____. Let’s call this “Green Eggs and Ham”ing the sh*t out of the task you chose. By that, I mean, let’s imagine multiplying it and doing it everywhere, but instead of answering “would you, could you” with “not in a box, not with a fox, not in a house, not with a mouse,” etc., say yes.* Cast this action in many different settings. All over the place.
- Cull your list down to those that interest you most in a quantity that feels satisfying to you.
- Get back in there and do some extra work by including grit (like DeColo’s graffiti and combat boots) and/or sound in your poem (like “yes, b*tch, yes” and “glop glop“) and letting at least one item on the list develop into its own side narrative (just as DeColo’s thoughts wander to the presidents).
For an extra challenge, cast yourself as the superhero in this universe like DeColo does.
*Of course, this could just as easily work in the negative!
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 Kendra DeColo’s “I Pump Milk Like a Boss”) 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 about caregiving and its repetitive tasks. I’d love to read it! You can find past poetry prompts here, including writing prompts from prior years.