Welcome to the third annual installment of Good Universe Next Door poetry prompts for NAPOWRIMO! You can find past editions here:
As always, please keep in mind two simple, but important rules:
- Follow these prompts *wherever* they take you. Don’t get hung up on following them precisely!
- Never, never, never, never, never, never copy the sample poems. They’re for inspiration only! If you borrow style or quote excerpts in your drafts, please be sure credit the original and the poet.
WRITING PROMPTS for National Poetry Month (or any poem-a-day challenge)
1. Let’s goooooo!
Dive into the deep end and write a list poem about everything you need to survive emergency conditions or apocalypse. You can also riff on other survival topics like how to survive a bear encounter or how to survive a lightning storm in the woods. (Google is your friend!) / Recommended reading for this prompt: Revolutionary Letter #3 by Diane di Prima
2. What a way to make a living
Working 9-5. Working nights and weekends. Unpaid labor. Pay gap. Zoom, Outlook, conference calls, staplers, customers, performance reviews, dress code, team-building exercises, etc. Write a poem that describes what you think about things at work. Get it all out. Don’t be shy. / Recommended reading for this prompt: After Careful Thought, Attendees Offer Feedback on the Corporate Retreat by Carrie Shipers
3. One for the ages
Write a poem that celebrates the age you are currently — or an age that was particularly meaningful for you or an age that you fear. / Recommended reading for this prompt: Fifty-Nine and Feeling… by Donna Vorreyer
4. Make like a tree and leave
The pictures below show the gorgeous veins on a leaf from my yard, and if I were to write a poem about examining the leaf and bringing it into the house to spend more time with it, I’d be mad about “having” to use the tired word/metaphor “vein.” So! Brainstorm a quick list of alternative words for these veins then write a poem using one or more of your new metaphors.
5. “Straight up” now tell me
Do you really wanna love me forever? Research cocktail (or mocktail!) menus, pick a drink name that inspires you and write a love poem that riffs on it. Some great cocktail names from places I’ve been are “Sage Against the Machine” (Echo Restaurant and Lounge, Brattleboro), “Respect Your Elders” (Teardrop Lounge, PDX) and “Psycho Killer” (Savoy Taproom, Albany). If you get stuck as you write, turn to mixology/bartender terms (like muddle, dirty and twist) to get you going again. / Recommended reading for this prompt: Give Me Kink in a Highball Glass, and You Can Fall in Love with Me by Dorothy Chan.
6. Those black-eyed peas tasted alright to me
One of my current favorite poems is “Goddess of Anger” by Teri Ellen Cross Davis. I wasn’t able to find it online, but here’s how it opens: “Did he touch you? / Did he hit you? … Were you polite even / then — were you lava / under the skin? Then / let me in. Unsheathe / the dagger of me.” The speaker in this Cross Davis poem is the Goddess of Anger, and she goes on to “use the dust of his bones for tea” and “dance on him in stilettos.”
Today, write a poem in which you take your anger out on someone who deserves it. Go all in! / Recommended reading for this prompt: a more perfect Union. (“Goddess of Anger” appears in it, and the entire book is phenomenal!) And of course, as the name of this prompt suggests, a creative exercise on vengeance wouldn’t be complete without giving the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” a listen –>
7. Not your mama’s nature poem
It’s easy to romanticize nature, but that’s not what we’re doing in this prompt. We’re not glorifying sunrises. We’re not admiring apples. Instead, write a poem in which plants, critters or landscapes reflect/reveal some of your darker feelings, impulses, worries, confessions, etc. / Recommended reading for this prompt: Another Poem About Nature but Really, It’s About Me by Diannely Antigua
8. Start (or enhance) a gratitude practice
I’ve never managed to keep a gratitude journal, but I do think I could swing a gratitude poem. Wouldn’t that be nice to have in your pocket? And don’t you think its nature will change over time, making it possible to write a new one every now and then? Why not get started today? Write a poem that includes a list of what you’re grateful for specific to this exact time and place in your life. / Recommended reading for this prompt: Gratitude List on an August Evening by Martha Silano
9. My way or the highway
On the road again. Highway to hell. Going down the wrong path. Paved with good intentions. Life in the fast lane. Hit the road. Off the beaten path. You get the idea. Write a poem inspired by a common phrase about highways, roads or paths. (Bonus points for twisting the phrase you choose into something unexpected!)
10. You’ve been warned
Scientists have pretty cool jobs. To me, they’re math-y, left-brained poets. Let’s listen to what they have to say for this prompt — specifically their findings related to health or climate or technology. Write a poem that starts with a warning from scientists. Don’t have time to look for an article or worry you’ll get lost down a too-many-open-tabs rabbit hole? I got you! Here’s a good option from Fast Company: Scientists Say the Clock Is Ticking After Unexpected Findings at Antarctica’s ‘Doomsday Glacier.’
11. Creepy AF
It’s been a couple of months now, but that Super Bowl commercial with the rabbits still haunts me. Of course, that means it did its job, but that’s not what this prompt is about. Write a poem about people in full costume. Sure, you can write about a time you wore a costume or disguise, like for Halloween, for a role in a play or to prank someone. But also… think clowns. Think mascots — like those for sports teams and theme parks, etc. We once hired a creepy AF Sesame Street knock-off to show up for my oldest son’s 2nd birthday. I still shudder thinking about that Elmo.
12. There’s more than one answer to these questions
Time to channel your inner Indigo Girls! Well, sort of. Brainstorm a list of questions (or borrow some from questionnaires or quizzes) and write a poem that offers truly odd answers to “regular”/”normal” questions. / Recommended reading for this prompt: Interview Before Taking His Name by Jill Crammond (And check out Handbook for Unwell Mothers, her debut collection forthcoming from Finishing Line Press!)
13. What difference does it make?
Pick two objects and write a poem about their differences. They can be fairly similar, like a black bear vs. a grizzly bear, or worlds apart, like brussels sprouts vs. garden hoses. / Recommended reading for this prompt: How to Tell the Difference Between a Raven and a Crow by Bethany Brengan
14. You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone
How do you want to be remembered? Can you summarize your life? Write a poem that eulogizes yourself. / Recommended reading for this prompt: The Poet Starts a Rough Draft of Her Obituary by Beth Weinstock
15. Turn up the heat
I love love LOVE the hottest summer heat and what we get out of it: beach days, lake dips, fresh tomatoes. But from what I hear, some people find it too sweltering. Whatever, weirdos! Regardless of where *you* fall on that spectrum, let’s turn up the heat with this prompt and write a poem that makes you sweat! / Recommended reading for this prompt: A Parking Lot in West Houston by Monica Youn
16. Not good with names
This prompt is about naming things — how things are named, what names feel like and sound like, how we feel about names, how they may be linked to place or experience, etc. Write a poem about the names of things. Bonus points if you can also name how you’re feeling like poet Matt Hart does in the recommended reading for this prompt: The Wild Dogs and Flowers of Texas.
17. Right freakin’ now!
Check in with yourself exactly as you are right now. Write a poem about what you need in this moment. / Recommended reading for this prompt: Leave Me Alone by Kate Cruz
18. Have small notebook. Will travel.
Take a stroll and report back in your poem. Let what you see on your walk stir up memories and remind you of things you love. / Recommended reading for this prompt: Fläneuse by Denise Duhamel (Don’t be daunted by the length of this poem: Your poem can be *any* length, but do read it to get a sense for some of the possibilities!)
19. In memoriam
Write a poem that pays tribute to someone or something you’ve lost. Try to focus on the ordinary, on concrete details, to resist the urge to get lofty or flowery. / Recommended reading for this prompt: Ode to My Brother by Sarah Freligh
20. You keep using that word
I do not think it means what you think it means. That’s what Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini in the Princess Bride when the latter keeps saying, “INCONCEIVABLE!” For this prompt, write a poem defining something common — a dog, a creek, a roof, a shoe. Give it new meaning by refusing to be literal. It may help to make a list of words to avoid so you’re forced to get weird. For example, if your poem is about a mouth, refuse to use expected words like teeth, tongue and lips in your draft. / Recommended reading for this prompt: what is a human being? by Paxton Grey
21. Bundle of nerves
Lots of things scare me: bats, winter, old houses, fireworks, mice, doctors… I could go on. But this isn’t about me. It’s about you. Write a poem about what you fear. / Recommended reading for this prompt: Phobia Poems by Mary Quade
22. Catch your death of cold
If you believe the old-school wisdom, going outside with wet hair will get you sick. Write a poem about strange beliefs related to illness or health. Here’s some inspo from Scientific American: Fact or Fiction? Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever.
23. Stake out
These are two of my favorite things: overhearing private conversations and catching glimpses of others’ domestic lives through lighted windows. Write a poem in which you eavesdrop or spectate. / Recommended reading for this prompt: I Watch My Neighbor Watch Porn Movies Through the Kitchen Window by Dorianne Laux
24. Cooking hazards
What kitchen tasks trip you up? I can’t wrap a burrito to save my life (mostly because I over-stuff them and attempt it when they’re cold). And what about aspirational baked goods or meals? Which do you wish you made? (For me, it’s scones.) Write a poem about a cooking skill or recipe you’d like to master.
25. What does the algorithm know?
Pretty much everything. Predictive test in Google search. Instagram ads with the perfect pitch. Write a poem about something the internet has tried to sell you. / Recommended reading for this prompt: The Algorithm Thinks I Need a Girdle by Anna V. Q. Ross
26. Sing the body electric
Name your favorite — or least favorite — body part. Yours or someone else’s. Brainstorm all the things it does or can do, then write a poem about that body part. / Recommended reading for this prompt: Song by Tracy K. Smith and Litany by Rachel Mennies
27. Lick your wounds
What happens when life kicks you in the teeth? Write a poem about getting up from a rock bottom. How do you pick yourself back up and recover? What’s your guiding light? / Recommended reading for this prompt: The Thing Is by Ellen Bass
28. To the moon and back
Dogs. Oysters. Trees. The moon. True love. Apparently, there are some things poets overdo. We’re told we either have to really earn certain items in our poems or avoid them altogether. So let’s flip that common “wisdom” on its head and write a poem about something that everyone else also writes about. / Recommended reading for this prompt: To Live in the Zombie Apocalypse by Burlee Vang
29. Day in the life
Let an inanimate object capture your imagination and write a poem about what its “life” is like. For inspiration, check out this article from The Guardian (via Pocket): A Day in the Life of (Almost) Every Vending Machine in the World.
30. Ode to joy
List as many things as you can that bring you happiness and write an exuberant, celebratory poem praising the joy in your life. / Recommended reading for this prompt: Praise by Kelli Russell Agodon
Be sure to let me know if you use any of these poetry prompts for NAPOWRIMO or any other time. Looking for more? You can find past poetry prompts here, including writing prompts from prior years. You may also like to check out this list for inspiration: 15 different types of poems you probably never imagined!
Important note –> When you harvest material from exercises inspired by OPP (other people’s poems), it’s essential for you to credit your model (i.e. make a note at the top of your poem, like after AUTHOR’s “POEM”) or remove the other poet’s scaffolding entirely and keep only the material you crafted. Make it your own. Every time.