Poetry-Writing Prompts

IMG_4207THE BOX IN THE ATTIC: Imagine there is a box in the attic of a house, could be your house or any house. What is in that box?

FROM A PICTURE: For this prompt, choose an image–photograph, artwork, etc. and describe it. Use the title of the artwork or a description of the photograph for your title. Focus on simply showing what you see in the image.

FROM A BOOK: Open a random book at a random page and point your finger to a random line. Use it as a title or the first line of a poem and write from there.

TELL A STORY: One of the neat tricks I use as an oral storyteller is to remember a “story spine” when I tell a story to make sure I have a satisfying narrative for the audience. You can use this same technique in writing a narrative poem. Start from 6 basic sentence starters:

Once upon a time,
Every day,
But one day,
Because of that,
Until finally,
And ever since then,

End each sentence with your own idea, and you have a story. Your story can be six lines or broken up into shorter lines or you can embellish different elements above. In a traditional story there are countless “because of that” elements–because that is the rising action of a narrative. So, this week, use a story to be poetic!

LISTING: Walt Whitman was a great cataloger of things and people and feelings, places and events. His poems often read like lists. For this prompt, try making lists. Start with a list of items you find in any aisle of a grocery store: Just list them as phrases, such as green banana turning yellow or puffy bag of corn chips, etc. Then make another list of things in a natural setting–the beach, a park, your back yard, etc. Again, list them as phrases: roaring ocean waves, tiny squirrel tracks, etc. Lastly, combine items from the two lists in some way. It may sound like a nonsensical poem….but maybe not!

REMEMBER: One of the main types of feedback that beginning poets get is to rely more on imagery. Let the image dominate your poem. The image is what evokes the response in the reader. However, composing imagery is sometimes difficult. But one way to do this is to start with a simple prompt: I remember.

Begin a series of phrases or sentences with the words “I remember” and complete the phrase with actual details of experiences. Repeat the phrase as often as you wish. Revise, edit, leave it for a while and come back to re-read it.

ONE WORD: Sometimes the best writing/speaking prompt is the simplest. First, find a time and place where you will be able to write uninterrupted for at least 10 minutes. Try to let any worries fade away, pick up your pen or put your fingers on the keyboard and write about whatever comes to mind from this word: SCAR.

If you don’t like that word, pick up a random book or close your eyes and place your finger on a random word on the screen and write about it. There are no rules, other than try writing in phrases and short lines rather than sentences and paragraphs. When you are finished, put a title on what you have written. Leave it alone for a while. Come back to it after several hours or even a day or two. Read it again, make any changes.

Naming: Names are powerful. They influence our perception. Confucius believed all wisdom came from learning to call things by the right name. Complete the lines below to make a poem or just work with the ideas below, no matter what form the images take.

My real name is
Yesterday my name was
Tomorrow my name will be
In my dream my name was
My husband, mother, son, boss (etc.) thinks my name is

Simile:  We naturally see things metaphorically. Look around and focus on something you see and write:

I see________.
It looks like__________________.

Use concrete language. Focus on detail, not making sense. Do as many of these as you can or develop one of them with details..

A & Q: Group Activity: First, have everyone write a declarative statement about anything (The moon has phases. Star Wars is a good movie, etc.) Put all these statements in a bowl. Now, everyone writes a question about anything–it should start with WHY.  In turn, have each person read his/her question and then pick a statement (answer) from the bowl that goes with it. The question and answer can be a great poem starter or just fun as is.

Landscapes: Landscapes can stir up deep feelings. List a series of feelings. Now list landscape-related words. Combine your feelings with the landscape imagery into a poem, story, etc. Cut out paper in the shape of one of the landscape elements and put your poem on it.

Synonyms/Antonyms: Pick a word at random. Then write as many antonyms and synonyms as you can think of for each word. It’s okay to use a dictionary or thesaurus if you want. Use as many of the words as you want to make a poem.

Found Poem: Pick an ordinary item from your home that has writing on it (the wrapper to an item,  a pop can, etc.). Select random words from it. Put them together in any kind of form to make a found poem.

Blackout Poem: Use a magazine or newspaper article. With a black marker, circle the words in the article that go together to make something new. Then, black-out the rest of the words with your marker. What remains is a blackout poem.

Special Object: Pick an object or something in the natural world to write about. Then, give it a made-up name,  describe it by comparing it to something, and ask it to bring a quality that the object has that the writer would like to have.

Example for Mushroom:

White puff
Floating in grass like a plump cloud
Bring me your love
Of dark places.

The Center: Pick an object or something in the natural world. Now imagine youself in the center of that thing. What is it like?

In the center of the _____________,
I see
I hear
I smell
I feel
I taste
I (whatever you do)

Conflict Bridge: Pick an issue that has two clear sides to it. List words that describe those two sides by putting each list on opposite sides of a piece of paper. Now, build a bridge between the two sides by adding in words and images that could reduce the division between them.

Definition Poem: Pick an object or something in the natural world. Pretend that you are that object. Answer the following questions as if you were that object. Then put some of your answers together into a poem.                              

If I were a color, what color would I be?
What shape would I be?
How would I move?
What sounds do I make?
What kind of animal would I be?
What kind of song would I be?
What number am I most like?
What kind of car would I be?
What piece of furniture would I be?
What food am I like?
What musical instrument am I like?
What place am I like?
Which element in nature would I be?
What’s something I’m afraid of?
What’s the word hiding behind my eyes?

Fourteener: Write a sentence about any concept or subject. Then, rephrase it as many times as possible, only occasionally adding a word. Focus on changing the order of the words and their parts of speech. I call this a fourteener because it can be 14 lines long, but you can make it any length.

Just the Facts (Group Activity): First, pick a subject and have everyone write a list of facts about it. Then, cut each out and put them in a bowl. Then, each person selects some of the facts and glues them to a paper, leaving space between each. Under each fact, they should write an opinion about that fact. If someone has put an opinion into the bowl, you can mark it out or add his/her own fact to go with it.

Fairy Tales & Myths: Fairy tales, myths and folk tales all contain familiar characters going on journeys of discovery. Write a poem from the point of view of one of these characters. Give us a different interpretation of his/her life than the traditional tale unfolds.

Unblocked: If a writer is feeling blocked, what is the best thing to do? Describe that block. What is its shape? Color? Texture? How big is this block? Where does it live? Does it move around. Describe a block to get unblocked.

Parade: Imagine a parade celebrating your life. Create a series of images to describe what and who would be in it. Which words would be dancing down the street? Which objects from your past and present? What would the floats be? What songs would the bands be playing?

Natural Observation: If it’s a good day to go outside wherever you are, take a few minutes and sit outside and pick something to observe or sit at a window looking out. Write down what you observe through your senses. try not to add opinions or stories to the observation. Don’t feel you have to write in complete sentences. Good poets always begin with observation.

From One Word: Sometimes the simplest of prompts can bring out the most profound writing. A common and popular writing generator is to take one word and let the images and ideas flow from that one word . . . into something that you can eventually make into a poem. For this prompt, your word is CELLAR.

Magenta Running Candle: This is a short, fun activity with words that can become a silly, fun or ….any kind of poem. Start by making three short lists. Write down 5 colors, 5 ing action verbs and 5 inanimate objects. NOW STOP. DO THE LISTS BEFORE READING THE REST OF THE INSTRUCTIONS.

When you have your lists, pick one item from each list as the title of your poem. Then write a short poem about that item.

Anti-Resolution (A January Prompt): The new year is always a time for resolutions. But poetry is not about doing things familiar: It is about observing and writing in a way that shakes people out of the familiar. That said, choose an antonym for “resolution” (doubt, uncertainty, disinclination, unwillingness, reluctance, etc.) and write a poem about it. Perhaps the poem is merely a list of phrases that define the antonym.