A permanent home and museum for poets and poetry

Writing Prompts

  1. I love when poems make outsize claims or assertions that are so outrageous that I find myself wondering how the remainder of the poem will possibly be able to justify or sustain itself. Sometimes the explanation follows quickly, as in Matthew Olzmann’s “Still Life with Heart Extracted from the Body of a Horse,” while other times, the entire poem is devoted to exploring what that claim might mean. And in rare, wonderful cases, like jamie mortara’s “game over, man,” the poem justifies its claim, then makes another, taking the reader on a roller coaster of surprise and delight.

Write five outrageous statements or questions, without having any idea about the poem that might follow. The more ridiculous, the better.  You may notice that mortara’s first bold statement was a metaphor– “my love for you is the 1979 movie Alien.” Try writing a few metaphors in which different feelings are equated with items from pop culture, household appliances, outdated technologies, or childhood toys.

Now pick one of your five statements, preferably the most mysterious and surprising of the five. There are no accidents in our brains. You might not know immediately why your brain made that outrageous claim or asked that bizarre question, but if you explore it over the course of a poem, you may find great pleasure or mirth.

2. You’ve written sonnets, you’ve labored through sestinas, you’ve crafted a couple of golden shovels, you’ve even tried your hand at a few serious limericks. But the list of received poetic forms is eventually exhaustible. What do you do when you’re hungry for a new form?

Forms are all around us! Each day, we interact with hundreds of texts that take certain forms; we just don’t think of those forms as literary. But why shouldn’t we? With the poet’s deft touch, any form can be a poetic form. Take, for example, the list of suggestions that Google’s auto-complete function displays when we begin typing our search. Dilruba Ahmed borrows that form for her haunting “Google Search Autocomplete.” And hey, sometimes it’s healthier to stay away from the comments section on Internet articles, but sometimes it’s not. In his poem “Comment Thread in Response to 100 Best Flowers of the Year,” David Hernandez borrows not only the form of a comments thread, but also the tone, yet still leaves us gobsmacked with wonder.

Find a form that you see often in your daily life but rarely in poetry: a recipe, a dating profile, a legal brief. Write a poem that takes that form.