Write a chaconne.
Try this fantastic poetry-in-scene writing prompt by Yona Harvey (inspired by the sistuh voice of Sonia Sanchez).
Rejection may begin with a tendril of resentment coiled inside a color. Glacial. The way some words carry the weight of what we fear saying. Distant. Detached. The way a word that gets overburdened becomes an object, a bough. An objectification. A false innocence that depends on diminishment of something external. She’s a bitch is the hoarseness voice of not saying I’m hurt. Refusing to own the emotion. The confusion of first-generation immigrants as a descriptive tag that denotes both non-naturalized citizens, refugees, and those born to immigrant parents in the US. The melting pot of identity hunger. Write a poem that makes use of words that enact rejection.
The most powerful ideologies are the invisible ones, the shirts we wear to breakfast. Write a prose poem that includes all the shirts you wear to breakfast—the assumptions, the unspoken hurts, the secret biases, the imperfections, the honest rot.
C. D. Wright: “I love the particular lexicons of particular occupations. The substrate of those activities. The nomenclatures within nomenclatures. I am of the unaccredited school that believes animals did not exist until Adam assigned them names. My relationship to the word is anything but scientific, it is a matter of faith on my part, that the word endows material substance, by setting the thing named apart from all else. Horse, then, unhorses what is not horse.” Write a poem that uses a “particular lexicon”. For example, see Heather McHugh’s poem, “Hackers Can Sidejack Cookies”.
Read Czeslaw Milosz’s “Conversations with Jeanne.” Notice how Milosz breaks the stanzas and makes use of patterned white space. Think about the effect of cutting that one line alone in the middle of the poem. Now think of friends or family with whom you maintain an ongoing disagreement about a specific ethical question (maybe divorce, abortion, end of life, etc.). Write a poem addressed to that person. Try to nurture the same level of distance that Milosz deploys in his titling of the poem as a “conversation.” As you write, think about the difference between a conversation and a dispute.
Write a poem about the afterlife of an object. For example, “The Afterlife of Sunscreen” or “The Afterlife of Pink Cocktail Umbrella.”
Read Amaud Jamaul Johnson’s favorite poem by Gwendolyn Brooks and use his prompt to angle into a sonnet. So much gorgeousness here.
Read Alice Walker’s “S M”. Then write a poem in response to it. Or write a poem in tandem with it. Or write a poem that bystanders it.
Bernadette Mayer: “Using phrases relating to one subject or idea, write about another (this is pushing metaphor and simile as far as you can), for example, steal science terms or philosophical language & write about snow or boredom.”
Write a poem about an awkward moment, but do so lightly, with the loosest touch, with a special attempt to apply Paul Celan’s attention to breath.
Tod Marshall has a poem titled “Describe Custody to an Omelet.” Following Marshall’s lead, write a poem in which you describe an abstraction to a noun.
Read Naomi Shabib Nye’s “Famous.” Notice how the poem is structured around the definition and circling of the title word. Write a poem that turns on the reframing of a certain word. Use that word as the title.
Experiment with poetic sub-genres using this prompt by Eric Pankey, inspired by W.S. Merwin.
The Line Break.: Play Etymological Rotisserie. First go back in time & find an Indo-European root word. (They are all in the back of the American Heritage Dictionary). List all its derivative words, & then try to get all those words into one poem. For instance, kailo-, which means “whole, uninjured, of good omen.” Its derivatives (words that came from it) are: whole, hale (as in “free from infirmity or illness”), wholesome, hail (as in “to salute or greet”), wassail, health, heal, holy, halibut, halidom, holiday, hollyhock, hallow, Allhallowmass, & Halloween.
Write a poem immersed in place with help from this prompt by Susan Tichy.
C.D. Wright once wrote: “It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside of us that would be free and declare them so.” Find your zones. Explore them on the page. Don’t be surprised if you discover that it was you who authored the zoning restrictions. Write why. Reveal the barbed wire.
Read these three prose poems by Beth Bachmann. Think about the lack of punctuation. Consider the syntax. Use Bachmann’s technique as a scaffold or model to experiment with sparse form.
In “The Poetics of Disobedience”, Alice Notley writes: I've spoken in other places of the problems, too, of subjects that hadn't been broached much in poetry and of how it seemed one had to disobey the past and the practices of literary males in order to talk about what was going on most literarily around one, the pregnant body, and babies for example. There were no babies in poetry then. How could that have been? What are we leaving out now? Usually what's exactly in front of the eyes ears nose and mouth, in front of the mind, but it seems as if one must disobey everyone else in order to see at all. This is a persistent feeling in a poet but staying alert to all the ways one is coerced into denying experience, sense and reason is a huge task.” Find an “old poem” and rewrite it with a baby in it. Give credit to the original author.
Write into this quote from Clarice Lispector: “What is the weight of light?”
Invent places and institutions to populate a poem. Or to place it. The Room Where She Left Me. The Ferris wheel That Ate Children. The Shittiest Fair. Or David Berman’s “Bureau of Sad Endings”.
Read Anthony Hecht’s “Double Sonnet”. Mess around with the double sonnet form until you find a way to bend the notes just right. Listen to Lightning Hopkins as you write it.
Study Laynie Brown’s fascinating “Epigraphs”. Be fascinated. Write your own version in this form.
Now write a poem for each epigraph in previous exercise. But make sure the last line of each epigraph poem becomes the first line of the next one so that something like a sonnet corona conceit enters the picture.
Think about the tweet from Todd Kanecko at the top… and write or journal into it. Collect a few bones. Make them dance.