Category Archives: Poetry Prompt

A Focused Free-Write Poetry Prompt

For today’s poetry prompt, we will try a focused free-write.

What is a focused free-write, you say?

A focused free-write is when you free-write, in longhand, with a particular passage – or in this case poem – in mind.

And if you’re not sure what it is to “free-write,” it simply means to write non-stop without lifting your pen or pencil or stopping to make any corrections to grammar, spelling, or punctuation, for a set period of time not to exceed 20 minutes.

The idea is to get your good ideas down on paper and capture your inspired thinking.

The focus of today’s free-write is Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers,” which I discussed in an earlier blog post. The poem reads as follows:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity
It asked a crumb of me.

Your free-write can focus on any image or line from the poem or perhaps on the abstract idea of hope itself.

Later, see if you can lift a line or two from your free-write and generate a poem draft.

Good luck, have fun, and write on.

 

 

 

You’re Alive, Damn It: A Poetry Prompt

Misc iPhone 2015 004

It’s amazing that we are here at all.

What I mean is, we human beings are a complex mix of resiliency and vulnerabilities. We take risks dashing across busy streets, regularly travel great distances over vast oceans in planes and boats, forget and leave the oven on, encounter dozens of harmful germs and bacteria while moving through our lives, and still manage do out best to help others every day. We survive heartache, bounce back from job terminations, mourn the death of loved ones, and still, on a whole, manage to get up every morning and, more or less, do it all again.

Maybe we deal with insomnia or indigestion, maybe our cholesterol is high and our metabolism is low, maybe we get depressed, and maybe we drink too much, but were’ alive, damn it, and as long as we are, we remain determined.

For today’s prompt, write a list of every near miss you’ve had in your life. Include the time that guy in the red Corvette DIDN’T hit you when he ran the red light, or the time you THOUGHT you were drowning but really just got water up your nose. Also include those near misses you don’t distinctly remember but which likely happened, like surviving 300 consecutive days of rush-hour traffic in Los Angeles, or something like that. Get fantastical, get lyrical, and make your list long, true, doubtful, and outrageous.

Once you’ve compiled an impressive list of near misses, which may or may not have really occurred, use them as inspiration for a poem.

If you feel up to a challenge, include every singe item on your list, even though the resulting poem may feel contrived. It’s OK, you can always revise.

Otherwise, just pick and choose the most interesting, significant, or unusual instances on your list and use them as motivation to write your next AMAZING poem.

And don’t forget to revise.

When you’ve finished your draft, take a look at this finsihed poem by Laura Kasichke, which is all about “Near Misses.”

Write A Modern Ode

Thanks to Erin Adair-Hodges for today’s poetry prompt inspiration:

Today’s prompt is to write an ode. Not a classical or even English ode, which follow particular formats, but rather, just write a poem in praise of something. Except, since we’re post-post-post, not really. Write an ode to something not usually praised or for which you have, at best, mixed feelings. Here is a great example, Kevin Young’s “Ode to the Midwest.”

This exercise is inspired by my trip to the dentist today. There were kitten posters on the ceiling.

Help Yourself

Here is my version of an exercise that’s been floating around the writing world for some time. It’s simple, straight-forward and pretty powerful. Please complete each step before moving on to the next.

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First, list the things in life that get between you and your writing and creativity – even those things that are legitimate, like taking care of the kids and washing the dishes. Include on this list any pesky internal obstructions and voices, like “I can’t write about that, it would hurt ____.” Make the list as long as you have time for – you can return to it for future writing exercises.

Second, read over your list and select one or two things that are particularly vexing for you at this very moment. It might be different the next time you approach this exercise – that’s fine. For now, go with your instinct and choose one or two items from your list that are really giving you a tough time or bogging you down in some way today.

Third, imagine yourself in a private sanctuary or someplace like Superman’s fortress of solitude. You are safe and everything you say is completely protected and will never be heard by another living soul. Spend the next 20 or so minutes writing, in first person, a detailed description of a specific time you wrestled with one of the challenges on your list. Where did it happen? When? How? It’s important that you don’t generalize here. Be as specific as you possibly can.

Fourth, reread the story you’ve just written but change the voice and perspective from first to third person (that is, change every I to a she/he or to a proper noun – like Joe). You may need to adjust verbs while you’re at it.

Fifth, do not continue until you’ve completed step three.

Sixth, read and listen to yourself as you read the new story (aloud or silently in your fortress of solitude). Put yourself in the role of sympathetic advisor and offer some useful, helpful and empathetic words of support and advice for the person (that’s you) in the new story. Notice how you feel a little lighter and more empowered?

You can use these steps as a kind of template with which you can experiment in order to overcome writing or any creativity block. It is adjustable and can be made to fit any circumstance.

Happy writing!

Write With Joy!

Today’s writing exercise is adapted from Rebecca McClanahan’s “Write Your Heart Out. ”

We find it relatively easy to write when times are tying or when we experience grief, sadness or anger. We are, after all, encouraged to use our journals to vent about difficult situations so that we might work through them. Experience may have even taught us that this approach to our discomfort and confusion is preferable to sitting with these frustrations for an inordinate amount of time. McClanahan refers to this tendency to write only when in pain as the “foxhole syndrome: writing as desperate prayer.” When happiness returns, we suddenly have nothing to say.

Perhaps this is because happiness so absorbs us that we don’t stop to think about writing. Maybe we fear writing about our happiness is tantamount to testing the fates. McCallahan writes that:

French theologian Francois Mauriac called happiness the most dangerous of all experiences, ‘because all the happiness possible increases our thirst and the voice of love makes an emptiness, a solitude reverberate.’ Seen this way, happiness is a scary proposition. As our capacity for joy increases, so does our capacity to feel all emotions. So won’t we be sadder than ever when the happiness ends?(98)

Or maybe we just forget to notice the small things that do make us happy. Our brains are finely tuned to notice the dangers that surround us and dismiss that which cannot immediately hurt us. If it is not a threat, we do not make note of it.

Take some time this week to notice things that bring you joy, no matter how small, and make a daily list. Start with yourself – your eyes, hands, ears, nose, etc. From there, take in your surroundings and note that which bring you joy – music, books, a warm blanket and a comfy couch.

This exercise only takes minutes a day and will result in a more joyful you.

Good luck, and happy writing.

How to Use Automatic Writing

This exercise involves writing “automatically” for five to ten minutes at a time when the mind is in a slightly altered (but unimpaired) state. Ideal times for automatic writing include first thing in the morning, when tired, emotionally charged, cranky, elated, physically drained, late at night or anytime synapses are firing a little randomly. Ever wake up in the middle of the night to see a lunar eclipse or a meteor shower? Engage the same enthusiasm and devotion for your writing by setting your alarm for 3:00 am to write for ten minutes before going back to sleep. You don’t even have to leave your bed.

Focus (or attempt to focus) on concrete images and sensory details. When your five or ten minutes are up, save the document and close it. Do not read what you’ve written.

Try this approach a few times a day and/or for several days in a row. Once you have ten pages of automatic writing (doesn’t matter how many days it takes), read through them for passages containing images or ideas that seem interesting, weird, fresh, irreverent, inventive, astonishing or whatever. Underline or cut and paste them into a new document. Trust your instincts as you choose what seems right for keeping. You may discover that you don’t remember writing most of it.

Finally, select fragments and ideas which seem to belong together or perhaps juxtapose in a particularly significant manner, and use them for the basis of a story, poem or essay.

Good luck, and happy writing.

Write Despite Distraction!

Even writers with a room of their own have to deal with distractions. Family members, loved ones, and friends all quickly figure out how to encroach on whatever protected time or space a writer manages to carve out for herself. Fight fire with fire by desensitizing yourself to distractions. Set an alarm clock or kitchen timer to go off in increments of varying length, ten minutes for the fist session, fifteen or twenty for the second, five for the third, or whatever combination suites your needs. Try this exercise for a period of sixty full minutes if possible. Each time the alarm sounds, take just enough time to reset it, then get right back to writing.

If it is difficult at first to shift your focus from alarm to page, and it probably will, try taking a few deep breaths and center yourself mentally by repeating the following incantation before returning to your writing: inhale and say,  “I am…” exhale and say “writing right now.”

Remember, learning to regain your writing focus after a distraction is the goal of this exercise. It will likely feel uncomfortable and difficult at first, but will become easier with practice.Completing this exercise will give your brain a point of reference – a successful experience of dealing with distractions – that it can recall when more pressing distractions arise. It’s not possible to eliminate all distractions from life, but it is possible to learn to write despite them.

Good luck, and happy writing.