07 August 2008

Celebrate Global Poetry Prompt Appreciation Day (8/8/08)

On the eve of Global Poetry Prompt Appreciation Day, which Jay Robinson and I have declared, here in Olin Hall, just now, we are offering you a cornucopia of poetry exercises to jump start your writing. I know that some people don't like prompts, and think you should rely on your own bad self for inspiration. But for those of us who need an assignment, or some kind of push, prompts are invaluable.

Would you like to join the celebration? If so, please reply and either give your thoughts on prompts, or give us a prompt (either one you've used before, or one that you've created on your own). This will be a regular prompt-o-rama! Who needs the opening ceremonies of the Olympics when there's an amphitheatre of poetry prompt goodness right at your fingertips?

A Global Poetry Prompt Appreciation Day gift to you, dear readers, from Mary Biddinger and Jay Robinson, Co-Editors-in-Chief of Barn Owl Review:


Write a poem that uses the following words: 1) “sombrero” 2) “onion” 3) “History”

Go look in a garbage can and write a poem about its contents, without revealing, of course, that you are writing about a garbage can and its contents.

Find an old poem of yours that you didn’t like. Start a new poem that uses the first and last line of the old poem.

Write a poem inspired by a headline from a newspaper or magazine.

Write a poem using all enjambed lines.

Write a poem that begins with an actual memory from childhood and completely fictionalizes a number of elements of the memory.


Write a poem with no adjectives, or as few adjectives as possible. It's okay to be specific, however, and to use colors.

Write a disappearing poem, or a reappearing poem (one that either loses a line with each subsequent stanza, ending with a one-line final stanza, or performs the reverse).

Write a poem that conveys the sense of a temperature without ever mentioning the temperature (hot, cold). You can substitute temperature for any intangible thing, really.

Write a poem using the following words, taken randomly from my dictionary as I sit here: furrow, orchid, rubric, balm, torch. If you aren't able to use a word or two in the poem itself, try working it into the title.

Write a poem about a character who is outside his/her usual or expected setting (a cowboy on the tundra, etc).

Write a poem that strives to enact something from a piece of music, but without naming the music.

Write a poem that uses almost all end-stopped lines. It's harder than you'd think.

Please let us know how your Global Poetry Prompt Appreciation Day festivities are going tomorrow. I hope this holiday is very fruitful and enjoyable for all!


Justin Evans said...

I like having my beginning students use other poems and imitate them to see how they work, so this one is for beginners:

Read "Idea of Ancestry" by Etheridge Knight and write your own poem about your family, following its structure and various activities while describing your relationship to them.


Write a poem about a place you used to live---a house, a town, as you imagine the place to be either thriving or dying without yu there.


Write a poem in the voice of someone famous as they do something without distinction. (making a sandwich, taking out the garbage, etc)

marybid said...

Thanks for celebrating, Justin!

I just got your chapbook, and it is GORGEOUS! Will be posting a link here.

Caroline Gill said...
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Caroline Gill said...


So how about making it global?

marybid said...

Done! I like that idea. :)

Frank (the Colt) said...

Oh yes prompts are great. I will be writing mine about a shark at the market.

Here is my prompt: Think about the kind of poem that you write (confessional, funny, sad, long, short, true, fictional, surreal etc.) and write a poem that is the opposite of your own style.

For me this would mean writing poems that could really happen.

This should be a lot of fun. Thank you Mary, you knew we need a holiday in Augest.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Write a poem in a mode of speech used in certain situations or to certain people (e.g. baby talk, drunk talk, etc.)

Write a poem that functions as a map

Write a poem that covertly makes fun of poetry but isn't about that

Karen J. Weyant said...

Egads! (Sorry, I have always wanted to use the word "egads" in a comment). I am a bit workshopped out right now, but I have to say that I love prompts. And they are great for teaching -- I'm not sure what would happen in my creative writing class if told my students to write from their own inspiration.

P. J. said...

I love prompts! My "Alcoholic Hausfrau..." poem only exists because bouts rimes sonnets are so promptilicious. I remember my BG office mate prompted me to write a sci-fi story that had to a.) refer to a goatee, b.) refer to another grad student, and c.) use the word phallocentric. It was a good...paragraph or two. They're fun. I have a book (mostly unread) called Creating Poetry—about 200 pages of prompts—by John Drury that I'm going to dig into someday when I have less on my plate.

Anne Haines said...

Here's one that piggybacks on an earlier post of yours: Write a poem that takes a "rule" about writing poetry -- either one of your own, or someone else's rule -- and breaks it, flagrantly, multiple times, without irony.

(One of my favorite poems I've ever written came from doing that -- I read an essay that claimed poets could no longer get away with doing a certain thing, and I said oh yeah? and did it but good. I don't usually write in opposition to things, so it was great fun to try it.)

Caroline Gill said...
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Caroline Gill said...

Sorry: the url overran the space in the box when I tried at first!

Thank you for letting us all join in.

I have posted my contribution to (Inter)national Poetry Prompt Appreciation Day:-


(& type furrow into the search box ...).

I would love to see some other attempts! Thank you.

Jenn: said...

I will be using some of these excellent prompts.
Read my thoughts on prompts *HERE* .

Scott-san said...

I have that same book Jay's holding ("The Practice of Poetry"). I use the "20 Little Poetry Projects" exercise all the time. I think prompts/exercises are great tools, especially when you're stumped/locked up.

Joannie Stangeland said...

Thanks for the prompts. I needed to write two poems for the August Poetry Postcard extravaganza, and I was able to use the temperature and full-stop prompts to write two (very short) poems.

M. C. Allan (Carrie, to most) said...

Write a poem inspired/informed by a color that does not mention the color.

Write a love poem about a particular product and the ups-and-downs your relationship has been through. ("Ah, Raisin Bran -- many a morning have we tarried together ...")

Write a poem that is also directions on how to perform a task -- open a beer, get to San Jose, build a bird house, etc.

Write a poem about a relative you've heard mentioned but have never actually met. Pretend you know them intimately.

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