Both these poems came from a teacher’s inservice course where the professor introduced poetry by drawing a yin yang on the board and asking us to discuss whether or not it was a poem. I don’t recall if we agreed on that, but his prompts led to these poems. You can try them and let me know how they work for you. 1. Write about a movie camera; 2. Use his line “a fish swims the moon” in a poem.
(That last one was a dare on his part, as he said surely none of us could do it. Ha. Famous last words. You can make a poem out of anything.)
Another inservice summer course for teachers, this one called: Writing Across the Curriculum. It wasn’t creative writing per se, but the professor told us one day that we were going on an excursion because writing had to be about something. Upstairs in the medical school where none of us would have stepped foot if not led there by this professor, we were shown the anatomy lab, the flayed torso of a person who had donated his body to science. It was a singular experience to be encouraged to examine those delicate organs. I encourage anyone who hasn’t yet done it, to try this: Visit a medical school anatomy lab. If not that, think of someone you know whose work is in a specialized field you know nothing about. Ask to be allowed to visit for an hour to get a poem out of it. It doesn’t have to be high tech or scientific, just something this person can show you that you otherwise would never get a chance to see.
Another prompt poem. An evening of red wine and literary chit chat ended with a man named Rich Path saying, “Hey, why don’t we all go home and write a poem using this line: It is the beginning of the picture…”; which he found by opening a random art criticism book to a random page. It was the first time I’d ever been given a prompt, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I figured he was more inebriated than inspired. Why would I write a poem about anything other than what I wanted to write about? I planned to do nothing, and had almost forgotten the line until I got home and opened the door to my house. The rest is in the poem. I learned a valuable lesson about prompts: they access what you didn’t know you had to say. Try it yourself? Write a poem using the line: “It is the beginning of the picture…”
This poem honors the Wisconsin poet Ellen Kort whose celebratory poem, “If Death Were a Woman” shifted my paradigm of death when I heard her read it in the basement of a Wisconsin library in the mid 1990’s. Some years later, I wrote this during a pelting storm in Northern Michigan, thinking about the death of Ellen’s son who drowned in a boating accident on Lake Michigan. Ellen had a transformed understanding of death, and that day while feeling the pounding rhythm of the storm, watching the ferocious power in the waves move over the Great Lake, I understood what Ellen had been talking about. Try this: write a poem using the line “if death were a woman…”
This won the Riddled With Arrows Are Poetica prize. Try writing a poem about writing poetry in which you give a clear point of view about how you find it easy or difficult; use a metaphor comparing writing poetry to something else that you find easy or difficult.
The Book of Hopes and Dreams (2006) was conceived to raise money for charity, in this case Spirit Aid. My poem was written after passing by the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago one late December night. A recent newspaper report made national headlines when a seven-year-old was shot by a random sniper on his way to school. I looked up and saw the hollow tenement windows were flickering with Christmas lights in an indifferent sky. Try this: write a poem about a place that appears in the news, giving the place the opposite character of how it appears in the news report.
The theme for this issue was ‘scarcity and rarity’ which inspired me to send them this poem from my new, unpublished collection, working title Blue Like Apples. They published “Currents” and one other, but for this prompt write a poem showing rarity or scarcity in an unusual simile, as this poem does in “blue like apples”. Alternatively, try writing a poem using a homonym, as this poem does with “currents” and “currants”.
Everything in this poem was real, those neighbors, that house, those trees, that porch, that daughter. Yet, it was all a dream. Nothing in the poem is not from the dream. Try this: write a poem consisting of a dream. Or write a poem about a real event, but call it a dream. What does it do to the poem to case it as a dream?