As I promised at the outset, I am rounding up all the prompts I wrote and shared daily this month on my FB and Twitter for NaPoMo 2014.
April 1 / Day 1 NaPoMo 2014
Because this is the first day of NaPoMo (National Poetry Month), I will share the prompt I created for an assignment my Graduate Poetry Workshop MFA students are bringing to class tonight.
Also, because in it, I use the work of one of our superstar poets from The MFA Creative Writing Program at ODU, Natalie Diaz ~
From Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec
- select (at random) 5-8 lines and turn them into questions and answer them in either lineated poem stanzas or prose poem stanzas to make one new poem. Use the following words somewhere in your poem: corrugated, indeterminate, obsidian, rosary; use two colors, but use other, more evocative color names (not ROYGBV); use one place name.
Sharing another writing prompt I crafted for my graduate poetry workshop this spring in The MFA Creative Writing Program at ODU ~ also, because Karen An-hwei Lee was just here as our Visiting Poet in Residence!
In a 2009 essay accompanying her book Ardor, Karen An-hwei Lee writes:
“Anne Carson muses, ‘What makes a poet, accident or attention?’ Both experimentation and linguistic attention can make poetry challenging. While I’m not exhorting all readers to join a revolution in poetic language, it’s been noted that language-driven aesthetics are seldom considered accessible by general readerships. Indeed, poetic compression, complexity, and poetry’s elliptical qualities— accidents or surprises while paying exquisite attention to language itself— may render poetry and experimental prose difficult, but … that is what reading is. …The least intentional aspects of writing are often the most crucial to breaking open the geometry of craft. A unifying pulse is revealed, a flagon pours new oil or wine, or a source illuminates the internal architecture of a poem-organism. … In one writing exercise, I ask students to imagine a cell as a transparent room. What furnishes this room? Look inside. What do you see? A mitotic glass pool? A tarnished mirror, a fish vat, a box of clay shards, childhood, a burned orchard, a lake bottom, nebulae, an airplane lying in a debris field? … Use surprise to shift attention without losing focus.”
Write a poem following the above instruction on using the “least intentional” aspects of writing to lead to discovery, surprise, and insight. How can you use this “elliptical” approach without at the same time losing sharp focus (of feeling, language, and insight) in your poem?
If you would like, you might also try writing a poem using the mirror-hinge structure that appears in some of Karen’s poems in Phyla of Joy and elsewhere.
Sharing another assignment I crafted this spring for my Graduate Poetry Workshop ~ this one, based on Joan Naviyuk Kane’s book Hyperboreal, which was one of several we read and studied this semester:
Examine the tensions in language, vocabulary, sound play, and everything? amounting to “white space” (not just line breaks or stanza breaks but other? forms of space- think for instance in terms of musical rests, or breathing?spaces) in Joan Kane’s poems. Do they stem only from knowledge of a?different (or other) language/s, or are they informed by other kinds of difference?
“Hyperboreal” means of or from far, far north, so it is informed by notions ?of extreme distance.
Write a poem in which you push your own comfort zone/s (in language, sound, diction, vocabulary, your usual/known sense of subject and place) away. Try to write your poem from that place.
My poem prompt, because May Swenson ~
Write a poem that uses syntactical repetition (see “Question” by May Swenson, for instance) to highlight tensions, create the poem’s structure and development, as well as music.
I am writing with my back deck as studio. I am excited because the fig tree is budding new leaves. There are violet blooms pushing up from the ground that I didn’t even know had been seeded here. Under the camellia bush, I am delighted to find clumps of mint. (We moved into our new home just this past December, and the backyard is going to be a place of new discoveries.)
Choose a word or bit of language that is dexterous in its grammatical uses, that might be applied as verb, as noun, as adjective, or adverb in its various perambulations; that is rich with a history of usage, emotional inflection, colloquial drama, etc.—and write a series of connected poems or write a long poem sequence that is a meditation on this word. You may write prose poem sequences, or free verse, or use forms (traditional, imposed, or borrowed).
Take as starting point this idea: ?“A single word holds a narrative of the human condition.”
To witness is to behold, is to acknowledge, is to let one’s consciousness connect to history.
To witness is to attest to fact, to testify. It derives from the Old English martyr, from Late Latin martyr, from Doric Greek martyr, earlier martys (genitive martyros) – “witness,” probably related to mermera “care, trouble,” from mermairein “be anxious or thoughtful,” from PIE *(s)mrtu- (cf. Sanskrit smarati “remember,” Latin memor “mindful.”
To witness therefore is to commit to memory a human event – not merely what is beautiful or elevating or transporting, but including those moments of terrible suffering or tragedy, that which is difficult to look at.
> Write a poem of witness. You may write in free verse, or you may write in form.
> Challenge: Whether or not you decide to write in form, write your poem so that it introduces some innovation, however slight, in form.
Sharing another writing prompt that I crafted for my students in workshop not too long ago:
BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS
Beginnings:? Paul Valery said that the opening line of a poem is like a fruit we have never seen before and that we happen upon, that has fallen on the ground—and that the task of the rest of the poem is to (re)create the tree from which such a fruit would have dropped.
As for endings: ?Many poets have said that despite the innumerable ways we can talk about theme or subject, there is only one ultimate subject~ temporality or change; and at the end is death, fin.
Write (a) new poem(s) using Paul Valery idea of a poem’s first line AND origins as your prompt.
Bonus prompt: Review and revise poems you’ve already written/generated, paying particular attention to beginnings and endings.
Write a poem of forgetting.
Sharing my firestarter writing prompt with you:
Here are two fragments, two sticks to rub against each other to generate a poem, a little fire, maybe a blaze ~
1. “…being inclines intrinsically to self-concealment.” ~ Heraclitus
2. “Every word carries a secret inside itself; it’s called etymology.” ~ Mary Ruefle
Who has not channeled the Duende in the intensity of the writing and creative process?
Who has not, more than once, been gifted with the Duende‘s luminous presence, dancing on the threshold of the poem?
Today, write a poem in which YOU do something for your Duende, for a change: treat your Duende to a meal; take a walk on the beach; show her your childhood home; take her to the fish market; cut a starfruit open and put a slice on his tongue so he will know the taste of green…
[ Federico Garcia Lorca on Duende
... And doesn't this dude have Duende? > Joaquin Cortes ]
Write a lyric poem with two truths and a lie.
Write a meditation that is also an ode to staying put (or staying home); or to leaving (abandoning?) everything behind.
In this poem, write mostly to weigh (or think about) risk and gain.
Write a poem which incorporates a set of instructions on how to get somewhere specific, and then on returning or coming back.
(Baguio City Market, 1932)
Pick three triggers – visual, auditory, and textural (ex: visual – Hieronymous Bosch, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte? auditory – Bartok? koto music? gamelan? textural – hemp? granite? linen?)
Write a poem using any or all of, or beginning from, these. As you write, aim for three specific goals in both writing and revision afterward:
1. Expansion: Be (structurally) conscious of how a multitude of spaces can open up within a small one.
2. Development: How does a line, a group of images, a set of associations, move in other directions besides straight/forward?
3. Variation(s): What happens to the senses, in syncopated time? What happens to both narrative and syntax, when disrupted from their habitual dream?
Write a poem that inhabits the space of waiting.
Write a poem that is a page from an index of first (or last) lines.
Dean Young says in The Art of Recklessness:
“Poetry is a manifestation of the spirit as it triangulates itself through the desires and limitations of meaning… It forgets about itself as code making, has the supreme confidence of handling elemental fuels. The word then is not only fit referent but also magical embodiment of the thing, the word takes its flesh from the world. … Our poems are what the gods couldn’t make without going through us. We were answering back, not making codes, not manipulating literary devices, but offering thanks and accusation, mimicries of fundamental mysteries, the simplicities of urges that are always with us in the language of the creature, experience, weather. Our poetry is… the assertion of the monstrous if need be, the instinctual, visceral, sexual, rogue, absurd, sometimes derangement as a form of innocence. …Not iron[y].”
~ Think on this and, working from the visceral, write in a way that abandons your usual style and voice. Allow the poem to ride you instead of the other way around; give it the reins, loose the bridle— tell of where it takes you.
In memoriam, Gabriel Garcia Marquez:
Write a prose poem that is one long and breathless sentence, using a full stop only when you come to the end. Fill it with narrow streets that wind through the towns of your greatest myth-making, where the sea billows in curtains, where windows flicker with light and the movement of unseen butterflies or doves.
Begin a poem with this:
“Coal-heaver, yeoman, caulker: your almanac…”
How does a drop of rain tell of the sky from which it came?
How does a shadow tell of that which casts its shape?
Write a poem about your secret name(s).
“Stanza” derives (1580–90) from the Italian: meaning room, station, stopping-place (plural stanze).
Write a poem in stanzas, but one in which you also try to convey a conscious sense of the passage from one “room” to another as being more than just a gap;
In this poem, also
- use three synonyms for “light;”
- use the words metal, electric, and blur;
- use the present tense;
- make reference to two sweets, one particular make of car, and one commercial (radio, TV, or print) from your childhood.
Using couplets, write a poem of literal and metaphorical transplanting in the form of instructions for drawing a map.
In the poem, make reference to a specific mode of travel, a body of water, and a mountain range. Also include only the tracks or sound made by two types of animals that creep along the ground, and one that flies.
Write a poem of craving.
Inspired by the title poem of my last collection The Saints of Streets
and by Christian Anton Gerard’s epistolary review of it for The Rumpus):
Write a long poem in letters to the patron saints of your childhood streets. (If you don’t have any, now is a good time to appoint them.)
What is your magnetic north?
Write a poem in which you describe it; also describe how it feels to write/work your way toward (or away from) it.
Write a poem which attempts to explain a word or concept from another language, which has no direct translation into English. Write the poem using/referring to only one or two of the five senses.
Peter Turchi writes:
“In stories, poems, and novels, we create worlds of consensus hallucination. While readers suspend disbelief, as writers our job is to sustain belief in a world of the imagination, one as real to us as our computers, as yesterday’s bread and tomorrow’s news, as our fears and our dreams.”
Write a poem which embodies such a “[world] of consensus hallucination” — make your reader fall into it, and having fallen into it, have the senses dramatically reoriented from the experience.
One life, they say: but one. What poem could match its expanse, its singularity, its exigency, its surprising joy? Write toward that poem.
Day 30 (how quickly a whole month flies!)
“The road is long. So do not mind the smallness of the present.” ~ Prajnadeva in a letter to Xuanzang, ca. AD 645
Every beginning, every end, has something of both the sweet and the not-sweet. Let me taste both, in a poem of beginnings and endings, endings and beginnings. Let it have doors and windows, ceilings, roofs, ladders, and stairs. Let it also have mountains and trees, the sweep of open spaces.