Growing Teeth on the Inside—Vagina Dentata and Other Prompts for the Strong Stomached

For the first prompt, use the picture of the ovarian teratoma to write a poem or short story from the perspective of a tissue that has grown teeth and sentience inside another’s body. Does your narrator feel safe and content within the other, or does the narrator want to chew its way out of its prison? How much does the narrator understand of its world and its own limitations?

For more information on this dermoid cysts and teratomas and its possible relation to the myth of vagina dentata, click here.


For the second prompt, write a variation of a vagina dentata poem. Think of the movie Teeth but with less assault and more bite (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun). For inspiration, here is a poem by the amazing Arminé Iknadossian.


Btw, this poem was published in Moon Tide Press’s Dark Ink: A Poetry Anthology Inspired by Horror. Come out to Goldenest Diner (13030 Goldenwest, Westminster) on October 17th at 7 p.m. to hear more poems from this anthology. Don’t forget to wear your dark side on the outside to compete in the costume contest!

For the final prompt—muhhahahahahaha—make a list of five iconic objects/image of a famous horror or suspense movie and write from that object’s or image’s perspective. What does Freddy’s blade-embedded glove help him keep track of? To-do lists, to-kill lists, multiplication tables? What does the elevator want to carry in its belly in The Shining? Does the elevator see itself as a protector or a villain?


Chanting Turkeys, Final Countdowns, and a Basement Vortex—Prompts for October

For October all of my prompts will be weird and creepy. Also, I am trying to write more horror poems to jumpstart next month’s NaNoWriMo challenge (National Novel Writing Month).

For the first prompt, write what the turkeys are chanting as they circle a dead cat in the road. Is it a dirge, an elegy, an ode, or maybe a limerick? Perhaps it is the nine-line, countdown poem, the nonet?

For a video of the circling turkeys, click here.


For the next prompt, write a poem on the theme of a countdown to the apocalypse, armageddon, the Rapture, a Nickelback revival, or similar event of wholesale terror and bloodshed using the form nonet—a nine-line poem in which the first line has nine syllables, the second has eight, and so on until the last line with only one syllable. For more information and a sample poem, check out Robert Lee Brewer’s explanation on the Writer’s Digest site.

For the last prompt, write a short story or poem based on the photo below. What came through the vortex and why? What happened next?

Good luck!


I aspire to be Magic Realism Bot—Prompts

Twitter can be a joy—full of pet pics, shade-throwing dictionaries, Chuck Wendig, Sappho Bot and of course Magic Realism Bot. I simply cannot outdo Magic Realism Bot, so I will acknowledge my defeat and steal its prompts….


If the witch’s cauldron doesn’t jumpstart any ideas, let’s play around a bit. If life is a bowl of cherries of alternate timelines, you have chosen to eat the one containing the pit of hell with undercooked eggs and Nickelback on an endless loop. Describe.

O you escape that pit only to be faced with the same bowl of cherries: the next one contains the Garden of Eden with carnivorous daisies and deceitful tulips, but the dragonflies…they are tiny fire-breathing terrors and you have invaded their tettitory. What is plan of escape and your weapon of choice?


Next prompt: Who literally killed poetry, and what were the motive and the weapon? Be alliterative detective.

OMG, I cannot even blame the wine. I didn’t have any…

Sooo sorry.


October 17th—Dark Ink Anthology Reading and Costume Contest: Be There and Be Scared!

Join me for the reading and Halloween costume contest on October 17th at the Goldenwest Diner in Westminster where I and others will be reading poems from Moon Tide Press’s horror-inspired anthology.

Frankenstein’s monster, Zombies, TWO vagina dentata poems, monsters GalORE—how could you possibly escape this fright night! Bring your mummy or a date!


Prompts Inspired by Inger Christensen

Last month was the annual Sealey Challenge, a challenge began by the amazing poet Nicole Sealey to read a poetry chapbook or full collection every day for the month of August. I did not, alas, complete the challenge and am behind on both my reading and writing…and cleaning…and laundry, etc., etc..

As part of the challenge, (another) amazing poet Dana Levin posted poems from Inger Christenson’s ALPHABET (translated to English by Susanna Nied). I was first introduced to Christensen’s poetry in the Poetry Lab workshop run by Danielle Mitchell. ALPHABET is one of my all-time favorites.

For the first prompt, ask yourself what if the dreams you had in the night stained your skin the next morning. Describe the colors, the patterns, and images. What faces would tattoo your chest and hands? Would you attempt to cover them up or do as Christensen writes, “dreamers go around openly now / with dreams out on their skin”?


One of the most fascinating aspects of ALPHABET is that it is arranged by the Fibonacci sequence. For the next prompt, write a poem that’s first line is …… (Full diclosure, I got this prompt idea from Poetry Lab)


For the third prompt, write a short poem that juxtaposes the natural, the beautiful, the toxic and the man-made. How do certain objects, or even ideas, blend these different categories? What remains distinct? For inspiration, read the excerpt below:


And, as always, credit the poet for your inspiration and best of luck!


A Dearth of Optimism—Prompts Inspired by Marie Howe

So the last couple of weeks have not been productive ones, but I hope to return to regular postings and even make up for the previous lack (and to expect to do so…in spite of today’s blog title).

These next prompts are inspired by Marie Howe and by my own preference for rather depressing poems. This poem caught me in the throat—how I prefer the landing and subsequent damage and suffering to the fall itself.

For the next prompt, make Hell a kind of sanctuary for yourself. What initial comfort do you find there? The company? The lack of it? Does even the flat comfort of despair burn away?

Or write about Hell as truly a place of torment, but after the surprise has faded. Put in all the boiling lakes, demon pitchforks and punishments, but include a sense of boredom, perhaps even a kind of comfort in the routine disembowelment. After the 10,000th lash, does the sting fade? Does regret?


For the next prompt, use the line “I thought it was the worst, thought nothing worse could come” as a ghostline. Remember to erase the line after you have finished writing the poem and credit Howe for her inspiration.

For the last prompt, take the poem and choose the antonym for each noun and, if possible, as many of the verbs too. What happens in the poem? This is an exercise only. Make sure you are not paraphrasing the original too closely if you plan to submit it for publication.


Prompts Inspired by Heather Derr-Smith

I am reading Tongue Screw by Heather Derr-Smith and awed by the sharp-edged power of her images. I first discovered her poetry on Twitter and deeply admire her work. She has two other collections The Bride Minaret, 2008, and Thrust, 2017.

For the first prompt, use the last line from her poem “Wilson’s Promenade, Sarajevo, and Leonard Cohen” as a ghost line: “Our hearts all galloping resurrection hooves.” Here is the link for the full poem. I particularly love the image “a blur of Lazarus bandages unraveling[.]”

For the second prompt, redraw the map of the world onto a body, a living one or a carcass as the poet does onto the “sutures of a dead wolf’s skull” in the poem “Tracking” pasted below.

What changes when we shift the continent of Europe onto a field mouse, Antarctica onto a fallen leaf, the Southern Hemisphere on a child’s upraised palm. What shrinks into insignificance? What is magnified? If you wish to think more of perspective and how inaccurate the Mercator map is, look at the site


For a third prompt, ask yourself what would you find of yourself within the infinite. An endless vortex of regret, similar to Jupiter’s eye? A somersaulting childlike wonder? The tide’s endless grasping and pushing?


This Wednesday, September 4th, at the Ugly Mug—Poetry Reading and Fundraiser for RAICES!

Poets HanaLena Fennel and Ra Avis will offer their powerful voices and unique insights to support the critical work of RAICES this Wednesday for the Two Idiots Peddling Poetry reading series at the Ugly Mug. Proceeds from the purchase of their poetry books as well as poetry collections donated by Moon Tide Press and artwork by local artists will be donated to RAICES.

The reading starts at 8:00. Open mic signup begins at 7:45. The Ugly Mug is located at 261 N. Glassell St in Orange. Parking is available on nearby side streets and parking lots. The $3 cover charge reimburses the venue for the reading.

Below is the press release for the poetry feature and open mic event. Click here for event and author links.

HanaLena Fennel (left) and Ra Avis (right)

HanaLena Fennel (left) and Ra Avis (right)

Camouflage—A Poetry Prompt for Hiding

Some creatures camouflage themselves in the brilliant colors of predators—snakes and insects particularly. Others disguise themselves as a bad meal, as the viceroy butterfly does in mimicking the monarch. Still others appear as leaves or flowers or petals.

In high school and in marriage, I tried to fade into the walls, into night, into the blank stares ringing me. I chose the bland, the muted, the innocuous. If nonthreatening and easily forgotten were a color, I wore it and stained my skin with it.

What if instead I had camouflaged myself with beauty? Since I could not make my own loveliness in such bleakness, what If had adorned myself with borrowed beauty? The caterpillar pictured below—the camouflaged looper— attaches the petals and stems it eats for food to hide itself as leaf or blossom—simultaneously becoming what it eats and what beauty surrounds it. I doubt attaching Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and strawberries would have granted me anything other than flies and mockery, but I could have pasted others’ brilliance onto my tongue and painted my face to resemble another’s.

Using the example of the camouflaged looper caterpillar, write a poem of you camouflaging yourself with the beauty around you. What do you choose to attach to yourself? Why? What are you hiding from? Who or what does see you?

If you need some sample poems to provide some direction, read “Camouflage” by Henry Carlyle, “Camouflaging the Chimera” by Yosef Komunyakaa, and “To a Wren on Calvary” by Larry Levis. Please share the poems you have found on camouflage.

And, as always, if one of these poets provided inspiration, give credit. Good luck!


Conscious Coupl[et]ing and Starting from the Ending—Editing Prompts

I will be honest here: I suck at editing. I certainly try, but often my tinkering just clogs the lines and makes even the strong statements hazier or—worse— annoyingly pretentious. As a result, I rarely offer editing advice of my own, although I may share others’ words of wisdom along with my own mistakes. So no advice, but here are two exercises to try on a poem you aren’t happy with.

For the first prompt, choose an old poem—maybe one that you’ve worked on before—and rewrite it in couplets. I was told that couplets were very popular a few years ago and that the couplets themes did not form complete images; instead hte lines ran on without regard. Try rewriting the poem in this way. How does that structural change affect the lines themselves? Does this slipping into the next couplet create a sense of falling?

If the poem does not work in couplets, ask yourself why. Do the couplets obscure the imagery, disrupt the sound, misalign the necessary pauses? Look where the couplet fails and regroup the lines accordingly. Better now? If not, did the exercise itself help you analyze your decision-making process? That alone can be helpful.

For the second prompt, take the last line of one of your poems you dislike and move it to the first line. Use it as the jumping off point.

Did you go in a new direction? Or did you simply get where you wanted to faster? Is the poem stronger? Does it avoid the “tying the bow” ending, minimize unnecessary exposition, or just screw it all to pieces?

Please let me know if you find these exercises helpful! Good luck!!!


The Prose Poem—Prompt Inspired by Danielle Mitchell

What is a poem—the answers given often contradict the prose poem. What is a poem without stanzas echoes what is a poem without meter and rhyme. Perhaps what I appreciate most about the prose poem is that it requires a poet to think about what defines his/her/their own poetry and consciously choose those elements in this hybrid form.

For the first prompt, write a prose poem using imagery and themes from the tale of the minotaur in the labyrinth from Greek mythology. Here is a link to the myth if you need a refresher. Notice imagery/repetition the poet uses: “labyrinth,” “spiraling steps,” “thread,” “string,” “maze,” and “stairwell.” Who or what else could be a labyrinth? Are you the minotaur or Theseus?


For the second prompt, use the italicized line “If you get lost, just go deeper in” as a ghostline. Where do you go? Or your narrator? Are they one and the same? Or do you choose to keep the second person? After you have written your first draft, consider switching (from second person to first or third to second, for example). What changes?

For the third prompt, consider the differences between this poem and the poet’s other two poems published in the same issue of Connotation Press. How do these three prose poems differ? What themes/images does the form lend itself to? Write a poem using ten words compiled from two or all three of the poems.

For a fourth prompt, write a poem mapping the three landscapes described in the poems: forest and maze, muddy field and pond, and swamp.

And as always be sure to credit the poet for the inspiration, be careful to maintain your own voice in any poems you plan to submit and of course buy the book (check out her site)!


Doorways, and Other Openings and Closings—Prompts

Doorways are like conflicting points in a political debate on Twitter: two opposing perspectives that can never meet. So much relies upon where we stand on (a) matter, where we have been, and where we hope/fear to go. For this next prompt, I want you to think of doors and doorways. What do they hide or show and what do they harm/protect. Who stands behind a door? Who is coming in or leaving? Who is left inside or outside, and where do you belong?

For inspiration, read “Lullaby (with Exit Sign)” by Hadara Bar-Nadav, “Overnight” by John Yau, “Sharks in the River” by Ada Limón, and “Speaking Tree” by Joy Harjo.

Best of luck!


Animus, Schadenfreude, and Rancor: Giving Birth to All My Little Bitter Joys—Prompts

I want to thank Jan Stinchcomb for messaging me this poem. It is incredible.

For the first prompt, use the last line of Dayna Patterson’s “Self-Portrait as Titania with Newborn Animus”: “All my words call for bandages” as a ghostline. Go from there. Ignite.


I find the imagery in this poem breathtaking. Only on a second reading, did I notice all of the sound devices—alliteration, consonance and assonance as well as the careful attention given to rhythm. So many examples of sound repetition: “womb of worry,” “faith has fled,” “fathers’ fallow,” “What are we but the leavings.” So lovely.

For the second prompt, write a poem in couplets and include this repetition in at least one of the two lines and consciously slow down phrases and lines for greater effect. The phrase “vernix of red flame” felt heavy in my mouth as did the hyphenating of phrases—their slowness mimicking the birth in the poem. I am not a sound poet and often miss these devices, although I am trying to improve both my performance and my awareness of sound and rhythm for the reader. If you prioritize sound or at least balance it with imagery more than I, please offer suggestions in the comments. I would love to hear them.

For the third prompt, take one of the questions in the poem and write a response poem answering that question.

For the final prompt (as usual), write a poem or story using the following words: “vernix,” “fringe,” “cusp,” “scorch,” “linkage” “flesh,””rope,” “render,” “sterile,” and “wounds” but do not use either birth nor botany/farming as your subject matter.

And as always, make sure to avoid mimicking another’s voice—make the words and images your own—and acknowledge the poet for your inspiration.

Good luck!

The Form of Hope—Prompts

For the firstt prompt, take the line “All poetry is a form of hope” (midway in the poem) from Dean Young’s “Small Craft Talk Warning” to use as a ghostline. From there, create a list of items that somehow are the form for hope. Play with the idea of poetic forms. Perhaps include an image to represent morning for an aubade (a love song or poem associated with dawn). See what connections you can make between poetic forms and personal associations. Bend, blend, and reform however necessary.

I appreciate this poem’s disparate images. I have not yet found the through line but am not disturbed or disappointed that I haven’t. Instead, the poem feels like each image is a separate treasure or is akin to people watching and trying to explain the relationships seen among a group.


For the next prompt, take five concrete nouns from the poem (e.g., “hive,” “ornaments,” “ghost,” “dosage,” “space station”) and five verbs/would-be verbs (“miscalculate,” “thaw,” “forces,” “probing,” “counted”) and mix and match. See what creates friction and write in whatever form—sonnet, free verse, flash fiction, etc.— works in the moment.

As always, give credit to the poet who inspired you and be careful to write in your own voice. Good luck!


Bonus prompt: create a dialogue between the two small piles of stones and lighthouses in the distance.

‘What If’ in a Tenuous World—Prompts Inspired by Paige Lewis

I want to thank Brendan Constantine for sharing this beautiful poem by Paige Lewis (originally published in Gulf Coast).


What are your “what ifs”? As oceans rise and hillsides burn, what specific pieces of panic grip you the hardest? The minor, unavoidable crises of everyday life: traffic, rising housing prices, that email from your boss, the awkward pause in a conversation with your partner?

Or is it the disappearing insects, the loss of habitat for tigers, droughts, the dead zones in the oceans, your nephew’s future, your child’s? What series of questions slide down your throat to curl in your chest, hissing snakelike at your attempts at logic, at comfort? What disaster plans run through your mind as you try to sleep? Do you have emergency plans and extra supplies?

Make a list of what ifs. Provide answers. Or not. Show the anxiety fluttering in your lungs.


The List Poem to Out-list All Others—A Try-to-Follow-This Prompt

For prompts, I often provide a list of words to use in a poem, but then I saw this poem made up of a list, and, well, I was just floored. So the challenge for you (and me) is to create a list that is a poem, one that sucks your breath back down your throat until you aren’t sure if you are made to breathe air or water or some hybrid of envy and awe.


It is probably best to start with a category so that all of your words are cohesive and then break that category by adding other parts of speech. Although I can almost never write a poem from my own prompts, I do have a vague idea for this one. Wish me luck! And I am wishing you luck too!


Somehow I saw the figure of Buddha when I was in the Cathedral section of Blanchard Caverns, but the shape didn’t come through in the photo.