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.