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.

Prayer for a Kingdom—Prompts Inspired by Todd Smith

For the first prompt, read over this beautiful poem by Todd Smith published by Quarterly West (and check out other great poems in the issue). In three parts, write a prayer to allow entry in a kingdom you have sought entry—whether you gained access or not—or a praise poem for the what simply is separated into past, present and future. Define “is” in your poem. Define what longing or yearning or want or need is for you, or change the tense: what one of these was once or will be. End your poem on a beginning.


Second prompt: write a poem using the following words: “overtures,” “shadows,” “cast” “perch” “skylight,” “frequency,” and “begin.”


Third prompt: Make a list poem of your seven mistakes. Do they correspond to the seven deadly sins? If not, create a new category of sin and pray for forgiveness to an appropriate saint or deity.

As always, give credit to the poet for inspiration (using “After” is one way), but even if you do acknowledge the poet’s influence, be careful that you still aren’t simply paraphrasing another’s creation. When in doubt, have someone else read the original poem and yours especially before submitting for publication.

Best wishes! Please share your creation! I’d love to read it!

Metaphor Your Writing—Another Twitter Prompt

Bless all of these industrious writers sharing ideas and content for lazy bloggers like me… For this prompt, choose the metaphor that best embodies your writing process, writing pieces, or your brain trying to procrastinate writing. Is writing an itch that you scratch even through the scabs? Is writing the lenses through which you see the world? Is it your weighted blanket, your anchor, or your anvil? What does writing do for you? Does it lift your head above water or simply lift your chin when facing the new day? What do you get out of it? Money (ha), fame, community, understanding, closure?

Write an extended metaphor for your writing, but try not to explain what the metaphor represents.


Choose Your Weapon (or Punishment)—Rod, Anvil, Sword, Cup, Oozing Blister—Twitter Prompt on the Shape of Anger

Using the inspiration provided by the brilliant Maggie Smith and Todd Dillard, write a poem describing the shape of your anger. Is it heavy? Does it provide you protection or punishment? If it is a tool, what implement is it? How useful? Do you use it against yourself? What does it feel like on your back, in your hands, in your belly? Would you give it away if you could? Name who you would hand it to? Would they carry it on or drop it?


If you are stuck, perhaps these poems will jumpstart you: excerpts from Chase Berggrun’s R E D, “Anger” by April Bernard, and “On Anger” by Rage Hezekiah.

Blanchard Caverns, Arkansas

Blanchard Caverns, Arkansas

Bonus prompt: The veterans who helped with the caves saw a battleship within the rocks. War followed them into the center of the earth. What follows you to your core? What shapes would you find? Do you look?

Etymology and Entomology—Dictionary this poem prompt

Etymology and entomology are easy to confuse: both study origins and evolutions and the way small changes scuttle across time and sometimes disappear in the cracks. Make a list of five words that have always interested you and look each of them up in the dictionary. Dig a little and find the history of the word. Note how it has evolved and how it has resisted change and write a poem using that information. For inspiration, read “Etymological Note” by Kelly Davio. 


If that prompt doesn’t work for you and you need another, let’s do a word-list prompt. I find them helpful when I seem to be stuck writing the same poem over and over. So for the second prompt, use the following list of words from Kelly Davio’s poem in your own: “plank,” “texture,” “strengthen,” “censer,” “splitting,” “gestures,” “wedge,” and “raking”   

Let’s try a similar prompt, but using homonyms (words that sound alike but do not share meaning) and homophones (homonyms that sound alike but share neither meaning nor spelling) of some of the words in the poem: “state”/state, “bare”/“bear” (both included in the poem), “body”/bawdy, “censer”/censor, “way”/weigh, “creep”/creep, and “rites”/rights. Let’s throw in some heteronyms (words that are share spelling but neither meaning nor pronunciation): “wound”/wound and “lead”/lead. Add more if you wish: present/present, content/content, bow/bow, convert/convert, desert/desert, incense/incense, crooked/crooked, deliberate/deliberate, minute/minute, buffet/buffet, object/object, refuse/refuse, tear/tear, wind/wind. 

Good luck! 


The Road to Hell is Colored within the Lines—A Prompt for the Rebels and for the Meek

We were all told to be good, to follow the rules, to listen to the adults, to obey. But then we were born in a world in which the adults lied, cheated, and destroyed, and they wrote the rules. When did you  break your first rule? What was it? Was the rule itself good? Was breaking it worth the consequences?  For your first prompt, write about that initial rebellion. 

If you did not rebel, if you’ve spent your life doing what you “should”—what were you told—what has happened? Have you inherited a piece of Earth with your goodness, or have your good intentions been your undoing? Write about the consequences of obeying. Who did you obey? Where has the path led you? What have you lost along the way?

For a third prompt, write about the rules themselves. Throw in the law of gravity, the Peter Principle, Fermi’s golden rule, and the Golden Rule. Mix and match them however you wish. Which rules are made to be broken? Which rules are made to break you? 


After the Apocalypse—A Prompt on Endings

Last post was on the end of the world, and this one is about the end of a poem. In a workshop with Brendan Constantine, either he (or one of the many poets he referenced) noted that the reader/listener views the entire poem through the lens of the last lines. The tweet below reminded me of that discussion and the importance of last lines. The entire thread btw was a treasure of last lines and fabulous poems. 


Here is the full poem:  


And here are some amazing last lines:  


So your prompt is to the last line of one of your poems—perhaps the poem you feel is your strongest or maybe the poem that never really worked, but you love its ending— and rewrite the poem using that last line as your ghostline. See what happens. Good luck! And please share if your poem is published or if you would simply like it to be the prompt’s sample poem. 


The Apocalyspe is here—with ladybugs

Recently a swarm of ladybugs was so large it was caught on weather radar. Rather than locusts, we were given ladybugs. Imagine an apocalypse when one of the portents is ladybugs. What will be next, a rain of kittens with each gently landing on its four paws and skittering around to bat at the invading daisies? What if the world ends not in fire or ice, but rainbows and glitter? What if Gabriel blows on a piccolo instead of a trumpet? If archangel Michael carries a bubble wand rather than a sword? Describe the end of days that closes with cookies and milk and a nap rather than damnation. Have fun! For inspiration, please check out Danes Smith’s beautiful “‘From ‘summer, somewhere’” and buy his book Don’t Call Us Dead.


A Prompt from Magic Realism Bot

Let’s try to reverse engineer this line from Magic Realism Bot: make a list of five cities, five flowers/plants, and five abstract nouns (self-sacrifice, complacency, ennui, justice, etc.) Look at the lists and see what sparks a metaphor. Extend the metaphor throughout the poem. For an additional constraint, limit yourself to three three-line stanzas. Good luck!


Bonus prompt: Write a poem that defines the shape of self-sacrifice without ever naming the object.  


Call and Answer—A Prompt for the Pray-er and the Prayed Upon

This line from Ilya Kaminsky reminds me of Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis—perhaps the best justification of religion—and also of Lois McMaster Bujold’s philosophical musings on the limits of God/Gods in her Chalion series.  


What question/accusation would you demand of God/Gods? What would they ask/accuse you of in return? What would each’s justification be for the evil in the world? Are the justifications the same? What would each of you do differently? And why can’t either you?


Moon Tide Press Gives a Call to Submit, to Arms, to Dinner, to Shop with Your Favorite Dead Celebrity—A Prompt Inspired by Ben Trigg

Ben Trigg’s poem “Lunch with Cleopatra” inspired the next anthology theme for Moon Tide Press. Make a list of five mundane tasks or places and make a second list of five dead celebrities. Look at both lists and see what sparks for you. 

If after choosing the person and the event, you still need help, research that person. Ben observed that all of the research he did into Cleopatra doesn’t directly show up in the poem, but, as you may notice, it does seem to provide a subtext here. The poem itself is thoroughly modern. Experiment with time and setting. See what works. 


Do remember to be respectful. While “At the Theatre with Abraham Lincoln” is attention getting, try to go beyond the initial shock value if the poem does dwell on the subject’s death. Fall in love with your subject; honor the person as if you were their best friend and you are the greatest best friend in this century or any other. Or perhaps center the poem on yourself if doing so is more appropriate. For this prompt, I wrote “Rock Collecting with Virginia Woolf” after reading her suicide note, but the subject matter is my own struggle, and I hope I have treated depression with the consideration it deserves. 

And here is a picture of Ben Trigg—the merrier co-host of the Two Idiots Peddling Poetry reading at the Ugly Mug, worst threat issuer for going over time, and the greatest best friend.  Btw, an expanded version of his book Kindness from a Dark God is forthcoming from Moon Tide Press, so buy it!


Break the Line—A Twitter Game for Poets

Since April is the 30/30 writing challenge, May should be the 30/30 editing sure wasn’t for me though. And, honestly, editing is one of the most difficult parts of writing for me, and the stage where my insecurities bloom (second only to the submission process). I still—and always will—have much to learn.

One of the things I most appreciate about Twitter is the where-to-break-the-line discussions. I am grateful for the opportunity to read poets I admire discussing technical aspects of craft...without paying for an MFA or a conference.


Please share where you would break the line. I would love to discuss line breaks and stanza breaks!

And since I usually post a prompt to help create a new poem, please use “So, please, when I die, forget all the fires I set” as a ghost line. Where does this take you?

For a second prompt, write a list poem of all the crimes, sins of omission or otherwise, harm, lies and honest mistakes, bad jokes, and general bad behavior you wish people to forget after you die.  And perhaps you wish to forget some of those too but are afraid you might forget the night even the moon admitted you were right and had been all along. For inspiration, read Barbara Hamby’s “Ode to Forgetting the Year.


Prompts + Poetry Event: A Celebration of 30 poems in 30 days

Tomorrow night at the Ugly Mug in Orange, HanaLena Fennel and I will be reading prompts and poets will be sharing their prompt-inspired poems to celebrate April’s 30/30 challenge! 

The reading starts 8:00 (or more like 8:15). Be sure to sign up for the open mic (3 poems/5 minutes, whichever comes first) and share your 30/30 poems or a new one or your favorite poem.

Don’t forget to bring $3 for the cover, or Phil will collect an organ of his choice!


Full disclosure: I only wrote 20 and did not write an ode to my socks, a sestina, nor even a limerick....

It’s a Mother of a Day—Prompt

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who loves someone’s mother, whether it be your own, a friend’s, a kitten’s, or the mother earth. 

For the first prompt, think of someone who has been a mother figure to you—generous and strong and wise. Honor her/him/them with a praise poem. What bird should sing just for that person? What flower blooms under their gaze? Which small moon should orbit them for a year? And explain why through a scene.

If nothing gets moving with the first, try this next prompt. For this second prompt, mad lib the cliché “Necessity is the mother of invention.” A jutting table leg is the mother of the muttered “Motherf_cker” that begot the Dawn-brand-dish-soaped mouth that gave birth to a small resentment against that table that bloomed a bruise on a shin and an everlasting fear of bubbles. Go forth and multiply these mothers. 

If neither prompt works for you, read the following poems: Julia Kasdorf’s “What I Learned From My Mother,” Diane Wakoski’s “Thanking My Mother for Piano Lessons,” Jean Nordhaus’s “A Dandelion for My Mother,” and Ross Gay’s “Ending the Estrangement.” Which one calls to you and why? Write a response to that poem. Be sure to credit the poet for your inspiration.   


A Fleshbag of Feral Cats—Another Twitter Prompt

So this is a weird one, bless Chuck Wendig for all of his infinite wisdom:


For this poem, write as if you are this colony of feral cats going about your day. How do you make polite conversation at the checkout line? Do people look nervous at all that hissing and meowing? Do you get distracted in the sewing aisle with the thread and yarn?

What other errands can you accomplish? How difficult is it to renew your library card when half of your teeth selves are chewing on book corners, other claw selves have found the rubber band ball constructed by a bored librarian, one subset of feline selves is chasing your tail selves, and two are just flashing their butts to all the other patrons?  

Or perhaps you aren’t filled with feral cats, but instead with bean-filled stuffed animal cats. You are soft, cuddly, and rather matted and scruffy after being carried and dropped repeatedly by a small child with grubby hands. Several of your stuffed selves are lost, fallen under the bed, left in the backseat, sitting on a park bench. Someone is always looking for that missing self. Who finds that part of you and where? Who carries one of your selves everywhere? Why? What does that part of you offer?


Good luck! Please send me your draft from either prompt. I really want to read your poem!