Animal Planet—Prompts Inspired by Emma Bolden

We are losing species and whole populations at a horrifying rate: even insects are disappearing and the next age . Perhaps this reason is why of all the amazing poems in Emma Bolden’s House Is an Enigma, her “Between Sea and Sky” is the one I needed to share. This poem “animals” the world and the universe, perhaps a necessity one day.

For this prompt, do the same. Rather than peopling this planet, refill it with wild creatures, species of all kinds. If we lose the bees, let them hum in dandelion and cracked sidewalk. Let each grain of sand embody an ant that once tunneled teeming cities. See the glitter of a dragonfly in glass shards and hear the soft cooing of a dove in morning drizzle. Make an interstate a river of leaping salmon, the exhaust the heavy breathing of a predator. If the oceans mirror the void between stars, turn every desolate wave into fin and feather. Let the stars hiss back at us, we who sought to grasp what was out of reach and let go of what could be sheltered within our palms.  


“Between Sea and Sky” was originally published as “Melancholy Between Sea and Sky” in Escape into Life. And, please, buy the book. House Is an Enigma is beautiful and aching. 


Tonguing Eights: Word Lists, Categories, and Relational Chemistry in Kaveh Akbar’s “When Lightning Split the Plum Tree —Eight Prompts More Fun Than the SAT/ACT

Hi all, another attempt to use one poet’s genius to birth more geniuses—a genesis if you will—Sorry! So here goes.

For the first prompt, use four or more words (or all) from the following list found in Kaveh Akbar’s poem “When Lighting Split the Plum Tree” (published in the Georgia Review): “plum,” “starched,” “glory,” “liquids,” “skin,” “coos,” “feature,” “omnipotent,” “hexagons,” 8s”, “natural, “rearranges,” dignity,” “whittled,” “universival,” and  “body.” 

Or second choice, write a poem in which you make a poem using words from eight (or fewer) categories: insect, animal, fruit, number, geometrical shape, crafting/woodworking/smithing, profession/job, body part/organ. Tip: write a list of 3-5 words for each category you plan to use and mix and match until you spark something.

Third prompt: what is the soul made of? Give percentages of its chemical composition. Covalent or ionic bonds? Explain death using isotopes. 

Fourth prompt: use the ghostline “it’s a feature not a flaw but if.”

Fifth prompt: describe what you would say to an omnipotent audience? Anything more than “sorry” or perhaps a long rant about how the stars shifted too much to guide even a dream. 

Sixth prompt: just write a fucking sex poem. You know this is what you wanted all along. Use the words “smelled,” “excited,” “skin,” “stretch,” “built,” and “tongue.” Bonus points for including “wooing’ and “coos.’

Seventh prompt: take the poem and erase it down to the point you want your body to make after your death. Or the phrase you believe it has echoed throughout your life.

Eighth prompt (exercise idea from Brendan Constantine): take the poem, line-by-line exchange words  with opposites: “inside” becomes “outside”; “boiling” becomes “freezing”; “dignity” becomes “shame”;
 “died” becomes “lived”; and so on. Perhaps create a system—like exchanging all/most of the nouns or most/all of the verbs. See where this takes you. 


Five of Hearts, Spleen and Lungs—Cellular Storage

Make a list of five rooms, HVAC units, appliances, and/or storage areas. Think kitchen, furnace, nursery, basement, roof, chimney, patio, closet, furnace, etc. Next make a list of five organs, systems, or areas of the body. Look at the lists. What sparks for you? Write a poem that names a room or appliance or building and associate with your body or another’s. What is stored there—kept but hidden—what is used daily. What memory or loved one do you display in the curve of cheek, the crook of your elbow, the fluttering of your lungs? What lies in the depths of your bowels. What burns deep in your furnace? What voice pulses in your wrist? What song does your breath croon as you close your eyes for sleep?

This prompt was inspired by Laura Kasischke’s “Song” found in her book in Space in Chains. Or as the Ugly Mug crew would say: my attempt to reverse engineer her poem. Alas, I am not the technician that Steve Ramirez is. Check out Kasischke’s similarly beautiful poem “Kitchen Song” and (as always) buy her book! Thank you, Danielle Mitchell, for recommending this poet to me. 


The book....and she has others of course. 


Sometimes what we love, breaks open our foundation, and the beauty is in what remains. 


More Stolen Prompts AND Even a Sample Poem—Thanks, Twitter Poets!!!

As you probably know, I adore Chen Chen and have posted prompts from him before. He is such a joy! [And, as always, buy his amazing book When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities and visit his website for poems and general awesomeness.]


So your prompt from Chen Chen is to write a poem about that moment in which you felt loved and use “peppery” somewhere in a line. By the time, I read the prompt, a poet had already written the perfect sample poem. Yay! With her permission, I posted her poem below: 


You can follow @fullofgems on Twitter and, for more poems, follow writerchristiana on Instagram. Please do.


Best wishes writing! 

Give a Bouquet—The Flowery F*** You Prompt

The symbolism of flowers has a long history. Victorians spoke in the language of flowers—each flower had its own meaning and shades of meaning. Shakespearean audiences also picked up on a floral insults. After her father’s death, Ophelia passes out flowers to King and Queen. She hands the King columbine for faithlessness, deceit and adultery. For Queen Gertrude, she gives rue for regret and, again, adultery. Rue also was used to induce miscarriage. Since Hamlet had killed Ophelia’s father, Ophelia may have added an additional insult with the rue. After posting this last night, I came across this poem by Jenny Molberg, “In Which Ophelia Opens the Box of Hamlet’s Drawings.” Love it!

For this prompt, design a bouquet for your ex, a frenemy, or an outright enemy. Read Camille T. Dungy’s “Daisy Cutter” as a guide. If you wish, use this chart that discuses the flowers in Hamlet to learn about flower meanings. Feel free to add well-known poisonous plants and flowers to your bouquet. Or, if you prefer, create your own meanings with your flower choices. White carnation, for me, symbolizes early death, mourning and loss of hope. 

If you are a kinder person than I am, create a bouquet for a loved one.  Again fee free to use the chart or other list or create your own associations. For poems on flowers and their meanings, read Kaveh Akbar’s “Orchilds are Sprouting From the Floorboards,” Cynthia Zarin’s “Flowers” (this poem about a bouquet given to her), Nate Marshall’s “picking flowers,” and Cindy Veach’s “Rose of Jericho.”


Terrence Hayes Asked You a Question—Prompt

In his most recent collection, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, Terence Hayes asks this question as the ending of one of the poems: “Would you rather spend the rest of eternity / With your wild wings bewildering a cage or / With your four good feet stuck in a plot of dirt?” Listen to him read the whole poem “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [‘Inside me is a black-eyed animal]’” published by the Poetry Foundation.

 Read Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird” and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy” for their answers. Read Cecilia Llompart’s “Do Not Speak of the Dead” for a different response, and James Dickey’s “The Dusk of Horses” for another. 

If you cannot answer the question Hayes asks, use his first line “Inside me is a black-eyes animal” as a ghost line. Let us see what emerges from you. 


Name Your Fear and Make It Hum Your Name in Response—A Prompt for Obscure Fears

Years later, I am still in love with Jamaal May’s Hum, and some of my favorite poems in the collection are poems about phobias. One such poem is “Athazagoraphobia (Fear of Being Ignored)”—notice the imagery. Read “Mechanophobia: Fear of Machines” if you would like to read more of his poetry. And, as always, buy the book!

For your prompt, choose a phobia, name it and define it in the title and write about it using a list of concrete descriptions. Here is an online list of phobias. Or make up a phobia. Be surreal or realistic. Be detailed and visceral. Be spectacular.  


Churches, Temples and Holy Sites—Where You Worship, a Prompt Inspired by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Where do you pray? On what surface (or any) do you bend your knee? When you think of religion. do you picture your church down the street, the temple of your childhood, your prayer mat, or any light shining through stained glass? Or is it a wide blue sky streaked with wings, a stream tricking through a hushed and heavy wooded green, or is it the sea? Somehow when I read Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s “Sea Church,” I think of pillars of salt and a coral arch and a waiting. For more peoms by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, please check out her website.


For this prompt, write a poem about the church of your creation and build it out of what you most want to taste and to touch. Let it be the promise you whispered to yourself deep in a night when you didn’t want to see dawn. What would come to answer your prayer in this church? And what would you pray for first—mercy, forgiveness, peace, justice, or just a slower shattering of light?


National Poetry Day—Another Stolen Prompt

Yes, I am stealing another prompt, but in my defense, I steal from great writers. Totally justifies the theft, right? I mean why would they write such great prompts (or poems or stories or tweets) if they didn’t want the adoration of millions and didn’t expect lazy people (like myself) to help themselves to that brilliance?

Good luck writing! As an added bonus, you get an honest love poem and make someone else happy.


Poetic Hexes—Poexes, the Prompt for Summoning a Poem and Karma for Exes

More stealing from people I follow on Twitter...even the prompt title.   

For this prompt, think how your ex wronged you. Did he/she/they steal your voice and replace it with a dog’s squeaky toy? Were all of your truths laid bare as your body, and both rejected with a joke? What is a fitting retribution? A lion’s perpetual growl from your abuser’s gut? A cell phone that automatically uploads nude pics and darkest secrets to his/her mother, friends and coworkers? Listen to Rachel Wiley perform her brilliant “Dry Cake Wishes and Tap Water Dreams” (although I like Saltine crackers and do vacation in Indiana, so I feel I may have been hexed already) and Siarra Freeman’s “Hexes for Exes (after Rachel Wiley)” in response. Or if you are fine with destroying much of the world around your ex, read the translation of Henri Michaux’s “I Am Rowing” for pointers.

Or perhaps you feel as if an ex or some other creature hexed you. What is your punishment? Do you deserve it? Why or why not? Read Melissa Broder’s “Late Melt” and Cecilia Woloch’s “Hex” for inspiration.

Stealing a Line and Making it Disappear—Another Ghostline Prompt

I admit it—I am a jewel thief. I take other people’s lines and statements for my poems. I love epigraphs and centos because I feel my poems are always a response. Maybe echoing others’ words help me feel less lonely in this world. Or perhaps I want to wear the brilliance of others around my throat and speak their beauty. In all statistical likelihood, all three are true. I am a bowerbird searching for blue and for the bright to build something that attracts another. 

 Take the line “But you know, when you throw salt into the void, it’s bound to land on something worth eating” as your first line. Go from there. If you decide to keep the line, use it as an epigraph and attribute it to Hieu Minh Nguyen. If not, you can still give credit by stating “after Hieu Minh Nguyen” if you wish. Good luck! I need to write my poem too.  

Take the line “But you know, when you throw salt into the void, it’s bound to land on something worth eating” as your first line. Go from there. If you decide to keep the line, use it as an epigraph and attribute it to Hieu Minh Nguyen. If not, you can still give credit by stating “after Hieu Minh Nguyen” if you wish. Good luck! I need to write my poem too.  

Spine of Your World—Poetry Prompt

Your spine was designed to hold your body upright (but perhaps it does no longer or never did), but what holds you up—your sense of identify and/or your ability to function—within this world? What keeps you moving through your days? Is it another person, a whole network of people, a single memory, home or a place you visited, your name alone that carries you, a tattooed reminder, an activity (your writing perhaps), the voice pouring out your throat, a song that plays only in your head, some hope or plan for the future? What defies the gravity of other people’s betrayals and life’s endless series of disappointments and losses?

Write a poem about what sustains you and what keeps you standing. Read “Corpse Flower” by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal. Try to incorporate history and geographical surroundings—what are the coordinates for the self? For inspiration, read “Tan Tien” by Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, “The Law of the Apple” by Edwin Torres, and “Devotee” by Anne Waldman Perhaps spine is both physical and metaphorical as with Jane Hirschfield’s “My Proteins”; Or, if you wish, write how your spine failed to hold you straight, so you bent more than a willow as with the poem “boy” by Katy Przybylski. And check out “Combustion” by Sara Eliza Johnson. 


Color Your World Deadly—A Prompt

The world is filled with colors. In the nature, colors can be a warning sign of danger or poison—the yellow and black stripes of bees and wasps, the jewel tones of poison dart frogs, the scarlet hourglass of the black widow spider. Or conversely muted colors help a creature blend in with their surroundings.

The so-called civilized world can be equally colorful. The colors red, yellow, and orange often signal caution or danger or stop. Conversely, red can be associated with celebration and happiness. White in some cultures are associated with purity, but in others mourning. What colors warn you? Do you heed their warning?

Write a poem using at least one color to signal danger. If possible, use another color to represent safety and peace. Juxatapose the two. See what happens.


"Mariposa del Sol” is a mixed media painting by the amazing Kelsey Bryan-Zwick and appeared with my poem "Color Scheming" in the powerful Incandescent Mind, Winter 2017. Follow Kelsey on instagram for her beautiful poetry and artwork. I am so grateful to Sarah Thursday of Sadie Girl Press for publishing my poem and pairing it with Kelsey’s lovely painting in an anthology devoted to mental health.  Check out the Sadie Girl Press site for this anthology and others along with Sarah’s own poetry collections, including her upcoming collection, Conversations with Gravel

Endear You—An Alternative Prompt for Sweetheart

Honey, Sweetie, Baby, Dearie—you have been called these endearments whether you wish to be so addressed or not, but let’s get creative here. What endearments SHOULD you be called? How should you be addressed by a loved one or in public: Iowa cornfield that will lie down with the slightest breeze (perhaps applicable), Sissy (only one person was allowed to call me that), thumbtack on the backside of polite society (especially fitting)?

This prompt is inspired by the following Tumblr user’s post (shared by Vellum and Viny on Facebook). To be fair, the recipient of the original nickname probably did not know that vanilla comes from a species of orchid hand-pollinated and is the most expensive spice after saffron. Or maybe she did and resented the implication that she is likewise so labor-intensive. Btw, saltine cracker would suit me—I can eat half a pack in one sitting. Odd that my comfort food is basically the Sahara desert. 


If you do not wish to list endearments for you, write of the endearments you use for others or keep some secret if you wish as Amy Nezhukumatathil did in her lovely “Naming the Heartbeats” poem.

Here is a short list of endearments from the BBC, and another historical list from the Oxford Dictionaries site. Try to incorporate a variant if you can.  


Prompt by Phillip B. Williams—It’s Not Stealing If I Admit It’s Not Mine

This prompt comes from the amazing poet Phillip B. Williams (@PBW_Poet on Twitter and check out his website with links to his published poems, including “Bend as Would a God”):
What is something that you wish your younger self would teach you if they could travel into the future to visit you? What have you forgotten, misplaced, or destroyed of your younger self that you see, now, would be a blessing to have?

I also posted his Tweet on Facebook:

This is off topic somewhat (and I think I have already linked this poem since I love it so much), but check out “One Art” Elizabeth Bishop. Here is another take on the prompt: the poem “Lost and Found” by Maxine Chernoff. And another: “Childhood Ideogram” by Larry Levis.



Take the Stand—A Prompt For Witnessing

For this prompt, you are a witness to events, not the center of the action. Perhaps you are the omniscient narrator or, like me, always the unreliable. Either way, make us see what happened, blow by blow, who said what and who said nothing at all. Or maybe show us the gaps in your memory. Perhaps you turned away. Some days we all close eyes to injustice. Justify why you did not act or could not.

Perhaps the events occurred after you arrived, but you meet the perpetrator as in “The Colonel” by Carolyn Forché. Or maybe you stand in solidarity with the victims as Christopher Soto does in “In Support of Violence.” Perhaps the crimes occurred before you were born, but you carry the bruises in your DNA. Trauma is passed along with eye color. Share the family story. Would you pull the trigger or pour out the bottle if you had been there? Or would you choose all the pain that sparked you into being? Read “I Go Back to May 1937” by Sharon Olds for her answer.


The City That ____ Built—An Insert-Your-Angst-and-Live-in-It Prompt

One of my favorite lines in a song is “I live in a city sorrow built” from The National’s “Sorrow” on High Violet. I tried to visualize what that city would look like. Would it be shrouded in gray, no sunlight ever, only a hazy cold mist? Would the buildings be rusting metal and dirty plexiglass? The streets twisted and the sidewalks empty of birds? Would even the traffic lights be monochrome?

Perhaps anxiety is a more applicable home for me so that I live in a city of barb wire fences, ticking clocks, worried faces and emergency sirens. Every intersection mandates a mad dash of shrieking children, honking trucks, bicyclists, pets and skittish rabbits. The roads glitter with shattered glass and mirrors. The buildings are either abandoned and precariously leaning or overcrowded and violating fire codes. 

What emotion do you live in? What colors your world? Is it rage where you walk upon brush-pile paths under matchstick trees, live in houses of deadwood, drink gasoline from the tap and feed the birds—every one a phoenix—gun powder and a slap. 

Or is it lust that warms your world with every district Red Light and the buildings phallic wonders and the grottos deep and inviting? Do the birds call out, “Hey, baby” to passersby, and the honeysuckle drips wanton? 

Do you live in a world of joy? Can you describe it to me? I have only visited. 

For ideas, read Liam Rector’s “This City” and Ericka Meitner’s “Ghost Eden” and Lynne Melnick’s “Landscape with Riffraff and Poison” and her entire collection Landscape With Sex and Violence


Carve a Canyon In or Your Name On Another’s Body—A Prompt

In the last post, you were asked what carved you, what remains, what was created in that space. Now you are the water trickling through limestone, the wind on an overcultivated field, the little voice in another’s head (whether inner critic or inner demon or voice of reason or conscience), the repeated freezing and thawing on a door to another’s past, time itself on another’s body or future possibilities?

Have you lined a parent’s forehead; lifted a child’s chin and cracked the confining shell; straightened a friend’s spine and wing; or bowed the heads of lovers and drained their trust and trust fund? Have you restarted a clock behind another’s eyelids, carved your initials into a back or the throat’s rough bark, eroded an identity into shadow?

What did you take from those around you? What were your implements: your hands, your tongue, your curved belly, all of the above? What did you hope you to remake out of the destruction? Why and was it all worth it for the story to tell? For inspiration and an ache, read “Kudzu” by Saeed Jones.

 California Caverns, CA

California Caverns, CA