Word list

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.

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!

The CDC’s 7 Forbidden Words—Another Word List Prompt

As you may have read, the Trump Administration is prohibiting officials at the CDC from using seven words/phrases in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

The list of forbidden words:

  1. Evidence-based
  2. science-based
  3. vulnerable
  4. entitlement
  5. diversity
  6. transgender
  7. fetus.

Several poets have suggested using these seven words in a poem. I first read of the prompt from Cathy Park Hong on Twitter, but several others posted the idea on Facebook.

Here is an opportunity you might like: Sarah Freligh and Amy Lemmon invited poets to submit poems in any form but using all seven words (preferably in repetition) to CDCpoetry@gmail.com for publication on their blog. Check their blog out for updates, more prompts and poems.



Femme Fairy Tale Word List

Word lists, yes, word lists. While all of us remember having to write out vocabulary words, exercises using words from one poem or by a particular poet can propel some useful freewriting or even lead into a poem or short story. Just as a form can force our writing into a new direction by its restrictions, word lists and ghost lines can offer a starting point. Sometimes a box opens into a whole new room.  

Below is a femme fairy tale word and phrase list from “Little Red”in Double Jinx by Nancy Reddy.

Choose eight and climb in. See where it carries you.

Gorged                                                                       Kindling

Grainy                                                                         Hearth

Swallowed                                                                  Framed

Rib cage                                                                      Rumbling

Papered                                                                       Hidden

Shelved                                                                       Pinned

Belly plump                                                                Vivisection

Gobbled                                                                      Pink

Roast                                                                           Fall

Cracking                                                                     Inside

Double Jinx.jpg

Nancy Reddy

Rather than reading the poem that originated the list, which may restrict your own originality, check out the fabulous "The Case of the Double Jinx" by Nancy Reddy.