Ekphrastic, Pic from the Button Factor—Three Prompts

The past two weeks have not been productive ones. I neglected to post even a Valentine’s prompt. This coming week will, I hope, be better. 

For the prompt, use the following picture from an abandoned button factory. What can make you of the image of the buttons spilling in a downward spiral? Where are the threads to anchor the buttons, the needles? Where have all the hands that created the buttons gone? What shirts are now undone, unable to close and shield the body from view? What is spilling open now? What effect does time have on even what binds things together? Why is someone standing at the top ledge of a staircase lined with a thousand ways to slip? When do you do the same? Sometimes it feels as if I am about to slip whenever I open my mouth. 

If you are having difficulty getting started, read “ San Sepolcro” by Jorie Graham, ”Shirt” by Robert Pinsky, “White Buttons” by Mary Ruefle and “Night Falls Like a Button” by Chen Chen. Notice how wide ranging the themes and styles are. 


(btw, I could not find the origin of the picture to give credit). 

“Put this in my toaster”—the Domestic Bliss Prompt

Yes, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and, yes, it is a holiday that is dreaded, mocked, celebrated and ignored sometimes all by the same person at different stages in life. Nonetheless, let’s add some romance to the February rain (and, sorry, everyone else, snow). Let’s skip the first message/text and the first date and just leap in to a marriage in all of its domestic erotica.

 For the first prompt, take the first line from Luisa Muradyan’s “Marriage” as a fill-in-the-blank exercise and choose another verb to complete the infinitive phrase: “Marriage is a lifelong commitment to” ________. From that line, extend the metaphor throughout the poem as Muradyan did. 


Btw, Ilya Kaminsky is a great poet to follow on Twitter for posted poems and interesting discussions, and I absolutely love this poem.  The full poem is below:


For the second prompt, use the line “There is honesty/in the oatmeal but not the Greek yogurt” as a ghostline just because that line made me laugh. Here is where overblown claims (innuendo intended) about pomegranates, cranberries, acai, etc. can come in handy.   

For a third prompt, create a list poem listing all the places where love poems are. The title could even be or some variation of the line “There are love poems everywhere.” Again, give credit to Muradyan for the inspiration.

For a fourth prompt, write a poem using the following words: “ritual,” “forbidden,” “ashamed,” “calling,” “wash,” “honesty,” “ancient,” and “aisle” but again change the religious context. What other subject matter could these apply to.  

For a fifth prompt, use a quote and apply it within the poem. I love how Muradyan follows the quote with what each partner does repeatedly (and therefore are).  Perhaps write a poem using the quote “Life must be understood backward. But it must be lived forward” by Søren Kierkegaard and write a narrative poem in flashback. 

For a final prompt, turn a routine domestic task—such as grocery shopping as Muradyan did—into foreplay and afterglow. Put all the dirt into cleaning house, make a striptease of laundry, turn your oven on for baking.  


Failed Ekphrastic Poem—Prompts to Try, Break, and Rebuild

Failure happens. I tried to respond to an ekphrastic prompt for a contest and repeatedly looked at the drawing, but nothing came. I finally did write something (two days before the deadline) but didn’t like it. Even failed attempts teach though, and after a friend helped me, I ended up with a better poem and ideas for how to edit it further.

Here is the drawing ”The Davenport” by poet and writer Steve Davenport: 


And here is the editor’s hint:  


For your first prompt, use the drawing and the editor’s hint to create a poem. Please share! I would love to read your resulting poem! 

Here was my original poem, which I find choppy and unconnected and contradictory to the interweaving inherent in the subject matter: 


Here is the suggested revisions from the generous Adrian Ernesto Cepeda: 


For a second prompt, take one of your existing poems (or perhaps the poem you inspired by the DavenTree) and break up the lines to avoid end stopping, or perhaps cut them at the punctuation. Play around. Start with your very last line and see what happens. I have a poem that a friend recommended that I try that exact exercise with. (Full disclosure: still on my to-do list, although I started it). 

While I like the poem much better (THANK YOU, ADRIAN!!!), I think the subject matter may be better suited to a form—particularly the pantoum. I want the weaving and repetition of the poem’s lines to replicate DNA’s function in life. 

For a third possible prompt, take an existing poem and pilfer its lines/phrases/images/words for pantoum. Here is the pantoum form in case you need a reminder and a link to a helpful site if you wish more information on this form or others: 


Good luck! Good writing...and breaking and editing! 

Self-Reflection and Self-Replicating Prompts

How do you visualize your “self”—is it a body part, an onscreen character you watch during a every uncomfortable scene in a rom com, a color, the smell of a rusty swing set and cut grass, the TV screen your eyes make of the world and framed by your hair? Perhaps the latter is only my projection of self lost in the world around me. Is your self the one you recognize in photographs, in the mirror, in the weight of your body as you wake in the morning?

Create a metaphor of your self and follow it as it moves about the world. Do you empathize with your self—perhaps want to pick it up and cuddle it like a stray kitten? Or are you embarrassed by it? Is your self the pair of underwear you only wear when all others are in the laundry hamper? Or do you glorify in your self? Is it a jewel sparkling beneath your skin, a peacock giving a hundred side glances to all newcomers to the scene, a stallion outracing all your competitors whether they know they should be running or not? 

This prompt was inspired by a poem shared on Twitter by the amazing poet Emilia Phillips (author of Landscape of Sex and Violence). I wanted to give credit to Emilia Phillips for sharing the poem especially since I found her notations interesting.


And here is the entire poem. 


For a second prompt, use the line but fill in the ending: “i thought that i was a ____” to begin the poem and to end it. Think of the two lines as mirroring each other. What do they reflect? Be sure to credit Justin Phillip Reed (“After Justin Phillip Reed” after your poem’s title”).

Another possible prompt is simply to use that same line “i thought that i was a long hand” as a ghostline. Play with the idea of self as ghost (or how about the concept of ghost line itself?) What moves through your self, what does your self pass through in turn? If your self is a line, what does it intersect with, what is it parallel to? Where is it heading? Regardless of how you play with these concepts, still give credit to the poet though.

For a fourth prompt, use the following words in a poem: “angling,” “rigid,” “war-sharp,” “slashing,” “gauze,” “smudged,” “histories,” “contours,” “plexiglas,” and “wring.”

As always, please share any poems written from the prompt (however tenuously). I would love to read your poems! And once published, please send a link so that I can promote your work!


Two Beautiful Poems Make Seven Prompts and a Scene

Today, let’s look at two poems: the first, “Re: Happiness, In Pursuit Thereof” by C.D. Wright, and the second, “Transformation” by Adam Zagajewski and translated by Clare Cavanagh. Notice the similarities of the endings (credit to Bethany Hindmarsh @bthmrsh on Twitter for observing the relationship between the endings and posting “Transformation”).  


For the first prompt, use “Re: Happiness, In Pursuit Therefore” as an inspiration for your own answer to the question of where you will be found. Where is that place? The intersection of regret and ten minutes after closing? A small oasis between last Tuesday and a deadline on Friday? A copse with a small ice-clogged stream?

For this next prompt, begin by answering the one thing you crave, although you can choose to break the rule as “Transformation” does and list three. A possible alternative is to describe what you crave it but never name it. 

For this next prompt, begin by answering the one thing you crave, although you can choose to break the rule as “Transformation” does and list three. A possible alternative is to describe what you crave it but never name it. 

For the third prompt, take the first line from either poem to use as a ghost line. Remember to erase the line. If you do use the first line, perhaps as an epigraph, be sure to give credit to the poet. Even if you do erase the line, you can always use the “After [poet’s name]” below your title. 

For a fourth prompt, try to use as many of the following words in your own poem: landfall, labyrinth, mercurochrome, chamomile, glass, ivory-billed, elapsed, riddle, crimson, muteness, careless, bends, walks, walls, lightning.

For a fifth, ponder what it means to be “ivory-billed” and “Invisible/except to the most prepared observer” if debate over the ivory-billed woodpecker’s presumed extinction lives on? Then answer why the “birds grow quiet”; what snuffed their voices? Or, if you prefer, describe any negative phenomenon as in “heard the birds grow quiet”: felt numbness spread, saw vision fade, tasted hunger, etc. 

For the sixth prompt, notice all the indicators of time in the two poems: the year “2005,” “before landfall,” “at night,” “Aztec time,” “fifth and final cycle,” “digital,” “early,” “Elapsed breath,” “months,” “sunsets,” again night, “dusk” and “September.” Juxtapose these indicators. What did/will time make us? When do we begin again if we never stop ending?

For the final prompt, compare “stardust/Ancient tailings of nothing” to “September’s sweet dust gathered.” When do we become lightning? What next?


And here is a photo I took using the Paper Camera app.

More Gifts—Prompt Inspired by Rachel McKibbens

Rather than a gift of darkness, describe joyful, life-affirming gifts, the gentle ones Rachel McKibbens recommends. For sample poets or poems just for pleaseure, read “The Gift” by Li-Young Lee and read the poems “Minneapolipstick” and an “Untitled” by the inspiring Rachel McKibbens.


I can no longer remember at which beach I took this picture, but I remember the happiness of the moment.  It lingers, a warmth in my palm.


Gift—Prompts Inspired by Mary Oliver’s “The Uses of Sorrow”

I was saddened to hear of Mary Oliver’s passing. While she was sometimes dismissed in academic circles, her poetry touched so many—perhaps it was her accessibility led that to her dismissal as “serious poetry” by some. Regardless, I believe she has much to teach and to admire.

For this first prompt, please notice how much Oliver is able to say in such a short poem. Limit yourself to five lines to say what legacy you will leave others. This could be a list or one single image. 

For a second prompt, what is the poem of a dream? Write from a single dream or a compilation of dreams? How does time function in this poem, similar or opposed to the dream(s)? is there a color that tinges the entire dream/poem. Describe the color but do not name it. What feeling did the dream leave  you with upon waking? Yearning, anguish, hope, solace? What feeling do you what the poem to convey? 

For a third prompt, answer whether you kept the “box of darkness” Oliver writes of. If not, where did you leave it? Did it you pass it on? If so, to whom? If you kept it, where is box now?  What has this gift provided you? 


Below is a photo of Mary Oliver provided with an article in Slate

  Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images. 

Let’s Science the Shit out of this Life and this Death—Poetry Prompt

For this prompt, take statistical terms and apply them to your daily life, nature or your immediate surroundings, or a seemingly unrelated topic. Make a scientific study of the statistical probability of  having all the necessary ingredients for a recipe two weeks after a divorce, the inverse correlation between expertise and confidence in discussing a subject on Twitter, and the causal relationship between the skin color and gender of congressional member and resulting media attention—as measured in number of articles, tweets, editorial op ed’s, and TV rants by pundits—on a high school nickname or use of profanity.

Or avoid politics. Use the Overton window to explain your mother’s comfort in showing your nude baby photos to your acquaintenances or Poe’s law to justify your dating experiences. Plot your levels of anxiety and escapism. Make a bar graph of excuses to cancel social interactions. Cite your sources.

For inspiration, read “Exploded View” by Heather June Gibbons in Her Mouth as Souvenir (pasted at the bottom of this post) or in its original version entitled “Diagram.” I sincerely recommend buying her book. Amazing. Click here to buy from the publisher. It is also available at Amazon and other retailers.


And here is the poem—so fantastic. I am grateful I was able to hear her read it and other poems from her book last Wednesday. And so glad I bought Her Mouth as Souvenir!


OMG, I love the “red telephone and a black telephone”!

Event and Prompt: This Wednesday at the Ugly Mug—Dark Ink Anthology Reading! Be there and be scared (of me apparently)

Mermaids, monsters, 50-ft. women, oh, my! Join us at 8 p.m. at the Ugly Mug in Orange for your favorite creature feature and Moon Tide’s publisher Eric Morago whom I blackmail into publishing me because I keep his darkest secret in an empty Kleenex box on my bedside table. I haven’t ever seen it—it is a dark secret and avoids the light, duh—but I feed it pumpkin seeds, so I know it is still there. Buy the book and free his secret or his soul—both probably cost the same.

And now for the first prompt: write a poem or story about taking a mermaid for a lover or an enemy. For inspiration, read Jan Stinchcomb’s “The Lorelei Project.” Just remember, not all hearts beat warm. 


 (This is the mermaid I created out of rocks, seaweed, and shells a few years ago.)

And here is a picture of me looking very intense (or my attempt at frightening at the Dark Ink anthology launch:

(Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher)

(Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher)

And here is my mermaid poem in the anthology...but you have to buy the book to read the ending of “Mermaid: The Ending.”


Thank you, Adrian Ernesto Cepeda, for the photo and for the plug on Twitter!

The Year as Ghostline—A Prompt Inspired by Lucille Clifton

I love this poem by Lucille Clifton (along with so many other of hers), so to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another, use the opening line “i am running into a new year” as a ghostline. As an added constraint, include three other ages or years. Which years or your previous selves were the hardest to leave behind? Which are the hardest to run into again or the hardest you run away from? 


New Year’s Eve—Prompt for the Passing and the Surviving

For the last day of 2018—a hard year for so many as we have watched a slow falling into night—spend a moment to remember all the moments that brought you here under the blinking sky, the births and breaths and birdsong. Write a poem to honor what beauty has passed and what beauty remains. Try to use anaphora and alliteration. For inspiration, read Joy Harjo’s poem “Remember.”


Christmas Prompts—The Gift of the Internet

Last year I came up with my own prompts for the holiday; this year, just a big nope. My brain this holiday season is the blankest page in a notebook, not even lined. So here is a list of writing prompts for both poetry and fiction from Litbridge.  


And here is a bizarre short story that I loved from Greg Van Eekhout and found today on Twitter. Again, Twitter (in spite of all of my griping about Nazis, incels and bots (oh, my!) is a blessing. How could I not click on the link with that description...


The “O” Prompt—NSFW

Volcanoes, lightning strikes, and tsunamis—what natural disaster best describes your “o” moment? Or perhaps what fills your head as your body blinks its third eye at God’s coming light is a gentle rain after a long drought, a single ray of light grazing the center of a daisy, a spring bubbling in a forest, a wetlands sprouting lilies.  

Maybe rather than images, you hear a choir belting out “Joy to the World,” a clarion call, a cascade of flutes, or a single harp string thrummed. Describe the song, the words and instruments if any, the tone and the register. God loves a song of praise. Sing it out.

Or possibly all of your boxes on the to-do list of your body get checked in black marker and every item on your pull-down menu is selected. 

Choose your metaphor and ride it all the way through until you’re done and done. 

For inspiration, read these two poems by Danez Smith: “King the Color of Space, Tower of Molasses & Marrow” and “Bare.” 


Obligatory Frankenstein Poem—Sarah ChristianScher (aka Scarus ChristforSure)

Today’s prompt is meta or incestuous, whichever scares you the most. This poem (perhaps) came from one of my prompts (or rather a challenge) back in June, and now the prompt is title your poem “Obligatory ____  Poem” and use the following six words from Sarah’s poem: name, living, head, hiss, kindling, mirror. Try to change the usage of the words from verb to noun and vice versa or feel free to binge on gerunds like potato chips and piss off writing instructors everywhere.  

Btw, to read the rest of Sarah’s poem, you have to buy the book!!!! Muhahahahahahahah. Here’s the link


And here is that sweet face housing the diabolical mind that makes Ian’s friends worry about his incipient demise involving pogo sticks, an inflatable baby pool filled with electric eels, and a banana peel. 


Poetry Prompt from Phillip B. Williams—Stealing Prompts Because Mice Are Cute Thieves

So I am pretty tired, and no prompts (or anything else productive) is happening in my brain. The hamster wheel has rusted still and quiet. So, time to find Twitter prompts! Blessed, blessed poets posting prompts... 


Photo chosen because I love this children’s book and because the mouse is me, my brain, and my current level of ambition all holding a flower. 


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. 


Dark Ink Anthology—Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

This post is a month overdue...I had technical issues with some of the photos, so I had to scrap my initial plan and instead individually feature poets from the Dark Ink anthology launch.

First of all, I want to start with Adrian Ernesto Cepeda. I was so stoked getting to meet him in person at the Dark Ink launch after following him on Twitter for so long. And his poem was fantastic! Buy the anthology from Moon Tide Press, so that you can read it and all the other fantastic poems!


Full disclosure: I stole this photo from his post on Facebook. Below is a selfie of the two of us. 


And look down here for some members of the audience!


Discussion—Inspiration, Voice, Attribution, and Honesty

Centos and erasures are two of my favorite forms, and I use epigraphs and ghost lines. Yes, they draw upon others’ materials for both text and inspiration, but they give credit and what is created is (and should be) something unique. After a recent incident of serial plagiarism—which seems to be outright theft from several poets—and cultural/personal appropriation, these forms and poems that clearly draw inspiration off of other writers seem tainted. 

I believe there is a place for these forms and for conversations among poems and between poets within works, BUT attribution is required. I don’t ever condone or promote plagiarism. Yes, poets imitate poets they admire. I have been to readings in which younger poets’ cadences and imagery were clearly influenced by a poetry idol within their community. Much of this imitation is unconscious and an indication of admiration and learning, but the poets were clearly writing their own poems.

Developing one’s voice can be a long process—I am still developing mine, but the centos that I have created do seem to have what I consider my voice. I am very careful to note the origin of each line. If you do create a cento or use a line for an epigraph or consciously structure a poem after another, give credit and ensure your poem is not just a copy. If in doubt, ask someone to look over it. If the poem seems nothing more than a replica or an echo of the other poet, put the poem aside. Come back to it when you have a clearer sense of your own voice. Be good to the community and to yourself. 

I welcome hearing your viewpoints on these forms. Best wishes and good luck writing! 


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.