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!

More “Borrowing” from Twitter—Proper-noun-yourself-into-a-poem Prompt

Full disclosure: I love Shira Erlichman’s poems and cannot wait for her forthcoming Odes to Lithium. Using her concept she tweeted below, take a noun and open the poems about it as itself and as something you have made of yourself: “singer and song,” belief and believer, mourning and mourner, dance and dancer, knowledge and knowing (in a carnal sense or not), paint and painter, Twitter and tweet (ha). Stretch the language if necessary. What would “bitter” as a noun and “bitterer” as doer encompass? Play a little: whine and whiner, wine and drinker, bird and birder, jump and jumper, memory and eraser, gaslight and lighter. Journey from there. 


This tweet is a poem. So lovely.


The Black Hole Ate My Blog Post—A Delayed Prompt

So this is a prompt I’d intended to write last week after news of four bees drinking a woman’s tears and of the first image of a black hole. I even wrote a poem about the black hole only to have my phone die in the middle of reading it. The black screen seemed particularly apt. Since my brain seems to be full of dizzy bees and holes, I am going to rely on the Twitter poets to save me. 


 I hope that your poem does almost write itself. Some poems seem to burst out of me, but others...hmm. 

For your first prompt, write a poem about bees or any creature living off your sorrow. What do you want to tell this creature? Would you stop feeding it if you could? What do you want in return? For inspiration, read Justin Phillip Reed’s “About the Bees” (seems very apt) and—for a shorter read—Emily Dickinson’s “Fame is a bee.”

If you would like more information about the actual story, here is a link.  


Now for the second prompt, write a poem about black holes as metaphor, as as scientific phenomena, as MRA ego. What moment, what existence, what reality exists in the black hole? What feeds it? What in your own life pulls you across a room, draws you in until even your breath can barely escape?

Below is the image. Eye of Sauron is a fitting description, although the overall explanations and descriptions in Hannah Devlin’s article in the Guardian are brilliant.


For a third prompt, combine the two, the black hole and tear-sipping bees, in the same poem. Are you the light or the dark, the drinker or the nectar? Which is God? Do we enter heaven, or are we pulled into it? Do we drink the wine, or is it our immaterial selves, the flashing of neurons, that sustain the immortal? Can we choose? What is your choice?


Your Lighthouse, North Star, the Moon, Heart and Other Overdone Metaphors: It’s William Shatner to the Mic

Yes, we have all written them—sappy, overwrought, overdone metaphors in poems comparing a new love to a lighthouse or guiding star and then a followup poem to the moon lamenting the breakup and your shattered glass heart. So do it again. And do it big. Do it with lots of unnecessary pauses. No William Shakespeare now; embody William Shatner. Boldly go where everyone has gone before and by God like it. This is 30/30, and the 13th. You have earned a night of Boone’s Strawberry Hill and Cool Ranch Doritos. So pile on those gerunds and rhyme heart/part/start in the first stanza. You got this. 

Courtesy of Paramount Television in   Fortune

Courtesy of Paramount Television in Fortune

Now that the pressure is off to write a poem for the challenge, get a little weird. Switch the heart with another organ, replace lighthouse with telephone pole, substitute moon with Uranus. Mix the metaphors, make verbs out of your nouns and see what happens. Maybe you will even get a second poem out of this. Hope to read this in the next issue of Poetry!

Bonus prompt: take the Star Trek episode pictured here (“The Trouble with Tribbles” ) and multiply some other creature or object. 

Good luck! 

Another Twitter Prompt—Orchards of Scissors, Silverware, Clocks, Socks, Widgets, Tofu, a Sister

More stealing from Twitter... Using Todd Dillard’s prompt, describe what would grow in your orchard. What would you plant, and what would spring up on its own? I once liked to pretend meat grew on trees. Now I am a vegetarian and avoid eating anything with a face. People can be buried in pods that will grow into trees. Rather than a cemetery, a forest grows. For my family whose name Pflaum is pronounced “plum,” most likely an orchard. Who comes for harvest? What is shared? What is eaten?


For this month, Todd Dillard is creating a thread of prompts. Follow him on Twitter for more. And I hope this prompt helps create a poem. Please share. I would love to read your poem!


Murders, Conspiracies, Wakes and Deceits—This List Poem is for the Birds

This prompt is inspired by a tweet from the amazing Frankie Choi. For your next poem for the 30/30 challenge, write a list poem of why you don’t trust birds—perhaps it is their beaks, the skill of crows in holding grudges and remembering faces, the tiny aggressiveness of hummingbirds, and the ability of most birds to fly above and defecate on the heads of their enemies (this would be why I envy them of course), their relation to dinosaurs, etc. After all, the collective nouns for many birds—a murder of crows, a conspiracy of ravens, a wake of vultures and a deceit of lapwings—do not exactly inspire confidence. Choose all birds or one particular species if one is particularly disturbing.

Perhaps you don’t want to write about fears or trickery, but do like birds. Make a list poem of images with birds as Wallace Stevens does in his “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” And here is a response poem to that from the perspective of blackbirds (that I really like): “Thirteen Blackbirds Look at a Man” by R. S. Thomas. 

If birds are your beacons of happiness but you still want a list poem of a creature’s skullduggery, then choose another species. Perhaps you are suspicious of kittens—those plump bodies with their hidden pointy parts ever reading to attack toes, their excessive pride (and of cats) in their ass, their cruelty in playing with their food, etc. 


NaPoWriMo (APRIL 30/30) Begins!!!!

This is the first day of the 30 poems in 30 days challenge. Each day, try to write a poem. If you get behind (as I will), try to write nine in one day (also me). I will post prompts during this month and post links to other places posting prompts. Remember, this challenge is difficult, it’s goal is a good one: to get all of us writing! And don’t forget that these are drafts. April is the month of writing, and May of editing. Let’s celebrate poetry and write together. 

For the first prompt, check out the NaPoWriMo site that will post prompts every day and start with its first prompt. I will post links to other sites so that you have more choices. If nothing else, take a poem you previously wrote and make it into a form: a haiku, tanka, ode, etc. If the poem breaks the form, call it a modified _____. Or do an erasure of an old poem to get to one central idea/image/emotion. Best of luck!!! 


Please share what you have! I’d love to read your poems. 

W.S. Merwin—Poetry and Prompts

In honor of W.S. Merwin, I’d like to share a few of his poems and let his brilliance inspire more poetry. If any of these prompts do resonate with you, please acknowledge his influence by using “After W.S. Merwin” or a similar method.

For the first prompt, use the title “For the Anniversary of My Death” as a ghostline. Ask yourself what will remain after you go? How do you now pass that unnamed day? Where are you or what activity are you in the middle of when that faint breath of mortality sighs along the back of your neck? 


For the second prompt, let’s use Chen Chen’s favorite poem, and one that brings an ache to my throat. I am amazed at the power of these three lines. Your prompt is to describe the color of absence in three lines. Do not mention the word “absence” anywhere but in your title. 


For the third prompt, think what words “will be buried with us”? What words do you carry with you, hear in the dark well of your sleep, and wait to rise and bear witness in your heavy bones, trapped within your rib cage until all and everything are freed to the sky? 


I find this photo of him by Jill Greenberg particularly lovely.  


Photo: Jill Greenberg/Courtesy of Copper Canyon Press  (found in NPR’s article “Poet W.S. Merwin, Who Was Inspired by Conservation, Dies at 91”) 

Dressed to Kill or Fly or Both—Prompts for the Lovely and We All Are Lovely, Damn it

For the next prompts, I want to use Tresha Haefner’s fabulous poem  “Swan Wedding” published in Cultural Weekly (Click the link for Tresha’s other poem and for other wonderful poets). I loved this hearing this poem read at Tresha’s feature and reading it on the page. The imagery is incredible.


First prompt: how would you dress to kill, to die, to escape. What outfit that you’ve worn or dream of wearing is the one that you would be married, seduced, sirened, and buried in? Is it a three-piece suit,  a sequined prom dress, the little black dress, or white wedding gown. Or if it is flannel pajamas, a hoodie, jeans and a geeky t-shirt, that is cool too. Describe this outfit but make the fabric a bed of roses and bloodstained thorns, a silky blouse house fire of a low neckline, a caution sign jacket, a starry sky filled with the unreachable heavens of distant gods, a murder of crows miniskirt with fishnet stockings that hooked a thousand leaping salmon.

For a second prompt, make a poem using the following words found in “Swan Wedding”: “satin,” “glaze,” “obsidian,” “shimmer,” “scythes,” “vodka,” “clouds,” “silver,” and “smash.”

For a third prompt, read Stacy Gnall’s “Self-Portrait as Thousandfurs” and notice the similarities and differences. In what outfit do you make your escape. What sacrifice do wear against your skin? Or what animal, bird, or insect would you trade your own skin for? 

Photo by Noel Nichols on  Unsplash  website.  

Photo by Noel Nichols on Unsplash website.  

Forest Door—Ekphrastic prompt

Here is another ekphrastic prompt: use the photo to create a poem. Remember to not simply describe the photograph though. Ask yourself who or what built the doorway and for whom. And why? Is the doorway an entrance to the forest or an entrance for the forest?

A doorway made of twigs, some floating, seems a structure designed by birds. Can a doorway be a nest, or vice versa? What does it mean to leave home and what is home? 

Doors provide an opening through a wall or other boundary. What are the unseen walls here? A doorway should have a door that closes and perhaps even locks. What does a doorway without the door mean? What is its purpose?  

Here are two poems that might provide inspiration: “Bon Courage” by Amy Guerstler, “Prospective Immigrants Please Note” by Adrienne Rich, and “Doorway” by Jack Myers. 

Good luck writing!


Post-Valentine’s Day—The Prompt That Won’t Get Carded

Margaret Atwood’s “Variation on the Word Sleep” is a poem that still brings an ache to my throat, especially when I remember the seemingly hopeless yearning I felt for my (now) husband. I think of it  when I lie next to him at night and listen to his rhythmic breathing, letting the sound of his presence rock me to too-often elusive sleep. I imagine that at my passing my soul alighting upon his outstretched finger and resting for one moment in his cupped hand before fluttering off to my preferred oblivion, and I wish for one moment to see the world made orderly by his rational eyes. My skies, the only place I am gifted with wings, are the blue that watch me.

Wll, that has probably embarrassed him enough for now...on to the prompts!

Prompt 1: Describe another activity that you want to watch a potential lover perform? Would you like to watch a lover drink the first cup in the morning? To be the aroma inhaled, the relief in the first swallow, the trail of warmth sliding along tongue and down the throat to the center of abdomen, to be carried there in a cold morning, the frenetic firing of neurons wiping away sleep’s film, to embody the addiction and daily comfort and habit, to be reached for and cupped every blessed morning, even the darkest ones. If you do use this prompt, particularly if you use similar wording to the original or use a variation on the title (pun intended), don’t forget to credit Atwood. 


Prompt 2: What items would you give a lover to protect them (or he/her) in a dream? An invisibility cloak to hide them from the monsters, an eagle’s wings to fly high above pain, a key to unlock the guilt-manacles chaffing their wrists? 

Prompt 3: Where does your lover’s dream-self travel? Where is their “worst fear”? Describe the land/environment. How will you help them return to the waking? Will you offer gate or boat or bridge or door or galloping horse or tunnel or elevator? And how will you follow them there? If it helps, you can use the line “towards your worst fear” as ghost line. The rest of the poem can your desired lover’s journey or your own. Again be sure to give credit.


Dana Point, CA

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.