Sunday, April 8, 2012

Three Impromptu Poetry Prompts

For the first time ever, I'm participating in NaPoWriMo by writing a poem everyday this month. I'm always amazed by people who have a really high output of poem-writing. The trance-like state of mind I require for poem-writing seems to come only when forced these days, so I haven't been writing nearly as much as last year. Nor have I been submitting my work as much. I think I've send five packets the entire year. But this month is about writing, not submitting.

I was going strong through April 5th and then somehow on Friday I completely forgot. I didn't remember until Saturday evening when Sal and I were on our way to a movie. So I found myself on Easter Sunday with three poems to write and not a shred of ideas. Luckily, I've got practice at creating impromptu prompts when my lesson has fallen flat or finished with 20 minutes to spare and I need to keep my students busy!

Since I couldn't think of the last time I wrote three poems in one day, I created three prompts to give me momentum. Momentum. One of my weakest muscles. Once I start I can focus if I don't have a lot of anxiety. It's the starting that's trouble and the procrastination that feeds the anxiety. In case you're a procrastinator too, here are my three impromptu prompts. Feel free to borrow and manipulate.

1. The 2-Minute Poem

This is exactly what it sounds like. I drafted a poem in two minutes. The inspiration came from heating water for tea this morning, which also takes two minutes. If I was clairvoyant, I would have written while it heated, but instead I set a timer on my phone and wrote as quickly as I could for two minutes. After that was up, I left it alone for a while and came back to write the tentatively named, "Welcome to the Grown-Up Portion of the Decade."

In the future, I would recommend quickly going back over what you write and fixing any words that might be hard to read later. There's an entire sentence I can't read in my original chicken scratch draft.

2. The 30-Rock Poem

So, I watch TV. A lot of TV actually. Mostly I have it on in the background while I clean the apartment. I also like to watch TV while I eat. Today I was relaxing and eating my English muffin with PB and honey watching 30 Rock when I decided to just start writing down words from the episode. Once I made a list of about 20 words I wrote a poem draft that used every word in the poem.

Having a word bank is useful because it forces you to stretch language and gets the pen moving or fingers typing when you are stuck. I drafted this poem in a notebook by hand and then typed and revised it later. It's fun watching a story or character or universe emerge from this crop of words you harvested. The title of this prompt's poem is "This is Our Prize for the Silent Years."

3. The Anti-Imitation Poem

When I'm really struggling for my own words, I like to borrow someone else's. I found a poem online by Ada Limon called "Crush" and copied it into my own Word document twice. Have the original there to reference when you need to restart a line or phrase. Then I went through each word and line and rewrote its opposite. This gets hard when you have to come up with the opposite of persimmon (which I decided was the poisonous hedge-apple).

That's where originality enters: you choose for what constitutes an opposite, which words you change, which you leave. Eventually I will take this draft and use it in a different way by either stealing some of the lines or inventing a different structure. The poem "Yield" came from this prompt.


Will Brown said...

I've never been really good at using writing prompts.  The writing always seems forced.  I now that it is only a mental thing though. Maybe I'll try a prompt for today's poem.
Thanks for sharing!

Laura Davis said...

I like to think of prompts as an extension of form writing. They give words direction, rules, boundaries. I see no difference between saying, "each line must have 10 syllables" and "the poem must contain these 20 words" - it's just a different kind of rule. Sometimes we have to break free of the original idea to allow the real poem to emerge, but the path you took to get there was necessary.

Let me know how your poem-writing goes with a prompt!

Jillypoet said...

this came at a great time for me!  i, too, am behind in my napowrimo commitment!  thanks!