According to the Chinese zodiac, 2023 is the year of the rabbit, which symbolizes longevity, peace, and prosperity. The zodiac is a repeating cycle of twelve years, and each year is represented by a different animal with symbolic traits. Next year will be the year of the dragon, which represents strength and independence; followed by the year of the snake, which represents curiosity and wisdom. Write an essay that reflects on the animal associated with your birth year and how it relates to your personality. Can you find any similarities? As an added challenge, consider the animals associated with your family members and whether these signs hold true to their qualities.
The Time Is Now
Noah Baumbach’s film adaptation of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, Sam Esmail’s forthcoming film adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind, HBO’s miniseries adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven—novels with apocalyptic themes are appearing on screen more and more. Whether through satire or stark realism, this suspenseful setting allows writers to explore profound themes of survival, friendship, trust, hope, and resiliency. Inspired by apocalypse novels, write a short story that imagines the end of a modern civilization. Will you lean more toward satire, realism, or another form of expression entirely?
In a recent installment of our Agents & Editors Recommend series, Kristina Marie Darling, editor in chief of Tupelo Press, suggests taking risks with form in order to stand out from other poetry manuscripts. “Do something interesting with the space of the page,” writes Darling. “Be creative with how language is laid out on the page. Take risks with typography. Use white space as a unit of composition.” This week approach the page like a canvas. Let the visual element of your poem help tell the story and expand your language.
In a recent installment of our Writers Recommend series, Janine Joseph, author of Decade of the Brain (Alice James Books, 2023), writes about finding solace in computer scientist Neal Agarwal’s the Deep Sea website. Scrolling down the website, Joseph discovers animals and plant life at varying depths of the ocean, including the wolf eel, the chain catshark, and the terrible claw lobster. In the ocean’s midnight zone, where “creatures survive by their own light,” she finds inspiration in “what can and might exist at those disappearing depths.” Write an essay that meditates on the mysteries and profundities of the ocean. Does its depth inspire awe and wonder as it does for Joseph, or does it strike fear in you?
It’s awards show season for the film and television industry, but behind the camera are all the hardworking folks that make these shows happen. From florists arranging dramatic centerpieces, to chauffeurs driving celebrities from venue to venue, to the graphic designers of the envelopes holding the winners’ names—each individual helps make these one-night-only events possible. Consider what happens behind the scenes at one of these massive events and write a story from the perspective of someone working for an awards show. Imagine the mounting pressure throughout the night, the unexpected responsibilities that may arise, and the difficult celebrities one might encounter for the details in your story.
Award-winning and former U.S. poet laureate Charles Simic, who died last week at the age of eighty-four, was best known for his surrealist and often devastatingly funny poems. His poem “The Voice at 3 A.M.” reads in its entirety: “Who put canned laughter / Into my crucifixion scene?” In “Eyes Fastened With Pins,” Simic depicts a scene in which death is looking for “Someone with a bad cough, / But the address is somehow wrong, / Even death can’t figure it out.” Inspired by Simic, write a poem that mixes dark humor with a serious subject matter. How does integrating humor help balance and enliven the voice in your poem?
In a Q&A with Kaveh Akbar by Claire Schwartz, published in the September/October 2021 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, the poet reflects on the image of a salad spinner in his long poem “The Palace.” He writes: “I have a salad spinner in my kitchen, and we use it. Every time I see it, I’m like, ‘What a ghoulish thing to have—this thing that spins lettuce.’ I can’t think of anything more useless, a more damning indictment of our relative comfort.” What central everyday objects remind you of your relative comfort, or lack thereof? Write an essay that uses concrete images to reflect on the pleasures of your daily life. Do you ever feel shame about these pleasures?
The multitude of popular astrology apps—such as Co–Star, the Pattern, and Time Passages—exemplifies how the ancient study of celestial bodies predicting what happens on Earth is still very relevant. Many rely on astrological readings for career and dating advice, financial decisions, spiritual guidance, and even for what books to read. Write a short story in which a character relies on astrology to make a major life decision. How does their relationship to this divinatory practice change once things are set in motion?
In David Kirby’s poem “The Hours,” published in the latest issue of the Bennington Review, the poet reflects on a subject that feels more significant at the start of a new year: the presence of time. “I’m going to rely on you hours to lead me, / to open one door after another and beckon / me through. Look it’s time to make lunch. / Look, it’s time to go back to work. Look, / it’s time to rub cat Patsy’s belly again,” he writes. This week, write a poem that ruminates on the presence of time in your life. How does your perception of the passing minutes change from season to season?
“I needed to be lonely, it turns out, more than belonging, more than home, more than love. There was no plot of land, no village, town, city, country, in which I belonged,” writes Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Diane Seuss in her essay “On Not Belonging,” published in the inaugural issue of Through Lines Magazine. In the essay, Seuss explores what she learned from the moments in her life when she didn’t feel like she belonged, weaving in and out of topics such as an experience at an artists’ colony, her kinship with writer James Baldwin, and grieving the death of her father. Inspired by Seuss’s relatable and lyrical essay, write an essay that traces your history with belonging. When has not belonging sharpened your creative intuition?