Need a dose of inspiration for your writing routine this April? Take
our Poetry Challenge and try out a new writing prompt or poetry-related
assignment every day during National Poetry Month.
Transcribe a poem—one of your own from this month’s challenge or a poem that’s spoken to you sometime this month—onto a postcard. By the end of the day, slip that card into the mail to be delivered to a friend.
Pause today and allow yourself at least fifteen uninterrupted minutes to write freely, using the first word or phrase that comes to mind to guide the entire exercise. If you come to a stopping point in the writing before time is up, revisit the initial word or words as you would a refrain.
Choose a clichéd phrase ("fit as a fiddle," "think out of the box," "running on empty," etc.) and turn it around. Use the new meaning created by this reversal to fuel a poetic meditation.
Write a poem to or about a person close to you using any of the senses except sight.
Choose a word or phrase you find yourself saying often (e.g. like, totally, hate,
really, kind of) and write a poem using it as much as possible, turning
it over and over, repositioning it, extending it, playing with its uses
and the parts of speech into which it can be shaped.
Write a letter to a landscape or scene you pass through today. For example, “Dear Williamsburg Bridge,…”
Open a book that you're reading to any page. On this page are the materials you have at your disposal to make a poem. Circle words and phrases that strike you, as well as words with which you're not familiar or are overly familiar. Use the words on this page to make a new literary object. Repeat words as you see fit, but do not add any other material.
Choose a poem that you are in the process of revising. Create a map of that poem, paying attention to the gradation of its landscape, its realities and abstractions, its landmarks, the spacial relationships among its features. Use the map to guide a revision of the initial work.
Make a list of the names of your family members and friends. Use all of them to create a poem. Try writing a tiny letter to each name, using free association to link each name with another word, or describing each briefly as if it were a character or object.
Print out a poem—yours or another writer’s—double spaced. Above each word write another word that is similar in spelling or meaning, until you have the makings of new lines above each existing line. Revise these into a finished poem.
Take a look at the selection of Keith Waldrop’s collages and consider what Robert Seydel, the editor of Several Gravities (Siglio Press, 2009) writes of the work: "In collage, opacity is the norm, defining a solid architecture through a series of abutments. Certainly Waldrop employs this formal structure on occasion, but he more typically enunciates his picture through transparency. Ghostings, hauntings, veilings, falling and ascending figures, drift are central themes for Waldrop, all concerning the in-between, in part the unbeheld." Now write a poem.
Choose a poem that you’ve written and rewrite it in its reverse, making the last line the first, etc. Revise this version, creating a new poem.
Write a sonnet. For examples, visit the Poetry Foundation’s Web site.
Choose an everyday object (e.g. subway car, elevator, paper napkin, coffee, highway, grass) and investigate the anatomy of that object, real or imagined. What are the specific names for its parts, its origins, its functions, who it touches, how it moves or is moved? Use these terms to fuel the writing of a poem.
Flip through the dictionary randomly and choose ten words. Write a poem with each word in every other line.
Choose a favorite line from one of your poems and write a new poem using that line as the first one.
Find a map—of the Earth, the United States, or your home state or city—or visit Google Maps, pick a town at random, and write a poem about daybreak in that specific location, inventing any pertinent details.
Take any printed page—from your favorite magazine or book, today’s newspaper, an instruction manual, junk mail—and create an erasure poem. For a discussion of erasure poems and plenty of examples, read Small Press Points or visit the Wave Books Web site.
For one week, collect words and phrases you encounter throughout the
day, from signs, advertisements, menus, overheard conversations, radio
programs, television, etc. At the end of the week, write a found poem,
using these snippets.
Go to a used clothing store and choose a piece of clothing that you are
drawn to or repelled by. Wear the item and a channel a poem from it.
Write a poem using the N+7 form, conceived of by the French poets of the Oulipo movement. Choose a text, such as Elizabeth Bishop’s "One Art," and replace each noun in that text with the noun occurring seven entries below it in your dictionary. Next, try the exercise with one of your own poems. For more on the poets of the Oulipo, read "Oulipian Feats: Postcard From New York City."
Snip apart a draft of one of your poems, line by line or in chunks. Rearrange the elements and rerecord the original work.
“Translate” a poem into English from a language with which you have limited familiarity. Be attentive to the texture of the language and allow your immediate impulses about what the words mean inform your interpretation. Be sure not to look at an English translation until you have finished writing your imagined translation.
Select five objects from the room around you. Isolate those objects in a landscape and write a poem that investigates, insists upon, dissects, or contextualizes those objects. If the poem takes you away from those initial objects, and you find yourself stuck or lost in the landscape you’re creating, return to one of the objects.
Collect images from newspapers and magazines either by clipping them or making a list of the colors, things, people, objects, and their qualities that you notice as you look through them. If you’ve clipped images, create a collage with the clippings as an illustration of a poem not yet written, and then write that poem. If you’ve collected images as text, use the snippets to create a poem.
Transcribe a snippet of dialog overheard today and use that cue as the opening thought of a poem, like an epigraph.
Choose a line from those collected below, or a line from the book you’re reading, and embed that line in a work of your own, starting with or returning over and over to it.
“Oh, but it’s dirty!”
Elizabeth Bishop, “Filling Station”
“Somewhere someone is traveling furiously toward you,”
John Ashbery, “At North Farm”
“When I die, I want your hands on my eyes,”
Pablo Neruda, “Sonnet 89”
“Green, how I want you green.”
Federico García Lorca, “Romance Sonambulo”
“Such poisonous families / I startle,”
Cathy Park Hong, “Elegy”
“My quietness has a man in it, he is transparent,”
Frank O’Hara, “In Memory of My Feelings”
Transcribe the text of a sign that you encounter. Write maintaining the tone—imperative, advisory, declarative, etc.—of the sign.
Write to and through a work of visual art, such as the piece we’ve selected, Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth. (You can view the painting on Wikipedia's Web site.) Visit a museum or gallery to experience works firsthand or check out a Web site such as the Museum of Modern Art’s at moma.org, which allows you to peruse the museum’s collection.
Listen to an audio version of T. S. Eliot reading one of his poems. (On Salon’s Web site you can hear him read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.") Internalize the music and rhythm of the poem, and freewrite for a page, interpreting those elements in your own language. Read what you’ve written, circle three to five phrases that you like, and use them to start a poem.