Make a list of commonly used phrases or idioms (e.g. “don't let the cat out of the bag,” “beat a dead horse,” “no strings attached”). Choose one or two and examine them closely, particularly their literal meaning. Write a poem in which at least one line attempts to reveal the strangeness of a commonly used idiom. Read Dora Malech’s “Love Poem” for inspiration.
The Time Is Now
The Time Is Now offers a weekly writing prompt (we’ll post a poetry prompt on Tuesdays, a fiction prompt on Wednesdays, and a creative nonfiction prompt on Thursdays) to help you stay committed to your writing practice throughout the year. We also offer a selection of books on writing—both the newly published and the classics—that we recommend you check out for inspiration, plus advice and insight on the writing process from the authors profiled in Poets & Writers Magazine. And don’t miss Writers Recommend, which includes books, art, music, writing prompts, films—anything and everything—that has inspired other authors in their writing.
A cento, Latin for "patchwork," is a poem composed entirely of fragments and lines taken from other poems and/or written sources. Try creating your own patchwork poem by incorporating lines from various poems in a poetry anthology. For inspiration, read David Lehman's cento in the New York Times.
While writing poetry in a particular form can feel restrictive, it also forces you to make decisions, use words, and write lines that you might not otherwise. Look over your poetry for common features such as the number of lines and stanzas. Based on what you find, create a form—a set number of lines, a set number of stressed syllables per line, and perhaps a relationship among lines, such as having certain lines rhyme or repeat. Write five poems using this form.
Choose a well-known person from history or from the news. Write a persona poem from this person's voice and perspective. For an example, read the poet Ai's "The Good Shepherd: Atlanta, 1981," from her collection Sin (Norton, 1986), written from the perspective of convicted murderer Wayne Williams, or watch a video of Ai reading the poem.
Imagine today that the universe is trying to send you a message. Try to see everything through this imagined perspective. Take note of the day's incidentals that are working to convey this message to you: the guy walking toward you on the street wearing your brother's favorite color, the petals of the same color blowing in the wind, a sign you notice with a saying that strikes you, how the quality of light conjures a past event. Write a poem using these collected images and impressions that reveals the message.
Look through your poem drafts, notes, and writing fragments. Choose one line that you like and refine it until it feels as complete and polished as one line out of context can be. Use that line as a refrain in a new poem. When you've completed a decent draft, try writing an additional draft of the poem without the line, using it instead as the title.
In honor of National Poetry Month, commit to memorizing one poem a week during April. Allow the experience of inhabiting each poem in this way feed your own poetry.
Open a dictionary, an encyclopedia, or a book from your bookshelves to any page; choose a word, and write it down. Repeat this nine times. Write a poem with ten couplets (they need not rhyme) using one of the words from your list in each couplet, without using the first person.
Visit a museum or an art gallery. While looking at the art, transcribe fragments from the written descriptions and/or titles that accompany each work. Create a poem out of the fragments you've transcribed.
Write a lyric poem titled "Ode to the Girl in the Red Shoes." Read the Poetry Foundation's definition of the ode, for more information.
During the next week collect images, photographs, small objects, lines of poetry that you've written, passages from other writers' work, snippets of conversations you overhear. Throughout the week put these things in a shoe box or something similar. At the end of the week, sit down and lay out each thing around you. Use the things you've collected as the ingredients for a poem.
Channel a person you've lost in your life. Find a photograph or reflect on a mental image of a friend or relative who is no longer part of your everyday life (because of death, estrangement, physical distance) and reenter the moment of that image, examining the clothing, the facial expression, the nuances of the scene in which the subject is situated. Then go deeper, into the scents, the temperature of the air, the physical and emotional sensations related to this particular scene from a past life. Now write down any words evoked by this reflection, whether they form a narrative or are entirely associative, whether they come from the point of view of an observer or the person herself. Use this material you've created to write a poem (you might try writing it in the form of a letter to your loved one, or from her to you).
Write a poem that is in the form of a letter to a person from your past, a person from history, or a place. As you revise the poem, examine the poem's structure, looking for patterns. How many syllables are most of the lines? How many lines make up each unit (or stanza). Once you get a sense of the dominant structure, revise the poem asserting that structure consistently.
Poet Stanley Kunitz often advised his students to end a poem on an image without explaining it. Write a new poem or revise an old one, ending it with an evocative image left unexplained.
Record the advertising slogans and advertising copy that you encounter throughout the day. Pick one slogan/catchphrase or a brief selection of advertising copy and incorporate it into a poem, without mentioning the object or service being marketed.
Pick up a dictionary and randomly choose ten words. Write a poem in five stanzas, with five lines in each stanza, using two of the ten words in each. Make the number of stressed syllables in each line consistent among the stanzas. (The first line of each stanza should have the same number of stressed syllables, etc.)
Compose a poem in the form and style of a postcard note. Keep the length brief, and give the recipient a sense of the place you’re visiting or the space you’re occupying. The location from which you write can be imagined or real. Alternatively, buy a postcard, and try to write a poem based on the image or photograph on the front of the postcard.
Take a poem you feel is finished, and divide the poem in half. Write two new poems by filling in those two halves.
Make your New Year’s resolution the title of a poem. Write a poem exploring the dimensions of the resolution, perhaps considering what would happen if you kept to it strictly for an entire year or if you broke it right away. Read Mark Halliday’s “Refusal to Notice Beautiful Women” for inspiration.
Write a poem that is an elegy for something or someone you've had to let go of this year.
Write a poem in the style and voice of a personals or classifieds ad. Read C.D. Wright’s “Personals” for inspiration.
Look back through the poems you've written this year and make a list of images or words you've repeated. This list will guide you toward identifying your poetic obsessions. Choose one of your poetic obsessions and write a poem that fully explores it.
Think of a person from your past, someone you wish you'd gotten to know better and have always remembered. Think about why you wish you'd gotten to know this person better—did he or she do something that intrigued you, did he or she have a particular way about them, did you share an important moment together? Write a poem to this person, exploring what it was about him or her that has remained with you, even though the person hasn't.
Write a poem to or about a person close to you using any of the senses except sight.