Set a timer for five minutes and freewrite, putting pen to paper and transcribing everything that comes to mind without stopping until the timer goes off. Review what you’ve written and circle any phrases, images, words that appeal to you. Using those fragments, freewrite again for five minutes. Again, circle anything that appeals to you, and use those fragments as the starting point of a poem.
Writing Prompts & Exercises
The Time Is Now
The Time Is Now offers three new and original writing prompts each week to help you stay committed to your writing practice throughout the year. We also curate a list of essential books on writing—both the newly published and the classics—that we recommend for guidance and inspiration. Whether you’re struggling with writer’s block, looking for a fresh topic, or just starting to write, our archive of writing prompts has what you need. Need a starter pack? Check out our Writing Prompts for Beginners.
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Write a letter to a landscape or scene you pass through today. For example, “Dear Williamsburg Bridge,…”
Write a villanelle, a poem of five stanzas made up of three lines each, with a concluding quatrain (a four-line stanza). Lines one and three of the first stanza are refrains throughout the poem. The first line of the first stanza is the third line of the second and fourth stanzas; similarly, the third line of the first stanza is the third line of the third and fifth stanzas. Also, the first and third lines of the first stanza are the last two lines of the concluding quatrain. Every line should be the same metrical length. For examples, read Dylan Thomas’s "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" and Elizabeth Bishop’s "One Art."
Compose a poem collaboratively with a friend. Write one line and send it to your friend via e-mail, or by passing a notebook back and forth, and invite your friend to write the next line, building on what you wrote. Continue composing the poem together, line by line, until you have at least twenty lines. Then each of you consider the draft and revise it independently. Compare your final versions.
Choose a sentence from a newspaper whose meaning gets larger and stranger when taken out of context. Use it as the first line of a poem. If you get stuck partway into the poem, try repeating just part of the line and vary how you complete the rest of the sentence, changing the meaning and music of the line each time. When you have a draft you like, try moving the full sentence to the end of the poem, or somewhere to the middle, or maybe take it out entirely. Stir, and see what happens.
This week's poetry prompt comes from Idra Novey whose debut collection The Next Country received the Kinereth Gensler Award from Alice James Books and was included in Virginia Quarterly Review's list of Best Poetry Books of 2008. She teaches in the School of the Arts at Columbia University.
Think back to yourself ten years ago—where you lived, what your preoccupations were, who your relationships were with, who you were. Write a letter in the form of a poem to yourself then from yourself now.
Write a prose poem, a poem that doesn't use line breaks to convey its meaning. Read [the siren's story] by Barbara Jane Reyes for an example.
Write a poem that explores how you were named and the meaning of your name. Include at least one bold lie.
Snip apart a draft of one of your poems, line by line or in chunks. Rearrange the elements and rerecord the original work.
Take a cue from Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, which tells a single narrative in ninety-nine ways, and write a poem based on what happened just after you got up this morning. Then use one or more of these filters to revise the poem: onomatopoeia (integrating the sounds of your morning into the language of its telling), litotes (a supremely understated start to the day), overstatement (embellishing every detail), olfactory (emphasizing the morning's smells), tactile (emphasizing the morning's physical feel), gustatory (emphasizing the morning's particular taste).
Spend a few moments examining an old photograph—a found image, a photo from childhood, an iconic shot from history—and give it a title. Then put the photo aside and write a poem using this title.
Write a poem on a page of today's newspaper, allowing your eye to wander slightly and take in the language on the page, and for your text to overlay the text on the page. If you fix your eye on a specific word or phrase, incorporate it into the composition.
Choose a poem that you are in the process of revising. Draw a map of that poem, paying attention to the details 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.
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.
Flip through the dictionary and randomly choose ten words. Write a poem with each word in every other line.
Write a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem made up, typically, of three stanzas of four lines, and a fourth of two lines, or a couplet. Use the following rhyme scheme: In each of the first three stanzas, rhyme the first and third lines and the second and fourth lines (a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d, e, f, e, f); and rhyme the lines of the couplet (g, g). For a traditional example, see Shakespeare's "From you have I been absent in the spring...." For a contemporary example, see Denis Johnson's "Heat."
For one week, collect words and phrases you encounter throughout the day from signs, advertisements, menus, overheard conversations, radio programs, headlines, television, etc. At the end of the week, write a found poem, using these snippets.
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.
Set a timer for five minutes and freewrite—writing anything that comes to mind without stopping until the timer goes off. Then circle every third word or phrase of what you’ve written. Use these circled words as the starting point for a poem.
Make a list of objects. One thing should be from your desk, one from your closet, one a body part, one a thing you covet that belongs to someone else, one enormous, one slippery, and at least one that makes an odd or evocative sound. Now, describe each using a simile. Do this twice for each one. Using as many of the similes as you can, write a poem with a title such as “Checklist to Survive a Nuclear Winter” or “Things That Have Nothing To Do With Grief.”
What is something you are afraid to write about in your own poems, either because it is too personal, or because you feel it is cliché? Create a character—a swarthy bum, a baker, a dog—and write a narrative poem in which your character addresses this topic. Let the fact that the poem isn’t really about you be freeing.
Write an erasure poem: Rip out one or two pages from a magazine or newspaper. Read through them, underlining words and phrases that appeal to you and that relate to each other. Using a marker or Wite-Out, begin to delete the words around those you underlined, leaving words and phrases that you might want to use. Keep deleting the extra language, working to construct poetic lines with the words you’ve chosen to keep.
Choose a favorite poem written by somebody else, type a copy of it, delete every other line from the poem, and write your own lines to replace those you’ve deleted. Next, delete the remaining lines from the old poem so that only your lines remain. Read what you have, and revise it, adding new lines to fill in the gaps.