I like to play around with poetry prompts, approaching the muse with averted eyes and veiled intentions as I do with my cat when I need to catch him for any reason. Whenever I post a writing prompt, or open up a discussion about the usefulness and fun of writing prompts, the classicists, fountain pens in hand, claim it’s a form of cheating. A real poet (fiction writer, essayist) shouldn’t need prompts to be creative. A real writer just sits down and distills brilliance from all the daily verbiage vying for prominence. Well….. suffice it to say, I disagree. I love writing prompts and I use them regularly. I don’t use writing prompt collections, a prompt a day for instance, as much as I seek out unique ideas, project-based ideas, prompts that get my creative blood pumping. I have no interest in dredging up memories of kindergarten and writing a sonnet about the colors, smells, sights. The prompts I’m drawn to are little poems in their own right. I often create my own, combine two or more prompts, change a prompt to suit my needs. And, this is the most important facet, I never stick religiously to a prompt, I never end up with a prompt-poem. The minute I know a particular prompt is likely to spark a poem, I go where the poem leads. This is probably why all my poems in form have the disclaimer: ‘deconstructed pantoum’, ‘loose pantoum’, because if I sense the poem would be better in a ‘broken’ form, I’ll break it. I imagine this will also infuriate the classicists. So, if I’m using a prompt that has a word list and the poem gains momentum away from it, I’ll throw the list out the window, the prompt already served its purpose. The other day, I discovered this thing called The Text Mixing Desk, which cuts and ‘echoes’ a piece of text when it’s pasted into the generator. I began writing on the generator itself, intending to mix up my ‘poem’ from the original and see what I got. For fun. I took the first lines, moved them into a document and wrote a full poem. I then took the poem, put it into the generator and ended up liking some of the repetition created. So I went back to the original poem and targeted those few lines I wanted to repeat, but I altered them slightly through repetition. I revised several times and only used the generator one time. It allowed me to see the poem in a different way and that altered view was invaluable as I went forward. The process wasn’t vastly different from writing a poem without any ‘intervention’. I think the key to writing a poem that has legs from a prompt, a poem you want to keep and claim as your own, is to use judgment as you would in any writing process. Writing to a prompt is no excuse for bad writing. But bad writing can be generated by an online poetry generator, or can spring whole from your consecrated poet-brain. So beware!
This is all a very long-winded preamble to a few cool sites I’ve stumbled across and want to share. Check them out, even just for fun.
Text Clock (this isn’t a prompt, it’s just a cool invention)
Write a Cento (the classic prompt)
Story Generator (This one has a twist: it garbles your coherent original)
Erasure (I’ve listed this one before, but just in case you missed it…)
Rewilding Language (A great article from The Guardian. This could be classified as a ‘prompt project’)
Found Poetry Review (A blog article, but check out the entire Found Poetry site. It’s one of my go-tos)