Inspiration of the Day

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I live on an old farm property whose fields and orchard have reverted to forest. And like most other old farms there’s a dump in my woods. This household dump was likely established in the 1800s (my house dates to 1811) for used bottles and farm detritus. No transfer stations or trash pick-up in the 19th century! All the antique bottles are either broken or buried under a century or more of topsoil. The trash on the surface is circa 1960s to 1980s: tires, pans, metal trash barrels, liquor bottles, plastic, shoes, etc. No-fun trash that should really get picked up but it’s deep in the woods, weeds and blown down tree limbs, quickly becoming buried.  Today, on a walk with the pup, I came across the gem above: a natural terrarium in a bottle neck! I didn’t find it in the dump proper, but on the ‘outskirts’ near a mossy rock. The inside is filled with soil and moss with the delicate fern just beginning to emerge. The bottle cap was securely in place. It’s a plastic cap, so not an ancient bottle, but cool enough for me.  I think of it as a little visual poem in its own right, but make of it what you will: found poem/art, metaphor, message, inspiration, or all of the above.

20 Questions: A Poetry Prompt

Call and Response

I got the original for this prompt in Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry a collection of in-depth, creative, sometimes simple, sometimes complicated poetry prompts by different poets. The prompts could also be adapted for other genres. The original prompt, titled: Teaching Imagination, was created by Blas Falconer. I plan to use it in my found poetry workshop in June, so I’ve altered it and added some additional components to suit my goals. I used a few of the prompt’s original questions and made up the others. It would also be fun to collect oddball questions from different sources. This prompt would lend itself to all kinds of variations and extensions.

The Basics: Answer the following 20 questions on index cards, one card for each answer. The original prompt says to form your answers as complete sentences, but I found that can result in homogenous sentences that begin ‘I was’, ‘I did’, ‘I went’. So I’ve altered the prompt and am encouraging you to mix things up. Write some very short sentences, some longer, and some incomplete sentences, two-word phrases, basic images. Once you’ve answered the questions and have 20 index card answers, choose 10 and play around with their order for your poem. You can write the ‘poem’ down as is, or add connective tissue.

Variations: Call and Response: On 20 additional cards, write the questions. Now mismatch questions and answers to create a call and response poem. These questions answered straightforwardly would not be good fodder for the call and response poem, but could be strange and off-kilter enough when mismatched. The beauty of the call and response is its strangeness, the way the questions and answers exist on different plains and the freedom the poet has to consider the questions metaphorically, to write from an illogical place. This prompt could also be done with ‘questions’ from odd sources or questions taken out of context, like this one from an 1877 Catholic Catechism: “Must we then not make any image at all?”. This question is in relation to the making of graven images, but taken out of context could be answered in all sorts of creative ways. Form: Use 14 answer cards to make a sonnet, try to adhere to the form’s tenets. Make a Pantoum (4 line stanzas, the 2nd and 4th lines of each stanza are the 1st and 3rd lines of the next). Use as many cards as you’d like to make the pantoum long or short. Haiku and Tanka are other possible forms. Or, create a poem from your answers and then actually write the Haiku or Tanka in the spirit of your poem.

I love this and the other prompts in ‘Wingbeats’ because they simultaneously encourage writing with some kind of imposed rules or form and free-play with words, images, ideas;  breaking and remaking what you’ve already written.

As I said, I think this prompt could be endlessly altered and branched. You could add questions and thus have more answers to choose from. Play around and let me know what you come up with.

The Questions:

  1. Who named you? Why did they choose your name? What does your name mean?
  2. How near do you live to the place where you were born?
  3. How are the landscape of your birthplace and your current residence different?
  4. What is one scene or image from a movie that has stayed with you?
  5. Describe the last dream you can vividly recall?
  6. Describe a scar you have and how you got it. (skip if you have no scars)
  7. Write something in another language (do your best)
  8. What is your favorite bird? for plumage? for song? other? Describe its plumage and song.
  9. When was the last time you had a laughing fit. Who were you with? What were the circumstances?
  10. If you have a tattoo, describe it, why did you choose it? If you don’t have a tattoo why have you made that choice?
  11. Describe your first job.
  12. What’s your earliest memory?
  13. What natural landscape suits you best? What landscape do you have an aversion to?
  14. Do you sleep on your back, stomach or side?
  15. Describe the kind of child you were.
  16. Write a sentence that begins: “I’d be lying if I said…”
  17. If you could change one thing in your life what would it be?
  18. How do you visualize the days of the week (grid, line, calendar, other?)
  19. Describe a disaster without naming it.
  20. Write a sentence that includes the words: sinter, thin, blades.

Corrupting the Form, Techno-Creativity

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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 Mixing Desk

Poem Generator

Sonnetizer

Text Clock (this isn’t a prompt, it’s just a cool invention)

Fiction Generator

Heretical Rhyme Generator

Write a Cento (the classic prompt)

Bigram Generator

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)

General Writing Prompts

Genre, Plot and Story Prompt Generators