NaPoWriMo prompt for day 2: Tell me a story

Yesterday’s stories started with a broken coffee maker (no power!). Yes, we did figure out a way to get some joe, and the day went more smoothly–until the party that we went to a day late. But that’s the thing with stories–they rely on what goes wrong. What goes right isn’t a good story, it’s a good life. What goes awry and ends well is both.

For day two, let’s look at stories. Start with a fairy tale (Cinderella, Goldilocks, The Three Little Pigs, pick your favorite) and write a poem giving it three new endings.

Three new endings in one poem? How does that work?

It’s one way to tell break a story–take a story–out of its narrative. It’s also a way to rebel against the happily-ever-after status quo OR to dream an ending that’s even more happily–right now. With three, you have choices.

*** Poem fom day 2 (up about a day–and then “poof”, it will be gone) ***


(This poem started with the fairy tale The Six Swans.)

Welcome to Poetry Month: Prompt for day 1

It’s time for NaPoWriMo, so let’s get to it!

Here’s a warm-up for the month. Start with a word–any word, and keep going. Write a list of words or images. Time yourself for about 3 minutes and write everything down.

Look at your list. Does anything repeat? Circle it. Write a draft using that word or image as many times as possible (you can always edit some of them out).

No repeats? Pick your favorite, and write a draft using it as many times as possible.

True confession: I like doing this warm-up whenever I’m feeling stuck. Sometimes, the words will become images and suddenly I have my first line and I’m writing a poem. And if nothing else, I end up with pages that have words on them, and that feels good.

*** Poem fom day 1 (up about a day–and then “poof”, it will be gone) ***


(This poem began with gingham curtains in a black and white movie–what color would they be? Then it couldn’t decide whether it was happy or cynical.)

Prompts for poetry month

April and National Poetry Month are just around the corner. This year, I thought I’d write up a list of prompts. You can also find prompts from Robert Lee Brewer, as well as his daily platform challenge (I’m going to try to do that).

Why write my own prompts? I want prompts that are flexible enough to fit any project I’m working on, any path I’m following. I hope these fit that bill–and I hope that they encourage a little more stretching, out of my comfort zone.

The plan? I’ll post each prompt again on its day. Later, I’ll post my poem (my draft of a poem) for one day. The next day, “poof” (as Jeannine says) and it’s gone.

Here’s 30 days of April poetry prompts:

  1. Write a list of words or images. Time yourself for 3 minutes and write everything down. Look at your list. Does anything repeat? Circle it. Write a draft using that word or image as many times as possible (you can always edit some of them out). No repeats? Pick your favorite.
  2. Start with a fairy tale (Cinderella, Goldilocks, The Three Little Pigs, etc.) and write a poem giving it three new endings.
  3. Write a poem telling yesterday’s fairy tale from the point of view of a casual observer or bit player (one of the mice, Mama bear or Papa bear, the man who sold the first pig straw, etc).
  4. Write a poem exploring that same story from the point of view of an object (the broom, the chair that breaks, the kettle).
  5. Write a list of words that rhyme (or have the same main sound) and write a poem using as many of them as possible.
  6. Pick a body part and write a poem about that body part.
  7. Write a poem in the voice of a guidebook.
  8. Remember that fairy tale? Write a poem that tells the sequel.
  9. Write a poem that starts in your favorite room.
  10. Write a poem about your favorite place (an island, a restaurant, a chair, etc.).
  11. Write a poem about a place you’ve always wanted to go but haven’t—yet.
  12. Write about what you ate for breakfast—or what you  hope you’ll eat.
  13. Write a love poem to your favorite color.
  14. Write a new story for a constellation or a single star.
  15. It’s tax day. Write a poem in the voice of tax instructions.
  16. Read three poems by someone else. Pick a line that you like and use it for your first line. When you’re done, take off that borrowed line.
  17. Take the first lines from three poems (you can use the same ones as yesterday) and use all three lines in your poem (again, take them out when you’re done).
  18. Pick your favorite tool (from the kitchen, the garden, the woodshop, the desk, wherever) and write a poem centered on it.
  19. Write a poem for your birthday.
  20. What’s hidden down deep (for example, 20,000 leagues under the sea)? Write about what’s buried, or a secret world.
  21. What chore or errand do you least like to do? Write a poem about that.
  22. Write an ekphrastic poem about one of these three pictures by Marc Chagall, Anita Malfatti (click the thumbnail to see the picture larger), Mark Tobey.
  23. Choose a story from today’s news and write a poem about it.
  24. Write a poem about something you lost.
  25. Look around: Pick three things you can see and write a poem that includes them.
  26. Write a poem about time, but don’t use the word “time” or any other abstractions.
  27. Write a poem about your favorite teacher or something your favorite teacher taught you.
  28. Pick a nursery rhyme or a moral. Use it, or part of it, as an epigraph for your poem.
  29. What’s the weather today? Write about that.
  30. Write a poem about what you want to be when you grow up—or what you thought you’d want to be when you were still a kid.

Onward to April!

At Emily Dickinson’s house

Standing outside Emily Dickinson's house
I'm holding a copy of Open Me Carefully, a collection of Emily Dickinson's letters to her best friend and sister-in-law Susan, compiled by Martha Nell Smith and my friend Ellen Louise Hart.

 A week ago, I was at the Emily Dickinson house. I felt a sense of wonder standing in the hallway–maybe there more than anywhere, because I could imagine people bustling through the house. The hallway, with its pale green wall paper of delicate swirls, and the stairs, truly held that sense of possibility.  And then upstairs, Emily’s room–so perfect for light.

And the white dress–because we have only the one picture of Emily (when she was 16!) and it’s very dark. But now I can imagine her managing the household or sitting at her writing table in her corner room (such a perfect room for light) in her white dress.

We took the full tour, walking across to The Evergreens, where Austin and Susan lived. Such a different house! (And shambling–and the stories of that house!). There, we  got to see the dining room and the kitchen and climb upstairs (hoping the stairs would hold) to see the nursery.

Then the moment that sears me–Emily coming across to the Evergreens, like another ghost the night her nephew Gilbert died, and collapsing beneath the trees. I come back to that image and then I return to the hallway, with it’s pale wallpaper, its flood of sunlight, and everything hasn’t happened yet.

In one of the rooms of the Dickinson homestead, the museum has set up an interactive display to show Emily’s variants. According to the tour guide, it isn’t known whether these were revisions (a process of changing) or just options to switch in and out.

But what really struck me was the poem they used to show these. Here it is in a slightly different version than in the museum:

I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer house than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Superior–for Doors–

Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–

Of Visitors–the fairest–
For Occupation–This–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–

I’ve been struggling with poemness–what makes a poem a poem and not just lines broken. What differentiates a poem from prose. The other day, I was driving to the store and hearing someone on the radio and it sounded maybe like a poem, but maybe like a story, and because it had already started I didn’t know. It was lovely–so vivid and poignant–and it turned out that it was a poem. But I couldn’t tell just by listening. I suspect that if I heard this poem on the radio, I’d know immediately that it was a poem.

Poetry has room for all kinds of voices and all kinds of writing, but in my current quest for poemness, this poem helped a lot.Now I need to get a Franklin edition so that I can read truer versions of Emily Dickinson’s poems.

Write-O-Rama is tomorrow!

Really, what could be better than writing all day? And with lunch in the middle?

Hugo House is adding a March session of its popular fund-raiser.

When: March 3, 10:00 – … (lunch and an open mike at 1:00, and another open mike at 5:00)

Where: Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 206.322.7030

You can register ahead of time or at the door, and you can see the schedule here.

I’m leading sessions at 10:00 and 11:00 on breaking up the narrative. Here’s the description:

Starting with images and seed texts, we’ll fly through rapid-fire prompts–a fast way to get out of our comfort zones and generate fragments and sections. Then we’ll take some time to collage those parts into poems or prose pieces that tell a story in or out of sequence.

And Karen Finneyfrock will lead a session at noon on using broken form.

Should be a smashing good time!

And it’s 9 days until NYC…