Wicked Good Prompts for Poems


In Massachusetts, it’s considered a sign of weakness to use your turn signal switch. The question among poets, though, is this: Is it a sign of weakness to use someone else’s prompts? Does it mean your own brain is a dead battery in need of a jump start?

And what if a brilliant poem comes compliments of a prompt? Is it a chicken and egg situation once the credits roll at the end of the poem? (Poem directed by… produced by… and so forth?)

These are good questions. Or good enough for a Friday, anyway, as I look over my list of prompts. Af Frost once wrote (probably thanks to a prompt), “You come, too”:

  • Write from an unexpected point of view: a three-foot kid who can just see over the table’s edge, a Chihuahua who hasn’t been fed since 7:30 Tuesday night, Donald Trump’s favorite pronoun (i-) Phone’s glass.
  • Adopt an unusual tone, such as the one you take when you pick up the phone and it’s your mother-in-law wanting to discuss her summer vacation plans. With you and your wife and the kids.
  • Write a renga capturing the essence of parsley, sage, rosemary, and time (sic) vs. thyme (healthy).
  • Choose a familiar location (the beach, a lake, the woods, a crowded city sidewalk, the inside of your refrigerator) and describe it with only one of the senses, excluding sight. The tastes of the beach, the smells of the lake, the sounds of the woods, the feel of the refrigerator parts and prisoners therein.
  • Choose a hackneyed topic (say, love) and write about it in an unexpected way. Possibilities: the lost sock’s love affair with lint, Dr. Scholl’s elopement with sneaker odor, a mosquito’s passionate affair with the hidden side of skin).
  • Write a haiku about counting syllables.
  • Choose an everyday household item and a famous writer, then write a poem about their relationship. Hemingway’s hammer. Virginia Woolf’s iron skillet. Shakespeare’s pillow.
  • Write an anachronism poem, placing modern-day inventions in olden times (a can of lighter fluid in Nero’s Rome)  or olden times items in the modern day (a rotary-dial phone in the CEO of Twitter’s office).
  • Write about someone else’s navel while it’s gazing (you won’t be accused by editors of “navel-gazing,” for one).
  • Find nature on a busy city corner and describe its indomitable spirit. Find urban innovation deep in the woods and describe its nefarious designs.
  • Go outside, take a seat, and describe your surroundings as a mathematical word problem or as an algebraic equation.
  • Take a famous poem, play, story, or novel, and describe in detail the way your high school literature teacher ruined it.
  • Write a euphemism poem in couplets. Each pair of lines must start with “When you said… Did you mean…?)
  • Write a first-animal point of view description of a typical human activity. A chicken (pig as color man) describes a summer cookout, for instance, such that even Stephen King would take notice.
  • Write a poem that would appeal to readers of the National Enquirer.
  • Fashion a found poem from this post.

To solve your chicken-egg problem, should a poem resulting from any above prompt go on to fame and fortune, I absolve you of any guilt related to stealing a Muse. Good luck!


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