Weekly Prompt: “Questions Without Answers”
This week’s prompt is adapted from a writing exercise in Poetry Everywhere: Teaching Poetry Writing in School and in the Community (T&W Collaborative, 2005), a writing handbook now on sale on the Teachers & Writers Collaborative website.
What happens when we die? Where do noises go? How far is far? These types of questions without answers are the focus of today’s writing prompt. According to Collum and Noethe, an unanswerable question is one that causes the mind to “kee[p] on seeking.” Don’t lose sight of this objective! Allow each question to lead to the next without bothering to consider an answer. Resist the impulse to know it all.
As it may take a while to get your mind into “seeking” mode, begin with a few practice questions. Let your thoughts wander. Stare out the window… Where do birds sleep at night? How do they recognize their family members? Do baby birds ever find their fathers? Would they want to? How tall do pine trees grow? How long would it take for one to grow into outer space? Unfetter your mind: no question is too whimsical for this exercise.
If, in your freewrite, you find your questions circling around a particular person, or incident in the past, begin to consider more serious questions. Introduce a cultural or historic overlay to your inquiry. Consider the fact that much of Asian American poetry emerges from unanswerable questions of transculturation and history, and that these, like all good questions, must be constantly (re)negotiated because they lack simple answers.
This exercise is designed not so much to produce polished verse, but to move you into a mind space in which no question is ‘unaskable.’ A single question such as “What secrets did you parents keep from you as a child?” can give rise to a thousand others, which may guide you into totally new poetic territory. As you might imagine, the result can be both wonderful and terrifying.
If you have one or two questions without answers (on any topic, really), please consider posting them here. We look forward to reading your comments!