As I (Iris) write this, my heart is weary. Just last week, only one of the three police officers involved in the shooting of Breonna Taylor was charged—and not for her murder. The evening of that announcement, I spoke with a friend who lives in Louisville. She told me: we are tired, we are frustrated, we are angry. Still, there is no justice.
California, the state where I live, is still burning. Last week, I read about Kao Saelee, a Mien refugee whose family fled to the US when he was small. During the last two (also incredibly devastating) wildfire seasons, Saelee worked to control the blazes as an inmate firefighter. This August, on the day he was released from prison, California transferred him not to his sister’s waiting car but to ICE detainment. Still, there is no justice.
And still, around us, pandemic rages. The government moves to erase systemic racial injustice from history textbooks. Egregious human rights violations continue to be visited upon the refugees incarcerated at our border. And on and on and on and on.
For a while now, we’ve wanted to share some tools for making space for grief and healing through poetry. We know that many of you are teachers working with young writers during this deeply difficult (even traumatic) year. As educators ourselves, we know how creative writing can sometimes allow students needed space and permission to process, to breathe. And as poets, we know how the act of writing into grief can sometimes offer us just enough self-compassion and strength to go on. That sometimes, in the midst of suffering, poetry allows us not just catharsis but also access—to hope, to meaningful remembrance, even to joy.
The below prompts (each based on poems by writers of color—some APA identified, some not) and their variations are written with teachers and students of particular age ranges in mind. But you could write into any of these prompts (regardless of how they’re labeled) outside an academic context, as well.
Happy National Poetry Month! In honor of the occasion, we’re sharing thirty of our favorite, most imaginative, playful prompts with you on the blog this morning. Whether you’re participating in NaPoWriMo and writing a poem every day this month or you’re just looking for some occasional inspiration, we hope these prompts will bring out your inner, childlike creativity and help you refresh and renew your writing practice—during April or any time of year. (Pro tip from this former classroom teacher: these tried-and-tested prompts work great for young writers, too!)
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30 DAYS OF POETRY PLAY
Write an opposite poem (inversion). Take any famous poem and write the exact opposite of it, line by line. If the poem describes a “warm and fluffy towel,” turn it into something like “icy, hard concrete.” If the poem says that the speaker “sprinted,” have them “crawl.”
Write a poem about a color as if it were a person. Describe what it sounds and smells like, what it dreams about at night.
Write an abecedarian poem. Start with a line that begins with A, then add a line that begins with B, and so on, all the way down to Z. For an extra challenge, try continuing your sentences over multiple lines.
Stack up some books with their spines facing out and use their titles to make a poem.
Make up a superstition and write about what might happen if people don’t follow it.
Translate a classic poem into all emojis, word by word.
Write a poem that consists entirely of questions nobody can answer (like: “Where does the snow hide its mittens?”).
Find a picture or photo that intrigues you and write about what you see.
Write a poem that consists entirely of lies; the sillier the better.
Write a poem that takes a figure of speech literally. (What would happen if it really did rain cats and dogs from the sky?)
Write a postcard about the weirdest place you could imagine (like inside your sock drawer or on top of spaghetti covered with cheese), but describe it as if it’s an amazing vacation spot. Then mail it to a friend.
Make an erasure poem by taking another piece of writing (anything—like junk mail or the newspaper) and crossing out words with a thick, dark marker. The words that you keep are the poem.
Write a serious ode (a poem of praise) to an extremely ordinary, boring, or ugly object.
Write a poem in the form of an alternative definition for a word—using a meaning that you might not find in the dictionary. Get creative; tell a story about it or give examples.
Write a portrait of someone you know by describing an object that reminds you of them.
Write a poem in blank verse. That’s a poem that doesn’t rhyme and where every line follows this beat: ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM.
Write about a journey. Then make an upside-down poem by reversing what you just wrote so that the last line becomes the first line, the second-to-last line becomes the second line, and so on.
Write a poem where you intentionally break one grammar rule over and over again.
Write a recipe for something that isn’t food.
Make up a descriptive name for an imaginary body of water (like “The Bay of Cats” or “The Popcorn Sea”) and write a poem about that place.
Write a poem in the voice of a historical person or fictional character.
Borrow a line from a science or math book or article and use it as the title of a poem.
Write about a meal shared with someone you miss.
Write a poem about an activity where the sounds of the words imitate the sound of what you’re doing. If you’re jumping in leaves, crunch and crackle your way through each crisp line. If you’re drinking boba, let your words slurp and slosh and quietly squish against your teeth.
Write a choose-your-own-adventure poem where the reader gets to choose which line to read next.
Write a poem in the form of directions to a place (real or imaginary) that is important to you.
Write a poem in the voice of an inanimate object.
Write a list of things that you’ve forgotten. Then turn that list into a poem.
Cut up a newspaper or magazine article, then rearrange the words and make as many of them as you want into a collage poem.
Write a poem with a hole (literal, typographical, or figurative) in the middle of it.
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We’d love to see what you create with these prompts! Share a snippet with us on the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview) using the hashtag #LR30DaysofPoetryPlay.Happy writing!
Though APA Heritage Month officially concluded a couple of weeks ago, for so many of us, the necessity of engaging with lineage in our craft is a continual process that doesn’t just end on May 31st. Summer is finally here—a season that is often a time of great output, especially for writers who live on an academic calendar. Hence, this month’s post looks to some of the “greats” from within the APA literary community for inspiration on writing into history. Drawing from recent works by Marilyn Chin, Li-Young Lee, and Paisley Rekdal, we’ve gathered three writing prompts to energize your own writing practice this summer.
In Marilyn Chin’s most recent collection of poetry, A Portrait of the Self as Nation, Chin’s feminist manifestos serve as sharp reminders of how poetry is deeply intertwined with the body. In “Brown Girl Manifesto (Too),” for instance, Chin mocks and subverts the literary lineage of Orientalism:
“I am your parlor rugyour chamber bauble Love mestone meI am all yours PoundPoundmy father’s Ezra”
Through the use of wit and wordplay, “Brown Girl Manifesto (Too)” exposes how modernist poets like Pound chose to uphold their own fantasies and projections rather than engage seriously with existing Asian literary traditions. By summoning sense and sensation in her criticism, Chin evokes the body in all its glorious volatility, asserting fantasy on her own terms and in her own tone.
For this exercise, reflect on the history, lineage, and intentions that guide your poetics. What events inform your poetic style and themes? What circumstances have made possible the lines you write? For, after, or against whom do you write? List these out, gathering them into a lyrical statement—whether in paragraphs, as with “Postcript: Brown Girl Manifesto, One of Many (2010),” or in clusters of key words, as with “Brown Girl Manifesto (Too).” Write several versions of your manifesto—what happens when you experiment with the tone and the form? Allow your manifesto(s) to guide your future writing.
2. Build shelter in the moment before (Li-Young Lee, The Undressing, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018).
The second section of “Our Secret Share,” a poem from Li-Young Lee’s most recent collection The Undressing, takes Indonesia’s social unrest of the 1950s and 60s as its backdrop—but Lee’s focus is not on “the killing,” which “has already started / and will go on into the night / and the next day, night and day, day and night” (42).
Rather, the speaker conjures the moment before the violence, recalling an image of his sister being ferried across the Solo River by a boatman—she stands “still and straight beside her bicycle” as the reflections “slide along beneath them in the water” (42). By centering a fleeting moment of stillness, Lee underscores the permanent and unspeakable loss that lies just beyond the poem’s frame—but he also creates a safe harbor from which the speaker can safely reflect.
Consider a key moment of dramatic tension or revelation. Write about this conflict through the lens of the moment before, developing the image or scene over at least fifteen lines. What happens to the “moment after” when the events that lead up to it have been slowed down and expanded upon through poetry?
At the center of Paisley Rekdal’s most recent collection Nightingale is a lyric essay, “Nightingale: A Gloss,” that begins with the Greek myth of Philomela. Questioning Ovid’s retelling of the myth in Metamorphoses, in which Philomela is raped and mutilated by her sister’s husband, weaves a tapestry to communicate her assault, and is transformed into a nightingale, Rekdal asks, “Why should Philomela sing, when our presence only increases her suffering?” (50).
By drawing from research on subsequent retellings of Philomela, Rekdal stages a critical intervention in the literary history of sexual violence. Bringing the speaker’s experiences and Rekdal’s own poetry into the conversation, “Nightingale: A Gloss” ultimately engages with the decision to put language to trauma, returning voice to the survivor: “I stand in the field. I whistle back” (54).
Consider with your own relationship with a character from myth or legend. How have others engaged with this narrative in the past? How do your own experiences resonate or diverge? Write a poem in which you bring these different approaches and intentions into conversation.
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What works by APA literary greats or moments from history have affected or inspired your own craft? Share them with us in the comments or let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).