Curated Prompt: Eileen R. Tabios – “A Writing Prompt That Goes With the Flow . . .”

This May, as part of our celebration of APIA Heritage Month, we have asked several respected teachers and writers of Asian American poetry to share favorite writing exercises with us.  This Friday’s installment was contributed by Eileen R. Tabios.

My favorite writing prompt is based on Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day Feature. I once signed up to receive daily emails of their chosen “word-of-the-day” (you can also subscribe here). I used their daily word as a poem title. With that title—and subject or theme or however I responded to it—I’d then write a prose poem. As a secondary strategy to this prompt, I suggest writing a complete poem (or at least its first draft) in one sitting. Relatedly, I suggest the prose poem form, as I don’t wish the issue of line-breaks to interrupt the flow of the poem.

Trying not to interrupt the flow—and energy—of the poem is important, so feel free to add any strategies that would facilitate this. Chinese-American poet Arthur Sze, for example, has shared how he often doesn’t bother capitalizing “I” when writing his first drafts so as not to intrude on the flow of the poem (I don’t recall if he called it “flow” but that’s the net effect).(1)

I like several things about this prompt’s conceptual underpinnings. First, it helps to take you out of self-focus as the site for poetic inspiration. More poets need to realize their personal lives really aren’t that interesting to others (which is why, when I address biography and autobiography in several of my recent books, it’s not because I’m talking about myself, so much as because I’m disrupting conventional ways in which biography unfolds across genres—from the poem to the memoir to the third-party biography). Not that I’m dissing confessional or such types of poems; I’m suggesting this prompt as another way to generate poems where having a title or idea given to you necessarily forces you to address something that may or may not have been of personal concern. In this way, the prompt metaphorically writes the world into the poem rather than the poet writing something at the world.

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Summer Reads: Issue 1 Contributor Eileen R. Tabios

For our Summer Reads series, we’ve asked contributors from Issue 1 to share what they’ve been reading or plan to read this summer.  This installment features a list of titles that were recommended to us by Eileen Tabios.

Writes Eileen,

“For another venue, I came up with a Summer reading list in poetry here . . .

From above list and for LR — I can recommend the following Asian American titles:
Juvenilia by Ken Chen (Yale University Press)
Far far above the typical poet’s first book. Admirably — and effectively — ambitious. Sophisticated. Will make you fall in love
Bending The Mind Around The Dream’s Blown Fuse by Timothy Liu (Talisman House)
Simply: Magnificent!
Texture Notes by Sawako Nakayasu (Letter Machine Editions)
Intelligent luminosities!”
Many thanks to Eileen for sharing these titles with us!  Her poem “DISASTER RELIEF (#2)” can be found in Issue 1 of Lantern Review.  She can also be found online at her blog, “THE BLIND CHATELAINE’S KEYS.”