Weekly Prompt: Poems Using Non-English Words

A favorite prompt of mine from Kenneth Koch’s classic book Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry is an exercise in which he asks his students to compose poems using words from a list of Spanish vocabulary. Writes Koch in his commentary:

“Writing these poems enabled children who knew Spanish to enjoy their knowledge of it and gave those who didn’t a feeling for another language . . . Too often, the non-English language a child knows is regarded in school as something that has to be overcome rather than as an additional source of knowledge and pleasure.” (297).

I love the idea of allowing a language whose rhythms feel natural to one’s ears (whether it is a first or second language) to color and inflect the poetic voice, and so to give it a place in one’s own [English language] writing. A year ago, when I traveled back to my undergraduate institution to co-present a writing workshop at an Asian American activism conference, my collaborators and I tried out Koch’s prompt with the group in attendance, but instead of using Spanish, we challenged ourselves to substitute words from our own families’ native languages. Continue reading “Weekly Prompt: Poems Using Non-English Words”

Weekly Prompt: “We Mustn’t ____ Anymore”

First things first: a shout out to Oliver de la Paz, who unwittingly provided the impetus for this week’s prompt.  Mr. de la Paz, we love what you write!

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Twitter recently in order to keep up with the LR community and last week, I happened to read one of Mr. de la Paz’s Tweets that said:

Oliver_delaPaz mustn’t put two spaces after periods anymore. Oops. Old habits die hard.
11:37 PM Nov 13th from web

The content of the Tweet registered briefly with me (I spent a lot of time this summer having to retrain myself to use one space after periods because my job involved cover copy work), but as the week wore on, I found that the rhythm of that first sentence had, in a strange way, worked itself into my head.  “We mustn’t ____ anymore,” I thought as I washed the dinner dishes.  “We mustn’t_____anymore,” chugged the buses rolling past my apartment on their morning routes.  “We mustn’t ______anymore,” wheezed the teakettle as I brewed my afternoon cup. 

Being haunted by a Tweet (okay, a variation on a phrase from a Tweet) is no easy thing.  It twists itself into your every thought and action, pokes at you until your very footsteps are beating out “We mustn’t_____anymore,” and you feel you must do something with it.  Hence, this week’s prompt.  To Mr. de la Paz: apologies for hijacking your internet musings.  No irreverence was intended. Twitter made me do it!

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This exercise takes its form from both the phrase “We mustn’t ______ anymore” and from Kenneth Koch’s classic poetry exercise for children, in which every line begins with the words “I Wish.”

Write a list poem composed of sentences that begin with “We mustn’t . . . ” and that end with ” . . . anymore.”

Continue reading “Weekly Prompt: “We Mustn’t ____ Anymore””