The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth (July 2019)

This year’s National Poetry Day (Thursday, 3 Oct 2019) theme is truth. It’s also the theme for the latest The Poetry Society Members’ Poems competition (for The Poetry Society members only and free entry). It’s a topic with plenty of scope. For this writing prompt, I’m going to suggest starting small and focussed by thinking about the past 24 hours of your life. In this time what is the most important truth that you’ve felt or that has happened to you? It might be sudden sunshine, a flower or bird that you’ve noticed. It might be recognising the truth behind a cliché or well-used phrase. It might be realising what love, anger, or any other emotion really means or feels like. Once you’ve decided what your truth is, zoom in on it in detail, using all the senses. Jot down as many notes as you can to start. Then try to hone in on which of these are the most important, the most essential elements of that description (and your truth) in terms of allowing others to experiencing that truth as vividly as you did. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for you as a way into the topic, maybe write about that absence of truth(s) – what that looks and feels like. Do you feel a need for truth()s even if you can’t find any? If so, what is the search for truth(s) like?

Using the camera lens as a poetry focussing tool (May 2019)
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Use your mobile phone camera to take a picture that features two extremes, two contrasts or a striking juxtaposition. This might be light and shadow, curves and straight lines, starkly contrasting colours, something solid and something flowing, something clear and something blurred or another contrast that catches your eye.

Once you’ve taken your picture, consider how you might ‘translate’ this opposition or tension into a poem. If you’d like more structure, think about the possibilities of turning this into a haiku or haiku-influenced poem. The two contrasts or extremes might have a cutting word/turning point on which the ‘epiphany’ hangs in the second line, with the two contrasts either being given the same or an unequal weight on either side of this. Alternatively, the first line might be used for one contrast/extreme, and the second line for the second contrast/extreme. The conclusion or epiphany flowing from these is then either the third line or the end of the second line and the third line – depending on whether you wish to give the two contrasts/extremes an identical weight (number of syllables) or allow a heavier weight to the second contrast/extreme by giving it the whole of the usually longer second line of the poem.

More about this exercise and haiku can be found at the end of this tension-themed worksheet. (NB If the contrasts part of this exercise feels too constraining, then just take a picture of something that catches your attention for whatever reason and then use the poem to explore this.)

Design your own dream-catcher (April 2019)

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Use this prompt either to write about yourself and your dreams in life or a fictional character’s hopes and aspirations. What are your dreams? Which is your most important dream/hope/aim? Imagine you’re building a dream-catcher to inspire or net this dream/these dreams. What might you use instead of the traditional feathers and why? What other things would be suspended from it? These might be objects but they could also be sounds, smells, tastes and textures that evoke your dream. Where would you hang this dream-catcher and why? What falls through the gaps in the pattern/netting? (Or what compromises and sacrifices might be necessary to make your dream reality?) What happens if the dream-catcher breaks or starts to disintegrate? How does it feel? (Freeing or painful or…?) Are you likely to ever make your dream reality? Does it matter if not? How do all these questions and this brainstorming make you feel about your original dream? Would you change it anyway? And if so, how and why? How much of this detail goes into/remains in the final poem and how much is just part of the writing process and background setting to the final poem is up to you. (The same prompt questions could also potentially be used to generate a story. And another alternate source of inspiration might be to consider the cultural appropriation and historical aspects of how dream-catchers are used now compared to their origins. Wikipedia has an article on Dreamcatchers here.)

Water, water everywhere (March 2019)

water prompt picHaving been caught in rain, floods and then sunshine recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the wet stuff. But does all water taste/smell/sound the same? What are your strongest memories or associations with water? A lake, a river, the sea. Or something for drinking, washing, cleaning, survival. Have you ever been flooded? Do you enjoy swimming, sailing or surfing? If you swim or dive, being underwater changes sound and light, does it also change how you think or see the world more generally? If nothing from personal experience is sparking inspiration, try googling and researching something that interests you – the biggest lake, deepest ocean, strangest water animal (or invent your own), water nymphs or gods…

 
 

What are shelves for? (Feb 2019)

IMG_6517 smallerOrdering, storing, holding. Archiving, placing out of reach, displaying proudly. Or gathering souvenirs, dust and cobwebs…In some ways, this prompt follows on from last month’s about furniture and rooms, but with an even closer/narrower focus. You might start with the shelf’s form, its contents or its purpose/meaning. (Substitute poem for shelf in the following and yes, three main elements of/approaches to poetry. Whichever takes the main or initial focus, the others will hopefully reinforce this.) Whether it’s a real or imaginary shelf, see where the description – words, ideas and emotions – take you. Is it a shelf for prized possessions, laundered linen or cupboard clutter? If it’s a shelf of spices, jams, preserves… is there anything else more unusual hidden between the jars? And if so, how and why did that unexpected item end up there? The three different elements of approaching the shelf/poem (form, content and purpose) might be used to help structure the poem draft. Or you could return to them in the editing to check if there’s something else needed to support, balance or deliberately unbalance the poem’s initial outline structure…

(Not) Part of the Furniture/Making Yourself at Home (Jan 2019)

Table, armchair, desk, curtains, carpet, tiles, wardrobe, mirror, cupboard, sideboard… So, my new sofa that was supposed to delivered well before the January stanza meeting hasn’t yet arrived. Instead, we will be making do with several throws across the torn leather that’s currently spilling the old sofa’s guts. Life’s ironies and my irritation aside, can this #21stcenturytrauma be turned into inspiration. Picture a piece of furniture, real or imagined, and the room that it’s in (real or imagined). What might the piece of furniture tell you about its owner and the people, lives and relationships that it has witnessed? What does its appearance reveal about its own story? Does it fit with the rest of the room? How and why? And if it doesn’t fit with the rest of the room, why not, how do you know and where does it really belong? If this isn’t enough inspiration, maybe consider what furniture, atmosphere, people and ornaments you need before you can really feel at home in a strange place, or how you’d make your ideal home? A further alternative way in might be to choose a room you know well and think about what’s most striking about that room and/or feels most unusual or out of place to you in the room? This might be a piece of furniture, an ornament, or even a person…

Faces (Dece 2018)
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In Ezra Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’, he imagines faces as petals. For this month’s prompt, I’d like to link travel and faces by thinking about the face, or whole human body, as a map. This could be one particularly well-loved (or hated) face or a number of faces in contrast and/or similarity. Start with one face, maybe even your own in the mirror. What do any scars or wrinkles give away about the face/body/person’s journey through life up to this point? Are their traits or characteristics that say something about family history or inheritance? How do expressions change this face? What might these expressions suggest about the person’s general personality and their current feelings, fears, hopes, ambitions? Where else have you seen a similar expression? Does this face remind you or anything else in nature or the world more generally? How does it change if viewed from a greater distance? Or if you zoom in on just one part of the face only? Could this lead to more surreal metaphors? Explore any of the ideas and see where it takes you – happy writing!

Write a postcode/street poem (Oct 2018)
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Pick a place, any place – real or imaginary, somewhere you know now or a place that’s lodged in your memory. What do you like, or hate, about it? If you were blindfolded, how might you tell where you are? Does it have distinctive smells or sounds? What kind of language or style might suit this place? Is a formal, informal or slang kind of place? Would a long chatty poem fit it best or one with clipped or spare lines? What are the people like? Whom or what might you see or meet here? Is there anything you’d like to change about this place – and why? If it’s a place you’re used to at a particular time of day, how might it be different at a different time of day? Does it have hidden stories, past history, or secrets that only come out at night? How does being in this place make you feel? Happy, uplifted, anxious, buzzing, grey, energyless, angry, peaceful… Hopefully, one or more of these questions will evoke something interesting.

Make a change (September 2018)

This year’s National Poetry Day (Oct 4) theme is Change… The NPD website has some poems on the theme, some quotes and also this – https://nationalpoetryday.co.uk/celebrate-national-poetry-day/poetry-writing-for-national-writing-day/. Although the latter is a resource aimed at teaching in schools for National Writing Day, the questions look could be combined with a theme of change for writers generally. What about you, your life or the world would you change and why? Is there a past change in you, someone else, life, or your circumstances that has had a big effect on you? What and how? Is it still affecting you now?