Sarah James

the possibilities of poetry…

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The link between love and poetry is a long-standing one. So, with tomorrow being Valentine’s Day, my prompt this week is one that will hopefully get to the ‘heart of the matter’. Or the ‘dark of the matter’, if that’s what you prefer!

On Friday, I received a marketing postcard from featuring a picture of a bottle with what looks like notes inside and a quotation from ‘Night at the Met’ in 77 Love Sonnets by Garrison Keillor:

“Not all dark thoughts need to be expressed.
“Know that I love you. Forget the rest.”

Whether you feel romantic or anti-flowers and hearts, whether you’re inspired to write a ‘love’ poem or the maybe the opposite, hopefully there is something for you in this quotation. If not love itself, perhaps the theme/notion of expression and communication, dark matter or dark thoughts, forgetting – or not forgetting – that might start you off.

Alternatively, suppose the sold or captured love in a bottle, what would it look, smell, feel, taste and sound like? What would, or should, the bottle itself be like?

Hopefully, something in this post will prove inspirational and that everyone enjoys a love-ly day tomorrow!

I’m sure we’re not the only household that gets fed up with junk mail. Sometimes it seems like we’re forever recycling unsought letters – but I want to recycle it in inspirational way for today’s writing prompt.

Take the last piece of junk mail you received. (Or the next if you’ve already binned the last piece you received!)

Have a read. Instead of looking on it as just rubbish, you might see if there’s a found poem hiding in the words on the page. Or perhaps there’s something in there that might work as the theme for a new poem or short story – home, insurance, credit, banks…? Alternatively could junk mail provide a theme in itself? Or just the general theme of rubbish?

What junk is there in your life? What is the first thing you would throw out if you could, and why? Is there’s something you know you really ought to get rid of but can’t quite bring yourself to clear out? Why not? What does your junk say about you as person? Are there emotions, habits, personality traits etc that you would throw out if you could? And, if you don’t want to apply these questions to your life, how about applying them to someone else you know or a character in one of your poems or stories.

Of course, chucking out the junk is also something you can apply to your work when editing…

Whatever it inspires, hopefully this prompt will turn plain junk it into a writing junket  – so that, for once, reading your junk mail has not been a completely wasted exercise!

I’ve been enjoying reading Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet, so I thought I’d use her ‘Poet’s Work’ as inspiration this week – not so much as a prompt for a new poem from scratch but for redrafting.

You can read Niedecker’s beautifully concise poem about the art/work of condensing in poetry at: .

Of course, if this poem on its own sparks you into writing, so much the better. If not, my suggested challenge this week is an editing one.

Choose a poem that’s not too recent, that you don’t considered finished and that you’re not too attached to in its present shape.

The challenge is to try and reduce – or condense – this poem to half its original word count. If you can manage this straight-off then that’s great.

But if you get stuck, you might consider making a copy of your original poem and cutting out every other line. Take what’s left then and see what happens if use this as a starting point for either a different version/draft of your original poem or even as the framework for an entirely new poem, preferably without referring back to the original.

By the end, you may decide there’s very little you actually want or need to change in your original, in which case enjoy its strengths. Alternatively, you may find you end up keeping only one or two lines from your original giving you a new draft or entirely new poem to have fun with.


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As prompts go, my offering this week is rather a self-service writing exercise or suggestion for finding inspiration.

First, list five words of things/ideas/feelings etc that feel important to you at the moment. So in my case these would be: light, bridge, reflection, shadow and water. Stick these into an internet search engine along with the term poem or poetry and see what it comes up with.

In my case the first option is a wikipedia page about rainbows, which includes some poetry examples. (I was hoping it might come up with Charles Tomlinson’s  excellent ‘More Foreign Cities’  but unfortunately, it didn’t, probably due to copyright.)

Use this first suggested page (or second or third if the first is very unpromising). If it can be summed up in one or two words – as in rainbow above, use this new word/words as theme or ‘backbone’ of your poem. You can incorporate your initial five words too, if you like.

Alternatively, read your suggested web page and follow up on anything on that page that inspires you, choosing an appropriate poetic form to fit.

Another option, is to list more initial words, and if you find constrictions help the inspirational process, consider making your final poem that many lines long, using one of your list words in each line.

If you want to stir up things even more, you could try using the opposite words to your initial list. So for example, in my poem featuring/on the theme of rainbows that could be dark/night instead of light, gap instead of bridge etc. (Using a thesaurus/dictionary might help here!)

Happy listing, searching, reading and writing!

This week I’m going to suggest something which is more of a poetry exercise than a prompt – though if it proves inspirational too, so much the better.

The idea is based on one of our optional MA homeworks this week and I am using the term translation loosely as I’m going to suggest focusing on sound rather than meaning by finding a shortish section of text written (it doesn’t matter what kind of text) in a foreign language that you are unfamiliar with.

Try to read this piece aloud or in your head as you think it would sound. (It doesn’t matter at all if that’s how a native speaker would say it or completely different.) Then try to write these sounds down as a long string of English words. Don’t worry about trying to make them carry any meaningful sense at this stage, don’t worry about line breaks or if your English words are formed from breaking up or merging together words in the original text. Focus solely on the sounds.

Once you have your string of English words, you can then start to think about shaping it by inserting line breaks, changing words to create some sense of meaning or narrative flow in the poem. It could be that you end up changing most of these words, keeping just one idea/theme/sound from your original ‘translation’. You may retain more – or nothing at all. Even if this doesn’t produce a poem for you, just enjoy having fun with sounds and language. And, as always, if the muse strikes partway through and wants to take you elsewhere, then go with it.

Happy writing – and ‘translating’!

Today’s writing prompt is inspired by the excellent performance poetry workshop I attended today.

One of the tasks Niall O’ Sullivan had us doing was reading out parts of Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions. (There are a few examples online here: )

We then tried writing down our own list of questions, not necessarily poetic, just a list of questions. It’s some of these questions, I’m going to put forward today as possible prompts. So…

Why do nice shoes dislike my feet?

Why are carrots orange?

Why does mud like carpets?

How many clouds can you fit in one sky?

Why do boys find farts so funny?

Have fun – and if anyone comes up with a sensible answer to the last question, please do let me know! 😉

Today is Remembrance Sunday, so I thought I’d use ‘silence’ as this week’s prompt. Poetry is, of course, all about silence and its contrast with sounds.

Two things, beyond the obvious, stand out for me about Remembrance Sunday. The first is how important it is that, in the same way as God (or whatever spiritual belief you have) is not just for Sunday, so too remembering those who laid down their lives for us is not just for one set occasion each year. It is something to be constantly remembered and rejoiced through our living. This leads on to the second point for me – the difficulty of finding that right balance between remembering and living, as that is what they ultimately died for.

So today I want to focus on the life, living as a way of remembering.

First, I would like you to close your eyes and listen to that silence. Only, of course, that silence isn’t silence at all, it is full of life and the sounds of life. (I will be posting some other links about this below.) There are distant, or not-so-distant, hums, buzzes, whirrings, clangs… You may notice perceptions start to creep in from other senses – smells, taste, touch. Then, of course, there is the noise of your internal thoughts.

Maybe this exercise will inspire a poem focussing on the senses or those internal thoughts. Or maybe the ‘muse’ will stay silent. If so, then simply enjoy the silence.

You may also want to check out some other links. Silence is certainly not a theme poets are silent about!

Ian Macmillan has an interesting Poetry Archive poet in residence blog post at A google search also brought up the following website with more about, and links for, John Cage’s  4’ 3” ( ) .

Enjoy listening – and hopefully also writing!

This week my writing prompt is a question: What’s your red wheelbarrow?

I am referring to William Carlos Williams’s famous and thought-provoking poem which opens “so much depends” and, first, I’d suggest reading the whole poem, which you can find online here.

What image does this create in your mind? What does this image say to you? How would you write about this wheelbarrow? Would you use the wheelbarrow to create an entirely different poem with eg a narrative? Or would you try to make the point you think Williams is making using a different object?

Why not try writing a poem in a similar concise observational style? Or alternatively perhaps it inspires you to deliberately write in a very different style?

Hopefully, your answer to one or several of these questions will provide you with some creative inspiration.

If not, then try using the following picture for inspiration.

What strikes you most ? Contrasts/juxtaposition can be both inspiration and a useful writing tool and there are plenty on offer in this photo: male/female, large/small, president/common people, shiny/unvarnished surface…

Whatever thoughts this inspires, remember to have fun – or at least more fun that the President doll’s expression suggests!

For this week’s prompt, I’m going to suggest a list of phrases linked with either ‘black’ or ‘cat’ in the hope that you will find something inspiring.

Though I’ve chosen these initial words bearing in mind Halloween and the Tiger Tiger ( call for tiger-inspired writing, where the phrases below take you is entirely up to you and your muse!

black eye, black and white, black out, black-and-blue, black sheep of the family, the pot calling the kettle black

cat got your tongue, be the cat’s whiskers, scaredy-cat, fight like cat and dog, look like something the cat dragged in, cat among the pigeons, while the cat’s away…, not enough room to swing a cat


Having spent much of the week indoors nursing a cold of the virus kind, it was great to get out on Saturday night to enjoy a different ‘chill’.

Yes, it being Halloween weekend, it was the shivers of spooky tales and poetry – along with some more generally themed pieces for the less ghoulish – at Worcester Arts Workshop’s Word and Sound that helped put me in better ‘spirits’. As well as enjoying a wide range of others’ music and poetry, I also read some of my own gravely and not-so-gravely themed pieces.

Of course, despite dressing for the occasion, my costume didn’t even come close to some of those celebrating Halloween this year!

But Halloween ghouls, beasts, witches and black cats aside, I’ve also been focussing this week on a more important kind of wild animal: the tiger. This big cat is in severe danger of extinction and Tiger Tiger ( is trying to put creativity to good use by asking writers to put their talents to good use by writing about tigers to raise awareness and funds for the World Wildlife Fund Save the Tiger Campaign. This week’s poem by Ruth Stacey ( is well worth reading. And submissions are still open for those who’ve not yet submitted themselves.

And if you need some more writing inspiration, check out my fansite blog post prompt or my train journey people-watching/eavesdropping article in Friday’s Worcester News (

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