If you enjoy these prompts, please buy Porsha's latest book, I Shimmer Sometimes, Too from Button Poetry.
Parable. Tell the story of your parents meeting, not as the origin story of you, but as the conclusion to their own stories. Try and use a vocabulary you don't usually employ, be it fairy tale language, a technical support manual, a cheesy romance novel, whatever sparks you to tell a story in an unusual way.
My Mother. Ask someone important to you to tell you a story that you didn't previously know about them, but that they would feel comfortable with you sharing with others through your writing. Take their literal story and make it into something akin to a folk tale or a tall tale. Use their story to make them a legend.
I Am Neither The Poem Nor The Words, Nor The Letters, Nor The Images They Elicit. Go back in your own history to a time where you were extremely uncomfortable, not just because of the people around you, but because of the physical place you were in. Give yourself a mantra and running commentary to be calmer. Come out of our memory of the event feeling calmer than you felt coming out of the actual event.
The Electric Slide Is Not A Dance, Man. Take a physical activity, be it a dance move, a pattern for scoring in a sport, a repeated motion you have to make at your job, and dissect it as though it were something else competely. Tell us how a Flea Flicker is like being a wingperson for a socially awkward person, or how directing cars how to park at a concert is like having a political discussion with your family.
Aladdin's Genie Of Emancipation. What if you were a genie, freed by someone who plans on using your wish granting power to hurt others. What wishes do they make? How do you use semantics to give them what they ask for without giving them what they want?
Look At What I've Done! Most of us have killed bugs before. Why? What specific benefit did it afford you? Most ofus have also imagined killing someone before. Maybe not with any specifics. Maybe just wishing a person were dead. How do you reckon these behaviors with your morals?
Water. Dissect a stereotype people have about something that you represent. Be it your race, your gender, your occupation, the sports team you root for. Go in-depth with why it might be historically accurate, and why it may not. Here is my usual warning: If you're a straight, white dude, instead of dissecting your straightness, your maleness, or your whiteness, maybe dissect a hobby you enjoy, or if you belong to a subculture like nerd, bros, engineers, cosplay enthusiasts, maybe focus on one of those things rather than being straight, or white, or male.
The Muse For This Black Dyke Is A Dead White Man. There is something about all of us that will make another type of person uncomfortable. It'sprobably their own bullshit, and not yours. Still. Rationalize hat makes them uncomfortable in a way that glorifies you, while not necessarily making them any more comfortable.
A Brief Antecdote... There have been a lot of positive cultural changes in the twenty-first century. Yes, there are still plenty of people being fucken awful and fighting changes, but let's leave them behind for this one prompt. Give us a not-widely-known history on why a single positive change has occured. You can start with the oppression of a culture you belong to, if you'd like You shouldn't start with the oppression of someone else's culture. And if you think there hasn't been improvements for your straight, white, maleness, look up the history of unions and how they've improved living conditions, or the history of medicine and how they've allowed for healthier lives.
Un-Named. Tell us the history of one of your name. Be it your first, middle, or last.
Black Spells. Center a poem around a togue twister. Untangle it in a way that people won't expect.
After James Brown. Pick a musician you enjoy. Someone whose catalog you know inside and out. Now, base your poem on their biggest hit. The thing they are most known for. Why is or isn't it a great representation of that artist?
(Again), Retell the story from the "I Am Neither The Poem Nor The Words, Nor The Letters, Nor The Images They Elicit" prompt. This time, imagine you narrowly avoided having to be in that situation at all. How does that change things for you?
I Milly Rock On Any Block. Take the subject from the "The Electric Slide Is Not A Dance, Man" prompt and praise or bury the actual physical activity, mildly hinting at the secondary subject matter that you associated it with.
If you enjoy the prompts presented here, please go buy Danez's book from IndieBound.
1. My President. Whether you're A Social Justice Communist That's Ruining Our Mid-Twentieth Century White Conservative Values That Don't Apply To Us, or A Greedy Nazi Bigot For Christ Whom Jesus Wouldn't Care For, you probably think at least one American President in your lifetime is a garbagey piece of unrecyclable garbage. Nominate a list of people you wish were President of Wherever You Live. They can be politicians, celebrities, your relatives, cartoon characters. This is your list. Forget everybody else's rules. Why do you think they'd be a great President?
2. Homies. Reclaim a word that's meant to hurt you. You. Personlly, you. Don't choose a word that doesn't apply to you and try and make it okay. That's someone else's prompt, probably. I want you to take a specific name that someone called you, personally, and reclaim it as something powerful to you. Sing its praises. Why should we love you because of your relationship to that word?
3. How Many Of Us Have Them. This is a new form prompt. Write a poem that ascends. Opening with a one line stanza, followed by a two line stanza, all the way up to twelve lines in a stanza. Have this poem be a praise poem for friendship that starts with praising the friendship of two people you don't know but grows into a poem about either a specific friendship you have, or else umbrellas one of your general feelings about friendship.
4. Jumped! Whether it's violent or psychological, we've all been a bully to someone at some point. Take us on a journey that starts with you being in the position of power and punishing someone for something you feel was justified. End with a story about when you were the victim, but you can see how the person in power felt justified in punsihing you.
5. Saw A Video Of A Gang Of Bees Swarming A Hornet Who Killed Their Bee-Homie So I Called To Say I Love You. Who would you commit an act of violence for? Why would you be willing to do it? Examine Your moral code for this until you learn something new about yourself and/or the person you love enough to violently defend.
6. Fall Poem. Leaves and school and new television shows and termination of vacations are the stuff of fall. Change change change change change. I'm actually surprised more people don't get married in fall. Yea, spring is all bloomy flowers and grass splitting the tundra, and all, but that's also babies babies babies and being terrible at things. Fall is all about growth change instead of born change. Take us on a journey of growth using autumnal imagery.
7. Rose. We've all been the bully at least once. Forget the times you think you were justified. When were you competely in the wrong. Looking back, who should you have apologized to for the way you treated them? Give them your apology and/or your explanation. Own your terribleness. Don't excuse your behavior, apologize for it.
8. I'm Going Back To Minessota Where Sadness Makes Sense. For me, places hold emotional triggers even more than places. Sure, some are nostalgic and positive, but mostly there are places I won't return to unless I have to. The place just feels Wrong. Tell us about a place that holds some sort of emotional power over you. You don't need to try and explain why. Just describe the emotional feel of the place.
9. The Flower Who Bloomed Through The Fence In Grandmother's Yard. A ghost line is where you start a poem using a line by someone else, and write a whole poem wherever that first line guides you. Then you go back and delete that first line. You can make it an epigraph, if you wish, but it can no longer be the first line of your poem. Your ghost line for this exercise is : grander for his quarantine.
10. In Lieu Of A Poem, I'd Like To Say. For years, I thought I hated figs. Those cardboard Fig Newtons that parents gave out to my generation clotted my mouth. But it was the cookie I hated, not the fruit. Thirty years of avoiding figs because of crappy cookies. Sing us a song of praise for the fruits you love. Sure, vegetables, candy, bread, soup, juices, you can do that if it suits you better. But do your best to love on some fruit.
11. Dogs! Pretty straight forward, here, a poem that encompasses multiple dogs, real or fictional, and contains many different themes or metaphors. No #notalldogs or #alldogs, stories about dogs that might contradict each other. Dogs you love. Dogs you fear. Dogs that bit you. Dogs who waited for you. Wag our tails.
12. Ode To Gold Teeth. Write a praise poem for something rooted in vanity. The face lift. The spray tan. The expensive shampoo you canm't really afford. Something that has impacted your life (it doesn't have to be something you've done, it can be something someone you love has done, or something one of your coworkers has done; Just someone's act of vanity that you have to deal with on a fairly regularly basis). Praise it.
1. Medical History
Your family's medical history is one way to get a feel for who you are and where you come from. What other list-style poem ideas can you come up with to define your history? A list of your ancestors' and family's jobs? Hobbies? Mapping out where they lived?
2. A Violence
What trait expected of your gender/someone your age/someone from your family/someone with your occupation/someone with your gender attraction do you not only Not Meet but have No Desire to meet? What does it say of you? And others?
2.5 A Violence
Ghost line: "You look just like/ your mother," he says, "who looks just like a fire/ of suspicious origin." A body, I've read, can sustain/ its own sick burning, its own hell, for hours.
3. Candelabra With Heads
Yesterday, I was sent a link to an Icelandic museum's necropants, a pair of pants made from the skin of a dead relative. The practice is believed to only exist in folklore, and not in real life, and was supposed to bring wealth to the person who wore their ancestor's skin. This gives a new horror to the phrase "Don't judge a person until you've walked a mile in their skin."
Using a grusome image, tell a story from your family history.
Palindrome Poems are poems that are written to a pivotal line, at which point, the poem is then rewritten in reverse order. Create one on the subject of your choice.
4. Hysterical Strength
What supposedly incredible experience do you find an ordinary occurence necessary to get through life?
Center a poem around a color. Use this color repeatedly in images. Deconstruct the color. Reconstruct it.
6. It's Not Fitness, It's A Lifestyle
The rise of social media has given us a wider understanding of how people use their prejudice against people for no other reason than to make themselves feel powerful by hurting complete strangers rather than listening to them or having a conversation. What prejudice have you felt or imagined levied against you as you were just going about your life? (If you're a straight white dude, you can write about the prejudice people have against your job, your age group, a specific community you belong to [poets, cosplayers, wrestling fans, etc.], the city you live in, etc. DO NOT write about prejudice people have against you for being a straight, white dude. No matter how much you believe it's true, nobody wants to hear that bullshit.)
7. Happy Birthday To Me
Reflect, specifically, on the most recent year of your life. Without making references to any specific incidents, how did you feel during that year.
8. The First Person To Live To One Hundred And Fifty Years Old Has Already Been Born
If you had the opportunity to be immortal, or, at the very least, several centuries old, what would you do with all that time? Would it be worth it?
9. In Igboland
Ghost Line: I want / to learn how to make something/ holy, then walk away.
I hate to brag, but I'm a one-man parade,/ Jehova in drag, the church in a dress./ Outside these walls I may be irrelevant,/ but here I'm the Old and the New Testament.
You are unlikely to write a more powerful brag than that. But try. Write a stanza or two focused on a talent or body of knowledge you have, then close the poem with an epic brag about it.
11. Heretofore Unuttered
Tell about a time when you were happy to go unnoticed.
Use asonance, internal rhyme, and alliteration to make a soundscape a listener would be happy to be lost in.
12. Cento For The Night I Said, "I Love You"
Write a cento using at least five sources. Remember to give credit. Credit the original authors. Make sure you've credited your sources. For the love of all that's holy in writing, mention the sources you borrowed from every time you read the poem out loud or write it down. The boundary between cento and plagiarism is HUGE and THICK, and it mainly centers on giving appropriate credit.
13. Virginia Is For Lovers
Tell about a time you massively misunderstood something a friend was trying to subtly tell you. How did you react when you finally figured it out? Was it something you needed to atone for?
Base a poem on a popular board game or video game that you enjoy. Or one you hate. Give time to what most appeals to you.
15. C ue
Take a poem from the previous fourteen prompts and make an erasure of it.
In religious lore and mythological fables, there are often stories of gods coming to Earth in disguise to learn more about humanity. If you were a god, what disguise would you use, and how do you believe this would help you discover more about us oh so interesting creatures? Alternately, if you were Not The Least Bit Interested In Humans, what would you hope to learn during your time on Earth?
2. Wild Pear Tree
It's been January for months in both directions is an incredible first line for a poem. For me, Augusts are the interminable months of the year. Is there a month for you that seems to go spectacularly bad (or, if you're feeling hopeful, a month that goes splendidly) each year? Tell us why, and how you would either choose to make it stop, or to make it stretch on forever.
2.5. Wild Pear Tree
Akbar also discusses sliding into a bathtub filled with pears as if into a mound of jewels. Center a poem around an unusual physical situation, and try and provide the reader with a thoroughly unexpected tactile comparison that makes more and more sense each time you read it.
3. Do You Speak Persian?
Is there a language you studied or learned when you were younger that you no longer use on an even semi-regular basis? If so, what words do you remember? What words do you wish you still had easy access to?
4. Yeki Bood Yeki Nabood
every day someone finds what they need/in someone else Who was not just important to you but necessary to who you were when you were younger. What is your relationship to that person now?
5. Portrait Of The Alcoholic With Home Invader And Housefly
It can be difficult/ telling the size of something/ when it's right above you -- the average/ cumulus cloud weighing as much/ as eighty elephants. Using very precise images, explain something seemingly or actually intangible you previously misunderstood but now are comfortably knowledgeable about. For example, peoples’ ages, physical distance, the transition from liquid to gas, etc.
What do you believe should have killed you? Don't tell us how you survived or what you will do now that you've lived through it. Merely describe the situation and sensations before you knew you were going to live through it.
7. Drinkaware Self-Report
Find a very brief (ten questions or less) quiz designed for self-help or accountability. Rather than answering the questions literally, tell a brief anecdote that you feel answers the question better than a yes, nor or quantifiable answer.
8. Calling A Wolf A Wolf (Inpatient)
envy is the only deadly sin that's no fun for the sinner Write from the perspective of someone who's envious of something you have achieved. Do not judge them for their envy.
9. Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before
What trivial things do you remember that have, in no way, benefitted you? What information that you wish you'd retained, do you think it has replaced?
10. Portrait Of The Alcoholic With Withdrawal
Start a poem with the following ghost line: everyone wants to know/ what I saw on the long walk/ away from you
11. Some Boys Aren't Born They Bubble
Humans dance uniquely. I mean that other animals seem to mostly dance with purpose. They have a go-to move for mating, or for fighting. There seems to be an infinite amount of ways a human can dance, and it's not always (sometimes, sure, but not often) clear what their motivation is. Tell us the story of a particular dance.
Penance is both a religious and secular oddity. We punish ourselves or others in a way that usually benefits neither us nor the person being punished. This is a strictly human behavior that defies logic. When did you punish someone (or something...say if you smacked a computer that wasn't working fast enough, or kicked a chair because you stubbed your toe on it) in a way that, in retrospect, didn't help either of you. When were you punished in that fashion?
Despite the weird resurgence of Flat Earthers, our planet is still round. Yet creatures moving across the ground, through the water, and in the sky, appear to be moving in straight lines. What illusion most perplexes you, even though you are fully aware that it's an illusion?Portrait Of The
14. Alcoholic With Doubt And Kingfisher
Faith is a story/ about people totally unlike you/ building concrete walls around their beds. If you are a person whose life is faith based, tell us a story about something you did in defiance of faith. If you are someone who does not tend to make decisions based on faith, tell us about a time when faith played an unlikely role.
15. Desunt Nonnula
What were your favorite words growing up? Even if you didn't know what they meant, what words did you use so frequently, they could have been your catch phrase on a terrible sitcom?
16. Learning To Pray
So much of who we are as children is mirroring adults' behavior. If you can remember such a time, tell us about it. If not, have you ever seen another child mirroring an adult? How did that affect you?
17. Portrait of The Alcoholic Three Weeks Sober
Imagine being the sand forced to watch the silt dance/ in the Nile. Imagine being the oil boiling away an entire person. Become a specific body of liquid, whether the last drop of gasoline spilling from the pump into the tank of a car, or the remnant of a rainstorm.
18. Supplication With Rabbit Skull And Boquet
Ghost line prompt: I'm growing into my science
19. Exciting The Canvas
Write a deconstruction of the words light and shadow.
20. A Boy Steps Into The Water
Attraction to something non-traditional always seems dangerous, whether its lust for a person, desire for an item of clothing we can't afford, drive to play a video game that would definitely make us late to work. Focus on something you want but don't need, and, in fact, will never get. Forget why it wouldn't work out, just tell us about the experience of wanting it.
21. Wake Me Up When It's My Birthday
Keep a soul open and it's bound/ to fill up with scum. If we don't grow as people, we become terrible. There is a reason why calling an adult "infantile" is not a compliment. Why we dislike grown adults who have tantrums. Why we dislike the desire inside us to throw a tantrum when things don't go our way. It's cathartic to wail and rattle our limbs, but it never solves anything, so, whe we adult properly, we use the language and logic we lacked as children. What part of yourself do you fear becoming stagnant? How are you working to change it?
Jeanann Verlee's Prey presents a series of poems about predators and their prey. It's a an exquisitely articulated chronicle of trauma. It's a fantastic book, but it was difficult to come up with a suite of prompts to represent the poems without the fear of inducing trauma on anyone following the prompts, or ignoring the necessity of the subject matter of these poems.
I've tried to be as true to these poems as possible without making this too emotionally difficult for people following the prompts. This post picks up from the previous one.
30. Secret Written From Inside a Piranha's Mouth. Have you ever adapted your diet, your music listening prefereces, your wardrobe to fit the preferences of someon you were attracted to? Gross, huh? But most people have done it at some point in their lives. Write a list of things an ex preferred of you and others they dated. Let the list speak for the dynamics of the relationship.
31. The New Crucible. Choose a play you've enjoyed (or hated, if that's how you roll). Write a poem with at least three distinct sections. The first should focus on the plot, the second section should focus on a particular character, and the third should spotlight a setting where a particular scene (or the entire play) takes place.
32. Dumpster Full Of Dresses. Give us a tour through a place where something meaningful happened to you. Present it as a Haunted House.
33. The Feast. Several years ago, someone went well out of their way to hurt me, for no reason other than to try and improve their own social capital. While one friend was advising me that the person who hurt me wasn't worth wasting time on, another friend said that the other person wasn't so bad because one time that person had prepared him breakfast. We don't speak very often since then. If you were to prepare a meal to save or ruin a friendship or a relationship, what would it be? How would you serve it?
34. For The Woman Who Loved The Predator More Than His Prey. Curse someone with a litany of things that sound positive, but when combined will ruin the person you are cursing.
35. Secret Written From Inside a Crocodile's Mouth. How would you construct an emotional suit of armor for yourself?
36. The Believer. Ghost line prompts are where you start a poem with lines from someone else's work, and when you are finished, you erase those lines so that only your own work remains. Begin your poem with the following ghost line: He said tequila, she gave him a grove of lime trees. The sea.
37. The Boy Moving Overseas Asks To Meet For Coffee To Address Our "Miscommunication" About His Ongoing Friendship With A Man Who Raped Me. Recount a difficult conversation with someone you believed was your friend. Be more thorough and honest (and metaphorical) in your recounting than you were able to in reality.
38. The Unkindness. Tell us a story about animals helping other animals. Whether you metaphor it to your life is up to you.
39. Alias. Are there any good reasons for a person to change their name? Explain your involvement in a name change, whether its your own or someone you've encountered.
40. Secret Written From Inside A Grizzly's Mouth. Ghost lines: Every few years I start a bonfire,/incinerate a mattress or a man/ or a city, then dust off the rubble/ and rebegin from the nothing/ I uilt with my own hands.
Suite Of Ruin
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.