I often find myself getting stuck in the same writing patterns. Even when I'm writing about people or subjects I haven't tackled before, I use similar verbiage, images that cropped up in previous poems. And that's okay. Lots of writers get famous by having a style that allows themselves to repeat images across entire manuscripts. Self-referentialism isn't the worse thing that can happen, but it can be tiring to write, especially if you're not doing it on purpose. So for January, my goal is to write at least eight poems that don't necessarily sound like poems I've already written. Here are the eight prompts I'll be working with to alter the way I write:
1.) The Grand Erasure. Erasures can be great, but they're tough. Typically, an erasure takes an existing poem, or essay, or speech, or story. The poet then takes a marker or scissors or some implement and whittles the words in the poem down until it creates an entirely new piece of art. (examples: Form N-400 Erasures, Trump Inauguration Erasure, Louis CK's Apology Erasure, and this entire website of erasures)
We're not getting that specific at all.
Take at least five books of poems. Open the first book at random. Locate a word on the page that speaks to you, then find another word nowhere near it that might follow, keep doing this until you have at least the beginning of a phrase, maybe as much as a stanza. Now open a second book and do the same thing. This second book that you've randomly opened to might continue the theme or it may not offer anything remotely similar. That's ok. We're not trying to get a whole poem out of these erasures, we're mining for images and phrases we may not have come up with. Don't steal an image. If a poem says:
A bear opens a refrigerator with an app designed for otters
but the refrigerator doesn't care
It opens for anyone hungry
It does not care who calls it cold
Sometimes we have to be cold to preserve the parts of ourselves
other people need
you should not take "a bear opens a refrigerator" or "the parts of ourselves other people need". Instead maybe "a bear...designed for...hungry...calls...to preserve...need"
That's probably not something you would have come up with without seeing it in someone else's poem.
The idea of a Grand Erasure is to get maybe ten of these phrases or stanzas, and then use as many of them as you see fit to write a new poem or poems. There's no rule about using all of what you've scavenged. You can rework the phrases or images you find however you want. Don't be a slave to what you've removed, let it guide you to a poem that you wouldn't have otherwise written.
2. Remix To Sing
This is a pretty basic prompt that I don't use as often as I should.
Take a piece of your own work, or a poem you love by someone else, and create a new poem using only the words from that text. You don't have to use every word, but use as many as you can to say something different (not necessarily taking the opposite stance from the original...make it surreal...take a poem about frogs and make it a love song to Florida if the text allows it). As with any of my prompts, don't feel boxed in by the rules. If you want to use a word more times than it appears in the actual text, go for it. Is it lacking the preposition you want? Add it in.
You might not end up with your finished product purely by remixing. You may get done with the remix, and think it doesn't do what you want it to. That's okay. Now you have the beginning of something you wouldn't otherwise have. Tear out what you don't what. Add transitions that are absolutely not from your original text. Scrap 3/4s of the poem, but keep a series of images or phrases that you like. Discover that, out of this three page poem that you chose, that there's only a five line section that you like. Congrats, you have a five line poem. Save the rest in a word doc or notebook for later.
3. The iPod Shuffle
You can use Spotify, or a CD shuffle, whatever technology you have that allows songs to show up at random.
Take the first ten (or twenty, or whatever number you like, it's your life) titles of songs that come up. Use all those words in a poem. But it can't be a love poem. It can be about something or someone you love, but it can't be about A Nebulous You, or a pick-up line poem. It can be surreal. It can be about work. Anything but a love poem.
Ok, and then also use all those words for a love poem. Who am I to tell you what to do with your words?
And remember, if you don't like the first ten (or however many you choose) titles that come up, shuffle again.
4. Taming Your Thesaurus
There are prose writers and poets who cherish their their thesauruses. They utilize the most ornate lexemes to manufacture profound testimony from tedious abstractions.
They make me tired and unimpressed.
Find one of these fancy poems, and thesaurus it down to its most base language.
(Here's one of my favorites.)
Take that poem skeleton, and use your thesaurus (or thesaurus.com if you, like me, burned your thesaurus in a fit of rage during the 90s) to find synonyms that you would never use. Now use them. Choose the five (or ten, or two...it's your life) words that most repel you, and find a way to work it into a poem you don't hate. It can just be a random word in your poem, it can be the title, the whole poem can just be about how much you hate that word/those words.
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.