Clint Smith's Counting Descent is a lesson in poetic memoir. It hits the This Is Who I Am core of poetry from several different angles. It doesn't rely on tricks, or abstracts, or unnecessarily poetic language. It's straight-forward while still being complex and nuanced. You get a feel for the type of person the writer is and you want to know more about him. He's not broken, or horribly flawed, he's human, and growing up in a world that he increasingly understands, does not value parts of his identity as much as it values others'.
The prompts I've created all focus on identity. But not race. Even though race is a fundamental part of this collection. I want to be clear that this is not because I don't value poems about race. It's that writing about race is much harder than writing these prompts. You can Totally use these prompts to also write about race and how it affects you, but if you're not prepared for that, you can avoid it.
I might use some of these prompts to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity but those aren't implicitly written into an of the prompts I've come up with so far. That might change down the line, but right now, I would rather say "Confront a stereotype that you are unfairly labelled with" than "write about a time where being gay affected your life".
Something You Should Know: What was the first job that didn’t matter to you? What does that say about you and/or the job in question? Was it a person at the job that made it unpleasant? The customer base? A physical task? The general idea of the job? How long did you put up with it anyway? How did you finally get out?
What The Ocean Said To The Black Boy: There are bogus stereotypes for all us. Be they based on race, gender, orientation, nationality, hair color, height, weight, w’evs. Confront a stereotype that you’ve had applied to you. Refute it or embrace it. Definitely show, don’t tell with this one. Leave all the telling in the title.
For The Boys At The Bottom Of The Sea: Staying with the example from the previous poem, give advice to members of your community who the stereotype applies to. What qualifies you to give them this advice? Why should they listen to you?
The Boy And His Ball: Narrate a sporting event, concert, or show as if was the most epic, important piece of history ever recorded. Use a thesaurus and dense images (I don’t usually recommend this). It can be as sincere, surreal, or satirical as you wish.
Soles: Ok, here you go, the inevitable meta prompt about how writing is hard. Here’s the thing, though, you have to describe how challenging writing can feel, but you can’t talk about writing. Try not to go too metaphorically obvious: mountain climbing, sky diving, etc. Try and be creative: buying a house, navigating a strange city, fucking. But, um, if you do use any of those three, you totally have to give me credit in your manuscript.
Ode To The Loop-de-Loop: Address an intangible thing that frightens you. Investigate its purpose. Ask why it won’t leave you alone.
My Jump Shot Be: Write about a talent or trait that is singularly yours. Something you do like nobody else. Write a poem at least a page long where every stanza starts with a “My (talent) is like” statement.
Full Court Press: I think everyone has this moment. A friend or an older kid in the neighborhood says something to you that you should either be offended by, or should never say around adults. But no one taught you this. So you go and say this word/phrase/expression/idea in front of Someone Who Knows Better, and they Educate You. Who first gave you this phrase/word/idea/expression? Did they know it was going to get you in trouble? Did they assume you already knew to never say this to The Wrong Person? Is this something perfectly acceptable for them, but not you to express? Who told you you messed up? How did they try to make it feel? How did it actually feel? What is your relationship with the expression now? With the people/person who taught it to you? With the person who taught you it was wrong?
What The Cicada Said To The Black Boy: Pick an animal you identify with on a metaphoric level (e.g.: a snail if you like to hide in your house, a kangaroo if you’re an overprotective parent who gets in a ridiculous number of fights). What would that animal say to you if it spoke your language, and knew you identified with it?
Ode To 9th & O NW: Tell us about a street you lived on. Go all the way in. Let us feel like we know that street, that we should be as nostalgic or afraid of it as you are.
What The Fire Hydrant Said To The Black Boy: Do you ever feel like you’ve blended into the background? How about that, no matter how hard you try, you always stick out, like an ear with a bandage on it? Do you ever feel like everything around you depends on you for survival, but tries to make you clandestine? Find something in your environment that functions the way you feel you do. What can you learn from it? What would it say to you if it could speak your language?
Counting Descent: Use numbers and math to describe your family. Where they come from. What they do for their livings. How they relate to you. What you imagine or hope will happen for (collective) you in the future.
Keeping Score: Does your family, or coworkers, or group of friends have a game that you play frequently? Card games, board games, role playing games (outside of the bedroom, please), sports, puzzles, looking for certain types of cars or license plates on long road trips. Tell us about the game and if/why it’s important to (collective) you.
A Lineage: Who were you named for, and is it important to you?
Counterfactual: Write about a lesson you learned on a field trip, school outing, or road trip with the family.
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.