I have intentionally built up a reputation as a bitter poetry listener who is eager to critique others' work. I rarely do this publicly, since the point is never to shame the poet. Often the offending poets are either young or new to a scene, and loudly rolling my eyes at them isn't going to help anyone. Or else the poet has been on the scene long enough for most listeners to realize that they have no shame, so why bother bringing up that their rhyming, meterless poem about how their spouse never leaves the toilet seat down, or how airline food is totally gross, am I right? is awful.
If I turn to a poet at the bar and say "Whoever gave that poet a rhyming dictionary, and told them that 'I want to insert my rutabaga into you but I'm afraid I'll break ya' was an acceptable line needs to be put on some sort of government watch list. Keep your eyes peeled for anyone enthusiastically clapping so we can report them." I'm doing it to make the other poet laugh, to stress that I enjoy their work more than the unfortunate thing happening on stage. I'm also saying it out loud as an affirmation that I should never do the thing I'm bashing.
I'm always trying to make poetry better. Not just my own, but other peoples'. And not out of benevolence or wisdom, but as self preservation, as I'm generally paid to be in a room where poetry is happening, and I'd rather it not be terrible.
The Tips From The Bar page was Simonne Beaubien's idea. I've enjoyed doing it because it keeps me thinking about what types of poems I like listening to, be it content-wise, structure-wise, or thematically. I'm never disappointed when a poet comes to the mic with a poem inspired by a Tip From The Bar, even if they completely ignored half the prompt, or if the prompt came from another member of the community. I'm always glad when someone tries something out of their usual comfort zone, or uses their signature style but writes about subject matter that they don't usually tackle.
Every time I think I'm finished giving prompts for a while, I google the term "poetry prompts" or "poetry slam prompts" to see who else is out there giving tips online, and, y'all, it's bleak and trite.
For every Rachel Mckibbens, Nicole Homer, and Scott Woods blog of creative, well-thought out prompts, there are a thousand well-intentioned middle school teachers with pages that offer unhelpfully vague prompts such as "write about your family" or "write from a different perspective than your own", or else they throw four columns of words at you every week, encouraging you to send in your best poems using the words "screwdriver", "vicar", "volcano", and "sumptuous", but to "keep it PG" because they know what sumptuous thing you're going to be volcanoing on the vicar's face after he's done using that screwdriver to assemble your Ikea bed or whatever, and they don't want to know about it.
Where was I?
Right, I'm trying to keep the prompts on this page complex enough to not be super repetitive but also open-ended enough to allow poets to be creative enough so that if four poets show up with work from the same prompt, they're not all going to be doing terrible things to that vicar.
This week's prompt is to Google "poetry prompts" or "slam poem prompts" or something similar, and find a sight that either bores or enrages you. Write to the author of the page about why it missed the mark for you. DON'T SEND IT. It won't make anyone feel better. But share your unsent letter with others, to acknowledge that you respect them more than the person who created the page you're mocking. And to affirm to yourself that you will never make those specific mistakes.
BONUS PROMPT: Write a poem from one of the terrible prompts that is so awesome that you have to wonder if maybe that prompt wasn't so bad after all.
Ever been caught in a couch, and had to call 911, only for the EMTs call The Fire Department to get you out? Have you ever been President of The United States and nearly be assassinated by a pretzel?
Tell us about a time a seemingly innocuous object nearly led to your unexpected demise.
Several years ago, I wrote a blog post that involved a fictional feud between penguins and polar bears. A Very Angry Biologist shot off a Very Angry Email about how penguins and polar bears live on opposite sides of the planet, literally.
Recently, however, a boy held his penguin shaped backpack against the glass at The Pittsburgh Zoo, and, sure enough, a polar bear tried to attack it.
A penguin, however, is not a backpack. Even if you stuff one full of textbooks and camping supplies.
Who hasn't been a polar bear attacking something that appeared to be something you were diametrically opposed to before you understood its purpose?
Write about a time where you were wrong to attack a person or an idea. Did you then apologize for it, or did you troll on through to the other side?
Write Or Die
Scott Woods's Twitter Prompts
Rachel Mckibbens' Prompt Blog
The 30/30 Prompt Blog
Asterisk And Sidebar Prompts