In honor of poet, Tony Hoagland, who died this week, I created a suite of prompts based on his first collection: Sweet Ruin. I had a complicated relationship with his poetry, as his first two collections: Sweet Ruin, and Donkey Gospel were very influential on the way I wrote in my twenties, but his later work became more and more problematic.
And while many writers found that our older work wasn't accomplishing the things we hoped as it aged, he chose to write about his struggles with bigotry in a way that many of his readers, and some of his close peers and friends, felt was punching down. His internal struggles with prejudice (which everyone has) came out in a way that felt bigoted instead of enlightening.
I don't want to celebrate that part of his writing.
One of my prompts from Suite Of Ruin was inspired partly by the second poem in his collection, "For Men Only", and partly by listening to "progressive" male poets trying their best to write inspiring poems about women:
Prompt: Poem For Men Only. Masculinity is tough, huh? Between Mens' Rights Activists, and the men who struggle against that stereotype, your average open mic listener has spent entirely too much time listening to men talk about masculinity. So take a break for this prompt. Write about a female or non-binary inventor. If you are female or non-binary, write it however you wish. If you're male identified, then completely remove yourself from the poem. Don't talk about how the female or non-binary inventor inspired you or changed your life or what her love life was like, write a list poem about them, or find an angle that never mentions the inventor's beauty or courage. Tell us about the invention. Try to avoid mentioning men at all.
I am often trapped behind a counter while I am working retail. This means, while trying to do data entry, run a sale through, or answer a customer's question, someone who is not even a potential customer will come in and talk at me. Because society has deemed it rude to say "Fuck off, I'm busy, and don't have time to listen to you prattle on about nothing." to a stranger, I often hear more than anyone's fair share of useless doggerel.
In the past week, much of it has been armchair sports fans, who, despite not having played baseball since their tee-ball league team came in last place, are convinced they Know how the local sports franchise can win the World Series, if only their coaching staff would listen to them.
What activity in the world are you completely unqualified to give advice for, but are so passionate about that you feel the need to share your limited knowledge with the entire world?
Prep for your annual Halloween project by writing a story or poem in which a ghost appears, and saves your life.
How would you devise a complex trap to capture a modern pest: a telemarketer, CEO of a college loan company, an online sexual predator.
Tell a story involving finding a book. It could be a book left on a sidewalk, on a friend's bookshelf, something that arrives in the mail that you don't remember ordering. How did the book affect you? Were you fated to find the book?
"A tormented mother living in Bramford Road with her two young children has been woken on an almost nightly basis by a tinny, distant rendition of 'It's Raining, It's Pouring'. She said the threatening undertone of the song had left her frightened and questioning whether she was imagining things. After months of torment, she finally reported the unusual complaint to Ipswich Borough Council." --Associated Press
It turns out that the creepy nursery rhyme was not the precursor to an attack by Freddy Kreuger. Rather, it's part of an alarm system for a local industrial park. Unfortunately, its trigger system was far too sensitive, as it was being regularly set off by spiders, just normal sized spiders, doing their regular spiderly duties.
If you had a non-violent security system for people breaching your personal boundaries what would it be? And what thing might accidentally set it off?
Earlier this year, during the midst of a construction project to update a subway system in Australia, excavators found the remains of a Victorian-era dental practice, including over 1,000 teeth. This gave researchers insight into Victorian-era dentistry, as well as providing nightmare fuel for anyone who didn't want to know about Victorian-era dentistry.
When future scientists unearth the remains beneath your home and work, what horrors will they learn about you?
This week, the staff of the Cantab was greeted with a fresh coat of pink paint, and some....unexpected curtains and Christmas lights. Also, the floor is now sticky from fresh matte paint as opposed to...other reasons.
They did not remove all of the stickers, sand over the years worth of masking and duct tape from show posters. They just painted over them. The room is precisely the same as it has always been but with a fresh...ish coat of paint.
Isn't this precisely what self-improvement is for some people? No work to repair what's underneath just a fresh varnish of bright Look At Me cosmetic alteration.
Have you ever been guilty of this unintentionally disengenious improvement? What did it accomplish for you? I mean, you probably haven't, what with being in such perfect condition, so, assuming you've never done this, surely you've experienced someone around you doing this. How did you react to this surface sheen of unrepair? Did you discuss this with other people? Were they on your side?
When I asked who at The Cantab had ever had a terrible boss, every hand shot up. I can't fathom what that says about the state of capitalism in the 20th and 21st century.
My own experiences with bosses is varied from Slightly Flawed Human Being Trying Their Best To Survive Financially to Rich Incompetent Jackass With No Understanding Of Accountability Or Others' Humanity Making A Profit Off The Rest Of Us Desperately Poor.
I offer a choice of prompts this week. As always you can slightly alter the prompt to fit your desired outcome.
Without talking about your current job (please, don't even tempt fate by talking about your current job), explain to a former boss how they could have improved their business , your happiness, and the world at large by heeding your adive. -Or- Apologize to your past self for not protecting them from the aforementioned horrible work/life situation.
Have you even been reading a really beautiful poem or section of prose and been totally enamored with how well the author is expressing their passion for their country/a bird/the ocean/a slice of pizza/probably the moon, only to have the poem turn and really be about how much they totally want to bone some beautiful human being? Maybe, like me, you audibly groan and put the book down, feeling cheated for the potential that an author is capable of loving something that is unlikely to give them a satisfying sexual experience.
If you haven't had this experience, you aren't reading enough, or this sort of thing doesn't bother you.
Try and find a piece of writing that stumbles over objectification (or somehow makes the act of objectification seem lovely) and let it inspire you to write about something you are passionate about. Express this without mentioning a person in any way.
Have you ever ha a great idea for a story or a poem or The Greatest American Teleplay Of All Time while you were sleepy, so sleepy? You consider the important parts of it over and over, focusing so hard you dream about it.
Or maybe there was no conscious thought. Maybe you had an intense dream that was clearly the answer to the plothole in the novel you've been working on, or something you could say to your unrequited love interest that would totally reveal to them that you're a perfect match? Only to wake up the next morning and wonder what "Rat king flavored ice cream" is supposed to mean?
It's time for you to take back your semi-conscious ideas. Purposefully wait until you are completely exhausted and write down some key lines, or an outline for a piece of writing.
For the easy version of this prompt, be satisfied with what you wrote down, and then wake up the next day and use it to produce art.
If you're up for challanging yourself, stay awake and finish your piece of art. Then hide it. When you wake up the next morning, use the outline or key lines and rewrite the piece without looking at the previous night's version. Find out if one version of you is better at making your ideas come to fruition, if you're eually talented in different ways, or if Sleepy You and Fully Awake You need to start collaborating.
I had a prompt in my head this week, but it disappeared when Cantab Chlo-host, Chloe Cunha, mentioned that she was late because she was busy being "a gay mermaid" at a standup gig.
I need you, writer in search of ideas, to explain to me "Why is the gay mermaid late?"
I was doing an interview about scars, and mentioned a lifelong scar on my forehead. After the interview, I looked in the mirror and realized that I have TWO scars on my forehead, and no recollection how the other one got there.
Explain a phsycial scar you don't remember getting. I guess it can be fictional if you're one of those people who know where all of their scars came from, you perfectly memoried creature, you.
While I was at work this week, trying to be productive, one of our customer's phones started making a horrid Emergency Signal sound. Soon, everyone's phone, including mine, was making the same noise. It ws a flood warning. And, since we were all in a basement with few buoyant objects, it could have been very helpful.
I am not terrified of floods. I don't look forward to them, but they aren't high on my prioritized list of things I'd like my phone to warn me about.
What thing do you wish your phone would alert you about to help you live a better life?
One of my favorite ongoing comic series, Saga is going on hiatus for a year. For over 365 days, there will be no new material for fans.
The presumption is that there will be a significant time jump in the story between the end of the most recent issue and the beginning of the next one.
Time jumps can be fun in comic book shows and TV shows. It's not just for skipping long, boring stretches of characters' lives. It can be fun to reconnect with a series in a different media res than when you left it.
Write two different pieces about a character or place where a significant chunk of time passes between the first and second piece. Don't explain what happened between the two pieces, let the audience infer it.
A patron who I had not yet served announced "It's my birthday and everything hurts" before ordering a drink called "Comfortable Sweatpants".
As we age, our bodies become more and more betrayer of our lack of youth. What part of your body has most recently evolved wither positively or negatively? What do you miss most about it? Does its departure or change benefit you in any way?
Often when giving a prompt during the Open Mic, there is some sort of reaction. Some hmmmmms, an ooooh or two, the occasional yes. When I gave this prompt, a couple of regulars who have brought their prompt-inspired poems to the mic before loudly uttered Noooooooooooope at the very idea of the prompt.
I think that makes it good.
Part of the writing process for people is the ritual. My grandather's second wife was a retired English teacher who liked to write, but only at a typewriter. She wasn't technophobic, she had a laptop which she used for the internet, for bookeeping, for playing games, etc. But when it came to writing, she Needed to use her typewriter.
A couple of years ago, noting how I often I used blank books, someone bought me one as a gift. It was a nice thought, but the book featured graph paper pages, as opposed to lined pages. So I regifted it to a friend who I knew preferred graph paper pages.
If you're someone who writes everything in Googledocs, try handwriting a poem. If you only write on lined paper, try writing on completely blank unlined paper. See if using a different medium changes your writing approach.
Guest workshopper Sara Brickman offered a two-part prompt in a workshop before her show:
FIRST: Write down your most recent nightmare. If you can’t remember it, write down an anxiety dream, or a recurring nightmare you can remember.
THEN: [Highlight this text only after you’ve completed step 1.] Imagine you are on a dinner date with the physical manifestation of this nightmare. Where are you? What is being served? Don’t end the poem before dinner is over (whether you get dessert is up to you).
[Highlight all the way to here for the complete prompt.] Good luck!
If someone from a previous century woke up and saw our current dependence on technology, they might imagine that they were no longer on Earth, that clearly they were in an alien world.
What piece of technology do you think is most easily explained as having actually come from aliens? Please explain this to us luddite Earthlings.
It's that time of now again. That time when someone on the internet presents a thing that looks/sounds like two different things. The gold and white or black and blue dress. Everyone takes sides, and then someone explains what the correct response is, and nobody who's wrong is willing to accept the error of their ways.
What's something that you are ABSOLUTELY wrong about? No question about it, you're wrong. But you stand by your wrongness in spite of the overwhelming proof that you could not be less correct. Tell us about what it is and why you won't back down, even though, again, you are totally wrong.
Please don't make it about Trump. It will just confirm why everyone already hates you.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is one of my favorite current superhero comics. It's fun, funny, and often solves problems in unexpected ways.
The titles of each collection involve common phrases or song lyrics, where they replace the word "girl" with "squirrel". One of the recent collections is called "Who Runs The World? Squirrels" which has burrowed itself into my brain.
Please put a squirrel in a poem, even if a squirrel doesn't make sense in the original premise of your poem.
My Worst Ex Ever hated my cats, though my cats were perfectly indifferent to him. He prided himself on being a dog person, and yet, most dogs that I saw interact with him, weren't especially fond of him.
When I was adopted by a different cat (she just showed up on our porch one day, and hung out for about a month), she was super affectionate with all of my friends, but when my father and his wife showed up, she leapt on top of me, and down the back of my shirt, something she never did before or again.
Have you ever had your pets act uncharacteristically negative to one of your friends, your family members, or someone you're dating? Did it turn out the pet was right?
The European Union is passing a set of laws to protect people's personal data online. As a result, a metric ton of online companies are sending you e-mails about updating their Terms Of Service.
Is it time for ou to update your own personal Terms Of Service? Let us know what rules and personal boundaries have changed since the last time we agreed to our social contract.
April is National Poetry Month. To celebrate, many poets commit to a 30/30 writing exercise, wherein they write or significantly edit one poem per day for the entire month.
You're busy. April is also Pay Your Taxes Month, and Clean Your Stanky House Month. You don't have time to produce thirty pieces of stunning poetic art. Instead, produce just one measly stunning poem of exactly thirty words. That's just one word a day, You Can Do It!
Write Or Die
Scott Woods's Twitter Prompts
Rachel Mckibbens' Prompt Blog
The 30/30 Prompt Blog
Asterisk And Sidebar Prompts