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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Etter

Here comes National Poetry Month--and 35 prompts!

Hello, all. Given my last post was about writing daily, you won't be surprised to learn I encourage my students to try writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month (US) in April. A few times, I've devised prompts for each of the thirty days, but this time I've done better--I've come up with 35 so you have some choice. I'd be glad to hear which exercises work particularly well for you. You can follow these in the order given or take them in any order you please; I hope they prove helpful.

  1. Write a poem using any form of five of the following words: plume, orchestra, plunge, articulate, wrought, semblance (yes, I wrote a poem using these words!).

  2. Write a poem in future tense, about something that will happen in the future–it could simply be later today.

  3. Write a poem in second person to someone famous who’s dead.

  4. What is a poetic form you’ve never felt confident about writing? The sestina, haiku, prose poem, villanelle, or pantoum, perhaps? What about ghazals (pronounced guzzles)? Read at least ten, whether from your shelves, online (you might search for the form at, or both, then tackle one.

  5. Write a poem that makes a visit to the grave of someone you knew in childhood or adolescence.

  6. Write an ode to your favourite item of clothing, bringing in colours, textures, and even (if you want to–may not be so good for shoes!) scent. See Pablo Neruda’s wonderful “Ode to My Socks” online for an example (and here’s my “Ode to My Leopard-Print Coat” if you like).

  7. Write a poem about an awkward or difficult moment on a holiday. It doesn’t have to have really happened–you can make it up!

  8. Write a poem about the significance of what someone says on their deathbed or in illness, but instead of explaining the importance, show it through context or backstory. James Wright’s “Honey” does this powerfully.

  9. Remember what school lunches were like? Write a poem that begins by trying to convey the place–the room, the sounds, the smells, the people–and then the food and the kids’ attitudes toward this or that meal and see what happens. (This idea came from reading Anne Lemott’s Bird by Bird.)

  10. For a poem that arises out of images, choose five of the following words to use in poem; you may find it helpful to freewrite first about the context in which you find them in or the situation of the speaker in this environment: jackdaw, birch, brick, dandelion, nest, pond, frog, stone.

  11. Try to capture in a poem the uncertainty of memory by including different versions of the same memory within a single piece.

  12. Think of a city you’ve loved in your travels, investigate the effects of the climate crisis on that city, and write a poem that shows those effects without any preaching.

  13. Write a poem about an animal you don’t know well (which means you’re going to need to do some research) and convey it to us using numerous comparisons, as in Sandra Beasley’s “Unit of Measure”. You might use everyday objects for comparison (fits in a bread box, etc.), so the poem takes a decidedly, openly human perspective to regard this nonhuman life.

  14. Write a poem in which the speaker encounters a smell from childhood while far from home.

  15. Write a poem that shows an environment teeming with non-human life–it could simply be your back garden.

  16. Write a poem about a memorable walk, real or invented.

  17. Write a dramatic monologue from the point of a view of a form of sea life.

  18. Write a poem that observes something closely in short lines (no more than three words long); see Sidney Wade’s “The Chickasaw Trees” as an example.

  19. Write a poem about lust that never uses that word or the word desire. Make us feel it.

  20. Write a poem in first-person plural, from the point of view of a group, as in Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool.”

  21. Try an abecedarian! I’m rather fond of Dan Vera’s “Abecedarian Yellow.”

  22. Treat the transformation story of Syrinx or Daphne in a poem, whether in their own voices, the voice of their pursuer, or in third person.

  23. Look at these paintings by Paula Rego and use one as the basis for a poem. You might simply begin by describing vividly what you see in the painting before exploring the psychological dynamics.

  24. Write a poem composed wholly of questions, as in Paisley Rekdal’s “Have Knowledge”; it could similarly pretend to be a kind of survey or form or a one-sided interview.

  25. It only makes sense after you write a poem composed of questions, you write one with answers, too. Here’s my “A Birthmother’s Catechism” as an example; if you have John McCullough’s Reckless Paper Birds, read the wonderful poem “Michael” for another example.

  26. Write a poem composed of instructions–teach someone to make a cup of tea just the way you like it, say, or how to care for a particular plant, etc. Be as visual and specific as you can.

  27. Write a poem about a badly chosen gift, with the first stanza showing the recipient’s point of view and the second stanza the giver’s.

  28. Write a poem that evokes the life of a single street, perhaps the one you grew up on or the one you live on now; it might be worth trying this poem in the form of a prose poem.

  29. It’s now spring, but write a poem that evokes winter, perhaps in couplets.

  30. Write a short poem that evokes not just the flavour of a food but also its texture–I think of pastel de nata, with the fine, crisp layers of pastry and the custardy set cream at its centre. Be sensual.

  31. Let’s take a contrary version to the instruction exercise earlier–instruct someone in how not to do something. Try writing about how not to do something abstract (e.g., how not to end a marriage) with very visual, concrete instructions (do not drink Bordeaux from the bottle, do not plant bamboo in front of his office window). You may want to overwrite, then pare back to your best lines.

  32. Freewrite first about the following words, then use at least five of them in a poem: rain, plain/plane, pray, chase, vase, taste, crane. If you can, spread them out so the assonance works more like an echo.

  33. Imagine waking up without one of your senses. Stay within a short period of time, making the new deprivation as vivid as possible without telling it, if you can resist.

  34. What’s the most intense storm you’ve experienced? Write a poem that focuses on just five minutes of that experience.

  35. Read Danez Smith’s “The 17-Year Old & The Gay Bar,” then write a poem about another illegal or rebellious teenage act, whether real or invented; immerse us fully in the present moment with sensory description.

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