Ellen Doré Watson offers a series of “starters” for generating the raw material for new poems. The following prompts are inspired by “Three Girls, One of Them a Coward Girl” (from Kingdom Animalia) by Aracelis Girmay. Once you’re launched, the aim is to ride those winds of originality. (As always, any remaining “borrowed” bits should of course be attributed to the appropriate source.)
A WTP Poetry Prompt
Read the poem from which the prompts are drawn (or not), peruse the list of prompts below, and grab something to run with. Spill onto the page without stopping. Follow your gut, your imagination wherever it goes. Let language lead—your obsessions will follow! When I feel myself losing steam, I grab another word or phrase (instinctually, via mysterious magnetism) and keep the pen moving. The idea is to fly blind, without forethought. This helps me avoid my usual paths/destinations, and instead to generate arresting raw material, which I can return to, expand and develop, later.
1. Start by writing down “6 sentences about cruelty”
(i.e., simply a list of unrelated sentences that touch on the idea/experience of cruelty)
2. Seeds and starter phrases (from Girmay’s poem):
A memory that seeps through ___________
where nothing grows / what it means to build a trap
yes and yes again / bright _______ (fill in an abstraction; hers is ‘confusion’)
a frightened _______ (fill in an unexpected noun; hers is ‘hand’)
3. Word list: eerie / dashed / pretend / hose / drowning / 300 / bite / conjured / nothing
4. Morph one of Girmay’s titles to create your own… and go from there:
“Self-Portrait as ____________” / “The Doorway of _______”
“Ode to the ________ in the _________”
“Three ___________, One __________________”
“Praise Song for ___________________” / “Explaining _______ to _______”
Or make up a title with the word Kingdom in it.
5. Kingdom Animalia is full of heart-stopping metaphors. Buy (or borrow) the book! Read through it, and select three metaphors that particularly appeal to you. Impulsively create three new metaphors based on the ones you chose, and use these to spur a poem of your own into being.
Ellen Doré Watson’s fifth collection, pray me stay eager, was released in 2018 from Alice James, which also published We Live in Bodies and Ladder Music, winner of the New England/New York Award. Library Journal named her “one of 24 poets for the 21st Century.” Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Tin House, Orion, Gulf Coast, and The New Yorker, and she has translated the work of Brazilian poet Adélia Prado. Currently the Conkling Visiting Poet at Smith College, she also serves as poetry and translation editor of The Massachusetts Review and teaches in the Drew University Low-Residency MFA Program. For more on this poet’s work visit this site.