Sometimes prompt ideas evolve in the most unexpected ways. I was reading Diane Lockward’s new book, The Crafty Poet A Portable Workshop, and Craft Tip #3—“Scratching”—immediately sparked this idea, which is completely unrelated to the craft tip in the book. (By the way, if you don’t have a copy of The Crafty Poet, I strongly recommend it. Look to your right on this page, and you can order by scrolling down to “News” in the right sidebar. Just click on the book cover picture, and go directly to Amazon.com).
I like to think that a lot of “poetry inspiration” happens unintentionally—that words, people, and things we encounter continually charge us with creative ideas. The title of the prompt “Scratching” made me think those metaphorical itchings that we need to metaphorically scratch: itchings to do something exciting, itchings to meet someone, itchings to quit a job and try something else, itchings to travel, itchings to create and, yes, even itchings to find the right “scratch” for an itch. This week, try to write a poem about a metaphorical itch, a restlessness or a persistent craving, that you’ve experienced (no, not a skin irritation or a mosquito bite, so you won’t need any calamine lotion).
Don’t just “scratch the surface” in this poem, even if writing it takes you out of your comfort zone—remember that when it comes to “write or flight,” your choice should be to write.
1. Make a lit of metaphorical itches that you’ve had. (“Itches” you’ve “scratched” and perhaps some that you just couldn’t get rid of.)
2. Look at your list and pick one itch to write about.
3. Spend some time free writing.
4. Look at your free write material and pull out lines, phrases, and images that you think you can work into your poem.
5. Begin writing your poem.
6. Think about your poem’s energy (negative, positive) and where you’d like the poem to go.
7. Think about the music in your poem and consciously work on creating a strong sense of sound through alliteration, assonance, dissonance, anaphora, and scattered rhyme. Focus on assonance this week: assonance occurs when vowel sounds are repeated in words that are close to each other; assonance can enhance the mood or tone of a poem.
8. Weed out everything superfluous—words, phrases, lines—anything that doesn’t add to your poem’s meaning. Remember that an element of understatement, and even mystery, will boost your poem’s interest level.
9. Did you find a metaphorical “scratch” for your itch? You might want to include how it happened.
10. Remember that narrative poetry tells a story, but be careful to avoid a prose impulse in your poem. Bring the poem to closure with a “scratchy” punch.
11. Let the poem sit for a day or two and then go back to it. Tweak and refine. Make decisions about the poem’s form (line breaks and stanzas)—try different arrangements and see what works best.
12. Alternatively, if a serious poem doesn’t work for you, consider a humorous approach (perhaps a limerick about itches).
Examples: Sorry, I couldn’t find any this week. If you think of one, please let me know!