As poets, we’ve all experienced the routines that become ruts in our writing—we become stuck in a bog of repeated subjects, themes, and styles; we write in the same tired voices; and we need the occasional jolt of something new to get us unstuck. (I think that’s true for bloggers too!)
Accordingly, I thought it might be fun for you to work with a prompt by another poet from time to time, so here’s our first guest prompt from my dear friend and distinguished poet Renée Ashley.
Renée lives in northern New Jersey with her husband (Jack) and two dogs (Mona and Steve). She teaches in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Creative Writing and Literature for Educators programs and is the author of five poetry collections (Salt (Brittingham Prize in Poetry, Univ. of Wisconsin Press), The Various Reasons of Light, The Revisionist’s Dream, Basic Heart (X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize, Texas Review Press), and Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea (Subito Press Poetry Prize). She is also the author of two chapbooks (The Museum of Lost Wings and The Verbs of Desiring), as well as a novel (Someplace Like This). A portion of her poem “First Book of the Moon” is etched in marble in Penn Station Terminal in Manhattan, part of a permanent installation by the artist Larry Kirkland. Currently poetry editor for The Literary Review, she has received fellowships in both poetry and prose from New Jersey State Council on the Arts and a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. Read more at her website: http://reneeashleyatwork.com/.
And now, this week’s prompt from Renée—a great challenge—one that will make you focus and really think about what you’re writing. Have fun with it!
Thanks for sharing with us, Renée!
This is an exercise I use to snap writers out of their ruts. I have my students do it until they make it work. It takes a kind of concentration that subject prompts don't guarantee—a conscious effort to break up the surface of a poem, yet keep it grounded, while putting forth a more ambitious language-body than many writers are given to. It reminds the brain that there are other ways to work than the ones you fall into without resistance, ways to enlarge our possibilities for discovery while we're writing. And when this becomes too easy, there are lots of great grammatical ways to crank up the stakes! It's a sort of eye-opener for many. This is it:
Write a 10-line poem
— that uses NO abstract nouns
— that has at least one concrete noun in each line
— that does not have a narrative (a story line)
— and that has at least 3 sentence fragments
Here’s an example by Hank Kalet from a workshop with Renée in which she used this prompt. Thanks, Hank, for permission to use your poem.
Original draft, based on the prompt:
Flash of yellow and blue
hotter than the July afternoon.
Red Oldsmobile burns,
roadside Belt Parkway,
its flames scrape the sky,
razor-like, pitching smoke
up and across the inlet.
No clouds, just soot.
And the terrible smell
Of burning rubber
With a flash of yellow and blue,
hotter than July's afternoon,
the red Oldsmobile burns on the roadside.
Its flames scrape the sky; it pitches smoke
up and across the inlet. No clouds, just
soot. And the terrible smell
An abstract noun refers to states, events, concepts, feelings, qualities, etc., that have no physical existence. Abstract nouns convey things we can’t experience though our senses—we can’t see, hear, touch, smell, or taste them; abstract nouns don’t exist as material objects and refer to intangible things. Examples of abstract nouns include: love, anger, hate, peace, loyalty, pride, courage, honesty, deceit, compassion, bravery, patriotism, friendship, truth, justice, faith, freedom, serenity, and joy.
A concrete noun is noun that refers to a physical object. Time is an abstract noun because it has no physical existence, but watches and clocks are concrete nouns because they exist materially. Concrete nouns refer to things that we can experience through our five senses—we can see, hear, touch, smell, or taste them. Examples of concrete nouns include: flowers, rain, pizza, fish, perfume, air, thunder, and lightning.
A narrative is a story line; narrative poetry typically tells a story.
A sentence fragment is not a complete sentence, it can’t stand alone in the sense that a sentence can. In poetry, fragments often “behave” like sentences, but they don’t express complete thoughts.