This week’s prompt was inspired by an interview that Matthew Thorburn did with me for Ploughshares. I’ve always enjoyed the process of interviewing and being interviewed, and the more probing the questions, the better. The challenge this week is to interview yourself, to ask yourself some thought-provoking questions and to turn those into a poem.
1. Make a list of questions about your work, your art, your relationships, and your personal life. Just make a list of questions.
2. After you’ve complied a list of questions (at least 10 because use all of them), answer each question in writing.
3. Take a break for an hour or two, more if you wish and, when you come back to your questions and answers, read them carefully. What insights did you discover? Did you learn anything about yourself? Was there a motif or theme present? What mood or tone did your questions and answers suggest to you.
4. Now, using some of all of the questions, begin to write a poem around them.
5. Get the core of your poem together before you begin to experiment with format. (You might set the poem up as an interview with stanzas comprised of couplets or triplets or some other stanzaic arrangement that fits the content).
6. Edit carefully and be sure to limit yourself to the “heart” of your interview.
1. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).
2. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).
3. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).
4. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.
5. Understand that overstatement and the obvious are deadly when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t ramble on, and don’t try to explain everything.
6. Weed out anything superfluous that isn’t absolutely essential to the poem.