I shall try hard to write a poem a day, this list of prompts from Jo Bell will surely help:
Day 1 Write to yourself as a sixteen year old. What warnings, what advice would you give? If you have time – write back.
Day 2 ‘January freesia, hot coffee’. Read Elaine Feinstein’s Getting Older. What small, physical things delight you? Write about them. Stick to the physical. See where it goes.
Day 3 Thirteen Ways. Everybody knows this poem by Wallace Stevens. Not everyone knows this response by RS Thomas. Choose some physical thing to write about. Write about it, in thirteen ways.
Day 4 Trains, Planes and Automobiles. Write a poem that takes place entirely inside one of these – or a boat, of course.
Day 5 Read Alden Nowlan’s poem Great Things Have Happened. Write about a great historic moment and how it affected – or didn’t affect – your life. Diana’s death in Paris – 9/11 – the assassination of a political leader. Resist the urge for great philosophical pronouncements. Just tell it like it was.
Day 6 Write about a friend, or friends. It needn’t be cute or even kind – see this disturbing poem as an example – but on the other hand, it could be a wonderful celebration. Keep it focused on events you have shared.
Day 7 Mechanical disaster. That time your car/ washing machine/ plumbing broke down. What happened? Who fixed it? Was it all bad?
Day 8 Read Roddy Lumsden, The Young. Now think of a group of people you want to address – the old? Hippies? (It will help if you don’t like them). Write a poem addressing them, as Lumsden does.
Day 9 Read Mervyn Morris, A Chant Against Death. Write a chant against something dark – death, grief, loneliness – by summoning up the things that defeat it best. It doesn’t have to take this form, but make it strong and affirmative.
Day 10 A litany is a poem or prayer in which a single word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of each line. Here’s a classic example, the Litany of Loretto – and three modern examples from Billy Collins, Allen Ginsberg andRichard Siken. If stuck, use one of these as your repeated word: Unless, Or, Whatever, If, Finally.
Day 11 List twenty intensely physical experiences you have had. Write about one of them. It doesn’t have to be a good one!
© Jo Bell 2013
Day 12 Read this poem by Anne Bradstreet. Now read these poems about Anne Bradstreet by Eavan Boland and John Berryman. Now write a poem addressed to a favourite (or unfavourite) poet of yours. Think of where, how and in what style s/he wrote. Talk to them. Tell them things.
Day 13 A valediction is a poem of goodbye – to a lover, a deceased relative, a situation. Read examples here from Ann Ridler, from Billy Collins, and from John Lyons: now write your own.
Day 14 A laudation is a poem of self-praise. Read this one from Tomaz Salamun and write your own. British persons in particular will complain that this is too hard. It’s meant to be hard, you slackers. Pull all the stops out, show your wit and celebrate yourself unapologetically!
Day 15 Read this poem from Liz Lochhead, A Favourite Place. Think of a favourite place of your own and make notes on it. Write a poem about it. Include one personal name, and one piece of reported speech (something someone said, quoted directly). Focus on one event or occasion. If it takes you somewhere else, like Liz’s poem – so much the better.
Day 16 Write about work. It can be yours, someone else’, the job you hated most or what ‘work’ means. Look at Alan Dugan’s Monologue of a Commercial Fisherman: Cornelius Eady’s The Cab Driver Who Ripped Me Off, and Gavin Ewart’s Office Friendships.
Day 17 Blessings. Here’s one by me (blushes) and one by Galway Kinnell, the justifiably famous Saint Francis and the Sow. Now – write a blessing…. but hang on, that’s too easy and trite. I want you (on this day of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral) to write a blessing for someone you dislike. Make it sincere, not snide or sarcastic. Dig deep and find the best of yourself.
Day 18 Read two poems called Shame – one by Joshua Weiner, the other by CK Williams. Now – write about something you are personally ashamed of, whether small or large.
Day 19 Read Bodkin by Vona Groarke, which is clearly about a favourite word. Think of a favourite word of your own – either you like its meaning, or simply its sound – and write about it. See where it takes you.
Day 20 A springy prompt, with video accompaniments. Watch this best ever poetry video and observe that the poem is not just about daffodils. Watch this and observe that the Edward Thomas poem is not just about Tall Nettles. Watch this and remember that Housman’s poem is not just about cherry trees. Now get outside and walk, or sit, for half an hour. Write about something green, something growing. Your poem may (indeed should) turn out to be about something else.
Day 21 Got your Sunday paper? Well then, you can do one of these. Your blackout poem may not be a work of genius but it might spark off a train of thought that leads to another poem.
Day 22 To Do Lists. Make a list of the life ambitions you haven’t yet achieved – climb Everest, learn to make the perfect omelette – and write about one of them. Inhabit it as fully as possible. What would it smell, sound like? How would it feel to actually achieve it?
Day 23 Read Sharon Olds’ First Sex. Now write about the first time you did something – anything!
Day 24 A Museum Visit. Read these three poems –Waka 99 (a waka is a war canoe), In the Museum at Teheran and Beginnings. Now visit a museum. Haven’t got time? Then look at the British Museum, TheWellcome Collection or an oddity like Leila’s Hair Museum. Pick an object and write about it. Try, as ever, to make it about something more than the obvious subject.
Day 25 An argument poem. Get mad at someone. Hit the ground running. Open with a strong statement and let rip!
Day 26 Write about your parents in a rough sonnet. Six lines on your mum, six on your dad and two on yourself to conclude. If you want to make it a Shakespearean sonnet, it should rhyme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
Day 27 Read (and more importantly, listen to) Michael Donaghy’s A Repertoire. Now make time to listen to your favourite piece of music, or to one with strong associations. Remember where you first heard it, what it means to you, who you were with when you heard it at a concert etc. Write about that – don’t worry if the poem takes you a long way from the music.
Day 28 Read Fear by Ciaran Carson, Fear of Happiness by AE Stallings and Things by Fleur Adcock. What are you afraid of – really? Write about it. Be honest. Do not be afraid.
Day 29 Proverbs. Read this by Eliza Griswold, and this by Geoff Page, and my own duet with Max Wallis based on an Arabic proverb, here. Now – make a list of sayings or proverbs (or cheat by looking here). Write a poem starting from one of these.
Day 30 Write about love. Write it true and deep and plain, and as you are feeling it now – whether fresh, or weathered, or lost, or unspeakably painful. Speak it. Write the best poem you ever wrote. No pressure. But tell your truth. Here are some examples of poems about different kinds or stages of love – Sharon Olds’ True Love, Vikram Seth’s Protocols and Raymond Carver’s Late Fragment.
1.Advice to Sixteen year Old Self
Tell everyone to vote Remain
Don’t believe Blair on Iraq
Invest in Apple, Google and Dyson
Sell all shares in Kodak and Blockbuster video
Compact discs are not the future
Hold on to vinyl
Select lottery numbers 17 24 26 28 45 04 and 12 on 31/7/17
Back Leicester City to win the Premier League at 5000-1
Visit the Twin Towers New York before 11/7/05 but not on 26/2/93
Rick Astley will make one song go a very long way
Tomorrow is always another day .
2.Tales From A Pencil Case
White grey, thumbnail large
Poop collector of the moving hand
Gnarled edges claw at graphite error
Smudging , smearing, never quite
Perfectly weighted, if not shaped
For elastic band tension
Bouncing crazily, this way that
In humorous unpredictability
Mined by compass point
A ragged face
Pressed paper tight
Disfigured, mutilated, discoloured
Bought, borrowed, forgotten
Trouser pocket gem
3.4.Birmingham Central Library
1. An Ozymandian conceit
2. Packaged in steel rings
3. Cold birds nest
4. Suicidal platform
5. Finished yet not fully open
6. Sucking the life out of satellites
7. Vain, look at me
8. Uncertain of purpose
9. Pompous and pumped up
10. An over dressed aunt at a jeans and T’s do
11. Where most pass by, awkwardly, mute
12. Seat of knowledge
13. A dot on google maps
Gaping bow doors swallowed our cars
Entombed us as tinned sardines
Tethered to Ullapool’s herring quay
Umbilical cords sinew taut
Hillside cottages perched bade us farewell
Beneath Bhein Ghobblach’s glower
Carried in the belly by swollen tide
To the Blue Men of the Minch
Rocking in lazy lullaby beyond ancient loch
Slowly lurching a cradle which rocks
Luring the Blue Men to appear from the brine
To challenge the Captain to burst forth in rhyme
Yet they stayed below
Above, a grey horizon, grey sea, grey skies
Grey coastline uncertainly brushed in the distance
Blurred by soft mist and dancing cloud
Stornoway clings tightly, crouched
A grey seal pressed flat against the wind
Metal clanks on pier, as Viking hull ground on sand
Borne safely, with thanks.
It was a bright August Sunday morning.
Going home day. A day when buckets and spades
Windbreaks and sand all tumble reluctantly
Into a car’s boot.
Warm Norfolk afternoons left behind
Washing and unopened post ahead
The drive home an unwelcome chore
Even the driver is tempted to ask
“Are we there yet”
As the car lurches into life
The car radio an essential tool
To dull the sound of backseat children’s squabbles
To deliver four hours anaesthetic respite
But the speakers spat no melody
No cheery banal relief
Instead ghastly monotone
Tinged with hesitant foreboding
A spun dial delivered no respite
Diana is dead.
6.The Grief Vulture
He hovers, waiting to swoop
To glide in with silent feathers
Scenting the almost dead
Needing to inhale death
The soon to be corpse
The lifeless cadaver
Hold a special fascination
Drawing him in
Maybe he needs to touch death
To rediscover his own life
Or the absoluteness of what is gone
To grieve for all that has passed.
Each time he descends, he draws
That bit closer to his own demise
All that lies around
His words of comfort are soft
His laments sonorous
His empathy just so
His obsequie – word perfect
His arrival is as if Card X111 has been turned
By a skeletal, wizened hand
Hooded harbinger of eternal darkness
Warm words, cold draught.
Mother, distant cousin
Ancient war dead,
Modern atrocity victims
All are grazed by his touch
Their ebbing presence captured
Shrill keening cries heard
Held fingertip tight
Then slip away -gone
As he is gone
Until the next time
A quiet time to die
Untroubled by birdsong
Traffic or chatter
Just the silence
Of early morning
The hushed promise of incipient
No occasional car stopped to assuage my grief
Odd joggers slapped by unaware
The newsagent bade me good morning
We stopped at the shop
And argued about sweets
Too sticky, too sickly, too melty
For tiny ravenous hands
Early morning sun failing to clear
Late night rancour
Behind the tills a squad
Of half eager cashiers
Chewed at the snaking queue
We tumbled into our berth
“What a lovely day it is today
Shame I am working
What time are you finishing
Still time to snatch something from the day
I hopes so
What’s your name
Well you enjoy the rest of your day, Daniella
I will, I wish all of our customers were like you
I wished that all cashiers were like Daniella
The children were not allowed the sweets
For failing to eat their lunch
y much, I am sure everyone, like me, would like to see you work now, END.
9.First Trip out
He snuggled softly
Under my coat
As he had wriggled
In his Mother’s womb,
Safe from autumnal chill
Held tight to my chest
His eyes closed
In contented reverie
I inhaled his heady scent
Offered in exchange
For close protection
I hate you
For what you
I swear that
By sloping mount
In your blazing
I love you
As your tongue
Glides across your lips
Hair carelessly splayed
In strange disposition
Imperfect polish curls
A smeared painted war cry
From the soul