I’m not posting my poem today, but am sharing the prompt because I think it has the potential to bring interesting results. I used the NaPoWriMo.net instruction borrowed from Holly Lyn Walrath to go to a book you love. Then, find a short line that strikes you. Make that line the title of your poem. Write a poem inspired by the line. Then, after you’ve finished, change the title completely.
Today I experimented with the NaPoWriMo.net prompt to find a poem, and then write a new poem that has the shape of the original, and in which every line starts with the first letter of the corresponding line in the original poem. The poem I chose was this translation of “Alcaic” by Tomas Tranströmer. The tone is certainly divergent from the original, but it was interesting to see what came out when I had to write within the constraints of starting letters and line-syllable counts.
Agitator That devil in me. I wait for your yell: the way your voice goes high, then deep. Simmering. In my bedroom, I bury my hot face in the pink quilt you made for me. I am never able to access why. Can’t tell you in words, the need to be seen takes over from the want to be good. Testing a needle against a balloon.
The NaPoWriMo prompt for today asked poets to scroll through the photos posted on the Liminal Spaces Twitter feed and choose one to write about. There are many interesting and strange photos there, but this is one that sparked something for me.
Afterhours Mall It’s a space reserved for fashionable ghosts materializing to try on Ray Bans, lost children who never made it to the information booth and withered at the bottom of a bin of glass-eyed teddy bears as big as their fathers, trapped spirits of teens who’ve huddled together like matched penguins outside a GAP to protect themselves from a cold wind of insecurity, or still-warm apocalypse bodies, seeking security and supplies in a place that has everything, neatly hung and shelved for accessible looting and long, open paths, with unobscured visibility as they scramble from one end to the next to escape a tenacious, undead horde.
Working today from the 30/30 prompt “cold sweat.” I frequently have nightmares, including last night! Even so, I love reading about the origins of the word and artistic depictions throughout history.
If it’s just a bad dream then why is it that the worst ones don’t leave the chest even after you’re awake? You might breathe fine throughout the day, cold sweat dried, racing heart slowed, but still it presses, a burrowing worry that drinks air and reason through its blackened roots.
You Are Probably Telling This With a Sigh Imagine, if you can, a man with the deepest voice you’ve ever heard sitting at a strangely firelit table, intimate in an otherwise teeming bar, looking at you in way you will remember 23 years later, on a random Wednesday, while you’re folding a pair of your daughter’s leggings and waiting for a second pot of coffee to finish brewing. Imagine, if you had left that night, away from the strangely firelit table, and ventured into something less sure. Perhaps deeply contenting. Perhaps disastrous. Where you might sit again, 23 years later, across from a man, running your finger around the rim of a coffee cup, counter-clockwise, in some subconscious spell of time reversal. Imagine, if there were only two roads, in a calm yellow wood, and not the tangled many-paths of options, like an intricate burst of blood-vessels pulsing life to places you can’t control, but might try to, or at least hope to look all the way to the end of a shady track, beyond the protective undergrowth to see not what but who is waiting.
Today’s NaPoWriMo.net prompt called for a way to “derange” yourself by experiencing something strange, like this animated version of “Seductive Fantasy” by Sun Ra and his Arkestra, and then writing the poem. What resulted for me is more abstract than normal, but half the fun of poetry month is experimentation.
Colour Theory With Closed Eyes There are colours in a dream that don’t exist in conscious spectrum. Ways to pigment the expanse of the universe, or the depths of an ocean so they’re more than limitless black. More than unbounded imagination. Musical hues are alive in dreams too, the rhythm-tinted synapse from brain to heart to compelled body, must move, must dance, must flow towards something freer, wilder than wakeful inhibition. Than all the reasons to think ourselves out of instinctual happiness. The beginning and end of the world exist in a colour-wheel driving you through sleep reverie, recording the Been-There-Felt-Thats and plotting the What-Could-Bes in vibrant shades and shapes you’ll strive to sketch when you’re awake. Yearn for when you reach into the pencil box and keep pulling nothing but charcoal.
I have barely written a single creative word since last April. Yet here I am, on the eve of National Poetry Month, feeling something like…enthusiasm?…to tackle another poem-a-day challenge. As in previous years, I plan to use prompts from both NaPoWriMo.net and my local poetry group’s 30/30 challenge in order to generate the poems. I aim to write something every day, though not necessarily post here every day. If pandemic life has taught me one thing, it’s the importance of embracing both uncertainty and flexibility.
The prompts traditionally begin on March 31st in preparation for a productive April. Today’s “early-bird prompt” asked writers to spend a few minutes looking for a piece of art in the online galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. After finding something that piques interest, study the photographs and the accompanying text to inspire your poem.
I chose this photo, more for the title of the piece and the description than the actual image. Then a draft came out. Whether or not I will ever shape the poem into something more is a six-months-from-now decision, after the words have settled.
Cosmetic Vessel in the Shape of a Cat Where cosmetic implies to beautify improve the face not just of the body but of things as they seem impress with transformation superficial dusting that somehow makes me feel more here the shape of a cat is some classic ideal grace unmatched but mystery too the way the lithe muscles of a back in motion, toward prey or affection convey a power I have yet to hold how a vessel is a place to contain something utilitarian, necessary or simply coveted and kept a swift vowel switch and vassal I become to perfection
After a hard, long winter, what better thing to reveal itself in the melting snow than this affirming found poem at a nearby school park?
I decided to take stock this morning and look back at what I wrote this month. 36 poems and 7 starts (that may turn into poems at some point). I even like 4 of them! Most of the poems I’ve gone on to publish in journals or anthologies have started from seeds planted during these poem-a-day challenges.
I recently submitted a revised version of my poetry manuscript, and the majority of poems in it also started from the monthly challenges I’ve completed in previous years. I realize prompts don’t work for every writer, but they have been an amazing motivator for me, and also help me explore writing in new forms or about different topics than I’m normally drawn to.
All of this to say, even in the midst of one of the most stressful and disorienting months I’ve ever experienced, poetry has been a respite. I know it always will be.
To anyone who has read or commented on my work this month, thank you! I am grateful. I always write for myself first, but it’s encouraging to know something I’ve created and shared resonates in some small way with someone else.
Next comes editing and revising. A different kind of fun! But not until June. The words need time to age and settle a bit. First I plan to read more of the poems others have created this month, and dig in to the MANY poetry books I’ve purchased in the last several weeks. I firmly believe every day is better with poetry, but never has that seemed truer than now.
For the final day (woohoo!) of Poetry Month, I followed the NaPoWriMo prompt asking for a poem about something that returns.
What Comes Back
Some returns require nothing —
geese, poplar leaves, sunrise —
but our attention.
Other returns demand such faith:
phone call from a doctor
child taking their first solo bike ride
teenager late home from a party
lover gone away on business, mid-winter
cat, escaped out the door left carelessly open
A sense of safety,
oblivion to danger.
A feeling, warm in the chest,
that just as the grass greens,
the apple trees blossom
happiness will come home to its heart.