Prompt: Death is a fact of life.

I had a post up a couple of months ago having to do with writing about death. Someone complained that now was no time to do that. I disagree. Death is a fact of life and cannot be ignored. From In the Palm of Your Hand by Steve Kowit. Write a poem in which you are reminded that you too will one day die. It could be prompted by something you see (roadkill) or a song loved by someone who’s passed. Talk about the objects more than your feelings. They will come through.

Here’s an example by Ted Kooser, Death of a Dog.

Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Prompt: Writing from a Photograph

From contributed by Robin Church. Choose a photograph. Write a poem from the perspective of the character n it. Be sure to use details in the photo as images in the poem. Focus on creating a distinctive and and consistent voice.

Here’s an example from poet, Richard Blanco: Photo of a Man on Sunset Drive: 1914. (Full text of the poem here). Notice how Blanco describes a scene from a hundred years ago.  From there, he goes on to tell us how this scene has changed.  His poem is a time machine of sorts that carries us back and forth through time at the same location.  This is a great way to build a poem around a photograph, going well beyond description of the photo itself.

Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Another technique is offered by poet and teacher, Steve Kowit in his book, In the Palm of Your Hand. He suggests a poem in three parts:

1) Describe briefly what is in the photo, focusing on just a couple of details.
2) Animate the photo by suggesting movement or other sensory input.
3) Enter the picture and interact with the objects or people in the photograph.

Here’s a poem demonstrating Kowit’s technique from The Ekphrastic Review that was written by one of our PSM members.

Prompt: Write a Haibun

Try a haibun.Haibun (俳文, literally, haikai writings) is a prosimetric literary form originating in Japan, combining prose and haiku. The range of haibun is broad and frequently includes autobiography, diary, essay, prose poem, short story and travel journal. Usually the prose is in the present tense, not longer than 180 words, and the entire thing ends with a haiku I’m trying my bunkhouse piece in this format. You can find lots of info online about them. The Haibun Hut is a Facebook group where Haibun can be posted by anyone. The masters of the Haibun were Issa and  Bashō. Here is one from  Bashō (translation by Franz Wright):

Basho_by_Hokusai-smallAs the freezing rain of early winter began falling desolately over everything, I sought warmth and company at a roadside inn. Allowed to dry my soaked clothes at the fire, I was further comforted for a time by the innkeeper who tactfully listened to me relate some of the troubles I met with on the road. Suddenly it was evening. I sat down under a lamp, taking great care with them as I produced my ink and brushes, and began to write. Recognizing my work, he solemnly requested that I consider composing a poem in honor of our one brief encounter in this world:

At an inn I am asked for identification
traveler let that be my name
the first winter rain


Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Prompt: Place or Building

From Crossroads: Creative Writing Exercises in Four Genres by Diane Thiel. (textbook, 2005) Choose a place or a building that has evocative memories for you. Let your piece stay focused on the place as a “container” for memories.(I’m going to write about a bunkhouse. First line: Skunks lived under it.)

Elizabeth Kerlikowske