Monday Poetry Prompt

“I used to hate Mondays, but then came…” Hopefully you’ll finish that sentence with: these prompts!

Every Monday, I’ll be posting a writing prompt for poets. The big rule is you only have 20 minutes to write! I know it doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but trust me it’ll be great.

Each prompt will have a list of specific things to include, inspired by poetry I’m reading.

The prompt this week comes from the poem “Your Night is of Lilac” by Mahmoud Darwish, translated in the book “The Butterfly’s Burden” by Fady Joudah (Copper Canyon Press, 2007).

The poem should include:

  • The Night
  • A list of smells/odors/perfumes etc.
  • A metaphor
  • The phrase “the path to”
  • At least 23 lines
  • And the words: dimples, flute, exist, sun, bath, summit, fawn, history

Bonus points if you can get everything in!

Leave a comment and let me know how the prompt worked for you.

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Monday Poetry Prompt

Every Monday, I’ll be posting a writing prompt for poets. The big rule is you only have 20 minutes to write!

The prompt this week comes from the poem “In the Bone” from Kwame Dawes’s book Back of Mount Peace (Peepal Tree, 2010).

Bonus points if you can get everything in!

The poem should include:

  • Construct the poem either as dialogue, or with dialogue in it: must be something he/she is saying/has said to the speaker. (Ex. “She said, close the door“)
  • 2 repetitions
  • Use “before” and “after” in the poem.
  • Use a sonnet form (14 lines)
  • And the words: Bones, history, grey, draws, supple, fluid, cripple, pelvis, open, head.
  • Double bonus if you use 4 of the words above as end words.

Leave a comment and let me know how the prompt worked for you.

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“Slam Knuckles on Keyboard” or Why Noveling Hurts Some(Most)times

So. Novels. They kind of suck.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m very happy to attempt to write another, and grateful I finished one. (A very, very, very, awful draft of one, but hey there was an ending, right?)

So way back in ancient internet times (October) I wrote a post on strategies to keep moving on a novel focusing on plot. It came out of my own problems with a novel I was working on, and I thought it’d be fun to use a post and just explicate that problem.

As I wracked my brain for words to fill pages, my roommate Sara was an awesome influence. She encouraged me daily to write, often just asking, “did you write today?” Most days the answer would be a simple yes/no followed by either her praise or chastisement. One day, I answered:

“Yeah. I’m up to 50K words. And I just realized I have to trash it all.” *Bang head here*

Good people, I give you: The Process.

So it’s been a good six months since then, and I’ve finally pieced together the problems with that first incomplete draft. There was a lot, but they generally fell into two categories:

1) What I didn’t know:

  • I didn’t know my 1st main character, her motivations, her inner dialogue, how she percieves herself and her world, etc. I didn’t even know her favorite color… Well, I knew her name :)
  • I didn’t know the world the story took place in, it’s political and social structure(s), it’s history, the race/gender/class ratios, the geography, or its current politcal/social issues.
  • I didn’t know the motivations of my 2nd main character (I knew more about her personally at least), she’s an old woman who has been dormant for years, so why now does she get active and seek out Main Character 1?
  • I didn’t know the motivation of the antagonists (this has a lot to do with not knowing the world and it’s status quo) like, why the hell are they so mean and angry? And how the hell do they even know about MC1? And what information do they have to even give a crap about her?

To basically summarize issue group #1:

Sidenote: OMG! Game of Thrones Season 4!

Side note: OMG! Game of Thrones Season 4!


Well, now that #1 has been explicated, let me illustrate issue group #2: Imagine chugging away on a keyboard (or in my case, writing by hand in a notebook) and deciding one day arbitrarily, “hey I should read this through just to get a feel of the pacing” (or in other words, “how shall I procrastinate now?”).

2) The fact that in 50K words, nothing was happening:

Seriously. There’s about 30,000 words of a group of characters camping. And nothing happens (beside some stupid drama that has little to do with the overall plot). Part of this is my problem with outlining. I am an “outliner”, and a “re-outliner”, usually though this means that I have certain moments in mind, and I keep writing bleckh till I get there. My brain goes: Ok this character needs to die, but that one already fell off a cliff, is it too soon? I guess so. Well, I’ll just fill a few more pages and make time pass for this person to die.

Not a good strategy. It’s one thing to keep writing, it’s another thing to keep writing nothing. Outlining can be a crutch, and its good to recognize when you need to leave the plodding and free write for a while. It’s harder than it seems, trust me. More so if you were invested in the ideas before you started writing them (in the editing process, we call removing those parts “killing the baby”).

But for about 30-40K words, I would not, could not, kill the baby, and so I ended up writing a bunch of stuff I couldn’t save. And killing 50K words was so much harder than it would have been to just leave the outline and the preconceived ideas I had.

Sum up issue 2:

Come on, we all know why you read it.

Come on, let’s just be honest about our expectations here…

So, that’s my story. After working my butt off, I’m back to no words.

Now you are reading this and thinking, “Ok, what the hell was the point in all that?”

What I’m trying to say is, for any novelists out there, you are not alone. For any new ones, this is not a bad thing (it sucks, but it’s not bad). Be flexible. Let the process take you where it needs to.


Well, I have a happy ending to give you!

Realizing what my issues really were, I decided to analyze the characters I had. One character stuck out. She was so interesting, and I knew her so well. Yes I had an outline on her too, but it was very vague, which gave me room to explore. (Also, she lives in a BAMF world that I get to travel around with her!)


Now I’ve put that 50k mess on hold and started a different novel with a character I know very well, and a real plot with both outer and inner conflict! Hooray!

And writing a novel has gone back to being fun again. Faith restored.

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Monday Poetry Prompt

Every Monday, I’ll be posting a writing prompt for poets. The big rule is you only have 20 minutes to write! I know it doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but trust me it’ll be great.

Each prompt will have a list of specific things to include, inspired by poetry I’m reading.

The prompt this week comes from the title poem of the book “Here” by Wislawa Szymborska, translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak (Mariner Books, 2010).

The poem should include:

  • The phrase “I can’t speak for…”
  • A list of objects
  • 2 Abstractions(love, death, etc.)
  • The phrase “I know”
  • At least 25 lines
  • And the words: vicinities, measured, bargain, sweat, attention, admission, and dreams (hint: that last one is a trap).

Bonus points if you can get everything in!

Leave a comment and let me know how the prompt worked for you.

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#CancelColbert and the “White Conservative Caricature” Dilemma

On Thursday the Twittersphere blew up over the “Cancel Colbert” hashtag started by “hashtag activist” Suey Park. The campaign was in response to a Colbert Report joke that was tweeted out of context from the Comedy Central promotional account (not affiliated with Stephen Colbert).

Original Tweet from Comedy Central Account

Original Tweet from Comedy Central Account

The offensive tweet (now deleted) was the punch-line Colbert used to demonstrate the ridiculousness of Daniel Snyder’s real-life “The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.” For any who don’t know, “redskins” is a slur for Native Americans.

The joke aired on the Wednesday night show, but the outrage did not surface till the offending tweet was published the following day. The hashtag sought to promote conversation of “safe racism” (would this be debatable if he had used the N-word?), and the tendency of white comedians and white activists to hide their racist remarks/tendencies under the Progressive label.

Response Tweets from Suey Park

Response Tweets from Suey Park

Long story short, as the hashtag gained popularity, the conversation derailed into: “Don’t you understand satire?” “Yes, I know satire!” “Stop being sensitive!” “Stop defending racists!” And the always expected death/rape/go-kill-yourself threats otherwise known as the “dark matter” of the internet. (Ok, so I made that up… still fits.)

Amongst the back-and-forth tweets between the pro-hashtag and anti-hashtag camps very few gems of criticism were available.

Dan Snyder gets a break

Daniel Snyder gets a break

When this ends, there really won’t be much of a concrete pay-off in terms of this battle, so everyone seems to be scrambling to find a “take-away”. (If you think smart, successful, and riskier activists such as MLK didn’t pick and plan their battles you need to watch the documentary “Eyes on the Prize.”)

Some look at the practicality of “hashtag activism” (and yes, I personally do separate hashtag and “click” activism from activism), some comment on how to conduct yourself in a twitter debate, some comment on the effect of in-fighting for larger movements, and some wonder whether all voices should be equally heard in a debate (I don’t take kindly to white tears either), or what it means to have Michelle “pro-Asian internment camps” Malkin as an ally, etc.

One problem that was overlooked was Stephen Colbert.

I’m saying this as a fan, who does not–as a woman of color, Muslim, non-American–get offended by his show. And for future reference, of course I mean the character not the man.

Colbert is a caricature of neo-con, conservative media. His show is a mirror to that of Bill O’Reilly’s on Fox News. He extends the assumptions, beliefs, actions, and talking points of conservatives to their logical extremes. When I laugh at his jokes, I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, they [conservatives] would totally say that! How stupid! How outdated!” etc. I’m exercising my sense of superiority.

For argument sake I’ll call this “White Conservative Caricature,” WCC for short (not to be confused with the White Citizens Council).

In demonstrating WCC there is inherently a problem: how do you approach the caricature of white conservative beliefs without drawing upon the ideas (or -isms) that have historically made up that identity?

In plain English, how can one play a racist without saying something racist? How can one play a sexist without saying something sexist? How can one pretend to be homophobic without saying something homophobic?

The history of conservative White America is not a pretty one. When taking on WCC you’re incorporating a history of colonialism and chattel-slavery, and more domestically: “Black Face,” “Yellow Face,” Cold War hysteria, McCarthyism, etc., frankly a lot of bad crap. (Please spare me the white tears, I know not all white history is bad.)

In Colbert’s case, it’s true that some instances have been more successful than others. For instance, when “defending” Bill O’Reilly’s racist remarks (about Asians), Colbert used “technical difficulties” and his lawyers as a moment to highlight key problems with stereotyping (even as a compliment), and Twitter did not explode.

Bill O’Reilly’s Racial Insensitivity

Many have criticized that Colbert doesn’t walk the line between satire and oppression, he “tramples it” when it comes to topics such as transphobia.

The topic of “safe racism” fits well in this observation. It is safe to say that Colbert will probably never come out on set with black paint all over his face. Certain acts of racism will never be deemed acceptable in any context (though it doesn’t stop some from trying). This then begs the question for some groups who don’t have that level of “protection” why some acts of racism are always unacceptable and not all.

Ultimately one wonders if a character such as a WCC is always inherently harmful because of the history, privilege, and oppression it must draw upon.

I still enjoy the show, but #CancelColbert did succeed in making me think more about the toll a caricature like this may have on the oppressed peoples it tries to lift up through satire.

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Monday Poetry Prompt!

Get out your pens, pencils, paper, and keyboard (yes, you will need all of this!) because it’s time for another Monday Poetry Prompt!

The rules are you have 20 minutes to write a poem. Bonus points if you include everything in the list.

This week’s prompt is based on “Pachyderm” by Sherman Alexie, featured in Best American Poetry 2013, and originally published on The Awl. Its a very moving poem, and really takes you by surprise. Craft-wise, it’s f-ing awesome! I really recommend reading it.

  • Write the poem in numbered sentences.
  • Pick two subjects that are unrelated and bring them together (I don’t want to spoil the original poem for those who haven’t read it, so all I’m going to say is Alexie brings together a boy with a hard emotional problem, and information about elephants)
  • Let the poem wander to other people/characters in the poem, other topics, places.
  • The poem must be at least 20 sentences long (Alexie’s is 101 sentences long)
  • Stick with an unknown omnipotent and omnipresent speaker who narrates.
  • Include the words: coveted, itch, cairn, pulverize, dirt, burn, feathers, circles, heard, harrowing

Just one more thing, I really can’t stress enough how much I’d like people to read the poem. Gives me shivers every time, and it’s a great example of making deliberate, surprising choices in craft.

As always, leave your feedback in the comments below! I’d love to hear if these prompts are helping, and what you’d like to see. Leave a comment on my Facebook page, or tweet me @wordsxborders!

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Monday Poetry Prompts

[A/N: Because I missed the last few weeks of poetry prompts (was doing a lot at work and then got sick) I'm filling this post with 4 prompts to make up for it.]

As always, you get 20 minutes for each prompt. Bonus points if you get everything in.

And of course I’d love to hear feedback on if these prompts are working and what you’d like to see! If you’ve got a book or poem you’d like me to create a prompt from, leave the name and author in the comments or email me at

Prompt #1

This prompt comes from¬† Dunya Mikhail’s The War Works Hard (New Directions, 2005). Mikhail is an Iraqi poet who left Iraq amidst threats of persecution from Saddam Hussein for her subversive poetry critical of his regime. She was awarded the 2001 U.N. Human Rights Award for Freedom Writing.

  • Take a concept (Mikhail uses “War”) and make it a person/actor in the poem
  • Include a mythical person/being from any culture
  • Include a repeated line directed at the reader or audience (Mikhail uses “Please don’t ask me, America” in the poem “America”)
  • Include one memory (real or imagined)
  • Do not include any stanza breaks
  • Include: a jewel, a fruit, a specific street, and an advertisement/slogan
  • Include the words: deliver, bewilder, drop, mirror, hand, and spirit

Prompt #2

This prompt is from Li-Young Lee’s Rose (BOA Editions Ltd., 1986).¬† Lee was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, of Chinese parents. After his father spent a year as a political prisoner, the family fled the country, eventually landing in the USA. He was awarded the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets in 2003, his most recent in a string of recognition and accolades.

  • Choose a person as the subject (could be a parent, sibling, political figure, fictional character etc.)
  • Include a dream (real or made up) that involves said person and the speaker of the poem
  • Create a hyphenated noun and modify it throughout the poem (Lee uses “apple-body” and “flower-body” which modify and recall each other)
  • Include the line: “Had you entered that afternoon” from the poem “The Gift”
  • Include: a specific bird, 2 types of fabric, an activity, a type of grass or moss
  • Include the words: odorous, monotonous, opulence, ripe, water, pink, and glimpse

Prompt #3

This prompt was created based on Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency (Grove Press, 1957). O’Hara, a former associate curator at the New York Museum of Modern Art, was a prominent US poet whose work is still celebrated and widely read even past his death in 1966 at the age of 40. His death was noted by Jon Ashbery (another prominent poet) as “the biggest secret loss to American poetry since John Wheelwright was killed.” (Fun fact: this book was featured many times on the hit TV show Mad Men.)

  • Write about something you cannot/could not be (O’Hara writes in “Poem” the line “There I could never be a boy”)
  • Include a famous pop culture figure whose experiences/persona fits your subject (actor, musician, band, artist, etc.)
  • Write in rhyming couplets (extra challenge: try to make the rhyme unnoticeable)
  • Include a repeated modified color (i.e. “red” becomes “scarlet” becomes “the mark left on my face” becomes so-on-so-forth)
  • Include a place that either never existed or doesn’t exist anymore
  • Include the words: masquerade, neurotic, lengthening, intricate, oriole, and difficult

Prompt #4 (This week’s prompt!)

This week’s poetry prompt comes from Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine (Gray Wolf Press, 2013). Incarnadine is Szybist’s second book and was the National Book Award winner for poetry in 2013. Her first book, Granted, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

  • Use an object as a subject (a relic, heirloom, piece of art, or just a hairbrush, whatever)
  • Write about belief (whether it is religious, atheistic, in yourself, in others, in the world, etc.)
  • Include an animal (extra challenge: choose one you’ve never seen but want to)
  • Include a shift from “I” to a universal “We”
  • Include a landmark/mass (like a specific mountain or something)
  • Include the words: fluorescent, aqua, childless, salt, kiss (A/N: Mwahaha! Tricky, I know), name, edge, manic, silver, and shadow

Hopefully you’ll get a challenge from these. Remember only 20 minutes per prompt. Good luck and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

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