a month of poetry prompts

November 12, 2020

If your poetry writing is feeling a little same-old, same-old, throw open the window onto a month of poetry prompts with the Two Sylvias Press Advent Calendar. All new prompts for 2020 will offer plenty of inspiration and remain available online through January 2021. Learn more about the Advent Calendar (for yourself or as a gift) and other treats available from Two Sylvias Press.

prompt

June 19, 2020

Today, June 19, is Juneteenth. The date marks the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery and is recognized as a holiday or observance in 46 states (including Washington and Oregon) and the District of Columbia.

To learn more, read this article in The New York Times and visit Juneteenth.com.

Learn yet more by writing a poem that uses a word or idea from one of those sites as a prompt.

Pandemic Assignment

May 16, 2020

This is a guest post
by T. Clear

Tasked with the poetry prompt tomato, I sat down to a white page, and waited for something to happen. I’ve never been one to write to a prompt. All attempts have resulted in a ho-humness that’s not worth the energy it takes to type. Stabs at keeping a journal and establishing a daily writing practice have never amounted to much. A poem chooses me, instead of the other way around. I won’t say I’m happy with this arrangement, but I’ve come to accept it. Yet there I was, with an assignment, and because I had the time, decided to give it a chance.

Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family — Solanaceae — which includes potatoes, peppers and eggplants, as well as several poisonous species. As children, my five sisters and I feared deadly nightshade, whose dark purple blossoms with yellow starburst centers grew vigorously on the fenced edges of our property. We knew not to eat any of the crimson berries, and our idiomatic folklore taught that we would die within 15 minutes upon ingestion of any part of the plant. We wore gloves to yank it out; it exuded a bitter scent, as if even inhalation had the power to strike us down.

Nightshade seemed a good place to start work on a poem. A quick search informed me that the nightshade we so deathly feared was actually bittersweet nightshade (also known as felonweed, snakeberry, violet bloom); and death, though a possible outcome, is generally not a consequence, unless one were to consume ripe berries in great quantities, and with no ensuing intervention. Just like that, a large swath of my childhood beliefs was proven wrong. I wondered: what else did we believe would do us in, or not? And how were we so lucky to survive childhood’s real dangers? — Maple trees from which to plummet, the wrath of stinging nettles, blackberry vines whose unforgiving thorns snagged our arms in bloody zigzags. Skinned knees and elbows, a little finger sewn back on after surviving a door-slam, ice on a headbump: we persisted. Disease was not part of our vocabulary, except for the vaccination scars on our upper arms, which we compared and rated for their size and visibility.

Wait — wasn’t I trying to write a tomato poem? Yes, well….

Okay. Nightshade fit into the first line. That qualified it as a tomato poem, in a species-roundabout way. But from there, I veered to fairy-ring mushrooms, to a remedy for nettle stings, to the wild sorrel that grew abundantly in open fields, and on to the hazelnuts we cracked with our molars (which initiated long years of fracture). Death came only with the dogs killed on our busy street because they roamed freely then, as did we.

Until the summer we adopted a stray black cat and named him George. He moved in as if returning from a long journey, glad to get back to his own bed. We couldn’t have been more delighted with this affectionate, good-natured pet. And all that cuddling-up-in-bed with George resulted in a summer-long lockdown, of sorts, confined to our half-acre yard while we recovered from a nasty case of ringworm, compliments of…George. Though less than three months, it was an eternity to a six-year-old. Our dad drove away with the infected pet and we stayed on our side of the fence, nightshade and all. No explanation as to the cat’s destination, but none of us wanted to know. The protective innocence of childhood is a kind of virtue. The truth of the cat’s fate was too much for us to hear.

And suddenly there it was, on the screen: my poem, 33 roughly drafted lines. My tomato poem, veered from its triggering subject to my own childhood folklore. So lost in the stream of consciousness generated by the realization that my nightshade wasn’t deadly nightshade, I’d surrendered to the afternoon, and the poem essentially wrote itself. From a prompt.

Perhaps I succeeded because I’m home all the time now, compliments of the truly deadly danger from which we hover behind walls. Or maybe my belief that I can’t write from a prompt is faulty, like the belief in immediate death by nightshade. Maybe, it took this time to be able to stretch out, more time than I’ve had since childhood, minus that nagging sense that I was missing some essential task. And yet, when I sat there poemless with tomato looming before me, that become my essential task: a tomato, a poem, a black cat named George, and quarantine.

. . . . .


 
 
A co-founder of Floating Bridge Press, T. Clear’s poetry has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Iron Horse Literary Review, Lily Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, Raven Chronicles, and The Rise Up Review. She is on the editorial board of Bracken Magazine, and facilitates the Easy Speak Seattle critique group Re/Write. Her website is tclearpoet.com.

. . . . .
[Ed. note: T. Clear’s tomato poem is being submitted for publication. Please stay tuned.]

far out!

November 19, 2019

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has made the full range of their content — images, audio, video, and computer files used in the rendition of 3-dimensional models, such as texture maps and polygon data in any format — available at no charge, online, for educational or informational purposes, including photo collections, textbooks, public exhibits, computer graphical simulations and web pages. Fully searchable, downloadable in high, medium, and low resolution.

Your next 140,000 poetry prompts have landed. Have a look.

. . . . .
Image: intricate cloud patterns in the northern hemisphere of Jupiter
Thanks to Ina Roy-Faderman for the heads up.

get ready

March 28, 2019

With National Poetry Month right around the corner, this is a good time to get your ducks, or at least your prompts, in a row. Two Sylvias Press is offering an all-new batch of 30 Prompts for National Poetry Month, delivered fresh to your email box each day of April. There’s a small fee (less than 50 cents a prompt!) or, if you’d like to have one of your poems critiqued, you can pay a little extra and get a line-by-line critique by one of the editors of Two Sylvias Press.

picturing regional history

November 12, 2018

If you’re inspired by history or looking for some visual prompts for your poetry, pay an online visit to the Washington Rural Heritage Collections of the Washington State Library. The Collections provide free access to digitized primary sources documenting the early culture, industry, and community life of Washington State. 152 cultural institutions have participated in the project and there’s a link to the archive for each one on this page. It’s a fascinating and surprisingly personal collection.

. . . . .
photo: U.S.S. Constitution “Old Ironsides anchored outside of Jim Crow Creek on the Columbia River. She is a three-masted sailing ship build in 1797 at the Edmund Hartt’s Shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts. Said to have never lost a battle, she can currently be seen in Boston at the Constitution Museum. Masts were 200 feet high, wooden hull. Jim Crow Creek is located in Section 4, Township 9N, Range 7W and is upstream from the mouth of the Columbia River. The ship went from Longview, Washington on August 24 to San Francisco, California on August 31, 1933; this period is likely when this photograph was taken.”

prompts

June 23, 2018

It has been a while since we posted prompts, but this selection of 82 Writing Experiments by Bernadette Mayer, found on Language is a Virus, seemed just too good to pass up. While you’re there, check out the Text Manipulation and Text Generators links in the sidebars.

More on Bernadette Mayer here.

photo by Joe Mabel

Looking for inspiration? Join Atlas Obscura tomorrow afternoon, Halloween Eve, Sunday, October 30, 2016, for a walking tour of Seattle’s history-rich Lake View Cemetery.
. . . . .
photo by Joe Mabel shows the grave of Austin A. Bell, for whom Belltown was named

rescuing December

October 21, 2016

Two Sylvias Press Online Advent Calendar of Poetry Prompts

Two Sylvias Press is prepared to give your December a poetry-writing boost. ​The brand new Two Sylvias Press Advent Calendar is filled with surprise prompts to help you write 31 new poems in December! Get the details and sign up at Two Sylvias Press (and while you’re there, check out the other swell stuff in the Two Sylvias Store).

(Not to steal any thunder from Two Sylvias, but if you happen to be an advent calendar nut, you might also want to skibble over to The 2016 Short Story Advent Calendar.)

good idea

September 7, 2016

NEA BIG READ

In its aim to “inspire conversation and discovery,” the NEA Big Read supports dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read selection. From September 2016 through June 2017, 77 communities nationwide are participating, including Ellensburg, Washington, Eugene and Enterprise, Oregon, and Missoula, Helena and Billings, Montana.

In Missoula, where the selected title is Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, the Missoula Public Library is offering a free, six-week program that focuses on narrative poetry. “Writing their own poetry, attendees will base their poems on Love Medicine’s themes of family, abuse, love, and war.” Good idea.

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