Resistance #1 by Poetry Lab

Our recent visiting author James Meetze asked, What do you need to repeat to yourself in order to resist? He provided us this poem by Danez Smith as inspiration. (We highly recommend reading all of it here.)


after JFK


ask not what your country can do for you

ask if your country is your country

ask if your country belongs to your country folk

ask if your country is addicted to blood

ask if your country is addicted to forgetting

ask if your country is an oil & power fiend

ask if your country shakes at night starving

for bodies if bodies mean your country

keeps on being your country in the same ol’ ways

ask if your country was built of stolen land

and stolen breath, if democracy is a chain

tight as skin around your neck

ask if your comfort means elsewhere

someone is burying a daughter

ask if your comfort means round

the corner a man is dead cause a cop

mistook his body for a gun

ask if your comfort means broke schools

& food deserts on the other side of town

ask if your new apartment used to belong

to someone who couldn’t afford to look

like you, ask yourself if all the things

you are scared to admit are shovels

slowly filling up a brown boy’s throat.

[poem by Danez Smith. Continue reading here]

PROMPT: Write a poem using the phrase you repeat to yourself in order to resist as anaphora. An anaphora is the repetition of a word or words at the beginning of a line or sentence.

Example: In Smith's "Principles" the anaphora is "Ask if your country"

Or: Instead of using a traditional anaphora, write a serial poem that repeats or rehashes your resistance phrase throughout.  

James Meetze

For more on our upcoming visiting authors check out our Workshop page. 

James Meetze [pronounced Metz] is the author of I Have Designed This for You, Dayglo, winner of the 2010 Sawtooth Poetry Prize, and Phantom Hour published by Ahsahta Press. He is editor, with Simon Pettet, of Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems by James Schuyler (FSG, 2010). His work has also appeared in five chapbooks and numerous publications, including AGNI, A Public Space, American Letters & Commentary, The Rattling Wall, and New American Writing, among others. He lives in San Diego, where he teaches creative writing and film studies at Ashford University.


Elegy by Poetry Lab

Because there is no such thing as falling, only memory”

—W. Todd Kaneko

This prompt is based on Kaneko’s Dead Wrestler Elegies, because the collection obsessively melds themes of childhood, a troubled relationship with a father, and abandonment of a mother with the guise of professional wrestlers. It’s a sort of slight-of-hand achieved through a relentless switching of stories and themes from the author’s life with the lives of his childhood role models.

1)     Fold a sheet of paper into three columns.

a.       First column: write a list of childhood materials. Such as toys, games, locations, school activities, sports, books. It can be anything from childhood—except for a person

b.      Second column: write a list of verbs that describe the way one can lose things. Such as misplace, trash, donate, give away, neglect

c.       Third column: Of those childhood materials you listed in the first column, what has been lost from you and what still remains? Make a notation on the fate of the different items in the first column

2)     Write an elegy for an object from childhood

An elegy is a lament for the dead which is typically designed to mirror the three stages of grief: sorrow, admiration, consolation. In poetry, elegies take on many forms but it is important to note that an elegy is not a eulogy or an ode.  

B is for Breakup by Poetry Lab

1)     Think of a person with whom you are in a relationship

It can be a spouse, sibling, mother or father, dog, coworker, boss, etc.

2)     Using the letters of the alphabet from A – Z make a list of words that relate that person or to your relationship with them

3)     Write a poem that explains how your relationship began.

Or write a poem about how your relationship will end/ended.  

Use the formula created in the Davidson’s poem “A” as a guide, i.e. “A is for Anna the woman you will fall in love with next year…”


Leah Noble Davidson

A is for Anna, the woman you will fall in love with next year, who wraps her opus in alabaster eyes; Anna’s hello echo will crush your throat like a trash compactor. And b. B is for the second word you’ll think you have for a sight like Anna walking by, but, to fold a smoke like that on to paper, you’ve got to have c and d words.

Davidson, Leah Noble. Poetic Scientifica. University of Hell Press, 2013. 

Night Madness by Poetry Lab

Write a poem in which the speaker is estranged from a lover, either by temporary or permanent distance.

Constraint: 20 lines or less

Challenge: begin the poem by using one of these as a ghost line

“I have the magic of words,
the power to charm and kill at will”

“I want you inside
the mouth of my heart”

“You were the shadow of a cloud cross-
ing over a field of tulips”

“What matters is to be 
inside the prayer of your body”

“Even now, under this welcome 

“I’m a woman delighted with her disasters”

—Sandra Cisneros

A ghost line is a line from another poem that you use to help you begin your own. Use the line as a launch pad. You can write from it by continuing an image, responding to its observation, arguing, agreeing, or answering. Once your poem is written, the ghost line disappears. The line literally ghosts away—it was only meant to be a starting place. Sometimes poems written from a ghost will give the credit of “after Sandra Cisneros,” but this is at the poet’s discretion. Remember that the ghost line is not yours, but the poem you create from its inspiration is. Always give credit where credit is due. 

Categorical by Poetry Lab

"On the one hand, the Aristotelian, perhaps evolutionary need to put everything into categories—predator, twilight, edible—on the other, the need to pay homage to the transitive, the flight, the great soul of being in which we actually live."

–Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts


Create a list of 12 categories.

Spending about 60 seconds on each category, list as many antithetical things as you can. These will be things that do not fit into the category, but may somehow work to describe and/or challenge the category in some way.  


Category is Twilight: candor, mallard ducks, tarot cards

Category is Predators: starlight, pill bug, bouquet

Category is Edibles: rocks, salt water, still life portraits

Category is Arachnids:

Category is Flammables:

Category is Hummingbird:

Category is Disaster:

Category is Paranoia:

Category is Intoxicants:

Category is _________:

Dangerous Animals by Poetry Lab

From Poetry of Place July 17, 2014

MUSIC INSPIRATION: Dangerous Animals by Arctic Monkeys

POEM INSPIRATION: "The Great Ape House" by Marianne Boruch from Poems: New & Selected (Oberlin College Press, 2004).

Marianne Boruch

In winter, the smell got worse. It took you like
a soup. The giant glass-eyed ape would stare with such
condescension I could feel again, walking in
out of the freezing wind, how small even my largest
bones—poor femur  in the thigh, shoulder blades—
though in that look I passed
quickly to ribs, delicate, barely thicker
than my breathing. I could hear
my heart. And closer to the glass, others 
come to ee him, taunting and screwing up
their human faces to be, they thought, 
just like this. I was quiet. I was, so help me, empty
as the great savannah. But apes love trees. 
Banana, more bananas. I watched him toss aside the peel
exactly like my British colleague, years later
in Taiwan, would drop her cigarette on our 
office floor, saying, no dear, they’ll
pick it up—when her tiny daughter
went for it. But not exactly that, since his
was an honest kingdom, fallen grace. The ape would
turn away, though not for long. Or he’d languidly climb
and do some nonchalant miracle, rope to rope. 
But not for long. He’d come back, stand
and look at us. Rain or snow outside, 
everything whirled and narrowed to just
that look. Like taking your eye to a telescope’s eye
and losing t there, up the long dark
in hope of stars. The light, always bad, mounds
of hay, old cabbage heads, carrot leaf.
An attendant would call to him from the upper story. 
But he’d keep that look for us, looking at some
distant shape inside himself the way one might think
a swollen river marks something in a dream. 
Or so I thought, since thinking is mostly
trying not to drown. I know I spent
too long in there. But I was twenty.  

NOTICE: The way the speaker balances the description of the ape and her own feelings: “I was quiet. I was, so help me, empty as the great savannah. But apes love trees. Bananas, more bananas.” The sudden switch between "I was quiet" and the need for more bananas melds the emotions of the speaker to those supposed emotions of the animal she's observing, creating the tension that makes this poem so exciting. It is this tension that we're looking to imitate in this exercise.

PLACE: Imagine yourself at the zoo at the exhibit of an animal that scares/obsesses you.

WRITE: Write a poem from the zoo.

Use your obsessions. Use unanswerable questions. Use the weather. Build a tension between description the animal and its actions and the feelings of the speaker/the speaker's body at the zoo. 


Brawl Between Colors by Poetry Lab

From In Technicolor, January 2014

Color is my day-long obsession, joy, and torment. –Claude Monet

Give yourself 15 minutes to free write for each of these prompts. Then, look back on your work and select two pieces to combine into a complete draft. 

Write a list of your favorite things, but only those that are also your favorite color.

Write a brawl between four colors.

Write an angry color.

Write a fight between two colors.

Write a whirlpool of colors in love.



"Restless and Elsewhere" by Poetry Lab

From Ladies Night, October 2013

Read “Katrina” from Patricia Smith's Blood Dazzler 

Write a persona poem in the voice of a natural object or occurrence such as a storm or a mountain. Can be specific: Shovelnose guitarfish, or general: ocean. 



I was birthed restless and elsewhere

gut dragging and bulging with ball lightning, slush,
broke through with branches, steel

I was bitch-monikered, hipped, I hefted
a whip rain, a swirling sheet of grit.

Scraping toward the first of you, hungering for wood, walls,
unturned skin. With shifting and frantic mouth, I loudly loved
the slow bones

of elders, fools, and willows.