writing prompt for poetry

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.