A Poet's Beginning Series:
I. 30 Prompts For When You "Can't Write Poetry"
HAPPY NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!
Poetry and I have a longstanding relationship, going back to middle school. Throughout high school, I filled up several journals, read poetry books and performed in Poetry Out Loud. When I tried to be a practical Communication major in college, I ended up taking so many English classes that I qualified for the major and eventually an Early Modern Specialization. I was even the President of Poets’ Club, where we hosted meetings every week, set up and performed our open mics, and our quarterly showcases.
Poetry was my life until it wasn’t.
Once I graduated in 2019, I wrote poetry and spoken word in short bursts like I was a sputtering car and gas was so expensive I could barely afford to fill it up. A few weeks became a few months and before I knew it, a few months became a year.
It was hard to write without the pressure and accountability from other poets. Thursdays at 7pm. Every week. We would make the prompts in Core meetings and write like we hadn’t seen them before. And by the time I felt ready to come back from a hiatus, the pandemic hit and my head became so foggy I struggled writing journal entries.
I had to take a step back to get my life together, and I had to learn that was okay.
These prompts are a bit of a hodgepodge from Poets’ Club, my current writing group, and ones I’ve made based on what I was thinking about at the time.
When you’re ready to come back to poetry, or if you’re ready now, this list is here for you.
30 Prompts For When You "Can't Write Poetry"
Write what is on your heart and mind.
What color are you feeling today?
Play a song without words and write what you hear. (Alternatively, choose any song and use it as your prompt.)
Write from a perspective that is not your own. It does not have to be a person.
What is home?
Break the conventions! Write a poem without using any articles (i.e. a, an, the), hedge words (like, possibly, seems, probably, etc.), and use nouns as adjectives/verbs as nouns
How is your familiar, unfamiliar? Does your everyday routine ever feel out of place? Is there something about you that feels unfamiliar but should feel familiar?
What is something you have learned that you couldn’t have learned in a classroom?
When you take something off a shelf, it can leave a gap in the dust. What was in that gap? What can fill it?
Bring out a copy of your favorite poem. Choose 3 lines you want for your prompt.
When was there a time you went left, instead of right?
What is your constant? What has been chipped away?
A time you laughed when you “should” have cried.
Ask 3 of your loved ones to write a list of things they love about you. Write about your findings.
Write a poem that is completely false, completely true, or a blend of the two knowing no one will be able to tell the difference.
Give us an experience of Fata Morgana–an instance where something, or someone gave you an illusion and it broke.
Write a poem as if you’re running away from something.
Write about your name.
Use this Random Word Generator for 5 words (any kind.) Use at least 2 of these words in your poem.
Write a definition poem. (e.g. “Rifle” by Rudy Francisco)
Write like no one will read this.
Think about your tunnel vision. What does your tunnel look like? What is at the end of your tunnel?
Write about your mediocre triumphs.
Write a letter to your body part(s).
Start the first line of your poem with a word or phrase from a conversation between people you don’t know and/or between you and someone you don’t know.
Write what you’re afraid to write.
Write what these quotes bring up for you. There are no wrong answers. (For #27-29) “We’re all ghosts, we all carry inside us people who came before us” - Liam Callanan “I carry my roots with my all rolled up, I use them as my pillow” - Francisco X. Alarcón
“Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.” - Maggie Kuhn “If you say what they want you to say, then they own you.” - Dakota Hardin
“One day I will find the right words and they will be simple.” - Jack Kerouac “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” - Anais Nin
Have you reached your “other side?”
When I got my first car, and I drove it down the freeway for the very first time, it felt like I was in a washing machine. When I brought it into the shop, my mechanic, very kindly, said my suspension was “a little shoddy.” Later I found out I had to replace the shocks. I would liken my creativity to this shoddy suspension. Overused and overworked throughout the years, without much thought of “care,” “replacement,” or “rest.” My pen became as shaky as my car. I had no confidence I could get from Point A to Point B in a straight line.
But I invested in myself, just as I, and to my wallet’s dismay, invested in my car. I stopped writing and pursued other passions of mine, consistently saw a therapist every two weeks, and read a lot of books and Webtoons. Now I’m back in the swing of things with writing blogs, poetry, and going to a poetry group every week.
Maybe you’re just starting out and you need to find a writer’s group. Or maybe you’re a seasoned writer that fell out of touch, much like I did. Wherever you are in your journey, you can start at any time.
It is never too late or early to write. There is no prime window to miss. I haven’t participated in NaPoWriMo in years, but I’ve done (most) days this month and I’m still proud! I’m unlearning the guilt I had from being too busy to write a poem a day. Of course, that is part of the challenge and it’s awesome if you make it all the way through, but missing a day does not define your progress. When you feel like you “can’t write,” maybe it’s time to reevaluate your creativity.
Are you burnt out? Are you tired? Do you need a community to push you? Is your community pushing too hard? Do you need a list of inspiration that is so conveniently above? Whatever the case may be, writing will always be here for you. You may feel like you can’t write now, but as John Green says, your now is not your forever. I’ll see you on the other side.
Remember. You CAN write poetry. You have the power to start at any time.
About the Author
Mei-Mei has worn many hats since joining LYF. Executive Assistant, Event Manager, Editor-in-Chief, but before anything, she is a human who loves to write and make art. She graduated from UC, Santa Barbara with a B.A. in English and a minor in German. She was the President of UCSB Poets' Club. She has traveled to 12 countries and counting, feeling lucky and cursed as an Army brat. In 2019, she moved for the 9th time from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas, where she put her love for writing, performing, advocating for mental health, and building communities into the Love Yourself Foundation.