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30 Prompts for When You "Can't Write Poetry"

A Poet's Beginning Series:

I. 30 Prompts For When You "Can't Write Poetry"

II. How Poetry Saved My Life

III. So You Want to Be a Poet?


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"

  1. Write what is on your heart and mind.

  2. What color are you feeling today?

  3. Play a song without words and write what you hear. (Alternatively, choose any song and use it as your prompt.)

  4. Write from a perspective that is not your own. It does not have to be a person.

  5. What is home?

  6. 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

  7. 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?

  8. What is something you have learned that you couldn’t have learned in a classroom?

  9. When you take something off a shelf, it can leave a gap in the dust. What was in that gap? What can fill it?

  10. Bring out a copy of your favorite poem. Choose 3 lines you want for your prompt.

  11. When was there a time you went left, instead of right?

  12. What is your constant? What has been chipped away?

  13. A time you laughed when you “should” have cried.

  14. Ask 3 of your loved ones to write a list of things they love about you. Write about your findings.

  15. 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.

  16. Give us an experience of Fata Morgana–an instance where something, or someone gave you an illusion and it broke.

  17. Write a poem as if you’re running away from something.

  18. Write about your name.

  19. Use this Random Word Generator for 5 words (any kind.) Use at least 2 of these words in your poem.

  20. Write a definition poem. (e.g. “Rifle” by Rudy Francisco)

  21. Write like no one will read this.

  22. Think about your tunnel vision. What does your tunnel look like? What is at the end of your tunnel?

  23. Write about your mediocre triumphs.

  24. Write a letter to your body part(s).

  25. 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.