Friday, April 12, 2019
What Do You Get Out of Writing Poetry to Prompts?
A friend, a fellow poet, said to me a few years ago, 'Why do you need prompts? There is so much inspiration everywhere!'
I was somewhat taken aback by the question. It sounded a bit like an accusation, though I don't think he meant it that way but was just genuinely puzzled. I guess he himself wasn't short of inspiration. On the other hand, perhaps he wasn't trying to write poetry several times a week.
I can't even remember what I replied. Perhaps something like, 'It takes me in unexpected directions.' Because that's one thing I love about it.
And yes, it's true there is plenty of inspiration around. I'm aware that, on the rare occasions I experience a 'block', I can look at the outside world for subject matter, instead of within myself. But I already know how I typically react to most things in my environment. Who wants to keep writing variations of the same poem – or even the same several poems – over and over again? We try to see things fresh and new, but it can be hard to shake our mental habits. Perhaps we are not even conscious of them.
For me, playing with form works better. Even if the subject matter is familiar, finding a different way to address it makes the process more interesting. (Why would I do this poetry thing in the first place if it didn't interest me?) But I don't need a prompt to find a new form to play with – though I'm glad when I do find them via prompts as well as by searching.
Mostly, I like surprises. I like to receive them, and I like to surprise myself.
The prompts I'm following (at our sister site, 'imaginary garden with real toads') this April – the annual poetry month, if by some chance you weren't aware of this – have mostly been delightfully surprising so far.
One or two have been tried-and-true classics – which many people may welcome – which I've been able to make surprising by subverting them a bit, away from the obvious. This is possible partly because we've been given a lot of scope in how to approach each prompt; various choices for addressing it.
Among the delightful surprises in the prompts themselves have been (so far) one based on the 'Ridikkulus' lesson in Harry Potter: how to enchant your deepest fears into becoming laughable; and another to write about a supernatural creature who is a troublesome roommate. Hmmm, I guess you can see where my preoccupations lie! Even so, I'm sure neither of these would have occurred to me left to myself, and they proved very fruitful.
The childhood fear in particular led me to unexpected places. No problem identifying the fear – a common one which others wrote about too, and furthermore we all understood, as every small child naturally does, that it takes light to banish darkness. What was unexpected was that I found myself going on from there – practically giving a lesson in how to be a Lightworker! Once I started writing the poem, it all poured out and wouldn't be stopped.
The next surprise was that, instead of perceiving it as long-winded and preachy, which I feared, people really got it. A real-life friend even resolved to teach her little grand-daughter the methods I outlined.
'How do I know what I'm going to say until I write it?'
The distinguished Australian poet, the late Judith Rodriguez, once said that publicly in an interview. She's surely not the only poet to operate that way! I suspect we all do, at least some of the time.
Even better than unexpectedly pouring on to the page your deepest personal beliefs is when you bring forth ideas you didn't realise you had, and get to know yourself better. It can be exciting to discover parts of yourself you were unfamiliar with – or at least educational, LOL.
What the prompts do, it seems to me, is mine the subconscious – but in different ways than if one were responding to one's own unprompted inspiration. Our own inspiration may well produce better poetry, as it is likely to be a passionate response to whatever triggered it. But that's OK. The rest of the time, I like to think, we're practising, honing our skills for when those inspired moments hit. And hopefully finding some passion about our topics anyway. Best of all is when such an 'exercise' transcends mere exercise and turns out to be a poem you're thrilled to have written.
Either way, mining the subconscious, learning more about oneself and about what it is to be human, seems to me exciting, fascinating stuff.
Here at PU we don't play the April Poetry Month game. With a weekly program already in place, we like to stick to our usual offerings and approach them a bit more leisurely than every day. But they roll around regularly and offer a varied menu.
I know many of you love our Midweek Motifs from Susan and Sumana. I am usually so busy at that time of week that I don't participate, but every so often there'll be something I can't resist and just HAVE to squeeze time for (or which I find I've synchronously written to recently enough to include). That's another thing about prompts – they can be so enticing. The mind starts playing with the idea, almost unbidden....
The new once-a-month prose prompt from Magaly has been especially exciting like that. After swearing that I couldn't and wouldn't do it, on account of I'm so hopeless at ('creative') prose, I very soon became enticed. With fear and trembling I offered up my attempt, and guess what? It passed muster! Thus encouraged, I have proudly amended the subtitle of my blog, Enheduanna's Daughter. It no longer reads 'Poems by Rosemary Nissen-Wade' but 'Poems, and occasional short prose, by....' (Well, I'm 79. If I don't explore new challenges now, when am I gonna?)
Even our Poetry Pantry, which says in effect, 'Share anything, old or new,' is a kind of prompt, albeit a very open one.
Need I add that one of the great things about writing to prompts, when we do it in a community like this, is getting to read other people's stuff? There's such a lot of terrific poetry out there! And there's not only one kind of terrific. Even when I'm only playing in a smallish community, which is what I like best, there are a number of different kinds of wonderful to encounter. It's very enriching. I mean, we wouldn't be trying to write poetry in the first place unless we loved poetry – and that love arose, of course, from hearing or reading it. So we get to love it anew. First there is the sheer joy of encountering something that curls our toes and makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. Then there's the possibility of adding techniques we admire to our own repertoire.
As a bonus, we get to know our fellow-poets over time; they come to feel like friends. Indeed, real and valuable lifelong friendships can be forged.
What do you think? What keeps you coming back here week after week and throwing your hat in the ring? All of the above? Something completely different? Please tell me, and the rest of us, in the Comments. And do come back to read what others say.
The images used in this post are in the Public Domain – except for the moon image, in which I hold copyright.
Posted by Rosemary Nissen-Wade
Labels: April Poetry Month, Moonlight Musings
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I'm so delighted that my prompt was able to provide a good jumping off point for your words.ReplyDelete
LOL, I am such a derp... to answer the question, I think I have a lot of ideas in my head, but they are often scattered or ill-formed. All it takes is a really good prompt to make me think "A-HA!That's what I wanted to say!" I appreciate the focus provided by prompts and I love seeing the wild ways different people can interpret the same thing.Delete
I was pretty thrilled about it myself, Rommy! And it's not derpy for you to be delighted your prompt worked so well that for a minute it crowded out other thoughts. (Smile.) Take a bow! You're entitled.Delete
That's interesting, that prompts enable you to unscatter your thoughts. Yes, I can see how they would do that, giving you something to focus them around.
And oh yes, isn't it fascinating how you can give a group of people a topic and they'll all come up with a different response! I run several offline writers' groups in which this happens all the time, and none of us ever ceases to wonder at it.
I've been asked the same question, usually by writers who don't blog. Some have suggested that sharing my creative work online is a bit of a waste. "Why give away what you might be able to sell?" some have said.ReplyDelete
Like you, Rosemary, I like how prompts invite the muse to different places via paths we might not have thought of taking on our own. In the past, writing was very solitary work. But not anymore. Or, at least, it doesn't have to be. These days, we can delight in words with other people who also love words. Writing prompts (and the Internet) have made that so much easier to do.
Thank you for the yummy post!
Ha ha, have those questioners ever tried selling poetry? There are some stars who manage to do all right out of it (though most of them don't give up their day jobs) but in general poetry is that stuff that doesn't sell. Not well enough to feed us, anyway. I expect your stories may do rather better, but even so I think marketing is always challenging. Perhaps by blogging we actually create a readership who might buy our books? (Even if that is not our primary reason.)Delete
Yes, I love interacting online with other writers. When I lived in Melbourne I was part of the poetry community there, so even though the writing was solitary, sharing it wasn't. But I've been living in a small rural town for 25 years, and the internet has been a great gift.
I love Moonlight Musings! The online poetry forum has been such a gift to me. When I found it, in 2010, barely anyone read my poems, in real life, and my muse was drying up for lack of sharing and inspiration. At first I thought poems that came solely from inspiration were superior to poems from prompts. But very soon I realized, writing as often as we do online, prompts are very helpful, and inspiration often happens upon lift-off.Even if the poem doesnt take flight, it is a poem I wouldnt have written otherwise and the bulk of my poems fall in that category. Online poetry gives my life purpose and productivity in my later years, and I am so grateful for the chance to share with other poets - every day, I am moved and inspired by the writing of others, and what a gift that is!ReplyDelete
Yes, I certainly would not be writing so often if I were not writing to prompts and participating in inline communities. I was always regraded as a prolific poet, but nothing like I am now. It perhaps doesn't leave a lot of time for polishing individual pieces, but among so many there may well be enough good ones anyway. On the other hand, I think it's hard to judge our own work. Feedback from one's peers is very helpful. Sometimes I think a poem isn't up to scratch, only to have readers fall in love with it. I think that happens to us all. It's good to have an instant forum out there, to know whether something is working or not.Delete
(You knew I meant *online communities, didn't you?) LOLDelete
Thanks for the mention of Midweek Motif! We are a little different from other prompts by remaining committed to theme--actually, motif has a slightly different meaning than theme. If you think of motif in music, you'll see how much more playful it could be. But, I've been so busy with Poets United that I haven't written to other prompts for quite a while. I remember loving the form challenges of dVerse and the imagery challenges at the Garden. Now I wonder--if I write the prompt, am I responding to a prompt or simply continuing a train of thought? Hmmm? I love the surprises that Sumana brings me at Midweek Motif, and find I'm often stirred into action more by one of the poems and quotes included than by the actual spare motif that is the prompt. As a lifelong teacher, I can't help turning almost anything into inquiry and curiosity. I love the leadings, the nudges and the suggestions coming from everywhere in the world, including from prompts.ReplyDelete
I was interested to find online this distinction between motif and theme:Delete
'In a literary work, a motif can be seen as an image, sound, action, or other figure that has a symbolic significance, and contributes toward the development of a theme. ... In a literary piece, a motif is a recurrent image, idea, or symbol that develops or explains a theme, while a theme is a central idea or message.'
Yes, I can see that writing to one's own prompts might be more difficult than writing to others'. Susie mentions the same thing, below.
Rosemary, thank you for asking and for sharing your input on the subject of prompts. I really enjoy them. My mind is a squirrel cage of so many things it is nice to be presented inspirational suggestions for creativity to stop the chatter in my head so I can focus. I have learned so much from my interactions with poets here and at Real Toads. To be able to read and interact with such talent has really helped me to find my voice in poetry. I have had an urge lately to write prose and Magaly's writing prompt ( and her oh so delightful poetry/writing) is just what I needed. I enjoy Susan and Sumana's prompts(as well as their amazing poetry), and I need to write more often from their inspiration. I think writing communities that inspire us to stretch our pens, believe in ourselves, and grow deep connections are blessings. I do a prompt every few weeks at Real Toads. I find it hardest to write from my own suggestions. Prompts and the commitment to create one really keep me actively writing poetry.ReplyDelete
'To be able to read and interact with such talent' – oh yes, such a huge blessing. We have such amazing poets in these communities. Including you! I suspect few of these brilliant poets realise just how good they are. (But I'll keep telling them.)Delete
I feel the same way Rosemary. Prompts lead me in directions that I may not have gone on my own musings in life. Also, it is wonderful connecting with other writers, and seeing what direction prompts take them. All in all it is truly inspiring to me. Love this post Rosemary!!ReplyDelete
And there it is in a nutshell! 'Truly inspiring' is exactly what the prompts are meant to be. (Smile.)Delete
I love everything you say...I find if I don't write it down, I don't know what I think. If I say to you, what were you thinking about yesterday, what did you have on your mind? I have but to look at what I write yesterday, and there it is. Yes, I like prompts, something new, unexpected. Wonderful post!!ReplyDelete
Ha, what you say reminds me of my late friend Philip Martin who, when asked why he wrote poetry, would quote Lewis Carroll: 'That moment,' the King went on, 'I shall never, NEVER forget.' 'You will, though,' the Queen said, 'If you don't make a memorandum of it'.Delete
Prompts! It can be fun to work with and it could be challenging. I think prompts are a very useful tool for a writer. It help to give directions or point the way, and open up doors where one might think is locked.ReplyDelete
I don't usually do prompts but those that give me a kick are picture prompts (photos, paintings, illustrations ) and crazy quotes (from poems, fiction).
Ah, and that's another thing. We're all different – different enough that we don't always have the same preferences. I myself am not so keen on picture prompts (though there are always the surprising exceptions) whereas I'm with you on the 'crazy quotes'. And I am naughty – if I don't like a prompt, I might subvert it: use it as a jumping off point to go in an entirely different direction. (Which means that even the ones I don't like are useful too.)Delete
I love this question! I recently said to Magaly- that if I didn't have a prompt, I'd probably be sitting at my computer like a zombie. i quite agree that prompts mine the subconscious. After responding to a prompt, I always surprise myself with what comes out of me. Simply put, my muse relies on them.ReplyDelete
I think I probably need them too. I know I start to get cranky if I don't write poetry fairly often. The prompts keep me writing, and therefore reasonably sane and settled, lol.Delete
I enjoy writing with or without prompts, but I always view prompts as gifts. Even if I don't always follow them completely, sometimes they ask things of me that I'd never ask of myself, leading me in directions I'd never imagine going otherwise.ReplyDelete
Yes, a prompt starts a train of thought, but that doesn't necessarily go where the prompt would seem to lead, it could branch off in some different direction. I think that makes it even more exciting and valuable. And when a prompt is challenging, that can end up proving even more productive.Delete
I love the questions you pose here💞 this is my fifth year writing poetry and third time participating in NaPowriMo 😊 I think it's safe to say that prompts fuel my poetry. Like you said we are led into unexpected directions and I love that! I love waking up everyday to see what I would write next 😊 the muse needs inspiration every now and then.. I must say I m very grateful to be a part of Imaginary Garden and a loyal participant at Poets United. It changed my life!💞ReplyDelete
Thank you for this amazing post, Rosemary!😊💞☕
Ha, synchronicity! I've just been re-reading the intro to your book, The Learning Curve, where you go into detail as to exactly how connecting with poetic communities and writing to their prompts changed your life. It has been exciting to watch your poetry develop over time, to the unique, sensuous, powerful voice you have today.Delete
One quick question, Rosemary.ReplyDelete
Susan's Wednesday prompt is on "writing prose"- so are we writing prose, discussing writing prose or writing poetry on 'writing prose'? I'm confused.
Oh, very belated apologies that I missed this question when asked! I guess you found out without my help, eventually.Delete