Christina’s World

16.1949This is one of my favorite paintings in the whole world. My grandmother had a print of it in her bedroom for many years, and I am still captivated by its beauty and longing.

I did a little research and found out that the girl depicted in it, Christina, had trouble walking due to a degenerative muscle condition, so this was the only freedom she had. Wow. And then I wrote a poem about it.

Your turn: Find a photo or a piece of visual art and write about it. You could take the perspective of a person in it, or your perspective as someone looking in. You could do a little research on it or just dive right in. This is a great time of year for this, because lots of newspapers and magazines are picking out their best of 2015. So you could grab one of those too.

Fun fact: a poem that responds to a work of art is called ekphrastic poetry. It’s a fun word.


Poetry and swimming

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” It can be hard work, it can feel risky, and it can lead you to unknown places.

Write a poem that responds to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote. Do you agree with him? Or do you have a better interpretation? What is good writing to you?


DIY holiday

I must be in the holiday mood, because here’s another one. This prompt might be especially welcome or intriguing if you’ve celebrated your particular winter tradition(s?) until you’ve had enough for one year. Time for something new…create your own holiday. You’re a poet, so you can do anything you want to (in your poems).

  1. Think up a new holiday. If you ponder this for a while and are drawing a blank, here are a few angles you could try:
  • You could transplant elements of a familiar holiday to another setting or venue. Gift-giving among the pre-historic druids. A “feast” in a refugee camp. An annual anniversary celebration on an intergalactic spacecraft.
  • You could create the “reverse image” of a familiar holiday. I thought of this for a first line: “Every year in heaven, they celebrate / The Day of the Living.” If you like it, you can have it.
  • You could invent a fictional small town festival, in a fictional small town. Milkweed Days, Carrion Fest…
  • Or go whole hog and create it all from scratch: the cultural background, history, geographical location, and whatever else you need for a holiday.

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Turn, turn, turn: a nonfat holiday idea


Holidays are fascinating, aren’t they? In some ways, we structure our collective lives around them, with their bright colors, favorite foods and intense emotional associations. Here’s a holiday writing prompt:

  1. Pick the mid-winter holiday that means the most to you. (Christmas, Hannukah, Chinese New Year, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Diwali, Three Kings Day, somebody’s birthday…?)
  2. Over a period of two or three days, observe and/or remember, and take notes, focusing tightly on one or two elements of this holiday:

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Winter Holiday Poems

BookTree1-550x550  Here’s a winter holiday poetry potluck that Ken found in the e-newsletter from the Academy of American Poets–follow the links to their site and browse around while you’re there!

How could poetry enliven your holidays? Read it out loud on a long car trip. Quote from an old favorite in a handmade card. Gather a few little kids and read about the Grinch. And keep writing! More prompts soon…

Academy of American Poets Newsletter
December 16, 2015

A Season for Giving Poetry

’Tis the season for giving, whether it’s presents, thanks, or well wishes. As winter begins and the year winds down to a close, we give you this poem roundup—as well as wishes for happy holidays and a joyous new year.
In drear nighted December” by John Keats
Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore
Winter Twilight” by Anne Porter
Why Is the Color of Snow?” by Brenda Shaughnessy
Toward the Winter Solstice” by Timothy Steele
The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens
Lines for Winter” by Mark Strand
When the Year Grows Old” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Finding a magnetic lexicon


From mentor Kaysey Price, a great exercise to beat writer’s block:

Another break from school is upon us and that means there is ample time for creating! This winter break I have made it my personal goal to write 20 new poems, which sounded great until the writer’s block set in…

Creating a lexicon at our last meeting got me thinking about how I sometimes feel like my own vocabulary is inadequate. Sometimes the words are right on the tip of my tongue, but I just can’t seem to find the right one. I think this feeling of inadequacy is what leads to a lot of my writer’s block (maybe I’m not alone here).

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Lexiconic, a prompt


This prompt is adapted from Zach Carlsen’s exercise that he led at our December session. I think this will work just fine on your own, though it’s probably not quite as much fun that way.   –Scott

  1. Set a timer and write freely and continually for five minutes about a vivid memory or dream. Pick your topic before you set the timer.
  2. Go back and mark the following types of speech in your writing:
  • Circle nouns (persons, places, things)
  • Box adjectives (describe persons, places, things)
  • Underline verbs (action words)
  • Squiggle around adverbs (describe or modify verbs, usually end in “ly”)
  1. Make a list or chart of 10-12 of the most interesting words from each category. This is the word-bank or “lexicon” for your poem.
  2. Write a five-line poem that only uses nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs from this lexicon. You can add other types of connecting words as needed:
  • articles: a, an, the…
  • pronouns: he, she, it, they….
  • conjunctions: and, or, but….

Remember that poems don’t have to “make sense” in the literal, everyday sort of way! Do you think your five line poem is influenced by the memory or dream with which you started?


the Legendary Zach Carlsen in action


Notes: Session w/ Zach Carlsen

I hope you enjoyed our session last week with Zach Carlsen as much as I did! The room seemed to hold an abundance of quizzical smiles, animated voices and strange imagery as I circulated—all good signs for sure! Here are some notes I took as the session sped past… Scott

  • Whether we’re just starting out or have years of experience, we’re all


    writers and share a lot in common.

  • Zach gets some of his best ideas from eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. For example, in the dentist’s office he recently heard someone say, “They took the star down and gave it to the little girl, and everyone wept.”
  • For Zach, poetry is not just a genre of writing. “Being a poet is a way of seeing and being in the world.”
  • Finding similarities and differences between animals on our brainstorm list got everyone thinking about making comparisons. “How is life like an aardvark? How is poetry like a frog? How is that take-out cup beautiful? How is X like Y?” Comparisons (think similes and metaphors) are at the heart of poetic language.
  • Most of us have experienced some form of the dreaded Writer’s Block, when we are stuck and can’t seem to get started with our writing. Zach stressed doing some writing every day and not worrying too much about whether it’s good or not. Think like an athlete and stick with your exercise program. He says that he finds 30 minutes here and there, whenever he can, like while he’s waiting in an office or for dinner to finish cooking.
  • “If I had waited until I thought I was Good before I sent any work out, it would have never happened.” Whenever you get interested in sending your poems to contests or magazines, talk to any of us and we’ll help you figure out how to do that.
  • One thing that keeps Zach from avoiding his writing is having projects that he invents and takes on. For instance, writing poems with 100 lines and 10 syllables in each line. Did he really say he’s writing 1000 of those, or did I hear that wrong?!
  • And let’s not forget, Desolation Bedspread would be a great band name…

‘I slam, therefore I am’ this week

Hi all, just a quick reminder of a fun poetry event in Winona! The Black Sheep poetry group is hosting its monthly poetry night this Wednesday, December 16, at 7 p.m. at the Mid West Music Store, 168 E Third St. One of our Teen Voices mentors, Ben Strand, is an active member of the group.

Come on by to check it out, listen to some great poems, and read or perform one if you’re so inclined.


Poem ideas, number 1


Hi wonderful poets! It was SO GREAT to make poems with you all this week at our meeting with guest Zach Carlsen. You all brought freshness and excitement, and I love that poetry happened as a result.

As promised, we’ll be posting more poem ideas/nudges/thoughts on the blog these next few weeks. You can find them all collected in the Poem ideas category at the bottom of the home page. Not all prompts work for everybody, so if this doesn’t help you, throw it away and make up your own. (It’s a dreary Saturday as I type this, which is reason enough to write a poem!)

Dorianne Laux is one of my favorite poets, and her work is brave and zesty. She has a great poem called “What’s Broken,” which you can find here. In it, she combines a list of apparently mundane broken things into a totally amazing picture of what it’s like to have a broken heart.

So, give Dorianne’s poem a read, then make your own poem about broken things. Or riff off her idea, and make yours about heavy things, green things, dead things, perfect things, dark things, wet things, or expensive things, or…

Happy trails,