Writing about place: Carl Sandburg


In honor of poet Carl Sandburg’s birthday earlier in January, here’s a Carl Sandburg-inspired prompt.

First, hop on over to Poetry Foundation and read this poem. Sandburg spent some time in Chicago throughout his life, so this poem is a kind of love-hate letter to the city. Mostly love. And a bit of terror. But love.

Your task? Write a poem about Winona, or another city you know well, in the same vein. You could start a few lines with “They tell me you are…” You could experiment with different personifications of Winona, as Sandburg does with Chicago, giving us a vivid image of a half-naked wrestler laughing as he stands over an opponent.





Just Sayin’…

Here’s a poem famous for its brevity and humor, followed by a quick prompt from Ken. Enjoy!

fridge door 2


I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox


and which

you were probably


for breakfast


Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold


Using “This is Just to Say” as a model, write a poem in this same style—short lines, incremental. His poem was written as an apology to his wife that he left on the refrigerator. Find something in your own experience that parallels this. Write an apology for something you did. Notice that Williams uses the title of the poem as his first line. Williams’ topic is light and whimsical. It would be good to find something easy-going like this, but you could also take on a more serious apology, which is probably the more usual situation in our lives. Don’t start it with “This is Just to Say” as your first line—come up with your own parallel move.






Field trip and other news


Just a friendly reminder to Teen Voices participants: Grab some poems and come on down to Blooming Grounds tomorrow, Wednesday, at 5:30 p.m. for a poetry workshop. Then at 7 p.m., we’ll walk to Mid West Music Store to check out their monthly slam event. Listeners and readers welcome!

Also, short notice: if you’re looking for something interesting to do Tuesday night, check out Haki Madhubiti, who is speaking at 7 p.m. in Kryzsko Commons at WSU.

For more info, see winonastatenews.com/8056/wsu-hosts-haki-madhubuti/.

Internet Poem Sources

Here are three great places to look for poems. It’s important for writers to have other writers that they admire, learn from, aspire towards…

Poetry FoundationPoetry.org is the website for the Poetry Foundation, an outgrowth of Poetry, the oldest poetry journal in the U.S. The Poetry Foundation received a huge financial legacy about 10 years ago, earmarked to promote and nourish American poetry and poets, and they are doing a great job doing just that. Browse  Poems & Poets for specific poems, or just look around and see what you can find.

poetry180-bannerPoetry 180 is a project developed by Billy Collins, one of the 3 or 4 most well-known poets in the country. When he was U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-03) he created a poem-a-day internet source, which is now archived by the Library of Congress. These are poems selected with teen readers in mind. They are not categorized; you just have to browse through the list and see what looks good. You can also check out Collins’ advice for How to Read a Poem Out Loud.


PoemHunter.com offers lots of categories and a large searchable database of good poetry. The site has more of a social network orientation, with Top 500 rating, trending topics, and so forth. Girl poems, kiss poems, death poems, New Year’s poems…. Have fun!

Poetry slam Jan. 6

Hey all, just a quick invite to a poetry slam tonight, January 6, at 7 p.m. at Blooming Grounds Coffeehouse.

Whether you read a poem or not, these events are a great time to hear some poems, get ideas, and meet awesome people.



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.

Read More

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