Monday, March 15, 2010

Writing prompts, part 2

Last week I posted about writing prompts. As a comparison, here are some "prompts" suggested by the literary magazine Hawk and Handsaw: The Journal of Creative Sustainability:

1. Consider these words: imagine, create, sustain. Stir well: create able, sustain image. Add ask, learn, try. Then heart, worth, good.

2. Post Thoreau’s reminder: “the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

3. Ask, what’s real? The problem, limits, available energies?

4. Ask, what matters? What do we need? What is worth wanting?

5. Toss the rules. If you need them, they’ll show up again.

6. Wander. Dream. Mull. Unfocus. Take walks in places where you don’t have to pay attention—but where moments of attention reward you with surprise or pleasure. Collect insights, both blinding and fleeting. Let them grow.

7. Use your left brain. Then your right. Left. Right. Left, right.

8. Ask, what will feed my energy, mind, heart, imagination, play?

9. Assemble a team of doers. Talk, eat and drink together, have fun.

10. "Do something. Take a break. Do something more.”
-SueEllen Campbell, author of
Bringing the Mountain Home.

Any of these ring your bells? Well, if they do, Hawk and Handsaw opens for submissions on August 1. Get to it!


Shelley Chernin said...

Are these prompts? I'm familiar with the "write about this vegetable soup can" kind of prompt, but "Use your left brain"? That's only going to prompt me to puzzle about how to split my brain. "Assemble a team of doers"? Maybe if I wanted to paint my house.

pottygok said...

These are the better types of prompts. The "write about this vegetable soup can" are the kind that you'd come across in an amateur writing group or possibly a (bad? uninspired?) undergrad class.

I like the whole "left, right, left right" thing, and I can see how it would work to develop a poet towards extreme juxtapositions.

Left Brain=symbols, imagination, philosophy, etc.

Right Brain=Pattern, Order, Reality, Facts.

I think it would be a great prompt to try to do a line or stanza that's symbolic, metaphoric or philosophic then one that's more concrete and reality based, then go back and forth between the two. That would be an interesting poem, or at least a really interesting seed for a poem.

Shelley Chernin said...

Just goes to show how differently we each respond to outside input.

I will arrogantly say that I can write something out of any input. How satisfying that something is to me depends on how deep I've gone with it.

I don't have a sense that this list of prompts (perhaps we can label them "soft" prompts in contrast to "hard" prompts) would take me very deep. That says more about me than it does about the value of the prompts generally.

John B. Burroughs said...

I wrote a poem about a soup can once - in this case no one "gave" me a prompt, per se - though an Andy Warhol print prompted me:

Karma Souptra

Tin can karma
In a cemetery green sedan
Driving into the past
Through the future
Running round and round
And over and over
The illusory track of time

Like a bomb
That never goes off
Like a song that rings
In Campbell's soup cans
Round and round the rims
Not going out or in
Just sticking to the circuit
Like a one ring soup can
Gerbil wheel circus

Till the tin finally erodes
The illusion of time caves in
And full circle cemetery green
Karma darts to the next can
In the aisle of now.

pottygok said...

I'm not sure prompts are about things to be given, but things to be explored as poets. I think of prompts the way that weight lifters think about going to the gym. One must work one's poetry muscles, constantly developing new skills, if one is to grow as a poet. My issue with the "soup can" prompt or those of a similar ilk is that I don't see any specific craft skill being focused on, nor the development of any unique thought patterns acheived beyond those of a surface level, as opposed to those of "Hawk and Handsaw" which are clearly designed, when coupled with the magazine's mission, to provoke new ways of thinking and therefore new ways of writing.

Shelley Chernin said...

Point taken.

I'm not defending the "soup can" prompt, although I can see such a prompt pulling someone off their usual path. The right prompt for the right person.....could happen.

I re-read the "Hawk and Handsaw" list to try to pin down my negative response to it. For me, the vagueness of the prompts wouldn't open new possibilities; rather, they would allow me to stay within my comfort zone, which, as a basically lazy poet, I'm expert at finding ways to do.

On the other hand, a more concrete prompt (a poetic form or a list of random words), forces me to exercise my poetry muscles.

Just individual differences between poets, I think.

John, super poem. Purée Burroughs.

John B. Burroughs said...

Thanks, Shelley! It's in my chapbook 6/9: Improvisations in Dependence. I'll give you a copy next time I see you (don't let me forget).

Shelley Chernin said...

Excellent, John! I look forward to reading it. Thank you.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau