Recent American Poetry

Prompts for creative, performative, & deformative
responses to our reading

Some of these exercises give you a chance to emulate one of our poets by making a poem with a similar form or precudure--e.g. a collage poem to emulate a collage poet, or an erasure poem to emulate Jen Bervin. Others invite you to creatively disassemble a poem as a way of observing and understanding it. When you turn your work in, please use this header, and attach a few notes giving your sources (if applicable) and briefly reflecting on how your work relates to the book you are responding to.

We perceive something better by knowing what it isn't.
We make surprising discoveries by using surprising methods.
All words have magical properties that we should experience and explore.
Play is healthy.
-Ron Padgett-
Creative Reading

Suggested prompts for
Collins  /  Giscombe  / Kim  /  Spahr  /  Mullen  /  Bervin  /  Allen 
Nowak  /  Mehmedinovic  /  Turner  /  Dent / Templeton

Collage Exercises
Especially recommended in relation to Blue Hour, Giscombe Road, Shut Up Shut Down, Under Flag, and Muse & Drudge

When creating a collage poem, it may help to think of the poem as if it were a piece of collage art, in which different phrases are used as different physical materials would used, to make a new whole. You will notice that even in a "documentary" poem like some in Blue Front, the poet creates a new statement or tone from the found material. The essence of collage is that all the materials you bring to it have a history of prior use; they have contexts not of your making. When you place them into a new context, they don't entirely lose their old meanings, but, rather, take on a double meaning.  ° You see this all the time in jokes, where "out of place" phrases wouldn't be funny if we weren't thinking simultaneously of their old, original meanings and the way the joke uses them. °  Make a few notes about what you learned or observed during the process of making your poem. In collage writing, you often learn a lot about using language as material (rather than purely for "what it means,"  and about how tone and inflection are changed when two pieces of language are put down beside each other.

An abecedarian is any poem that arranges its materials alphabetically. To get started, go through the book and write down phrases that appeal to you. Look for images and for phrases with a strong tone or sense of a speaker's personality. ° Now, rewrite your list in alphabetical order, according to the first letter of each phrase. (You will notice right away that you can change the position of a phrase by deleting its initial word or words.) What have you got? Does it express something about the book? about your response to the book? To revise, go back to the book and look for phrases that fit alphabetically into your poem. ° Another idea: find an A-phrase from one poem or page, a B-phrase from the next poem or page, and so forth. ° And another idea: Choose phrases according to grammar or syntax, e.g. prepositional phrases, noun phrases, main or subordinate clauses, etc. This will reveal a lot about the syntax preferred by the poet you are examining.


Invented by William Burroughs. Take any text (or two or three) and cut it (or them) up into individual lines, phrases, sentences, or even words. Drop the bits of paper into a bag or onto the floor. Mix them around, then start drawing out the pieces and assembling them into a new text. Make your own rules for using all the pieces (or not). ° You can make it collaborative by working with a partner to assemble the new text. ° To make the new text even more material and visual, cut the source text into blocks, circles, or other geometrical shapes, ignoring syntactic or linear boundaries. Reassemble the parts as a visual poem, with or without other materials. ° If you use this exercise to respond to a poem that is already a work of collage, don't use that poem as your source text; use prose or other poems. If you use this exercise to respond to other books on our list (e.g. Turner or Mehmedinovic) you might get an interesting result by using the poems as your source texts.

Pulled Text: Make Your Own System
For this exercise you must, as the poet Jackson Mac Low says, make your own system for collecting material out of a text. You may collect sentences, phrases, or words. The key is to choose your source text subjectively, but devise an objective method for selecting language from it. ° Go here for detailed instructions. ° Collaborators can make endless use of this basic idea, by choosing different texts then using any agreed-on system for pulling text. and using it to create poems. The next exercise is but one example.

Exquisite Corpse Cut-Up Collabotion
For the purposes of this class, this exercise will probably work best for two people who want to develop a substantial portfolio of creative responses at the end of the semester. However, if two of you want to try a quick collaboration for one week's work, go to it!

The original Exquisite Corpse was a game played by surrealist painters. One of them drew the head and shoulders of a body, then folded the paper so only the bottom edges of the drawing showed. The next one began his drawing from those visible edges and drew the torso of a body, then folded the paper in the same way. The third began his drawing from the visible edges of the torso and drew the legs. Only when all were finished could the paper be unfolded and the whole body revealed.

An Exquisite Corpse in words is created by writing two or more lines of verse, then folding the page so only the last line shows. The second writer continues from that line and writes two or more lines of her own, then folds the paper so only her last line shows. The next writer continues from there. Unlike a body, an EC poem can continue around a bar room indefinitely.

Your EC should be a bit more intentional than a bar game, but the exact rules are up to you. You may want your procedures be completely random and objective, or completely subjective and personal. Personally, I like combining elements of each.

Please keep a careful record of your rules and planning. Examining your method and what kind of poem resulted from it will be a large part of what the rest of us gain from reading it.

Here are your steps:
  • Choose collaborators -- I suggest you work in pairs or in trios. You may include poets from outside this class, so long as they commit to the project and to the time frame. It's important to work with someone you like to hear from!
  • Choose a number of lines for each bit of verse you'll create. In these directions I'll assume you are writing couplets and working with only one other person.

  • Choose a title, a subject, a theme, or an idea. Make it broad -- e.g. "Africa," "Getting Home," "Arrivals & Departures," etc.

  • Each collaborator chooses a book as a source text. The books need not be related in any obvious way to your title or idea, but you may wish one of them to be. Don't tell each other what books you've chosen.

  • Choose a method for generating page numbers. Examples I've used or discussed with collaborators: lottery numbers from a country associate with your theme, numbers derived from birth and death dates on the obituary page of a chosen newspaper, longitude & latitude of selected locations, winning and losing poker hands, dictionary pages on which selected key words appear.

    You may have to modify your system to create usable numbers above or below certain thresholds, depending on your system and the length of your books. Whatever your system, each person should use the same page number through each round.

  • To begin: turn to the designated page of your book and choose text from that page from which to compose a couplet. You and your collaborators may also set the rules for how that's done. Will it be random & objective? Wholly subjective? Must you choose whole phrases or lines? or may you choose and recombine individual words? May you use a word twice that appears but once on the page? etc. At this stage you should not change the found text in any way: i.e., don't change a pronoun or the tense of a verb or the number of a noun.

  • Once you have a couplet, record it in a word processing file, or someplace else you won't lose it. Then send only its last line to your collaborator.

  • Your collaborator duplicates the process, using the same page number from his or her book -- however the new couplet must also follow in some way from the line you've sent.

    This is where it gets interesting. You are holding one card and playing one card, and your partner has to play next. Will your second line be narrative? a single image? a list? Will it be enjambed, offering a phrase that must be completed? And will your partner respond at the level of narrative? image? rhyme? rhythm? One of your rules could be that the poem will be metrical.

  • Whatever your rules, and whatever the outcome, your collaborator sends back to you only the final line of his or her new couplet, and that's the end of round one. You write a new couplet from a new page & send off the last line. Etc.
  • The length of each exchange may be determined arbitrarily in advance, or may be determined by the numbers you are using. You may wind up with a single poem or with a set a poems derived from different sets of numbers, different books, or any other scheme you devise. You may want to postpone some of these decisions until after the process has begun.
Once you have finished an exhange, first put together the whole sequence of couplets and see what you have. Keep a copy of this unedited version. At this point you have more procedures to agree on. Who edits? What kind of editing is allowed? etc. Keep copies of your steps during editing.

Exercises Based on Diction


A lexicon is a word list: so start this exercise choosing a poem to work with, then listing all the words in the poem, either in alphabetical order or according to parts of speech (nouns, verbs, etc.). It is important that you break up the original phrases, so you won't copy them.
° Write a poem using the lexicon you have created. Don't try to make a poem on the same subject as the original--in fact, you shouldn't. Don't even look at the original poem until you have made several drafts of your own poem. ° How flexible can you be? Since the purpose of the exercise is to place you in someone else's diction, I recommend either a very strict rule or something like "80% of the words in your poem must be from the list." Another possibility is to limit yourself to the list for substantive words but allow flexibility for small words (articles, conjunctions, prepositions). ° Make a few notes about what you learned or observed during this process. What did you learn about the diction used by the poet? What did you learn about working with words, in your own poem?

And/Or Lexicon (also known as Boolean poetry)
Take two poems and consider them as two lexicons, or sets of words. Determine where those two sets overlap, and you now have three sets of words: those appearing only in poem A, those appearing only in poem B, and those appearing in both A & B. These three sets can be used to create separate poems, different verses of the same poem, or in some other pattern of your invention.  ° You can use two poems by the same poet, or poems by two different poets. The latter might be an interesting way to 'compare' two poets or poems from our reading. ° Make a few notes about what you learned or observed during this process. What did you learn about the diction used by the poet? What did you learn about working with words, in your own poems?

Analytic Dictionary Definitions
A creation of Noël Arnaud. Choose a short word to define ("slate" in the example below). For the purposes of this class, choose a word that seems key to the poem or poet you are interested in responding to. You will use the letters of this word to generate new words in the manner of an acrostic. ° Write the word at the top left of the grid, as shown, then write your new words vertically, as shown (silver, latititude, etc.) ° The longer words then serve as initial letters to a further set of words, which go in the corresponding boxes to the right. ° Use these words, in order, to write a definition of the original word, in the form of a prose poem. Don't try for a literal definition--we already have dictionaries for those. Make yours metaphoric, funny, or hyperbolic. Let loose. ° I also find this exercise particularly well suited to poems about places, as in traveling we often encounter words we don't use much at home. The sample poem is one I wrote after visiting a couple of closed-down slate mines in Scotland:















































































































SLATE: Its silver latitudes alarm the territory, enclose or impose an alien leniency. Not easy to navigate, its little temper may act as response to cartography. A view intervenes: this river is real and its longitude is error. Lacking talent to manage, it rarely includes orphans. Still, no rude or undue terror can solidify this danger. What’s over is elder, what’s elder is roofed. And yellow.

Exercises Based on Sound & Rhyme

Sound is foregrounded by several of our poets, most notably Mullen, more subtley Kim; and of course Allen's sonnets are rhymed.

For some basic exercises to work with sound, go here, and try some of the Slant Rhyme Exercies.

If you are interested, go here for an advanced introduction to rhyme.

(More writing prompts will be forthcoming.)

Total Transfusion
especially recommended with Mullen!

The poem below is called a "transfusion" because it transfuses language from one context to another. Study the poem below, then choose your own source and write your own transfusion based on punning and sound resemblance. 

Evan Oakley, ENGL 564 1991, used with permission

What's so specious about
oat bran? Plenty! Oat
bran contains two hypes
of fibrosis, curable
and incurable, both of
which are condemned as
impotent parts of a
stealthful, unbalanced
Most other serial brains,
such as sweat and porn,
do not have significant
amounts of global fire.
But because it's made
from whore rain,
(including all the
coat lint), Cheroots
contains the molecule
that's preternaturally
sent in the ode itself.
A fast that eludes
an owl of cherries,
low-fact milquetoast,
a bandanna, is a castaway
to get morose bran
and insoluble ire
into your Fiat.

Exercises Based on Grammar & Syntax

N + 7
Invented by Jean Lescure, and perhaps Oulipo's most well-known operation, N+7 is very simple: choose a text you want to alter; replace each noun (N) with the seventh noun following it in a dictionary (+7). ° For the purposes of this class, choose a poem from our reading. This exercise will reveal a lot about the syntax of the poem. ° You can vary it, and make it more flexible, by substituting either the seventh noun forward in the dictionary, or the seventh noun back, making a subjective choice in each case as you work on the piece.

Choosing a dictionary is an important step that will influence the outcome. As the Compendium puts it: "When choosing a dictionary, it is useful to remember that the smaller it is, the greater the alphabetic distance between the original word and its replacement and the simpler the words found." The example provided is the begining of the Book of Genesis, altered using a large, a small, and a very small dictionary. The results begin:

In the beguinage god created the hebdomad and the earthfall. And the earthfall was without formalization, and void; and darnex was upon the facette of the deerhair.

In the behest God created the heckelphone and the easement. And the easement was without format, and void and darshan was upon the facial of the defeasance.

In the bend God created the hen and the education. And the education was without founder, and void; and death was upon the falsehood of the demand.

Other considerations: When the base text includes nouns in apposition, such as trail head you can make your own rule: apply N+7 to both words; consider the first word an adjective and alter only the second word; or take the expression as a single noun trailhead, and alter it by the normal practice. ° When altering a metrical poem, you can choose to respect or to ignore meter. To preserve the meter, start with the 7th noun and continue searching until you find a noun that will fit the meter. In some cases, the alphabetic distance may be very great, even crossing into subsequet letters.

About this exercise, poet Ron Padgett has written: "[W]hen the new version seems to cohere, consider it finished. Then go back and read the original poem again. You will now have a far better sense of it.... The image-building that is required by the noun substitution process takes us one step away from the "reality" of the original text, to which our return is a kind of awakening." (Creative Reading, National Council of Teachers of English, 1997)

Translexical Translation
From the Oulipo Compendium: "A text on a given subject is emptied of all its key words, which are then replaced by a different set. The relationships between these new key words must be similar to the relationships which existed between the words in the original. The syntax and secondary words of the original are left unaltered."

Forms & 'Constrained Writing' Operations

Acrostic / Mesostic
A vertical succession of letters that, in a series of lines or stanzas, forms a word or phrase. Acrostic signifies a vertical sequencing at the beginning of the lines; mesostic sequencing appears in the middle of the text.
° Ed Allen's book is your example of the former. Alec Finlay's Mesostic Herbarium is a fine example of the latter. (At look in the bookshop or in "You are invited," where you will find examples of several poems listed on this page, and others of Finlay's invention.)

Wave Books' interactive Erasures page allows you to create a cancelled-text poem, then print it, send it, or archive it on their site. You can also use a source text of your own choice. ° Your first impulse may be to create a short poem that summarizes the main ideas or lists the main images of the source; but your goal is to create a new voice, a new idea, that responds to or develops from the source text.

Drawing & Diagramming

Draw a map or diagram that shows a time/space relationship in a poem from this week's reading. It could be a narrative map, showing relations between events in the poem. It could be a map of your reading, showing the actual or imagined time elapsed during reading. ° Another kind of reader's map might show relative psychological distances in the poem--what is close together or conceptually overlapping? What is far? ° How about a map of the sounds in the poem? ° You may interpret "map" as metaphor.


1. Write a two page treatment for staging one of the poems from our reading. You need not be literal; in fact, the less literal you are the more interesting the play may become.

2. Compose and perform an original work derived from the book. Music? Dance? Chant? Skit?
°  You could begin with one of the prompts or exercises for a written response--one that extracts text from the book, for example, or plays with its diction or sound.? ° If this is a collaborative peformance, each participant should turn in to me a page of notes detailing how the piece was written, and what each person's role was.

Creative prompts for Martha Collins' Blue Front--

1. Use prompt #4 on the list of prompts for analytical papers, but instead of writing a paper about the poem you select, create a similar poem of your own. Choose a word that seems important in Blue Front, (but not one of the eight words Collins used). The Oxford English Dictionary, available on line through the GMU library web page, will help you find both definitions and idiomatic phrases. OR, you could use a word of your own choice, not from Collins, and use her method to explore its meanings and implications. In any case, make your poem 14 lines long, with lines of approximately equal length. Do not use end rhyme.

2. Use any prompt from Exercises Based on Diction to write a poem based on some aspect of Collins’ diction.

3. Use a prompt from the web page to write a collage poem. Don’t use Blue Front as your source material; instead, emulate Collins’ collagist technique in a poem of your own, on any subject.

3. Choose a passage from Blue Front and list all the nouns in it. Pause to make a few notes about what you learn about the poem by doing this. Is it “noun-heavy’? Does the list of nouns suggest something, or focus your attention in a way that is different from normal reading? Do the same for verbs, and then for all the other words. (You can break down the “other words” into separate lists, if the poem seems to call for it. Modifiers might be listed separately, for example, or prepositions.) At each step, note what you observe about the poem?.
4. Aside from the specific events her book narrates, and the historical background of the struggle for Civil Rights, Collins is also concerned with family issues, truth-telling, denial, and discovery. Go to this web page <> and practice making erasure poems from the texts provided. (The software makes it easy. and you can also see poems others have made.) Then, choose one of the source texts and make from it an erasure poem that is, in some way, about your family. Print the poem and bring it to class next Tuesday. You can also save the poem on the web site, if you wish.

If none of the provided texts appeals to you, you can use any piece of writing you want and make the erasure by crossing out, whiting out, drawing or painting over the words you w

Creative prompts for C.S. Giscombe's Giscome Road--

1. Go back to Blue Front and have another look at those eight sonnet-like poems meditating on single words. Now, choose a word that's especially significant in Giscome Road. Use the Oxford English Dictionary (available via GMU library data bases under Literature and Language) to explore its meanings, including idiomatic and archaic meanings you may not be familiar with. If you know meanings not in the dictionary, add them to the list. Write a 14-line poem packing in as much as you can from your list of meanings, but at the same time conveying something you think about this word and its role in Giscome Road.

To really make it lovely, go to the slant rhyme exercises here, and generate a few pages of words with related sounds to use in your poem. Don't get trapped by exact or obvious rhyme-- let your ears explore the range of sound relationships among the words.

2. Use any prompt from Exercises Based on Diction to write a poem based on some aspect of Giscombe's diction. And/Or and Analytic Dictionary might be especially fun with this book.

3. Any of the collage prompts would be relevant and revelatory as pathways to better understanding this book. Don’t use Giscombe Road as your source material; instead, emulate Giscombe's collagist technique in a poem of your own, on any subject.

Creative prompts for Myung Mi Kim's Under Flag--

1. Any of the collage prompts would be relevant and revelatory as pathways to better understanding this book.

2. Despite its huge sweep and indeterminate landscapes, Under Flag is a book of many lush images and sharp memories. Begin your own poem by writing a simple list of images. Concentrate on very particular and small moments you observe today, or remember from the past. The list of remembered images on page 29 provides examples--though elsewhere in the book, such images are scattered and juxtaposed to more abstract or narrative phrases. Once you have this list, there are several ways you can use it, in keeping with the spirit and the practices of Kim's book.

2a  In this option, your next step is to write a list of more general yet still very concrete statements and questions. Examples from the book include such lines as "A child shrinking back knows the hand is slap" (p.32), "Which is colder, ocean or river?" (p33),

Now, write a poem that juxtaposes these two kinds of images against each other. Resist the urge to explain them. An example from the book: on p 19 the lines "His name stitched on his school uniform, flame / Flame around what will fall as ash" juxtapose a precise memory with a more general image.

2b In this variation, use only images of the first kind--highly specific and sensual. Write a poem by juxtaposing them in a series without explanations or overt connections. On page 30, you see an example in the lines "Over there, we had a slateblue house with a flat roof where I made snowmen, over there" / "No, 'th', 'th', put your tongue aginst the roof of your mouth, lean slightly against the back of the top teeth..." etc.

2c Another variation: make your first list of highly concrete images, and then make a list of captions from photograps in news magazines or news sites on line. Write a poem juxtaposing lines from the two lists. Don't try to match images to the captions in the way of illustration. Let each line represent a separate human moment. For example, study how the images at the top of page 17 are juxtaposed with the bits of narration lower down, in which American soldiers are pictured in heroic action. The images at the top are autonomous; they do not illustrate the narrative bits.

In all versions of this exercise, the idea is to leave a great deal of mental and emotional space between the lines you juxtapose. Let there be a kind of silence there, unfilled by explanation or explicit transition from one element to the next. Be brave! Dare to be ambiguous! Let the reader work with those gaps.

Creative prompts for Juliana Spahr's This Connection of Everyone with Lungs:

The first three exercises are based on phrases from one day's news. So, first, collect them. You can do this in one internet session, of course, but a better way is to do it by ear. Listen to the radio, t.v., or conversations about news, all day, and write down phrases that strike you as important, weird, funny, or unintentinally metaphoric.

1. Write a collage poem using phrases from your collection. You may want to use a speaker similar to Spahr's or Whitman's, and arrange your material using anaphora and lists, organized by a few key phrases (like Spahr's "when I speak of" or Whitman's "I say"). Or, you might want to create an abecedarian, arranging your phrases in alphabetical order and, thus,  holding yourself a greater distance from the poem. What does your chosen arrangement communicate, aside from the contents of the list itself?

2. Write a boolean (and/or) poem, using as your source material either two poems from Spahr or two lists of stuff you wrote down from the news. For example, you might make a list of all the phrases you accumulated from the "hard news" about war, medicine, the economy, and the environment, and separate list about the arts, celebrities, animals, and consumerism. You would then list all the words they have in common, and (separately) all the words they don't. This gives you three lexicons (word lists) from which to write three poems.

3. Make two lists of your material, as in #2, then substitute nouns from one list into sentences from the other list. Can the result be more than just silly? Can it tell us anything about our news culture? Our way or receiving information? How will you arrange this material into a poem or prose poem?

Type out a medium-length passage straight from the news--any kind of news, so long as it's a genre of news we recognize, one that has familiar conventions of tone and vocabulary. Serious Talk About the Economy, for example, or Newest Stupid Thing Done by Stupid Celebrity. Now, run an N+7 operation on it.

5. Write a poem doing something very strange with pronouns.

6. Write a medium length sentence that you enjoy saying and that can be written or typed in one line. Turn you page sideways if you have a sentence that doesn't fit on a normal page. Now, under that sentence, write a new one, in which you have changed no more than one or two words. Repeat that process with a third sentence, and so on.

Do this exercise twice. The first time, retain some part of the sentence (it doesn't have to be the beginning) that stays pretty much the same throughout. The second time, change something in each sentence until, by the end, you have a completely new sentence, with no word in common with the first one.

Are you keeping the same syntactic structure? Are you playing with sound? with image? with tone? with context? What do you learn from this, about writing in general and about Spahr's way of writing?

Try one version in which you keep the same sentence structure, substituting word for word, same part of speech, one word at a time, until you have a wholly new sentence. For example--

The black dog is barking at the yellow cat.
A black dog is barking at the yellow cat.
A black dog is running at the yellow cat.
A black dog is running at the yellow car.
A black dog is running at the red car.
A black car is running at the red car.
A rusty car is running at the red car.
The rusty car is running at the red car.
The rusty car stopped running at the red car.
The rusty car stopped running toward the red car.
The rusty car stopped running toward that red car.

--Though, of course, your sentence will be more interesting than that!

Creative prompts for Harryette Mullen's Muse & Drudge

This book can be described as collage, for its use of juxtaposition; but that is only half the story, The other half is sound. (And the third half is wit.)

1. Go here to find a list of slant rhyme exercises. Limber up by doing these for fifteen minutes or so. It is important that you generate slant rhyme (assonance, consonance, and near-misses) not a list of perfectly rhymed words. Next, choose a page or two of Mullen and write out her sound play, her rhymes, her puns. Does she use sound relationships in ways you hadn't thought of? If so, try some of those on your own list of words.

Now, make a list of common phrases, aphorisms, proverbs, old saws, advertising slogans, etc.--anything that interests you and that readers would recognize. If you can cluster them around a certain theme, all the better, but you don't have to. Now, spin off some slant rhymes and puns. Work as quickly as you can, and don't worry about whether it makes sense or seems meaningful.

Ok, now that you have several pages of writing, from all the steps you've gone through, have a go at writing a short poem in quatrains. If you have to choose between sense and sound, choose sound. Keep your lines short and your stanza compact. The pressure on language, and the pressure on you to solve problems within a confined space, is one way form is active in Mullen's book.

1a. Instead of a poem in quatrains, write a credo. Its structure is very simple and the result is like a chant. It goes like this--

not bricks but branches
not branches but crowns
not crowns but cradles
not cradles but cats
not cats but cornices
not cornices but caprices
not caprices but practices
not practices but sparseness
not sparseness but seagrass
not seagrass but seemliness
not seemliness but lioness
not lioness

Alec Finlay & Susan Tichy

not mountains but rivers
not rivers but narrows
not narrows but negligees
not negligees but bluejays
not bluejays but bellbuoys
not bellbuoys but beggars
not beggars but banquets
not banquets but bunkers
not bunkers but thunders
not thunders but thereafters
not thereafters

Alec Finlay & Susan Tichy

not birds but song
not song but so long
not so long but wide enough
not wide enough but a berth
not a berth but adrift
not drifting but floating
not floated but mutual
not mutual but mute
not mute

Alec Finlay & Alistair Peebles

not carrots but contacts
not contacts but contracts
not contracts but cantabile
not cantabile but con amore
not con amore but cordially
not cordially but cut
not cut but cute
not cute

Alec Finlay & Jen Hadfield

These examples are short, but yours should fill an entire page, single-spaced. Pay attention to rhythm, as well as to sound, as you write your lines. You may want to drive some pairings with sound and some with sense--ideally you can make sense and sound work together. Let your "subject" (if there is one) evolve from the top of the page to the bottom, so readers arrive in a very different place than where they began.

3. Total Transfusion

4. Read the directions for N+7, but instead of using random nouns from your dictionary, substitute nouns of similar sound but very different meaning. It helps if your base text has a strong voice and syntax.

Creative prompts for Jen Bervin's Nets

Guess what? I want you to write an erasure text.

First go to the Wave Books erasure page and practice making some poems via erasure. If you are lucky, you may find a text there that truly interests you to work on in some depth. If not, choose your own text.

In creating your erasure, think about the relation of your poem to the source. I recommend that you don't use your new text to lyrically reduce the original, to state its main theme or idea. The writer of that text has already expressed his or her ideas. Your poem should express your own perceptions. You may want to respond to the text, to argue with it, or to offer an alternative vision.

Radi os, for example, is a spiritual poem, but it does not repeat Milton's theology; on the contrary, it presents a very different spiritual vision.

Another example: using Emily Dickinson's poems written during the Civil War, the poet Janet Holmes has created a series of erasure poems about the Iraq war.

Consider, too, the appearance of your poem. Will the source text show through, or will the page be white? Or, will the page become a work of visual art? Will you construct "rivers" to guide readers and to reduce the fragmentation of your phrases (as in Phillips' A Humument), or leave the sequence of reading to readers?

In your notes about writing this poem, include its relation to the source text you used, as well as its relation to this week's reading.

Creative prompts for Ed Allen's 67 Mixed Messages 

writing a poem in which Suzi Grace talks back to the narrator.

Or, consider this...
Love, sex, and mortality are frequently linked themes in sonnets, so what would the narrator's ill friend have to say to him about his obsession with Suzi.

1. If you have some experience writing poems, try a sonnet, even an acrostic sonnet if you dare.

If you are not ready for a full-fledged, original sonnet, try one of these--

2. A fourteen-line poem with a uniform line length (you can count stresses, or syllables, or even words) using the structure of the Petrarchan sonnet: an octave, followed by a sestet, marked by turn in tone or argument at the start of the sestet.

3. Find a sonnet you like -- one of Allen's, or another -- and use its rhyme words to write your sonnet. If you aren't familiar with iambic pentameter meter, use lines of around 11 syllables.

4. Go through Allen, and/or Shakespeare, and/or other sonnets you find in your books or on line. Pull lines you like--a lot of them; list about 30. Write a collage sonnet using 14 of the lines you collected. Can you devise something like a rhyme scheme? or an acrostic? or maybe an abecedarian? even a cut-up! cut-up  abecedarian

5. Use the analytic dictionary (above) to generate a prose poem. Start with a word that's key to your reading of Allen. For example, your poem could be Suzi's definition of a word Allen uses to describe her.

6. Write a poem using the lexicon of one of Allen's poems.

7. Choose two of Allen's sonnets, or one of his and one of Shakespeare's, and make out boolean lists (and/or lexicon, above). Do you find enough matches to write a poem using the words they have in common? boolean (and/or) poem,

8. Choose one of Allen's poems and run it through a total transfusion .

Creative prompts for Semezdin Mehmedinovic's Nine Alexandrias

In my notes on Mehmedinovic, you will find this quote from an interview--

"An image of the outside world that appears in a line of poetry is not indifferent; it contains within itself a precise feeling that is integrated into that image.  Poetry is more sufficient when it mediates emotion by way of the image from the outside world, than when it tries to directly describe emotion as the content of our inner world.  The task of the poet, if I may put it that way, is to name that emotional condition.  The effort to name emotions that were possibly not named in the language before."

Use it to remind yourself not to name directly the feeling or idea you are talking about in your poem--"talking around" might be a better phrase: talking around but not naming.

1. Most of the poems in the section "Nine Alexandrias" include a landscape or human scene observed by the speaker as he travels, plus an idea introduced from the speaker's thoughts--something he remembers, something he read, something he thinks about. Sometimes the balance tilts strongly toward idea, with a dash of his current setting; sometimes it tilts toward scenic description or narrative, with a dash of idea. In all cases, it is in the conjunction of what is seen and what is introduced from the speaker's mind that we are invited to find the poem's meaning.

Write a short understated poem which includes a few details of a scene, a conversation, or a place you are observing, linked to an idea drawn from beyond that scene. Think of those two elements (what you observe + what you are thinking about) as together creating a third thing--a concept, an opinion, a metaphor--something you leave unnamed. In this exercise, it is better to risk baffling your reader than to risk too much explanation. We will take time in class to try to read your poem carefully.

2. In many cases, the movement between observation and idea is mirrored by the poems' sonnet-like structure. All have fourteen lines, and all have a set-up, some kind of development, and a sonnet-like turn toward conclusion. Most don't follow the 8/6 or 4/4/4/2 structure of a sonnet, though some do. Sufism, Prison Crowd, Red Boulder, Flag, and Functions of the Heart are divided into an octave and a sestet like a Petrarchan sonnet, though some of the octaves are printed as two quatrains and some of the sestets are printed as two tercets. One poem, Pound, is structured as three quatrains and a couplet, like a Shakespearean sonnet.

Write a fourteen line poem that follows instructions for prompt #1 using a sonnet-like turn to bring your poem to conclusion. You may use an 8 line/6 line structure, like a Petrarchan sonnet, or three quatrains + couplet, like a Shakespearean sonnet. Or, as Mehmedinovic has done, devise your own way to divide your lines. The key is to be sure your divisions support your content, and vice versa.

3. The poems in "8 Things About Cadillac" use one symbol eight ways. More than simply "cadillac," the poems consider light and reflection, shadow and representation of "cadillac." Write two short poems using a single object as the symbol of unstated ideas. Along with your symbolic object, give your poems some images in common--e.g. things that grow, or things that fly, images of darkness, images of lightness or heaviness, containment and escape, movement and stasis.

Creative prompts for Mark Nowak's Shut Up Shut Down.

For all creative responses this week, follow this process--

First: read the paper prompts for Nowak, and consider the questions raised there as part of your own writing process.

Next: assemble materials. Choose a public issue or event you are interested in and assemble at least three sources related to it (the more the better). Mark Nowak had years to write his book; you have only a few days to write your poem, so choose an issue you have some personal connection to, and define it narrowly.
For example, "hungry people living in my neighborhood, while I have more than I need" is better than "world hunger" or "the gap between rich and poor."  Your sources may reach beyond your immediate topic (in my example, they may deal with hunger or distribution of wealth beyond your neighborhood) but when it comes time to write, think about your issue in the narrow frame you have chosen.

Your sources can be short, like online articles or chapters of books, or even readings assigned in other classes. Find at least one source that includes direct quotes from those involved or affected by the issue or event. If you choose something you and your friends often talk about, your own conversations can be a source of quotes. Your poem will have a more interesting texture if you choose sources that use very different vocabularies or that approach the topic from different angles.
For example, three newspaper articles on local food banks will provide only three versions of the same kind of language. Better would be one newspaper article, an interview with someone who has faced hunger, a conversation on conservative talk radio, and something you read in a history or economics course. Other ideas: government statistics, novels, pop songs, advertising.

Next: Go through your sources and mark or pull out sentences, phrases, and individual words that interest you. Choose some that seem key to the topic, some that show a marked attitude on the part of the speaker or writer, and some that interest you purely as samples of language. Feel free to use photos or other images. Select enough stuff to fill one page--that way, you have room to pick and choose.

And, finally, follow one of these prompts:

1. Write a Nowak-like paragraph using language you have gleaned from your sources. If you also use language of your own, limit it to about 25% of the paragraph. Follow that with some lines of verse--rhymed or free--that draw on your sources.

As you work, keep in mind some of the questions raised in the paper prompts. For example, how is your voice or attitude constructed out of the material you are collaging? How are you using typography? How are you using prose vs. verse?

2. Use your material to write a poem in emulation of Mullen's Muse & Drudge.

Creative prompts for Brian Turner's Here, Bullet

Two interviews with Turner.

1. Type out one of Turner's poems and, from it, create an erasure poem that creates peace from the words of war. Or, read paper prompt #2 for this book and create an erasure poem about the missing "why" of causes or motives.

2. Turner has compared his role to that of "embedded" reporters in this war, saying "I really wanted to just share the events themselves as much as possible, like an embedded poet." In "Milth," he creates, in one sentence, an intense description of women harvesting salt, but never says what the image means to him. The poem is almost completely devoid of abstractions, and has very few words that denote value or judgment. Read that poem carefully, paying particular attention to its visual images. Circle words that provide clues to why Turner values in this scene, or to why it fascinates him. Underline any words that form metaphors, even indirectly. Find the active verbs. Examine the lines and line breaks--how pieces of the picture are layered into place by the lines.

Now, write a poem (on any subject) that is equally intense in its description of a single scene or action. Don't say what it means to you, but make us feel your emotion through the intensity of the imagery and shaping of the lines.

3. The poem "Autopsy" has a feature that is almost sonnet-like. The first sentence (running 13 lines) describes an action and the character's thoughts; then, the poem "turns" like a sonnet and an eight-line sentence concludes the poem with the speaker's thoughts expressed more directly to us, the readers. Like Milth, the poem is almost entirely concrete--not abstract, not filled with words that name values or judgments. Its statement is implicit, rather than explicit. Read the poem carefully, following the same steps outlined in Prompt #2.

Now, write a poem (on any subject) that follows this mode of concrete description and this structure: a long sentence of action or description, followed by a shorter sentence of conclusion.

4. If you are bilingual, write a poem using two languages. You may want to describe something, or you may want to write on the subject of mis/communication or translation. Emulate Turner's concrete language (images & events, not statements and abstractions). You may want to combine this idea with some other writing prompt.

5. On the blog, read the poems by Jigerkhwen (Sheikh Mus Hasan Muhamad) and Hashim Shafiq < >. Choose one as your model and write an anaphoric catalog poem of either ideas or images.

Creative prompts for Tory Dent's HIV, Mon Amor

In the interview with Grace Cavalieri, Tory Dent said writing "cheered her up" because in writing she was always learning something, finding surprise, just as a healthy person does, in a normal life. Bear this in mind, as you work on your poem.

1. In the interview, Dent says the Magnetic Poetry Kit poems are a metaphor for her situation, because she must write someting interesting or beautiful out of a limited vocabulary, a limited set of possibilities--and she never cheats by including other words. They are also close, in spirit, to other exercises in writing with a predetermined lexicon. If you have a kit, write a poem with it--a "real poem," about a subject that compels you. If you don't have a kit, write a poem with one of the lexicon exercises.You might want to use the lexicon of one of Dent's poems, even one of her Magnetic Poetry Kit poems.

2. In the workshops Dent attended, they learned largely by writing imitations. Choose a stanza or section of one of her poems and anyalize it. Mark the metaphors and similes, particularly how they fold out of each other and continue lines of thought via metaphor. Mark literal or descriptive images. Mark direct articulation of ideas and feelings. Mark proper names, allusions to art and to ideas beyond the poet's immediate experience. Now, note the line length and how the lines end and break. Do they enjamb? How long are the sentences. Listen to the sounds of the poem and note both harmonies and contrasts, rhythms and speed as you read it aloud. Make notes about how each of these elements contributes to meaning. OK, now imitate it. Choose a subject from your own life and some concrete, descriptive imagery that makes us use our senses. Create at least one allusion that is meaningful to you. Make slant rhymes, rhythms, any kind of sound play--and use that as a form of meaning. Don't be afraid of either direct statement or metaphoric statement. Your poem need not be long, but your lines should be; and the poem should be dense with meanings and emotions.

3. Use the Analytic Dictionary to create a metaphoric definition, in the spirit of Dent's adventurous similes and extended metaphors.

Creative prompts for Fiona Templeton's Cells of Release

Don't forget your notes: how does your work relate to the book we've read? what was your writing process?

This assignment is due on Tuesday, April 29, our last class meeting.

Write on site. Choose a place with particular resonance for you--a place that incites strong emotion or a place where something happened that you find particularly moving, interesting, or upsetting. Don't choose a place that calls up sentimental or nostalgic feelings, unless those feelings are mixed with other, more conflicted emotions. Or, if you would rather not work with personal associations, choose a place of inherent conflict or public debate--e.g. the Vietnam War Memorial, the scene of a crime, Lafayette Park (traditional site of political demonstrations), Arlington Cemetery, the sidewalk in front of an embassy, the Manassas Battlefield Park.

Stretch yourself: choose a place you feel not quite equal to writing about.

Before you go, prepare yourself in two ways: by reading a little about the place or the events associated with it, and by looking up the etymology of at least three words associated with the place or its events. Use the Oxford English Dictionary (available online via GMU library databases-the path is Databases> Literature & Language>alphabetical list). Collect all the definitions, roots, and idiomatic phrases you can find in association with each word.

On site, write continuously for an hour, in ink. Don't erase, correct, or go back. Write in short lines--either down the page (as Templeton's text appears in the book) or with large spaces between each "line" (as Templeton's text was written on site).

Incorporate into your writing any or all of: historical notes & information about the place; etymologies, definitions, & word lists; observations of what the place looks like / sounds like / smells like, etc., and of what you observe around you; how your body feels while you are writing. Let your writing move through a range of thoughts, responses, emotions, memories, images. Use no abstract nouns, unless you are working with their definitions and etymologies.

Try to be legible! Photocopy the results and turn in to me either the copy or the original--don't turn in your only copy.

Header for creative responses:

Your Name
Poet’s Name

# of the prompt you are responding to, if you got it off the list on the updates page
OR name of the exercise you are using, if you got off the creative prompts page or my lists of writing exercises


Joan Jumpingjack


Joan Jumpingjack
Analytic Dictionary

George Mason University

English 390:001

Spring 2008

Tuesday &

Enterprise 275

Susan Tichy 

Robinson A 455A


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