Here are a couple of prompts we’ve used at VoiceCATCH the over the last few weeks. Although both exercises are taken from poetry books, they work for fiction/nonfiction as well. Enjoy!
1. The Night Aunt Dottie…
This prompt is taken from David Wojahn’s “The Night Aunt Dottie Caught Elvis’s Handkerchief When He Tossed It from the Stage of The Sands in Vegas.”
Write about a time a family member met someone famous. Your piece can be true or fictional, but the encounter must be plausible. As Wojahn writes, Cousin Ed cannot meet Genghis Kahn. Also, the main character should be the family member rather than the famous person.
Hopefully, this exercise will yield a new understanding of the family member’s life and personality, and in the context of a larger world that may or may not include the author. For the full prompt and wrap-up, please read Wojahn’s entry in The Practice of Poetry, eds. Robin Behn and Chase Twichell.
2. Why I Am Not a Painter
This exercise is adapted from Robert Pinsky’s Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters.
Read Frank O’Hara’s “Why I Am Not a Painter.”
a. (Beginners to Intermediate) Begin a piece titled Why I Am ____, Why I Am Not ____, How ____, or Three Ways That ____.
b. (Advanced) The phrases above imply a kind of promise. For example, if one writes, “Why I Am a Teacher,” the reader assumes the author is indeed a teacher. If one writes “How to Make a Million Dollars,” the reader assumes the author will tell the reader how to make a large amount of money. Use one of the phrases in section “a” above to make this kind of promise, and then, as Pinsky writes, “break or defy the promise, or complicate it.”
For further consideration, we also read the opening stanzas of Marianne Moore’s “Poetry,” and her revised version featured here in an article by Pinsky. Both begin, “Poetry / I, too, dislike it.” Note how Moore complicates writing about poetry by stating her dislike for it in the very first line.