Prompt #10: In the Company of Strangers…

Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog #200

“Take the phrase ‘In the Company of [blank],’ and replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then write your poem.  Possible titles might include: “In the Company of Strangers,” “In the Company of Poets,” and “In the Company of Abraham Lincoln.” 


Prompt #9: Paying Homage

Do you have a favorite poem?  Something that speaks to your heart, always giving you a little zing every time you read it?

For me, just about anything by Khalil Gibran moves me.  I realize that his poetry may have fallen out of ‘fashion,’ or worse, that modern poets find him sentimental.  That doesn’t change the way his work moves me.

Consider your own favorite poem [I realize you may have to narrow your search down arbitrarily].

Then choose a line.  Use it as the first line of your new poem.

I liked the line “Humanity rages like a tempest, but I sigh in silence,” from Gribran.  Feel free to search through and .


Prompt #8: The End… or Telling a story in Reverse

Our brains are uniquely wired to follow narratives.  We love stories.
But sometimes stories don’t unfold naturally, with a beginning, middle, and end.

Try to tell a story in reverse, with the last thing first.  For added depth, consider one of the poetry forms we explored earlier in the month.

Here’s one example I’ve been experimenting with:

Two Fathers and a Birthday

 His reaction was instant,
the flush sweeping up his face—
I image the tiny capillaries bursting from the force.
His hands balled fists,
the nails digging dried and dead cells from the centers of his palms.

Causal Relationship I
A kick, lashing out, not even from the hip, just the knee,
as if tapped by a reflex hammer,
sweeping the feet out from under the tiny body
that slammed into the floor,
the air compressed from lungs
so that the ragged cry was delayed.

Causal Relationship II
At four he should’ve known better,
but daddy pointed and smiled
and it seemed so funny just to hall back and hit that guy in the balls,
the guy who was teasing him,
and daddy didn’t like him anyway,
so that’s just what he did,
just hauled back like a pitcher on the mound,
let his fist go like a rock flying from a sling shot.

Causal Relationship III
Her chubby fists clutched at his ears, a tree-monkey,
and he had both hands full of her knees so that she wouldn’t go
tilting backwards.  She felt safe,
which was all that really mattered.
He teased the four-year-old who had picked
on his daughter, calling him four-year-old names like
pooper-scooper, and dookie-head.
He didn’t see the fist coming.

Causal Relationship IV
The sling-shot fist landed with precision,
was rewarded with a high-five,
while daddy with a tree-monkey struggled NOT to buckle,
his face a Dali.

I sat on the couch, considering another piece of cake,
mildly concerned that the 55 gallon fish tank
might be the real ‘victim’ in all of this if it didn’t survive,
and I couldn’t wait for the whole slew to get the
hell out of my house.


Prompt #7: Headlines

I’ve often heard fiction writers espouse the benefits of using the day’s headlines to inspire their next story.  But this could as easily work for poets.  Here are some recent headlines from the Wichita Eagle:

“Girlfriend describes how boyfriend disappeared after police chase”

“Volunteers take on scourge of Wichita parks”

“Simplicity leads to surprising depth in the “Life of Objects”

It might not be the headline that inspires you, but instead a particular sign or advertisement.  Have fun looking at the world around you with new eyes.


Prompt #6: Names

Norma E. Contu writes that “Names are power … the more we know about our names, the more we know about ourselves.  Just as we assume various roles during our lives (daughter, sister, aunt, mother, teacher, friend, etc.), each one of us bears various names throughout our lifetime” (42).  [Naming the World edited by Bret Anthony Johnston].

What roles have fascinated you? Are there roles which conflict?  Write a poem, perhaps in two voices, addressing Names and/or roles.

Prompt #5: Animalia

While I wish that all of the prompts sprang whole from my brain, there really is only so much ‘quality’ up in there.  Writer’s Digest can be a great resource for poets, especially Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog.

This is #209.  “Write a poem somehow influenced by an animal.  The animal could be the title of the poem, the subject of the poem, a bit part in the poem.  Dive into what it means to be animal or non-animal.”

Prompt #4: Water

I can’t explain my fascination with water.  It appears in many of my poems from Sand River (note the title) and many of the cities I’ve called home have been next to large bodies of water.

Recently I purchased a yoga video by Shiva Rea.  She believes that since our bodies are primarily made up of water, this liquid inherently influences our very spirits.  Water also often spiritually represents baptism and rebirth in many poems.  Write a poem that explores water ways in your life.

Prompt #3: Memory

In The Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit, 1995

“Poems are often generated by memories that haunt us—memories that suddenly return out of the blue, or memories that are familiar companions and part of the fabric of our lives—memories that are too precious and sweet not to be recorded, or that are so painful they cry out to be exorcised.  … Many inexperienced poets also imagine that the language of poetry must be ultra-romantic and theatrical, but a poetry which is too richly embellished with hyperventilated language, inflated sentiments, and abstruse verbiage is in grave danger of sounding artificial or just plain foolish.” (8-10)

Go back in time and describe a memory.  Similar to earlier encouragement, avoid sentimentality.  Don’t try to give meaning to the event or explain WHY something occurred.  Concentrate instead on what happened, walking yourself honestly through the memory, avoiding over embellishment or exaggeration.

Prompt #2: The Journey

I am a terrible traveler.  I want to BE THERE ALREADY.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a road trip to Texas, or a flight to California.  While vaguely intrigued by the idea of taking a train, I am realistic enough to know that I’ll probably dislike that as well.  Is there a trip in your past worth revisiting?  Is it really, then, the journey that matters, not the destination?


Prompt #1: Pillory

  1. pil·lo·ries

A wooden framework on a post, with holes for the head and hands, in which offenders were formerly locked to be exposed to public scorn as punishment.

tr.v. pil·lo·ried, pil·lo·ry·ing, pil·lo·ries

  1. To expose to ridicule and abuse.
  2. To put in a pillory as punishment.


We are using that 2nd idea of “pillory,” to expose someone to ridicule and abuse (perhaps as punishment?)

I know, there are those gentle writers that will hate this prompt because they would never want to say a mean thing about anyone.  But the tradition of pillorying someone dates back before Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

We all have that person we secretly despise.  Write a poem about that person, either as if you are speaking to them, OR as you imagine they might think.  Write a poem with that figure as your central character.

Caveat: It may be appropriate NOT to share this poem in the comment section below—especially as someone else might be able to identify this person.  We want to tap in to that angst for great writing, but we DON’T want to hurt or embarrass anyone else.