August Poetry Prompts

Prompts are drawn from the media—print, broadcast or social.

Terry Wolverton offered these prompts to collaborating poet Sesshu Foster:

Hell’s Zip Code (

Dreams Worth More than Money (album title, Meek Mill)

Slavery to Vegetables (

“I’m No Longer Afraid” ( cut)

Collaborating poet Sesshu Foster offered these prompts to Terry Wolverton:

CA Conrad (Soma)tic Poetry prompt: Pick any (soma)tic poetry prompt by CA, this was one I could find at

Confetti Allegiance
Is there a deceased poet who was alive in your lifetime but you never met, and you wish you had met? A poet you would LOVE to correspond with, but it’s too late? Take notes about this missed opportunity. What is your favorite poem by this poet? Write it on unlined paper by hand (no typing). If we were gods we wouldn’t need to invent beautiful poems, and that’s why our lives are more interesting, and that’s why the gods are always meddling in our affairs out of boredom. It’s like the fascination the rich have with the poor, as Alice Notley says, “the poor are more interesting than others, almost uniformly.” This poem was written by a human poet, and we humans love our poets, if we have any sense. Does something strike flint in you from the process of engaging your body to write this poem you know and love? Notes, notes, take notes.
The poet for me in doing this exercise is Jim Brodey and his poem “Little Light,” which he wrote in the bathtub while listening to the music of Eric Dolphy, masturbating in the middle of the poem, “while the soot-tinted noise of too-full streets echoes / and I pick up the quietly diminishing soap & do / myself again.” Take your handwritten version of the poem and cut it into tiny confetti. Heat olive oil in a frying pan and toss the confetti poem in. Add garlic, onion, parsnip, whatever you want, pepper it, salt it, serve it over noodles or rice. Eat the delicious poem with a nice glass of red wine, pausing to read it out loud and toast the poet, “MANY APOLOGIES FOR NOT TOASTING YOU WHEN YOU WERE ALIVE!” Take notes while slowly chewing the poem. Chew slowly so your saliva breaks the poem down before it slides into your belly to feed your blood and cells of your body. Gather your notes, write your poem.
Love Letter to Jim Brodey

  •                                                                         Dear Jim


    those whose

    acid trips were a success

    only twice

    I’ve met men who

    are high exactly

    as they are sober

    both became my lovers

    both died one like

    you died Jim he

    played music too

    loud at parties to

    gather us into a

    single frequency feel

    healed for the length

    of a song

    nothing works forever

    there was something in

    the air that year Jim

    and you put it there

    a rapt center in

    pivot looking

    to face

    love again

    learning to

    accept what’s offered

    without guilt

    to be reminded

    of nothing

    my favorite day not dragging

    the dead around

    they’re looking

    for Lorca in the Valley

    of the Fallen

    Franco’s thugs would understand

    “developing countries” means

    getting them ready for

    mining diamonds drilling oil

    teaching them to make a

    decent cup of coffee for

    visiting executives

    if I’m not going

    to live like this

    anymore I must will

    every cell to

    stand away

    the History of Madness

    725 pages is too much to

    not be normal

    scorn is very


    I’m vegetarian unless

    angels are on the

    menu mouth watering

    deep fried wings

    shove greasy bones in

    their trumpets

    the cost of

    scorn is

    often unexpected

    I see my fascist

    neighbor from downstairs

    “Did my boyfriend and

    I make too much

    noise last night?”

    his glare the

    YES that keeps

    me smiling

    1. a prompt from Bernadette Mayer’s famous list:

    * Write what cannot be written; for example, compose an index.

    1. a scientific one:

    Funding Medical Research

    • Role: medical scientist
    • Audience: prospective donors
    • Format: fundraising letter
    • Topic: contribute money for research
    • Strong Verb: persuade

    You are a medical scientist who is working to discover cures for different diseases. Your research requires special equipment and materials that are quite expensive. Write a fundraising letter to possible donors, persuading them to contribute money to your work.


    Greatest Scientist of All Time

    • Role: you
    • Audience: scientist from a past era
    • Format: written interview
    • Topic: the greatest contribution to science
    • Strong Verb: write and document

    You have the opportunity to travel in a time machine into any past era of history. Choose a date and place to meet the person who, in your opinion, has made the greatest contibution to science. Write out the interview questions you will ask this scientist and document his or her answers. You will publish your interiew when you return to the present.

    1. any prompt from jerome rothenberg’s Technician’s of the Sacred:

    (here’s one)

    Looking for a way to spark your writing with imagery? Here’s a great suggestion from Sheila Bender. Though the exercise is taken from her book Writing Personal Poetry, any writer can put it to use. Bender writes:

    Recently I was standing on a hillside I had looked at years ago from a window at a writers conference. At that conference, I learned a useful exercise from my teacher Robert Hass, who went on to become the United States poet laureate. At the time, he was studying various culture’s poetry using a book called Technicians of the Sacred. In Africa, he taught us, a tribe called the Bantu has an oral poetic tradition they exercise while working. One person says a line and, in the rhythm of the work, another answers with an assocaition that shows the likeness between two objects or perceptions. “An elephant’s tusk cracking” could get the response, “The voice of an angry man.” That day, I looked at the hillside, saw wind in the grass and wrote, “Wind through the grass,” and answered with the line, “I have the feeling you have written.” Here are two-line bantus that students of mine have written in response to this exercise:

    Wire hangers on a bar in the closet

    Wild geese walking by a lake

    Children in a circle on the floor

    The beaded necklace

    Lizard rustles the jasmine leaves

    Father turning pages of “The Sunday NY Times”

    The full moon at midnight

    China dinner plate in a dark kitchen

    Write your own bantus, as many as you can. Try to evoke experiences of sound, taste and smell as well as touch and sight. This exercise is very much like metaphor and simile, but you are free of the need to make images grammatically correct and the results can be haunting.

    We invite readers to write poems in response to one or more prompts (or the fevered writing that results from these prompts) and submit  in the Comments section. The best Reader Poem we receive by August 31 will be awarded a $25 prize.


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