Poetry Tips & Prompts
By Marilyn L. Taylor
In order to fix anything the way it ought to be fixed—cars, plumbing, poetry—you need the proper tools. Here are three that every serious poet should have in arms reach:
1. A good thesaurus. Not the skinny paperback kind; you already know all those words, don’t you? Instead, make it a big, doorstop-sized hardcover edition, organized in a manner that’s easiest for you to use. Remember, thesauruses are not all alike. Go to a good bookstore, compare them, and bring home your favorite.
2. A good anthology of English and American poetry that spans the centuries. For starters (and you can branch out later), choose one that’s comprehensive, as opposed to one that privileges a particular point of view, or point in time. The Norton Anthology of Poetry and the Longman Anthology of Poetry, for example, are both excellent standbys, frequently updated, and they also include invaluable information on the history of poetry and the intricacies of prosody.
3. A good guide to the forms and conventions of poetry. Even if you prefer to write wildly unconventional poems that pay zero attention to traditions and forms, trust me-- you still need a book like this. A few of the best ones: The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (Alex Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan, eds.); The New Book of Forms (Lewis Turco); The Poetry Dictionary (John Drury). There are many more. Whichever one you choose, I would like you to please repeat after me: I should know the rules before breaking them! Very good. Thank you.
1. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about relationships. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with warfare for the words having to do with sex.
2. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about love. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with government for the words of amorousness.
3. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about god and religion. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with a political figure whose policy you oppose for the words referring to faith and god.