Creating poetry prompts is often considered an art form, one where you have to be uber creative by coming up with quirky and specific prods for the writer’s imagination.
But hold on here a minute. What about the cliché as poetry prompt? Behind every mundane phrase first uttered by, say, Aristotle, there’s a truth teeming with particulars.
Let’s take the expression “life goes on” as a for instance, shall we? Because there’s a year, month, day, hour, and minute out there with our names on it—the moment we will take our last breaths, I mean—and when that happens, life surely will go on, completely indifferent to that preciousness we know as ourselves.
Question is, if I tasked you with a list of specifics on ways life would go on (and I mean particulars that are particular to you and not, say, to Aunt Kate in Kansas), you would envision something peculiar to your own life (external geography) and mind (internal geography).
In short, by zooming in on the little things first, writing, and then going back to give these truths a dose of figurative touch-ups, you’d soon have a poem not unlike Faith Shearin’s below.
As a starting point, Shearin chooses that universal filler-topic, the weather. She cites items entire years have been famous for (droughts, floods) and items you might see on any given day (“weathervanes, dizzy on top of farmhouses”).
Either way, zooming in or panning out, it works if the imagery is sharp, specific, and treated in a novel way. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the cliché comes alive. And though weather is the overarching theme in her particular paean to life moving along, most any broad topic could be to yours.
Read it as an exemplar, then give it a go. How will life go on when you make your exit, stage left? Might as well take your chance to produce and direct it now. You’ll have little control once you’re through that exit door!
There is weather on the day you are born
and weather on the day you die. There is
the year of drought, and the year of floods,
when everything rises and swells,
the year when winter will not stop falling,
and the year when summer lightning
burns the prairie, makes it disappear.
There are the weathervanes, dizzy
on top of farmhouses, hurricanes
curled like cats on a map of sky:
there are cows under the trees outlined
in flies. There is the weather that blows
a stranger into town and the weather
that changes suddenly: an argument,
a sickness, a baby born
too soon. Crops fail and a field becomes
a study in hunger; storm clouds
billow over the sea;
tornadoes appear like the drunk
trunks of elephants. People talking about
weather are people who don’t know what to say
and yet the weather is what happens to all of us:
the blizzard that makes our neighborhoods
strange, the flood that carries away
our plans. We are getting ready for the weather,
or cleaning up after the weather, or enduring
the weather. We are drenched in rain
or sweat: we are looking for an umbrella,
a second mitten; we are gathering
wood to build a fire.