There are a lot more places online and in books to find writing prompts than there were when Poets Online first appeared in 1998. What we hoped to offer with the website was not just a prompt and a model poem, but the possibility to publish your response to the prompt online. Twenty years ago, putting your poem online did not really count as being “published” in the eyes of journals and other print publications. That has changed. First publishing a poem on many online journals (Poets Online included) counts as publication. And a number of new and established magazines and journals have become accepted as respected online publishers. (Narrative and Mudlark are examples.)
Poets & Writers Magazine (PW) offers prompts. Here’s one:
It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk…
writes Frank O’Hara at the start of one of his lunch poems, “A Step Away From Them.”
So often, we miss out on the potential for inspiration from our daily routines, passing muses on morning commutes, lunch breaks, or evening strolls. PW suggested as a prompt that you go out into your neighborhood with no set destination, carrying a notepad, and invent background narratives, involve your senses, and record sounds and overheard phrases. For your poem, start with the time of day (“It’s eight in the morning,” or “It’s my lunch hour,” or “It’s midnight”) and take the reader through the streets with you.
And Leslie Schwartz wrote at PW that “Mary Oliver used to walk in the woods with a notebook. Walking so inspired her that she kept pens in the trees so if an idea or thought came to her, she’d be able to stop and write it down. Like Mary Oliver, my inspiration almost always occurs while I am walking, not while I am sitting at a stodgy old desk in my messy office where the enemies of thought—phones and computers—lie in wait to distract me. It is while walking that most of my writing takes place. Something about being on the trail in the early morning with the hawks, the owls, and coyotes inspires me. “
Mary Oliver’s prose poem “How I Go to the Woods” describes that walking.
This month, we ask you to literally go for a walk in your neighborhood, be it suburban or urban streets, or the nearby park or woods, in search of the figurative. Observe. Take notes. Treat it like a mini version of a walkabout or spirit walk, and perhaps you will find your spirit animal, guide or poetic inspiration.
POETS ONLINE offers you the opportunity to submit your poetic response to this current prompt. All submissions that address this prompt will be read and considered for posting on this site. Before your first submission, you should read some poems in our archive to get a sense of the types of responses people have had to previous prompts. We will only consider poems that are in response to this current writing prompt.