Throughout April, I tweeted a poetry writing prompt from the @FirstCutPoetry account to (hopefully) encourage people who write 30 poems in 30 days for National/Global Poetry Writing Month 2022.
Below I’ve listed all 30 prompts – some are classics, some are more novel, but hopefully one or two will inspire you. Feel free to share your efforts in the comments if you so wish. Happy writing! x
1/30 Write a poem in which your feelings or actions don’t match the occasion.
Think crying at parties, laughing at funerals. Aim to create the most jarring juxtaposition possible.
2/30 Write a circular poem.
Begin with an image or statement and close your poem with that exact same image or statement. Something has to have happened in between to make us understand the same words or image in a different light when we get to the end.
3/30 Write an abecedarian poem.
This is a poem with a structure derived from the alphabet. There are a couple of ways of doing this. You could write a poem of 26 words, in which each word begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. Or you could write a poem of 26 lines, where each line begins with a successive letter.
4/30 Write a poem made up completely of lies, except make one line the truth.
A 10-line poem is a good idea (9 lies, 1 truth) but, of course, your poem can be as long or short as you like.
5/30 Write a hay(na)ku.
A hay(na)ku consists of a three-line stanza, where the first line has one word, the second line has two words, and the third line has three words. You can write just one, or chain several together into a longer poem. This is an exercise in the art of micro-poetry. Every word matters, so choose wisely!
6/30 Write a chromatic treatise.
Write a poem of any length, in any form, exclusively about a colour. This could be a praise poem about your favourite colour, a list of richly colourful imagery, or a poem deriding a hue that you loathe. To challenge yourself further, do not name your colour! Think about what Maggie Nelson’s Bluets would be like if she wasn’t allowed to use the word ‘blue.’
7/30 Write a poem about the worst job you’ve ever had.
You can use this opportunity to play with aspects of humour or horror (or both!)
8/30 Write a poem of negation.
We often use metaphors and similes to describe what something is like – today’s challenge is to write a poem that involves describing something in terms of what it is not, or not like.
9/30 Write a poem that uses anaphora.
Anaphora is a rhetorical poetic device that essentially boils down to mean repetition. By repeating a phrase at the beginning of clauses, you create emphasis. If you repeat at the end of clauses, the effect is one of epistrophe.
Find a phrase from today’s newspaper, a random line in a book, a tweet that’s stuck with you, or a few words you wrote yourself that you’ve always loved, and stick with it, repeating the same phrase throughout your new poem, pushing its literal definitions into different contexts. You can use anaphora and epistrophe to create symploce. Find out how far that one key phrase can go.
10/30 Write a poem in the form of a hymn or prayer.
Today we’re taking inspiration from First Cut poet Gabriel Hart, and his recently released poetry collection Hymns from the Whipping Post. Of course, you don’t have to begin with ‘Dear God’ or address your poem to any specific deity. A lot of great prayer poems simply begin with the word ‘Let…’
11/30 Write a meta-poem.
Pretty straightforward but sure to produce interesting results: write a poem about a poem. This could be a poem in response to your favourite poem, exploring the same themes; it could be about how a certain poem made/makes you feel when you read it; it could be about the act of writing a poem. Don’t forget to credit the author of the poem you’re writing about if you pull words/lines directly from the source!
12/ 30 Write a poem in the form of a list.
There are endless variations on the listicle. Be creative! For inspiration, here are some of the titles of list poems written by First Cut poet, HLR:
– Things He Said in Bed
– Things That Made Me Cry This Week
– Mundane Things That Immediately Make Me Think of a Specific Dead Person
– 7 Non-Academic Lessons I Learned at University
– Just a Few of the Reasons Why This Will Never Fucking Work
13/30 Write a poem specific to a place.
Today we’re taking inspiration from First Cut poet Steve Lambert, who writes brilliant location-specific poems, with titles such as ‘In Eynsham’, ‘In Canterbury’, ‘In Stratford’ and ‘At The Holiday Inn, Ashford, Canterbury Road.’
Focus on recreating the location with such detail that the reader feels they’ve visited the location themselves.
14/30 Write a poem inspired by a reference book.
Seek inspiration from words, phrases, facts or full entries that you find in dictionaries, a thesaurus, encyclopaedias, history books, old college textbooks, writing craft books, user manuals, travel guides, the DSM-V…
15/30 Write a self-portrait poem.
Title your poem, “Self-Portrait with ______” and start writing from there.
This could be a surface level portrait poem, where you look in a mirror and really study your face to write about your appearance or your current physical circumstance, or it can be more abstract, and you can use the title as a starting point for deeper introspection.
Here are some examples for inspiration:
– Self-Portrait with Unwashed Hair
– Self-Portrait with a Black Eye
– Self-Portrait with Lukewarm Cup of Tea
– Self-Portrait with the Curtains Drawn
– Self-Portrait with Migraine and No Sleep
– Self-Portrait with 32p in my Bank Account and 5 days until Pay Day.
16/30 Write a praise poem about a food or drink.
This one is self-explanatory. A praise poem is one of tribute, that expresses gratitude and admiration for and pays homage to a specific subject. Today I’d like you to hype up your favourite food/drink. Write about what would be your Death Row Dinner, or the best birthday cake you’ve ever eaten, or your grandmother’s secret recipe.
Bonus points if your food/drink is something a little odd or niche or unpopular. Make your reader desperate to try out whatever weird concoction you swear is the best thing you’ve ever tasted.
17/30 Write a poem of instruction or dis-instruction.
An opportunity to tell the world how or how not to do something. This could take the form of a recipe or instruction manual, a didactic imparting of lessons learned, or just a good old-fashioned rant. Teach your readers how it’s done (or not).
18/30 Write a eulogy.
Inspired by First Cut poet Steven J. Golds’ trilogy of novels, collectively titled The Dead, The Dying and The Gone, today I challenge you to write a eulogy, specifically one that is dedicated to something or someone dead, dying or gone.
This sounds deep, but it doesn’t have to be: you could write a eulogy for the coat you left behind in a nightclub three winters ago. Or, if you like deep, write your own eulogy: what would you want people to say about you after you’re gone?
19/30 Write a poem that uses slang/diction/a regional phrase specific to where you’re from.
You could use a traditional aphorism that’s said and believed in by everyone in your family, explore something nonsensical like “it’s raining cats and dogs”, or use a combination of words from the different languages you speak.
20/30 Create an erasure or blackout poem.
No National Poetry Writing Month is complete without the mandatory erasure/blackout poetry prompt! This involves choosing an original source (this could be someone else’s poem, one of your own, a newspaper article, the information on the back of a cereal box, any text that interests you), and ‘erasing’ select words from the original text to create a new work. Don’t forget to credit your original source material.
21/30 Write a poem that takes the form of a dialogue.
Your conversation could be between real people, or be personifications, as in Marvell’s ‘A Dialogue Between the Soul and the Body’, or Yeats’ ‘A Dialogue of Self and Soul.’ You can alternate stanzas between your two speakers or give each speaker alternating lines. Hopefully, this prompt will give you a chance to represent different points of view in the same poem, or possibly to create a dramatic sense of movement and tension within the poem.
Open the closest book to you. Go to page 39. Count down 7 lines. Whatever is there is the first line or the title of your poem.
23/30 Write a poem of origin.
This could be a poem of ‘firsts.’ It could be a retelling of your origin story, about your parents and familial history. Or it could be a poem that reveals how you came to be where you are and who you are in the world right now.
Write down 6 things you did yesterday. Write down 6 questions you have about life. Write down 6 interesting images. (The more detailed, the better). Choose 2 from each category and use them in a poem.
25/30 Write an American Sentence and use it as your title or opening line.
Allen Ginsberg invented the American Sentence – a condensed sentence of exactly 17 syllables, which “offers us the beauty and brevity of haiku but removes the strict line limits.”
Write your own American Sentence (a quick internet search will give you plenty of examples) and use that sharp observation as the title or opening line of your poem today. If you want to challenge yourself further, write a poem entirely comprised of American Sentences.
26/ 30 Write a poem that fits in one (1) tweet.
Write a poem containing a maximum of 280 characters including spaces. Brevity is key!
27/30 Write a poem titled ‘The Lost Art of _____.’
Today’s prompt is inspired by First Cut poet Scott Cumming, whose poem ‘The Lost Art of Air Guitar’ is featured in his debut collection, A Chapbook About Nothing. What’s something that’s gone out of fashion, or something that you used to enjoy that you want to bring back? Write a poem advocating for its return!
28/30 Write a fortune cookie poem.
Write a poem that reads like a series of predictions that you’d expect to find inside a fortune cookie.
Whether you choose to write damning prophesies or silly horoscope forecasts, each line can be as cryptic, foreboding or bizarre as you like, just make sure they’re concise enough to be able to fit on a tiny slip of paper.
29/30 Automatic writing prompt!
Set a timer for 2, 5 or 10 minutes. Close your eyes. Write freehand onto paper or type in a blank document whatever pops into your head. And I mean, everything and anything that crosses your mind, whatever you think of during those few minutes, even if it’s silly or doesn’t make sense. Just free-write, letting your hand(s) do the work, not worrying about spelling or grammar or punctuation or line breaks.
When the time is up, take a look at what you’ve written. I guarantee you’ll find at least one word or thought amid the mess that you can use as a starting point for a poem. You may even be happy with your stream-of-consciousness effort, and with a little editing, you might have yourself a poem that simply wrote itself.
30/30 Write a palindrome/mirror poem.
A palindromic poem has an initial set of lines that then reverse order halfway through the piece without alterations to the word order within the line. That is, something which reads the same way when read from start to finish and it does from finish to start, like a mirrored reflection. ‘Drawn Onward’ by Caroline Bird is a great example (bonus points for the title being a palindrome too).
Rules for writing palindrome poetry:
- You must use the same words in the first half of the poem as the second half, but
- Reverse the order for the second half, and
- Use a word in the middle as a bridge from the first half to the second half of the poem.
This one is tricky to master and often takes a lot of tinkering, but the end result can be worth it if you persevere.
“You’re always smiling”.
Of course I am. I learned it long ago,
To fend off the anger, the curses,
The insults and slaps
Sometimes it even worked.
Old habits die hard
And now today,
Even when all is turning to shit
I smile, as each piece of me dies in silence.