Install Theme

14/30: Parameters & Process // All Hail The King

imageToday’s exercise: emphasizing process itself, and/or generating exciting new material, using parameters. Parameters are part of any conceptual art, as well.

This works really well if you can go outside and be in the world, moving about a bit from one setting to another. Give yourself a particular parameter, one such that when you encounter it you will immediately stop what you are doing and start writing, influenced by your surroundings and observations, or even in mid-thought. Try to avoid the use of cliches and canned phrases, and don’t be afraid of spontaneous new directions and weirdness. One example that worked well for me when I was in an international space (Lisbon, last summer) was to write every time I heard an unfamiliar language. Your parameters could be interpreted loosely, or more strictly, this is your exercise for you to design. You might do it by time, things you encounter, the point is to have some organizing factor to when you start writing (and when you write, finish out thoughts to your liking and then move on to the next time that parameter happens). You might generate some interesting material to be edited away from the exercise, OR, the exercise, the parameter itself, might become part of the piece in terms of conceptual work. One of my responses to “when I heard a foreign language” was a bunch of lyrical lines, and the next one was just a long list of every color I saw, and the next was trying to describe a conversation I was witnessing. It’s up to you to name the parameters of your world and then navigate them. This can also be yet another way to get at the idea of an “organizing principle” or a “mode of inquiry” for the piece.

Works equally for poetry and prose.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: Kenzie Allen (Lisbon graffiti)

14/30: All Hail The King

"… I couldn’t have
gotten there without all the
IRS rigamarole but once
I got there I could export it
as an excel file and work on it
from my computer. This is
the first good payoff. Tea-infused
Titos vodka, mango puree, fresh
O.J., agave nectar. All along
they’ve said we want
to know the real answer,
not what the higher ups
want to hear, but this data
has nothing but science
to back it up and we’re


(A bar-poem about Elvis’ impending arrival. ;D )

13/30: Overheard Conversations // Sometimes the Dreams Make Me Angry


Today’s exercise / process suggestion: chronic over-listening. Find a coffee shop, public place, etc, any space wherein you might overhear a nearby conversation. Take notes. This is a good technique for honing dialogue (becoming attuned to the natural turns in conversation), attaining a particular / specific voice or diction, subject matter for stories, or just verbatim, mouth-blurted poetry. 

As with any found poetry or found element, consider the ethics and your position within the work. Anonymize or change names, combine several observations into one, change some details, actually introduce yourself to the person and explain your project, depending on the situation and your own position within it, you might have to make some caveats, at your own discretion. With my recent Sorority Girl piece, I ended up deciding it was vague enough to leave everything intact, but I did consider the ramification and the ethics of what I was writing. You might be creepin’ a little, so don’t make anyone uncomfortable, and be generous toward your subjects and subject matter.

Becoming a keen observer of your surroundings is really the key to any artistic material based on human life. So take this exercise as an excuse to open those ears and that peripheral vision, for some elements of found poetry (/prose).

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: Rttmsdag


13/30: Sometimes the Dreams Make Me Angry

"so that I wake up hating the lump of you
snoring and the covers you’ve thrown off.
Sometimes a new man comes to me, says
Can I kiss you now like if I said don’t 
he would anyway, and I let him, and he


12/30: Dead Poet’s Society // Vienna

imageToday’s exercise: Dead Poet’s Society, or, a walk in the footsteps of a dead poet. Choose a work by a dead poet, and push yourself toward people you wouldn’t normally try to emulate, perhaps. Write exactly in the manner (grammar, syntax, meter, rhyme scheme, as much or little as you choose) they did. Keep your first draft, and then, revise this into a new poem, away from the exercise. :) The idea here is that you are learning some new available choices, what is possible in the language. (Memorizing poems is another good way to understand their sound.)

So here’s an old one of mine, in response to this assignment, after Thomas Hardy’s “Neutral Tones”

Mother Jones

Everything’s shit—so the anarchists say.
With our sunspots, and hotshops, we pave the road
toward Square Times, where the human statues stay
                  stock still, waiting for a flashbulb.

Cut print, a woman in Tokyo wakes
and smears on ganguro, and bakes her skin
bright orange. Classic yamamba mistake,
                  as though painting a tailspin.

Everything’s a billboard, a poster, an ad,
childhood illness, housewives undaunted,
and what’s your angle, Leningrad?
                  Nothing is like I wanted.

The end is really fucking nigh!,
sprayed red across the subway innards.
That things keep moving betrays the lie,
                  and the two-way mirror.

This one might work better for poetry, but, I think you could also make it work for prose, especially if you unlineate the poem first, or try to mimic the effect of line breaks within the prose. Another one from David Mason and others.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: Kenzie Allen (Fredricksburg, TX)


12/30: Vienna

"Skip the dinner plans.
Find the old man with no less
than fourteen vodkas already in
his belly, one hundred and seventy five
horsepower in his motored steed,
a witchwoman’s twinkle and directions
to what you seek. You won’t believe him—
twelve steps too many and the elements
of lunacy, but there you are, right place,
right schnitzel—…”

11/30: Dire & Mundane // Of What Was Important To Me In My Life

imageToday’s Exercise: Dire & Mundane. Another one from the fabulous David Mason, given to me during my fellowship at the Aspen Summer Words Festival last June. I asked my students to try this one recently and the results were pretty great!

  1. Write something mundane in extreme language. (Example: brushing one’s teeth, written in the language of a shipwreck or “shipwrecky language”)
  2. Write something dire in “mundane” language.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: Kenzie Allen (McCamey, TX)


Of What Was Important To Me In My Life

For Dylan

"Out one morning,
it was stormy, the squalls
kicked up. They sent some back.

We thought we could tow
the canoe behind us, in our
big boat, through the storm.

The vision gets hazy here.
The fallout, problematic.
This canoe, the family called
“Tana flies short”

and Santana had died,
drunk driving, the canoe,
which was also him. 


Hopwood Awards

Really thrilled to be updating my bio tonight. We heard back about the Winter Term Hopwood Contests, and I won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Poetry, another in Graduate Nonfiction, and a Helen S. and John Wagner Prize as well, all from turning in two manuscripts last February.

The poetry manuscript was “Draw Girls Around The World,” which is now being called “Firewater” for the moment, and my non-fiction memoir, “How To Be A Real Indian.” I can’t decide if I’m happier about the poetry or the non-fiction, or the comments from the national judges I’ll get to pick up tomorrow from the Hopwood room. Or having my picture taken, haha.

I’ve actually been writing more than a poem a day, especially if I count the travel pieces I’ve been transcribing and editing, or all the overheard conversations I’ve been turning into poems (dear Sorority Girls: you might want to keep your voices down in the coffee shop :D ). It’s a strangely fruitful month, the weather has turned pretty again, I teach my last week of classes next week and I attend my last week of classes and I do all the weird pre-graduation stuff. This program was too, too short, even with next year’s fellowship, I just want to take two more years of classes and teaching. :)

Very grateful to the University of Michigan, Helen Zell Writers’ Program, Hopwood Committee and national judges, Laura Kasischke, Khaled Mattawa, Van Jordan, Linda Gregerson, Megan Levad, Keith Taylor, Evan Chambers, Kerri Webster, Kellie Wells, Kenneth E. Harrison, Norman Dubie, Dorianne Laux, Heid E. Erdrich, and Stephen Dunn, and, my fantastic cohort, and my writer-friends.

10/30: Landscapes You Have Loved // Because You ARE A Sister

imageToday’s exercise: Landscapes You Have Loved. This one comes from the fabulous David Mason, whom I had the pleasure of working with during my fellowship at the Aspen Summer Words Festival last June. It requires you to read and complete the instructions one at a time, refrain from reading any further until you’ve completed each previous instruction.

Step 1: Write down a list of five landscapes or places (or spaces) you have loved.

Step 2: Cross out two of the places.

Step 3: Add five more places to the list. (So in total you’ll have 10 places, with two of them crossed out so far.)

Step 4: Cross out two more of the places.

Step 5: Cross out four more of the places. So now you should be left with two places.

Step 6: Cross out one more place. Ohmigosh, you are left with just one place!

Step 7: Now go back to the first place you crossed out, and write your poem/prose piece about that. :) Ohohoho sneaky.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: Kenzie Allen (Crane, TX).

10/30: Because You ARE A Sister

"Now you’re over-sensitizing. It’s your chance to learn! I’ve told her that she’s crazy with this whole drinking thing! She’s a risk manager. And when you are, you have to deal with alcohol. That means if some girl felt like she had a problem, she should feel comfortable coming to me. But I would never do that because if I told Dani that she would take it negatively. As a sister, as a friend, no, I would never.


9/30: Civic Poetry // Ann Arbor

Today’s exercise: Civic Poetry. Less of a prompt than a direction or genre. Civic Poetry (/prose) is poetry written for the public, to commemorate a public occasion. “Praise Song For The Day” written by Elizabeth Alexander and read aloud for Obama(ba)’s inauguration would be a civic poem. But they don’t always have to be quite so sweet. :D

My favourite example of a civic poem would be Brooks Haxton’s “Prospectus: In Lieu of the Mall Expansion,” in response to a Syracuse, NY initiative to expand an already “palatial mall.” He proposes a shrimp ramp.

Write your own civic poem commemorating a public occasion, event, region or announcement. Try to make your poem persuasive, either persuading toward a plan of action or simply persuading of the world’s beauty (ala “Praise Song”). Civic poetry (or prose) is a great way to put in your own two cents about what’s going on around you, maybe a way to get some kind of control of it, influence change, or simply attempt (with or without success) to make sense of a thing. Poetry or prose.


9/30: Ann Arbor

"Should I escape a settle-down dream?
College town my father misted after, pinko
commie safe haven, bewildered suburb, 
freeway sidled blue city, hippie dippy
infested with microbrews. Dropped articles
enough to make you shiver. …

… No one misses us
as much as we do. There’s only rain
to heal the last dry wells, the horses loosed
their own wills, all of us waiting for floods
and the rescue parties after. I just need
to rest a little longer in my body.”

8/30: The God-slodge // Midland (Rockin’ Rodeo)

Today’s exercise: “The God-slodge” — Poems of faith or anti-faith or an ambiguous relationship to fate.

Write a poem to God. Make it a tirade, a complaint, a request.
Write a poem as God. Let God explain, refute, deny, defend.
Write a poem in which God is a traffic cop, a new anchor, a porn star, a grocery clerk.

Alright, the prompt is a little cheesy, a little trite, but, remember to avoid sentimentality, canned phrases, and show over telling—use congrete imagery to paint the edges of what is intangible, rather than abstractions. :) Poetry or prose.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: gilad


8/30: Midland (Rockin’ Rodeo)

could use more light and someone
to buy my next round or set me up
real nice, ranchhouse out in
gentrified Marfa.

triple turn and arm over arm loop,
all the things I’ve gotten good at
contained in one bar. My dad’s
an alcoholic, so. He just got
arrested for an accident near
the train tracks where he left
the scene.
Great way to pick up
any girl, I thought, and then
they’re dancing. 

7/30: Oh no you didn’t! // Status II

Today’s (yesterday’s!) exercise: Poetic Rebuttal. Similar but iterating along the lines of "The Poet Thief," this is a response poem. A poetic rebuttal. Find a favourite poem (it must be a published, contemporary poet for this) or one you feel incensed by. Respond to it, and then take it three steps further into your own agenda. Try to avoid sentimentality, and don’t be afraid to put fire to things, or perhaps, things to the fire. 

An example: Charles Harper Webb’s ”Prayer to Tear the Sperm-Dam Down” (in response to Suzanne Paola’s “Prayer to Seal Up the Wombdoor”) from Best American Poetry 2006. (I’ll post it and update with link after this posts). Of “Prayer,” Webb writes:

"I read Suzanne Paola’s ‘Prayer to Seal Up the Wombdoor’ soon after the birth of my son. Being a natural contrarian, I began my own Prayer in simple opposition: You want to seal the wombdoor? Fine! I want to open it up. But the poem quickly grew into a celebration of the selfish human drive to reproduce and live on our unconscious, hence indifferent, Earth. As a new parent, I felt a deepened connection with my own parents—who couldn’t easily have sealed up Mom’s womb door even if they’d wanted to—and of their parents, and theirs, and theirs… I found myself saying things that I, while childless by choice, never thought I’d ever say. If the sense of fun, excitement and energy I felt giving birth to this poem comes through to the reader, it may become another argument for the worthiness-to-live of humankind." 

Poetry or prose.

Part of 30/30 and my own Prompt A Day for National Poetry Month. Image: ArtOfTheAnkh


7/30: Status II 

"Teen Girls, I need you to wear your flippy skirt 
with some attitude before I pin you. 
If you autocorrect flippy to floppy 
one more time, I will cut you. That’s right, 
I AM INSANE TONIGHT. — but trust me,
your outfit will look better 
if you wear it like a bitch.

Why don’t you do this thing
you’re so good at? You could
totally do porn. Isn’t he your
boyfriend? Why do you get so
worked up?

… “

I’m writing a Facebook opera? Or something. And so there are these little status bits and pieces, maybe soliloquies, that just kinda keep popping up.

Poetic Rebuttal: Suzanne Paola and Charles Webb

Prayer to Seal Up the Wombdoor  - Suzanne Paola

Because we need to remember
that memory will end, let the womb remain
untouched. Its walls
an image of the earth without us—
No form sharpening, no clutter
of umbilicus,
no fingers diverging from their webs.

Generation is an argument.
It says
my finitude is infinity: I will shape from it
another & another.

& these will go on, like numbers
that through division can continue, if a little less
each time—

But infants press
against two oblivions: the one before,
the one after. And one being
can never outrun two deaths.

Let’s celebrate the emptiness, the other place.
Let’s create, like God, both void & image.
And carry our end
as we’ve carried ourselves, in imagination—in film & theater,
statues & mirrors, the long gaze
at our own face.

Look in. See the earth
greening again: closing around
the long bright scars
of cities. When plastic’s
rare, and honorable fossil. All glass
finally polished in the sea.

When the reign of the nude skin, the opposable thumb’s
over, when the argument runs
whether bones should crouch or stand in the Hall of Humans.

Will it be crows who inherit? With towns
in treetops, winds holy, beauty a pure dull black.
Or beetles, asking themselves
how we ever made love, we all gravity & heavy limbs.

Maybe by then the fumes of the toilet-tissue plant
will have risen past the atmosphere, & whales will be back, 25
thick as cattle, with a dim mythology of bloody ships.

Let’s insist on contingency, on seeing
our earth in our dream, false
& mutable: blacktopped, split
through the geometries of building & plowing, daylight
dragged into nighttime in small glass bowls.

Let my body stay as it is, saying
we have done our damage, all
in the name of imagination: let something else
through its mind, mar
the surfaces of things.

"Prayer to Seal Up the Wombdoor," by Suzanne Paola
(in Bardo. University of Wisconsin Press, 1998)


Prayer to Tear the Sperm-Dam DownCharles Harper Webb

Because we know our lives will end,
Let the vagina host a huge party, and let the penis come.

Let it come nude, without a raincoat.
Let it come rich, and leave with coffers drained.

Throw the prostate’s floodgates open.
Let sperm crowd the womb full as a World Cup stadium.

Let them flip and wriggle like a mackerel shoal.
Let babies leap into being like atoms after the Big Bang.

Let’s celebrate fullness, roundness, gravidity.
Let’s worship generation—this one,

And the next, and next, forever.
Let’s adore the progression: protozoan to guppy

To salamander to slow loris to Shakespeare.
Forget Caligula. Forget Hitler. Mistakes

Were made. Let’s celebrate our own faces
Grinning back at us across ten thousand years.

Let’s get this straight: Earth doesn’t care if it’s overrun—
If it’s green or brown or black, rain forest, desert, or ice pack.

A paper mill is sweet as lavender to Earth,
Which has no sense of smell, and doesn’t care

If roads gouge it, or industries fume into its air.
Beetles don’t care. Or crows.

Or whales, despite their singing and big brains.
Sure, rabbits feel. Spicebush swallowtails

Feel their proboscides slide into flowers’
Honeypots, which may feel too,

But lack the brains to care. Even if beagles
Are as mournful as they look—

Even if great apes grieve, wage war, catch termites
With twigs, and say in sign language,

"Ca-ca on your head," they still don’t care.
Or if the do—well, join the club. 30

We humans care so much, some of us dub life
A vale of tears, and see heaven as oblivion.

Some pray, for Earth’s sake, not to be reborn.
Wake up! Earth will be charred by the exploding sun,

Blasted to dust, reduced to quarks, and still not care.
If some people enjoy their lives too much

To share, let them not share. If some despise themselves
Too much to reproduce, let them disappear.

If some perceive themselves as a disease, let them
Take the cure, and go extinct. It’s immaterial to Earth.

Let people realize this, or not. Earth doesn’t care.
I do, and celebrate my own fecundity.

I celebrate my wife’s ovaries, her fallopian tubes
Down which, like monthly paychecks,

Golden eggs roll. I celebrate the body’s changing.
(Might as well: it changes anyway.)

I celebrate gestation, water breaking,
The dash to the hospital, the staff descending,

Malpractice polices in hand. I celebrate
Dilation of the cervix, doctors in green scrubs,

And even (since I won’t get one) the episiotomy.
I’ll celebrate my bloody, dripping son, head deformed

By trusting against the world’s door.
Let it open wide for him. Let others make room for him.

Let his imagination shine like God’s.
Let his caring change the face of everything.

"Prayer to Tear the Sperm-Dam Down," By Charles Harper Webb, In Billy Collins,
ed., The Best American Poetry 2006, New York: Scribner Poetry, 2006

6/30: Lexical Sets // Maybe It Really Is Maybelline

Today’s exercise: Lexical Sets — something my students and I make use of constantly. For this prompt you will be generating a list of related words, a ‘lexical set.’ Just a list of words that have something in common. Give yourself a subject, be in a place, activity, or a concept, and spend the next 5-10 minutes writing down every word you can think of (straight out of your head write em down) having to do with that subject.

For example:

Flowers: Chrysanthemum, Persimmon, Rose, Tulip, Dandelion, Petal, Stamen, Freesia, lilium parvum, Narcissus

You could also limit to “types of flowers” instead (which would eliminate the “parts of flowers” in the above example. Steer toward words that are exciting, sound interesting, or are very specific.

After you’ve got your lexical set, write a poem or prose piece incorporating as many words as you can, or focus in on one favorite word and generate a new lexical set and write from that. :) You can also trade lexical sets with a friend (a great in-class exercise) to force yourself to work with unfamiliar concepts and new vocabulary.

Part of my Prompt-A-Day and 30/30 for National Poetry Month. 
Image: pinkparis1233



"Maybe It Really Is Maybelline"

** can’t post any of this one! :( If I post part of it it’s basically the whole thing — it’s a conceptual piece, hooray. But it was definitely inspired by the exercises this time, fortuitously! (Just happened to be similar to a lexical set!)

4/30: The Other Hand // “Meine geliebten Kinder”


Today’s exercise — The Other Hand. This is an exercise to free up the part of your brain that is at its most emotive and strange—your childlike mind, the playful, other half of your brain. It will only work with pen and paper, so get those out. :) To free the playful, creative, childlike part of your brain, you will need to get the dominant part of your brain, that which is predictable and ordered, out of the way. Your careful, analytical brain is engaged at the same time you are writing with your dominant hand, the other half of your brain is activated when using your nondominant hand.

So for this exercise, write one line each, starting with dominant hand then switching to nondominant handed then back, write with a different hand on each line. You might start out freewriting by your dominant hand asking questions of your nondominant hand, and be sure to relax the brain and write the first things that come to mind. Go this way a while until story or poem emerges, and continue alternating hands as long as you like. Then go back and trim what you have, shape it into a piece or poem, change, edit, and don’t restrict the words of the hands to their seperate lines if pieces will work better somewhere else. Give it polish, use the lines and words to create something new out of the makings.

Poetry or prose. Part of my Prompt A Day and 30/30 for National Poetry Month. | Image: bodahe


and for my Words & Music class at the University of Michigan we were asked to write a lullabye. So here are some excerpts from my lullabye, conceived as one that Elisabeth Fritzl might sing to her children. It will be set to music by Daniel Sottile, a masters candidate in music composition.

Meine geliebten Kinder
          - a lullabye, after Elisabeth Fritzl

"Some nights the devil lies in me
as a sunken grave, and he sings:
Hush love, you hear the cries
of the city, each moan a deliveryman,
each weeping a street car, rusted
as many things can be. Someday,
the screen door will lie open,
and I will show you all of these things.


someday, the ocean, some night
your own bed, undisturbed.
Some day, the screen door
will lie open, and I will show you

You will burst from this house
into a forest. I’ll take every
sin for my own. Some day,
the door will lie open


3/30: Three Names // And I Will Never Tell Anyone What You Tell Me


Write a piece utilizing or incorporating three names. These can be of people or places but must be proper nouns essentially. You can either allude to the names (in this case, try to make the names guess-able for the reader), or you can include the names within your text. Three names, that’s the only requirement, the rest is up to you.

Poetry or prose. To be up for feature, post responses in reply or in disqus comments to this post. Or reblog so others can join the fun.

Part of 30/30 and National Poetry Month | Image: daskull


3/30: And I Will Never Tell Anyone What You Tell Me

"… I bought him cards I never sent, which say things like "_______________" and "_________" and I never wrote on them or sent them and now they’re sitting in a drawer like secrets.

I might use it for a story

The third one says “____________” and I never sent it because I wasn’t sure who I was wanting to _________ after all.

you need to watch broad city
I just want to be important to someone
I’ve never been with someone who loved me.


1/30: Newspaper Lines // He Never Did Pay Back What He Owed

So this year I’ll be participating in National Poetry Month in two ways: I’ll be posting up a new prompt every day for writers and teachers to make use of, and I’ll also be generating a new poem every day (30/30). I will post excerpts from the poems (since Tumblr counts as “published” these days), and if you post a link in the comments to a poem or prose piece that you used one of these prompts to create (or that you just feel awesome about) I will happily feature some of those!


by DyingBeautyStock
Today’s prompt: Newspaper Lines

Pick up a local newspaper of some kind.
 The best fodder will come from the sauciest of these, I.E. the New York Post perhaps rather than the New York Times. Find the personals, or announcements, or obituaries, or classifieds, pick out some of your favorite, striking lines, and compose. Incorporate actual lines from the ads or bounce off away from them altogether. Tone can be any kind, subject is free to wander.

That’s it for the prompt! Check back, I’ll be posting up a new prompt every day this month. They can often be used for poetry OR prose. Image: DyingBeautyStock

and, mine for the day.

1/30: He Never Did Pay Back What He Owed

I told you about the one with the gambling problem, Jim. And the story he told, the casino chips, his eyes alight holding a shadowbox, the chosen artifacts of their meeting. […] And all the things we would lay before us, splayed photo strips and Carnegie passes, the first stubs of the first movie, even angry letters and used matches. You said you hoped it wasn’t closure, that we weren’t saying goodbye. I said no, remember Jim, but then, was that also a beginning of don’t forget me, did he know the chips would fade in prolonged sunlight, did he gather up the stones of their life and plant them? Prodigal, he took all the talents left us.

On February 21st, the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan presented, as part of The Mark Webster Reading Series, poetry by Kenzie Allen and prose by Chigozie Obioma.