Writing Prompt: Song Lyrics

Alright, everyone, here’s a quick prompt that’s pretty self-explanatory: include a favorite song lyric in the first line of a poem.  I’m fighting with taking lines out of their original context, and I thought that an exercise like this might help. The longer the lyric you manage to incorporate, the more brownie points you get, in my book. Here’s my stab at a lyric-infused poem, pulled from Mother Mother’s “Bit By Bit”:

i’m gonna build my house in the wildest thickets

thighs ripped wide around a clump of nettle-beads

i’ll remember my trowel too late, my seeds sown

along the fence in a rivulet mountain rain began.

bees balmy wandering in the fuzzy sunlight and i

scream for feeling their grisly pinpricks splinter.

I hope this prompt is generative, and I hope that everyone has a fun time with it! Post your poems below, if you come up with something you want to share!

Camille Rankine’s “Symptoms of Doctrine” and Re-Working Film Content

When I attended Camille Rankine’s reading this past week, I distinctly remember her talking about watching The Avengers, and how one of the lines stuck with her, while the movie didn’t.  She used Loki’s “I am burdened with glorious purpose” line, and I remember that as she read it, I couldn’t help but smile.  The Avengers and the fans of The Avengers online have used that line and GIFs from that scene to express anything from mild pride to feelings of intense social anxiety, and while this isn’t anywhere near where Camille Rankine was going, I can’t help but let my preconceived ideas about that scene/line into her poem.  Is it worth it to use a line, such a memorable line, from some other kind of media to write a poem, or does it overshadow the poem?  If I hadn’t watched The Avengers, I wouldn’t have any idea and I probably would have applauded that line, but as it is, I can only think about the movie and the scenes it links to.

In recent workshops, we’ve seen pieces worked around song lyrics, and with zero knowledge of Bruce Springsteen, I enjoyed the poem, but it seemed to have a different affect on readers who knew the song and the story attached.  I think that Camille Rankine’s poem was similar, and while I really believe in the power of art to inspire more art, I myself am unsure whether I would take such a risk in my poetry.

For Yet Another Semester, Nicole Talks About the Revision Process

As I sit here, hunched over my laptop and downing mugs of lemon ginger tea, I’m trying to procrastinate on revising my poem.  I’ve opened the poem multiple times, only to close the file and do other work.  My poems, this semester, have fallen into one of two categories: shit I’m cool with and I want to keep mostly intact until a later date, and shit I want to (metaphorically) burn and forget about.  Last poetry workshop, I was much more confused about where my poetry was going, less confident, and much less aware of my own poetics.  I think that I’ve had the time to grow with my poems, to accept them as flawed and subjective representations of my being in a much more temporal sense. If I’m being honest with myself, I’m not quite ready to revise any of this semester’s poems, and I was wondering if anyone else felt that same reluctance?  I find myself wanting to write more, new poems, and maybe that’s just because I’m always moving too fast to slow down, but I want to do each of my poems the honor of allowing them to speak to a “me” that came before.  Regardless, I will revise a poem for workshop, but I think that my poems are the one place that I allow myself the satisfaction of accepting my earlier selves.

Mallary M’s “Birds & Bees”

As a poet, I’ve always been looking for new ways to steep myself in poetry, but sometimes it’s hard to fit poetry into my everyday.  The Button Poetry channel on YouTube makes it easy, because they post live readings of up-and-coming poets on a regular basis.  The most recent video is one by Mallary M., called “Birds & Bees,” which compares the talk a black father has to have with his children about police brutality to “the talk” that most white parents are worried about.


I love the way Mallary’s language flows into a solid stream, like he’s panicking and he wants his feelings expressed to someone else who maybe doesn’t understand what it’s like to be the parent of black children.  The bees are the police and the bees can sting, and the birds are black people in the US, maybe also elsewhere, who have to think about police brutality and racially motivated violence before sending their kids outside.  I love the way this poem takes something  that is usually used as a punchline, the parent’s inability to speak about a child’s sexual awakening, but turns it around so that it’s completely serious, and 100% scary.  It takes something that parents in general are afraid of, that is talking about sex with their kids, and reworks it so that the conversation is about life and death, vs. figurative life and death, embarrassment, and awkwardness.  Black parents can’t afford to feel ashamed of the way that police target their children, can’t talk awkwardly about how you can’t wear your hood up because sometimes some white men get confused and call your head a target.

If you’re ever looking for some powerful poetry, give Button Poetry a try!

Breaking from Sound

I think that the hardest part of taking a poetry workshop after just finishing one is the tendency to hold onto the attention to sound.  Last semester’s key or cornerstone was sound: how it paces poems, the way different groupings of sounds can make a line or stanza feel different emotively, etc.  I used a lot of music as inspiration this semester, and I relied on my ears and my mouth to help me shape poems based on the way they sounded.  My poems began to form themselves around sounds, rather than around some narrative or overarching theme.  I would often give up the “right” word to place a more sonically pleasing word in its place, and I grew less and less focused on content.  My poems were more interested in assonance, consonance, and interweaving the re-occurrence of sounds to form a dissonance or harmony that I could fit to my purpose.  The hardest part is switching gears and giving form a place in my poetry.

In my Humanities class, we read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and he had a method for improving himself that involved making a kind of calendar and marking each week down in favor of a different virtue he deemed important, and noting the days he was violating these virtues.



While I don’t think this is a habit I’ll begin taking up, I do think that I’ll take a page from his book and try to alternate between different aspects of my poetry; maybe spend a week thinking about sound, and once I feel I’ve given sound its due, moving on to form and content or narrative.  I don’t want to ignore the progress I’ve made with regard to sound, and I do want to think more about form and its importance in conveying my message, so maybe I can keep practicing with both.

Does anyone else have a hard time choosing an aspect of their poetry to focus on, to value above others, when the poem itself demands attention to all aspects of its creation? Or do we naturally tend toward one aspect, as poets, some gravitating to one and others to another?

Sun Yung Shin is my new favorite poet

My sonic min-lesson really got me to start looking into Sun Yung Shin’s poem Empty Ring, Nest Fire. That poem made me think about sound, specifically the ways in which sound and word choice can come together to create a fantastical poem.  It’s no surprise that I like to incorporate fantasy and science fiction elements into my poems, but I think what drew me into Sun Yung Shin’s poem was the way she could create a fantastical landscape with so few, well-chosen words.  Her use of alliteration and assonance, braided and plaited together with rhyme created a feeling similar to a folktale, and I spent over an hour reading it aloud to myself to pin that tone down.  She didn’t need to point to any particular fairy-tale monster to help me see the tentacled beast, the way in moved and the sounds it made, and that was amazing to me as a reader and a writer.

I just love the way the poem is laid out on the page, in couplets with only the third and fifth stanzas dropping into an indented third line, which only contains one or two words.   The poem feels like it needs the spaces between the stanzas to breathe, as if including the following lines to create tercets would be simply too much, and I think the poem’s sense of pacing points to this choice of format.  The poem uses vivid imagery in quick flashes to create a coherent story, but also to switch the reader’s focus from one contrasting image to the next.  The poem switches quickly from the opposing light and dark children, “burnt bark” and “swan skinned” to the image of the serpent, then back to the children and on to a foreboding image of the “Devil’s black forked feet,” calling attention to the opposition of light and dark, even where they are children born of the same mother.  Sun Yung Shin’s sound is so rich and begs to be read slowly.

I plan on buying myself a few books of her poetry over the holidays to recuperate from the Christmastime madness. You can find Empty Ring, Nest Fire here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/empty-ring-nest-fire

Poetry as Community

As the semester has progressed, I’ve re-evaluated my definition of what a poem is again and again.  I wish I could say I knew definitively what a poem is, but I can’t. However, I’ve come up with one facet of what makes a poem in all that time, and I think that poems create a group.  Maybe it’s made up of the people who inspired that particular poem, the people in the poet’s life who have pushed them forward creatively.  Maybe that group is made up of their readers, people who found that poem inspiring or thought it expressed something they connect with.  As a poet, I’ve spent a lot of time making my poems accessible for readers.  I want my poetry to be read by more than one demographic and I want it to speak to a multiplicity of experience, but I know that I’m limited to my own set of experiences and the years I’ve spent on this earth so far.  I want to inspire some sort of positive feeling which calls people to action, to stand together, etc. but I know that my poetry can only speak for a white woman living in the United States.  It’s that feeling of limitation that frustrates me and pushes me to reinvent my use of language every time I pick up a pen.

I’ve also realized that shared experiences are what create understanding in poetry, and that while we all have had separate lives, we can connect with one another through shared feelings.  I think this is the silver lining I’ve been searching for.  Whenever I hear knocks on the table during a workshop to express love for a particular line or phrase, I know I’ve done my job.  I know that because my poems are products of my worldview, most lines won’t resonate with large groups of people, but if I can create one line per poem that does that, I’m satisfied.

On Language, Specifically Rat Language

You can blame my girls Juniper and Bergamot for this, but I’ve been looking at the writing exercises and thinking about language and translation in slightly broader terms.  Since becoming a rat mama, I’ve had to learn so much from my girls on how to interact with them, care for them, and respect them.  It is now my sole mission to somehow fit a poem about rat language into my portfolio, even if it takes hours to do so.  As for rat language, here are a few important behavioral markers I’ve picked up over the past few weeks:

  1. bruxing: when rats are happy or content with their surroundings, they do this thing where they grind their front teeth together (which are forever growing, btw) to produce a kind of chattering noise.  It’s hard to hear unless they’re hanging out on my shoulders, but it’s become a calming noise for me.  It lets me know they’re nearby, and also helps me pick up on what things they like.
  2. play-fighting: because they’re still wee babes and spend a lot of time in their cage-mansion, they like to mess around with each other.  Often this includes a lot of squeaking and chirping that surprised me at first, but actually just means they’re having a good time and hamming it up.
  3. nibbling: much like human babies, rat babies chew on everything to figure out if it’s safe to eat/edible.  Apparently, the girls don’t know my hands and fingers aren’t on the menu quite yet.

As for how this relates to poetry, I think that it’s important to remember that poetry can sometimes be non-verbal.  While we often assume words are necessary to poetic expression, I’d like to think that poetry can stand in for what language itself cannot express, and that is why sometimes finding the correct combination of words to stand in for one word or feeling is so important to the way poetry is formed.  Long story short, I might be including the following lines in a writing exercise:

elongated yellow teeth tip-tapping, grappling with one another

pink clawed hands help mouths feel for food in whorls

shcruffshcruffshcruff mumbles below my earlobe

throw emotions into sharp relief

Writing Prompt: Music and Emotional Expression

Hey, everyone! I have a quick and simple prompt for you.  I’ve been spending lots of time on study playlists, using them as background noise while I work, and I think I speak for everyone when I say sometimes the songs without lyrics are the most expressive.  I want you to pick a new atmospheric/acoustic/etc. song with no lyrics, something you’ve never listened to before.  Give Spotify a go, and listen to the song once, all the way through.  Write down words which you attribute to the song: emotions, nouns, verbs.  If the song has arcs of sound which make you experience different feelings from the last, mark each section as a distinct word bank.

Now, try and create a narrative or an overall message from those words/feelings.  Keep listening to the song, and let the words you chose shape the poem along with the song.  As for an example, here’s my snippet inspired by “Rice Rain” by Cashmere Cat:

word inspiration: baby feet, toads, puddles, and tall grass


toddling father figures toppling

green stalks between pudgy mushroom feet

she sings along to the toad’s lazy burbling

the field mice tickle her

cheek with wispy peachfuzz whiskers

alongside sinews of cattails


no longer necessary attendees,

no need to spend money when

time and treesap serve her

intangible cakes with candle-stems embedded

muddy puddle-water becomes sherbet punch

gullible girls with fey hearts.


Comment with your own writing based on the prompt, or let me know if this exercise helped you at all!

Revision with Sound in Mind

While perusing my poems again and beginning the revision process, I’ve realized that my poetry tends to be less thematic and more of a series of aurally pleasing sounds.  I think that’s why, as a poet, I have a hard time giving up the sequence of words in a line if I really loved writing them.  Therefore, the revision process is hard for me when I want to keep a line simply because it has a great rhythm or sound.  I don’t know if this is helpful, but I’ve compiled the list of questions I ask myself when I’m in the process of revision and I really want to keep a line:

  1. Is the sound this line is achieving already echoed in earlier lines/stanzas?
  2. Is it possible to acquire that sound with another phrase?
  3. Will another phrase convey the same feeling you want to express without a loss of clarity?
  4. Will my poem be successful as a whole if I simply cut this word/line?
  5. Do any other lines in the poem reflect the content of this line, but in a different way?
  6. How often have you used that word in your poetry?
  7. When was the last time you took a look at a thesaurus?  Try that.
  8. Will adding lines around this line/changing up the order of the lines and stanzas allow this line to do the work you want it to do?
  9. Read the poem aloud, does this line make your mouth do the work you want your reader’s mouth to do as it is read?
  10. Have others pointed out the flaws in this line?  Have many people seen the same issue with this line?

Happy revisions!