Poems, Poets & Prompts: It's National Poetry Month!
April is National Poetry Month, and I feel like celebrating! I haven’t always loved poetry. When I was an undergrad studying English literature, my Modern Poetry class was the bane of my existence (I shudder to think of the dreadful paper I wrote on Wilfred Owens’ World War I poems). But becoming an Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) writing workshop facilitator changed all that.
Back in the good old days when workshops were held in person, AWA facilitators the world over placed poems and other short pieces on writers’ chairs before they came into the room. We call them “On Chairs,” and these pieces provide a bridge between the everyday world and the writing circle. First as a participant and later as a facilitator, I have appreciated this practice. As a participant, I love seeing what new poems the workshop leader has for us, and as a leader I enjoy looking for just the right pieces to inspire my participants. These days, with most workshops on Zoom, I mainly look for poems on the Poetry Foundation website so that I can share my screen and then put the link to the poem in the chat. Not quite the same feeling as placing them on chairs, but it will have to do!
In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’d like to share with you a few of my most favorite “On Chairs” poems throughout the years:
“For a New Beginning” by John O’Dononue
“don’t forget to write” by Maya Stein
“Digging” by Seamus Heaney
“Afternoon in the House” by Jane Kenyon
“Blessing for a Writer” by Pat Schneider, founder of AWA
Playing around with writing poems is great fun, too, of course! Here are a few of my longtime favorite poetry writing prompts:
Try a Mood Ring poem, which invites you to fill in the blanks. Check out my blog post here, which gives you the structure and some examples.
Read “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon and then write your own “Where I’m From” poem using a similar structure. This is a classic AWA prompt, and you will likely encounter it at some point in any AWA workshop. The fun thing is, no matter how many times you write it, you will come up with something different! (This is making me want to go back through my notebooks and type up all of mine. I wonder what they will reveal?)
Read “Things to Do Around a Lookout” by Gary Snyder and write your own list poem. Check out my blog post here, which contains the poem and suggestions for how to write your own.
Read “Ode to Chocolate” by Barbara Crooker, then write your own ode to something you love. You can also read a few odes from workshop participants in my blog here.
Read “Rules for Captain Ahab’s Provincetown Poetry Workshop” by Martín Espada, then write a poem about an obsession using a similar format.
Finally, here are a few favorite poets of mine. This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the poets I return to again and again.
Mary Oliver (of course!)
Ada Limón, the current U.S. Poet Laureate
If you’d like to share your favorite poets, poems, prompts, or inspiration, I’m all ears! Happy National Poetry Month!