Poetry Prompts

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #30

Well we’ve made it though the month with daily poetry exercises that I hope will take some of the intimidation factor out of playing with poetry. For this last day, I’d like to share another poem modeling exercise that never fails to surprise me when I use it with a class. Take a moment to go read this poem IF by Rudyard Kipling. In the classroom we dissect this poem line by line and we don’t go on to the next line until we’ve talked through the one before. I have the kids tell me what they think Kipling meant and then I have them talk about it as it compares to their lives.

Then I ask them to write their own poem modeled on this one.

Here’s my try at one.

If you can learn that your value comes from being yourself,
not who the rest of the world thinks you should be

If you can recognize that no one person
sits in judgement of you

If you can lean into the understanding that difficult people too,
carry their burdens

If you can not cause pain to yourself, to others

If you can freely share your knowledge
knowing it will just increase your wealth
and manage your wealth so that the
seeking of it doesn’t manage you

If you can let go of hate and anger and fear
and all the useless emotions that hold you back
while at the same time filling yourself
and the world with love and laughter and compassion

If you can encourage dream following in everyone you meet
while nurturing dreams of your own

If you can let yourself believe
in yourself

There is nothing you cannot do.

–Susan Taylor Brown

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #29

Another great poem to use as a model for a poem of your own it This Is Just To Say  by William Carlos Williams.

It has also inspired a few books including the wonderful, This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman  and the equally fun, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine.

Here’s one I wrote.


I have taken
the blank paper
you kept in your desk

and which
you were probably
for masterpieces
of your own

Forgive me
there were colors
beautiful colors
waiting to escape.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #28

I usually introduce this form early on in my teaching sessions and I just realized I missed it. It’s called a cinquain, which like haiku, is a counted syllable form of poetry. A cinquain is 5 lines long and the syllable counts are as follows:

Line 1 = 2
Line 2 = 4
Line 3 = 6
Line 4 = 8
Line 5 = 2

Sometimes a cinquain helps me develop an idea further and it turns into a longer poem. Sometimes it stays as it is. As always, the challenge of finding the right words to convey what I want to say in a constrained form often take me places I didn’t expect to go.

Here’s my cinquain.

twist twirl hover dip dive
glidinggreen gracefulness

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn

Saturday, April 28, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |4 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #27

It’s Poetry Friday and I decided this was a good day to introduce the concept of using a more well-known poem as model for a poem of your own. I have a selection of them that I like to use with my students and one of my favorites is Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens. I like this because really, it is just another list. Make a list of thirteen different ways to look at something. It can be something as simple as your dog, your car, your bedroom. Or maybe you want to get fancy and try thirteen ways of looking at your job or a friendship. Just pick a topic and give it a try.

I decided to use this poem as an opportunity to say goodbye to Lily, the hummingbird who has built a nest in my yard but who did not get to see her eggs hatch. I’m sure I’ll be dinking with this poem for a while but it felt good to get a draft of this out. (You can click on the photo to see it larger, if you like.)

13 Ways of Looking at a Hummingbird

wings whirl
in place
my face
tiny dancer

greengold glitters glides
lands atop the waterfalls
shimmy shakes
a water dance

spider silk
blades of grass
one gray hair
two red threads
building blocks
a mini mansion

picture pose
turn left
now right
chin up
hold still
I’ll keep my distance

in out
out in
tall wall
soft floor
ready wait
wait some more
egg one
egg two
each morning
each evening
I check
just in case

the plum tree a
perfect preening place
ruffled nest feathers
bugs picked flicked
feathers smoothed
stretch once
stretch again
bask in the sun
before babies come

stormy days
stormy nights
forgetting generations
that came before
I worry
flashlight in hand

she disappears deep
within the overgrown honeysuckle
seeking bugs
protein power
for motherhood
I measure
one nest
one half a walnut shell
one egg
one jellybean
one miracle
waiting to happen

my days equal
my days equal

camera ready
I await her homecoming
hidden only slightly behind the fence
fifteen minutes
two hundred photographs
my mini model
is a star

morning comes
no mama snug atop her nest
no tiny eggs safe and sound
no babies waiting
to say hello world
sometime between
the darkness and dawn

overcast and gray
rain soon
but I am stubborn
searching beneath the bushes
until I find evidence
until I find a tiny white shell
until it hits me
miracles don’t always come true

camera clicks
shot after shot after shot
most will be out of focus
unable to capture the pain I feel
at all the days that should have been ahead
suddenly suspended beside me
close enough to almost touch
no chirp
no cheep
no chitter
she hovers there
ten seconds maybe more
just long enough
to say goodbye

— Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Tabatha Yeatts has the round-up for all the Poetry Friday posts. Take a look at some of the terrific poetry posts other people are sharing. And if you don’t have time to visit them all today, be sure to bookmark them to go back and visit later.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #26

It’s been a hard day today. If you’ve been following my posts on Facebook or on my garden blog about Lily, the hummingbird who built a nest in our backyard, you know what I mean. If not, here’s

So I’m pulling out an easy card and am suggesting that we do a five senses poem, like we did on Kick the Poetry Can’ts #1

The word I’m choosing for this one is GOODBYE.

As always, I start with a list. What does goodbye sound like? Taste like? Smell like? Feel like? Look like? Here’s my brainstorm.

sounds like the closing of a door, silence
the moment of a hold after a note is played

tastes like peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth
something that makes you want to rinse your mouth out
like mud

smells like something burning
something that makes you want to hold your nose
garbage when the bag breaks

feels like you’re riding up in the elevator and the cord breaks
you can’t catch your breath

looks like gray mist covering anything that was beautiful
a shut door, a closed gate, the blinds being lowered
an empty place at the table

And here’s my first draft of a  poem.

Goodbye sounds like
the last note of the trumpet frozen
in time
in my mind
silence shuts the door
on what use to be.

It fills my mouth with mud
stuck to the roof of my mouth
grit between my teeth
I can’t floss it away
I can’t rinse it out it

stinky smells slither
up through my nostrils
down to my toes
out of my pores
goodbye explodes like a busted bag of garbage
covering me until I feel like I’m drowning
can’t catch my breath
can’t face that empty place
can’t believe
after all this time
goodbye wins again

ashes, ashes
we all fall down

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn. Try your hand at a five senses poem around the word “goodbye.”

Thursday, April 26, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |2 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #25

Ancient poets wrote many odes to celebrate great events in their lives and to pay homage to magnificent people. Many of the students I teach have difficulty believing that they are worthy of having an ode sung to them. So we write our own.

While there are traditional forms of writing an ode, with specific patterns and rhyme forms to follow, for this exercise I don’t worry about that. The key here is to write about yourself in a way that celebrates all the ways that you are good. Show the world the very best of you. This is not a time to be shy. This is your time to shine.

Start with a list of things you do well, things people compliment you on, things you know are your strengths. Work that into a poem.

Here’s one I’m working on about me.

observer of
littlelife moments
bugs on blossom
birds in bushes
dog snoring in the sun

hurts when you hurt
notices something is slightly
gentle listener of
undertones and overtones

talented talker
believes in possibilities
yours, mine, ours
spreads sparks
of what could be
wherever she goes

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |5 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #24

When I work with incarcerated teens they are always talking about their girlfriends or boyfriends who are usually on the outside and who they usually don’t get to see very often. This inevitably leads to them wanting to write love poems. So this is a fun exercise to do because it makes them think about the various ways we can show our love for people.

I ask the students to give me ways they know someone loves them, or ways they can show someone they love them, without using the word love. (Truly, they never see this exercise coming which is so much fun.)

They are usually really good at coming up with ways to show someone you love them. Here’s a partial brainstorm from one of my classes:

tell them they look hot
buy them candy
do their chores
offer to babysit
clean your room without being asked 100 times
cook their favorite foods
let them pick what you watch on tv
buy them presents

You get the idea. After we have filled the board with this sort of brainstorm I tell them we are going to write love poems but there’s one catch – they can’t use the word LOVE anywhere in the poem but we should be able to feel the love anyway.

I truly thought this would be one of the hardest exercises for my students but time after time, it has proven to be one of the most popular ones.

Here’s a partial draft of one of my poems that fits this exercise.

Normally I get the sheets changed on time
more or less
laundry kept up
more or less
clutter under control
more or less
but this week less wins most of those battles.

Maybe it’s the way
I barely make it to the bathroom in time
but he notices something about me
and asks are you okay?
I shake my head no and he holds my hair
away from my face,
and I lean over the toilet
while my stomach rebels.

I camp on the couch and
he brings me clear liquids
soda crackers
makes sure the bucket
the remote control
and the phone
are close at hand when he has to leave.

He comes home carrying every comfort food
he can remember I’ve ever mentioned,
alternates his day between letting me nap
and bringing me more foods
to tempt my lack of appetite.

He keeps the house running quietly in the background
lets the dog out
the back in again
ten times a day
while I do battle with the flu,
rubs my back,
tucks the comforter up under my chin,
and encourages the dog
to camp nearby, close enough for me to pet.

When he blows me a final kiss goodnight
I look into his eyes
dark starsparks telegraph a message
straight to my heart until it swells with happiness
and I count my blessings
lucky to be married to him.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #23

Last year, Laura Salas and I worked our way through the book WRITING THE LIFE POETIC by Sage Cohen. We took turns hosting the conversation on our blog and we shared some insights from a chapter we chose to read that week. Then we ended it with doing one of the exercises from the book.  One of them was about using song lyrics as models for poems. This works great because we all know those songs that get caught in our head for one reason or another, the same way we want a poem to be imprinted in our minds. In the classroom this can be a lot of fun to have the students bring in copies of the lyrics of their favorite songs and then watch a video of the song on YouTube before settling in to right.

For the exercise I chose a  favorite song of mine called SECRETS by One Republic. When I first heard the song on Pandora, I burst into tears. When I watched the video, it didn’t mesh for me because in my brain I was hearing a different story, the story of a writer trying to find their way in the world.

Here are the lyrics by Ryan Tedder.

I need another story
Something to get off my chest
My life gets kinda boring
Need something that I can confess
‘Til all my sleeves are stained red

From all the truth that I’ve said
Come by it honestly I swear
Thought you saw me wink, no
I’ve been on the brink, so

Tell me what you want to hear
Something that were like those years
Sick of all the insincere
So I’m gonna give all my secrets away

This time don’t need another perfect line
Don’t care if critics never jump in line
I’m gonna give all my secrets away

My God, amazing how we got this far
It’s like we’re chasing all those stars
Who’s driving shiny big black cars

And everyday I see the news
All the problems that we could solve
And when a situation rises
Just write it into an album
Singing straight, too cold
I don’t really like my flow, no, so

Tell me what you want to hear
Something that were like those years
Sick of all the insincere
So I’m gonna give all my secrets away

This time, don’t need another perfect line
Don’t care if critics never jump in line
I’m gonna give all my secrets away

Oh, got no reason, got no shame
Got no family I can blame
Just don’t let me disappear
I’ma tell you everything

So tell me what you want to hear
Something that were like those years
Sick of all the insincere
So I’m gonna give all my secrets away

This time, don’t need another perfect line
Don’t care if critics never jump in line
I’m gonna give all my secrets away

So tell me what you want to hear
Something that were like those years
Sick of all the insincere
So I’m gonna give all my secrets away

This time, don’t need another perfect line
Don’t care if critics never jump in line
I’m gonna give all my secrets away
All my secrets away, all my secrets away

After listening to the song two or three or, okay, maybe a dozen times, here is the poem I came up with.



I need to know
that getting up in the morning
matters to the world
to someone other than the man
who matters so much to me,
the man who may not understand
why I need to know
that I matter at all.

You can tell me
it shouldn’t matter
but it does.
You can tell me
I matter in ways
I may not understand
in so many ways I can
only hope to believe

But I need to know
the kind of knowing that comes
from some place deep inside
some place I don’t reside
I want to run and hide because
what I fear is the world
pieces of soul
I don’t want the world to see
what I fear
is that what I need
matters too much to me

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved.

Your turn. If there’s a song you feel drawn to, search for the lyrics online and then try to model a poem based on that song. Good luck!

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #22

It’s the weekend and I’m going easy on you today. I decided to go a little retro so this might look familiar to a few of you from last year. You already know I love saving phrases and words from magazine and then taping them on index cards to use as prompts. Another thing I do, because I love to doodle, is glue phrase prompts to a card and then create some doodle art around them. For some reason seeing these decorated cards gets the kids excited (sometimes) and I’m all about using any trick in the book. I have a stash of about 50 of these cards and when I teach I always have some in my back pocket to hand out when someone comes in late and needs a quick assignment or even when they are asking for extra credit. I laminated this (with packing tape) so they hold up well to being passed around a bunch.

What I do with the students is let them pick a card and tell them they can write any kind of poem they want, a haiku, a 5 senses poem, free verse, an acrostic, whatever they feel motivated to do once they get the card.

Here’s the card I picked for us today.

And here’s my poem.

You took
my self-esteem
my laughter
my pride in how I dress
my ability to trust
and to see the good in most people

You took
my dog, my cat
my good credit rating and almost,
my car

You took
my trust
my friends
my music

You gave back
a broken heart
a shattered dream
and finally, freedom.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #21

When I am teaching poetry I often start off with an acrostic poem. We do easy ones that begin with the students names and allow them to tell me things about themselves. It’s a good ice breaker and it gets them familiar with the poetic form right off the bat. An acrostic is a poem that spells one word vertically and then uses the first letter on each line for a line in the poem. So if I were doing an acrostic ice breaker with my name, I might do something like this:

Sometimes a little bit scatterbrained
Usually reading or more books at a time
Stressed out when there is too much noise
Always wishing there were more hours in the day
Never going to stop believing in my dreams

Now that’s not much of a poem but you get the idea.

Here’s a draft of one I did tonight with the word hummingbird. It’s not a great poem yet but it’s a nice way of getting my brain churning around on some ideas. And here’s another thing about acrostics, sometimes they are a good way to get a rough draft of a poem down and then you can take the phrases and play with them until you come up with a poem in another form that you like even better.

High off the ground(not really)
Under scraggly leaves
Mama knits a nest and
Mends it daily with garden gifts she
Ignores my visits (not really)
Needlenose beak tipped high in the air
Grand dame of the toyon tree with
Babies not yet born her
Iridescent feathers fan a
Rainbow blanket she
Decides I have seen enough for now.

Your turn.

Saturday, April 21, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |4 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #20, My Poem How to Be a Good Dog


How to poems are a fun way to share your knowledge (if you are writing a truthful poem) or have some fun if you are playing with your imagination.

You can write a how-to-do-it poem about making a sandwich, dancing with your great Aunt Agatha, climbing a tremendous mountain, learning how to drive, or anything else you can dream up.

As usual, I start with a brainstorming list. Sometimes these poems stay as list and sometimes they morph into something else.

Here’s a first draft of my how-to poem.


Learn how to beg
it is the foundation for all future lessons.
Start with the poor pitiful me face
perfect droopy ears
sad eyes (bonus points if you can sigh)
and the art of balancing your head on your outstretched paws
in a way that makes them go “awwww.”

Race around the house like a maniac
when people you know come to visit.
Bark like a monster dog
when strangers knock on the door.
Teach your humans that you know the difference between the two.
(Note: some humans are harder to train than others.)

Learn how to ride in the car without getting sick.
Continually expand your vocabulary of cute noises.
Be willing to do embarrassing tricks
for stinky treats
to make your humans look good.
Practice being aloof
but remember to let them pet you

Ask to go outside
a lot.
Ask to go on walks
a lot.
Ask for treats
a lot.
They might think you’re being difficult
but really you’re giving them important
breaks in their busy day
helping them to relieve stress
and learn how to be in the moment.

They should thank you for this
but they probably won’t.

Don’t chase the birds.
Really, don’t chase the birds.
It only makes them mad
(the humans and the birds.)
Drink out of all the stinky water places
and then give wet kisses
which will gross them out and make them happy
all at the time time.

Don’t dig.
I mean it.
For some reason they really have a problem with that.

At the end of the day
find your place in the room
you share with them
and fall fake asleep
with one eye still open
watching them
until you see their eyes close
until you hear them snore
until you know
for sure,
you’ve done a good day’s work
keeping the family safe.

Good dog.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #19

I started with an article from the newspaper. (click on the photo to see it larger.)

newspaper poem2

And then I looked for the poem inside the article. I think the official name for this kind of poem is a black-out poem, though there might be other names for it as well. What you do is take a marker and cross out all the words that don’t belong until you find the poem. (Click on photo to see it larger.)

newspaper poem1

Easy as pie, right? Every article has at least one poem in it, maybe more. Kids like to do this



a happy lesson
weathered passion
delicious sun-drenched plants
soaking up the warm light
sunflowers intoxicated with the sun
share the secret
rich clods of organic soil
perfect compost
the neighborhood reaps
meditative joy and a harvest of lessons
relishing the heart and soul
of an unspoiled earth

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Now here’s how I got there.

because it feels like graffiti.

Your turn. Even if you don’t post your poem give this a try and let me know what you think.

Thursday, April 19, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |5 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #18

Writing letters is another great way to find the poem within a certain situation. For today’s Kick in the Poetry Can’ts, write a letter to someone who is dead, it can be someone you knew or a total stranger, and then turn it into a poem. I find this easiest to just write out the long prose version first and then go back and revise it with a poetic eye.

Here’s my letter poem to a girl who died when she was sixteen.

We were never friends
but I knew who you were
that long, black hair you refused to cut
that cigarette you popped in your mouth as soon as the bell rang
that purple backpack you carried everywhere
that boy you glued yourself to,
not caring who saw you swapping spit
and playing touchy feely games under the bleachers

We were never friends
but I followed you once
not on purpose, okay, maybe I meant to
but I didn’t mean to see him hit you
I didn’t mean to see you cry
I didn’t mean to run away
knocking over the garbage can next to the snack shack
making him growl at me the way he growled at you
making me so afraid
that I forgot about him hitting you
and only thought getting away
before he hit me too.

much later
after so much
later I wondered
if I could have saved you

even later
I wonder if I can save myself

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |5 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #17

This next exercise is similar to the spine poem we did the other day. It’s easy peasy. It’s a horoscope poem. All you need is a horoscope, for either one day or a few days. Here I have included a picture of two days worth of a horoscope. (Click on the picture to see it larger and be able to choose your words/phrases.) If you don’t get the newspaper with horoscopes in them you can search online for any horoscope of the day.

Here’s the rule. You can only use the words or phrases in the horoscope. If two words or more are next to each other, you have to use them in that order but you can move things around however you like after that. You can’t change the tenses of any of the words. If you cut out a few horoscopes from the newspaper you can go through with a highlighter and mark the words you like and then rearrange them to make your poem.

Here are the two horoscopes I used.

And here’s the poem I came up with:

explosive change
emotional confusion
spend time with an old friend
someone is in your corner
don’t be shy
be true to you
push back
proceed with your eyes open
follow your heart

Now you can stop there or, you can do a second poem using this one as a jumping off point.

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #16

I realized today that while I have posted a few haiku of my own I haven’t yet mentioned that haiku is a great kick in the poetry can’ts. They are short which translates to easy for a lot of people. They can be as simple or as complex as you might like, depending on what set of rules you want to follow. For this exercise let’s stick with simple rules that it must be 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllable count. The first line has 5 syllable. The next has 7 syllables. And the last has 5 again.

To make it interesting, before you write your haiku, make your own brainstorm of things that have to do with water. I’ll throw you a few to get you started: ice, pond, puddle. Go ahead and brainstorm as many words as you can that are “water words.” Got that? Okay, so write your haiku that has to do with water.

Ready, set, go!

Here’s mine. I’m not 100% happy with it yet but I’m posting the draft to give you courage to try too!
beneath the redbud
blossoms puddle by design
masterpiece in mud

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #15

This is another one of my favorite prompts to try. Sometimes it confuses people because there’s no easy answer. As usual, I start with a list but you can brainstorm in whatever way works best for you. If you’re using the list to brainstorm, try starting off each sentence with the same phrase and then go back and revise it to make it more interesting. Or not. Either way works.

Write about what you don’t understand. Or use the line, “I don’t understand . . .” and see where it takes you.

I’m exhausted tonight but here’s my brainstorm:

I don’t understand how my grandmother always made all the food come out of the oven at the same time so everything on the dinner table was hot.
I don’t understand how to cook. It seems too much like math and makes my brain hurt.
I don’t understand how people can taste something, like a sauce and decide what it needs.
I don’t understand how to stir things on the stove evidently because a lot of things get stuck to the bowl.
I don’t understand the concept of heat because I always turn it too low and then when things don’t cook the way I expect I turn it up too high and things burn.
I don’t understand cuts of meat because I once tried to use stew meat as shishkabobs for an important dinner.
I don’t understand rice. It should be so easy but it’s not and my rice maker intimidates me.
I don’t understand cooking.

You might gather from my brainstorm that I’m no wizard in the kitchen. And you’d be right. I don’t like to do things I’m not very good at it and cooking just frustrates me. But husband, who does most of the cooking around the house, really enjoys it. I’ve gotten better over the years but I still don’t get the pure joy from it that he does.

Here’s my rough draft of a poem. It’s not much of a poem yet but I think I like the idea of exploring the two ways cooking happens in this house.
My husband whistles while he cooks
or sings along with the iPod
head bobbing in time
as he chops veggies
pounds the meat
heats the oil
a dash of this, a pinch of that
happy dancing to the fridge
for just one more egg
he studies the recipe
the way I read a book,
with intent
with joy

I don’t understand that at all.

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #14

This is so easy and so much fun. It’s called a Spine Poem. And just like Kick the Poetry Can’ts #12 the idea is to use complete phrases and not add in any extra words. For this poem I limited myself to just books I had on my young adult novel shelves but wander around your house and grab some books and make a spine poem of your own. If you don’t have a lot of books to choose from, how about using some food items from your kitchen shelves?

Here’s mine: you can click on the picture to see it full size and read it more easily.

How it’s done
Blind faith
stand tall
contents under pressure
send me down a miracle
girl overboard
too big a storm
the facts speak for themselves
the sky is everywhere
take me there

Your turn!

Saturday, April 14, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |5 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #13

In the classroom we’d do the first part of this next exercise on the board. You’ll have to brainstorm on your own or use my lists that I come up with.

First, make a list of at least 5 things that are yellow.

school bus

Now make a list of at least 5 things that fly.

hot air balloon

Now the first two lists we could all probably agree on. The last list will be different for each person. Make a list of at least 5 things you find beautiful.

ocean waves
water bubbling in a creek
flowers blooming in my garden
my husband’s smile
my dog
a room full of books
hawks soaring above the hills

Now take at least one word from each list and try to make a poem.

Honey bees buzz blossoms on the lemon tree
zooming fast past me
past my dog
sprawled in shadows of the sun
sipping nectar
like I suck butter from corn-on-the-cob

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #12

One of the things I think my students and new poets find most difficult about writing poetry is that they want a set of rules to follow: start each sentence with a capital, use complete sentences, make things rhyme, and make everything make sense. What I try to teach them is that some of the best poems or at least the seed of a good poem, can often be found more easily if you break the rules or throw the idea of rules out the window.

Now I’m not saying I find this easy to do. But when I do it, and when I share, it often cracks something open for the writer. To do this I go back to my giant stash of things cut from magazines. (I keep a stack of magazines and a pair of scissors near where I sit to watch TV. It’s a good thing to do at that time.) I go through a magazine and I cut out phrases that I find interesting. In this stash they are all phrases, no individual words. No punctuation marks. In the classroom I put a pile of phrases in front of each student.

The rules are this:
1. Use as many or as few of the phrases as you want.
2. Do not cut/tear the words apart to make other words. You have to use them just as they are.
3. Do not write new words or punctuation on scraps of paper to add to the poem.

You’d think these would be easy rules to follow but a lot of people get hung up on not having complete sentences or not making perfect sense. You can give this a try using the phrases that I share in the picture or you can grab a magazine of your own and cut out a stash of phrases that speak to you.

Here’s my set I chose to work with for this poem (click on the picture to see it full size):

And here’s the poem I came up with as a result.

Family is what you have
at break of day
listening around corners
like father, like daughter
tell me lies one by one
imagine the possibilities
behind the mask
and still the story
something very sorry
in my home

I like it. I might choose to go back and revise it into something more but I also like it just as it is.

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #11

Some of the best poems come from places where we feel things deeply and know well. Often that is a relationship with a member of our family. The feelings might be good or bad but they are almost always there, holding nuggets to make a poem. I ask my students to write a poem about someone in their family but to not tell me how they are related until the very last line. Let me get to know the person through their poem.

Now sometimes it’s hard to get there right away so you know what I’m going to tell you to do right? Yep. Make a list. And if it’s easiest to make the list starting out with the relationship and their name, fine. Do that in your listmaking/brainstorming stage. Then go back and reword it in your revision. By that I mean, brainstorm like this:

My sister Susan wears . . .
My sister Susan keeps . . .
My sister Susan hates . . .
My sister Susan likes . . .

But change it up when you work up your revised poem.

Here’s my first draft of such a poem.

He loved to hunt, that big tall man,
so tall that if I sat on his shoulders, I could touch the ceiling.
He loved to hunt those ducks and pheasant and quail
to keep us fed in the winter months
and when he brought home the ducks
we’d gather in the basement to pluck the feathers,
feathers we’d save to make into pillows later.
Later after the ducks were clean and singed
and the smell of burned flesh branded in my brain
we’d race back up the steep stairs from the basement
pack those ducks in milk cartons filled with water and
tuck them in the freezer for the lean days.

He loved to fish, that man who kept a toothpick wedged between his lips,
hooking the big blue and white boat
behind his ancient green station wagon and heading out to the sloughs
on a summer Saturday, stopping to rake some clams for bait
before heading off to Colusa with his best girl
hoping to snag a sturgeon before they had to come back home.

He loved to sit in that nubby red chair,
reading the paper and watching Red Skelton,
sucking on a peppermint lifesaver
while Red made him laugh a deep true belly laugh
that always felt like a hug

He loved his meat and potatoes for dinner
spam sandwiches for lunch
dessert and coffee with every meal.

He loved being outdoors
working in his garage
puttering in the yard
not being caged in the house
or a church
or a hospital bed

He loved me too,
I think,
that grandfather of mine,
even though I don’t remember
him ever saying the words out loud.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |4 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #10

One of the things that makes a poem, and any piece of writing, come alive is the use of specific details. Often my students will write in generalities, my dog, my car, my room. Once we’ve been writing together for a while I try to teach them to go a bit deeper with their poems and use the specific details that will show me the difference between a German Shepherd and a Poodle, between a puddle of water and the ocean, between a beat up old Chevy Impala and a shiny new Lexus just driven off the showroom floor.

It’s easiest to start with something you know well and I like to do this exercise with both a place and event. Today let’s focus on a place. For kids I usually suggest their room but they’re free to pick anywhere they want – grandma’s kitchen, church, their best friend’s basement. And then I ask them to make a list of everything they can remember about that one place, including at least one line for each of their senses. As you might tell by now I start a lot of poems with a list because while writing a poem might feel hard, making a list is usually pretty easy. Some people call it brainstorming but I usually get confused when I look at those mind maps with words going off in all sorts of different directions. A list feels orderly and yet it can still be all over the place.

So first I suggest a list of at least 10 things they remember about the place and I encourage them to use sensory details. And sometimes it’s easy to go back to the “I remember” prompt and just start the list like that. Then they can build the poem.

Here’s my brainstorm of being in my library here at home:

Some of the books are old and have that wonderful old musty book smell
It’s dusty and the windows are dirty and I don’t care
The clerestory windows let in tons of light
the picture window lets me see the lush garden
It feels like a safe place to breathe
Even with windows closed, I can hear the birds chirping
the dog is snoring,
my computer humming
A cobweb is hanging off the ceiling fan, a few more on some of the top bookcases
I’m sipping cinnamon tea
The dog is chasing something in her dreams, legs are running
I’m feeling tempted to go rearrange books
I’ve got a stack of poetry books next to me on the floor
I don’t have room on the shelves for any more books
I need get rid of some books but I don’t want to let any of them go
the room feels like a hug from an old friend when you walk into it

And here is a rough trio of haiku from the brainstorm. Alas, not many specific details but then that’s what revision is for. 🙂

ordinary day
surrounded by dusty books
gratitude fills me

gratitude fills me
snoring dog chases squirrels
birds sing songs of spring

birds sing songs of spring
calling, come outside, breathe
this is the real work

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #9

I love to play with words which comes in handy as a poet. I’m forever jotting down favorite phases, bits of dialogue I overhear or words that seem interesting to me for some reason or another. It’s important to play with your writing because sometimes poems hide in the act of play. There are days I  forget that and I sit down with my notebook determined that right now I will write a poem. And sometimes that works. I can pull up one of my prompt cards and scratch out a rough draft. But I think freewriting and word play are important even if they don’t lead to a poem at that moment.

So I keep a lot of lists. I keep lists of individual words I like and word pairings that might work in a poem. I spend time in the garden just staring at the plants and the birds trying to describe them. I make lists of things like everything I can think of that is red or cold or pieces of furniture. I make lists of verbs. It’s not busy work. Really. It primes the pump.

A lot of times making these lists leads to an important exercise that I learned from Beth Kephart. She said she writes five metaphors a day.

I thought it sounded easy until I tried it. I stuttered step around it a lot and write a lot of junk metaphors but after doing it for a while (more like every few days. I don’t have Beth’s discipline.) I’ve found that I can quickly write out 5 metaphors and 1 of them might be something I can use. The more you practice it, the easier it comes.

So today’s exercise is to start a couple of lists of your favorite words and try your hand at a few metaphors. They don’t have to lead to something, but you won’t be too surprised if they do.

Monday, April 9, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts|Tags: |2 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #8

This is another great prompt that can be used in a variety of ways. They haven’t made it to index cards of their own but they will soon.  These are incomplete sentences. Some of them lead right into make a list, 3 Ways to . . . Some are a great invitation to go someplace unexpected, Isn’t it your turn to. . . Usually students don’t have much trouble completing these. But then I often (depending on the class) serve them a twist. I tell them then need to brainstorm at least 10 lines and then they have to swap it out with someone else.

I didn’t have anyone to play with me tonight so I’m doing this one on my own. I decided to take the phrase BEHIND THE and see where it

Here’s my quick 10 line brainstorm.

behind the tree is a bush
behind the bush is a branch
behind the branch is a leaf
behind the leaf is a nest
behind the nest there is hope
behind the hope is a belief
behind the belief there is years of nature doing its own thing
behind the years of nature doing its own thing is a girl
behind the girl is the dream
behind the dream is the will

And here’s my quickie first draft of a poem. I like where this is heading and think I’ll come back and work with it some more.

Just outside my door
a Japanese maple begins the garden
rimmed in lady ferns and baby tears
dainty violets and meadow foam,
a wetlands bordered by bubbling water rocks

Beyond the tree a scraggly bush,
no tree itself, at least not yet,
grows like a skeleton against the fence
bending and sometimes breaking, when the wind blows

Within the bush branches grow
zig zagging toward the sun
highways for ants and aphids, spiders too,
a place for birds to perch, to preen
after a midday bath

Beside the branch
dark green leaves cluster like a fan
protect the jewel nestled in the vee
that meets the trunk

Behind the leaves
there is a tiny nest
woven with bits of spider webs
scraps of lint
white downy feathers
a bed newly made
waiting to hold the tiny eggs
from the tiny dancer
humming her song of hope

Rough but something new to play with in my spare time. Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #7

With the students I usually work with, we do one or two steps forward into touchy territory, and then we go back to something fun and easy. Some kids will continue to go deep and some will take the opportunity for a break and write an easy poem.

I have a collection of ordinary items that I rotate in a basket to bring in for days like these. You can pull something from your junk drawer or start your own treasure chest. On my own desk I have nature items to inspire me, favorite rocks and twigs and dried flowers and leaves. Depending on the group, we either stay serious and write about the item as it really is or sometimes we go off and pretend that it is anything but what we are holding in our hand. I pass the basket and everyone picks one item out that speaks to them. I encourage them to brainstorms the basics of what it looks and feels like and then to just jot down anything that comes to mind. Make a list. So many poems can come out of the lists. Then they can go back and take that list, add some more details, and shape it into a poem.

Because I have been focusing on (obsessing) the hummingbird nesting in my yard, I think for this poem, I’m going to pick up those binoculars.

Here’s my rough poem, a trio of haiku.

snug in high branches
grandfather’s binoculars
bring the magic close

close enough to touch
iridescent feathers wave
while wind rocks the nest

while wind rocks the nest
baby hummingbirds slumber
snug in high branches

—Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #6

This exercise is very loosely based on the George Ella Lyon poem and exercises called Where I’m From. I put it together after trying to use Lyon’s poem in some classes with students who just couldn’t seem to wrap their brain around the poem. This exercise was a nice way to ease them into it. Depending on the students (or poets) you could leave this as a simple list poem or use the list brainstorm to create something else. I alter the items on my list depending on my mood, the mood of the students, and whether it’s raining outside. (Okay, the first two are true. The last one, not so much.)

The students seem to like it because at first it’s just like answering questions, if you were an animal, what would you be? And I just toss out various items (kept on one of my trusty index cards in my back pocket) for as long or as short feels right. By the time they have their “list” they are warmed up and ready to go. Plus this builds on the 5 senses warmup poem we do every session.

So first off, just answer the questions to build your list. If you were a — what would you be?

Article of clothing?
Room in your house?
Piece of furniture?

Now build your poem. For kids I have them frame the poem by starting with “I am” and finishing with “I am.” I tell them the finished poem can’t have just one word answers. We usually title these poems “What I Want the World to Know About Me.” We go through these fast so they are reacting quickly and I don’t give them time to ponder the initial list until we’re done.

Okay, here’s my quick answering of those questions:

fuzzy sweater
someone whistling
delta slough
rocking chair
storms of thunder and lighting
a child of 5 asking someone to look at her
to feel like I what I do matters

And here’s my quick draft of a poem.


I am green, the color of growth, the sign that I am new and untried, with so much still to learn.
I am a bird, pecking at what looks like nothing until I find a valuable seed.
I am your favorite fuzzy sweater that makes you sigh as soon as your arms slide in the sleeves.
I am the sound of my grandmother whistling as she hangs clothes on the line.
I am the library, the center of our home, the room that tugs you into it and wraps you in a hug.
I am the smell of the sloughs out on the delta, my fingers trailing over the edge of the Glasper boat, while Papa captained us to the beach.
I am the rocking chair that rocked my babies to sleep.
I am the gardener of my life, growing stories and poems and an Eden in my own back yard.
I am storms that crash with thunder and lighting, so quickly do my moods change.
I am still, at times, a child of five, asking someone to please, just look at her.
I am one who wants to know that at some time, in this life, what I did mattered.

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #5

I call this lesson 5 x 7.  Make a list. Don’t think it over very long, just quickly brainstorm 5 each of the following items:

5 nouns, 5 adjectives, 5 verbs, 5 things that are green, 5 emotions, 5 sounds, 5 locations

You can obviously swap these around to 5 of something else. I’ve done different colors, foods, animals, the weather, etc. You can also build your own brainstorming set by jotting these things down on scraps of paper and keeping them in labeled baggies then draw words out of them to build a poem. But for now, let’s just brainstorm. And once you have your brainstorm, the idea is to write a poem using at least 1 word from each of your 7 categories.

Here’s my brainstorm. You can use mine for your poem or brainstorm your own.

5 nouns
dog bird water wind photograph

5 adjectives
tired sweet hot confused excited

5 verbs
race  plunge  pluck  simmer  look

5 things that are green
fern  leaf   pickle   mallard   artichoke

5 emotions
happiness love worry  envy  lonely

5 sounds
birds chirping  bubbling water rock   country music playing in someone’s backyard  snoring dog  bees buzzing

5 locations
under the Japanese maple tree  on the roof  at the park   home    on the couch

And here’s my quickie rough draft of a poem:

Dog races down the garden path
then stops to plunge her head
deep into a nest of ferns
sleeping beneath the Japanese maple tree
to roust a lazy lizard
who dives down and away from chomping jaws

I envy her simple pleasures
slurping water from the bubbling rock
bothering bees as they buzz around the garden
snoring in the sun
important lessons I should let her
teach me

I think I’m likely to come back and play with this draft and either expand the idea or perhaps chop it way back to a haiku.

Your turn.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #4

Sometimes it’s the simplest prompts that get my students writing. From the beginning that’s my goal, just to get them writing and often not even realizing that they’ve written a poem until they’ve been doing it for a while. I use a lot of my index card writing games because it feels more like a game to them and less like homework. And because it allows them to stay in a safer place until they are ready to go deep. Because of course that’s what I’m hoping poetry will do for them, invite them to go deeply into who they are, the choices they have made, what matters to them, and where they want to go with their life. But I can’t dig at their hearts right away so I do a lot of easy prompts and exercises to get them in the mood.

Building on the idea of a list poem I like to use the prompt “I remember.”

Students are usually confused ask me, “I remember what?”

And I say yes. Tell me what you remember. Tell me everything you remember about yesterday. About the last time you saw your family. (My students are usually incarcerated.) Tell me what your bedroom looks like. Tell me how you feel about green beans. Pick a single thing or a single person and just make a list. Start every sentence with “I remember.” Then later you can go back and, if you want, rework the sentences. To see how this prompt worked in one of my classes you can read about this experience I had with a very reluctant student.

Okay, let’s write. I decided to write about a day 15 years or so ago when I was living in New Orleans and sprained my ankle.

First, my brainstorm starting each line with I REMEMBER:

I remember working late and being in a bad mood when I got home because there wasn’t anything good left in the house for dinner and I was too broke to go out to eat.
I remember climbing the two flights of stairs to apartment and hearing my dog barking on the other side of the door.
I remember thinking about how I didn’t want to go take the dog for a walk because it was looking like it was going to rain and besides I was really hungry and worrying about what I was going to eat.
I remember the cat got out the front door and for a minute I worried about him taking off except by then it was raining and I knew if he got wet he’d come back.
I remember the cat racing back into the apartment out of the rain.
I remember walking the dog for several laps around the apt complex, trying not to let her roll in the big puddles of water.
I remember how I couldn’t stop her from rolling in the water and she was a dirty, stinky, wet mess of dog by the time we headed home.
I remember being so angry about everything I didn’t like in my life, about living along, about being poor, about living in a town that didn’t want me, that I didn’t watch where I was going.
I remember the big tree, so close to my apartment, the tree whose roots were tearing up the sidewalk.
I remember tripping over the roots of that tree.
I remember falling and letting go of the leash and feeling something horrible happen to my ankle.
I remember pain. A lot of pain.
I remember hopping to stairs of my apartment, my dog barking and dancing like it was some kind of a game.
I remember crawling up the stairs on my hands and knees.
I remember collapsing, just inside the door,
I remember the way my ankle looked, swollen about 5 times its normal size.
I remember holding on to my wet and stinky dog and crying because I was so alone

And here’s my first draft of a quick poem. It needs something else but I’m going to go ahead and post it now.

Walking in the rain
a dancing dog by my side
I am suddenly sideswiped
by a sidewalk split open
by ancient roots seeking sun
by my own obsession with my anger

my ankle should not hit the sidewalk first
but it does

mud splatters
rain patters
nothing matters

my will is broken
my foot is not
and I crawl up the stairs
on my hands and knees
like a three-legged dog.

Inside safe but alone
my ankle swells
my world shrinks
and I can do
is cry.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn, if you choose to play along. Write an “I remember” poem

Wednesday, April 4, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012, Poetry Prompts, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |8 Comments

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #3

This exercise started off because I needed another “something extra” to keep in my teaching bad. I’d had a run of bad luck with getting the kids to write and all the warmup exercises kept falling down flat. If I couldn’t get them to warmup, I couldn’t get them to do much of anything else. So I started opening and shutting (okay, maybe slamming) the drawers in my desk and file cabinet thinking I would find an answer in there somewhere. And I did. Sort of.

In my stationary drawer I had a stack of envelopes that didn’t go with any cards or notes. Just a bunch of mismatched extras. And I started to wonder what the kids  might do if they received an envelope that obviously had something in but they wouldn’t know what and they wouldn’t be allowed to open the envelopes. I took a stack of the envelopes and filled them all with something. Sometimes just a single Post-it note. Sometimes several sheets of paper (blank but they didn’t know that.) Then I sealed all the envelopes and proceeded to write on them, decorate them, drop them in the dirt, get them wet, crumple them up like they’ve been in someone’s pocket. All sorts of things to give them character.

In class I let everyone pick an envelope and I tell them that they can either be the person who just got this envelope in the mail or they are getting ready to send it.

I ask them to brainstorm 6 things about the envelope, simple story questions, WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY and HOW.

And then to write a poem using those answers. I ask them to go back and revise with using the 5 senses. And for those that are really digging in about it’s “too hard” or “I don’t know what to write” I tell them they can do an acrostic if they like using the word LETTER or ENVELOPE.

I always tell the writers that they can make it all up. It doesn’t have to be real. But they almost always end up writing about something that actually happened to them.

There’s something that seems to happen when you are holding an envelope you know you can’t open. It usually gets people writing. (By the way, this is a great general creative writing exercise too.) It’s a little hard to do with just a photograph but let’s see what I can come up with. I’m picking that white envelope at the bottom with the phrase “Why won’t you talk to me?” on it. It’s crumpled and has been scuffed in the dirt a bit.

My brainstorm:

I’m thinking I just got the envelope and I’m trying to get up the nerve to open it. None of this is true. I’m just making it up as I go along.

– WHO?  I’m pretty sure it’s from a neighbor who lived across the street from me years ago. She was always leaving little notes in my mailbox
– WHAT?  It’s a yearly plea that comes, oddly enough, not at Christmas, but on my birthday.
– WHERE? I’m sitting in my car because I just picked up the mail at the post office
– WHEN? It’s my birthday. Early morning before the day has really gotten started
– WHY? We had a big fight over something horrible and I just can’t seem to forgive her, no matter how many times she asks.
– HOW? How am I going to get past this big rock in road?

Here’s my 10 minute poem. It’s very rough but I can see some things I like I might want to develop further.

Birthday mail
should make me smile
but a single envelope with
that familiar loopy handwriting
I used to try to mimic
makes my heart jump to a not-so-happy place.

A can near the door of the Post Office beckoned,
your offering would have been
a perfect gift to the garbage gods
but I couldn’t let go
anymore than I could
forget or forgive.

Neighborly notes of love
landed up in my mailbox
near every day
for the seven years
you lived across the street from me
thanking me
for blueberries
and listening to you cry
when your mother died
until the day came
when I couldn’t listen
because everything you said
was a lie.

I hate your lies
but more than that
I hate what you stole
from me
the friend I thought you’d
always be
the smile I thought I’d
always have
every time
I saw your name.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn, if you care to play along.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #2

I use a lot of index cards and things from magazines when I teach poetry. They’re easy and inexpensive. I can cut things out of magazines while I’m watching TV or just relaxing in the garden. In the past I skipped taping things to index cards but magazine paper is flimsy and things would get crumpled or lost too easily. Now I’ve discovered a bonus of having things on index cards is that I can always have a couple of sets in my pockets. Because one thing I’ve learned about teaching is that some lessons go over great and some of them fall flat in a heartbeat. I like being able to grab another set of cards and jump right into something else. In the classroom the kids seem to like holding them. At my desk, I like shuffling through them until something calls to me.

I start every class with the sensory warmup. If you want to warmup first I’ll give you a word from my stack today: TRUST

The next exercise is a simple list poem. I love using these with people who are intimidated with the idea of writing poetry. I tell them they don’t have to worry about rhymes or making any kind of sense. They just have to start with a list. A great example is Bruce Lanksy’s I Can’t Write a Poem.

I find using a question as a prompt sometimes helps get things started so here are some of my question cards.

Let’s pick one and write.

I chose WHERE DOES IT HURT? Here’s my first brainstorm.



every time I look in the mirror

my eyes (allergies)

my shoulder (fell off my horse too many times)

my little toe (stubbed it on the dog bone)

the thumb on my left hand (slammed it in the fridge)

the inside of my mouth where I bit my cheek (watching a scary movie)

the corner of my heart where I keep thoughts about my dad

a vault where I hide my memories of living in New Orleans

shadowy places where a mother always worries about her children

a hidden place deep inside of me where I know I’m not living up to my full potential

Now what was interesting to me is that I started off thinking about actual physical hurts and then it just flowed into more emotional ones. Sometimes I have long lists. Sometimes I get just a couple of lines and then a poem explodes. Sometimes my list poem stays a list and sometimes it goes off in another direction. It’s all good. It’s all writing. It’s all a gateway to poetry. This is just another way for me and my students to enter the creative process. Maybe they can’t write a poem, but they can make a list.

Here’s what I did with my brainstorm.


Blood and band-aids
record the painful moments
I let the world see
stubbed toe
slammed door
one shoulder,
always sore.

But those wounds heal
scar-less memories
that fade
but never haunt me.

I can’t show you
where I hurt the most.

One corner of my heart
holds hurts leftover from childhood
the gift of a missing father
the pain in an unwanted daughter
the memory that I have no memories
of him to call my own.

Behind another wall
I hide any recollection
of ever living in New Orleans
pretending like it never happened
pretending like it never change me
pretending, always pretending,
because remembering
is where it hurts the most.

—Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved

Your turn. You can use the question prompt I used or one of the cards or open a magazine and find one of your own. I hope you’ll decide to share it here.

Kick the Poetry Can'ts #1

Hooray! It’s National Poetry month! Poets and poetry lovers everywhere have been looking forward to this all year. I know I have.

I teach poetry to incarcerated youth. They’re a tough audience. They don’t want to do anything and they REALLY don’t want to write poetry. It takes me a few visits to get them into it and while I don’t convert everyone in loving poetry I do seem to get a lot of them writing it. I’m going to share some of the ways I get these kids to write poetry. They always involve prompts and exercises of some kind so I will do the exercise and I hope you will play along. Not all of the poems and exercises I share will speak to you and that’s okay.

When I go to a poetry residency I usually go for 10-12 visits. This is good because in the detention facilities it usually takes 3 sessions before I have built up any trust with the kids. So I start off easy and set certain things in place that they know will happen every time.  After reading to them from Ruth Gendler’s wonderful book The Book of Qualities, I bring out my purple cards.

I let a student pick a card and from there we do a group poem on the board based on using our five senses to describe the word. It takes a while but pretty soon they get into and are shouting out some great descriptions and I jot them all on the board. We pick our favorites and put together a quick list poem. This is the one thing I do every single visit. In the classroom it helps get them warmed up without writing yet and because they are all doing it together, there is less pressure on them. And they get used to it and look forward to being able to pick a card and get us started. As you can see from the photo, these are just words cut from magazines that I taped onto some index cards.  I use these cards in a lot of different ways and when I am teaching, there are always a stack of them in my back pocket. I keep some on my desk too, if I am looking for a prompt.

So let’s do one of these now. I pick the card ENVY. In the classroom, this is what I would write on the board:


What does envy look like?

What does envy feel like?

What does envy sound like?

What does envy smell like?

What does envy taste like?


Okay, here’s what I came up with:


Envy looks like every person I’ve ever seen who doesn’t have issues with their weight.

Envy feels like a beach bonfire blazing out of control.

Envy sounds like steam hissing from a broken overheated pipe.

Envy smells like candy cooking on the stove, so sweet it makes me feel sick.

Envy tastes nothing like I imagined it would taste like.


Now in a classroom you’d have a lot more sentences for each sense but this will give you the idea. And if you’re doing this on your own, go ahead and freewrite as many as you can come up with. You can use my word, ENVY, or one from the picture or picture a word of your own.

After I have my sentences I like to play with them and see if I can find the poem.  I should add that I do these quickly. They’re great warmups for just that reason. You don’t have to spend hours or days revising it. I might go back and play with it some more but here’s my 10 minute poem.



Envy sounds like steam hissing from an overheated pipe

every time I seem someone who doesn’t have issues with their weight

my chest hurts.


Envy feels like a beach bonfire blazing out of control

and smells like candy cooking on the stove, sickening sweet,

it makes my stomach turn

it makes me feel sick

it makes me into someone I don’t want to be.


Envy tastes nothing like I imagined it would taste like,

it sticks in the back of my throat like peanut butter

choking my possibilities.

— Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved


And I tell these new poets, this is it. You wrote a poem.

Your turn. Why not give it a try here in the comments or on your own blog. If you post it on your blog please leave a link in the comments so I can come see what you’ve done.

I hope you’ll share your poems in the comments so we can all be inspired.