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.