Guest Blog Posts

The Promise and Potential of Poetry Prompts and Exercises – guest blog by Erika Dreifus

I've long been a fan of writing prompts and exercises. Back in 2010, shortly before my short-story collection Quiet Americans was released, I described some contributions that prompts and exercises can make to a writing practice, including getting you started, getting you "unstuck," and even getting you published. Now, as I launch another book--my first full-length poetry collection, a volume titled Birthright--I realize how much I still owe to those guided nudges.

Some poems in Birthright originated in beginning poetry workshops, in which class assignments produced early drafts. Another poem emerged when, as a visiting instructor, I sat in on another instructor's MFA-level class and completed the same exercise that she was guiding the students to try. (That poem, "The End of the Lines," first published in Whale Road Review, eventually earned a Pushcart nomination, too.) And many poems grounded in Jewish texts exist thanks to opportunities that I've had to delve into those texts with scholar-writers who routinely incorporate prompts into study sessions.

At other times, online resources have supplied the inspiration. Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides blog has contributed weekly "Wednesday Poetry Prompts" and regular bursts of daily "poem-a-day" challenge suggestions. (One such month-long challenge is taking place right now, throughout November 2019.) Also helpful: the weekly Poets & Writers "The Time Is Now" prompts and varied offerings from Maureen Porson's, this Poetry Prompts site, and Rick Lupert's annual poetry-writing projects over on the Poetry Super Highway site (go to the "special projects" tab).

My book also owes much to a full book of instructive ideas: The Daily Poet: Day-by-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano. (And the authors do mean daily: This volume contains one prompt for each day of the year.) A few years ago, I purchased the e-version; for a time, I began each writing day with a quick check-in.

Here's just one example of The Daily Poet's utility: The March 8 prompt, evidently inspired by the anniversary of baseball legend Joe DiMaggio's death in 1999, led me to draft a poem that I titled "Wherever You've Gone, Joe DiMaggio." Two years after I encountered that prompt, my poem appeared in the "Pop Culture" issue of Alyss; it has subsequently found its way into print form in Birthright.

Not every writer may need the extra push that prompts and exercises can provide. But many of us do find them beneficial, for an array of reasons. Luckily for me--and my new book--they're amply available. We wouldn't have made it this far without them.

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Erika Dreifus is the author of Birthright: Poems (Kelsay Books, 2019). She is also the author of Quiet Americans: Stories (Last Light Studio, 2011). She lives in New York City. Since 2004, Erika has published The Practicing Writer, a free (and popular) e-newsletter for writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Follow her on Twitter (@erikadreifus), where she tweets "on matters bookish and/or Jewish."

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