Art Works Blog

That Time You Wrote a Poem

When was the last time you read a poem? Last week, last month, never? The NEA’s Big Read program just added three contemporary poetry titles to its library for 2017-18, and we can’t wait for folks across the country to start reading these books and learning more about their authors. In the meantime, if you answered “never” to the question above, you might need some encouragement to open your first book of verse. One of the best ways to learn about a new art form is to try your own hand at it.  

Here are five poetry prompts to jumpstart your writing life:  

1. Think about a member of your family that had a significant impact on your childhood. Write a poem about or to that family member. Need inspiration? Watch 2013 Poetry Out Loud National Champion Langston Ward recite Li-Young Lee’s poem about his father, “The Gift” or read Aracelis Girmay’s poem about her family, “The Dream.”

2. Are you a sports fan? Write a poem about your favorite game, your favorite sports star, or even your favorite team mascot. Use May Swenson’s structurally innovative poem “Analysis of Baseball” as a model.

3. Take a book off your shelf and open it to page 31. Use the first sentence on that page as the first line of your poem. Don’t have a book handy? Use one of the first lines from the 13 new titles added to our NEA Big Read Library.

4. Create a poem without writing a single word. Find a text you like—it can be anything, a recipe, a paragraph from your favorite novel, a love letter from an old flame, instructions for cleaning your vacuum—and take a heavy black marker to eliminate every third word or phrase. When you’re finished, read the words that are left behind, and voila, you’ve created your very own “found poem.”

5. Have you ever owned a pet—a dog, a cat, maybe a gerbil on loan from your daughter’s third grade class? Write about it! To get your mind on the animal kingdom, take a look at these poems: “Why Nobody Pets the Lion at the Zoo” by John Ciardi; “300 Goats” by Naomi Shihab Nye; “Poem with One Fact” by Donald Hall; and “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop.  

Interested in bringing NEA Big Read to your community? We're accepting applications for 2017-2018 programming through January 26, 2017. More information here.

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