Poem Prompts

I am using my blog to post poem prompts. Each time I post a new one, I will store the previous ones here. However, since I am just starting this, I am posting the first prompt both here and on my blog. Enjoy!


I am revising a book I wrote a few years ago of poetry prompts. I am going to post some here. Please use these prompts and send me your results. I will post some of the results here.


This first prompt comes from an old hand-out I just re-discovered. I had listed great first lines, and below is the first batch, which I listed as "Starts in the Middle." Each of these beginnings sounds as if the reader is in a conversation with the poet, and there has been an exchange of information prior to the line that starts the poem. It is a powerful way to begin a poem, as a reader feels compelled to read on; after all, they are part of a conversation that is already in progress.

When I was twelve, I chose Dante’s Inferno

Diane Thiel, “Memento Mori in Middle School”


I no longer want to birth a snowman—

Ye Chun, “For Hai Zi, Who Calls Himself Son of the Sea”


Which reminds me of another knock-on-wood

Marilyn Nelson, “Minor Miracle”


In Italy, where this sort of thing can occur

Anthony Hecht, “A Hill”


I, too, sing America.

Langston Hughes, “I, Too”


And this is the way they ring

Anne Sexton, “Ringing the Bells”


He learned to breathe in German but

Bin Ramke, “Practical Linguistics”


First having read the book of myths,

Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck”


That’s my last duchess painted on the wall

Robert Browning, “My Last Duchess”


Next time, you’ll notice them on your way to work

Jared Carter, “Fire Burns in a Fifty-Five Gallon Drum”


Let us go then, you and I,

T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”


Sundays too my father got up early

Robert Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays”


Use one of these starts as a start of your own, changing the original, of course.


When I was

I no longer want to

Which reminds me of

In Italy,

I, too,

And this is 

He learned to

First having 

That's my last

Next time,

Let us go 

Sundays too


So Thiel's "When I was twelve, I chose Dante's Inferno" could become " When I was ten" or "When I lived in Indiana" or "When I eat rice." Be sure to do two things: find the whole original poem after you have a first draft of your own, and make mention of your source. Some of these are so well-known that if someone were to start a poem with "I, too," or "Let us go" without acknowledging Hughes or Eliot, that someone would look foolish. 


Also, prompts are starting points for drafts, and drafts are meant to be revised. Even if you do begin with "First having read the book of myths," by the time you revise to find your own poem, Rich's first line may be gone from your poem entirely, which is fine. 


The point of using another poem as a prompt for your own (unless you are responding directly to another poem) is to have a poem you have written that owes inspiration to the original, but nothing more. The original poet should be able to look at your piece and not recognize anything as her or his own. 


Have fun with this prompt! I am anxious to see what you come up with!

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