Still Life ~ craft + creativity

Still Life invites writers, artists, and musicians to share a favorite creative prompt or craft lesson, or to tell us about a book, poem, song, or film that’s been inspirational to them. Still Life offers opinions, experiences, or lessons on creativity, artistic processes, and the role of arts in culture. 

In this episode of Still Life we give you some poetry prompts from poets Jessica Jacobs and Nickole Brown and their new collaborative book Write It! 100 Poetry Prompts to Inspire (Spruce Books, 2020). 

The prompts below are taken from the third section, "Who Are Others?", described in the introduction as 

where you’ll continue reaching outward, investigating not just your own life but the lives of those around you. While working through these exercises, you may find empathy—not just feeling sorry for another but truly striving to understand what it’s like to be that other person—will deepen within you. Crucial for any writer, this will give you not just your own, but countless eyes to look through, allowing you to see from perspectives very different than your own. Getting through this section might leave you with a better understanding of those you care about most. You may also find you’ll notice a person next to you on the bus or at the grocery store and see them in all their complexity. In this section, we’ll also ask that you turn your attention to the natural world, requiring you to be a kind of citizen scientist, a telescope pointed to the stars, a barometer measuring the changing pressures of the weather, and an anthrozoologist exploring the relationships between we human animals and nonhuman beings. With the climate crisis at hand, attention to all living things is essential, and this will help you be a keeper of the story shared by this planet. 

These prompts focus on parental love and hurt, that delicate balance that most people have experienced.

In Write It!, Jessica and Nickole have created a gorgeous guided workbook/journal, with space on each page for writing. The prompts encourage self-reflection and further reading by including the work of many of the writers that influenced the authors as readers and writers. Purchasing options for Write It! (and you will want this book!) are available by visiting the authors’ website, SunJune Literary Collaborative

Who makes you who you are, both for bad and good?

by Jessica Jacobs and Nickole Brown

(excerpted from Write It! 100 Poetry Prompts to Inspire, Spruce Books, 2020. 
Used with permission of the authors.)

Who cared for you most when you were a child? Do you remember them vividly? If not, no worries: Write what you do not remember about them, making a list through negation that’s specific as possible. (For example, you might recall a day at the zoo with your mother, but can’t say if she was wearing her green coat or still smoking cigarettes then, if she ate chocolate ice cream when you did, if she told you about that time your uncle and you saw the giraffes.) Remember: Don’t write what you do remember, write what’s missing.

When you think of that person who most cared for you as a child, you likely have mixed feelings, knowing there is love between you but also hurt. Divide a page in two. On one side, list everything about them that you appreciate and adore. On the other, write a list of ways in which they’ve upset or damaged you.

Now, try to write a portrait in which you bring elements from both lists together. Often, when we sit down to write we think we must choose what the poem is about—that we need to write a poem in which an important figure is beloved or disliked, in which they are all good or all bad. Here, hold both truths as the same time, making this person as complex and real as they are in life.

In “Those Winter Sundays,” Robert Hayden described his father getting up early to warm the house and polish everyone’s good shoes, but also how much he feared his father and the chronic anger of that house. Hayden wrote of his father, No one ever thanked him, ending the poem, What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices? Was there a time in your life when someone important to you treated you with anger and kindness at the same time? Can you write them a letter of gratitude that doesn’t deny the harder realities?


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