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NaPoWriMo Poetry Prompt 11: Just Between F and T

Sarah and Jeff Boyle

Difficulty Level 5/5

It's the weekend, so we're asking you to get out your big poetry guns for today's prompt. Reproduced just below is a poem by Matthea Harvey. You may recognize her name, either because she is one of the most delightful and inventive poets we have these days or because we have a quote of hers up at the top of this very blog. The poem is from one of two series of poems in her book Modern Life. The first series is called "The Future of Terror" and tells a story about the end of the world from the soldiers' point of view. The second series is "Terror of the Future" and flips the first series on its head with civilians narrating the end of the world. Why don't you read it before I let you in on its generative engine:

Terror of the Future / 9

The teacups tied to strings along the walkway
stayed silent, had no warning songs to sing.
We shook talc onto our tastebuds
and watched the skyrockets, starry-eyed,
until night blacked them out like a giant
malevolent Sharpie. Scouts gathered
in the square and surveyed the Room
For Rent signs. In this and only this did we have
supply and no demand. It was a long time
since anyone had felt a quiver on the railroad.
We argued timetables, regardless,
(I was just glad you were speaking to me).
You wanted to go to the provinces.
I wanted to see the palace. Of course,
given the state of the ozone, we weren’t
going anywhere. We weren’t outdoorsy
anyway. Our anoraks were moth-eaten
for a reason. You said, I am morose, a new kind
of rose. I pointed hopefully at my foot and said
mistletoe? No. You wouldn’t get within a meter
of me. Later, when your lungs filled with liquid,
you might have said love, you might have said leave.
I said I love you too and left the room.
There was no ice storm, no helicoptered-in help,
no Hollywood ending. Just a gasp and then
no more you, which meant the end of me too.

(From Modern Life, by Matthea Harvey. Reprinted here with permission of the poet.)

You maybe noticed that there are some unexpected words and images in that poem, like a teacup on a string, talc on tastebuds, and the entirely unexplained possibility of a trip to a palace. How did Harvey come up with those images? She used the dictionary. In her own words, the poems in these series "were inspired by making lists of words in the dictionary between 'future' and 'terror.'" I've taken the first ten lines of the poem and bolded those dictionary words for you, so you can see the poem's engine (engine, by the way, being a word I think I stole from Matthea Harvey herself to describe what makes a poem work or run or function or come to life):

The teacups tied to strings along the walkway
stayed silent, had no warning songs to sing.
We shook talc onto our tastebuds
and watched the skyrockets, starry-eyed,
until night blacked them out like a giant
malevolent Sharpie. Scouts gathered
in the square and surveyed the Room
For Rent signs. In this and only this did we have
supply and no demand. It was a long time
since anyone had felt a quiver on the railroad.

Now it's your turn. Pick a two-word phrase you want to write about. If you're feeling really daring, let an algorithm choose one word (or both!) for you by using this username generator. Then open up your dictionary and make a list of interesting words between your beginning and end words. Keep those words in alphabetical order, and add write in between them to create your poem. 

Help! Help! Emergency Level Down, Difficulty Level 4/5: Make a list of words from the dictionary in between your two chosen words. Then use them in any order in your poem. 


Have you registered for the Poem-A-Thon yet? Sign up to write poems and raise money for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council today! We just ordered some pretty sweet one-inch buttons that are yours for free if you play along with us. And don't forget to send us your poems for publication on this here blog: flashbangwriting@gmail.com.