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Filtering by Tag: difficulty level 4/5

NaPoWriMo Poetry Prompt 29: Do You Remember Mad Libs?

Sarah and Jeff Boyle

Difficulty: 4/5

Remember Mad Libs? When we were kids, we played them a lot, especially at school when it was too cold or rainy to go outside for recess. If you've never done it before, you're in for a treat, we hope. The basic premise is to make a list of parts of speech without any knowledge of the context into which they will be placed. Then you fill in a story with the words you've listed and what seems to be a very straightforward story becomes very silly (or at the very least, surreal).

So that's how we're creating today. Take a short poem (or section of a poem), strip out a few words in each line, making note of the part of speech the word is. Give yourself a few minutes away, then come back and assign new words for each part of speech. Then plug your new words back into the poem to see what you end up with.  Here's mine, based on "A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsberg:

What _______(plural noun) I have of you _____(time of day), Walt Whitman, for I ______(past tense verb) down the sidestreets under the ______(plural noun) with a ______(minor ailment)
self-conscious looking at the full ______(heavenly body). In my ______(adjective) fatigue, and ______(gerund) for images, I went into the neon ______(fruit or vegetable) supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations! What _______(plural noun) and what ______(plural noun)!  Whole families ______(gerund) at night!  Aisles full of ______(plural of family member)!  Wives in the _______(fruits/vegetables), (plural of family member) in the tomatoes!--and you, García Lorca, what were you doing ______(direction) by the ______(plural of fruit/vegetable)?

plural noun: refrigerators
time of day: dawn
past tense verb: tumbled
plural noun: wallets
minor ailment: impetigo
heavenly body: Mars
adjective: healthy
gerund: yelling
fruit/vegetable: kumquat
plural noun: doors
plural noun: oven
gerund: toasting
plural of family member: grandmothers
fruits/vegetables: avocados
plural of family member: cousins
direction: up
fruits/vegetables: eggs

New version:

What refrigerators I have of you at dawn, Walt Whitman, for I tumbled down the sidestreets under the wallets with  impetigo self-conscious looking at the full Mars. In my healthy fatigue, and yelling for images, I went into the neon kumquat supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations! What doors and what ovens!  Whole families toasting at night!  Aisles full of grandmothers!  Wives in the avocados, cousins in the tomatoes!--and you, García Lorca, what were you doing up by the eggs?

It's an intensive workout and multi-step, but it can yield some strange and interesting results. I found that prose poems work well, but it would be cool to see what you can do with more minimally-written work. Try a couple different iterations. If you're working with someone else, ask him or her to fill out your word bank just to make it more interesting and truer to the original spirit of Mad Libs! Let us know what you come up with. We'd love to know.

We're going to keep accepting poems to publish here on the blog! Keep 'em coming. This has been a blast to see what you guys come up with. Send us your work here: Thanks!

NaPoWriMo Poetry Prompt #27: Follow the Sound

Sarah and Jeff Boyle

Difficulty: 4/5

Well, we're into the last week of NaPoWriMo and congratulations on making it this far! It's been a thrilling, exciting, slow, exacting month, so we're taking you out with some interesting, not-particularly-easy ideas to get you away from your comfort zone.

Today, we're thinking about sound and where sound takes your mind. Some people like to have music or news on in the background when they write; it allows their minds to wander in and out of the page. Others need complete silence to delve as deeply as they need to go into their brains to pull out words by the roots. If you are in the former group, excellent! If you are in the latter group, stick around anyway and see what you can come up with, doing something that might make you uncomfortable.

Listen to each of the sound clips below (say 30 seconds or so, more if you're really into it) and see how each of the pieces affects your mindset, your language usage, and your ability to coalesce thoughts into words. Here is the first clip:

What I came up with:

throwing pots and pans down stairs
the sun is overwhelming off the metal roof of the silos
the aggregation of bowl and hot wheels is worthy of reflection
I want to kick holes in car doors


Here is the second clip (it's a bit more mellow):

clapboard walls and the amble of a creek
holler about a holler
conversations about the setting sun and the depth of shadows
the fiddle speaks in a human tone


And here's the last one (and perhaps the oddest one (I like it quite a bit):

interruption of breath
machine-aided collapse
aphasia coded in binary
neurons stuffed with cotton
unsupervised home-cooked icepick q-tip
slap attack and diffusion


So you've got some words inspired by (in spite of?) the music you've heard. Take what you've written and see what you can make of it. Investigate the mood of each group of words. How is each piece different? An how does one piece inform and distract you from the next one? These are some of the questions you're going to come across as you write and consider your responses.

Break phrases apart to single words, remix and make them stranger! As ever, it is possible that have not heard heard anything like this before--use the novelty to make a poem that doesn't sound like anything you've written before. Aldous Huxley has a book called The Doors of Perception. Use the music to choose different doors than you normally would.

Bonus points! If you want to make it more interesting for yourself, take the words from the different pieces and integrate them with one another and see if you can make it work. It might also be interesting to compare the words and mood that you've noticed and figure out a way they might work together. If you're working with others, see what they thought and felt about the music--it seems unlikely that you'll all come up with the same thing.

There's still time to send us your most successful pieces from this month! Get them to us and we'll put 'em up on the blog. Even if you can't get them to us in time for the May issue of our zine, we're going to keep the poems coming a few times a week and we'll use those in subsequent issues! Email us at:

NaPoWriMo Poetry Prompt 26: A Poem So Good You Can Taste It

Sarah and Jeff Boyle

Difficulty Level 2/5

Look in your kitchen. Is there anything there that you just cannot wait to eat? Is there something missing, something you’ve been craving all day and your family is out of it? That’s what you’re going to write about today.

True story: our son is allergic to dairy. So we don’t eat cheese, yogurt, milk or butter. None of those delicious fatty things that so many of us love. What do we use to replace those delicious dairy fats? Avocado. Our love of the avocado is deep and true.  Which is why it’s no surprise that this poem by Diane Lockward spoke so deeply to the family behind Flashbang!

Organic Fruit

I want to sing
a song worthy of
the avocado, renegade
fruit, strict individualist, pear
gone crazy. Praise to its skin

like an armadillo’s, the refusal
to adulate beauty. Schmoo-shaped
and always face forward, it is what it
is. Kudos to its courage, its inherent love
of democracy. Hosannas for its motley coat,
neither black, brown, nor green, but purple-hued,
like a bruise. Unlike the obstreperous coconut, the

avocado yields to the knife, surrenders its hide of leather,
blade sliding under the skin and stripping the fruit. Praise
to its nakedness posed before me, homely, yellow-green,
and slippery, bottom-heavy like a woman in a Renoir, her
flesh soft velvet. I cup the fruit in my palm, slice and hold,
slice and hold, down to the stone at the core, firm fist at the
center. Pale peridot crescents slip out, like slivers of moon.
Exquisite moment of ripeness! a dash of salt, the first bite
squishes between tongue and palate, eases down my

throat, oozes vitamins and oil. Could anything be more
delicious, more digestible? Plaudits to its versatility,
yummy in Cobb salad, saucy in guacamole, boldly
stuffed with crabmeat. My avocado dangles from
a tree, lifts its puckered face to the sun, pulls
all that light inside. Praise it for being small,
misshapen, and durable. Praise it for
the largeness of its heart.

(Poem originally appeared at Cultural Weekly. Reproduced here with permission of the poet.)

Notice how many ways Lockward describes the avocado. She describes its "hide of leather" that "yields to the knife." She compares the pit to a "firm fist at the center." It is "schmoo-shaped" and "purple-hued/like a bruise." And that's before she even describes what it's like to eat!

You may also have noticed that Lockward’s poem is shaped like an avocado, i.e., it’s a concrete poem. Concrete poems arrange the words on the page so they look like the object they are describing or referencing. The poem isn't just about an avocado, it embodies the avocado. 

Your challenge today is write a poem about a food. Make it come alive. Make your audience taste it, crave it, need it right now. Take a familiar food and make us taste it as if for the first time. Take an unfamiliar food and make us feel like we know exactly how it tastes even though we’ve never had it. Your possibilities here are, as they say, limitless.

Bonus Level Up Difficulty Level 4/5: Make your food poem a concrete poem. If you write about a banana, make the words into the shape of a banana. Hmm, I wonder how you could make a poem look like a bunch of grapes? If you figure it out, please send it along to us at