19 Non-traditional Poetry Prompt Ideas

IMG_2516Every poet goes through a time when they struggle to find meaningful topics. I’ve put together a list of things that I’ve done and ideas that I’ve used to help me get over and through some of those stalled out moments of non-creativity. Keep writing!

1. Pen or Type a Poem – if you traditionally write your poems on your laptop, switch to a notebook or journal for a week or so. Or if you traditionally write in a journal, switch to your computer and use the synonym features available to you. Write a poem about the importance of your writing habits or of technology to you.

2. Cover Art a Poem – go to your bookshelf and pull out a book (that you’ve read helps) with an interesting cover; think back about the story, how it made you feel, what the characters were like. Then write a poem about the cover and let those thoughts and feelings guide your writing. Try to use the title’s words in your poem somehow.

3. Sing a Poem – oftentimes it is helpful for me to think: “I’m not writing a poem, I’m writing a song.” And sing every line to yourself. Write a poem where before you put the line down via pen or keyboard you sing it aloud next to the line before it. (Remember songs don’t have to rhyme either!)

4. Walk a Poem – I typically write in my car, over my lunch breaks, if you want to mix things up then move around. Get a notebook and a pen and take a walk and don’t stop until you’ve got a first line or last line floating around in your head. Then write it down and keep walking. Every time you see something interesting on your walk (a funny dog/person, an interesting tree, a new shop or restaurant you never noticed before) write down one word, below your first line as a reminder, when you have a good list, find a place to sit and finish the poem with those words and feelings included.

5. Gift a Poem – write a poem for someone you care about, and then actually give it to them (or better read it to them and then give it to them). I find writing with a performance/audience in mind gives me a lot of motivation to finish the piece as well as write my best.

6. Hide a Poem – write a poem just for you. This is a locked drawer poem. You will never ever show anyone this poem. Put whatever you want in it, write about your worst moment, your shames, your fears, your private desires and hopes. Scare yourself.

7. Shape a Poem – find a shape or silhouette image that you like online and print it out. Then turn the page over and write a poem in the reversed shape of the piece (hold it up to a light every once in a while so you know you’re within the lines). Let your image or silhouette guide the topic of the poem–are you shaping a poem to look like a dinosaur or a basketball, how would those poems be different?

8. Threaten a Poem – take out a piece that you’ve written before (one that you don’t necessarily love yet) and rewrite it using threats. When you can’t seem to find a word, tell that poem to listen to you and obey. That if it doesn’t listen you swear you will rip it in half. Get angry and create a whole new piece as a revision.

9. Photograph a Poem – set yourself a small amount of time and go for a walk outdoors with a camera (doesn’t matter if you’re in a city or a forest). Take as many pictures as you can. Then when you get home (use a digital camera to save yourself developing time) review the pictures and find one that you like or hate, use that as inspiration for a poem. Do you hate/love your photography, the subject of the photo, that you couldn’t see more?

10. Collaborate on a Poem – find a friend who also likes to write, and write a poem with them. Not near them, with them. Not each of you write a poem (too easy), one poem.

11. Measure a Poem – pick a number (if you have a favorite use that…as long as it’s not something like 85,000) and write a poem with that number of syllables in each line. See my example below (8 syllables per line in Gray Surpent). You could also form a series of poems, maybe 1-10, each with that many syllables per line.

Gray Surpent

I often wonder at the road
How it bleeds around the corner
Like a snake holding back pillars
Trees in revolt against man’s reach
Intrusion of the old forests
Their roots killed by a gray serpent
Hungry for the beauty it lacks
The brave branches on the frontline
The enduring unprovoked war

12. Randomize a Poem – get your dictionary (yes, that thing on your shelf) and randomly flip open to 15-20 pages. Write down the index words found at the top of those pages. Then write a poem that uses all of those words. Don’t forget to look up words that you don’t know already.

13. Colorize a Poem – as simple as it sounds, writing in a different color can change your mood about the poem. Write a happy poem in yellow or orange and pink, write a sad poem in blue, write a memory poem in green. What does a particular color make you feel, use those colors and emotions to guide you into some new thoughts.

14. Erase a Poem – take a poem you’ve already written, try to find one with a lot of personal meaning, and write it out by hand in pencil. Then erase two words from each line. Use your thesaurus to find new words for each of the erased ones. Don’t worry about how confusing it gets, or if your rhyme-scheme is ruined. When you’re finished go back and read the poem a few times, observe how different the meaning is, how the feel of the entire poem has been altered (for better or worse?). Ask yourself what the new poem could mean. Make sure you save it along side the original so you can always compare!

15. Lose the Rhythm of a Poem – if you normally write rhymes, write a poem without any. If you never rhyme write a poem with a simple a-b-a-b rhyme scheme. Use the subject of change (political, family, personal) as your topic.

16. List a Poem – make a list of nouns only (people, places, things) that you desire and write a poem about why.

17. New Perspective of a Poem – if you always write in first person forbid yourself from using that perspective. Then write a poem about a current event that disturbed or troubled you (switching all your I’s and Me’s to We’s and Us’s doesn’t count!).

18. Use Nostalgia on a Poem – think back about a time when you were happier (high school, college, your last job, an old girlfriend or boyfriend, a long ago holiday) and write a poem about loss. Do this sober.

19. Interview into a Poem – create a list of questions and go interview a friend (or a stranger), ask them about where they were born, who there parents were, what they wanted to be when they grew up. Make sure you take some notes, and when you’re done with the interview thank them and write a biographical poem of their life. (You can extend this one by doing your best to have a consistent rhyme, and then further by giving the poem to your friend–or new friend.)


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5 thoughts on “19 Non-traditional Poetry Prompt Ideas

  1. Pingback: 10 Tips on How to Start a Poem | Joan Spahr, Soul Poetry Joan Spahr, Soul Poetry

  2. You’ve helped me to see things I haven’t seen before. I hope to continue to find new creations of yours. To me, you are one of “the big ones”. 🙂

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