Poetry Prompts: Start with a Word

wordsThe thing I love most about writing poetry is the ability to form something from a single word. Not that fiction or nonfiction doesn’t offer that same opportunity, but there’s something about taking a word, rolling it around in your mind, spilling it onto the paper, and drawing your own bias of what that word can now mean.

I first started playing with the single-word exercise when I discovered the Creative Copy Challenge blog. The challenge is to take ten random words and work them into a fiction piece. I do something a little different with the words — I may use them all, but sometimes I’ll go for the one that stands out when I scan the list. Take the word “apology” for instance. Where does your mind go when you see it? Who’s giving the apology? Is it being given or withheld? Who’s accepting it? Are they accepting it or rejecting it? What’s behind the need for an apology?

So many possibilities in just one word.

I decided to toss out my own challenge to all you poets. Find one word and make it as long or as short a work as you want. You can use the Creative Copy Challenge lists, but if that doesn’t appeal, here are a few other ways to get writing:

Open your favorite book to page 58. Third paragraph down, second sentence in. What word stands out?

Choose an unlikely word. A contraction maybe? What about a preposition? A pronoun? Adjective? So something like “but” can become a poem. Let’s play with it:

but not because you left

did it make any difference

but because of when you did and

how you did ….

Examine a middle name. Most of us have them, but do we ever think about how that name tucked quietly between our first and last names impacts us or contributes to who we are?

Get inspired by junk mail. Open that offer you just got or scan that junk email for a word that doesn’t seem to fit. Who wrote that? Why did they choose that word? What is that word saying about their lives? About yours?

Choose something in your refrigerator. Who has ever written about cream cheese, I ask you? Be the first. Or find a way to make that unsalted butter the focal point.


Poets, how often do you work with prompts? 


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