July 4, 2024

Prompt: Parks

Our July Call for Submissions is about parks. It's summer here and I can often be found walking, sitting and reading, and taking photos in one of the local parks. Parks large and small are an escape to nature. It might be a small pocket park in a big city or a huge State or National Park.

For the August issue, we will be seeking poems about parks. There are many poems to consider as examples. I chose a rather obscure poet, Helen Hoyt, who is quite straightforward in her poem, "Park Going to Sleep," about a park entering the night.

I also considered using "Dog Park" by Brandon Brown which begins:
I told Alli I really wanted
to write a poem called “Dog Park.”
In bed she’s like you could make it
New Yorker poem, where you
go to a dog park and then have some
huge epiphany...

For contrast, consider some of these park poems:
The Park by David St. John
A Walk Round the Park by Sandra Lim
In the Park by Maxine Kumin
Central Park, Carousel by Meena Alexander

There is a collection of 50 poems by 50 different poets writing about a National Park in each of the United States that was part of an NEA grant "Imagine Our Parks with Poems."

Time for you to imagine a park within a poem. A simple summer prompt that might be as light as a cold glass of lemonade, or perhaps you will find there some huge New Yorker epiphany.

This prompt was inspired by browsing "Imagine Our Parks with Poems," part of Imagine Your Parks, a grant initiative from the National Endowment for the Arts created in partnership with the National Park Service to support projects that use the arts to engage people with the memorable places and landscapes of the National Park System. The Academy of American Poets commissioned fifty poets to write poems about a park in each of the fifty states.


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July 1, 2024

The Sonnets

I like this edition's cover image showing hands trimming
the tip of a quill pen, ready to set down a new sonnet.

Shakespeare's sonnets were first published in 1609. They were probably published without Shakespeare's permission in a time when copyright didn't exist as we know it.

The book contained 154 sonnets and all but two of them had never been published before. So, this was new material for readers. Shakespeare (or perhaps the publisher Thomas Thorpe) dedicated the collection to "Mr. W.H." whose identity has never been known with any certainty.

The poems are about love, sex, politics, youth, and the mysterious "Dark Lady." Scholars have written about them for hundreds of years. They have been material for lovers and teachers, and for hopeless and hopeful romantics.

Untitled but for numbers, many of them are known for their first line or one phrase in the poem.

For example, "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun," and W"hen, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state."

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, a
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimm'd:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade,
Nor loose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time though grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

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June 25, 2024

Advice to Writers

There is no shortage of advice for writers from writers. 

When I was in high school, I started copying quotes from writers I was reading. Many of them were about writing. Ernest Hemingway alone could be a small book of advice. Actually, there is a book - Ernest Hemingway on Writing - and I bought it.  

“I believe that basically you write for two people; yourself to try to make it absolutely perfect; or if not then wonderful. Then you write for who you love, whether she can read or write or not and whether she is alive or dead.” – ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Do you have a favorite piece of advice on writing from a writer? Leave it in a comment here.

Develop any other skill; turn to any other branch of knowledge; learn how to use your hands. Try woodworking, bird watching, gardening, mushrooming, cooking, fishing, sailing, weaving, pottery, zoology, astronomy, cosmology, take your pick. Whatever activity you engage in as trade or hobby, or field of study, will tone up your body and clear your head. At the very least, it will help you with your metaphors.     STANLEY KUNITZ

Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong. It is no wonder if we sometimes tend to take ourselves perhaps a bit too seriously.     ANNE LAMOTT

If you only write when you’re inspired you may be a fairly decent poet, but you’ll never be a novelist because you’re going to have to make your word count today and those words aren’t going to wait for you whether you’re inspired or not. You have to write when you’re not inspired. And you have to write the scenes that don’t inspire you. And the weird thing is that six months later, a year later, you’ll look back at them and you can’t remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you just wrote because they had to be written next.     NEIL GAIMAN

Who will teach me to write? a reader wanted to know. The page, the page, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as a necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page will teach you to write. -  ANNIE DILLARD

Until I was about seven, I thought books were just there, like trees. When I learned that people actually wrote them, I wanted to, too, because all children aspire to inhuman feats like flying. Most people grow up to realize they can’t fly. Writers are people who don’t grow up to realize they can’t be God.     FRAN LEBOWITZ

Spend some time living before you start writing. What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, “Write what you know.” It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. We don't develop any facility for languages, or an interest in others, or a desire to travel and explore and face experience head-on. We just coil tighter and tighter into our boring little selves. What one should write about is what interests one.   ANNIE PROULX

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June 2, 2024

Prompt: Animism

In the British Museum” is a poem by Thomas Hardy. It is in the form of a dialogue between two museum-goers looking at the base of a pillar that comes from the hill of Areopagus, in Athens. The object seems to be more than what meets the eye. It is animated by the human souls that have lived near it, travelled through it.

The first visitor is skeptical and wonders what his companion sees, or rather hears, “in that time-touched stone”, where he himself sees only “ashen blankness.” And the companion, who knows “but little”, says he can hear the voice of Paul, the apostle, preaching to the crowds of Athens, echoing through the stone.

This idea of the echo is rendered through the repetition of the phrase “the voice of Paul” in the fourth and seventh quatrains, closing the poem.

Is there some life force passed on to the artifact? This can be called animism which is defined as as the attribution of a living soul or energy to inanimate objects. Without going too deeply into animism, we can say that this word from Latin anima meaning "breath, spirit, life" comes from an ancient belief that objects can possess a distinct spiritual essence. This is a metaphysical belief which focuses on the supernatural universe. But it still exists to some degree today.

A friend shows me her grandmother’s ring that she wears and that she feels connects her to her grandmother. A woman shows me the ceramic bowls she created in her pottery classes and tells me about preparing and centering the clay. She explains how this process requires "becoming one with the clay." New age, pseudoscience or can materials be infused with energy during the creative process?

For our July issue, we are seeking poems that explore the idea of inanimate objects and places having (or appearing to have to someone) an energy, soul, spirit or life from the people who came in contact with it during their lives. You don't have to be a "believer." Think of how Hardy uses two voices to express two points of view about this inanimate animus.


Thomas Hardy's first love was always poetry. But it was not until he was 58 years old, having already established his reputation with 14 novels, including Far from the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure, that his first book of poetry, Wessex Poems was published. For the final 30 years of his life, he abandoned fiction and devoted himself entirely to poetry. Hardy's poetry was acclaimed by younger poets (particularly the Georgians) who viewed him as a mentor.

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To see our past prompts and more than 300 issues,
visit our website at poetsonline.org