Weekly Prompt: in lieu of a poem, i'd like to say


For the past few months, we ran a daily social media writing prompt aimed at sparking creativity for those of us who were going on day thirty, forty, fifty of sitting inside our homes. Now that it's summer and the world is beginning to, slowly, unfurl its wings again, we wanted to think bigger. So much of writing happens in response to our experience and to other writing we encounter. The latter is what this new weekly series will focus on.

Every post in this series will include a weekly reading and a list of prompts in response to that reading. Some of them will be focused on craft; some will ask you to evaluate content. This idea was born from an MFA course I took that focused almost entirely on emulating the style of other writers and then reimagining that first draft into something that was our own but still had echoes of the original. It's also inspired by the heightened sociopolitical reality so many of us come face to face with each day. Writing can be for pleasure; it can be cathartic; it can be used as a tool; it can preserve memory; it can foster connection. Whatever it may be, I hope this series helps you find what you're looking for out of your practice.


Week of June 22

Reading: "in lieu of a poem, i'd like to say," by Danez Smith

Craft element to note: The ode. You can learn about the history and see more examples of odes in this MasterClass article, but what you need to know here is that an ode is a celebration of a person/place/thing/idea. This doesn't necessarily mean the poem is exciting or even overtly positive—it just means the poet is recognizing the importance of something. In Smith's case, that something is the varied fruit of their youth, which telescopes out into moments shared with others. We are given an extraordinarily intimate window into Smith's cherished memories, and while it doesn't shy away from reminding us about the history of trauma that led to these moments, the poem returns us over and over to the richness of fruit, of sultry summer air, of the joy of communion. We leave with the language of fruit still ripe in our mind, but we also understand the importance of what that fruit created: togetherness.


  1. A key in writing odes is to focus on something easily and lushly captured on the page and to let it speak for a larger message. What's something from your youth that symbolizes a larger aspect of joy? 
  2. Besides being an ode, this is also a prose poem, which means it doesn't employ line breaks or stanzas. In this case, the form plus the use of ampersands functions to saturate the reader in imagery, which gives us a view into what these gatherings were like: a sensation of fruit, voices, smiles, stories, heat, songs. Experiment with this form, specifically mimicking Smith's ability to parallel an experience on the page.
  3. More than any form, poems can use titles to their advantage, since a title can be read as a first line. Smith's title is an anti-statement—they're telling us they won't be telling us something. Think on how this changed your expectations going in. Think on how it affected your interpretation of the poem. Now play around with titles that act as lenses, setting up the viewing of your poem in different ways.
  4. In writing, telescoping is when you start with something large or small and then move in the opposite direction. So, you could start by talking about a blade of grass then move out frame by frame to detail a whole landscape. Likewise, you could extoll the beauty of the galaxy then move in orbit by orbit to focus on Earth. It works this way for ideas and scenes as well. Smith is showing us the texture of fruit but moving out to show us the whole joyful moment of gathering. Use telescoping as a framework for a poem. Start big or small and, line by line or stanza by stanza, move in the opposite direction to show us something unexpected. 
  5. It's almost the end of June, and many of us are spending the days inside, which is a necessary bummer but still a bummer. To try and let a little sunlight in, write an ode to the joy of summer: your favorite activity, a particular sensation, a place you typically visit. Make it a true love poem to the season.