Prompts for Red Wolf Journal, Chapter 20


I’m in a pretty good mood. In terms of getting shit done, that is. Then I remembered, I ought to be writing something. A new poem will fall out from the sky if I prayed, or wished, or just sat down and write. I’m not really fussy. I just take whatever poem comes along. I know you guys like to agonize over a poem. I really don’t. Maybe it’s a gift. Maybe it’s just what it is. Maybe if you kept on writing, you’ll be richer for it? Hey I mean, real wealth isn’t money, you know that already, don’t you? It’s what you leave behind when you’re no longer here.

Prompt 111: I thought I’d write, and then I did. It’s strange, this writing feels like an adventure, not knowing where it’ll lead one to. If you gave up writing, then what? You’d miss out on an adventure, that’s what. And if you’re a writer you’d probably be using bits of material from your real life. But maybe just the essence of an event, or non-event, from the past. So let what remains from the past show up in your writing. I was also inspired by what Mark Strand said in a poem.

Time tells me what I am. I change and I am the same.
I empty myself of my life and my life remains.
Mark Strand, “The Remains”

Prompt 112: Well, there’s the picture from Magpie Tales. The lines in the first stanza (see my poem below) references Mark Strand’s poem “The Way It Is”, so I’m not making up the story. I stole it.

The original Mark Strand poem reads:

My neighbor’s wife comes home.
She walks into the living room,
takes off her clothes, her hair falls down her back.
She seems to wade
through long flat rivers of shade.
The soles of her feet are black.
She kisses her husband’s neck
and puts her hands inside his pants.

The poem is prefaced by a quote from Wallace Stevens: “The world is ugly/And the people are sad.” Bleak, right? Right. So make your poem about something seedy, then find the beauty in that seediness. That’s your prompt. It’ll be your final prompt for the Winter issue.

cesar santos

Painting by Cesar Santos via Magpie Tales


I read a couple of bleak poems that reeked
like cheap perfume. Mostly amorous crap.
Some guy who peeked through the wall saw
a woman take off her clothes, then kissed
her husband, then put her hand inside his
pants. They engaged in coitus, I think.

Me, I’m sitting by a bay window, looking at
the spreading branches–morning had broken
and the sunlight warmed my soles.
I’m slowly coming out of my shell
in the pine-scented air, portentous.
I combed out my voluminous hair.

The allure of woman, I think, lies in
some mystery–butt cheeks shifting under
maroon panties, for instance. She held up
a white blouse, like a veil. I thought about
God–where is he–nowhere here, not in
this seedy low-life, not this pageant.

Then I thought, tremulous, that search for
light must begin in darkness. Swirling
colors that begin to emerge into beauty.
Who held the brush but the woman–an
artist who is all body, and soul, when
in service of something so ineffable.


Prompts for Red Wolf Journal, Chapter 19

All You Lovers Out There,

Happy Valentine’s Day! I have to say first off, that I did not see a single stalk of a real rose on this day. Where are all the roses? Is there a conspiracy against roses? Maybe I wasn’t in the right place at the right time. But then there’s that irritating reminder, I never promised you a rose garden. To which my reply would be, Still, all we need is love, right? Enough of this fluff. Get to the writing. You have till the end of February to submit to Red Wolf Journal. That’s why I am even writing all this lovey dovey stuff to you.

Prompt 105: The Beatles sang it. All we need is love. So on this Valentine’s Day, you go write a psalm or something. What does love mean? What does loving mean? What does love want? What does loving want? Why is love so enigmatic? Soulful? La Di Da. Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all. Without love we are nothing. Say this whichever way in your poem.

Prompt 106: There’s this quote from Haruki Murakami which says that the storm is within you and that “when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” I rate that as one of the foremost truths I’ve learned about what life is really about. It is really about storms/burning forests. So write a poem referencing such a storm.

Here’s the entire quote:

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

An you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

Prompt 107: Write a poem in which a wolf is featured. The wolf as trope. It is associated with instinct and intuition, and maybe that’s the way to navigate the spiritual/physical world. It is a wild and free animal. It is also a predator. You may, for instance, let your poem’s theme be passion. I’ll leave you to figure out what to do with the wolf in your poem.

Prompt 108: Are you a Christian? A follower of Christ? Well then you’ll have a very firm set of beliefs regarding heaven and hell, sin and punishment, a belief system that will set you up for the afterlife. But you don’t need to be a Christian to live an ethical life, to let moral impulse guide you. Call that your conscience. I’m curious to know the kind of moral imperatives serving as a life guide for you. What are your morals like, poet? Or just write a religious poem. Let the image via Magpie Tales inspire you.

christ-in-the-wilderness stanley spencer

Christ in the Wilderness by Stanley Spencer via Magpie Tales


Prompt 109: I was reading a short story that had this line: “Days and years and feelings much the same, except that the children would grow up, and there might be one or two more of them and they too would grow up, and she and Brendan would grow older and then old” (Alice Munro, “Post and Beam”). Isn’t it weird when one goes into summary mode? So much ellipted. How does that line (or some abbreviated form of it) work in a poem? I tried it on for size and you are to do the same. You know, just to see what kind of taste it leaves in your mouth (or poem).

Prompt 110: We’re almost to the end of February, folks, the month of love. Therefore that’s what she’s prattling about. Love is a big deal. It is. And love comes in infinite forms, that’s a thing I’ve learned, in all its redeeming ways. And if I could quote John Keats, who had said, on his deathbed (well he died): “…Love is my religion–I could die for that–I could die for you.” I believe the love he had for Fanny was non-consummate. So love is a pretty ineffable thing. Write about love.

Prompts for Red Wolf Journal Chapter 18

Hi there,

I’ve been thinking, everything is process. So if you’re living a writing life, you kind of use everything from your real life as a feed into your work. It has got to be that way. Also, whatever you read too becomes part of your mental landscape and that gets into the work too. You don’t get nothing out of nothing, do you? And then the work–how unpredictable it is. It has got your wings, but it flies to a destination you’re not even privy to. That’s how it works too. All terribly mysterious if you ask me. As mysterious as life itself.

Why am I doing these prompts? It’s to help you write and submit your work to Red Wolf Journal. If you’re a practicing poet, you might want to try out these prompts and see what new work comes to light.

Prompt 99: Actually the color of the season is red. Peony red, that’s the color of the Chinese New Year. Whatever. We’re as far off from the English landscape as you can get. I’ve been looking at leeks as in real food, as I’ll be cooking them this weekend. So this is about the connection between art and real life. Where you fit in some of the details from real life, but really, the story in your poem gets off on its own steam and is anything but. So go ahead, use a bit of color from your real life, and try to literally reference colors in your poem–blue, green, light blue, red, whatever. Here’s an image via Magpie Tales should you want to use it. It started me off–blueness.

valette, adolphe

Image by Adolphe Valette via Magpie Tales


Prompt 100: All quiet on the Eastern front. Rain but no storm. Bliss but no bliss. Yet it’s still noisy inside. Know what I mean? Since life is an effing paradox, try and write about that. True, true. There’s only gray and more gray after a certain age. No I am not being ironic. What are you laughing at?

Image provided by Elena Sands, for further inspiration if desired.



Prompt 101: Jorge Luis Borges in an interview with The Paris Review said that “a poet has maybe five or six poems to write and not more than that. He’s trying his hand at rewriting them from different angles and perhaps with different plots and in different ages and different characters, but the poems are essentially and innerly the same.” I am guessing he’s right. And so my poems seem to be of the yearning type. What about yours? Think about it and write yet another same different poem, will you?

Photo by Caroline Knopf via Magpie Tales for further inspiration if desired.

caroline knopf crop

Prompt 102: Alright, time to ask da question, why do you write? Why do you create art like an artist or a musician? You do it as a matter of practice, so why? Leonard Cohen, in answering, had said, “It begins with an appetite to discover my self-respect. To redeem the day. So the day does not go down in debt. It begins with that kind of appetite.” That kind of nails it for me. What about you? Well now you’ve got to answer it in a poem. No rest for the wicked!

Prompt 103: Write a poem in which not much is happening. That seems a daily thing. Not. Much. Happening. Waiting for the big adventure or something. Then it seems one of the nicest things is to lie in bed. Reading. I get sent off to these stories in bed. That’s what I like best.

Prompt 104: So my thoughts have veered toward death. Is death a taboo subject? Memento mori (“remember that you must die”) is a poetic motif. What must one fulfill before death? Let your poem refect on mortality and immortality. My writing, like yours, is an immortality project. Of course it is. Our poems become our living essences after we die.