Prompt for July 31 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

Our new writing circle for teen poets has begun, and I was happy to find the group willing to talk about a John Ashbery poem this week. It’s pretty hard to talk about his poems! However, I think it’s easy to feel the pressures and questions in them, which is always something that young writers find interesting. Then this morning, I shared his poem “Rain Moving In” with a group of community leaders, and there was another good reception for Ashbery’s complex style of poem, with its simultaneously critical and hopeful attitude. I’m feeling bold now… here it is for you. See if you can borrow something from the language or imagery for your own writing.

Rain Moving In
by John Ashbery

The blackboard is erased in the attic 
And the wind turns up the light of the stars, 
Sinewy now. Someone will find out, someone will know. 
And if somewhere on this great planet 
The truth is discovered, a patch of it, dried, glazed by the sun, 
It will just hang on, in its own infamy, humility. No one 
Will be better for it, but things can't get any worse. 
Just keep playing, mastering as you do the step 
Into disorder this one meant. Don't you see 
It's all we can do? Meanwhile, great fires 
Arise, as of haystacks aflame. The dial has been set 
And that's ominous, but all your graciousness in living 
Conspires with it, now that this is our home: 
A place to be from, and have people ask about.


(from The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, ed. Phillis Levin)

Join us at 7pm for our virtual salon on Zoom to share your writing and talk about this poem a bit with others. Hope to see you then!

Prompt for July 24 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

The things we heard around campfires as kids might be the things that haunt our writings most. Take a little inventory for yourself — stories, verses, bits of gossip you listened to among grown-ups in summertime indolence. Let it spark a new piece of inspiration.

Write and then join us at 7pm for our virtual salon on Zoom. Readings, conversation and maybe some new memories.

Zoom Meeting ID: 810 6803 6209 Passcode: 325039

Prompt for July 17 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

I’m reading a poem by one of my mentors, Leslie Ullman, in the new issue of Cloudbank, and I’m reminded of her lessons to me as I headed into my toughest summer, the one in which I was writing a master’s thesis while single-mothering. But that’s not the prompt. The poem, even with its title, “Use fewer notes,” opens the door to this reflective-imaginative opportunity. Take this excerpt inside with you.

   A lost summer blooms...

...we revisit less encumbered versions of

self, the promises
we half-kept and then
  forgot, replacing daydream

with modest achievement
    clutter of passwords
   and rechargeable devices designed

to relieve us of suspension, silence,
  the tease of uncertainty, chord or phrase
    that might have left intervals for what next?

Enjoy your writing time, and then join us at 7pm in our virtual salon for readings and conversation. Hope to see you then!

Prompt for July 10 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

(This is a re-blog from this Tuesday, a writing prompt crafted by our summer intern Ellie Rostan.)

As the world is being shaken and drastically realigned by COVID-19, normalcy seems lost, and we are lost in the strangeness that is becoming our new normal. Carson McCullers’ poem “When We Are Lost” imparts a universal voice to this very terror of losing oneself in a warped space or time or “the joined trickery of both conceptions.” When we are lost, we writers write. We write to regain our footing, to make sense of the strange, to pull on what is uncomfortable. The prompt is simply this: Write to finish this phrase, however you see fit:
“When we are lost…” 

Join us for our virtual salon on Zoom at 7pm for readings and conversation. And meet Ellie!

Open for submissions for issue 12 – and a writing prompt inspired by Carson McCullers

Tomorrow night (July 8) at 8pm, Rivertown Film will screen a conversation with directors Karen Allen and Kristi Zea on their films with the director of the Carson McCullers Center, Nick Norwood, and moderator Susanna Styron from March 25, 2017, celebrating the birthday centennial events in 2017 organized by CSU’s Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians. Be sure to check it out on their YouTube channel, part of their Artists from the Archives series. In the meantime, one of the teen writers who participated in the events that year, Ellie Rostan, offers a special writing prompt for this week:

As the world is being shaken and drastically realigned by COVID-19, normalcy seems lost, and we are lost in the strangeness that is becoming our new normal. Carson McCullers’ poem “When We Are Lost” imparts a universal voice to this very terror of losing oneself in a warped space or time or “the joined trickery of both conceptions.” When we are lost, we writers write. We write to regain our footing, to make sense of the strange, to pull on what is uncomfortable. The prompt is simply this: Write to finish this phrase, however you see fit:
“When we are lost…” 

Send us your writing! Our open submissions period for issue 12 continues until the end of August. While we are not accepting new poetry as we deal with the quarantine backlog, fiction and creative non-fiction sections need your best work.

Prompt for July 3 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

Borrowings, gleanings, erasures, black-outs, and riffs. These are a few of the ways that poets reuse the canon to make new, fully alive verse. In honor of Independence Day, our national holiday, let’s make something living out of the old poem by Francis Scott Key. What’s your vision, and “[w]hat is that which the breeze… now conceals, now discloses?”

Try shaking up the old poem and writing something new out of the process. Then join us at 7pm for our online salon on Zoom for readings and conversation. Hope to see you!

Prompt for June 26 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

We spend a lot of time thinking about germs now, quite rightly. It’s a bit exhausting, though. For tonight’s writing, let’s shift to something else small and full of mysterious energy, always ready to multiply itself gloriously: a seed. Take the prompt literally and consider seeds you’ve planted, seeds you’ve seen fall, seeds you’ve swept out of your driveway. Or go figuratively and examine the seeds of friendship, enmity, injustice, memory…

Then join us at 7pm in our virtual salon on Zoom for readings and conversation. We look forward to hearing what sprouts.

Prompt for June 19 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

On the occasion of Juneteenth and the start of Father’s Day weekend, I thought a little awesomeness from Tracy K. Smith would make a fine prompt. In this video from the P.O.P series of poet-interviews, Smith reads a poem by Seamus Heaney and one of her own, both about fathers. I also love her complex and thoughtful response about the usefulness of writing political poems: a kind of how-to for approaching this essential work.

Try writing something that similarly celebrates triumphs, failures, and influence of your father (or grandfather or other father figure). Try to share your connection to history. Then join us on Zoom for our virtual salon at 7pm for readings and conversation.

Prompt for June 12 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

These days I check my news app dreading some new and overwhelming calamity, like a volcanic eruption or tsunami somewhere in the world, something that might bury us under the already heavy burden of collective worrying. I really, really hope nothing like that happens. For an antidote to the worrying, for tonight’s writing prompt I invite you to look for a news headline that you can twist in a new and surprising direction. Try lifting just the title of a news item for a creative piece, or use the article as a whole for a reimagining of the world.

Then join us at 7pm for our virtual salon on Zoom, for readings and conversation. Hope to see you then!

Prompt for June 5 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

In a sixth grader's notebook
      only two lines are written:

      I go outside. I look at the stars.
            Then I'm sad because of death and stuff--

It is difficult to think about all the news that’s hitting our screens these days. Thinking has become exhausting. I think the way a poem sometimes works is to help stabilize this process of taking in and breathing out by keeping us company through it in a very generous way.

Poet Jamaal May’s collection Hum does some of this, investigating phobias and asking questions. When I first met him at Vermont College of Fine Arts, he spoke about how to write racially inclusive work. I remember the very pointed comments he made, and how things so obvious still needed to be said.

At a funeral when I was her age, I punched
       dots into the program with a bow
               compass then held it to the light

to trace paths I drew between holes.
       Those constellations. The paths
               drawn between neurons. Their firing

       is how I think.

She adds in pencil

       the castle of the mind is full
               of hundreds of bright specters--

and I wonder what's going on in her head
       and mine. What sky did we fall from?

sounds like an appropriate question,
       when I think about it

but it's too much to ask a child, right?

from “Thinking Like a Split Melon” in Hum, by Jamaal May (Alice James Books, 2013)

For tonight’s prompt, borrow a line or two from this poem and use it as a springboard to your own writing. Then join us on Zoom at 7pm for our online salon; share your writing and enjoy listening, talking together.