Prompt for June 10 – Virtual Didier Dumas

I wanted to write a lie.

Kiese Laymon, Heavy

To add an extra twist on the prompt, try substituting a different verb for “write.” Dance? Ferment? Dig? Have at it!

Use the prompt to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir).

Join our virtual meeting at 8pm for reading and discussion.

If you would like to share your work on our blog, visit Submittable after 7pm.

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.

Prompt for June 5 – Virtual Barat House

Everything civilized will whistle before
it rages—

Rita Dove, “Ozone”

Use the prompt to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir).

Log into our virtual meeting at 1pm here: Zoom meeting

If you prefer to post your work to our blog, visit Submittable after 12pm to upload your work. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

Black Lives Matter

We have watched unfolding events surrounding the murder of George Floyd, the protests and the outpouring of sympathy and rage, with heavy hearts. Heavy with sadness for these wrongs, but also with hope for change. The scourge of systemic racism won’t be cured easily. It requires self-reflection, opportunity for honest and civil discourse, vision for change, and concrete, daily actions. It heartens us to see so many organizations commit themselves in this moment to that work. We also hope and pray that all gatherings to protest and to commemorate the victims of violent authorities will be peaceful and safe.

River River’s mission to create a safe and productive space for all voices continues. We will do more to engage our community in the kinds of discussions that lead to positive change. We all must do better.

Prompt for June 3 – Virtual Didier Dumas

Superintelligence

Use the prompt to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir). If you wish, enjoy the video to enhance your ideas.

Log into our virtual meeting at 8pm here.

If you prefer to post your work to our blog, visit Submittable after 7pm to upload your work. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

Deeper dive into the prompt

[Hampshire College professor Jonathon] Keats argues humans are becoming more and more like a superorganism. Like the boundaries between two slime mold cell fusing into one, the boundaries between human societies are eroding and engulfing one another through technology. The decisions the collective “we” make, more than ever, have the potential to impact us all.
But “we’re not very good a being a superorganism,” Keats says. We’re not making collective decisions that ensure our survival. Slime molds come together to solve mazes and find creative ways to avoid salt. We come together to melt polar ice caps and perpetuate income inequality.
What if we all acted more like slime mold?
“Slime mold doesn’t have [human] bias,” [College molecular biologist Megan] Dobro reminds, “it doesn’t have politics. it’s just choosing what’s good for the whole.”

From “Trump doesn’t have a science advisor. This slime mold is available.” by Brian Resnick in vox.com, April 5, 2018

Prompt for May 29 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

I saw someone outdoors wearing a t-shirt with a print of the Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo Da Vinci the other day, and it made me unreasonably happy. Mysterious smile beaming from her soft and confident face. Yes, it’s these face masks, covering up everyone’s smiles, that’s making our public spaces feel strange. Yes, wear your face covering anyway! But what do we do to show our friendliness if not with a smile? What do you do? Cheerful t-shirt, a little wave, a compliment. Maybe we will invent a sound that is not quite a laugh but is more audible than the silence of a smile– a new language for this. Let this speculation (or anything else about sly smiles) guide your writing tonight.

Join us on Zoom for readings from the prompt, along with conversation and connection, at 7pm.

Prompt for May 29 – Virtual Barat House

None of our fights ended where they began

Use the prompt to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir).

Log into our virtual meeting at 1pm here: Zoom meeting

If you prefer to post your work to our blog, visit Submittable after 12pm to upload your work. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

Deeper dive into the prompt

We were the symptoms, the road our sickness:
None of our fights ended where they began

From “Duplex: Cento” by Jericho Brown in The Tradition (2019)

“[The Tradition] introduces a new form of Brown’s making, the ‘Duplex,’ a sonnet-like series of couplets that includes repetition and, here, is used to devastating effect. In an interview with Michael Dumanis, Brown explained how he came up with the form:

“Since I am carrying these truths in this body as one, how do I get a form that is many forms? I was looking at sonnets, looking at ghazals. I got really interested in ghazals when writing my second book. In ghazals, you take couplets that are completely disparate, then juxtapose those couplets so that some kind of magic happens because of the juxtapositions. So I was like, ‘Oh, if I can take a sonnet and I can take a ghazal and I can take the blues—we’re not gonna get around taking the blues, since I’m black—if I take those three things, is it possible for me to merge them into a single coherent form?’ And that’s how the duplex came to be.”

from “Barrelhouse Reviews: The Tradition by Jericho Brown,” review by Jeannine Hall Gailey, July 2019

Prompt for May 27 – Virtual Didier Dumas

Like I’ve Got Diamonds

The whole verse goes like this:

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise” in Phenomenal Woman (1994)

Seems like this poem, published over forty years ago, will never get old.

Use the prompt to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir).

Log into our virtual meeting at 8pm here.

If you prefer to post your work to our blog, visit Submittable after 7pm to upload your work. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

Prompt for May 22 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

Now it is Memorial Day weekend, a time to keep heroes in our minds, even more than we have been these past couple of months already. While we remember, honor, and give thanks for the sacrifices made by heroes for the sake of civilization, I thought it might make a good writing prompt, especially as we are often busy with heroes in our stories and poems. Perhaps consider the ways in which you yourself have been heroic in this dark time. Here are a couple of quotes that might set you off on an adventure…

“…we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with the world.”

from The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell

“Civilization is not mere advance in technology and in the material aspects of life. We should remember it is an abstract noun and indicates a state of living and not things.” –C. Rajagopalachari

from Woman, Native, Other, by Trinh T. Minh-ha

Join us on Zoom at 7pm for our virtual salon of readings and conversation.

Prompt for May 22 – Virtual Barat House

A Bird’s Eye View

Consider anything difficult you may be writing—or avoiding writing, whether fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. Distance yourself and look at it from a completely different perspective; free yourself, for a moment, from the gravity of your difficulty. Try writing it from a bird’s eye view.

Use the prompt to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir).

Log into our virtual meeting at 1pm here: Zoom meeting

If you prefer to post your work to our blog, visit Submittable after 12pm to upload your work. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

Deeper dive into the prompt

Five hundred million birds arc the sky over the hills of Beit Jala every year. They move by ancient ancestry: hoopoes, thrushes, flycatchers, warblers, cuckoos . . . It is the world’s second busiest migratory superhighway: at least four hundred different species of birds torrent through, riding different levels in the sky . . . Every year a new landscape appears underneath: Israeli settlements, Palestinian apartment blocks, rooftop gardens, barracks, barriers, bypass roads.

Colum McCann, Apeirogon

Colum McCann’s Apeirogon deals with intimate aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian standoff along the West Bank. There is very little upon which any two people may agree about this particular political and human situation, except that it is very difficult to talk (or write) about.

McCann balances the extreme vulnerability and hurt of the book’s main characters against a literal bird’s eye view of the region, loosely following the migration of birds.

Protip from Lynda Barry: Spiral Your Way In

Before I begin writing, I set a timer for two minutes and I draw a slow, tight spiral and I let my mind’s eye drift to scenes . . . I just draw the spiral and drift. I set the timer again and make a list of any of those scenes and any other scenes that come to me. I look for scenes I can picture like snapshots. Things I was doing, places I went, where and what and who.

Lynda Barry, “Month’s Mind: Pandemic Diary Project” in The New York Times, Sunday, May 3, 2020
Illustration from Syllabus by Lynda Barry