All the noise noise noise; or, On Writing from Prompts

I was trying to write in response to a prompt the other day — a wonderful monoprint. But all I got was words.

You know what I mean. Yes, there were sounds and syntax and “meaning” or meaningish business but really it was all blah blah blah. I never got past the mask of vocabulary and earnest snuffling. I was too aware of being aware, too hard trying to try. Ugh.

So tiresome when my mind gets in the way of my brain, when words stand between me and what I might not be able to say in words but which is exactly what a good poem can do. Or the silence in a good poem, maybe. The white space.

I have an uneasy relationship with prompts. I can’t trust the whole set-up, because sometimes they work: I drop into some strange space of utterance and up bubbles things strange and fantastic; and sometimes they don’t, and I’m clutching my pen and strangling the empty page with grabby fingers of text.

It has something to do with breathing. No. It has something to do with attention. No. Is it in the set of my jaw? Should I squint my eyes? The whole enterprise seems impossible. Except when it’s glorious.

If the effort toward writing from a prompt seems too effort-full, the only thing to do is walk away. Go yank weeds or walk or lately I’ve been taking objects and slathering them with blue paint and dragging them across paper. A bottle cap. The red mesh that onions come in. A stick. Good fun.

Maybe THAT’s my response to the monoprint prompt. I don’t know. And I can’t trust this space of not knowing. Because sometimes it’s confounding. And sometimes it’s exactly where I need to be.

4 thoughts on “All the noise noise noise; or, On Writing from Prompts

  1. Thanks for the prompts perspective. When I started doing BInghamton Poetry Project sessions, I had to learn to write from prompts and quickly, which is counter to my natural process that involves lots of ruminating and sloshing things about in my head. I do sometimes get something viable writing from a prompt, but I find it much, much harder to revise something that I started out that way. I think it is harder for me to prune a poem or extend it when I haven’t been able to use my forethought to understand where I want it to go.

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    • Yes, I know what you mean. I think I did a blog about this not too long ago, about how to try to drop back in to the space from which the original writing issued. What the heck was I up to? But I think we’re more likely to get a good, interesting, layered poem when we allow the original utterance to come out of some not-knowing place than from a where-I-want-it-to-go place. As always, the trick is in the revision, i.e., re – vision, process, which we have to do, in this case, kind of blindly and with a well-let’s-try-this mindset. Mysterious. And fascinating.

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      • I definitely need to develop better revision skills! I would be lost without my poet-friends pointing out where I am missing the mark. I am better than I was a few years ago, but still have a long way to go. I’m grateful to you and all the generous poets who help me grow. And, yes, mystery…

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