"Shopping for Images: 3 Tips for Finding Poetry Topics"

Here's a craft article of mine that was just published today. Enjoy! 


"Shopping for Images:

3 Tips for Finding Poetry Topics"

By Melanie Faith


Ever have a day where you woke wanting to write, but the ideas were murky or not arising at all? Or maybe you've just finished writing a poem that felt like magic a few days ago, and now any idea feels filled with false starts? What about an afternoon where you finally sit down to write and, thinking of your day, nothing jumps out at you as worthy of verse? Or, after the to-do list is tackled and the wobbly mountains of laundry washed, you open your writer's notebook and stare at a blank page, too tired to focus?


You are not alone. These are common quandaries most writers have at one point or another. Good news! Try one or more of these ideas that have worked for me and my poetry students to release that stuck feeling and get our pens moving once more.


1. Not-so-common Commonality. Certain places and experiences are so ingrained into daily life that whole populations of people share them. Yet we sometimes overlook them as topics for verse. One of the great facets of writing about shared events is that readers will experience their own aha! moments from what you write. You also have the wonderful opportunity to tighten focus on one part of the communal experience that resonates with you and which will make your poem distinctive. 


In Alan Ginsberg's prose poem "A Supermarket in California," he takes a mundane trip for groceries and turns it into an event for celebration: "What peaches and penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?" Many people have written about food, but none in quite the same playful, exultant way as Ginsberg. Don't think it's all been done before; whatever the topic, no one has written a poem about this topic with the exact diction choices, tone, and images you will. Go ahead, write your own supermarket, food, cooking, gardening, or eating poem! You'll bring something unique to the table [pun intended].


2. The Running List. Sometimes, there's a lot of pressure when we sit down to write to pick a topic out off the top of our heads like a rabbit out of a magician's hat. Lower the pressure with a little list. Try keeping your writing notebook with you as you go about your day or start an email list of topics in your phone (I sometimes quickly email myself ideas before I forget them). We often see interesting ideas all day long but infrequently have time to stop in the moment to write a whole poem, but it only takes a minute or less to jot a note about the image or idea. Begin a running list of topics for the future, and add to it as you go. Then, when you sit down to write, either pick one at random from your list or work chronologically, so you'll always know what your next topic will be. Like a game, it becomes more fun the more topics you've listed, and you'll train your mind to notice imagery that could spark poems more often everywhere you go. 


3. Get out of Your Own Skin, or: The Conversation. Sometimes we forget that poetry can include dialogue and/or use a conversation as a sparking point. We also sometimes forget that poems don't have to be centered on our own experiences. Go ahead, have a conversation today with a longtime friend, the clerk at the post office, someone in the waiting room, your frenemy, your children or grandchildren, your coworkers, whomever. Something someone else is struggling with or happy about or angry about might just spark your next poem. Of course, you don't have to stay with the circumstances as they are in real life. Re-imagine your conversation partner's circumstances or trials through the eyes of a made-up character. How would another person deal with these events? What would their actions be? What would their thoughts be? Feel free to make up what that person might say in certain circumstances. The point is to get another person's POV on life and to write from there. 


Looking for an online poetry workshop in February? I'd love to have you in The Joy of Poetry Writing.