Happy National Poetry Month! April is a time to praise and honor the world and our place inside it through poetry. As miraculous as it is to read poetry, I’m here to make a bold suggestion: Together we should write a poem a day for the next 20 days in April. It is a gift to write each day—a kind of harnessing of the world. A treasure to hold on to—balm and blessing for each moment.
As an artist in public schools for the past two decades, I have worked with students of all ages to craft poems about identity, home, community, politics, love, heartache, friendship, the changing world, and, most of all, how to exist and become your truest self. I have had the chance to witness young people arriving at their own artistic and emotional discoveries, and I am thrilled to be sharing this process with you all.
As far as I am concerned, there is no wrong way to write a poem.
No matter where you are in your creative life, and no matter if you have never written a poem before or if the last poem you wrote was in elementary school, all are welcome! As far as I am concerned, there is no wrong way to write a poem. This month, there are no rules. You don’t have to feel confined or hemmed in. This is a journey of finding out what is in your heart or what keeps you awake at night or what makes you excited about each new day. Poetry can act as a companion to your practice of journaling or meditation. Think of poetry as a photograph of a moment, or distilling language to its purest form. Choose your favorite words and the most succinct ways to say them. What do you want to put a spotlight on in your life? What subjects or themes keep calling for you?
Don’t be afraid to start by writing whatever comes to mind or to make lists. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. Don’t worry about saying too much or not saying enough. Just let the words flow. Let them arrive on the page as they will. Don’t let the editor in! Turn off the part of your brain that tells you it’s not good enough, smart enough, savvy enough. You are enough, both in the world and on the page.
Set aside some time each day to get comfortable with your thoughts, to uncover something new inside you, to reflect on the world and your place in it. We’re starting today, April 7th, so you will get 21 prompts for the next 21 days of April. The first seven are below; look for a new post next week. Don’t worry—I am writing right alongside you. We are in this together.
Prompt #1: Origin Poem
Consider your origins. Who are your people? Where do they come from? What history do they hold? Write a poem using three names of the people who raised you. Include foods, sayings, and histories that make you who you are. What recipes and stories show up in your poem? What songs, TV shows, stories, or events need to be included? Get inspired by: Kelly Norman Ellis.
If you need a jump start, try one of these lines:
We rise up...
I come from…
My story begins...
Prompt #2: Love Poem
Anyone who knows me knows I love a love story and love to write about and share moments of love. You could write a poem about or for someone. You could write a poem as a gift or a going-away present. You could write a poem for a family member or someone who has passed as a way to honor and remember them. Use this poet and poem as inspiration: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.
- Love is a verb. What actions does it take or moves does it make? Does love dance or twirl? Does it hip shake or cook? Does love jump rope or swing high?
- Write a list of people you love.
- Write a list of words you love.
- Write a list of experiences you love.
- Start your poem with the lines: My love… Love can… Love is… Our love… and include as many words or phrases from the prompt above.
Prompt #3: Writing Your Way Home
Write about home or a homecoming. Originally from Kentucky, I carry the rolling hills and bluegrass with me always. Home is both beautiful and complicated for me. It is not always easy to love where you come from, but this poem will try. Honor the five senses. Tell me how it feels, smells, tastes, sounds, looks! Get inspired by another Kentucky poet: Crystal Wilkinson.
Prompt #4: Community Is a Verb
I always say community as a verb, as in: How do you community? What does it mean to community with other people? Write about the community you come from, or the one you hope for in the future. How is community a verb for you? Is it making a phone call or delivering a meal to a loved one? Is it sending a handwritten letter or celebrating a success of a close friend with cupcakes and coffee? Is it offering help or communion? Is it sending a playlist or sharing a favorite book? Is it just staying quiet and listening? Think about and share all the best ways you community in the world. Be sure to include specific details, names, suggestions, ideas. We are following along. Get inspired by: Safia Elhillo.
Prompt #5: Food
Write about a meal that has stayed with you. Was it at a restaurant or home? Did a family member make it? Was it a recipe passed on? Does it connect you to your ancestors? What was on your plate? Did you save the perfect last bite and savor it? Were you alone or with a crowd? Write the details of this meal and share it with us. You could start with the lines: The food I remember… The best meal of my life… My night begins with… Get inspired by: José Olivarez.
Prompt #6: Music
- Make a list of songs you love and return to.
- Jot down any images, ideas, conversations, and emotions that happen when you think of those songs.
- Link them together. How does each song move? Imagine a timeline from one note to the next? Thread these songs together with words.
Prompt #7: Family
Family is all and everything to me. It ignites poems of excitement and celebration and also poems that are full of complication, longing, and sometimes heartbreak. They exist inside me always. Today, it is time to reflect on family and how they might show up in your poems. You could write about a family reunion or a time you all gathered together. You could write a portrait of your mother, father, auntie, uncle, or cousin. Find a way to paint their picture with words. You can focus on a memory or an actual photograph that captured the day. You can write the conversation you had the last time you met up, or just jot down a list of words that come to mind when you think of them. Get inspired by: Parneshia Jones.
Ellen Hagan is a writer, a performer, and an educator. She is the author of six books, including her current poetry collection, Blooming Fiascoes, and her upcoming Young Adult novel in verse, Don’t Call Me a Hurricane, forthcoming from Bloomsbury in July. Her work can be found in ESPN Magazine, She Walks in Beauty, and Southern Sin. She received a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in poetry in 2020 and has received grants from the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. You can find more prompts at www.ellenhagan.com and follow her on social media @ellenhagan.