The Time is Now

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Have you ever been afflicted with the dreaded writer’s block? Sometimes it may feel like the muse has taken an extended vacation or left you for good for another writer with no explanation or farewell note. Don’t worry, your muse always returns! Until then, the best thing to do in these tumultuous times is turn to writing prompts. One of the most diverse and compelling sets of prompts I have found is published by Poets & Writers.

The Time is Now is a WEEKLY(!!!) feature on the Poets & Writers website. Using their filter, you can filter the prompts by poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. You can also set the parameters to display 100 entries per page giving you more to sort through and fewer internet pages to turn. Maybe the Poets & Writers staff have added to the archive recently, I remember only being able to search back through one year of prompts. I learned something new this morning and you can now go all the way back to the beginning! P&W published their first prompts on January 3, 2011! At 52 prompts per year, that’s roughly 339 poetry prompts to catch up on! And if you’re interested in fiction and creative nonfiction, that’s about 1,017 prompts!

I love what P&W has to say from an earlier version of The Time is Now site:

The most important and underrated factor in a writer’s success is discipline. Talent and luck always help, but having a consistent writing practice is often the difference between aspiring writers and published writers.

The advice we hear from agents, editors, and authors alike is always the same: Focus on the writing. However, finding the time and inspiration to write is not always easy. That’s where creative writing prompts and exercises can help. Writing prompts provide writers with a starting place, an entry point into their writing practice. Sometimes creative writing prompts and exercises result in a workable draft of a story or poem. Other times, they may lead to what can seem like a dead end. But having to generate ideas, being pushed in a direction where you wouldn’t normally go in your writing, and just plain putting pen to paper is often enough to provide that crucial dose of inspiration.

The Time Is Now offers a weekly writing prompt (we’ll post a poetry prompt on Tuesdays, a fiction prompt on Wednesdays, and a creative nonfiction prompt on Thursdays) to help you stay committed to your writing practice throughout the year.

Early on, P&W only titled the prompts by genre, but starting with the first prompts of 2012, P&W began naming their prompts by the general theme of the prompt. The most recent prompt from Tuesday, July 4 is “America the Beautiful”:

“Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart / somehow or other still carried away by America,” writes Alicia Ostriker in “Ghazal: America the Beautiful.” This Fourth of July, begin a poem with the title “America the Beautiful” and let this phrase guide your piece, allowing your mind freedom to reflect on the things you find beautiful (or not so beautiful) about the nation. Read through some other Independence Day poetry by writers such as Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Claude McKay, and Rachel Eliza Griffiths for further inspiration.

If you subscribe to The Time is Now e-mails, you also receive two other features that I have only recently starting paying attention to. Scroll down past the prompts and you will find a quick blurb entitled Best Books for Writers. Visit The Time is Now’s website and you can find the books in a menu to the right. P&W highlights classic and modern books in all genres tailored to the writer. I didn’t start paying attention to Writers Recommend until this past week. Carol Guess wrote the first post from December 16, 2008. This week’s comes from author Bao Phi:

“I recently took adult swimming lessons. I can’t swim, I can’t even tread water, but I knew I had to get over myself and try to learn. I’ve also been trying to write a little bit every single night, and it’s very much the same. That blank page is there waiting for me to jump in, to sink or swim. I end up flailing about and not knowing what I’m doing. But I trust it’s all part of the process. I trust that with enough work and practice, I will be able to do what I need to do. Some fear is necessary to get to new places.” — Bao Phi, author of Thousand Star Hotel (Coffee House Press, 2017)

They may seem unusual, but they offer great advice and it may just be the tip you need to get you going! Sometimes the featured poets and writers talk about books, art, music, writing prompts, films, or anything else that has inspired them.

Check out The Time is Now, look for other sources of prompts, or write your own, but whatever you do, keep writing!

Cheers,

Bryan

Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate

Tracy K Smith
Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Fellow poets, today, the featured poem from the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series is Tracy K. Smith’s “Watershed”. One of my favorite parts of the series is the “About This Poem” section where the poet confesses their inspiration for the poem in question. Of ‘Watershed”, Smith says:

‘Watershed’ is a found poem drawn from two sources: a New York Times Magazine January 6, 2016, article by Nathaniel Rich entitled, ‘The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,’ and excerpts of the narratives of survivors of near-death experiences as catalogued on www.nderf.org.”

The Poem-A-Day series consistently inspires my own adventures in poetry as it exposes me to new techniques and perspectives. I have typically been slightly distrustful of found poems, but to look at them from Smith’s perspective is unique and exciting! Why not construct a found poem using pieces from several sources?

I went away this past week and when I came back, I was surprised to find a handful of news headlines announcing the selection of a new U.S. Poet Laureate. Not that I didn’t believe it, but I was intrigued. As far as I know, Juan Felipe Herrera recently entered his second term as Poet Laureate. I’ve been learning more about the position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, but one thing I haven’t specifically looked at is the actual term of appointment. I knew Poets Laureate were appointed for one to two years, but I wasn’t clear on when the appointment officially began. I haven’t been able to find an official start date, but the Librarian of Congress’ article announcing Smith’s selection says, “Smith will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season in September with a reading of her work in the Coolidge Auditorium.”

On Wednesday June 14th, several outlets published articles announcing Tracy K. Smith’s selection as the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. The Academy of American Poets published a brief article. Dana Isokawa the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine published an online exclusive about Smith’s selection. Camila Domonoske published an article for NPR entitled “Tracy K. Smith, New U.S. Poet Laureate, Calls Poems Her ‘Anchor’. Several more outlets picked up the stories around the country.

I always return to The Academy of American Poets and The Poetry Foundation as my primary sources for all things poetry. The Academy’s resources on Smith consist of a biography, two articles Smith wrote, two additional articles written about her, and three of her poems including “Duende”. The Poetry Foundation has archived ten of Smith’s poems, a biography, and a four minute video from PBS’s NewsHour Poetry Series.

Reading through Smith’s bio, she is an excellent choice to succeed the current Poet Laureate. Among her honors, she is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and is currently a professor at Princeton University leading their Creative Writing program. Additionally, Smith wrote a short article for the New York Times’ “Does Poetry Matter?” series entitled “Wipe that Smirk Off Your Poem”. Yesterday the Academy of American Poets published a quick interview with Smith entitled “Four Questions for U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith”. The Poetry Foundation recently featured the newly selected U.S. Poet Laureate’s poem “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?” in an e-mail. She wrote the poem in 2011 ruminating on David Bowie and published it in Life on Mars through Graywolf Press. One final piece I would like to highlight is Renee H. Shea’s article “Far From Ordinary: A Profile of Tracy K. Smith” from the March/April 2015 Poets & Writers Magazine.

Considering her diverse background and the eclectic nature of past Poet Laureate projects, I am excited to see what Smith comes up with for her project.

Keep writing!

Cheers,

Bryan