Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Major (& Minor) Malfunctions: A Poetry Prompt from Instructor Sandra Beasley

In celebration of National Poetry Month, The Writer’s Center is sharing prompts from current and former instructors. This installment includes a prompt from Sandra Beasley, who will lead a workshop called "Ekphrasis: Muses in Conversation" on Sunday, May 29, from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. (To register or to read the course description, click on this link.)

Photo Credit: Milly West.

"I mean I trust what breaks,” proclaimed the speaker in David Rivard’s poem, “God the Broken Lock.” On one hand, fracture is at the core of our craft; poets are constantly harnessing the energy of breaks in line and stanza. On the other hand, many poets are perfectionists at heart, and sometimes a fixation on the polished whole can get in the way of a messy—but ultimately productive—drafting session. 

Hence the inspiration point for this prompt, which celebrates imperfection by asking us to pay close attention to the broken elements of our lives: the chipped dish, the stalled escalator, the fractured ankle, the cracked windshield, the watch that won’t keep time. Write a poem that begins with a central “malfunction,” anchored to a tangible object. Trace the effects of that break (or breakdown), whether it be across the course of a day (a narrative emphasis) or the speaker’s emotional landscape (a lyric emphasis). Is there an opportunity for repair? What would repair look like, on a technical level?

Try including the line “The _____ does not know it is broken,” and see where that takes you.

Exemplar poems: “God the Broken Lock” by David Rivard -

“What’s Broken” by Dorianne Laux -

“Piano” by Patrick Phillips -

Sandra Beasley is the author of three poetry collections—Count the Waves, I Was the Jukebox (winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize), and Theories of Falling—and a memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. Honors for her work include a 2015 NEA fellowship, the Center for Book Arts Chapbook Prize, and two DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities fellowships. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she coordinates literary programming for the Arts Club of Washington, and she teaches with the University of Tampa low-residency MFA program.

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