YPN writing prompts for self-isolation

Are you stuck at home? Maybe even self-isolating? Fancy flexing your creative muscles? We’ve put together a bundle of great writing prompts from across Young Poets Network’s nine-year history. Originally, these challenges were set up as writing competitions. They’re not competitions any more, but they’ll still do a good fun job of getting you writing. Each challenge, like a workshop, contains plenty of examples and ways in. And you can even read the winning responses for yet more inspiration!

So… without further ado:

1. Land of the ocean noise: create your own kennings!

This is one of the most visited pages on Young Poets Network. Why? Kennings force you to invent new ways of describing – a great exercise for any poet, of any age, and at any stage.

2. Make more from less with found poetry

Is the blank page giving you side-eye? Vanquish it along with all its expectations by beginning with something that already exists – a newspaper, a recipe, a page from a travel book. All you have to do is highlight, black out or cut out their words, and turn them into a poem of your own.

‘Untitled’ by ‘Ms. Morris’

3. Golden shovels

This 21st century poetic form, created by U.S. poet and teacher Terrance Hayes, makes writing interesting new poems a whole lot easier. The challenge is this: take a line from someone else’s poem/song/novel (etc.), and use of their words as an end-word for each line in your new poem. Don’t worry, it’s easier to understand when you read all our examples, and we promise you’ll be shovelling in no time.

4. Translate a poem – you don’t need to know another language

Clare Pollard, editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, and translator Adham Smart offer the tools to translate ‘Today’ by Armenian poet Lola Koundakjian – without learning Armenian. If you don’t fancy translating ‘Today’, you can use these skills on any poem with the help of Google Translate. If you’re interested in translation, check out this earlier challenge on literary translation by Don Cellini too!

5. Nearlyology

Chris Meade collects ‘nearlies’ – stories about things that have nearly happened, and how they affect us. Write your own nearly-poem – a perfect ‘what-if’ exercise for the curious mind!

6. Namedropping in nature

Do you miss being outside? So do we. Get that nature-fix by thinking afresh about all the interesting names we have for places and plants, wherever in the world you are. Jen Hadfield starts you off with Nigh-No-Place, the Vomit Comet and Krowdrah (which is ‘hard work’ backwards)…

7. Write about trees

‘The trees are coming into leaf / Like something almost being said’… we may be stuck indoors, but outside your window, spring is carrying on as normal. Trees and poe-tree have a long-established and fruitful relationship – so branch out in your poetics and get inspired by our fir-y friends! (Sorry-not-sorry.)

peach blossoms on blue sky

8. Making poetry from maths and science

Have you ever written a mathematical poem? Whether you love or hate science, Jade Cuttle takes you through some marvellous ways that STEM subjects can help inspire your writing.

9. Dramatic monologues

Want to escape the confines of your house, which seems to be getting smaller by the day? Write from someone else’s perspective. Glyn Maxwell has some top tips about how to pull off the dramatic monologue in this challenge.

10. Univocal poetry

Can you write a poem that sticks to just one vowel? A, E, I, O or U… choose wisely. This challenge by Ross Sutherland was our first ever workshop on Young Poets Network – and it’s still a good’un!

Let us know in the comments how you get on with these, and explore Young Poets Network for over a hundred more writing challenges. Throughout April 2020, we are also sharing daily prompts on The Poetry Society’s Instagram as part of NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Wriitng Month) – give us a follow!

P. S. A special extra for students and teachers – here’s a fab feature by Richard O’Brien on how to close-read a poem, scallop-shell style. You can also search Young Poets Network for the poets you’re studying – we may well have an article about them, and if not, our friends at Poetry By Heart might.

P. P. S. For everyone – right now is a challenging time for everyone, so please make sure you look after your brain. Here are our tips for looking after your mental health, updated to include advice for combatting self-isolation and news-related-anxiety. And remember – just getting through the day in self-isolation is an achievement! If you don’t have the brain space to do any writing or reading, don’t fret – there’s plenty more time in the future for that.

Published March 2020

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