National Poetry Month Prompts 2021

We are reviving our tradition of sharing a series of new National Poetry Writing Month poetry prompts! We are doing things a bit differently this year by releasing all of the prompts in advance. Our series this year contains 41 new prompts, as well as the entire series of 29 prompts from 2016.

This collection is available on a pay what you can basis. Out of the funds we receive, 50% of the proceeds generated from the sale of this series will be donated to Ripple Community Center. Ripple operates a day shelter, an affordable housing program, and strives to serve those “who are living with mental illness, who have experienced significant trauma, or have other conditions or experiences that can leave them isolated and alone.”

Click here to download the prompts

Last Rites By Levon Hill

Last Rites

I found my religion flying
down a pothole filled road
in the back of an ambulance
pounding on a dead man’s chest,
while I prayed that his heart would
start again

It didn’t.

I still go to church every time I
lose a patient. I don’t know
if I believe in God,
I just don’t know how else to
say goodbye.

I’ve never had much faith
in anything but
the fact that the world
is full of people
crashing into
other people

with little regard to consequences
of their actions
and the results
of their decisions
sending out ripples
turning into tidal waves.

But when it all goes
from bad to tragic
someone like me will be there,
to whisper last rites
over broken bones
and lost futures.

By Levon Hill

Biography:

Levon Hill is a public servant and former Paramedic currently living in New England and working in healthcare system reform.

Homecoming By Daisy Solace

Homecoming

He climbs off of the plane
and feels the cold air
he hasn’t felt in twelve years.

It’s always cold here.
It’s never cold in Eleria.

It’s a bit of a surprise
to see a sign holding up his name
outside at the gate.

He had forgotten he was traveling to somewhere.
He was far too used to traveling away from somewhere.

The car is smaller than he’s used to,
the music is too slow, too quiet, too calm,
leaving too much space for conversation.

He’s forgotten what conversation is like.
It’s obvious that they’ve noticed.

It seems almost backwards that twelve years have passed,
and yet the conversations have remained the same.
He is reminded all too well about why he left in the first place.

They try to engage him in their conversation,
try to ask him questions, but he remains silent.

They don’t want his answers.
Not his honest ones, at least.
Not the ones that don’t match theirs.

He is here for one purpose.
One purpose, and then he’s gone.

The sight of the house makes him want to reel and run,
it’s exactly the same as he remembers it,
except perhaps aged, and with less occupants.

The night will pass quickly.
One night, and that’s all.

The night passes quickly,
as does the morning,
as does the afternoon procession.

He doesn’t cry, and he almost feels guilty for it.
But he does not owe his tears to anyone.

He doesn’t stay afterwards.
They try to convince him to, he doesn’t.
He doesn’t have a purpose to anymore.

Not that it would have been enough.
Not that it had ever been enough.

As he departs, he leaves his coat,
his winter coat, which he’s had for thirteen years.
He doesn’t need it anymore.

It’s never cold in Eleria.

By Daisy Solace

Biography:

Daisy is a queer woman of color. She is 20 years old and recently graduated from a robotics program. She has been writing poetry for years but never submitted poetry to literary magazines until rather recently. She loves the sun, cats, and all things bright and beautiful.

I Try To Be The Cowboy Mitski Sings About By Kris Cho

I Try To Be The Cowboy Mitski Sings About

I miss you, Korean cowboy
every morning I mount the sunrise
alone
far from cornfields that hold up a 180 sky
and eat plain oats

when its quiet enough
I feel my heartbeat and hear yours
hoof beats traveling somewhere far
until we run into the coast
bring our horses back to the water
and then cross it

Korean cowboy, I think we sing the same songs
or at least the ones you did in myth
(she said you wrote beautiful love letters, I call myself a poet)
(and a romantic)

Korean cowboy, I think I’m becoming you:

I yearn for country roads

I call myself “cowbutch” and feel you in my chuckle
or the way I hold a door open
or pull a chair out
or kiss a woman

I whistle your tune about places I’m almost from
exhale a dying prarie
where you first hoisted me onto a horse
told me how your skull once cracked beneath a hoof
and I remember an open mic under stars
understand the crickets fiddle
and hum them a little story
about a path through the 태백 mountains

By Kris Cho

Biography:

Kris Cho is a poet born and raised in Mid-Missouri. They are currently studying at Brown University where they double concentrate in Ethnic Studies and History. Cho competed on the Brown/RISD College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) team, winning the 2019 semi-finalist title with their teammates. Their work has been featured in Visions Literary Magazine and chapbook 0.2.

Sweet Tooth By David Icenogle

Sweet Tooth

She smoked her teeth away
from the bubble, if you’re a country club member,
that’s what the lottery faithful
call a meth pipe.
She’s the attendant for the bakery at Walmart
and she’s from a place so secluded
the people there think going to Walmart
is a special occasion.
Sometimes she doesn’t bring her fake teeth to work
as if she wasn’t planning on smiling that day
but she always smiles
despite the memories she has
kept behind locked bathroom doors
and being fluent in garnished wages.
She’s looks elderly but she’s 54.
Retirement isn’t in her vocabulary,
benefits are getting to take some of the leftovers home.
She’s got medical bills that will walk her to the graveyard
because she wasn’t insured for what would break her
and some of her pre-existing conditions
go back generations,
she’ll have a mobile home longer than she’ll have a mobile phone
but she still smiles even when she can’t afford teeth.
She’ll tell people her teeth are missing
because she has a sweet tooth
which is true but not in a way they understand.
We all got a sweet tooth,
just some cause cavities that can’t be filled.
Somewhere in the holes inside her she found Jesus.
Good for her
because even though her life has been
one long Band-Aid rip
she’s the sweetest thing in the bakery.
Her name is Sheila and last month she became a great-grandma.
She’s not embarrassed of being that at her age,
she jokes and says that she’s always been a great grandma.
I’ll believe in miracles for her
and if she doesn’t get what she wants out of this life
I’ll believe in reincarnation for her.
I don’t believe in prayer
but I pray for Sheila
and her great grandbaby, too.

By David Icenogle

Biography

David Icenogle is a writer and mental health advocate who writes about his own experience with mental illness. He has publications with Asylum Magazine, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Passengers Journal, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and A Tether to this World.

From Solomon’s Song By Brandon James O’Neil

From Solomon’s Song

Come back
with your
beautiful feet
in scuffed shoes

Come back before
I slip again
into metaphor

Your thighs are something
a jeweler fashions
in the Diamond District

Your belly button is
the rim of a wine glass and your
belly is a loaf of buttered bread

Your breathing
is soft like
sleeping deer

Come back
I am trapped
in these never-ending
metaphors

You are
for delights
and tangibility

If you were a fruit tree
I would climb you
and pick all the fruit

I am yours
and you are
delightful

Sometimes I pretend
we are children growing
up together on a cul-de-sac

I find you wandering
down our street and
bring you inside

My parents are terrible
at hiding their love
making—I already know
how to do it

It usually starts with
soft music and
supermarket wine

Then dad puts his
left hand under her
neck, his right
around her waist

But their love is
indoors and ours
must be under
the apple tree

Some mornings I feel
you’ve sprung to
life from its seeds

Especially when it
begins to drop
ripened apples

Carved on the lower trunk
is a heart with
initials too worn
to read

Carve my initials
on your heart. Tattoo my name
on your arm so our love
can’t wear away

Love is strong as death and
passion lasts even when
six feet of earth is heaped
between us

The planted seed re
members the tree it will
grow to emulate

We spark together
and set this tree on
fire; with lightening the
lovers initialed it

Between us
flows a current
that can’t be switched
off or bought by monopoly

You say,
“When you hum along
to the carousel’s hit parade
I want to hear you”

Then come to me!
You have heard my
metaphors you
are a tree you
are a deer you
are a bicycle down 6th Avenue

Come to me

By Brandon James O’Neil

Biography

Brandon James O’Neil is a poet and scholar originally from Rochester, Michigan. He has recently relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona after living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. His work has appeared in Plough, Image, and The Dewdrop.

Ode to Mantid By Alissa Nalewajko

Ode to Mantid

I must have swallowed
up your skull
seven or more times
now but again,
you mount. Again! You
headless horseman!
You same-sex lace
limbed mate!
You mate me writhing,
raptorial, cannibal.
You’ve watched me rip
hummingbirds apart
at their ruby
throats with such
quaint affection. Now,
you let me pluck away
your legs. O
my spindly thing! O
acephalous Anne!
Wanton Marie!
You know
they say I am three
times as fertile with brain
in my belly. You know
it is not nearly enough to
be eaten. Go on, my
dearest animal,
try again.

By Alissa Nalewajko

Biography:

Alissa Nalewajko is a student at Princeton University studying creative writing. She’s from Boise, Idaho and loves to explore themes of persona and surrealism through her work. She has been previously published in Zeniada magazine.

COVID-19 By Nicole Amador

COVID-19

in a hundred years
there will be
paintings and
prints
and sculptures of us
wearing masks
in our fear
in our sorrow
in our strength
and i hope
ascent from our current condition
they will be shown in the guggenheim
the louvre
the reina sofia
the tate modern
and the met
and all the places we pray it won’t penetrate
they will rewrite history books
ad speak of our sickness
as we have
of the bubonic plague or
cholera
one day my great great great
grandchildren will ride the
subway
and as the
train
emerges from the
tunnel
over the williamsburg bridge
they will see
doctors and nurses
and people who
look
like them
wearing masks
graffitied on the sides of buildings
the train moving so fast
the cables of the
bridge
will make
the pain of the people
appear as a flip book
that no one would think
to make
anymore

By Nicole Amador

Biography

Nicole Amador is a poet, artist, educator, and mother who is proud to be an Italian girl from Brooklyn. She currently works with the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI), on providing education and support for peers as well as their families. She loves yoga, rap music, and her calico cat Shelby. She can be found at www.nicoleamador.com and on Instagram @lightthroughashatteredwindow.

Ode to my Husband By Alissa Nalewajko

Ode to my Husband

My husband takes me to the
arboretum on Sundays. I squeeze
ethyl acetate onto a bed of plaster in
the bottom of a jar labeled “POISON”
and we spend the next three hours
chasing twin cobalt dragonflies. At
home, he pins the wings at the kitchen
table.

My husband scales limestone – a
spider-limbed daddy long leg on the
wall in demi plié. I get bored
watching, run miles down the hill and
hike them back. We drive to town for
lunch and sit by the water. He licks
the salt from my forehead with a wet
tongue.

My husband wears my bras to parties –
tobacco brown, bruise purple – and
lets the lace show on each shoulder
where his jacket slips. We smoke out
the car window. He takes me home
and fucks me – wraps mandible
around throat, burrows between each
toe.

My husband paints his nails, won’t let
me do it for him. Calls wearing my
clothing. Pierces his right nostril and
wears the dried blood. My husband,
the entomologist, teaches locusts and
wasps at the university. Fathers three
children and does it right: mountain
way, soil-up.

My husband jokes about
cannibalizing the teller at the bank.
Takes the vacuum cleaner apart and
puts it back together. Lets the yard
grow wild so the bees swarm in
summer. Sometimes, I lose him in the
tall grass. He has room in his jaw for
wisdom teeth. I shave his mole in the
shower, clip a skin tag.

My husband marries me after six
years of dating. He wears
mountaineer’s glasses to the
ceremony, turns his eyes into mirrors.
We marry. We honeymoon. He eats
near-raw steak each night of the trip
and skims me the cognac sauce. We
bite at one another. It’s funny: the day
we met, he ate a spider out of my
hand.

By Alissa Nalewajko

Biography:

Alissa Nalewajko is a student at Princeton University studying creative writing. She’s from Boise, Idaho and loves to explore themes of persona and surrealism through her work. She has been previously published in Zeniada magazine.

Point of the Sun By Ashley Kim

Point of the Sun

When we met, I said I loved
raspberries the most, so you brought me
tender handfuls in open palms, crimson
running along river-creases in
your skin, dripping down channels
on your wrists. You offered me
home cupped in woven fingers, and
I could almost see it:
a meadow of
cotton lilac and blue-green grass,
peach trees in a grove only we know
how to find, sun-splattered freckles
because I refuse to wear a hat, because
I refuse to hide―
but I have lied
about other things, too, like loving
the sea, or being able to whistle, or
knowing the names of constellations.

If I string the truth from this reluctant
pit of emetophobic stomach I could still lie
again and confess I love city streets in
rust-colored snow and aching cold exhaust
but I am trying to be honest, so I will give
you this alone:
I am searching for
the center of eternity. Sometimes,
I think it is burning you from the inside
of your ribcage,
molten and heavy and
staining like cigarette smoke or red wine, skin
feverish―sweating blood like a crown
of pomegranate sap as you tell me about
paradise, as you board a barge going
someplace far away.

By Ashley Kim

Biography:

Ashley Kim is a 17-year-old high school senior from Southern California. Her work has been published in Overachiever and is forthcoming in The Bookends Review and Detester. She has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and Visions of Unity. Soli Deo gloria.