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  • Christine Delea

Write Towards the Last Words: Poetry Prompt

Warning: this prompt has a long-ish introduction.


Many years ago, I wrote my first ode. Prior to doing so, I went to Neruda and Keats for some inspiration; I ended up writing an ode using the rhyming end words of a Keats ode.

I did it just as a challenge to myself and I had a lot of fun with it. I am currently revising it (again), and the challenge continues: using the same end words while sometimes changing completely the rest of the line.


Terrance Hayes invented a new poetry form about 5 years ago he calls a Golden Shovel. His poem that introduced this form uses the words from the Gwendolyn Brooks poem, "We Real Cool: Seven at the Golden Shovel" as the end words for his poem. Unlike my poem which was just a challenge for me, Hayes' poem is also a way to honor Brooks and her iconic poem. Many poets have since written Golden Shovels using various lines, verses, and poems by Brooks, and there is an anthology of some of the best ones. Click here to go to the Hayes poem.


More recently, I took an online poetry workshop with Francine Ringold through the literary journal Nimrod. The workshop was titled "End Words Are a Beginning," and prior to the class, Ringold had six of us choose a favorite poem to read in class. We read our poems and then she asked for a word from our poem that resonated with us--those words became the end words to short poems everyone in the workshop wrote. Some read their newly-written poems, and they were diverse and wonderful.


A few days ago, in an on-going class with Ellen Bass, end words again came up, this time in reference to Dorianne Laux's poem, "Death of the Mother." Bass explained that for this poem, Laux used the end words of a John Donne poem as a way to force herself to write about the painful subject of her mother's death. Click here to go to Laux's poem. The poem is in her book Only As the Day Is Long.


Also within the last few days, a poet on Twitter (I cannot remember who) asked poets to look at the last word in the last poem of their books to see if there is a connection.


So my brain is focused on lines' last words in poems, and my obsession is your prompt for this week. I will give you a few options.


  1. Use the words we used in Francine Ringold's workshop, in order, as your end words: grating, crochet, seedy, buffet, wile, enough. (Any form of the word is acceptable.)

  2. Find a Gwendolyn Brooks poem you especially like and use parts of that poem or that poem in full to create a Golden Shovel poem.

  3. Randomly choose 12-20 books of poems in your library and find the last word of the last poem in each. Use those words as the last words in each line in your poem.

  4. Try a form that is new to you. Find a poem in that form by another poet and use their end words.

  5. Use as many of the following words, taken from the random items on my desk, as your end words: women, fill, include, index, power, black, run, milk, voice, save, market, nose, new, gather, school, done, shape.






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