Friday, June 16, 2023

3 Little Words Can Be a Powerful Prompt: Playing with Metaphor Dice

Hi, all! Today I'm wrapping up our series on the subject of Writing Prompts, which April kicked off in this post two months ago. It's been interesting to read the varied responses to the topic from the other TeachingAuthors and some of our followers. Personally, I love prompts, especially because they often take me to unexpected places. At the end of this post, I share a poem inspired by three little words, courtesy of Metaphor Dice.

First, though, I'm pleased to announce that those same three words also inspired a poem that will appear in Poetry by Chance: An Anthology of Poems Powered by Metaphor Dice edited by Taylor Mali (Button Poetry). The book will be released in less than four weeks, on July 11, 2023. And I'm thrilled to say that we'll be offering a giveaway of the book next month, so stay tuned!

I had never heard of Metaphor Dice until reading about them in a post on Heidi Mordhorst's blog. Metaphor Dice were invented by poet and teacher Taylor Mali, who edited the anthology. The official Metaphor Dice website describes them as "The writing tool that plays like a game!" The dice come in three colors and have words printed on them. The words on the red dice are concepts. The white dice contain adjectives, and the blue ones, objects. To play the game, you roll three dice--one of each color--and then use the words to form a metaphor. If you like, you can then expand the metaphor into a poem. If you're not a poet, you might try incorporating the metaphor into an essay or story.

Heidi's post included a link to the Golden Dice contest for Metaphor Dice-inspired poems. (The contest ended April 30, 2022.). Winning poems would then be published in Poetry by Chance.

I couldn't resist trying my hand at using the dice. But crafting a satisfactory poem from the metaphors I came up with proved more challenging than I expected. Here are the three words that finally gave me the inspiration I needed:


And here's a draft of one of the poems these words inspired:

            Forget and Forgive

    In the past, I fought against the notion
    that forgetting might be a gentle blessing
    by memorizing my mistakes for quicker recall.

    Now, I’ve come to see that forgetfulness
    can be a way to wipe the slate clean,
    and finally forgive myself. 

 © Draft 2022 Carmela A. Martino. All rights reserved. 

I can't share the poem that made it into Poetry by Chance just yet, but I can tell you that I'm honored to have my work included in the anthology. As it turns out, my poem follows one of two by Heidi Mordhorst! 

Poetry Friday logo by Linda Mitchell
I look forward to saying more about the anthology in next month's giveaway post. Meanwhile, be sure to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Michelle Kogan.  


Friday, June 2, 2023

Not Prompts—Sensory Cues! by Mary Ann Rodman

 The term “prompt” is not a favorite of writers. I know it’s not a favorite of students. I don’t know if “journal writing” is still used by teachers to keep students quiet while taking attendance. However, I’ve taught a whole generation of kids who wince at the words “prompt” and “journal” after years of having to expound on “my favorite fruit” and “what is a good friend” in a notebook that the teacher checked but never read. 

To me, “prompt” means you’ve lost your way and your memory needs nudging—like being prompted on stage. I prefer the term “cues”, but not just any cues, but sensory cues. 

Sensory cues are those aromas or textures that evoke particular emotions and memories. I keep a list of these cues. Here are a few of mine: Smells—honeysuckle, lime scented aftershave, mildew, baking bread or cookies. Textures—velvet, sand, grass, peanut butter, porcelain.

Let’s take peanut butter—which is on both of my lists. I imagine the mouthfeel of soft bread mixed with crunchy peanut butter (my favorite).  The smell of peanut butter recalls a twin aroma—that of the slightly soured milk smell of my vinyl Barbie lunchbox in second grade. Even though my thermos was washed every day, the scent of milk and peanut butter had absorbed into the soft sided vinyl. Oh, and that’s another cue —the sharp chemical smell of a new vinyl lunchbox or three-ring notebook. Suddenly, I’m back in my second grade classroom, with a cascade of cues: pencil shavings, chalk dust, hot asphalt (it was a new school and the parking lot was still being paved). This is followed by specific images, like Margaret who sat across the aisle. She wore her hair in long ringlets, wore periwinkle suede Hush Puppies and read nothing but Winnie-the-Pooh books the whole year. 

Whew! That was unexpected! See how that works? Sensory details are what makes writing come alive for me. So much of what we write in a first draft is what we see or hear. As a result my first draft often feels like a string of events—a lot of “and he went there and she said this.” It’s when I use my cues (NOT prompts), that my story picks up momentum. 

Suddenly, I want to write a second grade story. Hmmm—I wonder what happened to Margaret?

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman.