Friday, June 10, 2011

Writing Prompts About Uniforms

Before posting your weekend writing prompts, I'm going to post this week's American Life in Poetry column because I think the poem is excellent. 

This week's TED KOOSER'S "American Life in Poetry" Column # 324

Here is a fine poem by my fellow Nebraskan, Barbara Schmitz, who here offers us a picture of people we’ve all observed but haven’t thought to write about.

by Barbara Schmitz

It is very hot—92 today—to be wearing
a stocking cap, but the adolescent swaggering
through the grocery store automatic door
doesn’t seem to mind; does not even appear
to be perspiring. The tugged-down hat
is part of his carefully orchestrated outfit:
bagging pants, screaming t-shirt, high-topped
shoes. The young woman who yells to her friends
from an open pickup window is attired
for summer season in strapless stretch
tube top, slipping down toward bountiful
cleavage valley. She tugs it up in front
as she races toward the two who have
just passed a cigarette between them
like a baton on a relay team. Her white
chest gleams like burnished treasure
as they giggle loudly there in the corner
and I glance down to see what costume
I have selected to present myself to
the world today. I smile; it’s my sky blue
shirt with large deliberately faded Peace sign,
smack dab in the middle, plus grey suede
Birkenstocks—a message that “I lived through
the sixties and am so proud.” None of the
young look my way. I round the corner and
walk into Evening descending.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Barbara Schmitz, whose most recent book of poems is How Much Our Dancing Has Improved, Backwaters Press, 2005. Poem reprinted from the South Dakota Review, Vol. 47, no. 3, 2009, by permission of Barbara Schmitz and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
Creative Nonfiction Prompt:  Think about all the real uniforms you have worn in your life.  Make a list of them.  For me, my first uniform for a job was a polyester navy blue zip-up shirt with ruffled short plaid sleeves.  It bore the emblem "Tastee Freeze."  They weren't too bad, actually.  At another job I had, I wore a white lab coat everyday, but due to the nature of the work getting the lab coat so dirty, I eventually got navy blue lab coats instead.  I never had to wear a school uniform or camp uniform and I never was a Brownie or Girl Scout.  I did play softball for a short time in high school, and if we had uniforms, I do not remember. 
After you make your list, decide if you want to write a themed piece based on the different uniforms you have worn in your life, or if you want to just focus on one.  Write about the uniform and connect it to your life at the time you had to wear it.  You can also write about a uniform your siblings, spouse or children wore. 
Fiction Writing Practice:  Create a character who loves his or her job, but HATES the uniform.  What is the job?  What does the uniform look like?  What kind of uniform would your character like to have instead? 
Poetry Prompt:  Write a poem about a person that tells us about the kind of person he or she is by the way the person is dressed.  This can be a random person you see out on your walk, at the bus stop, etc.  Or it can be a person you know. 
Free Write Prompt:  What costume have you "selected to present yourself to the world today?"

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