Friday, August 12, 2011

Word Stew Writing Prompt with Shaindel Beers

Many thanks to Shaindel Beers for providing the "Word Stew" writing prompt below.  Once you gather your words,  you can turn them into a poem or a story or ?????  The sky's the limit.  Have fun!


WORD STEW by Shaindel Beers

photo by Jeff Kramer

One of my favorite prompts, whether writing poetry or fiction, is a "word stew." I teach both Intro to Poetry Writing and Intro to Fiction Writing at Blue Mountain Community College, and my students and I "make" poetry and fiction stews every quarter.

What I do is write categories on the board, such as:

(1) A store or business --
(2) A color --
(3) An invention --
(4) A town or city --
(5)  A make and model of car or truck --
(6) A band --
(7) A song by that band --
(8) An animal --
(9) A plant --
(10) A food --

I put enough categories on the board so that each student gets to pick a word or phrase for that category. Then, we each have to write a poem or story that includes all of those words. So, go out, find some friends, and have at it with this prompt! It's better to do with others because inevitably other people will pick words outside of your comfort zone and you'll have new material to work with that will force you to make a departure from your normal work.

Here's a poem that I wrote in a workshop I led at Prescott College when I guest-taught in Sheila Sanderson's poetry class:

If Tesla Had Aimed His Death Ray at Vortex, Kentucky

There wouldn’t be a girl at Target in her red polo shirt
and khakis, waiting for a boy in a Ford Ranger
who will drive up,  steady as an assembly line,
singing Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places,”
to pick her up from work. She would not stretch
like a lily on a stem, straining for the sun, to see if he is there,
in the indigo pick-up to rescue her from shoppers
too good for Wal-Mart who will let you know it
by unleashing a storm of insults the way Wal-Mart shoppers
are too meek to. When she gets in, he will change
from Garth Brooks to The Beatles out of respect,
and they will sing off-key about the octopus’s garden.
They will joke about getting a van and painting it
like a yellow submarine. You are happy for them,
Dear Reader, because you know that death is stalking them
like a panther. Time does not stretch like Turkish Delight,
and you are glad that Tesla did not aim his death ray
at Vortex, Kentucky, because these are your parents.
The quiet trailer park girl, the burly boy in the pick-up.

Every time I do a poetry or fiction stew, I tell the students participating in the workshop how grateful I am for their words, because I would never have come up with that particular work without them. Tesla's death ray and Vortex, Kentucky? Those two items would have never converged in my mind if I hadn't been forced to do it in a prompt! Now, let's see what you can come up with.

Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, in Eastern Oregon’s high desert and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary. A Brief History of Time, her first full-length poetry collection, was released by Salt Publishing in 2009.

Shaindel was raised in Argos, Indiana, a town of 2,000 people. She studied literature at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama (BA), and at the University of Chicago (MA) before earning her MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has taught at colleges and universities in Illinois and Florida but feels settled in the Eastern Oregon high desert town of Pendleton. Her awards include: First place Karen Fredericks and Frances Willitts Poetry Prize (2008), Grand Prize Co-winner Trellis Magazine sestina contest (2008), First place Dylan Days Poetry Competition (2007), Award-winning poem published, Eleventh Muse (2006), Honorable mention, Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Awards (2005), Honorable mention, Juniper Creek/Unnamed Writers Award (2005), and the title poem from this collection, “A Brief History of Time,”was nominated for a Pushcart prize (2004).

Shaindel loves meeting her readers. You can find her on Facebook or on Twitter.

You can find out more about Shaindel Beers by clicking on her website below:

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