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How I Go to the Woods
by Mary Oliver

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.

A Step Away from Them
by John O'Hara

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.
                                   On
to Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating.
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
a Thursday.
                        Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET’S
CORNER. Giulietta Masina, wife of
Federico Fellini, è bell’ attrice.
And chocolate malted. A lady in
foxes on such a day puts her poodle
in a cab.
                There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?
And one has eaten and one walks,
past the magazines with nudes
and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
which they’ll soon tear down. I
used to think they had the Armory
Show there.
                  A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.

typing prompt
There are a lot more places online and in books to find writing prompts than there were when Poets Online first appeared in 1998. What we hoped to offer with the website was not just a prompt and a model poem, but the possibility to publish your response to the prompt online. Twenty years ago, putting your poem online did not really count as being "published" in the eyes of journals and other print publications. That has changed. First publishing a poem on many online journals (Poets Online included) counts as publication. And a number of new and established magazines and journals have become accepted as respected online publishers. (Narrative and Mudlark are examples.)

Poets & Writers Magazine  (PW) offers prompts. Diane Lockward offers a prompt and craft section in her monthly newsletter, and has published three craft books full of poetry prompts.

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk...
writes Frank O’Hara at the start of one of his lunch poems, “A Step Away From Them.” So often, we miss out on the potential for inspiration from our daily routines, passing muses on morning commutes, lunch breaks, or evening strolls. T. PW suggested as a prompt that you go out into your neighborhood with no set destination, carrying a notepad, and invent background narratives, involve your senses, and record sounds and overheard phrases. For your poem, start with the time of day (“It’s eight in the morning,” or “It’s my lunch hour,” or “It’s midnight”) and take the reader through the streets with you.

Leslie Schwartz wrote at PW that “Mary Oliver used to walk in the woods with a notebook. Walking so inspired her that she kept pens in the trees so if an idea or thought came to her, she’d be able to stop and write it down. Like Mary Oliver, my inspiration almost always occurs while I am walking, not while I am sitting at a stodgy old desk in my messy office where the enemies of thought—phones and computers—lie in wait to distract me. It is while walking that most of my writing takes place. Something about being on the trail in the early morning with the hawks, the owls, and coyotes inspires me. "

Oliver's prose poem "How I Go to the Woods" describes that walking.

This month, we ask you to literally go for a walk in your neighborhood, be it suburban or urban streets, or the nearby park or woods, in search of the figurative. Observe. Take notes. Treat it like a mini version of a walkabout or spirit walk, and perhaps you will find your spirit animal, guide or poetic inspiration.

The submission deadline for this prompt is December 31, 2018

POETS ONLINE offers you the opportunity to submit your poetic response to this current prompt. All submissions that address this prompt will be read and considered for posting on this site. Before your first submission, you should read some poems in our archive to get a sense of the types of responses people have had to previous prompts. We will only consider poems that are in response to this current writing prompt.