April 1st signals the beginning of National Poetry Month (#NaPoWriMo) and for the last four or so years author Savannah Brown has created a list of prompts for the month she has coined 'Escapril'. You can follow the page and see the prompts @letsescapril and follow #escapril2022 to read peoples' work on Instagram.
This will be my fourth year participating and it is never an easy task. With prompt lists circulating alongside the Escapril list and the demand of writing every day, a month of celebrating poetry can become increasingly overwhelming. A close friend of mine commented that this entire process and month is meant to be fun, but as creators we put pressure on ourselves: not only to create daily, but to post, format, edit and suss the algorithms of online social media platforms in the hope that all our hard work doesn't go to waste.
But, in the years I have completed the month, I have become aware of a few things which might help make the month the enjoyable experience it is intended to be!
1. Vary how you use the prompts
Sometimes the prompts just don't seem to inspire ideas immediately. Some you can mind-map and a wealth of possibilities appear. Others work perfectly as an opening line or a title. Then there are those which sit and stare at you for hours. What do you do with those when you've exhausted the other three options?
Try and locate the word or phrase within the day you've had and look at it from a narrative or abstract point of view. Or consider the word class and if you can modify the word to turn it into a verb or an adjective. Or reach for a poetry collection or any book you have, see if you can find the word/phrase or at least the theme attached to the prompt: be inspired by how it has been used before and use the image you find as a ghost line or write an after poem. Songs would work the same way too.
2. Recycle, recycle, recycle!
Despite good intentions of writing ahead, life often catches you up and there will come a day or several days in April where writing fresh for a prompt will feel impossible. Whenever this happens, remind yourself that poetry is an art form and recycle rather than reinvent the wheel.
Do you have an older piece you could revisit with the new prompt in mind? With an old piece of your own or any piece of writing, could you create a blackout piece inspired by the prompt? Or, simply, repost an older piece. There is no shame in realising something you wrote in January or March or ten years ago works perfectly for the present day.
3. Stagnation likes a challenge
Finally, you might be on top of #NaPoWriMo but you feel as if what you create is beginning to stagnate. This is where you challenge yourself and the best poetic challenge, in my humble opinion, is tackling form.
Popular forms I've seen recently are sonnets, villanelles and nonets if you wish to test your ability to write to syllable count and iambic pentameter. There are blackout poems, burning haibuns and haikus when it comes to taking one thing and transforming it into something new. And then there are forms brought recently to the fore by writers like Ocean Vuong (the footnote poem), Jericho Brown (the duplex) and Kate Baer (a very specific form of blackout poetry where the original text and tone is utterly reversed). Form is one of the most challenging yet rewarding ways to play with and elevate your style.
After all, April is for celebrating and exploring poetry, not just writing it until the migraine behind your eyes tells you to stop. Escapril and any prompt list you follow should, as my lovely friend said, be fun.
Enjoy it, good luck and if you have any tips to share on how you engage with National Poetry Writing Month, leave a comment!