The Practice of Prompt Writing

By: Hannah Marshall

“A prompt delivers a nice, packaged “triggering subject” from which to write…”

I used to hate prompts, their artificial sentiments bullying their way into my writing. Before I enrolled in the Converse College MFA in Creative Writing, I almost never used a prompt to jumpstart my writing. I believed in order for my writing to be pure, it needed to emerge organically. I wanted to freely write poems from my life experience, the words falling from the ether and onto the page. But you know what? Even back then, I used a prompt for pretty much every poem I wrote. I just didn’t know it.

The Magic of the Naturally Occurring Prompt

I used to always spend the beginning of my writing time reading a book of poetry, whatever was on my list at the time. I’d read maybe one poem, maybe ten or twenty, and then I’d have the sudden urge to write a poem of my own. These poems were responses to what I’d read, and though I didn’t have a written prompt, it was the words on the page that prompted me. I’d read something like these lines from “The Mother’s Apple” by Li Young Lee: “The blossoms give themselves to the wind. / Who will I be given to?” and I’d need to speak into the subject myself.

Sometimes, I’d be out in the world, doing life: walking by Lake Mendota, shopping for groceries at the local co-op, or changing my infant’s diaper, and I’d have that URGE to write a poem. These prompts were situational, brought on by events, but they were still prompts. Perhaps I’d see a Norway maple so yellow I could taste its brightness. Write it down! Or my baby would look at me in a way that I’d never been looked at by anyone before, her helplessness, her complete trust. Write about it!

The thing is, these situations take time and space to develop. I don’t have epiphanic moments every day, not even every week. And I don’t always get sparked to write when I’m reading someone else’s poems. I like to be in conversation with other poets, but sometimes it comes out in more subtle ways than, I must write about this same topic right away!

When the Magic of the Muse Is Not Enough

When I started writing more frequently during my time as an MFA student, I realized these occasional “natural prompts” were not numerous enough to sustain the number of poems I needed to be writing. I knew I needed to get over my illogical disdain of the writing prompt.

Sometimes, writers have dry spells. For me, however, I’ve discovered “dry spells” are simply times when I’m not being externally stimulated to write. These times, more than ever, I need prompts.

Benefits of Using Prompts to Write

Prompts are a way to artificially stimulate the writing process. And it’s okay that it’s artificial! I don’t need to know where I’m going when I start a poem, but I do need an inciting idea. Prompts provide that for me. I’ve found this quote from Richard Hugo’s book The Triggering Town to be very true in my own writing: “A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject, which starts the poem or ‘causes’ the poem to be written, and the real or generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean, and which is generated or discovered in the poem during the writing.” A prompt delivers a nice, packaged “triggering subject” from which to write towards a “generated subject.” When the poem is finished, it’s impossible to distinguish between a poem I wrote from an artificial prompt and one I wrote from a natural prompt, because in both cases the prompt gave me a triggering subject. Once I got going, the generated subject revealed itself and might have little or no clear relation to the triggering subject. Thus, in edits, the lines about the triggering subject are often deleted, and the prompt disappears altogether.

Where to Find Good Writing Prompts

Now, post-graduation, I have not given up the practice of using prompts for my poems. I have books full of prompts, which I would recommend to any poet needing help: The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell is pretty much 100% prompts and writing exercises. The Poet’s Companion, by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, has excellent writing advice as well as great chapter-end prompts. Poets & Writers posts prompts for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on their website weekly. The latter recommendations are especially good for days when you really want to immerse yourself in a prompt and maybe learn something along the way!

This time of the year is my favorite for writing prompts. Two years ago, I began participating in NaPoWriMo—National Poetry Writing Month—which happens, of course, in April, National Poetry Month. The “official” NaPoWriMo website posts a prompt each day for the entire month. I write a poem each day all through April, and I find that the constant production is great for my poetic muscles. It also forces me to move out of my usual subjects and write about unexpected things. I turn to researched poems about historical and biblical figures, or to bits of interesting scientific or medical news. I discover new tools available on the internet to spark interesting triggering subjects. My poems become more experimental because, since I’m writing a poem every day, I don’t feel pressured to have each one be good.

I have embarked on my third year of writing a poem each day for the month of April, and I’ve been looking forward to this since February. It’s now become a ritual of spring for me, a time of growth that coincides with the waking of the natural world. And I’m a prompt lover now, fully converted to the practice of using whatever works to write myself toward the next good poem.



Hannah Marshall, Poet

Hannah Marshall lives in south-central Illinois, where she works as the advising editor for the literary journal The Scriblerus. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Daily, New Ohio Review, The Madison Review, Anglican Theological Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Converse College.


Feature Photo by Tyler Nix.

Interview with Educator & Poet, Tyree Daye

Tyree Daye, Educator & Poet

Listen to MFA Creative Writing candidate, Marlanda Dekine interview Tyree Daye, a poet and educator of University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Daye is also the author of two poetry books,  Cardinal and River Hymns, a 2017 APR/Honickman First Book Prize winner.

Daye is a Cave Canem fellow, he also won the 2019 Palm Beach Poetry Festival Langston Hughes Fellowship, the 2019 Diana and Simon Raab Writer-In-Residence at UC Santa Barbara, and a 2019 Kate Tufts Finalist. Daye was also awarded the 2019 Whiting Writers Award.


YouTube interviews are captioned.

Marlanda Dekine – Sapient Soul

Poet Marlanda Dekine-Sapient Soul is a poet, author & recording artist from Plantersville, SC. Her work has appeared in Emergence Magazine, the Screen Door Review, Flycatcher Journal, Spark & Echo Arts, and Minerva Rising. Marlanda is an MFA candidate at Converse College, the 2019 Fresh Voice of the Year, awarded by SC Humanities, and the 2018 Emrys Keller Cushing-Freeman Scholar.


Businesses Need Poets and They Don’t Even Know It

By: Zorina E. Frey

“Poetry and business writing are the Capulets and Montagues…”

Poetry is under appreciated by the business industry. It is not recognized as the staple of rhetoric its serves in our language. It’s overlooked as a hobby and not as the true literary artform it is.

Working as a copywriter, I can’t tell you how many interoffice pings I received from digital marketers and even C-level executives asking me to brainstorm some catch phrase for one of our clients. Being the poet I am, I didn’t hesitate to quickly ping back a list of options for them. It wasn’t until I joined a writing team for another company did I realize when writers aren’t strong poets, coming up with catchphrases doesn’t come naturally.

The Business of Writing Poetry

There is a disconnection between poetry and business writing. So many marketing agencies don’t realize they need a poet to be part of their writing team. Likewise, many poets may not realize their talents are needed outside of academia. Poetry’s carpe diems rhetoric breaks the rules of traditional business writing. On the other hand, business writing’s formal rules seem as though it quells poetry’s creative rhetoric.

Star-Crossed Rhetoric. If That Isn’t Poetry, I Don’t Know What Is.

Poetry and business writing are like two people who hate each other but are secretly in love and neither one of them wants to admit it. It’s as if these two writing artforms come from separate worlds but are essentially one in the same. Poetry and business writing are the Capulets and Montagues—star-crossed lovers destined to be together even though the world wants to keep them apart.

Are we good on the similes and metaphors?

These two literary forms can’t play nice together because of disapproving outside influences in their respected genre. Business writing has its traditional writing rules and poetry has a bohemian existence that thrives in academia. “Both academia and bohemians are perceived to live outside the economic and social systems…” (Gioia 107). However, every television commercial, radio podcast, company social media post, ecommerce product, and even electoral slogans signify a poetic voice.

There is a give and take on both sides. The poet must conform his or her work to traditional styles of writing and business writers need to make room in their rhetoric for the bohemian artform. The payoff—especially for the poet will result in a broader spectrum of professional writing options while businesses benefit from more insightful and rich content that can better appeal to a person’s senses.

Infomercial: Got Poetry?

When I worked as the lead copywriter for a digital marketing agency in Miami, our staff met twice a week for client updates and to discuss creative ideas. In a nutshell, the ideas involved searching for the right string of words to convey a client’s message that had to be clear, concise, and witty. What they were asking for is poetry.

When I worked as a content writer for a restaurant supply company, the team would spend up to 45 minutes agreeing on the right type of wording for an Instagram post. When it came to writing product descriptions for the company’s website and Amazon, the type of verbiage we were expected to produce had to complement the visually appealing product photo. This is also poetry.

When You Find That Writer, You’ll Know

Wouldn’t it then, make sense for employers to take a second look at their writing team, recognize the poets and give them the credit they deserve? Not every writer is a trained poet, and not every poet is a trained writer. There are writers whose skillset is strong with grammar. Another writer might be good at monologue and scriptwriting. Another writer may be strong at research, collecting facts, and reporting them. Then you have the poet who is pretty damn good at descriptive storytelling. For businesses that are lucky enough to have a writer who’s good at all these things, hold on to that writer. Hold on to that writer tight, and never let that person go.


Works Cited

Gioia, Dana Gioia. Ways of Living. Can Poetry Matter? Graywolf Press, 1992



Zorina E. Frey

Zorina Frey is an MFA candidate at Converse College from Miami, Florida. She’s published in the forthcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul: I’m Speaking Now, Shondaland, Writing Class Radio, Filter, and Michiana Monologues. Zorina holds a BA in Journalism and a certificate in web design from Indiana University. She also has a literary publishing certificate from Emerson College.

Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle | South 85 Journal

Interview with Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

By: Andrew K. Clark

 Book: Even As We Breathe

University of Kentucky Press, 2020.

“Good literature is felt in the body.” 

AKC – South 85: Tell me about the decisions you made around including Cherokee folklore in the novel. I am thinking of Spearfinger and other lore you included.

Clapsaddle: I wanted anything I included to be pretty natural. I wanted it to be something characters would reference casually anyway. I didn’t want to teach folklore through the narrative, so just as I would think about dialogue, for instance, I would think about what aspects of Cherokee stories or culture would be relevant in that moment. I needed it to serve a purpose, that it added another layer to the narrative. And there may be some instances where these inclusions might not be obvious to all readers, just those who have experience with Cherokee culture. That’s fine with me too. There are different layers for different readers.

AKC – South 85: I have a question around point of view. Cowney is an adult looking back on his life rather than telling the story from a teenager’s point of view. Tell me about that choice.

Clapsaddle: One of the most significant considerations when I was drafting the novel was to pay close attention to voice, mostly because of my experience with previous manuscripts. I had to spend so much time revising voice that I wanted to make sure I was being mindful about the voice I was selecting. I had read and teach Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and that was almost a trigger for me to recognize that I liked the retrospective voice, almost providing advice to the next generation based on one’s experience. It allowed me to present a character who was obviously well educated later in life. That’s another thing I felt I had to be careful of, I didn’t want to present native characters who seemed ignorant or uneducated, even though he or she was still a teenager. To do so would have blended so easily into stereotype. I wanted to provide a Cherokee character who could be intellectually reflective. So, the retrospective voice allowed me to do both: show him young and learning but also provide a voice that is more representative of our culture and people.

AKC – South 85: One thing I’ve heard you talk about in other interviews is the Great Smokies Writing Program. Tell us about how that program and the larger writing community have affected your work.

Clapsaddle: As you’ve probably experienced yourself, we live in a very rural area so finding a writing community is more difficult than if we lived in a major city. So, I’ve been involved with the North Carolina Writers Network for a number of years. After my first manuscript didn’t look like it was headed for publication, despite winning some awards, I wanted something new. I felt I was ready to start a new novel but I love structure and so I took a writing workshop with Heather Newton at the Great Smokies Writing Program that UNCA (University of North Carolina at Asheville) coordinates. The name of the workshop was “Git ‘Er Done – Write Your Novel,” which sounded cheesy enough for me, but it was great because [the program] set out a structure. The assignments were to write a synopsis, to write a first chapter, a final chapter, and a climax chapter. And that was incredibly challenging for me to write a synopsis for a novel that didn’t yet exist. But that workshop gave me the structure I needed to be successful as well as some early feedback on my ideas. As a mother and full-time teacher, it allowed me to sit down in short segments of time and build the novel. That’s what I needed. Everybody writes differently but I really need to know where I’m going. That workshop taught me how to set that up for myself. I expanded my network to the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop that Hindman Settlement School hosts each year and that has been instrumental in building my network. I talk to someone every single day from Hindman. If it were not for that workshop, Even as We Breathe wouldn’t have been published. Fireside Industries is an imprint that came out of the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop and University of Kentucky Press. Silas House became my editor, partly through Hindman.

AKC – South 85: What can you tell us about your next book?

Clapsaddle: (Laughing) I’ll tell you what I know. It is set in contemporary Cherokee and my protagonist is female, probably late 30s. What I am doing is looking at traditional Cherokee origin stories, extracting the values and themes from them and applying them to this modern context and exploring Cherokee politics in a way. I want to get at the tension between traditional and contemporary Cherokee culture.

AKC – South 85: This is more of a writer’s question. You had a first manuscript that won awards but didn’t publish. Having gone through your experience with Even As We Breathe, do you have a sense for why that was the case, or is it still a mystery?

Clapsaddle: I know that manuscript needs work, if I were to return to it. I know there are things I could do differently. But it’s still a bit of a mystery to me. It was a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether, excerpts were published, etc. The more I get to know about this business, it really is being at the right place at the right time. I can tell you that I’m most interested in moving on to the new project rather than looking back.

AKC – South 85: You have a rich non-writing life, as a mother, teacher, and an avid mountain biker. Tell me how your non-writing life informs your writing.

Clapsaddle: One of the reasons I returned to teaching was the energy in my high school, both for the students and being around colleagues who are always thinking and troubleshooting issues. With students it’s the good, bad, and the ugly of teaching, right? I just think it’s a more authentic experience of the human spectrum. The kids are coming from different places, backgrounds, and ideas, and I need to approach them all the same. It just makes me think differently. It keeps me from getting in my own bubble. It fires something creative in my brain although it can be exhausting. With mountain biking, we are fortunate to live in a great place for biking and hiking, and I think reading should be a physical process. Good literature is felt in the body. It’s important for me to have a physical experience when I’m thinking about what I’m writing. Mountain biking does that for me. Mountain biking is like storytelling. You make it to the pinnacle to see where you’ve been and then you try to find the most exciting resolution possible without killing yourself.

AKC – South 85: If readers have enjoyed Even As We Breathe can you point them toward any other Easter Band of Cherokee artists they should pay attention to?

Clapsaddle: There are some really talented visual artists in the ECBI. Bear Allison is a wonderful photographer that everyone should check out. There’s a jewelry maker, Alicia Wildcatt who I really love. There is a group supported by the Sequoya Fund called Authentically Cherokee that supports our artisans on their website you can see the work directly.

AKC – South 85: Tell us about your influences.

Clapsaddle: I love a lot of the classic southern writers I studied in school, even though I now know some of them are problematic. I love Faulkner, I really do. The first native author that inspired me is now considered very problematic, but I will always say Sherman Alexie’s writing influenced me. He helped me realize I could write about where I am from instead of trying to write about something I’m not familiar with. Then it was those great Appalachian writers like Ron Rash and Charles Frazier and of course I now have Silas House for a mentor. Currently, I really love Louise Erdrich. She’s kind of my literary hero. I also love to teach Toni Morrison to my AP Lit students.

AKC – South 85: Tell us about your writing rituals.

Clapsaddle: I do a lot of writing off the page as I said before whenever I get outside or go bike riding. I might think about a sentence for an entire ride. I like structure, so I try to sit down to write with an objective in mind. I sometimes go to my family’s cabin to get a change of scenery.  But I love my writing space at home. I have a lot of windows and I decorate it with things I collect: rocks and feathers, seashells, etc. I want to have natural elements nearby even when I’m inside. Sometimes I build music playlists with songs that fit the space I want to inhabit in a scene. When I’m focused on word choice and syntax, however, I usually have to turn the music off.



Andrew Clark

Andrew K. Clark’s work has appeared in UCLA’s Out of Anonymity, fall/lines, The Wrath Bearing Tree, and other journals. Main Street Rag Press published his first full-length collection of poetry, Jesus in the Trailer, in 2019. He is searching for a home for his first novel, The Day Thief. He is a native of Asheville, NC, and an MFA candidate at Converse College.


Writers’ Conferences in the Age of Zoom

By: Russell Carr

“The online conference surpassed my expectations.”

Writers need community. We read each other’s work, give feedback, and help each other grow. It’s also nice to know there’s someone else out there struggling alone at a desk, holding you in mind. Many people find such communities at writers’ conferences, so much so that there are hundreds throughout the country. I enjoy them because I usually receive the best feedback on my short stories and personal essays within conference workshops, and I also gain friendships with fellow writers. Even though I’m usually shy around people I don’t know, I always enjoy mingling with a crowd of writers. They get what I love to do. Conferences also give me the opportunity to hear lectures from leading writers and educators. By the end of a long weekend or week, I leave tired but motivated. At the beginning of 2020, I planned to attend at least two writers’ conferences during the upcoming year. But by late February, COVID-19 changed my plans. I’d like to share my experiences with a few conferences, without naming names, during this time of social distancing and cancelled gatherings, and offer some lessons learned that might help you decide whether to attend one in the age of Zoom.

In the before times, 2019, one of my friends attended a writers’ conference and loved it. She encouraged all of our mutual writer friends to apply for the conference in 2020. Most, if not all, of us who applied were accepted into it. We joked about a conference takeover, but our goals were really so see each other in person again and to learn from other writers.

Then the pandemic hit. The conference was to be in the May. In March, the organizers held out hope to still have it, but soon many states were shutting down. They cancelled the conference, with the plan to return in 2021. Of course, we were all disappointed, but understood. At that same time, schools that had shut down were scrambling to figure out how to continue. Zoom was just beginning to be used for classes. Understandably, the conference didn’t want to enter that experiment so soon after the pandemic struck. We all hoped to attend next year.

I’d also signed up for a summer writers’ conference separate from the one with my friends. I’d discovered it the prior summer. Then, it had been a nice adventure.  It was about an eight-hour drive from my home, so that meant ten days without the usual work and home responsibilities, which my wife supported (Thanks again, Liza!). Being there without any friends meant I made many new ones. There were the conference regulars, some of them having attended ten or more summers and joked that it was their adult summer camp. There were other first-timers like myself and those in between. And then there were the faculty and staff who were very friendly and approachable. What I liked about it was just how laid back everyone who attended or taught at it was. I ate with different people every day. I stayed in a dorm, single room, and within a few days, I was having scotch every evening with a new friend there. During the day, I attended great lectures and readings, discussed them with new friends, and received great feedback on my own writing in workshops. By the end of the ten days, I knew I would return for more in 2020.

After the first conference I’d planned to attend with my friends was cancelled, I feared my summer plans were lost also. But even as the early struggles with transitioning to online meetings and school continued across the country, the summer conference organizers announced that they wanted to try an online version. Watching the troubles my son was having with online school, I was skeptical. But I decided it was worth trying, at least to get the workshop experience and lectures. I was nervous as the first day it approached. I didn’t like the idea of my experience depending upon my technology skills or the whims of my broadband.

The online conference surpassed my expectations, but it wasn’t the same as in person. The organizers did a great job getting the technology set up and sending out explanations about accessing each activity. My workshop was outstanding, among the best I’ve participated in. All of us did accidentally interrupt each other at times, but we were sensitive to that risk with Zoom and allowed for it. Occasionally, connections froze, but that didn’t stop the overall momentum that the workshop leader established and continued through hours of discussion. She told us that she’d led a workshop with Zoom through an MFA program’s summer residency a few weeks earlier, and her experience showed. The lectures were also great, and there was the added perk that I could turn off my camera. Then I could stand up, walk around, check my phone, but still listen and not distract anyone.

But there were some limits that no one could change. The conference tried to encourage participants and staff to hang out after hours in Zoom meeting rooms. People did, but, with the limits of online technology, only one person could speak at a time. If there was someone I wanted to talk with individually, I could reach out through private chat, or leave the group meeting room and call him or her directly. Also, I missed the meals with random participants and instructors. So, outside of workshop, it was difficult to make new friends. And because of limited ability to have individual conversations, I don’t know nearly as much about the people I did meet: their opinions they won’t share in a group, how they stand while they talk, what they like to drink or eat, or even their heights. All the body language. We connected, but didn’t.

As the pandemic continues, we all have to take what we can get when it comes to social interactions. Fortunately, everyone is learning more about using online opportunities and how to adapt them to our expectations and needs. I encourage you to continue to seek out connections through those writers’ conferences that are still happening, even if you don’t leave your desk to attend them. Online conferences also offer new opportunities. With so many of them moving to an online format, this can be an excellent time to attend ones that have been too far away, such as overseas or ones on the opposite coast of America from you. Their online versions are also cheaper, since they don’t have to include room and board.

Some things to look for, in my opinion, are how the organizers plan to conduct online workshops and lectures. Will the groups for workshops be smaller than their prior in person ones, for instance, so all participants can talk more easily in them? Do the organizers have experience with online programs, such as also participating in MFA programs? Lectures can still happen in large groups, but beware of ones that are described as large discussion groups, panels, or question and answer sessions. Those can prove very difficult to participate in. Will the times fit with your schedule, including a difference in time zones? The conference might start late or early to accommodate time zone differences. Will there be breaks between events? I found that I needed more time away from the computer screen than I needed between in-person sessions. If the conferences is still meeting in person, which I don’t recommend, how do they plan to implement safety precautions? How does that change room and board for the conference?

While we all wait as the vaccines are being distributed, I hope to meet you at an online conference!


Russell Carr

Russell Carr is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Maryland. He has a BA in Russian Literature from UNC at Chapel Hill, an MD from the University of Tennessee, and an MFA from Converse College. He recently retired from the United States Navy after twenty years of service. He was the review editor for South 85 Journal for two years, and currently serves as the journal’s fiction editor.