Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (2nd Edition) [Texture Press, 2019]

Review by Jamal H. Goodwin Jr.

Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets is more than a motivational tool or instruction manual for a beginner poet. It is a source of joy, insight, melancholy, curiosity, and humor. This variety of emotions arises thanks to poets of various levels, from students to classical poets to professionals. Valerie Fox and Lynn Levin, the authors of Prompts for Poets, contribute poems as well. Fox is a writer who teaches at Drexel University, and Levin is a writer and translator who teaches at Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania.

But this book is more than a writing guide with prompts for poets: it is also a poetry collection. Prompts for Poets offers strong lines, voluble stanzas, and opportunities for both humor and contemplation.

The narrator in Levin’s “Paraclausithryon” ostensibly pleads for entry into a lover’s abode, but is actually castigating them:

I beg news of your dreams

the milk of your voice.

Don’t waste yourself

like an unread book

I will wait a year, maybe two

then don’t blame me if I seek

someone simpler

less in need of coaxing.


The scorn of the narrator is palpable, and the ease of their transition from serenading their lover to threatening abandonment is almost disturbing.

Devin Williams’ “Rats” delivers insight on a marginalized soul. The mythology that Williams evokes demonstrates that there is more to a rat. They are not just subway dwellers; rats have admirers, and rats have feelings, too:

I am present when food is abundant.

Companion of Daikoku,

Savior of Sesshu,

First sign of the Zodiac

It is only language that separates us.

Yet, you avoid me

And attack me.

You don’t know me,

How can you claim to know how I feel?


Prompts for Poets has humorous, carefree moments too. In chapter 11, “The Advice Column Poem,” desperate readers ask columnists for life advice. Each poem’s columnist gives an absurd answer, one that ignores the question and frequently prompts a laugh. In Lauren Hall’s “Lost without Frank,” a wife inquiring about difficulties with her husband is told by the crystal-ball-consulting Madame Rosa that he does not exist:

You say this Georgina never existed, and there Madame Rosa agrees, but who’s to say that Frank wasn’t just more of the same? Who’s to say you didn’t make him up one afternoon while you were sorting your sock drawer or scrubbing the toilet?

There’s plenty more prompts and poetry to be found in Prompts for Poets. The prompts and instructions are sure to get the mind warmed up and ready to write while the poems bring about contemplation or give rise to a laugh. More can be found on Fox and Levin’s collaborative website,