Here are two versions of a simple prompt that unfolds into an experiment with one of the basic elements of poetic form: repetition.

Johnny’s original prompt was deceptively straightforward sounding: take 5 words (in this case, chosen by Johnny and assigned to J.N.) and write a poem in which each word is repeated 3 times. 

J.N., thinking through the possibilities and starting to see a bit of a knotty puzzle taking shape, decided to up the ante by giving Johnny a prefabricated pattern in which to repeat the words.

Not exactly a full-fledged form, in the traditional sense, but the bare bones of one in both cases, and in J.N.’s prompt the skeleton is semi-articulated and has some cartilage in the joints.

Here are the prompts, including the sample sets of words. We suggest partnering with a poet friend for this exercise so that you can exchange word sets with them, as we did. We aimed to choose a mix of words, some simple and flexible in their possible uses, some fancier and/or more specific. We chose not to give each other requirements in terms of what parts of speech our word lists included, but you could do so, if you wish. This would add another semi-formal element to the prompt (all verbs, or 3 verbs and 2 adjectives, etc.) 

Johnny’s prompt for J.N.: 

Words: fossil, cinnamon, message, midnight, doorway

Repeat each word 3 times throughout poem

J.N.’s prompt for Johnny:

words: jasmine, chorus, fey, husk, soft

Poem can be any number of lines (i.e. there may be lines in between the lines that contain these words) but the words must be repeated throughout a 3-stanza poem in the following order:

5
4
3
2
1

2
5
1
3
4

1
4
3
5
2

You can find J.N.’s poem here, and Johnny’s poem here.