“Write what you know,” the old mantra goes. And certainly, many writers choose to write about the places they’re familiar with. U.S. poet James Wright often muses about life in the Midwest, while Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s stories take place in Turkey.
But other writers argue that limiting yourself to what you know can stunt the imagination. In 1979, Richard Hugo wrote a famous book of essays on poetic theory called “The Triggering Town.
” In it, he writes:
“Your hometown often provides so many knowns that the imagination cannot free itself to seek the unknowns.”
Which leads us to our prompt! Imagine that you’re showing a friend around a town as if you’ve lived there your whole life. But instead of your real hometown, walk them around an imagined
town. In a free verse or metered poem, describe this town as you would on the same day that:
- You fell in love
- You received wonderful news
- A close family member is very sick
- A natural disaster hit
You can choose to write a distinct poem for as many situations as you’d like – I encourage you to write a poem for at least two. As you brainstorm or try out multiple drafts, notice how the different occasions for the poem (love, disaster, etc.) change the way you describe the setting of the same imagined town.
I look forward to walking around some of your hometowns!