I Am Offering This Prompt

by | Jan 7, 2022 | Weekly Prompt

Last year, I wrote the second prompt of the year and then delayed it until later, instead writing a prompt that responded to the violence at the Capital. Centered on the poem “38” by Layli Long Soldier, the prompt asked writers to be historians of their own time. It seemed essential, at that time, to document and sit with the events of the week. 

This year, this week, I haven’t engaged very much with the coverage of the one-year anniversary of this event. Certainly, it is an ongoing story, and we haven’t finished telling it, collectively. I’m grateful that there are people working on this. But while there is, I think, a real need to write this history as it happens, and another need to write about it in reflection, I don’t feel that one year is long enough, for an event of this magnitude, to engage creatively in that kind of reflection. 

All that’s to say that I feel a very different kind of exigence right now: a need for sustenance. For warmth and feeding. 

So, I offer this prompt. It’s based on the warmest poem I know: “I Am Offering This Poem” by Jimmy Santiago Baca. It begins:

I am offering this poem to you,

since I have nothing else to give.

Keep it like a warm coat

when winter comes to cover you,

or like a pair of thick socks

the cold cannot bite through,

                      I love you,

I have nothing else to give you,

so it is a pot full of yellow corn

to warm your belly in winter

Sorry not sorry, that’s almost half the poem. I couldn’t resist sharing a generous helping, a steamy ladleful of these warming, life-sustaining lines. I offer it to you, this poem, and the prompt below, because I love you.

Prompt

I am offering this prompt: Read “I Am Offering This Poem” to someone you love. Just by reading the poem, you’ll tell them explicitly that you love them four different times. The warm and generous act of choosing to read to them, that’s a fifth time you are telling them. And you won’t be able to help reading it in a loving way; it’s just impossible not to. So that’s a sixth “I love you.” And if you are near the person to whom you read, you’ll probably hug them after reading. Seven.

I typically share this poem with students during the third or fourth lesson during a poetry unit, which is “poems about poetry.” Reading poems about poetry gives us an opportunity to expand our ideas about what poetry can be, for poems talk about poetry much better than teachers. 

I ask my students to think about the central metaphor of the poem, and then their writing prompt is to come up with their own metaphor for poetry, or for music, since a lot of the time poetry is pretty new to my students, whereas they’ve thought more about music. 

So that’s something you can do with this poem, too. But really your prompt today is to read this poem to someone you love. I have nothing else to give you. I love you.