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Michael Simms: Writing Prompt #1 | The Quotidian Poem

Ed. Note: This post marks the beginning of a new irregular feature in Vox Populi. Every now and then, a new writing prompt will appear. I hope readers of Vox Populi, many of whom are writers, will find the prompt helpful in stimulating their creativity. You are welcome to post poems or flash fiction in the comment section below.

Many poets have made use of a rhetorical strategy I call “The Quotidian Poem” which consists of a series of mundane chores or errands in a normal day, and then WHAM! Something happens that shocks or enlightens the poet.  Frank O’Hara uses the strategy a number of times, most famously in his poem The Day Lady Died about the death of Billie Holiday. The strategy is also employed by Marie Howe in What the Living Do, an elegy for her brother.

Here’s my own attempt:

Driving Home
I’ve had a bad cough so I went
To the East End Co-op and talked 
With Jackson who helped me find
White mulberry bark dong qui root
Skullcap and stinging nettle
And stopped by the produce aisle 
To pick up broccoli sprouts 
And Midnight Express and
Carried my environmentally 
Correct burlap bag with vegan
Hippie stuff to the checkout
Where I praised Jackson
To Melissa his boss and went 
Outside got in my hybrid
And drove down Penn Avenue
To Dallas Avenue and cut past
The universities and across
The Liberty Bridge and up the 
Long hill glancing at the river
And the blue city turned 
Right then left pulled
Into the driveway and looked up
At the window where Eva is
Writing this morning after a long
Talk over coffee about whether 
She is good enough to write her 
Book about poverty and trauma 
And violence and gave a small prayer 
Of thanks and wow and sorry
To be so lucky so full of joy
In these last days before 
The whole thing collapses.

Prompt: Write a quotidian poem of your own, keeping in mind these guidelines:

  • Your tone in the poem should be breezy as if you are talking to a friend who’s asked what you’ve been up to today.
  • The individual chores or errands should be typical of your life, but each one should have something unusual or eccentric about it. In this way, the reader will develop a sense of who you are and the kind of life you live.
  • Include the names of streets, stores, people and neighborhoods, as well as natural features, such as trees and streams, dogs and birds. You want the reader to feel as if he or she is actually right beside you moving through a day in your life.
  • You might want to have the whole poem one sentence so there is a quality of continuity to the journey, but don’t force the syntax. Let the language flow conversationally.
  • The surprise at the end of the poem can be an individual tragedy, such as the death of a loved one, or it can be a public event affecting millions.  
  • To get you started, you might think about what you were doing when 9/11 happened, or who you were with when you realized that Trump had been elected president, or when you found out a loved one had died or… any event that looms large in your life.

Have fun!

Copyright 2020 Michael Simms

The neighborhood of Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, PA. (photo: Matt Robinson)

25 comments on “Michael Simms: Writing Prompt #1 | The Quotidian Poem

  1. Judith Sanders
    November 19, 2020

    I just so happen to have had a “quotidian poem” published yesterday. (Alas, it’s prosy and long.) It’s about the competition between housework and writing:


    Thanks, Michael, for getting us thinking and writing and reading about well, the ordinary stuff of life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Leo
    November 16, 2020

    Thanks for the prompt; my muse been hiding. I would like to add my attempt. Leo

    Walking Fuzz

    October’s chilly wind and warming sun
    long held hostage way into November
    finally made release, escaped detention.
    Fuzz yanks and drags me up Chevelle
    for our daily inspection of Redneckville
    joyful in his visions during scent pursuit,
    seeing things I can’t even imagine, while
    I chase just an untainted moment of bliss
    passed Grand Prix Blvd onto Bonneville
    and a beer-bellied neighbor pretends not
    to see us. “Great day!” I holler, loudly,
    eliciting a Sam Elliot-like wave as he
    poses before a flittering Trumpbo banner.
    Suns’ warmth pulls us further up the hill
    through ditch’s trash and desiccate weeds
    expanding our collection of beggar’s lice
    and across from Really-loud-Mustang guys
    a cast off bag of Cuties, over-ripe delights,
    and I stand and peel and devour, for show.
    Fuzz in ecstasy jerks my leash to go and
    I clutching my rescued Cuties relent and
    grudgingly we retrace our happy steps the
    breeze hard against our backs, bittersweet,
    pushing me to end my brief get away and
    I pray, well, just hope, I don’t really pray,
    she did not forget and get up and fall. Yea!
    She’s fine reclining in her chair, buzzer
    cord attached-the Bee Gees Jive Talkin’
    on YouTube for the umpteenth time and
    “Hun, the nursing home called three times;
    I forgot how to answer it. You better call.”
    I always take the phone. Why not today?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Samuel Tieman
    November 14, 2020

    Funny you should ask for this. Here’s something that I think is sort of close to what you have in mind. I’ve been working on this bit for a few days –

    today you cracked a glass in your hand

    and as you wiped a drop of your blood
    you considered the business of hands and scars

    you considered how your hands age and the times
    you’ve taken Communion in those hands and you ask

    just what is the difference between the religious
    and the creatures subject to nettles and vines

    once you warned the birds at your feeder
    that by night something deliberate stalks

    something gray and almost unborn
    something that will drag a small body home

    today you cracked a glass and as you bled
    you stared out the kitchen window and considered

    the fences between you and the crosswalk
    an autumn that can’t decide on a color

    the long scar on the tree in your yard
    a long scar from what once was lightening


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Michael B. Frank
    November 14, 2020

    A Short Block

    Ralph Levine had
    the Laundromat
    adjoining my
    dad’s drugstore
    at 138 North Avenue,
    Mike Pisani had
    the barbershop
    adjoining Ralph.
    I don’t recall
    what intervened
    before you reached
    Danny’s luncheonette,
    where I saw our
    southpaw welter,
    Ronnie Cohen,
    hunched over
    a cup of coffee
    at the counter
    one afternoon,
    dark glasses on
    even in that
    dim interior
    to hide his most
    recent bruises.
    Nearly sixty-five
    years later
    I’m still there,
    at that moment,
    in the respectful hush
    barely broken by
    the coffee maker’s
    soft bubbling,
    otherwise no

    Liked by 2 people

  5. loranneke
    November 14, 2020

    In awe of the response to this prompt. It takes me 2 weeks to finish one poor poem and I SO envy writers who can just write a poem so quickly!


  6. loranneke
    November 14, 2020

    I love that prompt dear Michael — thanks. And thanks for your poem. I have a quick question: when I comment on Vox Populi (not on FB) my comments don’t appear anymore. Is that because you want to filter the comments before you post them? (I don’t check again a few hours later…). I commented this morning on the old movie post and on your writing prompt and….it just doesn’t immediately appear as it did before….

    Be well, friend, Laure-Anne

    Laure-Anne Bosselaar Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara https://poets.org/poet/laure-anne-bosselaar https://fourwaybooks.com/site/laure-anne-bosselaar/


  7. Barbara Huntington
    November 14, 2020

    I would guess a good percentage of my poems fit this description. Thanks for this fun idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. sally.bliumisdunn@gmail.com
    November 14, 2020

    Thank you for this poem, Michael! I love looking through the window at the end and feeling the speaker’s gratitude. I will try it in my classes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      November 14, 2020

      Thanks, Sally! If you’d like to post the best of the student poems in this comment section, please do!


  9. Ruth
    November 14, 2020

    That was fun Michael. Thanks for the prompt.

    Everything Seems an Effort

    I drove into the post office lot down Freeport Road, pulled into the last space, worried there‘d be a long line, too many people. I donned my Secret Swear mask that Amy from McWalker in Millvale had sewed. Stay the F back, Six Feet MFer, Stay the F back, no one knows what’s inside.
    I stood on the designated floor spot, six feet apart, waited my turn and dragged my reusable shopping bag with packages, looked around. Can’t hold my breath. It’s the reusable bag you can’t use anymore at the check out now, they’re back to plastic. I carry my own roll of packing tape, just in case, my own pen. I’ve got to enter my pin on the pad, pull out the card with the chip. Put back in my wallet. There’s hand sanitizer in the car.
    It costs more to mail a small padded envelope to Arizona, Miss Marple Scarf inside, hand knit for my best friend’s birthday, knit in Fourteen by Juniper Moon, strange name for such a squishy luxurious yarn and than there’s the huge box i lift to the counter, the box I stuffed with Maura’s birthday quilt secure in a laundry bag, inside that big box, headed to Ohio for just two dollars less. Yes, thank you, I’ll take a sheet of the Purple Heart stamps please. It’s the fourth of seven grandchildren quilts, Pandemic project, sewing and knitting my way through, i hope there’s another side. This one has fabric squares of synchronized swimmers, Airedales and slime. There’s chocolate covered strawberries, notes on a staff, lacrosse and volleyball, blueberry pancakes, too. Like an art project. The 108 inch wide quilt backing called Unstoppable says You Are Loved and Pursuit of Happiness words, goals, printed on 100% cotton was on backorder from Keepsake Quilting in North Carolina but came last week. Mail order or local curbside pickup at Firecracker Fabrics in Morningside. Quilt’s final stitch on the bias bound edge at two AM. I’m binging BBC’s New Tricks. I got it mailed just in time, slight pressure and a deadline help prod one out of listlessness to arrive on Monday, he said. Phew! Tuesday she’s twelve.
    And the RBG socks are on their way to my daughter Laura. The white colorwork dissent collar rounds each ankle, stands out on black, so hard to see stitches in the night, I included a Lego catalog for Charlie to check what he’d like for Christmas. I’ve got tracking numbers, a lengthy receipt reminiscent of the tp that was scarce.
    A tin of olive oil from Labriola’s, crusty bread and tray of mushroom ravioli, olives and Parmesan would be good to pick up but I drove by, passed it, as I saw another seriously crowded parking lot Friday morning.
    Relieved to get home to my gravel driveway covered in leaves, leaves that need to be raked not blown like my neighbor, I park in my 100 year old garage notice my ex-husbands childhood sled still hangs for twenty nine years. Metal runners with rust, there’s no one here to use it, rub a candle along the edge.
    It’s good to be home, get in my house, turn the lock, inch towards recluse. I wash my hands,breathe and push the button down on the electric kettle for tea. Tea in a thin lipped cup or thick lipped mug?


  10. Louise Hawes
    November 14, 2020


    When your life is entwined,
    braided, twisted into the life
    of an agoraphobic alcoholic,
    you stay home a lot.

    Which is why I jumped at
    the chance to go to a big,
    important party, a party where
    my friend would be feted,

    welcomed into the world of
    famous poets and novelists,
    where we drank champagne
    and left you at home.

    When I picked up the phone
    after the party, when another
    friend told me how your heart
    had faltered, then stopped,

    I heard the scream, long as
    a giant flute stem, brittle
    and sharp as a good knife,
    but had no clue it was mine.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Ruth
    November 14, 2020

    This post should get the words flowing.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. iuliagherghei
    November 14, 2020

    Every morning, pandemic or not
    I take out the dog, we both hate mornings
    We like to sleep till late
    Dog and her master lazy as hell
    We drag our feet on the asphalt, she does her things, I try to stay awake
    The grass looks so appealing
    The pandemic turns everything sterile
    Easy breakable, like the ties between cells were smashed by a hammer
    The thin air is no more thin
    It becomes a matter of some kind
    Breathable only through a cloth
    The streets are barren, the trees too
    Hell is spreading in everyone’s cells
    My neighbour from the second floor
    An old man always dressed in a three layers costume, constantly wearing a surprised expression on his face
    My neighbor from the third floor, an early bird
    Woke up that morning
    His sight dimmer and dimmer
    It took forever to get ready
    He got nervous, anxious
    He stopped behind his door to breath out his anger
    Then he called the elevator, pressed for the 9th floor
    Stepped into the balcony and ended there on the spot
    A short flight
    A possible solution
    By the time we’ve returned from our walk
    The world acted like our building never had a 9th floor

    Liked by 2 people

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