Today is the anniversary of the Great Kantō earthquake, which hit Japan in 1923. This day is known as Disaster Prevention Day to commemorate the earthquake and remind people of the importance of preparedness. So today’s prompt is to write about a disaster you have experienced but using a metaphor of natural forces to describe it, or to write about ways in which you prepare for or cope with disaster – be really specific, look for the tiniest details and where the mundane meets the epic. Or, to write in response to global forces, environmental events, huge scale tectonic movements and relate them to your own body in some way – how can you comprehend global scale as a single human?
Wow, a lot happened on August 31st historically. We could be inspired today by: Isabella Di Medici, Maria Montessori, Malaysia gaining independence from the United Kingdom, the anniversary of the deaths of Diana Princess of Wales, Mary Ward or Empress Theodora of Byzantium. Please feel free to research and write about/with/from any of these. However, the prompt I’m setting for us takes inspiration from today being the birthday of poet Agnes Bulmer in 1775, and the anniversary of the murder of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols in 1888; the first victim of the London serial killer known as Jack the Ripper.
Bulmer wrote the longest epic poem ever known to be written by a women, which took her 9 years to complete and is called Messiah’s Kingdom. Nichols is one of the women whose name is regularly erased by people’s fascination with her killer – all too often the case for victims of male violence. So today I want us to think about long-form writing and giving space to those who get erased. Start an epic poem – when you think you’ve finished, keep pushing through and see what happens when you get over the edge – and make it a tribute to those who have died at the hands of violent and misogynist men. Or make it a celebration or commemoration of the parts of your life that you cannot live fully, or that you have to keep secret, because of misogyny, or racism, ableism or trans- and homophobia. Tell the story of one of the other women whose birth or death is associated with today, or of your country or ancestors who have fought for freedom in big or small ways and deserve to take up some space. What is made small by misogyny/history that you can make big now – epically big?
Today is Diamanda Galás’ birthday. As well as being an extraordinary musician and incredible vocalist, Galás is also a performance artist, painter, and activist – particularly around AIDS campaigning. If you’ve never heard her music, I recommend you go listen to some now.
Inspired by her vocalisations, today’s prompt is to think about non-verbal sounds and textures in your writing. How can you scream in poetic form? What difference does it make if you write specifically to scream or shout the words? Pick a subject that makes you have some big feelings that need vocalising, and write yourself a performance piece. Or, listen to some of Galás’ music or check out her paintings and see if you feel inspired by those, and write an out-loud response.
I’d like to mark that today is the anniversary of Emmett Till’s murder. This isn’t our writing prompt, but if you don’t know about Emmett, please go and find out, and consider donating to BLM, Amnesty or another human rights charity in his memory.
Today’s prompt starts with another anniversary of a sudden death – that of Elisabetta Sirani who died of unknown causes on this day in 1665. Sirani was an accomplished and celebrated painter – though like many brilliant women such as her contemporary Artemisia Gentileschi, she has been forgotten until fairly recently. Sirani took over her father’s studio and was a great teacher as well as a great artist in her own right. So options for today are: to write as a teacher or student learning how to really look – what can you notice if you take time to properly see colour or composition, what can you see below the surfaces of things? If looking isn’t an option for you, use touch or hearing or smell instead – explore your sensory world as someone being taught to observe it fully for the first time. Or, to do a piece of ekphrastic writing using one of Sirani’s works, or to imagine and write a moment from Sirani’s life.
I’ve just read this really insightful and fascinating thread about gender and sexuality in Malaysia and South East Asia, written by Dorian Wilde. There is loads to unpack here about the ways colonialism imposes judgements and erases cultures, so this post is also hopefully an invitation to research and learn as much as it is to write.
What I’m offering for a writing prompt is the description of trans/gender fluid deities and religious/healing practices in this thread. Writing our queerness can often mean writing our trauma, but here is an invitation to think about our gender or sexual identity as a place of euphoria – a place of potential, supernaturalness maybe, of mystery or power or liberating fantasy. Without appropriating pre-existing deities from outside of your own culture and understanding, today’s prompt is to write/speak to, or describe, or embody your own personal queer and/or feminist deity, patron saint, muse or a superhero. What do they look like? What are their powers? Do they have an origin myth? What are they made of? What elements are they connected to? Where do they exist? How do they communicate? What can you ask them to grant or release from you?
You might write a prayer or a poem in praise of your deity/muse/superhero, you might write from their point-of-view – what are their commands or laws? Or you might write a ritual or description of encountering them.
It’s stormy and windy today, so I’m thinking about power – the power of wind and weather is very present and obvious right now, blowing over objects and kicking up the river into waves, shoving the trees around. There are other kinds of power in the environment too – slow erosion, or small green shoots pushing up through the ground and disrupting or changing their surroundings.
Notice what kinds of power are at play around you and on you – what are the obvious visible or tangible forces, like strong winds or national politics? What are the more subtle forms of power you might need to look or listen more closely to find? They might be positive or negative. What kinds of power do you have in your body, your mind, your words? Write something that pits two forces against each other to find out how they work, or explore how a powerful force feels for you – you might try investigating and harnessing some power that feels alien or unattainable to you right now. Imagine the shape and weight and energy of the power you would like to hold. Write it into being, write it into your body and/or your environment.
Today is Marsha P Johnson‘s birthday, and the anniversary of the death of Bayard Rustin. I’m taking inspiration from their work as civil rights activists and LGBTQ+ people who worked, marched and protested for LGBTQ+ rights and for black people’s rights.
Today’s prompt is to write your protest – maybe it’s a speech that you deliver from the podium, maybe it’s a series of placard slogans, maybe it’s the battle cry or manifesto or series of demands. It could also be instructions to the crowd, or it could be the marching song you sing. Or, you could write to or about your fantasy community – describe the world or life that you’d like to see after the protests have been successful.
Today is poet and civil rights activist Dorothy Parker’s birthday, so today’s prompt is to be inspired by her caustic wit and sardonic style. Access your own inner Dorothy and write from a place of anger, distaste, hate or heartbreak. Let your inner demons out to play. This prompt is probably a good one for playing with form – can you craft a sonnet or use a verse-chorus structure perhaps? How can rhyme and rhythm help you find the wittiest way to express your scathing disdain? Light up a cigarette, pour yourself a Vodka Martini and verbally slice the cisheteropatriarchy into little bitty pieces.
Today is the anniversary of several uprisings and rebellions around the world, including by Pueblo peoples, Tlingit peoples and Nat Turner’s rebellion – all fighting to reclaim their land or their own bodies. It is also the day Captain James Cook formally claimed eastern Australia and renamed it New South Wales – ignoring the existence of the original inhabitants and how they named and related to their land. So today’s prompt is about land and our relationship to it as territory, and to ourselves as territory as well.
Think about your territory – whether that is your personal space, your body or the country you live in. What are the edges or limits of it? What fights have you had to protect or liberate it? Is it still occupied by oppressors? Find some way to map it with text – chart a route through it, describe the borders of it, or write about a particular battle you have fought in it. Or, write the manifesto, constitution or origin myth of it.
Today is my friend Alicia Radage’s birthday, so today’s prompt is to go look at Alicia’s artwork here and use the images, text or both to start something off (the fun technical term for this is ekphrastic poetry). You might place one of Alicia’s artwork titles inside a piece and write around it, you might spend some time with one image and write in response, or you might hop around and look at a lot of them and make something that draws on a theme within them, or you might have another response altogether. I’d invite you to add the challenge of form to today’s prompt.