Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy

In the future, even Ron Burgundy will write poetry.

“In that moment, poetry will be made by everyone,”

—Chris Marker

In the final moments of his best film, Sans Soleil, Chris Marker points us to an imagined poetry-rich future, an instant in which, as he puts it, “poetry will be made by everyone.” This line really hit me, and has stuck with me since that first viewing.

For one thing, there is the fertile openness of this future Marker points to. The idealist in me is enthused by the thought of an age alive with the care for language, imaginative adventurousness, rigour of reflection, and deep attention to life that poetry requires. Yet in the same mental breath, my inner cynic wonders whether the tyrants in this future will exploit this new resource only to make proclamations in trochees or sound poems.

Marker’s forecast also provokingly reflects on our present. To my ear, the hope that poetry could be made by everyone speaks against the contemporary complaints about the excess or mass of poetry (platitudes that have been around for centuries, of course). Instead, Marker reminds us that in our present there is, in fact, not enough poetry. There are not enough people who work to make themselves and their world with words in the way that only poets can.

As for me, I value the opportunity to teach poetry as much as I value the chance to read and write it. All three of these practices are united by similar experiences of wonder and discovery, of stimulating (linguistic, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and so on) challenges and rewarding insights (linguistic, emotional, and on and on again). For this reason, I am all for the abundant future Marker proffers. The more people write poems, the more opportunities there are for these experiences, for the enlightening and unruly and jaw dropping encounters poetic creation and exchange arouses and provokes.

This line of thinking guided me in composing my new book, The Writing Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating Poems (Oxford University Press, 2014). I’m delighted to have the opportunity to continue this work here at The Town Crier.

Drawing on a wide range of poems, as well as other literary forms, artistic mediums, and cultural happenings, I will, in the coming months, share a variety of poem-spurring materials that I hope you’ll try: prompts for new poems, exercises for testing out particular literary tools, and advice for sparking stalled verse. Consider this my contribution to the work of realizing Marker’s vision of that moment when everyone makes poems.


Writing this inaugural post in early January, you would think I would be drawn to the topic of beginnings. However, in the dying embers of the post-New Year’s news cycle, I find myself looking back on the end of 2013, brain still aflame with the endless lists of “Top Newsmakers.” A non-Sithian Pope! A political office-holding crack smoker! A twerking pop star who developed an uncanny tongue tick! A short story writer! Who sells books! And wins Nobel Prizes!

To enter our first Writing Moment Contest, compose a poem using one of the prompts (or Writing Moments) listed below, and email it (as a .doc or .pdf) to: tiztwm[at]gmail[dot]com. Deadline: Friday January 31.

One lucky poet will win a copy of The Writing Moment inscribed by me in the persona of your chosen anchorperson/journalist, whether real (for example, Edward R. Murrow) or invented (for example, Ron Burgundy). Good night, and good luck (and, if it suits, stay classy).

Writing Moments:

  • What makes news also makes a poem, particularly when it comes to the happenings that defy expectations—surprising, shocking, or inspiring us. Yet most experiences that necessitate a poem, no matter how surprising, shocking, or inspiring, would not count as news. Compose a poem in which a non-newsmaker (or a few of them) makes the news. Which individuals, entities, emotions, etc. are not thought of as newsworthy? Voice-wise, you might consider mimicking the news cycle and presenting a quickly changing catalogue, or exploring one non-newsmaker in-depth like an on-the-scene reporter, or, even, a combination of both approaches.
  • Write a poem in which you predict future newsmakers, whether the future as in the next year, century, or millennia. (If you jump as far ahead as millennia, you might want to envisage the act that will replace the makers and making of news). Alternately, look back to a specific historical moment, perhaps even choosing a specific persona, and write about the newsmakers from that era.
  • As we name the top newsmakers of 2013, we more than likely fail to recognize the individuals and accomplishments that future generations will look back on as significant. This same process plays out at the individual level. Compose a poem in which you look back on your past and retrieve an experience you did not recognize as valuable at the time. Add an element of tension to your poem by contrasting this experience to one you look back on as having overvalued.
  • Write a poem from the perspective of someone (real or imagined) who did not make the “Top Newsmakers” list and believes they have been snubbed.
  • Write a poem to, about, or from the perspective of Miley Cyrus’ tongue.
  • Write a poem about a poem becoming a top newsmaker, or, better, compose the poem that does it.


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