This creative writing prompt is based on Li-Young Lee’s poem “Eating Together.”

Print or read the poem here.

Read the lesson here to become more familiar with the poem and to see how Li-Young Lee names objects and people in the poem to honor them.

Imagine a Scene

In Li-Young Lee’s poem, the family gathers to share a meal after the father’s death. Lee focuses on specific images at the meal and each person present. The poem becomes a way to honor both the family and the father — and is also a type of elegy, or remembering someone who has died.

Using that example, imagine someone or something you’d like to elegize or honor. Maybe make a list of a few possibilities, and then choose one.

Now, set a timer for 2 minutes (or more!). Just sit and imagine that person or thing being honored. Maybe your mind goes to a real event, like a dinner gathering, or imagine the place, time, people, objects where that person woudl be (or was) honored. Maybe it’s a significant place to that person, or it suits them. Just let your mind imagine a scene that seems right.

Now, set a timer for 4 minutes. Freewrite (meaning write without stopping) about the scene. Describe everything or everyone you see, maybe focus in on specifics — what’s on a table or on the wall? What does it smell like, feel like? What’s the temperature of the place, the season, the time of day? What colors or main images are you drawn to? Again, just keep writing and see where your mind goes.

Levels of Poetic Langauge

Look over your freewrite. Circle objects, images, names — any thing or person you think should be in your final poem.

Now, try to make them as descriptive or as specific as possible. For each image, play a little with how you might write it in the poem.

For example, Lee doesn’t just say “ginger.” He says “slivers of ginger.”

You can also consider “levels” of language for your nouns. In poetry, you can choose to name the most general thing, or get more and more specific — and the effect changes.

For example, you can say fruit or you can say apple, or you can say gala apple. See how it’s the same object but named differently?

Or, you can say brother like Lee, or a more general word would be sibling or family; more specific would be the brother’s name.

So for each of your objects or images you’d like to include, think about exactly how you want to name it or describe it. A chart might be helpful.

Write the Poem

Now, write your objects or people in the scene in the structure of a poem. You decide how much space each object or person gets, where to break your lines, if you want to write in sound or rhyme. If you’re not sure about a form, you can try to use Lee’s form — use the number of lines and syllables and structure he uses but make it your own.

Continue refining your poem. Listen to the rhythm, the sound of the langauge to help you make decisions about what to include or how to describe each thing. Remember your main goal of honoring that person or thing.

See more creative writing prompts here! I’m always adding more.

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