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2021: Celebrating The Writers' Greenhouse
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Wednesday, 1 April 2020

NaPoWriMo Day 1: A chain poem

chain poem

Welcome to NaPoWriMo! You'll get a new prompt each day, alternating types of poems with ideas of what to write about. It really helps to have both, so for each type of poem I'll also suggest ideas of what to write about, and for each idea of what to write about, I'll also suggest some forms / types of poems that might suit it. Feel free to share your poems in the comments and you're welcome to add a link to your website / Instagram / Twitter as well: part of the joy of NaPoWriMo is the sharing and the sense of community. And if you're new to writing a poem a day, here are some useful tips.

Today's prompt is a type of poem: a chain poem. This is a lovely loose form with just one simple constraint: the last syllable of each line repeats as the first syllable of the next line. It’s the sound that matters, not the spelling, so you can play with that in all sorts of ways: meadow / doe, tendrils / drills, etc. You can have as many lines as you like and they can be as long or short as you like.

Here's an example of a chain poem I wrote about St Giles' Fair in Oxford, with the repeating syllables in bold:
Through thumping song snatches, screaming bodies disown
only the ground, feet learn the air and skim trees, airborne,
born fresh in evening sun full of spires and tree-tops,
topsy-turvy plummets shrieking with light, back down,
downy mounds of baby-colours sugar and tiny cars,
castles of spiralling lights rising through tannoy
noise, and back up from shadows and sparkles,
kills of rubber ducks and giant-bear rescues, soaring
ingots of tousled joy, flying, upside down, back to the sun.
That's it: one beautifully simple constraint. It's a surprisingly ancient form, too, a medieval one which in turn descended from Ancient Greek echo verse.

I find chain poems are best suited to going with the flow, loosely following the lines to find out where they go, rather than deciding in advance what you want to say. Its curious constraint makes it hard to control the direction, so rather than fight the form, I like to choose a general topic or something to describe and then write to discover. So for an idea of what to write about, I suggest describing things you find underwater, whether that's underwater in your local river or canal, or underwater in the sea or the ocean: under the water, or under the waves. And write to discover what's there.

Enjoy, and do share your poems in the comments if you'd like to.

If you want these prompts emailed to you each day, you can sign up inside this blog post.

The next Meddling with Poetry course starts in May 2020 and you can book from anywhere in the UK. It's 8 weeks long, one evening a week, and it explores a host of different poetry forms as well as the musicality of language, poetic imagery, and other aspects of the poetic. Absolute beginners and experienced writers are equally welcome. You can read more details and book a place here. It will run online, with Zoom for class sessions and materials posted to you.


  1. Mine is a chain poem but not underwater (using your own prompts is a bit like trying to tickle yourself!) It's not on my site yet as I'm trying to go easy on myself, but you can enjoy my dulcet tones here:

  2. And here it is, typed up!

    Walk into Town

    In the sunlit silence of secret song, the tar
    tarnishes the air: thick and heavy. I
    idolise trees, floating under a green canopy,
    peeling away a forgotten thought, and here,
    hearing only the roar of that wild guitar,
    tarry rush of tyres and the almost silent
    lint of thoughts falling away, I can stride
    stridently: I am only an endless movement
    minted in each moment of slipping past
    pastoral snatches: that leaf, that rough
    ruff of flowers rising around the careless
    listful light. Around my bones, muscles
    silkily slide and nothing can be asked of me
    (meetings, emails, message replies, the endless litany,
    needing, always) and I check nothing,
    think nothing but this: this is the song and the route,
    rooting my breath and my on-my-own self,
    selfishly striding, the trees and the tar and the music:
    Icarus himself never flew this high.

  3. So tired I feel I am going to fall asleep
    Sleepy sonic waves meandering deeper deeper
    Pernicious plankton and bio luminescence blooms
    Looms of seaweed floating into my dreams weaving down
    down in the bottom of my subconscious sleepy sun
    undulating ancient octopus imparts wisdom
    wisdom of the sea bed and silver bells with no sound
    soundless sweet Aurora beckons deeper, deeper, deeper

    1. Ooh, that's fab. Sun / undulating and deeper / pernicious are BRILLIANT

  4. Hi Megan,
    This is my attempt at a chain poem:

    Slumbering on my bed,
    educating me in the art of napping,
    ingeniously appearing lost in sleep, yet,
    Pet, you're the master of leaping up with ever-ready
    steady soft brown eyes
    sizing up your opportunities.
    These are combined in
    dining on sausages
    ages after a long walk in the woods.


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