The Poetry Exercise

Inspired by a workshop with Michelle Peñaloza and her “Q&A” poems.


  1. On a piece of paper or on your computer, leave two lines blank and start writing your answers on the third line.
  2. Take your time to answer the questions, but make sure to answer as honestly and as descriptively as possible.
  3. Try to write out your answers in sensory detail: what do you see, smell, feel, hear, taste?
  4. [After the first prompt category] Repeat steps 1-3.
  5. [After the second prompt category] Repeat steps 1-3.
  6. [After prompts are finished] Now, on any of the gap lines between your answers, write one of these three questions:
    1. “Where are you from?”
    2. “Why did you choose your major?”
    3. “Why did you go to college?”

Feel free to rearrange any of your prompt answers to fit these questions the way you want them to fit. Feel free to not include any of your prompt answers or any of the three final questions.

The Prompts:

Prompts were given to participants at random, based on the individual preceding interviews. Each participant was only asked six out of the nine prompts in total.

  1. What is your comfort food? Describe this food: what are the ingredients? The cooking instructions? How does the final dish smell? Are there any significant memories attached to this dish?
  2. What is “home”?
  3. Write a metaphor for “warmth.” What is “warmth” to you?
  4. Describe a memory, an event, or an image that exemplifies or symbolizes being [identity] to you.
  5. Who is someone in your life you look up to or appreciate? Describe a scene or a memory that reminds you of this person.
  6. What is something that gets you excited? Makes you curious? “Sparks joy”? 
  7. Write a metaphor or an image to describe yourself.
  8. What would you like to tell/remind your future self?
  9. What advice do you have for any first years, incoming students, and other people who may identify—now or later—as [identity]?

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