April Naoko Heck, Pt. 2, #writetoday

April Naoko Heck finds inspiration for today’s writing prompt from the poet Bhanu Kapil, writer of the collection The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers. 


Create a numbered list of directions on how to write a poem. See Bhanu Kapil’s excellent poem below.

How To Write A Poem, by Bhanu Kapil  (h/t  Nounscape)

1. Eat the raw heart of a horse. This will distinguish you from a cast of thousands. 

2. Are you an urchin? If so, consider writing a novel instead. 

3. Have carnal encounters with anyone but another poet. For obvious reasons, you do not want to set a plot line in motion. (See: 2.)

4. As Paul Thek said in 1972: “Redesign the human genitals so that they might be more equitable.” (See: 3.)

5. Select notebooks with great effort, using every ounce of your psychic intensity. I once casually purchased a soft cover moleskin. What a disaster! (I wrote on my knees. The notebook wouldn’t open flat.)

6. Bioluminesce. Write sentences in a darkened room. Lie on the floor and have other people gently rearrange your limbs. A poetry of hotel rooms, jungles and urban aquariums: 


7. Reveal your soft side. Populate your work with rueful remarks, owl bones, ice flowers on the Big Thompson, the slow motion collapse of a girl to the ground, and so on. Keep doing this until you’re performing, almost by chance, a gruesome scene.

8. In the ivy. On the asphalt. Lie down forever, or just for a few minutes, in the place where your poem is set. 

9. Attend a world conference of people working on the same things as you but from a different perspective. For example, in March, I attended the third congress of the World Association of Cultural Psychiatry. There, in Mile End, I studied schizophrenia, the figure of the immigrant and the ways in which built environments affect the rates of affective and reactive psychosis in black and ethnic minority populations. To me, this was the deepest poetry. 

10. Be alone as much as you can, like a mythical monster. Create hand-drawn mandalas of your subject matter, then annotate (with lightning bolts and a felt tip pen): 


11. Drink coffee with other poets. While one of you rests their head on the table, the other one writes an entire book in one sitting. Alternate. Repeat. (Writing and dreaming like this.)

12. What is the role of commas in your work? People asked me this a lot when I first started writing poems. 

13. Invent a form that allows fragments to have their own life. To recombine. Or perhaps to simply die off, emitting pink, luminous flares just beyond the range of a society’s vision. In this sense, all form is diasporic: a “territory without terrain.”

14. Bathe in goat’s milk, rosewater, and volcanic salt by candlelight, if for some reason you cannot write a thing. 



April Naoko Heck’s first collection of poems, A Nuclear Family, was published by UpSet Press in March 2014. 

April Naoko Heck, Pt. 1: I ran and ran, the sun dropped and turned/ the water to milk

For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.


R.A. Villanueva asks, When you look over the poems you write, can you notice patterns? Fascinations and obsessions? What’s the most surprising way those fixations make themselves known in your work?

April Naoko Heck responds with a collage of the instances “milk” appears in her first book, A Nuclear Family (Upset Press).



Three days I have been inside the belly of a whale

here inside a pink hot air balloon, a bellows, a bellowing, a belch,

here swimming salt-stung seawater, krill, ribbons and tongues of oil-slick kelp,

here among tin star glitter of minnows, fanned-fins, fanfare of tails,

here inside the ocean’s mammalian breath, mammoth babe, gentle

killer, the weight of storms surrounding, close as a giant’s fist,

here inside a blue drifting isle,

my escape and hatching from a sinking ship, my sin, my god, can I climb the ladder of ribs

as Osiris climbs his mother’s spine to heaven, can I tumble up

the waterspout, slither and squeeze out a second canal,

rebirthed, spit out of the mothering mouth,

oh mercy, oh me, three days alone with my thirst, a hot throat within a throat



April Naoko Heck’s first collection of poems, A Nuclear Family, was published by UpSet Press in March 2014.