Prompts Against Anxiety #12 | from poet and musician Bryon Cherry, author of Funeral Journey (The Quail Press, 2018) and Ruins, Ruminations, and Rituals (Anarcho Welfare, 2019). Check out "Devotion and Love" from his most recent album Until the Rainbows on Soundcloud.


"Connection," Martin Whatson

At this moment in human history, we are presented with more information than in any other previous period. This is a blessing and a curse. Having the ability to carry the expanse of recorded humanity in our pockets is often inspiring but it can also be overwhelming. Even focusing only on the onslaught of information thrown at us during a typical social media excursion is telling. Log in to any platform and you could find out that there was an argument between the leader of the minority political party and the president, a person you met once in a dank now defunct bar has baked a cake, look here for the healing properties of stones, on this day RFK was assassinated, protest messages tangled with advertisements for face masks, 20-minute meal recipes here, the best fitness routine for your situation there, a silly meme laced with truth is just a quick down scroll away, and so on and so forth. 
This prompt tries to emulate the bewilderment of our digital experiences, in a compressed, more deliberate fashion, to aid in making art—offering an empowering way to be in that raging stream while trying to make some sense of it. I dip my brush into this stimuli overload technique because it allows me to tap into the propulsive energy of launching ideas onto my canvas that, in a transformative manner, are thrust from my subconscious which is already primed for this type of exercise due to the times we live in. In short order the tripping, delirious nature of this maneuvering can help short-circuit an often stubborn, rational mind and allow another realm of idea creation to be shaken loose.

This prompt is seemingly simple. At its base it’s a 10-minute (or however long you feel up to it) free write. Added to that free write are components to help induce the confusion. You will need:

  • Enough music of any genre to play during the time that you have set aside for the exercise. I’ve let the haze of Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand” bend into the madness of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring passage “Ritual of the Rival Tribes” before letting that melt into the subtly hallucinatory vibes of Devendra Banhart’s “The Body Breaks,” while I caressed the jarring nature of the experience and was open to questions about reality’s jarring nature.
  • Two or three books of any genre at your writing space. One time I used The Road by Cormac McCarthy and interspersed a version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, letting fingers take me wherever they wanted to go.
  • A piece of visual art (i.e., a painting, sculpture, or graffiti) that you can refer to during your writing. For this part if you are not using visual art in your house, find a picture of a work of art on your phone, or you can use any picture in a magazine. The point is to have something to look at. It could even be a television on mute. I have used a Caravaggio painting, David with the Head of Goliath, numerous times to meditate on and ultimately elevate my writing by pondering why the artist would make Goliath’s severed head a self-portrait.   

"David with the Head of Goliath," Carvaggio

Once you have all the necessary items at your writing station, you are ready for lift off. Turn on the music and start writing about anything. You could write about your day or grass growing or just write words that don’t make sense together. It doesn’t matter what you write about at this stage, the point is to just write. As you concentrate on writing your lines, give yourself (and your lines) over to any misheard lyrics (if the music has lyrics) or feelings you get from the music that’s playing. Then after doing that for some time, open the books to random pages, choose any words on the page and allow them to spark new lines for you. Feel free to hop around in between the books you have. Random subjects will surely pop up in the books which will be helpful. Next, peer into the visual item that you’ve chosen. Let it talk to you as the music is swirling and you continue to write. You can write about some facet of the visual work or about anything you wish while concentrating on the image. Switch back and forth, round and round, among the distractions you’re focusing on.  You can’t do wrong here. Feel it. It’s your cloak of poetic invincibility tumbling with you down this uneven but satisfying path.
This exercise tends to bring about wild juxtapositions. Once your self-imposed free write time is over, you can go through and edit. It could be beneficial to let the initial harvest of words sit for a while and then come back to them with fresh eyes before starting the editing process. It could turn out that there are only one or two lines that work for you and they could become something worth diving into. Maybe you will find that there is much more that came out that is worth further poetic investigation. This confusion prompt is meant to take a person out of their natural patterns of thinking, mess with their relied upon rhythms and add playfulness to the writer’s work. Try not to be too serious, especially in the initial stages. Make weird “mistakes.” Embrace the strange friends. Stumble blindly into meaning.

Prompts Against Anxiety is sponsored by Milwaukee Public Library, an anchor institution that helps patrons read, learn, and connect—to our resources and our community. Now more than ever, stay connected, stay home, and stay safe. 

More from this series

Write in NaturePrompt #39—Oogie Push

Real FoodPrompt #38—Joan Kane

You Don't Need Proust to Smell GoodPrompt #37—Elizabeth Hoover

Find Your Own FormPrompt #36—Sawako Nakayasu


Preparation for the PromptPrompt #32—Lisa Fishman

Collage Your Own Writing PromptPrompt #31—Helen Hofling

Prepared StatementPrompt #30—Mike Hauser

Repeat Repeat WritePrompt #29— Lewis Freedman

Poetic CorrespondencePrompt #28—Eric Baus

EKPHRASIS YOURSELFPrompt #27—Jennifer Nelson

POETRY IS FOR THE PEOPLEPrompt #26—Angela Trudell Vasquez

MAIL ARTPrompt #25—Siwar Masannat

VISUAL POSTCARDSPrompt #24—Portia Cobb

A [LONGER-TERM] DEEP LISTENING PROMPTPrompt #23—Jibade-Khalil Huffman

Humor as Medicine for the SoulPrompt #22—Mauricio Kilwein Guevara

Personification: A Social Justice PromptPrompt #21—Derrick Harriell

Ponge ExercisePrompt #20—Tyrone Williams

Occult DocupoesisPrompt #19—Kimberly Alidio

Junk Drawer SongPrompt #18—Hoa Nguyen

TALK TO THE POETSPrompt #17—Stacy Szymaszek

Make-Do Origin Stories & Concrete FuturesPrompt #16—Ching-In Chen

The Family PhotographPrompt #15—Rosa Alcalá

Note(s) to SelfPrompt #13—Stacy Blint

Embracing ConfusionPrompt #12—Bryon Cherry

Writing/Playing the ArchivePrompt #11—Jay Besemer

CAPTURED & FREEDPrompt #10—Dasha Kelly Hamilton

Poetic Exit StrategiesPrompt #9—Ana Božičević

Proyecto ConbífPrompt #8—Erick "CK" Ledesma

TRILOGYPrompt #6—CA Conrad

Utopian CompromisePrompt #7—Paul Druecke

A Series of RoomsPrompt #5—Laura Solomon

Two Variations on N+7Prompt #4—Jenny Gropp

T H E A P A R T / TOGETHERPOEMPrompt #3—Margaret Rozga

An Exercise in WindowsPrompt #2—Marla Sanvick

Erasuring AnxietyPrompt #1—Peter Burzynski

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