Prompt Against Anxiety #17 | from poet, arts administrator, and teacher Stacy Szymaszek, who worked at Woodland Pattern for over half a decade before going on to direct the Poetry Project at St. Mark's from 2007–2018. She is the author of five books, including A Year from Today (Nightboat Books, 2018) and Journal of Ugly Sites and Other Journals (Fence Books, 2016).


Self-Portrait, Tucson, AZ (2019)

Talking to other poets, both living and deceased, has been a significant element in my writing . . . not always, but since I started getting work published about 16 years ago.

Talking to other poets in real life and in poems broke my work out of a slump of the imagination, not only linguistically but in terms of what I could imagine for my own life as a poet. Of course, they are related. I don’t know if this would have happened if I hadn’t found Woodland Pattern. I worked there from 1999–2005, while gleefully and doggedly creating my own line of study that included any book or ephemera on their shelves and drawers that even looked a little interesting. 

The pandemic seems to have intensified this aspect of my writing. Having any concept of lineage that talking to poets affords has been, in general, a deterrent to feeling alone. It’s astonishing to me what solid company the dead can make. Sometimes I use quotes, more often it’s an allusion to another writer, a dedication, or a reference that I think a reader will either get or be able to discover if they are curious, or I’m thinking through an idea posed by another. The poet I’ve talked to in poems most consistently has been Pier Paolo Pasolini. I wrote a chapbook that was a riff on his Roman Poems (City Lights) in 2005 that I thought of as emotional translations. My current project is to rewrite my rewrites, as a middle-aged person, as a sort of diary of how I, and the world, have changed, and how Pasolini’s anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, and anti-institutional stance only becomes more crucial for us to understand as our country falls deeper into autocracy.

My prompt is simply to choose any writer or writers who are important to you and write a piece that engages with them in any manner. Think about what we might learn from those who come before us, who might have been misunderstood, obscured, not heard—and how they might influence conversations we are having now with the people in our lives.

Here is an example. I titled a poem ANTI-POETRY after a movement that Chilean poet Nicanor Parra was an early proponent of, and open with three lines from one of his poems. The piece also closes with a quote from a letter Petrarch sent to Boccaccio. I wanted to experiment with letting surrealism and satire into my work, more cultural critique without becoming too didactic—things Parra is known for. Writing this poem last year took my work in a new direction.

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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