The Word was in the beginning
but it is made of letters.
Prompts Against Anxiety #40 | from giovanni singleton serves both as a follow-up to her workshop two weeks ago and as the final installment in our Prompts Against Anxiety series. giovanni singleton is the author of Ascension, a California Book Award–winning book informed by the life and work of Alice Coltrane, and AMERICAN LETTERS: works on paper (Canarium Books, 2018), a collection of visual poetry. She is founding editor of nocturnes (re)view of the literary arts, a journal dedicated to experimental work of the African Diaspora and other contested spaces. Her dreamography is forthcoming from Noemi Press.
giovanni's prompt feels apropos as a circular, composting finish to a creative series in which we felt repeatedly and meaningfully called back to our immediate access to language and art-making as tools of healing, communication, and vision. We send our thanks to all of the poets and artists who participated in composing the prompts and in responding to them over the past year and a half, and we especially thank Milwaukee Public Library for their sponsorship of this beautiful community project. And we invite you now to follow giovanni down into the Word, all the way into the letter, and back out into creation again.
(untitled, giovanni singleton, crayon on black paper)
Whenever overwhelm sets in, I’ve often found it helpful to reduce things to smaller, more manageable parts. That goes for writing as well. If “in the beginning was the word. . .,” one invariably notices that there also had to be letters in order to make the word and all words. Additionally, some letters are happily words unto themselves. So with this in mind, let us now endeavor to create one-letter poems while also exercising the hand-heart meridian.
Gather as many different writing, drawing, or mark-making things as you can find
including calligraphy pen/brush, paint, crayons, markers, pencils, charcoal, pens, etc. You don’t need anything fancy. Just grab whatever is nearby. The same holds true for at least two pieces of paper. It can be plain, dot, ruled, cardboard, recycled, etc. It doesn’t necessarily have to be “blank” or “clean” as long as there is space for adding your engagement with this messy, imperfect prompt.
Take a couple of minutes to put yourself in a receptive state. Put on some music if that helps to relax you. Notice your breathing. Take time to notice things around you, around your environment. Notice anything that acts upon your five senses. Notice if you are clenching your teeth. Relax your jaw. Notice your hands.
Then when you feel ready, allow the letters of any alphabet system wash over you along with any associated thoughts, feelings, or memories. Try to recall when you were beginning to learn how to write. Did you use special handwriting practice paper like the kind with a broken line centered between two ruled lines? Or did you practice in a black and white marble covered composition notebook? What did you write/mark with? Was it a big pencil or crayon?
Next notice a letter of the alphabet that you don’t like or feel particularly attracted to. How does it make you feel? Then repeat the process using a letter that you feel connected to, one that creates an uplifting or exciting feeling for you. Use the first letter of the alphabet that you identified as somewhat problematic and write/inscribe/draw it as many times as you are willing.
Shake loose and pour whatever arises into your rendering of the letter. Rinse. Pause. Repeat the same activity with the second letter, the one you feel exhilarated by or curious about or at peace with. Fill the space in whatever way your hand moves. Then looking at your one-letter poem, read it aloud. Conclude by taking time to feel your hands and your heart. Admire your one-letter poems. Maybe frame them or feature them as objects of contemplation. Enjoy!
NOTE: If you’re curious about one-letter poems, check out these two “type-written” examples:
SCORE 6: J. W. Curry: From "Ich: 4 Translations of Vladimir Burda
More from this series
The Word was in the beginning but it is made of letters.Prompt #40—giovanni singleton
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
Tarot Recall: A Visionary Exercise for the PresentPrompt #35—Laurence Ross
Queers in Love at the End of the WorldPrompt #34—CJ Scruton
WORKBOOK FOR CHANGE: TWO PROMPTSPrompt #33—Kate Schapira
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
Writing Advice for Your Younger SelfPrompt #14—E.J. Koh
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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