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Humanities Now Blog

News and Highlights from Arizona Humanities

Creative Inspiration from Poet Laura Tohe

Today we have a very special writing prompt from poet Laura Tohe, the current Navajo Nation Poet Laureate.

For previous writing prompts, click here or follow @AZhumanities on twitter.

Maps and Memories

Draw a map of your neighborhood when you were growing up.  Pick an age around 9 or 10.  Draw your map remembering places and people.  Where did you play?  Who were your neighbors?  Did you have pets?  Were there trees? Did you climb them?  Was there water and did you play there?  Where did important things happen?  Where was your school?  Where were the roads?  Where did you ride your bike?  Where did you get in trouble?  What were your “secret” places?  Where was your house?  Where were the cars parked?  After you draw your map label the places and record little stories that happened there on your map.  “This is where I fell out of the tree,” or “This is where I rode my bike.”  You can color your map if you want.


Look over your map and pick some favorite/strongest memories.  Then use this format to create a poem about your childhood memories.  Write each line so that it creates a picture in your reader’s mind.  This is what we call “show” don’t “tell.”  When we “show” we are using images to tell a story.  For example, “I remember the beat up old yellow and blue truck parked in the hot heat of summer.”  Or, “I remember the corn tassels drenched in pollen that looked like a yellow paint brush.”  Use at least 1 simile using “like” or “as” to show a comparison between two things.


I remember . . . .


I remember . . . .


I remember . . . .


But most of all, I remember. . . .


Now pick another memory and write four more lines about that one memory.  Look into your heart for the images, the pictures that will “show” the event/place to your readers.

Write a 2 paragraph poem about your name
  • What does your name mean?  Look it up or make up something interesting about your name.
  • If your name was a person what emotion would it have?  Think of some adjectives:  happy, sad, smart, wild, crazy? etc.
  • Give your name a number and color.
  • Click here to read a piece by author Sandra Cisneros. Use a simile like Sandra Cisneros.  A simile uses “like” or “as” to make a comparison between 2 things.
  • Cisneros says her name “is like the number nine.  A muddy color.” You write:  “My name is like the number ________ . A _______________color.”
  • If your name was a song who would sing it?  Use another simile to describe how that person would sing it.
  • Tell a favorite or not so favorite story about your name.  Were you named after someone in your family or a famous person or because whoever named you liked the sound of your name?  How do you feel about your name?  Do you like your name or would you like another name?  What would you change it to?
  • Give your poem an interesting title but don’t call it “My Name.”

Here’s my poem:

Gloria, the Glorious

My name means a white flower blooming on a tall tree growing in a forest.  It is a happy name when it blooms like the number 11 standing on its 2 feet and holding up its arms.  My name is like the color white.  A bright and lonely color.  Frank Sinatra once sang my name.  Musical notes blew from his mouth like white petals falling to the ground.

My father named me Laura, my mother’s name, before my mother could give me the Queen of England’s first name.  I was known as “Laura Junior.”  When my mother got old I was renamed “young Laura.” I didn’t want my mother’s name.  I wanted to change my name to Gloria.  Glorious, the bright amber color of victory.  Yes, Gloria, the glorious.

Laura Tohe 225x225Laura Tohe is Diné/Navajo. She is Sleepy Rock clan born for the Bitter Water clan. A librettist and an award-winning poet, she has written 3 books of poetry, edited a book of Native American Women writing, and the oral history book, Code Talker Stories. Her commissioned libretto, Enemy Slayer, A Navajo Oratorio made its world premiere in 2008 and was performed by The Phoenix Symphony.  She is Professor with Distinction in Indigenous Literature at Arizona State University and is the Poet Laureate of the Navajo Nation for 2015-2017.


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