IMPROMPTU #1: Patrick Williams

napomo - 16 - williams - site (1)

Patrick WilliamsI am a poet and a librarian in equal measure; I believe the same impulses drew me to both. I get a lot of inspiration from the compression, juxtaposition, collocation, and even the deletion of initial articles we see in libraries. I view my writing as a project of sustained bricolage, in which I compose by making use of what material and opportunities are close at hand; in my work I seek to inhabit the order and disorder of the archive, the incidentalness of attention, the stitching together and undoing of documents, bitstreams, radiowaves, and memories.  I’m concerned with how serendipity and circumstance offer us certain opportunities while denying us others.

When I’m having trouble getting started writing, one of my procrastinatory habits is to wander the stacks browsing books; looking at titles, pulling random books, and looking for ideas or images or index entries or other bits of texts that might trigger a writerly impulse in me. Looking through subject headings and other metadata, and encountering all the questions they raise, often has the same effect.

Recently my writing process has involved a lot of attention to shifts between the affordances of print and electronic texts, and I often experiment with the ways my own writing (as well as external sources) can be transformed through randomization, querying, redaction, sorting, indexing, and the other ways we act upon texts. The post-publication activities I undertake at Really System are an extension of these interests, and I enjoy the collaborative nature of what goes on there. Last year’s National Poetry Month remix experiments were a great deal of fun for me, and I undertake this invitation to provide a prompt for the Found Poetry Review in that spirit.  

For my contribution, I wanted to combine some of my favorite things: old books in the public domain, subject headings, and chance. Rather than one prompt, however, you get *lots*. I created a little prompt generator that draws from the HathiTrust Digital Library and the Library of Congress Children’s Subject Headings to deliver an nearly endless supply of generative activities. This tool will direct you to act on electronic versions of nearly 200 serial publications from the New York Public Library’s holdings with the year 1916 listed in their catalog records. Depending on the prompt fate deals you, you’ll also be provided with topics and/or titles from a selection of over 300 subject headings developed over time to describe books and other library materials intended for children.

Visit the prompt generator here:

Patrick Williams is a poet and academic librarian living in Central New York. His recent work appears in publications including Noble/Gas Qtrly, Reality Beach, fog machine, Jungftak, and Heavy Feather Review. His chapbook manuscript Hygiene in Reading is forthcoming from Publishing Genius. He edits Really System, a journal of poetry and extensible poetics. Find him at and on Twitter @activitystory.


  • Thank you!
    So nice of you to provide a prompt toy.

    Here is my offer for today:
    All the best.

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Mark Staniforth

    Here is mine. It’s called “Toledo”:

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Amanda Earl

    • Reply April 1, 2016

      Mary Bast

      Love this:

      to existential
      breathing, panic attacks
      manifested as white
      star blossoms

  • […] for Day 1 of the Found Poetry Review Impromptu Challenge and shared with ELJ Write Now. Patrick Williams’s prompt for Day 1 is: “For my […]

  • Reply April 1, 2016


    This was a thoroughly enjoyable prompt. Thank you very much, Patrick.

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Stephanie Ellis

    My poem Boxing can be found here

  • […] “Foolish Poems prompt” Adele Kenny’s “Remembrance w/ Neruda prompt” Found Poetry’s “Generative Activities w/ Patrick Williams” HATBOOK’s “#NoticePoem prompt” 30dpc’s “New Day, New Dawn […]

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Bill Waters

    Love Patrick Williams’ prompt generator!

    Using pages 42 and 43 from the 1917 Proceedings of the … annual session National Association of Industrial Accident Boards & Commissions, find seven words to begin the lines of a (seven-line) poem entitled “Cave dwellings & Prehistoric animals”.

    The resulting piece can be read on my blog ( and below. :- )

    Cave dwellings & Prehistoric animals

    Safety was the first concern.
    Two proto-people came in from the grassland,
    with its flimsy lean-tos and its roars in the night, to live
    free from fear of death in the dark, to live
    “safe as houses” in the welcoming cave. But the
    penalty for exploring the cave bear’s lair . . .
    Expensive indeed was that move to a safer home.

    • Reply April 2, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      i loved how the combo of different subject areas enriched this piece. wonderful

      • Reply April 2, 2016

        Bill Waters

        Thanks, Amanda! As a writer, when I think “out of the box”, I usually find that I’m just in a somewhat larger box. LOL! This prompt mashed up very different things in a way that inspired me to go way beyond my usual boundaries. It was so refreshing! :- )

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Scott Stoller

    Under Construction

    At some point along the line,
    where high tension,
    in conjunction with various devices,
    has not been satisfactory,
    the writer,
    through a mechanical arrangement
    causing signal “A”
    to assume the “stop” position,
    cannot be unlocked.
    Altogether dependent on location,
    avoid as much vibration as possible.
    This problem can be solved
    with the greatest possible latitude.
    Avoid big headlines. Harmonize methods.
    Red indicates “stop”, yellow “caution”, and green “clear”.

    (From Railway Signal Engineer, Volume 12, January 1919)

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Mary Bast

    My challenge: Use fifteen words from these two pages to compose a poem on the theme of Art metalwork (there was actually only one page at;view=2up;seq=18).

    In my poem, the title “installation” is one of the fifteen words allowed:

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Linda Crosfield

    Cupid Seems to be Hovering Around This Part of the World

    The moment
    (revolving body parts ready)
    I come, I’ve got you.

    Want me cross? There’s a hunger.
    I count fast enough,
    could do everything, almost.

    How I love always stumped me.
    What will be, who knows?
    Count on changing.

    Thanks, Patrick, that was fun! More on how I got to this on my blog:

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Matt Trease

    Fun prompt(s)! Here’s my attempt

    Separation Anxiety & Friendship

    Conjure the infinite variety
    (of) continually you are drawn to points
    (of) consequence seeking comfort
    (in) coincident nature spun out
    (of) conquered repercussions of being viscerally
    (in) contention in a room crowded
    (with multi-dimensional discovery)

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Tay Jackson

    Reformers and Schools

    Milk boxes litter the streets with little brown cartons of milk kids

    raised to believe their place is on the curb and in metal pens.

    Public appointed, overworked, places holders spew overplayed

    receipts of white carton grownups who never lived like this.

    Businesses run on the backs of recycled cardboard,

    Extend the year, lose the day, and teach them the age old lie.

    City officials pretend every milk carton has a place on the shelf.

    Hire brown carton adults to clean up the brown carton milk kids littering the streets.

    This poem can also be found on my website, here:

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Kris Punke

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Jenn Cavanaugh

    I didn’t stay on topic so well, but this is what the text inspired… Thanks!

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    S.E. Ingraham

    Great prompt generator, thanks Patrick Williams. Here’s my first attempt.


    They wandered the rows
    of the famous
    in Pere La Chaise,
    the day after Christmas
    And, as she photographed Moliere’s
    headstone, Jim Morrison’s,
    and the little sparrow’s – Piaf’s
    She pondered her fascination with
    these places
    Back home she called herself
    a cemetery whore,
    only half jokingly
    Because she loved to hang out
    in all manner of final resting spots
    Maybe it was the insured quiet
    Maybe it was the reminder
    of the finality due to all
    Maybe it was something
    she couldn’t explain at all.

    My prompt from Patrick Williams’ generator: Jot down everything you know about gravestones or ornithischians: then select a possible title from these two pages – page 10 and 11 of The American Stationer and Office Outfitter

    • Reply April 2, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      love the idea of a cemetery whore.

      • Reply April 2, 2016

        S.E. Ingraham

        Thanks, Amanda – I’m pretty sure that’s what led me to write the poem – I am one, hence …

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    JM Scott

    Sorry I originally posted in the wrong section.I really liked the prompt generator. I did click it a bunch of times, until I found something that struck my fancy. Here is my poem

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Rhonda Brown


    Business pays back what’s put into it
    in proportion to rightly directed energy

    Difference between [one] who fails and one who succeeds
    One finds junk pile and converts it into opportunity
    Other waits for pile to come to him
    Fails to make the most of it

    Apply knowledge unceasingly
    may be hidden until met
    As a result of own initiative

    Constant attention to smaller propositions
    Develops greater capacity for overcoming and mastering
    More perplexing problems

    Broader perspective gained through experience
    Ability to analyze through practice

    Judicious course often hard to determine
    Undertaking beset with element of chance

    Depends upon metal of a man
    Whether grindstone of life
    Will grind him down
    Polish him up

    The metal of a man
    Iron works.

    –Rhonda Brown

    Business pays back what’s put into it
    in proportion to rightly directed energy

    Difference between [one] who fails and one who succeeds
    One finds junk pile and converts it into opportunity
    Other waits for pile to come to him
    Fails to make the most of it

    Apply knowledge unceasingly
    may be hidden until met
    As a result of own initiative

    Constant attention to smaller propositions
    Develops greater capacity for overcoming and mastering
    More perplexing problems

    Broader perspective gained through experience
    Ability to analyze through practice

    Judicious course often hard to determine
    Undertaking beset with element of chance

    Depends upon metal of a man
    Whether grindstone of life
    Will grind him down
    Polish him up

    The metal of a man
    Iron works.

    –Rhonda Brown

    Prompt: Write poem titled “Ironworks” from 5 pages of article on welding. Ignored welding, did erasure poem from essay on work philosophy, with minor alteration in word order in next to last stanza, incorporation of title in last line. Chose to use first prompt that came up rather than “fish around.”

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Rhonda Brown

    Not sure how I managed to post twice. Sorry. Can administrators remove dup?

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Kirsten Rasmussen

    This is mine! (I do not have a website to pot it on).

    The meeting was called to order at two thirty in room nine-nineteen.
    The same familiar number.
    She was in no rush to get to the meeting.
    Everybody knew that it was a fruitless attempt.
    He was never coming back.

    He disappeared behind the old Ironworks building.
    He was only thirteen. He was only thirteen.
    The bridge behind the Ironworks building
    Was supposed to be safe.
    It was supposed to be.
    The kidnapper must not have gotten the memo.

    She still kept the newspaper clipping,
    Tucked in her front pocket.
    Every once in awhile,
    She would pull it out.

    Carter Abbey, last seen on Friday, November 3rd at 9:19pm.

    The meeting was called to order at two thirty in room nine-nineteen.
    She was in no rush to get to the meeting.
    Everybody knew that it was a fruitless attempt.
    He was never coming back.
    He was never supposed to come back.
    She was never supposed to be arrested.
    Nobody was supposed to know that she was the kidnapper.

    The meeting was called to order at two thirty in room nine-nineteen.
    She was in no rush to get to the meeting.

    That night,
    She was arrested at 9:19.
    That same familiar number.

    • Reply April 2, 2016

      Stephanie Ellis

      Really enjoyed your narrative poem, particularly the repetition of 9.19 to build both tension and atmosphere.

  • Reply April 1, 2016


    I will surely enjoy reading everyone’s daily, even if I can’t keep up. Love the prompt generator, thank you Patrick Williams!
    [my prompt was to extract language from ~4 pages of text about electrical merchandising and a 1916 library report and write poem about ‘conservation of resources’]

    The Issue of the Golden Pheasant

    Whose flashing hand
    attracts the crowd
    to this iron cage?

    Thus secured (that class of people –
    how they imitate natural daylight!)
    each goes to the bustling heart

    of an arranged evening
    and men in particular,
    pass back through,

    are drawn to the entrance.
    Something electrical, striking
    even, illuminates the flood.

    It began: a throng.
    It ended: one golden pheasant
    in a fixed position.

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    james w. moore

    love the prompt generator – i will revisit it i’m sure! below is my erasure poem from five pages of a testing materials book from 1916.


    the finished shall be free
    and shall finish
    a letter
    is formed
    the name
    shall be rolled
    the rolled shall appear
    all times
    all parts
    all reasonable facilities
    All tests

    for the bolts
    for the nuts
    the quenching medium
    to follow
    to determine
    any other

    up to yield
    by the drop
    cold through
    to the
    cracking outside
    end shall be of a form

    One tension and one bend
    less specified
    by scribe scratches marked
    the dimensions
    neatly formed
    firmly joined to the body

    sharp and true

    the finish shall be free
    and shall finish


  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Thomas Hintze

    day a
    dark cloud
    broke a law
    a body a majority
    a few things to destroy
    the whole subject of value
    and the people felt the
    country could be
    saved by a
    sea of

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Vinita Agrawal

    Loved your poem Amanda Earl! I echo Mary Bast’s quote of that wonderful stanza.

  • Reply April 1, 2016

    Vinita Agrawal

    Thank you Patrick for a very intriguing prompt. Here’s my poem:

    Old Fabric

    Between the forefinger and thumb
    lie the creases of an appeal.

    A parchment
    collaged with wrinkled post-its, paper chits,
    yellow square one-D windows
    of years gone by.

    The chintz sofa of a shared life is worn
    Its Persian rug threadbare –
    it slips from under our feet
    The vases that held woodlands of togetherness are barren

    Pulsating reds reduced to pastel peaches
    Turquoise nights to the navy of a nun’s habit.
    Velvet down to gingham
    Such is the fate of old fabric…

    Emerald stalks turn to pale straw
    and words trickle down to a sewn silence.

    Even so, let’s coexist…without contempt
    Why let an eroded tapestry trip us
    in this evening-shaded garret of life?
    Companionship is enough.

    The Sienna sunset chooses to go down gently with the sky
    unfurling a star-studded canvas marked with board-pins of joys.

    • Reply April 2, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      love all the sensory detail in this one.

      • Reply April 2, 2016

        Vinita Agrawal

        Thank you Amanda…yes it was intended to be a texture poem, as per the prompt.

  • […] is the first day of NaPoWriMo! I used a prompt from The Found Poetry Review for today’s prose poem: Impromptu #1: Patrick […]

  • […] Prompt  via Found Poetry Review. […]

  • Reply April 2, 2016

    Reid Mitchell

    Prompt: title “Photography”

    use 9 worlds from The Advertising age and mail order journal. v. 22 (Dec. 1918-Nov. 1919).


    the Sierra range and foothills

    September rains

    Clover leaf

    • Reply April 2, 2016

      S.E. Ingraham

      I’m sure “worlds” is a typo, but I’d leave it in … it made me look at your poem with different eyes. Either way, it’s a bit of succinct brilliance.

  • Reply April 2, 2016

    Margaret Watson

    Write a poem about the first memory you encounter on these two pages: The American stationer and office outfitter. v. 82 (1917)

    Grandmama’s ideal fountain pen
    contained a peep as it clicked
    when screwed into, metal or
    plastic, black with a band silver
    silver or gold with a bottle not
    quite square sitting nearby with
    blue-black ink, tissues to wipe
    spills on (or around the rim) as it
    stained the fingers or blot paper.
    Usually used to jot notes on bills
    or pennies spent, or notation on
    auctions on yearnings to buy, or
    books to be read, seeds to order.
    I drove her around to parties and
    would sit in the black Chevrolet
    waiting for her to emerge in her
    Fortuny silk with jade bracelets
    clicking as glass toasting feasts.
    Once I left the car on Bay View
    Street to pop in, pick up laundry,
    the car rolled down the street to
    an oil company glass window to
    appear in photo on front page
    of the local paper. Shamelessly
    I bought a tiny candy for one cent
    which she discovered when her
    fountain pen went to record slips
    from the A and P grocery store.

  • Reply April 2, 2016

    Patrick Williams

    Hi all! Such a delight to read your poems based on the prompt generator. Thanks for playing with it!
    Here’s my poem & prompt:

    • Reply April 2, 2016

      S.E. Ingraham

      It really is a marvelous generator, Patrick – something to tuck away for future reference. Thanks so much. Now, off to read your poem.

  • Reply April 2, 2016

    Carol A. Stephen

    I also did a memory poem. The pages I got were from an entry about concrete. Here is my cement memory:

    Remembering Concrete

    I was six or maybe seven the day we went walking while
    they changed the electric cycle from sixty to one-ten.
    Grey grit still draws its dark scar across my knee, in memory
    of where I fell along the cinder walk.

    Soon after, we kids were happy when great lumbering trucks
    arrived with workmen dressed for spreading cement: new sidewalks
    over the cinder bits. We no longer needed to walk awkwardly
    on steel wheels of roller skates that wouldn’t skate over grit.

    A year or two after that, I’d remember the concrete road outside our house,
    where I first learned to ride my electric blue two-wheeler. Rainbow streamers
    and fancy reflectors did nothing to keep me stable and I went down hard,
    no scars but these days — my back aches when it rains.

    Carol A. Stephen
    April 1, 2016

  • Reply April 2, 2016

    Imp 01 | serial |

    […] Susan Powers Bourne Source: Impromptu: Patrick Williams Process: Redacted […]

  • Reply April 2, 2016

    Wayne Berninger


    Crucified saviors anticipated by other teachers long previous

    Chrichna, of India, 1200 years B.C.
    Sakia, of Hindustan, 600 years B.C.
    Thammuz, of Syria, 1100 B.C.
    Wittoba, the Telingones, 552 B.C.
    Iao, of Nepaul, 622 B.C.
    Hesus, of Great Britain, 834 B.C.
    Quexalcote, of Mexico, 587 B.C.
    Quirinus, of Rome, 506 B.C.
    Prometheus, of Greece, 547 B.C.
    Thulis, of Egypt, 1700 B.C.
    Indra, of Thibet, 725 B.C.
    Alcestos, of Greece, 600 B.C.
    Atys, of Phrygia, 1170 B.C.
    Crite, of Chaldea, 1200 B.C.
    Bali, of Orissa, 725 B.C.
    Mithra, of Persia, 600 B.C.

    Salvahanna, of Bermuda
    Osiris, of Egypt
    Horus, of Egypt
    Odin, of Scandinavia
    Zoroaster, of Persia
    Baal, of Phonecia
    Taut, of Phonecia
    Bali, of Afghanistan
    Xamolxis, of Thrace
    Zoar, of the Bonzes
    Adad, of Assyria
    Deva Tat, of Siam
    Alcides, of Thebes
    Mikado, of the Shintos
    Beddru, of Japan
    Thor, of the Gauls
    Cadmus, of Greece
    Hil and Feta, of the Mandaites
    Gentaut, of Mexico

    Several others, of lesser note.

    Histories strangely similar
    too much so not to have been
    derived from a common source

    Neither new nor strange
    the same thought in their inmost hearts
    Words, and words alone, divide them
    If one is true, all are

    Existed prior to birth and on earth and in heaven at the same time
    Birth foretold
    Both divine and human
    Mother a virgin
    An adopted father who was a carpenter
    Rejoicing on earth and in heaven at the birth
    Born in obscurity
    Visited by wise men and shepherds, led by a star
    Children near the birth place ordered destroyed
    Warned of danger by an angel
    Parents fled
    Had a forerunner
    Wise in childhood
    Lost and searched for by parents
    Had brothers
    Retired to solitude
    Preached a noteworthy sermon
    Entitled a savior
    Did miracles of which one or the first was to cure a leper
    Healed all manner of diseases
    Raised the dead
    Cast out devils
    Had apostles
    Reformed the existing religion
    Abolished law of lineal descent in priesthood
    Was poor
    Was conspired against
    Denounced riches
    Was meek, unmarried, and chaste
    Was merciful
    Associated with sinners & was rebuked for it
    Befriended a widow
    Met a gentle woman at a well
    Submitted to injuries and insults
    Was a practical philanthropist
    Had a last supper
    Was crucified between two thieves
    Darkness supervened
    Descended to hell
    Was resurrected after three days
    Seen by many people

    Note the similar important incidences in the life of each savior

    Prophecies, miraculous conceptions, the appearance of a new star at the beginning of the new year

    Connected in some manner with a serpent symbol

    Nations poetical in the titles given saviors (lamb, etc.)

    Born in caves

    Threatened by hostile rulers

    Sons of builders

    The golden rule found in the mouths of all of them

    He who runs may easily read

  • Reply April 2, 2016

    Richard Walker

    A great way to start the month for me. Here’s my poem:

  • […] and of gravity, plunging toward earth in pursuit of everlasting life? This poem was written for the April 1, 2016 FPR Impromptu prompt. The poetry generator provided me with the following instructions (paraphrased): Select a sentence […]

  • Reply April 2, 2016

    Barbara Crary

  • Reply April 2, 2016

    Bill Speer

    Patrick, thanks! Great prompts and tool. This poem responds to prompt to revise a sentence/phrase from source pages to make a sentence about “Steam Engines” and then use the sentence to begin a poem with the title “Hope.” The source pages are from “Electrical Merchandising, v. 21(Jan-June 1919).”


    A train with a magnificent steam engine
    is bringing our splendid boys home.
    The war is won! The war to end all wars!
    Brighten up the depot, the city’s streets,
    every child’s smile, every lover’s eyes.
    Give our boys an electrical welcome.
    By order of the Fuel Administration
    there will be no more “Lightless Nights.”
    The train comes to an exhilarating stop
    and a brass band strikes up a hopeful tune.
    On the far side of the train mothers draped
    in black hold candles and shield the flames
    that rise and fall in the electrified night.

  • […] picked an exercise from the Patrick Williams Text’s prompt generator, and it took me a few clicks to do what I […]

  • Reply April 2, 2016


    here we go…. was not the easiest sentence I picked from the source text but while it could be improved, am happy with what I managed in a short period of time.

  • Reply April 2, 2016

    Kenia Cris

    Here’s mine. I must say I’m in love with this prompt generator. I wanted to write every single poem prompted to me. :)

  • Visit the link to my WordPress site to see what I came up with for this IMPROMPTU…and thanks so much for taking part in this!!!

  • The link to my WordPress site is I have my first two poems up at this point. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Reply April 3, 2016

    Alex Josephy

    I was going to just read the poems this year,
    but this prompt was irresistible! This is from the prompt: : Write for 12 minutes on Snakes: then find a title in the first thing that catches your eye from this text: Contemporary Verse, ed. Charles Wharton Stork. 1918. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania. What caught my aye was a line from ‘Stress of Snow’ by Charles R. Murphy.

    We Meet the Ambushed Confirmation of our Dream

    It was a grass snake’s skin
    out from under the terrace

    stretched beyond the the edges
    of belief.

    My father held it in his two hands,
    the honeycomb scales

    a widening window, through which
    I saw how every dream

    might be in the shape of a small grey flame

    air itself might crackle.

  • Reply April 5, 2016

    Douglas Luman

    Late is better than never! The Venerable Bede starts on his road to Hexham:

  • Reply April 7, 2016

    Warning | Pen's Ink

  • […] Retrieved 04/11/16 at random via Patrick William’s prompt generator – available here: – which uses the HathiTrust Digital Library. […]

  • […] Day 1: Patrick Williams […]

  • ridiculously late, but many thanks for the prompt generator!

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