Prompt Book

Experiments for Writing Poetry and Fiction

Edited and compiled with introductions and prompts by

Barbara Henning


ISBN 978-1-949966-04-6          382 pages         $25.00



instructors: request desk copy

Both a poetics of teaching and a teaching on poetics, Prompt Book is a work of generous insight and practical instruction that will be of great value to teachers, students, writers, readers, anyone interested in making or engaging the kinds of writing we call poetic. Henning's prompts are focused yet open, aimed at directing one's attention without predetermining or overwhelming one's intention. They propose avenues of exploration designed to push writers outside of our normal patterns of seeing and writing, circumventing habitual writing patterns. "To offer a prompt is to encourage someone to take action," Henning writes, to "inspire something new."

     Henning presents the lineages and literary trajectories that have inspired her work as a poet and fiction writer as malleable, living traditions with which to engage, to form one's own relation, and to use as points of departure for experimentation. Complemented by a marvelous selection of thematically and stylistically varied writings that illuminate the explorations of form (prose poem, flash fiction, experimental journaling) that the prompts proffer, Prompt Book is a statement of poetics and pedagogy as engaging as they are engaged.

     Dan Owen, poet, translator and author of Restaurant Samsara and Toot Sweet



Any student of Barbara’s knows about her course reader: a big, ringed thing she’s honed over the years and filled with a trove of prompts, inspirations, flash fiction, and poetry. It’s been on my bookshelf for 10 years, pulled down to reference when I need something to motivate myself or my students. I am thrilled that she’s turned this work into Prompt Book, a collection of the prompts and readings Barbara has compiled and created over the years, along with new analysis and historical context. This is a gift of a book from one of the greats.

     Lisa Rogal, poet, teacher, author of Morning Ritual & la belle indifference



Barbara Henning’s Prompt Book will appeal to the poetry/creative writing instructor and the poetry student alike with exercises and readings that draw upon Henning’s experience as a poet/fiction writer and as an instructor/professor of creative writing at Long Island University.  The chimerical margins that distance a poem from the patched surfaces of real life are notoriously hard to bridge, yet Henning's Prompt Book does just that.  Her prompts, literary examples and history of poetics give to the writer a considered and nuanced account of literary praxis, modernist artifact and the art of deliberate stylization.

     Ryan Nowlin, teacher, poet, author of Kugel,

Time With the Season, Banquet Settings and Not Far From Here



As Jack Kerouac insists,  there’s “No time for poetry, but exactly what is.” But for many writers, at all levels, daily life has a way of blinding us to the possibilities of the “exactly what is.” Barbara Henning’s Prompt Book is an antidote to such blindness. When I was a student, her ideas and insightful guidance helped take my writing far beyond what I knew was possible. I’m thrilled to know this book is finally here! The nearly 400 pages of writing ideas, notes, insights, and observations, are a radically generous offering to everyone interested in writing and teaching poetry and creative writing. And like the author herself, this book is proof that “writer’s block” really is just “an excuse” and “misunderstanding; between the mind, the body, the world and the word.”

     Jamey Jones, teacher and poet, author of Blue Rain Morning,

In the Key of Clothespin, and morning coffee from the other side



Barbara Henning transformed my writing though her supportive, direct, and insightful teaching style. Her exercises and lectures provide students of prose and poetry with examples from her extensive practice as well as illuminating ideas from Eastern and Western literature.

     Misha Penton, musician & writer.



Years ago I took a flash fiction class with Henning at Naropa and saved all of the prompts, which I still use today. Her class changed the way I write and her prompts have kept me company in moments of challenge. Whether you're a teacher, a writer, an artist, or you just like to be creative, this book will provide tools and inspiration. I'm so excited about this collection.

     Raki Kopernik, author of The Things You Left and The Memory House



Barbara Henning’s Prompt Book is an essential text for anyone who wants to learn the art and craft of writing poetry and prose.  As a master teacher and poet, Barbara allows us to vicariously sit in class with her and alongside the figures she features in her prompts: Charles Baudelaire, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Lydia Davis, Marcel Proust, and William Shakespeare to name a few.

     Sue B Walker, poet, professor and publisher, Negative Capability Press,

former Poet Laureate of Alabama, author of many collections,

including Let Us Imagine Her Name



Here’s the thing about Barbara’s workshops—she makes these detailed readers you can take with you forever. I keep the prose poem book she put together on my desk for easy inspiration - you read the prompt, the poems she put together, and then you can just go for it... Barbara’s openness comes through in these great books she assembles. No wrong response. Just go.

     Sarah Wallen, poet and author of Don’t Drink Poison



I’ve worked with Barbara in many workshops and privately. When I have felt caught in a corner with my poems, her prompts, sensitivity and knowledge about poetry have been beyond helpful. Place Prompt Book next to Ron Padgett’s Handbook of Poetic Forms on your bookshelf, turn to it for inspiration and concrete examples of avenues away from the mundane, to activate your creativity and squelch any thought of writer’s block.

     Donna Cartelli, collage artist, poet, author of Black Mayonnaise



Barbara's workshop remains one of the most fun, inclusive, and edifying experiences I've ever had in a creative writing class. She has this way of encouraging people to find what's interesting in their own writing that makes you just want to run with it, farther than you ever would on your own, all while making such a positive and supportive environment that friendships can blossom and flourish in.  I've done some of my best writing, and met some of my best friends, in Barbara's workshops.

     Most texts aimed at creative writing instructors feel like slapdash constructions of examples of what some distant stranger considers "good writing." In Prompt Book, Henning flips this formula on its head, walking readers through the pedagogical philosophy and life experience behind her lessons while providing us with a body of readings to pull from, and a set of prompts that offer just the right balance of flexibility and specificity to help both new and veteran writers hone their craft.

     Michael Grove, teacher, poet, and short story author in Downtown Brooklyn,

Brooklyn Paramount, and at



Prompt Book invites readers intimately into Barbra’s own writing process. It promotes the exercise of stillness in motion, carving its way onto the page by tightroping a yogi like mindfulness with a sense of linguistic play. Much like Henning’s class, it is joyful and present, a gift to the reader and the writer.

     Marie Lavallee, playwright and teacher, at Dixon Place,

Manhattan Repertory Theater, among others



One of my most distinct memories from class with Barbara is reading Whitman’s Song of Myself from start to finish on the first day of the term. We were all seated in a circle, taking turns reading one section at a time. Presumably, she’d been the first one to arrive and was already seated in a comfortable cross-legged position on her chair. Since she and I had gotten close by then from previous workshops and from working on my thesis, I knew about her yoga practice and was not surprised. But still I was drawn by the effect this had, the preemptive tone it set as people were shuffling into the room and deciding on the safest-looking spot. Seeing their professor already occupying her place in the circle instead of, say, standing at her desk rifling through material, suggested right off the bat that the semester ahead would be a shared experience; the idea of authority went out the door and we were now all in it together, about to immerse, to sink-into. Barbara would not be our “professor”; she would be our guide and fellow traveler.

     I should say, she enviably got the only laugh line. Whitman was giving himself a soft chiding, informally speaking on a first-name basis (“Walt you contain enough, why don’t you let it out then?). The whole class laughed because, without even trying, Barbara hit us with the irony of the situation: we all thought we were reading the great Walt Whitman’s magnum opus when in reality we were reading something by a guy named Walt mulling over the stuff in his mind, the way we all do on a daily basis. Probably unbeknownst to her—unbeknownst because this attitude seems to be in her very nature—Barbara was telling us we didn’t have to climb on any high horse to write. We could stay right here on the ground, where we would surely find all the beauty we needed to fill our pages with.

     To me this moment exemplifies not only Barbara’s style of teaching but her style of writing. It’s all so deceptively simple: everyday thoughts; a few offhand quotes from a friend, a sibling, an aunt, or a random stranger on the road; an observation of nature; an odd and oddly familiar New York scene. Your eyes just keep following the sentences along, and before you know it you’re sunken-into, immersed.

     “Just tinker with it,” she says, making it sound so simple—because in essence it is. It’s a direction that tends to pop up in my head whenever I need some soft chiding for not letting it out due to a bout of the old writer’s block. Except there’s no such thing as a writer’s block, I hear her say. You just go back to the page and tinker, over and over. You arrange and rearrange and re-rearrange until you start to enjoy how it all comes together. And then you move on. The next project is already waiting.

     That night after the class, we got an email from her. She wrote to say that walking back home after the reading, she felt ecstatic. Or maybe she said high. I was so struck by that image of her on the street in the dark, floating on air. Really? I thought. Poetry could do this? It turns out it can, depending on how you read it. And write it.

     Yoav Ben Yosef, psychotherapist and fiction writer, in "Metapsychosis"

and "Close Encounters in War," among others.



Born in Detroit in 1948, Barbara Henning moved to New York City with her two children in 1983. After a few interim years in Tucson and Mysore, India, she returned to New York, presently living in Brooklyn. She is a poet who also writes fiction—three novels, Black Lace (Spuyten Duyvil), You Me and the Insects (SD), and Thirty Miles to Rosebud (BlazeVox); seven full length collections of poetry, A Day Like Today (Negative Capability), A Swift Passage (Quale), Cities & Memory (Chax), My Autobiography (United Artists), Detective Sentences (SD), Love Makes Thinking Dark (UA) and Smoking in the Twilight Bar (UA); and numerous chapbooks. She is also the editor of The Selected Prose of Bobbie Louise Hawkins (BV) and Looking Up Harryette Mullen (Belladonna). She teaches at Long Island University in Brooklyn and for