If you break open enough fortune cookies, pretty soon you’ll find a fortune with enough mystery, pithiness, and flexibility to serve as a refrain line in a villanelle or pantoum. So have dinner in a Chinese restaurant, and you just might find that your dessert brings you a great line for a poem.
The fortune-cookie-refrain-line prompt is very effective in class. I sometimes buy a quantity of fortune cookies and hand them out in class, usually two to a student. Chances are at least one of the fortunes will work as a refrain line…and the students enjoy the snack.
Some of my students have written amazing poems with fortune cookie refrain lines.
Should I be prepared to sit for years
cross-legged on this black cushion
staring at a point on the blank white
wall that is not there?
Should I do whatever it takes
to prove myself, to get your attention,
to have revealed to me the secret
that is not a secret?
Should I be like those of legend,
stand half naked in the snow
before your gate for days on end,
refrain from eating until you smile at me,
slash my arm with a ritual sword?
Do you doubt that I could stand unflinching
when you hit me with a stick,
ponder your cryptic riddles endlessly,
wander lonely mountain paths
until mountains become mountains?
Or do you fear I really will
cross the stream, abandon the raft,
and no one at all will be standing at your gate?