Saturday, September 16, 2017

Prompt #292 – "From Here to There" by Guest Prompter Penny Harter

As you know, I like to offer you prompts and poetry-related posts written by poets other than me.  Back on August 2, 2014, poet Penny Harter wrote a guest prompt that dealt with haibun and the spiral image. I’m very happy to post, with my sincerest thanks, another prompt, "From Here to There," that Penny recently wrote for us.
Earlier, at Adele’s invitation, I sent her the following paragraph for her blog about the various ways we poets end our poems. I’d like to expand on that with some suggestions and sample poems:

"How I end a poem is not usually a conscious decision. However, I do know that I want my poems to take a turn toward (or at) the end, similar to the turn in a good haiku. At the heart of haiku is the juxtaposition of two images or ideas across a kind of "spark gap". And these images connect in a way that both startles and seems inevitable. When I look back at poems I wrote some years ago—or even at occasional recent work—I find myself saying, "Well, I like the imagery, or the sound, rhythm, theme, etc., but if I reach the poem's end and it hasn't gone anywhere, hasn't taken me from here to there (wherever here and there are), it doesn't satisfy me." For me, writing a nice representational poem doesn't feel like enough anymore."

As poets, we know that all things are connected, one way or another. But sometimes those “connections” within our poem are like quantum leaps—the path of our writing suddenly taking an unexpected turn. For this to happen, we have to be open to where the words may be leading us.

Speaking of connections reminds me of a time in my life when I didn’t know what I was going to do about a difficult relationship. I wasn’t even writing about it; perhaps, I was afraid to do so. After a poetry reading when I told a poet friend about my dilemma, she asked me, “Where is your life in your writing? Your poems will know what you are going to do before you do!” And the shock of her question gave me permission to begin writing about it. Once that door was open, I wrote so many that the poems became a book—and discovered my solution in the process.

Just as what we write often reveals to us aspects of ourselves we didn’t know were surfacing, so, too, the turn in a poem can reveal to us an aspect of our poem it didn’t know it had. We won’t know where it’s going until it gets there.  


Here’s one of mine that leaps toward the end:

When I Taught Her to Tie Her Shoes

A revelation, this student
already in high school who didn’t know
how to tie her shoes.

I took her into the book-room, knowing
what I needed to teach was perhaps more
important than Shakespeare or grammar,

guided her hands through the looping,
the pulling of the ends. After several
tries, she got it, walked out of there

empowered. How many things are like
that—skills never mastered in childhood,
simple tasks ignored, let go for years?

In the Zen tradition, When the student is ready,
the teacher appears. Perhaps that is why this
morning, my head bald from chemotherapy,

my feet somewhat farther away than they
used to be as I bend to my own shoes, that
student returns to teach me the meaning

of life: not to peel my potato, though that,
too, counts, but to simply tie my shoes and
walk out of myself into this sunny winter day.

Copyright © 2016, Hospital Drive,

This poem was triggered by my reminiscing about years of teaching high school English. I suddenly remembered the surprise (and irony) of the sophomore girl whose shoelaces were dragging, and how when I suggested she tie her shoes before she tripped, she said she didn’t know how.

I started writing about that, and suddenly, my being in the midst of a course of chemotherapy after a cancer diagnosis, which I hadn’t wanted to write about...yet...thrust itself into the poem.  I named it right then and there with, “Perhaps that is why...” , and the connection fell into place. In the process, I found myself affirming that I was going to "walk out of myself" into a sunny day" (versus a dark night of despair).


1. Think of a memory that has stayed with you. It need not be a "big moment". Sometimes the most simple and ordinary moments are redolent with meaning for us. On the other hand, you may recall a challenging or sorrowful memory, or a very happy one.

2. Jot down as many images and feelings associated with that memory as you can. Make sure to list both nouns and verbs, as well as short phrases. Try to avoid tried and true emotional judgmental words like "beautiful, exciting, sad, scary," etc. Be as specific as you are able, and your reader will  "get it" without being told.

3. Start free-writing your poem. It may come out in verse or prose format. That doesn't matter in the beginning.

4. At various points throughout your draft, ask yourself, "What else does this remind me of?" Or, "How does this connect with my present life?" If you can answer either or both of those, your poem can make a turn right there. A poem can make more than one turn, sometimes earlier within it as well as at the end.

5. Decide whether you want to break up lines from a prose format into verse, or leave your piece a prose poem.

6. Look at your stanzas or prose blocks and see what you can do without. I often find I delete the first verse, or even more. Sometimes the engine of a poem has to rev a bit before you find the real poem several lines or verses into it. Also see whether you might want to rearrange your stanzas or blocks of prose. Sometimes a middle or final verse can work as a powerful beginning.

7. When you think you have finished your draft ask yourself whether you have ended up somewhere different, found an unexpected destination or revelation. Assess whether your poem goes beyond merely painting a pretty word-picture, taking both you and the reader somewhere new.

8. Keep writing :)!

About Penny Harter:

Penny Harter's poetry and prose has been published widely in journals and anthologies, and her literary autobiography appears as an extended essay in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 28, as well as in Contemporary Authors, Volume 172. Her essays and poems also appear in the writing guides Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry, The Crafty Poet I: A Portable Workshop, and The Crafty Poet II.

Penny’s most recent books include The Resonance Around Us (Mountains and Rivers Press, 2013); One Bowl (prizewinning e-chapbook, 2011); Recycling Starlight (2010); and The Night Marsh (2008). A Dodge poet, Penny was a featured reader at the 2010 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. She has won three poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Arts Council, as well as awards from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the Poetry Society of America, the first William O. Douglas Nature Writing Award, and two fellowships from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA).

Be sure to visit Penny online at the follow websites:

To order Penny's books:

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Prompt #291 – Poems for Summer's End

I recently listened to an old song called “So Long, Sweet Summer” by Dashboard Confessional, and realized that August came and went, and it’s already September.

There’s always a certain sadness when summer ends, but there’s also also a kind of hopefulness that heralds the celebratory comings of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Christmas.

Of course, the end of any season may bring with it a mix of emotions, but the movement from August to September means that the abundant season will wind down and despite the brightness of autumn, we all know that winter is coming. For me, the reality of summer’s end has always happened at the beginning of September (even though here in the US, autumn doesn’t officially begin until September 22nd).

For this prompt, I thought it would be interesting to think about summer’s end and to write about an “end of summer” memory, things left to do before autumn arrives, one last visit to the beach, one more getaway—something still-summery for content but with a hint of autumn in the imagery.

While every season is a good time to take stock of our lives and to think about things that need to be changed and improved upon, the end of summer seems an especially appropriate time to me—a good time to think about things and to put a plan for change into action as we prepare for autumn and winter.


1. Begin by generating a list of things (words and phrases) that you associate with summer.

2. Next, make a list of summer memories (good or bad).

3. Then, select one of your memories to write about.

4. You may want to start with a free write. If you do, incorporate some of the things you noted in your first list and see how you can turn them into appropriate images for your poem.

5. After you’ve done your free write, read it and look for ideas and images that you can use in your poem.

6. Try to begin your poem with a line that invites (or lures) your readers in.
7. Keep in mind that a poem should mean more than the words it contains.

8. Think about how you can create a sense of relationship with your readers. How can you re-create your memory in a way that will enable and encourage readers to make a connection to it?

9. Give your readers something to reflect upon.

10. Point toward something bigger, more universal, than your personal experience.


1. Always be specific, avoid general terms, phrases, and statements.

2. Avoid lofty language and literary affectation. Neither big words nor literary pretensions lend themselves well to good poetry. Create a “wow factor” that lies in language that is unexpected and deceptively simple.

3. Watch out for clichéd images. Examine your poems carefully and note any phrases or lines that seem familiar or general. Think in terms of similes, metaphors, and other types of figurative language, and how you can use these to enhance your images.
4. Don’t merely “ornament” your poems with images. Good imagery isn’t a pair of Louboutin shoes or a Rolex watch. Imagery doesn’t “dress up” a poem and should be only be used to present your subject exactly as you perceive it. Imagery that’s too deliberate or self-consciously “poetical” can ruin an otherwise good poem. Don’t be clever or cutesy. Let your images evolve organically with just the right amount of tweaking.
5. Be wary of “imagery overkill.” Too many or over-written images can be tedious if not mind-numbing. When asked how many images a mid-sized poem should contain, my answer is always the same: if you look at poem you’re writing and only find five great lines, then the poem should only be five lines long; in the same way, if you look at a poem you’re working on and only find a single brilliant image, then the poem should only contain a single image.

6. Don’t conclude with a sentimental or emotional statement (both sentiment and emotion may be heartfelt but, when they’re blatantly stated, they can detract from the power of your poem).


A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball by Christopher Merrill

End of Summer by Stanley Kunitz

Three Songs at the End of Summer by Jane Kenyon

End of Summer by James Richardson

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Prompt #290 – Reflections (Summer Re-Run #4)

The process of writing a poem is a process of reflection. Many, if not most, poems are reflections on one subject or another. This week, the prompt is to write a poem about reflections. Obviously, the “territory” is wide with lots of possibilities for content.


1. You might write a reflection or meditation about a particular subject or you may write about a literal reflection (the moon in a window, your own face on a pond, a stranger in a mirror, etc.). Try to focus on the “here and now” of your reflection (stay in the moment to create a sense of immediacy in your poem), and remember that a good poem has two parts to its content: the obvious and the underlying.

2. Be conscious of caesuras in your poem (a noticeable pause in a line of poetry). Be aware that all of your pauses don’t have to occur with lines breaks. Caesuras are strong silences within lines of poetry. One of the best examples is Alexander Pope’s “To err is human || to forgive divine.” The vertical lines indicate the caesuras.

Here are examples of caesuras from an old nursery rhyme:

Sing a song of sixpence, || a pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds, || baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, || the birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish, || to set before the king?

And here are examples from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”:

Once upon a midnight dreary, || while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious || volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, || suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, || rapping at my chamber door.
’Tis some visitor,’ || I muttered, || `tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.’

3. Work on a sense of rhythm in your poem. By that I don’t mean a sing-song rhythm but something subtler—a deeper kind of music. Read your poem aloud to yourself as you write it. Try writing in iambs.


1.  A reflection is a kind of meditation (What do you think about or meditate on?).
2.  A reflection may be heat, light, sounds, or an image.
3.  A reflection might be careful or long concentration or thought.
4. A reflection may be thought, idea, or opinion that results from concentrated thought on a  particular subject.
5. A reflection may be a manifestation or result (for example, His achievements are a reflection of his  hard work.)
6. Reflections may be theological (religious), philosophical.
7. Reflections may be on one’s own character, (flaws, strong points).
8. A reflection may be based on a quotation or popular saying.
9. A reflection may be based on a memory (the past) or a person.
10. A reflection may be funny.


“Reflections” by Yusef Komunyakaa

“Reflections on History in Missouri” by Constance Urdang

“Interrupted Meditation” by Robert Hass

“Meditation Under Stars” by  George Meredith

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Prompt #289 – Letting Go (Summer Re-Run #3)

Some people believe holding on and hanging in there
are signs of great strength.
However, there are times when it takes much more strength
 to know when to let go and then do it.

— Ann Landers

In any context, letting go can be a painful (but sometimes necessary) part of life.  On the flip side, letting go can free us in much the same way that forgiving does. Have there been times in your life when you let something go and felt better for it?

In many ways, the past informs the present, but letting go is about much more than the past. Importantly, letting go is about freeing ourselves from fears, from impractical expectations, from uncertainties about ourselves, and it’s about affirming our value in the world.

This week, write a poem about a time that you let go.


1. Is there a dream you’ve let go?

2. Is there a person or group of people you’ve let go? Have you ever ended a relationship that wasn’t working? Have you ever deliberately said “good-bye” to someone or something and felt better (or worse) for having done so?

3. Has there been a job you had to let go?

4. Have you ever let go of any personality traits, ways of thinking, old habits?

5. Has there ever been a hurt or an anger that you let go?

6. Has there ever been something that you couldn’t let go?

7. Is there something (or someone) in your life right now that you’ve thought about letting go?


1. A poem should astonish its readers, either with an amazing story, with a unique view of something, or with insights that challenge (or change) the reader’s thinking.What insights can you share about letting go? What can you "let go" in your poem?

2. Your poem should contain at least one image or idea that takes the reader’s breath away.
3. Work on a sense of immediacy (even when you write in the past tense).

4. Stay away from the passive voice, and be wary of words that end in “ing.”

5. Be specific—avoid abstractions and generalizations. Imagery is key. Write about things, not ideas. William Carlos Williams wrote: “No ideas but in things.” Tell it “like it is” in specifics, not through philosophical musings on the “meaning of it all.

6. Work on a dismount that elicits a “wow.” 


This beautiful poem by my dear friend Linda Radice (1952-2017) describes having to "let go" of the family home in which she grew up and which she loved

Little Enough by Linda Radice

I don’t know why I drive by the house.
The new owners painted over my mother’s

blue doors, butchered her beloved Chinese Maple.
They tore off the steps my dad built. The circle

of rhododendron bushes my brother and I played in
were ripped out by the roots, discarded

with ivy yanked from the brick on the shadiest
side. The light colored roof was replaced

by a black one; the peak over the porch is gone.
There is little left familiar enough to call home.

Maybe the spruce my grandfather planted the year
I was born knew something I don’t. It fell in a

hurricane just months before the sale, barely brushed
the house, dented a gutter, gave in gracefully.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Prompt #288 – Edges (Summer Re-Run #2)

Our world is a world of borders and edges. In most spheres of our lives, we’re required to observe prescribed boundaries. We live among separations, always trying to find places where edges meet and connections happen. This week, let’s think about edges and what they suggest to us. Free write for a while, then go back and read what you’ve written. Does anything speak to you?


1. Write a poem about edges in your life? Ragged edges? Smooth edges?

2. Write a poem about a time when you found yourself at the edge of something?

3. Write a poem about a time when you were caught between edges?

4. Write about an “edge” in which you met or left someone special.

5. Write about a time when you (metaphorically) went over an edge?

6. Write a poem about the edge or edges of something (an object, a place, a state of mind—the edge where land and sea meet, the moon’s edges, the edge of a star, the edge of romance, the edge of a forest, the edges of someone’s face, the edge of a dream).

7. Write about something (or someone) that’s “lost its edge.”

8. Write a poem about a time you were one the “edge” of an important decision?

9. Write a poem based on this quote from E. L. Doctorow: “We're always attracted to the edges of what we are, out by the edges where it's a little raw and nervy.”


1. Don’t be afraid to let yourself go with this. It’s okay to be “edgy” (to astonish your readers, not with shock value but, rather, with an element of mystery, a unique voice, and/or understatement).

2. Use imaginative language and distinctive figures of speech (similes, metaphors). Let your poem stand on “the edge of understanding” (leave room for the reader to enter your poem, to interpret, and to imagine).

3. After you’ve written your poem, refine its rough edges with careful editing (and remember that good editing usually means deleting rather than adding).


“The Edges of Time” by Kay Ryan (audio)

“Edges” by David Cooke

“Edges” by Allen Tate

“On Edges” by Adrienne Rich

“Edge” by Sylvia Plath

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Prompt # 287 – What's Your Don Quixote? (Summer Re-Run #1)

The annual August summer re-runs begin this week. There will be one each week through the month. Hope you enjoy them!

The character Don Quixote, created by Cervantes) has become an icon for idealism and the ways in which we pursue our personal notions of the ideal. Quixotism is typically defined as a visionary action in which the quixotic person seeks truth, justice, or beauty with an internal vision so clear that it “sees” through the illusions of exterior experiences. It is also defined as “impractical pursuit of ideals.” Impulsive people, spontaneous people, idealists, dreamers, and romantics are considered quixotic.

There are, of course, complexities in Cervantes’s novel, as well as multiple interpretations, that we needn’t address here, but I thought that this week we might look at times in our lives when we’ve been led by visionary ideals, impulses, spontaneity, or romantic notions. (I’m reminded here of a time many years ago when I was driving to work and saw and elderly lady trip and fall on the sidewalk. I pulled over to the side of the road and ran back to help her. With a lot more strength that I could have imagined, she punched me and told me if I didn’t leave she’d scream for help. I didn’t want to leave her sitting there on the sidewalk, and those were the days before cell phones, so I hesitated and she started to scream. In fact, she got up and began to chase me down the street. I suspected that she must be embarrassed by the fall but she as definitely not a red-faced as I was. So much for being “heroic.” I like to think I did the right thing, even though it made me late for work and cost me a bruise on the arm.)


1. Has there ever been a time when you tried to act as a “knight in shinning armor” but were rejected? What “ideal” inspired you? How did the rejection make you feel?

2. Has there been a time when you were “foolishly impractical?” Where did it lead you?

3. Don Quixote “tilted at windmills,” seeing them as giants who threatened people. The expression “tilting at windmills” has become an English language idiom that means attacking imaginary or unbeatable enemies (“tilting” refers to jousting or, more generally, to engaging in combat). Is there a metaphorical windmill at which you’ve tilted? Has there ever been a concern or issue in your life that you later learned was inconsequential despite your fear of it?

4. In 1644, John Cleveland published in his London diurnall, “The Quixotes of this age fight the windmills of their owne [sic] heads.” Can you relate that to something personal or perhaps something in current society or politics? Have you ever fought a symbolic windmill “in your own head?”

5. “Tilting at windmills” has also come to mean trying to fight battles that can’t be won. Has there been such a “battle” in your life? Keep in mind that the larger question is not failure but, more importantly, how your actions affirmed a higher quality of character.

6. When it first appeared in print, Don Quixote was considered a comic novel; by the nineteenth century, it was considered a social commentary; and it later came to be called a tragedy. In keeping with the lighter (comic) interpretations, can you write a narrative poem in which you tell the story of a funny time you were idealistic, romantic, or heroic?

7. Is there something appealing about an idealistic Don Quixote-kind of figure to you? What specifically? Why? How are you like Don Quixote?

8. From the play and movie The Man of La Mancha (based on the Cervantes novel), the song “The Impossible Dream” became well known (listen below). Do you have an “impossible dream?” 


1. Be sure to write in an authentic voice—the way you “say” things is critical to a poem’s success. Your attitude toward the content is definitely part of the content, and your language should be imaginative, unique, and distinctive. Don’t simply tell a story—that would be prose.

2. Be wary of including so many details that your poem becomes cluttered. You want to hold your readers’ attention, not lose them in superfluous particulars.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Prompt #286 – A Little Levity

Many years ago, long before email submissions, e-zines, and spell check, and long before I had any poems published in journals, I eagerly awaited the publication of a new journal that had accepted one of my poems. After months of waiting, the contributor’s copy arrived. Holding my breath, I tore open the envelope and thumbed through for my poem. Sure enough, the poem was there, but (horrors!) my name appeared as “Addle Kenney.” The misspelled last name was bad enough, but “Addle” (muddled, confused, befuddled, dazed, disoriented)? Years (and many misprints and typos later), I can laugh about that early experience and cheerfully acknowledge that these days "Addle" is sometimes spot on.

Having recently remembered that years-ago poetry story, I thought it might be fun to gather some amusing writing anecdotes and to post them here on the blog this summer. Accordingly, I invited several distinguished poet friends to participate, and their responses follow. Here’s hoping we can beat the heat with some laughter. Enjoy!

P.S. A related prompt for this week follows the anecdotes.


From Laura Boss
Award-Winning Poet, Teacher, Founding Editor/Publisher of Lips Magazine, Poetry Series Director, Dodge Foundation Poet

In July 1988, I was on a 10-day reading tour of Sicily to celebrate my book On the Edge of the Hudson winning an American Literary Translators Association Award. The other featured reader was Maria Mazziotti Gillan for her ALTA award winning Luce D'Inverno. It was an exhilarating and heady tour that combined numerous poetry venues as well as TV appearances throughout the country. Billboards like circus posters with our names greeted us, as did huge audiences in each city we visited—a heady experience for two American poets. But at Caltanisetta things changed. After our readings to a responsive audience, there was a question and answer period. I was startled and upset when one of the men in the audience angrily asked me if I took my last name “Boss” to dominate men. As calmly as I could, I responded that Boss was my former husband's name, the last name of my sons, and I had always written under the name “Laura Boss.” And although that man didn't seem convinced, at the reception that followed he asked me (despite his gold wedding band) if I'd like to go on a date with him. Even now, when Maria and I reminisce about our ALTA reading tour in Sicily, we always smile when we remember that male poet with his ironic sexist views.


From Edwin Romond
Award-winning Poet, Teacher, Dodge Foundation Poet, Playwright, Composer


I think all poets appreciate a generous, maybe even flattering introduction when they are giving a reading. My story is not about one of those! 

A few years ago I accepted an invitation to read at a PTA meeting and the host introduced me as follows: “None of Mr. Romond’s poems rhyme but some are still good.”


From Michael T. Young
Award-Winning Poet, NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Recipient, Blogger

Shortly after my first chapbook came out in the mid 90s, I moved to a new apartment and got a new telephone number. The first week I lived there my phone rang and someone at the other end asked, “Is Kate Light there?” I said, “No, but do you mean Kate Light, the poet?” He said, “Yes, I’m trying to sign up for her workshop.” I said, “Well, I know Kate and can get a message to her for you. My name is Michael Young.” The caller said, “Michael T. Young?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I saw your book at St. Marks Bookstore.” We had a good laugh and talked a little. He told me the phone number he had for Kate and it turned out her phone number was only one digit different from my new phone number. The man simply misdialed resulting in one of the oddest coincidences in my life.


From Catherine Doty
Award-winning Poet, Teacher, Artist/Cartoonist, Dodge Foundation Poet, NEA Fellowship Recipient

Many, many years ago my poem, “Home for a While,” became my first published piece. I was elated, of course, and when I held the journal at last, I flew through the pages searching for the poem that would change my life and, perhaps (youth speaking), the lives of my future fans. And there it was: “Home for a Whale.” 

According to Oscar Wilde: “A poet can survive anything but a misprint.”


From Tom Plante
Poet, Award-winning Editorial Writer, Public Information Writer/Editor, Founding Editor/Publisher Exit 13 Magazine, Fanwood (NJ) Arts Council Co-Director

Back in my Berkeley days (1973-86) when I was reading at lots of venues in the San Francisco Bay area, I interviewed Gregory Corso for the “Berkeley Barb” newspaper. In the interview, Gregory recalled advising the poet Bob Kaufman to be funny. "Thus his humor spared him," Corso said. I was scraping along in those days and thought I was making a dent in the scene. But it only took a visit to friends in Oregon to put things in perspective. My friend wrote a brief human interest story about my visit and submitted it to her weekly newspaper. The article appeared the day before my return trip to Berkeley. Somehow in the re-typing I became “Tome Plant, reporter for the Berkeley Barge.” 


From Donna Baier Stein
Award-winning Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer, Founding Publisher of Tiferet Journal, Workshop Leader

The first poem I ever published came out in an anthology called Kansas City Outloud, edited by John Ciardi. The poem is called "Easy Marks" and was written after I read Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes

On a whim, I mailed the poem to Bradbury. Imagine my astonishment when I received a letter back from him. That letter still hangs, framed, in my office, decades later. He told me he was working on the movie that would soon be out (starring Jason Robards). The top 2/3 of his stationery was filled with an intricate, sci fi drawing. I thought for decades he had drawn it himself until I showed it to a friend who identified the work. Unfortunately I now can't remember who the artist was! But here's the picture. If anyone recognizes it, I'd love to be reminded.


From Bob Rosenbloom
Award-winning Poet, Poetry Series Director, Attorney, Former Stand Up Comic

Before I became a poet, I was a standup comic and wrote jokes, something that’s often felt in my poems. Here are a couple of those early writing experiences.

Paul Colby, the owner of The Other End, his successor club to The Bitter End, asked me to meet him to discuss the possibility of working as a house comic and developing a routine. He had seen me on his talent showcase. When I went to meet him, there were two other guys at the table. I was willing to wait but he motioned for me to sit with them. Those two guys were pitching a movie scene for him and didn't notice me at all. As it turned out, those two guys were Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, which I didn’t realize until halfway through my burger deluxe.

Joan Rivers bought unsolicited material, at ten dollars a joke. I went backstage after one of her shows to have her autograph her then current book. When I reached her in line, I told her she bought six of the twenty jokes I sent to her in three mailings. She asked me to tell one of the jokes. I did, and she said she didn't recognize it. 


From Deborah LaVeglia
Award-winning Poet, Workshop Leader, Long-time Director of Poetswednesday (the longest running poetry series in NJ)

I was talking to poets in the audience after a reading I did. I had commented on my body in one of the poems that I'd read. So, a young guy, in his early 20s, made a point of telling me how it annoyed him that women always write about their bodies in poems. Then he got up in the open and read a very long poem about his girlfriend's body. Haha! I wrote a poem about it. 

From Joe Weil
Poet, Musician, Professor at Binghamton University-SUNY, Appeared on Bill Moyer's PBS documentary, "Fooling With Words," Dodge Poet, Poetry Series Director, Journal Founder and Editor

A number of years ago, I was one of the Dodge poets at the East Brunswick Poetry Festival. This was maybe my second year as a Dodge poet in the schools. At that time, they bussed students in from the whole of Middlesex county, so there were a couple of hundred kids in the auditorium—maybe more—and I believe we were reading with Thomas Lux as headliner. It was my turn to go up on stage and read. Just prior to that moment, I'd been to the men's room. I guess I was in a hurry. I started reading my poem "Fists" and heard: "Psst, psst," an urgent hissing whispering sound coming from one of my fellow poets below me on stage. Instinct told me to look down. I'm short wasted and so I often buy longer shirts to tuck them in better. In this case, the shirt saved me from indecent exposure. At least a half a foot of green shirt was sticking out from my zipper. I looked down. I looked up. Lots of laughs. I turned my back to the audience, tucked myself in, and continued with the poem. I sold 28 books that day. I think it was the "ice skater falls but smiles and completes her routine" effect. Works every time.


From Maria Mazziotti Gillan
Award-Winning Poet, Founder/Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, founding editor of the Paterson Literary Review, director of the Creative Writing Program and Professor of Poetry at Binghamton University-SUNY

When I think about the funny things that have happened to me in my life as a poet, I think one of the funniest things was also horrifying and painful. I'll let you judge.

In 2010 I went to the University of Rome to read my poems and I had a wonderful experience, warm and welcoming. My daughter came with me and we left Rome for Florence where I had two reading scheduled, one in the oldest reading series in Florence, so old they even had invitations on parchment paper. I was very excited and when we checked into the hotel, I decided I would take a shower. I admit that I never saw a shower that looked quite like that. It was in the middle of the room and the grab bars were on the walls, which were about 10 feet away! In order to reach them I would've needed to have very long arms. The shower had bifold doors, which only attached at the top. I stepped in and turned on the shower but in another second the showerhead fell off! When it did, it hit me on the head, and water sprayed the entire bathroom. My daughter called out from our room. "Mom there's water rushing out of the bathroom. What did you do?"

Though I'm short, I managed to shove the showerhead back on and turn the shower off. Unfortunately, the floor was marble so when I stepped out of the shower I slid across the room and landed on my face and shoulder. I didn't know a broken nose would result in so much blood, but it sure did, and I quickly realized I had broken my shoulder as well. My daughter called an ambulance and the EMT s arrived. They were two very thin and not very tall men who first asked me to get up. I informed them I was in too much pain—I could not move. They conferred in Italian. I suppose they thought that I could not understand them. I understood them perfectly as they commented on my weight, which they thought was unbelievably high. They finally went back to the ambulance and came back with a metal contraption that they could slide under me. It looked like a torture device. It had big metal teeth, and they slid one side under me and then the other side until two sets of teeth linked. The stretcher could not fit in the elevator as Italian elevators tend to be quite small. So, they proceeded to carry me down three flights of curving stairs, cursing the whole time over how heavy I was and having to stop every five or six steps to put me down. Every time they stopped the teeth of the stretcher caught my rear end, and I screamed.

By the time we got to the lobby, I had attracted quite an audience and, because I moaned and screamed, I saw people's faces looking at me in alarm. Since I was naked, I was very happy that my daughter had found a towel to throw over me and that the ambulance people tucked a blanket around me.

Once in the ambulance the two EMTs kept up their conversation about my weight, still oblivious to the fact that I understood every word they were saying. Finally, I told them but they kept on anyway. Apparently they didn't believe that I understood them but, then, one of the EMTs looked at me and took my hand and held it the rest of the way to the hospital, an act of kindness that managed for me to erase their conversation about my weight, which in retrospect was quite funny. It was like being caught in some Lou Costello movie full of pratfalls and misunderstandings.


This Week’s Prompt:

For your prompt this week, how about writing a funny poem. It may be based on something that happened to you or something you make up, and may be tongue-in-cheeky, absurd, witty, droll, or just plain goofy. Whether you go for guffaws or simple smiles, go for some fun.


1. You can build your poem around a story. For an amusing story poem, you might try telling something funny that happened to you. You can also write about a person (historical, sports, or family), place, thing or situation that’s humorous (for example, a funny-looking animal like the platypus, a particular food that you either love or dislike intensely, part of the human anatomy such as the funny bone or the nose, a crazy day at school or work, a dialogue with someone).

2. You might want to try a parody—a take-off on an already existing poem that you make humorous by keeping the form but changing the language.

3. You might enjoy including silly rhymes; sometimes, forced rhymes (like those Dr. Seuss created) are the funniest. You might even try a funny rap poem.

4. Try writing a limerick. Note: A limerick is a humorous poem consisting of five lines. The first, second, and fifth lines must have seven to ten syllables while rhyming and having the same verbal rhythm. The third and fourth lines only have to have five to seven syllables, and have to rhyme with each other and have the same rhythm. See example below.

          There was a young lady whose chin
          Resembled the point of a pin:
          So she had it made sharp,
          And purchased a harp,
          And played several tunes with her chin.

                                         —By Edward Lear

5. If a limerick doesn’t appeal to you, consider writing a funny haiku or other form poem (if you’re feeling really ambitious, you night even try a funny sonnet, sestina or villanelle). If you have a form in mind that you don’t know a lot about, you can always look the form up online and read some examples before writing.

6. A funny list poem can be enjoyable (and easy) to create. “Sick” by Shel Silverstein is a good example:

7. Try a humorous ode (for example, “Ode on a Dill Pickle”).

8. A witty prose poem might be fun to write (remember that a prose poem is written in paragraphs and isn't bound by lineation or stanzas).

Examples of Funny Poems by Famous Poets: