Saturday, May 19, 2018

Prompt #313 – Metaphors for Ourselves

The continued existence of wildlife and wilderness 
is important to the quality of life of humans.
—Jim Fowler

One morning last week, my neighbor found a baby deer curled up next to his front steps (pictured below). A little later I found another baby deer on the other side (pictured above). Both babies seemed alert and well. There were no signs of illness or injury. I did some research and called a baby wildlife rescue organization in Blairstown, NJ. They strongly advised us to leave the babies alone and to keep an eye out for the mama. Often, a mama deer will often leave her babies in what she considers a safe spot and come back later to feed and care for them (often many hours later). If there’s more than one baby, the mom will separate them to limit the chances of a predator getting both. 

Throughout the day, I checked on the babies from a distance and saw the mama moving from one neighbor’s yard to another. She finally came back for the larger of the two babies (moving it to my neighbor’s back yard and lying on the grass while the baby “danced” around her). A couple of hours later, she came back for the smaller fawn. What an amazing gift to see those precious babies and how their mom cared for them. I live in a small, suburban town (1.342 mi²), where houses are close. It saddens me more than I can say to see how these beautiful and dignified creatures habitat has been so taken over by people that they are reduced to having their young on front lawns. 

This experience, of course, led me to read about nature and, specifically about wildlife. Among the poems and articles, I read that there are times when we see animals as furred and four-legged metaphors for ourselves. Many poets have written powerfully and touchingly about wildlife. I thought that this week we might try writing related poems of our own.


1. Think about the natural world and its creatures. What feelings or memories do your thoughts bring forward?

2.  How do you feel about wildlife? Does the idea of animals in peril and vanishing species trouble you or hurt your spirit?

3. Try writing a poem about nature, a particular species of animal, an endangered species, or wildlife with which you've had a personal experience.

4. Write a poem in which you use personification and write from a wild animal's point of view.

5. Write a poem in which you tell how the natural world and its creatures touch, enhance, or expand your own sense of being.

6. Write a poem about a species of wildlife that you'd like to be.

7. Write a poem about the quote by Jim Fowler above or the Albert Einstein quote below.


1. Write from your heart, but don’t get carried away by sentimentality.

2. Make your poem accessible and engaging.

3. Use fresh language, concreteness, and establish a strong emotional core.

4. Don’t rely on abstractions

5. Avoid clichés. 

6. Show without telling.

"A Night with a Wolf –  

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

The Animals by Edwin Muir

They do not live in the world,
Are not in time and space.
From birth to death hurled
No word do they have, not one
To plant a foot upon,
Were never in any place.

For with names the world was called
Out of the empty air,
With names was built and walled,
Line and circle and square,
Dust and emerald;
Snatched from deceiving death
By the articulate breath.

But these have never trod
Twice the familiar track,
Never never turned back
Into the memoried day.
All is new and near
In the unchanging Here
Of the fifth great day of God,
That shall remain the same,
Never shall pass away.

Our task must be to free ourselves … 
by widening our circle of compassion 
to embrace all living creatures 
and the whole of nature and its beauty. 

—Albert Einstein

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Prompt #312 – The Aubade

An aubade is a morning love song or poem (unlike a serenade, which is specific to evening). It may also be a poem about the separation of lovers at dawn. By some definitions, the aubade evokes daybreak or is a poem about beginnings. Aubades may be charming or pensive but may take on darker tones as well.

John Donne's poem "The Sunne Rising" is an example of the aubade in English. Aubades were written periodically into the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 20th century, the focus of the aubade shifted from a kind of courtly love context into the more nonrepresentational theme of lovers parting at daybreak.

This week, let’s try writing aubades: a morning love song (not necessarily romantic love for this exercise), a poem about lovers separating, a poem that evokes daybreak, or a poem in which dawn or parting are key to the poem’s emotional center.


1. Start by defining your subject and the type of aubade you’d like to write.

2. Think of your aubade as a dialogue between two people, as address to the dawn, or perhaps someone (you, the poet) speaking to one of dawn’s heralds (birds, the sun, morning shadows on your bedroom wall)

3. Some aubades rhyme, but there’s no rule that says they must. Try writing a free verse aubade.

4. Think about what things arrive with the dawn: the responsibilities of the day such as childcare, work, housework, shopping, meal preparation, etc. How can you incorporate some poetic tension with attention to these?

5. Don’t limit yourself to romantic love.

6. Think about how morning brings with it the dissolution of dreams. What does the alarm clock signal other then waking up? What remains of our dreams when morning comes?

7. Think about someone you love leaving (for work, other commitments, breaking up) in the morning.

8. Be creative. Your aubade doesn’t have to be based in fact.


1. Start writing and let your aubade take you where it wants to go. It’s okay to start writing about one subject and then shift to another.

2. Write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).

3.. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).

4. Limit use of adjectives. Remember that your concept is often already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.

4. Avoid clichés (and, especially avoid abstractions and sentimentality).

5. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form, and meaning.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Prompt # 311 – From Story to Poem

We all have stories to tell—events in our lives that have led to insights we’d like to share—and some of us would love to tell those stories through the medium of poetry. The question is: How do we get from story to poem?

Narrative poetry (poetry that tells a story) is based in the traditions of storytelling and folk tales. It always has characters and a plot—there is action. A narrative poem usually tells a story using a poetic theme. Our current understanding of narrative poetry has traveled past epics and ballads and has evolved into more contemporary forms. Foremost today, the poet should be aware of exactly what he or she wishes to convey—to understand the purpose of telling the story and what he or she wants to share with readers beyond the story itself. In other words, the story itself becomes a taxicab for something other. A narrative poem should lead to something more than the obvious story—there should always be an implied or suggested meaning that goes beyond the personal story in a narrative poem. You’re not just going to tell a story about how your Auntie Martha lost the pearl necklace you hoped to inherit—your narrative poem should lead readers to the larger meanings and associations of loss and expectation. There’s a big difference between simply telling a story and writing a poem.

Narrative poems sometimes fail to move beyond the anecdotal and simply recount an experience that the poet has had. A great personal narrative, though, has to be larger and more meaningful than an anecdotal poem. In other words, a great personal narrative can’t rest on its anecdotal laurels and must do more than simply tell a story. It needs to approach the universal through the personal, it needs to mean more than the story it tells, and the old rule “show, don’t tell” definitely applies.

Part I Guidelines

1. Think about a story that you really want to tell: something that happened to you or to someone you know, a memory that haunts you, a family legend, or a dream.

2. Make a list (or do a free write) in which you record the important details of the story you want to write. Include the main “characters” and a bit about their relationships to one another.

3. You might find it helpful to make a chronological list of what happened.

4. Remember that the “story” you tell should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

5. The narrator of the poem doesn’t have to be you—you have the option of writing in the first, second, or third person. Consider a variety of perspectives before deciding.

6. Decide upon the approach you’d like to take in your personal narrative: chronological, flashback, or reflective.

Chronological—structure your poem around a time-ordered sequence.
Flashback—write from a perspective of looking back.
Reflective—write thoughtfully or “philosophically” about the story you tell.

Part II Guidelines

1. Start with a “bang” by beginning with a startling detail (or part of your story). A good narrative poem doesn’t have to begin at the beginning of the story. Move the story forward (and look back) from whatever your “point of entry” may be (you may even start with the end of the story).

2. Avoid explanations—it isn’t necessary to explain your story.
3. Work on creating striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form, and meaning.

4. Keep your poem on the shorter side. That will mean leaving out all unnecessary details.

5. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that aren’t essential (articles and conjunctions too).

6. Mark Twain wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. … They give strength when they are wide apart.” As you work on your narrative poem, think about which adjectives your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)

7. Avoid clichés, abstractions, and sentimentality—stick to your story.

8. Overstatement and the obvious are tedious in narrative poems. Don’t ramble on—tell your story, but leave your readers room to enter the poem, and leave a bit of mystery for your readers to think about. (You don’t have to give all the details of the story, just those that will enhance the meaning—your readers don’t have to know everything you know about the story, just the most important bits.)

9. End with an image, not an explanation. It isn’t necessary to tie your narrative up in a neat package. Your dismount should be just as impactful as your first line.

10. When you feel your narrative poem is close to completion, put it aside for a day or two and then come back to it for editing. During revision, it’s usually better to take out than to add. Find the lifeless parts of your narrative and let them go. Be aware that telling a story and arranging it in lines and stanzas aren’t enough to make it a poem.


    "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest L. Thayer
    "The Walrus and the Carpenter" by Lewis Carroll
    "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe
    "The Legend of Gelhert" by Josie Whitehead
    "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" by Robert Browning
    "The Holy Grail" by Lord Alfred Tennyson
    "Ave Maria" by Alfred Austin
    "On Turning Ten" by Billy Collins


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Prompt #310 – National Poetry Month 2018

Established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month begins on April 1st and runs through April 30th.  This month-long celebration of poetry is held annually “to widen the attention of individuals and the media to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.” During April, poets, poetry lovers, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, and schools throughout the US celebrate poetry.

One of the challenges of NPM is to read and/or write a poem every day. Over the years since I started this blog, every National Poetry Month I’ve included various example poems, inspiration words and phrases, and selected lines from well-known poems to serve as “mentors” for interested blog readers. Sometimes, getting the right “jumpstart” can be challenging, and a good example can advise and guide both imagination and sensibility, take some of the risk out of getting started, and encourage poets to take risks in their own work.

This year for National Poetry Month, you’ll find thirty quotes (one for each day in April) about poetry by well-known thinkers and poets, ancient to modern. I’ve “collected” quotes about poetry for a long time, and it’s wonderful to share some of them with you here on the blog.

My idea is for you to read a quote each day, think about it, possibly locate and read a poem by the poet, and then write a poem of your own that’s inspired by either the quote or by the poem. Alternatively (and this could be fun), you might try writing your own quote about poetry. This is a little different from other years, and I hope you enjoy the process.

As always, your sharing is welcome,
so please be post your thoughts and poems as comments!

Regular weekly prompts will resume in May.
In the meantime, I wish you a wonderful and poetry-filled April!
Happy National Poetry Month!


1. Let your reactions to the quotes surprise you. Begin with no expectations, and let your poems take you where they want to go.

2. Give the quotes your own spin, twist and turn them, let the phrases trigger personal responses: pin down your ghosts, identify your frailties, build bridges and cross rivers, take chances!

3. Keep in mind that writing a poem a day doesn’t mean you have to “finish” each poem immediately. You can write a draft each day and set your drafts aside to work on later.

4. Whatever you do this month, find some time (a little or a lot) to enjoy some poetry!

Let the poeming begin!

April 1: Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular. —Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC)

April 2: Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history. —Plato (BC 427-BC 347)

April 3: Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the sky. —Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

April 4: If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. —Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

April 5: Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those we have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape from these things.  —T. S. Eliot  (1888-1965)

April 6: Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does. —Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

April 7: Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself. He who has a contempt for poetry, cannot have much respect for himself, or for anything else. —William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

April 8: Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. —Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

April 9: It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.  —W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

April 10: Any healthy man [woman] can go without food for two days—but not without poetry. —Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

April 11: A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom. —Robert Frost (1875-1963)

April 12: Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. —Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792- 1822)

April 13: Out of our quarrels with others we make rhetoric. Out of our quarrels with ourselves we make poetry. —William Butler Yeats (1865- 1939)

April 14: My poetry, I should think, has become the way of my giving out what music is within me. —Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

April 15: Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. —Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

April 16: There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it. —Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)

April 17: Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. —Robert Frost (1875-1963)

April 18: Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity—it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.” — John Keats (1795-1821)

April 19: Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. —William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

April 20: Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. —T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

April 21: Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. —Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

April 22: Poetry is life distilled. —Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

April 23: I define poetry as celebration and confrontation. When we witness something, are we responsible for what we witness? That’s an on-going existential question. Perhaps we are and perhaps there’s a kind of daring, a kind of necessary energetic questioning. Because often I say it’s not what we know, it’s what we can risk discovering. —Yusef Komunyakaa (1947- )

April 24: Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that. —Mary Oliver (1935- )

April 25: If poetry and the arts do anything, they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness. —Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

April 26: I’m a great believer in poetry out of the classroom, in public places, on subways, trains, on cocktail napkins. I’d rather have my poems on the subway than around the seminar table at an MFA program. —Billy Collins (1941- )

April 27: Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone. —Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919- )

April 28: I think that were beginning to remember that the first poets didn’t come out of a classroom, that poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, “Ahhh.” That was the first poem. —Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

April 29: Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful. —Rita Dove (1952-)

April 30: Poetry is everywhere; it just needs editing. —James Tate (1943-2015)

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Prompt #309 - What Wishes Are

When we were children, wishes were part of our immediate reality, and believing that our wishes would come true was easy. You may remember blowing on a dandelion puff and making a wish, or reciting “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.” What happens to our wishes when we grow up? We still have them, right? This prompt is about your wishes.


Write a poem ...

1. based on a wish for more time with someone (recall the words in Jim Croce’s song: “If I could make days last forever / If words could make wishes come true / I'd save every day like a treasure and then, / Again, I would spend them with you.”),

2. that “thinks about” a wish to see or spend time with someone you lost touch with years ago,

3. that includes a wish to see/talk to someone no longer living,

4. based on a wish you had as a child,

5. about a wish that was realized and lost,

7. that deals with a wish you know will never come true,

8. that explores the old caveat: “Be careful what you wish for…”


1. The poet Robert Lowell once wrote, “A poem is an event, not the record of an event.” Work toward making your poem an “event.”

2. Be specific, avoid general terms, phrases, and statements. Images aren’t about abstractions or philosophical musings. Rather, they evoke the meaning and truth of human experiences in perceptible and “actual” terms.

3. Remember that when it comes to imagery, the “wow factor” lies in language that is unexpected and deceptively simple.

4. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).

5. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles and conjunctions too).

6. The great author Mark Twain once wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” This is especially true in poetry. So ... as you work on a poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)

7. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).

8. Be wary of incorporating too many details—be sure to leave room for your readers to enter and experience the poem in their own ways.

9. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.

10. Try incorporating anaphora. Anaphora is a kind of parallelism that happens when single words or whole phrases are repeated at the beginning of lines. Shakespeare was fond of anaphora and used it often (in “Sonnet No.66,” he began ten lines with the word “and”). Anaphora can give a sense of litany to a poem and can create a driving rhythm that intensifies a poem’s emotion. In this prompt, perhaps you can use anaphora to intensify the meaning and implications of your wish.



Saturday, March 17, 2018

Prompt #308 – Ancestors

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!  
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 

This is always a special day for me – a day to think about my Irish ancestors and to re-read the works of the Irish poets I love most. The earliest surviving poems in Irish date to the sixth century, and Ireland has produced many poets including Lathóg of Tír Chonaill, Thomas Kinsella, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Muldoon, Eavan Boland, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Mary O’Donoghue, Elaine Feeney, and Noelle Vial. Below are some poems by a few (just a few!) of my favorite Irish poets.

 Bain sult as (enjoy)!

I've visited Ireland several times. (And, yes, I've kissed the Blarney Stone – Blarney Castle is pictured above!) The first trip was a kind of going home – not for myself but for my great grandfather Patrick Kenny who brought my family to America in 1889 and for my dad who never got to Ireland. Ancestors, family, and homeland are traditional and recurrent themes in Irish poetry. We went green in an earlier prompt, so this week let’s adopt an Irish-type theme and write poems about our various ancestries, our different nationalities, our people – our “roots.”

Some Ideas:

1. Write a poem about the country from which your ancestors came.
2. Write a poem about your ancestors.
3. Perhaps you’ve come to this country from another. Write a poem about making the decision to leave the country of your birth and to settle in a new country. Or, write a poem about your homeland.
4. Write a ballad about one of your ancestors (or a current family member).
5. Alternatively, you just might want to write a poem about St. Patrick, shamrocks, Guinness, Irish Wolf Hounds, or something else that’s wonderfully Irish, whether you’re Irish or not!

Sample Poems:

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Last Call for Poetry Contest Entries

There are still several days left to enter the Carriage House Poetry Contest!

Any style, any length, as long as you mention a tree or trees. 
Your poems needn't be purely about trees! 
The judge will look for some "tree reference" 
(actual tree, metaphor, symbol).
Please check last week's post for the guidelines!

Your entries are all welcome!

The deadline is March 15, 2018