Saturday, March 25, 2017

Prompt #276 – When Seasons Change


Although there are still patches of snow on the ground here in central New Jersey, the snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are in bloom. The hyacinths are above ground, and there are leaf buds on many of the trees, including the lilac in my backyard. Mornings dawn to bird songs—the twittering and chattering in marked contrast to winter’s silence.  There’s an ineffable softness in the air (even though it’s still cold outside) that seems to be lifted by fragrances about to come. So much of what seems magical about springtime is measured by the return of things that have been absent. That thought struck me when, earlier today, I discovered the following poem by thirteenth century mystical poet Jelaluddin Rumi.

The Music We Are
     By Rumi

Did you hear that winter is over? The basil
and the carnations cannot control their

laughter. The nightingale, back from his
wandering, has been made singing master

over the birds. The trees reach out their
congratulations. The soul goes dancing

through the king's doorway. Anemones blush
because they have seen the rose naked.

Spring, the only fair judge, walks in the
courtroom, and several December thieves steal

away. Last year's miracles will soon be
forgotten. New creatures whirl in from non-

existence, galaxies scattered around their
feet. Have you met them? Do you hear the

bud of Jesus crooning in the cradle? A single
narcissus flower has been appointed Inspector

of Kingdoms. A feast is set. Listen: the
wind is pouring wine! Love used to hide

inside images: no more! The orchard hangs
out its lanterns. The dead come stumbling by

in shrouds. Nothing can stay bound or be
imprisoned. You say, “End this poem here,

and wait for what's next.” I will. Poems
are rough notations for the music we are.

I thought this might be a good week to write about changing seasons. I do know that for some blog readers the seasonal change right now is just the opposite of what I’m experiencing (spring here and autumn for you). Whether your new season is spring or autumn, the challenge is for you to translate the sights, sounds, smells, and impressions of your new season into written language—that is, into a poem.


1. Begin with a list in which you note some things about the changing season that are meaningful to you.

2. Begin thinking in terms of images (especially nature images).

3. List some images that pertain to light or darkness, to sounds unique to the new season, and to anything that you relate specifically to the season you’re leaving and the season you’re entering. Watch out for clichéd images. Examine your proposed images carefully and note any phrases or lines that seem familiar or general. Work to create images that are striking and fresh—distinctive and different. Think in terms of similes, metaphors, and other types of figurative language, and how you can use these to enhance your images.

4. After listing for a while, read what you’ve written and sift through to see what might work together to make a poem.

5. Begin your poem as Rumi began his by noting that the previous season is over.

6. Using Rumi’s poem as a model, begin writing your own poem.


1. Emphasize awareness in your poem (sensory awareness in particular—work through your senses).

2.  Observe the usual caveats (what I call my “high five”):

A.   Avoid the passive voice.
B.    Eliminate “ing” endings wherever you can.
C.    Limit use of adjectives.
D.   Avoid prepositional phrases when you can.
E.    Get rid of articles (a, an, the) as much as possible.

3. Be aware of the complexities in our relationship to, within, and outside of the natural world.

4. Be generous with caesuras (pauses). Allow the unspoken silences of the poem their equal time. Sometimes the best part of the poem is what is left unsaid. You can create pauses with dashes, parentheses, spacing, and line breaks.

5. Make connections. Create revelations. And ... bring your poem to closure with an unexpected dismount.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Prompt #275 – Memory & Meaning (8 Prompts)

“A poem is an event, not the record of an event.”
– Robert Lowell
I thought it might be interesting to offer several related prompts for you to use during the next couple of weeks, and below you will find eight ideas or prompts for poems that deal with memories. (Of course, if none of these works for you, feel free to let memories take your poems into places of their own!)

As you write, keep in mind that poetry is a “conversation” – a conversation with the heart, the soul, the earth and the stars, ourselves, and each other. We’re here to add our voices to this conversation. With these prompts you’ll have suggestions for recalling and defining what certain memories mean to you. Often, our most vivid autobiographical memories are of emotional events, which are likely to be recalled with greater clarity and in greater detail than less emotionally charged times. Memory is a kind of middle ground in which we meet and re-meet the things we have seen and done. When we write about memories, we decide what life experiences we choose to “converse” about and share.

Whichever prompts you choose, try to reflect on a specific past experience and write a poem based on your memory of it.

Guidelines & Tips:

Concentrate on images, sounds, and rhythms. Poetry is visual and sonic in impression.  

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).

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

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.)

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

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

Look into your poem deeply to identify its emotional center.

Think in terms of layered meaning. A poem should always “say” more that its words. Take your readers beyond the surface of simply reading. Create “line levels” that are compelling and lead to the deeper intentionality of your poem.

Be generous with caesuras (pauses). Allow the unspoken silences of the poem their equal time. Sometimes the best part of the poem is what is left unsaid. You can create pauses with dashes, parentheses, spacing, and line breaks.

Include a figure of speech or two. 

During the process of revision and editing,  condense and condense some more. While drafting and revising, find the lifeless part or parts of your poem and give them some vitality. Be wary, though, of adding. One of the best approaches to editing is to take out rather than to add.

Remember Robert Lowell’s words above, “A poem is an event, not the record of an event.” Don’t just record your memory; recreate the memory so that your poem becomes an event in itself.

Leave your readers with something to think about.

Prompt #1 – My Earliest Memory

What is your most vivid early memory? Re-create the experience in a poem.

Prompt #2 – The Way Things Were

Do you miss the way things used to be? Are there yesterday-elements (memories) that you wish were still part of your life? Think about things like your childhood, your hometown, your country, the world, seasons past, school days, family life, advancements in technologies, relationships – anything "then" – and write a poem about something you miss. (Pay attention to details but be careful not to overdo.)

You might write a list poem in which you list things from the past that you miss. Be sure to work with your list to diminish the obviousness of a simple inventory. Use some enjambments and include details. Bringing a list poem to closure can be a challenge. After creating your list, work on a “dismount” with a bit of punch.

Are there things you might have done in the past (could have/should have) that might have impacted the way things are now? Write a poem about things you should have, might have, could have done in the past.

Prompt #3 – My Favorite Age

The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been.

– Madeleine L'Engle

For this prompt, begin by looking back and thinking about a specific time in your life that you remember as especially good. How old were you? What wonder-filled quality did being that age have? Your poem may be about a particular experience or about being a certain age in general. Some things to consider: What made that age so special? What special things happened to you? Who were the important people in your life at that age? This week, time-travel back to an age of happiness and relive it in a poem.

Prompt # 4 – Guilt Shop

Are you haunted by a guilty memory? Visit your personal “guilt shop.” Take inventory. Walk up and down the aisles. Take your guilts down from the shelves and look at them. What’s their story? What did they mean to you in the past? What do they mean to you now? How can you speak/write the language of guilt? Write a poem about one of your guilts. Think mea culpa ... big guilt ... little guilt ... the guilt that won’t let go ...

Prompt #5 – No Place Like Home

In “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy only had to click her ruby heels three times while repeating, “There’s no place like home,” and there she was, back in Kansas. Going home may not be quite that easy for the rest of us, but poetry can be the way we click our heels to get there. Quite often, the journey is healing.

In poetry, home has been written as the “brick and mortar” of actual places and as places deep in our memories. A “home poem” may be about a place once shared with people who are no longer living.

For this prompt, dig deeply into your memory for the details of a home in which you once lived.

Here are some things to think about:

1. What memories do you have of a childhood home? 

2. Is there a place you’ve lived that was special to you? What made it special?

3. What happiness have you found in a particular home? What sadness? 

4. Is there anyone with whom you once shared a home and now miss? 

5. Can you think of something in your life for which “home” may be a metaphor? 

6. Is there a particular object (piece of furniture, painting, lamp, etc.) that evokes the feeling of a former home for you? 

7. How has a place you’ve lived been a “castle” for you? 

8. Is there a “haunted House” in your history (a home that haunts you in some way)? 

Prompt #6 – A Misty Memory

To remember something is to literally put it back together. Explore a hazy or difficult memory. What do you remember or not remember about an important event or time in your life? 

Prompt #7 – The Memory of a Loss

Write a poem about the loss of a loved one – family member, friend, pet.

Prompt #8 – To Remember or Not to Remember

What do you wish you could remember; what do you wish you could forget? What do you choose to remember or forget? Write a poem about something you wish you could forget, or about how you make the conscious decision not to be driven or hurt by certain memories. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Traditional, Small Press, and Self-Publishing

When I conduct poetry workshops, participants often ask about self-publishing and its relative merits and credibility.

Some poets want to create a book for a specific purpose or a limited market (family, friends, local buyers) and aren’t concerned with finding a major publishing house to print and promote their work. The traditional publishing route and the inability to secure a publisher may frustrate others. One plus for traditional publishing is that traditional publishers pay royalties for the right to publish books, they promote the books they publish, and they back their books with the “stamp” of their imprint.

Traditional publishing takes time, it’s usually a slow process of many months (sometimes years) between the acceptance of a book manuscript and the book's appearance in print. Self-publishing, especially with today’s technologies in place, is much faster. Self-publishing offers complete creative control, but it also means not having an editor and professional team to work with you.

Many major traditional publishers prefer to work with authors who have agents representing them and will normally ask you to sign a contract. Once you sign such a contract, your book essentially belongs to the publisher. It’s important to understand a contract’s copyright terms and what those terms will mean to you. If you self-publish, that isn’t something you need to worry about. And nowadays, there’s the additional self-publishing option of the e-book.

Traditional publishing almost always provides significant marketing assistance. If you self-publish, you will need to market your book on your own. With self-publishing, all monetary profits from the book are yours. Traditional publishers generally offer authors a profit percentage. That percentage is usually net, so discounts, returns, marketing costs, and overheads are taken off the total before your percentage is calculated. Royalty rates for traditional publishing normally range between 7% and 25%.

Some writers become so frustrated by dealings with publishing houses, that they consider a form of publishing known as "vanity publishing." This kind of publishing carries with it a giant caveat. In vanity publishing, authors pay a fee to have their books published. These publishers typically assume no financial risk at all and often offer little by way of book promotion—thus, they reverse the process of traditional publishing. You pay them to publish your book, and that's all they do. Their credibility ranking is low.

There’s another option: a wide range of small press or independent publishers who will publish poetry collections without charging a fee (unlike vanity publishers). These small press publishers often produce beautifully designed and elegant books that don’t cost the authors a cent (other than an initial, usually nominal, reading fee). Most often, small press publishers have high standards and publish good poets. These presses work with contracts—authors may agree to purchase a certain number of copies, or they may waive rights to royalties, but rights to the poems often remain with the authors. Small press publishers make it possible for relatively unknown poets to become known. Most of my own books have been published by small presses, and I love each one. No, I haven’t gotten rich on them, far from it, but the books are beautifully designed, I've had a fair amount of "say" in the design process, and I've even gotten some royalties. Importantly, the people behind the small presses have been wonderful to work with.

There is still another route, and that route is self-publishing. Self-publishing is exactly what the term suggests: an author publishes himself or herself at his or her own expense. However, the author also maintains total creative control and does not have to answer to anyone. There was a time when self-publishing meant working with a printer and spending a lot of non-writing time in manuscript preparation. Today, though, a range of computer programs enable authors to prepare their own manuscripts for publication electronically. This, paired with print-on-demand (POD) technologies and e-books, make book publishing much less expensive than it used to be.

It’s thought in some literary circles that self-publishing means an author couldn’t find a traditional publisher (including the prestige and validation that come with traditional publishing) to produce their work. This, of course, may be true. The general consensus seems to be that pursuing traditional publishing and small presses first is a good way to go. If neither of those work out, then investigating the pros and cons of self-publishing is definitely a choice open to poets. Vanity publishing should be avoided.

So … what does all of this mean to the typical “local” poet who has completed a book manuscript and would like to see the book published? Essentially, it means that you have options. You can try the larger publishing houses (especially if a “name” publisher is important to you); you can look for small press publishers who will work with you in producing and marketing your book; or, you can self-publish.

Is there a stigma attached to self-publishing? In some people’s estimation there is, but your book and its entry into the world depend largely upon your own definition of success, your personal situation, and your expectations.

I’m not an advocate of self-publishing, but I’m not against it either. Of course, it’s nice to have a big-name publisher who produces and promotes your book for you (but how many poets are that lucky?). For the most part, people look at a book’s cover design, the title, the author’s name, and possibly the “blurbs” on the back cover. Literary snobbishness aside, I don’t know many people who buy poetry books based on their publishers. (How many people walk into a bookstore and ask, “Do you have any poetry books published by Random House?”)

For most poets, working with small press publishers is a viable and very satisfying way to go, and self-publishing is an option that remains open. The conclusion is this: it’s your work, and it’s up to you to choose the publication path that works best for you. Weigh the alternatives, try a few submissions here and there and, if you don’t find a publisher for your book, you can always publish it yourself.

Time-honored Poets Who Self-Published

Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) had already gained fame for his work published in Tonson’s Poetical Miscellanies when he self-published a collection.

Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967) self-published poems and essays in 1904 with the financial assistance of his college professor.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822) paid for the publication of his first book.

E.E. Cummings (1894 – 1962) self-published a volume of poetry (financed by his mother) in 1935. On the half-title page, he listed thirteen publishers who had rejected the book, which ultimately became one of his classics.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) self-published collections that were financial and critical failures. In 1827, he paid printer Calvin F. S. Thomas to publish 50 copies of Tamerlane and Other Poems, a 40-page pamphlet-sized collection. The book didn't carry Poe's name; authorship was, “By A Bostonian.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861) self-published at age 14 when her father paid for publication of her epic narrative poem “The Battle of Marathon” as a gift for her 14th birthday.

Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) self-published his first collection, Three Stories and Ten Poems, during his first visit as a journalist in Paris (1923).

Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972) began self-publishing his poetry in Venice in 1908.

Louis L'Amour (1908 – 1988) self-published a book of poetry many years before he gained fame for his westerns.

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) self-published a book of poetry in 1881.

T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) self-published his first collection of poems.

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892) self-published 795 copies of his first collection Leaves of Grass.

Others Authors Who Have Self-Published:

Deepak Chopra
Gertrude Stein
Zane Grey
Upton Sinclair
Mark Twain
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Stephen Crane
Bernard Shaw
Anais Nin
Thomas Paine
Virginia Wolff
Rudyard Kipling
Henry David Thoreau
Benjamin Franklin
Alexandre Dumas
Beatrix Potter

Small Presses That Publish Poetry
Here are seven small presses that you might want to visit online (click on the press names). There are many others—I hope you’ll do some research and find out about them.

The Aldrich Press is an imprint company of Kelsay Books. We accept unsolicited manuscripts from accomplished poets year round. Authors are expected to be widely published in magazines and journals. (See Kelsay Books)

“Black Lawrence Press is an independent publisher of contemporary poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. We also publish the occasional translation from German. Founded in 2004, Black Lawrence became an imprint of Dzanc Books in 2008. In January 2014, we spread our wings and became an independent company in the state of New York. Our books are distributed nationally through Small Press Distribution to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and various brick and mortar retailers. We also make our titles available through our website and at various conferences and book fairs. Through our annual contests and open reading periods, we seek innovative, electrifying, and thoroughly intoxicating manuscripts that ensnare themselves in our hearts and minds and won’t let go.”

In 1968, C. W. “Bill” Truesdale founded New Rivers Press as an independent publishing house to provide a voice for new authors. Today, New Rivers Press honors Truesdale’s tradition with a dual mission: to connect the best new and emerging writers and storytellers from across Minnesota and the world with eager audiences and to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students interested in entering the publishing world after graduation.

“Red Hen Press, one of the few literary presses in the Los Angeles area, was founded in 1994 by Kate Gale and Mark E. Cull with the intention of keeping creative literature alive. Our focus as a literary press is to publish poetry, literary fiction, and nonfiction. Red Hen Press is committed to publishing work of literary excellence, supporting diversity, and promoting literacy in our local schools. We seek a community of readers and writers who are actively engaged in the essential human practice known as literature.”

Terrapin Books is a new small press, owned and operated by poet Diane Lockward, that specializes in poetry books. “Our intention is to publish books by individual authors, an occasional anthology, and a small number of craft books. We pay a generous royalty fee and provide each poet with 15 complimentary copies of his or her book. Our authors are able to purchase additional copies at a substantial discount. Our books are 6x9, paperback, color cover, and perfect bound with printed spine.”

Milkweed Editions

Just as the common milkweed plant is the site of metamorphosis for monarch butterflies, Milkweed Editions seeks to be a site of metamorphosis in the literary ecosystem. We take risks on debut and experimental writers, we invest significant time and care in the editorial process, and we enable dynamic engagement between authors and readers. We operate as a nonprofit to pursue these ends without overbearing financial pressure. And yet, though profits aren’t our primary focus, helping our authors succeed certainly is. Just so, since our founding in 1980, we’ve published over 350 books of literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and now have over four million copies in circulation. We believe that literature has the potential to change the way we see the world, and that bringing new voices to essential conversations is the clearest path to ensuring a vibrant, diverse, and empowered future.

Kelsay Books

“Kelsay Books is an independent literary press run by Karen Kelsay, an award winning poet, whose primary focus is to publish beautiful books in a timely manner. Four imprint companies have been established to accommodate a variety of published poets. We accept unsolicited chapbooks and full-length manuscripts year-round.”

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Prompt #274 – Where the Painting Stops and the Poem Begins

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog 
By Caspar David Friedrich (c. 1818)

Every now and then, I like to revisit ekphrasis (using other art forms as inspiration for poems)—we’ve done it before on the blog, and I thought it might be a nice time of year to relax and to write an ekphrastic poem.

Derived from the ancient Greeks, Ekphrastic poetry began when students learned to write poetry by focusing on the architecture and art in museums or grand public places. The form has interested poets of the past and has made a comeback in the last decade. Right now, it seems to be especially popular.

Ekphrasis usually includes, but is not limited to, the use of enargia. This term comes from classical rhetoric. It means to make an object appear lively before the reader’s eye. This usually happens through careful recreation of the visual artifact through verbal means, such as detailed description, use of sensory information, imagery, etc. In other words, ekphrasis normally attempts to visually reproduce the art object (i.e. painting) for the reader so the reader can experience the same effect or reaction as the poet. This is sometimes called “painterly” poetry.

Importantly, Ekphrastic poetry is more than mere textual description or verbal interpretation of visual art. Making an object (painting or other work of art) lively before the reader’s eye involves, in the best Ekphrastic poems, an emotional and perhaps even spiritual response to the work of art—achieved through written language.

Through the centuries of literary history, such poets as John Keats, in his poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (ceramic art rather than painting, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”), have experimented with Ekphrastic poetry. Robert Browning, in his poems “Fra Lippo Lippi” and “Andrea del Sarto,” created dramatic monologues in which painters muse to themselves about their paintings. Other poets who have worked with Ekphrastic poetry include:

William Carlos Williams – “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”
Maria Rainer Rilke – “Archaic Torso of Apollo”
Frank O’Hara – “Why I Am Not a Painter” 


1. Use the image above (click on it to see a larger view) or choose a work of art on your own (painting, sculpture, musical composition, photograph, etc.) and write a poem based on it.

2. Be sure to acknowledge the artwork somewhere in your poem (I like to do this at the beginning of the poem, just under the title).


1. Don’t just describe the artwork you’ve chosen; let the artwork be your guide and see where it leads you.  Relate the artwork to something else (a memory, a person, an experience, a place).

2. Some ways to approach your poem:
  • Speak directly to the artwork; that is, address the subject (or subjects) of the art
  • Write from the perspective of the artwork, or adopt the persona of the artwork itself (i.e., write as if you are the Mona Lisa.  
  • Write in the voice of the artist who created the artwork.
3. Work with strong images and, if you tell a story, be sure not to overtell it.

4. Think about including some caesuras (pauses) for emphasis, and leave some things unsaid—give your readers space to fill in some blanks.

5. Pose an unanswered question or go for an element of surprise. Let your poem take an interesting or unexpected turn based on something triggered by the artwork.

6. Look at the “movement” of the artwork you’ve chosen and try to represent that movement in your line and stanza breaks. For example, if a painting “moves” across the canvas, find a way to suggest similar movement in the way you indent and create line breaks.


Here’s an example from my book A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing at All:

Just Perhaps

(After Ophelia by John Everett Millais)

Buoyed by her dress, she barely breaks the water’s surface—arms outstretched, palms upturned. Pansies float above her skirt. There are daisies on the glassy stream, and, there (to the left, above her head), a bird on the pollard from which she jumped or fell. Broken willow, broken bough.

And just perhaps, as Hamlet’s mother said, she’s still alive and singing—see, her mouth is open, and her eyes; and just perhaps, she doesn’t know how close to death she is—or why this painting makes me think of you. Your death was not offstage the way Ophelia’s was (the ladder placed, the rope around your neck); nor was the way you parted from yourself, the silent swinging—only air beneath your feet.

Copyright © 2016 by Adele Kenny. All rights reserved. 
From A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing at All, Welcome Rain Publishers

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Prompt #273 – Building Bridges: The Puente

I've never been a very enthusiastic fan of most "form" poems, but I recently came across a form of poetry that really appeals to me. I thought I’d share it with you this week and hope that you like it as much as I do. It seems easy at first blush, but it’s really quite sophisticated and wonderfully challenging.

Called the “Puente,” this is a 3-stanza form created by James Rasmusson. The first and third stanzas have an equal number of lines, and the middle stanza has only one line, which acts as a bridge (puente in Spanish) between the first and third stanzas. The single-line stanza in the middle serves as the ending or closure for the last line of the first stanza and as the beginning for the first line of the third stanza. The first and third stanzas are related (they share a topical or thematic thread), but there can be a shift in content and emotion from the first to the third stanzas. There are no rhyme or line length requirements.

In the examples I found online written by James Rasmussen, the third line begins and ends with a tilde (~), but you may prefer to use either an en dash (–) or a longer em dash (—). Remember that with en and em dashes, there should be no space either before or after them.

Keep in mind that your first and third stanzas may have any number of lines as long as the number of lines in each is the same. There will always be a single line stanza (a "bridge") between them.


1. After you have some idea of topic and possible content, free write for a while. Jot down images and phrases as they occur to you.

2. Then, look over what you’ve written and begin to write a poem.

3. Because stanzas are integral to this form, work on creating two stanzas (1st and 3rd) that have the same number of lines.

4. Now, here’s the fun part: write a  second stanza in a single line that will serve as the closure line for your first stanza as well as the “opener” for the third stanza. Think in terms of how the one-line stanza relates to the 1st and 3rd stanzas and connects them in some way. This may be a bit tricky, and you may want to try several lines before deciding upon the one that you will include in your poem.

5. Capitalize and punctuate as you would in prose throughout your poem. Don’t use a capital to begin your middle line, and don’t end with a comma, semi-colon, colon, or terminal punctuation mark. (Please see the examples below.)


1. Remember that each of your two stanzas may have as many lines as you like as long as the line number is equal in both. Make sure your second stanza (one-line stanza) is powerful, evocative, and meaningful.

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

3. Challenge the ordinary, connect, reveal, surprise! And … remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains.

4. Understand that overstatement and the obvious are deadly when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t ramble on, and don’t try to explain everything. Your stanzas don’t have to contain a lot of lines. Often in poetry, less is more.

5. Bring your poem to closure with a dazzling dismount. (Be careful not to undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.)


Following is an example from the form’s originator, James Rasmussen, and then four samples from my own work. Take special note of the way the second stanza (middle, single-line stanza) creates a "bridge" (puente) between the first and third stanzas.


To Find a Better Life
By James Rasmussen

“I can’t read or write
but experience taught me
wrong from right”
were grandpa’s final words as Roberto
began his journey on the migrant trail

~to find a better life~

he’d suffer hunger, thirst
and blistered feet to
leave the Mixteca world
of the Zapotec to become
a stranger in a strange land.

Copyright © 2008 by James Rasmusson. All rights reserved.


By Adele Kenny

I have seen it in the small hills of a sleeping child's eyes,
in the pond after rain when water filled the edges with
something like light. I have felt it in the yellow petal
of a daffodil that touched my face like a tender palm;

—I have heard it in a sighing somewhere, gentle—

like my mother's breath in my ear before I was born.
And sometimes, when spring comes easy, I hear it in
something high, in a soft soprano, in the weeping
and warbling of something with wings.

Copyright © 2017 by Adele Kenny All rights reserved.


Seeley Road
By Adele Kenny

More rust on the iron gates, but here on the hill
things are mostly the same. A milk snake still
twists through the weeds; the thorn apple scratches
a side of the sky. As a child I came here often.
Once, I lay with a tombstone at my head and tried
to feel what death is like,

—my shadow lengthens across these stones—

and I think how shadows hold us, sober us,
tease memory with what refuses to be forgotten,
and bring us back to places we started from or
slept through. I think how shadows are cut from
another side of light like a string of paper dolls,
each one unfolding another.

Copyright © 2017 by Adele Kenny All rights reserved.

Tonight the Wind
By Adele Kenny

Tonight the wind huddles, murmuring
through pines that deepen and fringe
the sides of the valley. On the distant
hillside, a stand of poplars lifts the
tree line into stars. The creek's last
rush takes the maple grove, whirling,
flinging pieces of brighter seasons over
the falls. There is a faint or perhaps
remembered scent of wild mint.

 —a lingering sadness for what has gone—

It’s like this with change: none, innocent
or calculated, quick or slow, is easy.
Something is always left behind or washed
away; something lost remembered. But from
the great and gathering dark of every winter
there comes an unwary light that nothing will stop.
And I smile, not minding this cold rain that by
morning will thicken into snow, covering the earth
with a white and shameless expectancy.

Copyright © 2017 by Adele Kenny All rights reserved.