Saturday, July 21, 2018

Prompt #318 – Feeling Anaphoric

Summer always seems a good time for “re-runs” when I like to revisit some of the older posts from years past. I sometimes add ideas or guidelines for your enjoyment.

This prompt goes back to October 1, 2011 and deals with anaphora, a literary device based on repetition. Like a good bassline in a song, anaphora can drive the rhythm of a poem.

Anaphora, also called epanaphora, derives from the Greek for “a carrying up or back” and is characterized by repetition of single words or phrases. In poetry, anaphora occurs when several lines or successive clauses begin with the same word or phrase. 

Anaphora, arguably the oldest literary device, has its roots in Biblical Psalms used to emphasize certain words or phrases. Gradually, Elizabethan and Romantic writers brought this device into popular practice. Take a look at the following psalm:
 “O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
    Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
    My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?”

The repetition of the phrase “O Lord,” creates a spiritual sentiment. This is anaphora.

In poetry, there are times when using a word or phrase more than once weakens its impact; however, anaphora can raise the bar for repetition to create parallelism, enhance rhythm, intensify emotion, and strengthen sonic impression.

A good example of this is Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 66” in which ten lines begin with the word “and.”

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly – doctor-like – controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone. 


1. This week, try to write a poem in which you use anaphora. 

2. For starters, you may want to limit the poem to fifteen lines or less. 

3. With good anaphora the poet creates a kind of tension that is released into “wisdom” with a “punch” at the dismount.


1. Clearly, anaphora effects a poem’s sound and how it is read, sometimes creating a kind of chant or litany effect. There is, however, a fine line between heightened effect and boring reiteration—the trick is not to overdo. Very often less is more.


1. Emily Brontë’s "Remembrance" in which the opening phrase, “Cold in the earth” is repeated.

2. “The Tyger” by William Blake (repetition of “what”)
“What the hammer? what the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?”

3. “Birds of Passage” by Walt Whitman (repetition of “O”)
“O you daughters of the West!

O you young and elder daughters! O you mothers and you wives!

Never must you be divided, in our ranks you move united,

Pioneers! O pioneers!”

4. Whitman used anaphora extensively in his poems. Here’s an example:


Saturday, July 7, 2018

Prompt #317 - Diminishing Metaphor by Guest Blogger Joe Weil

As a follow up to prompt #316 by our guest blogger Joe Weil, 
I'm happy to share with you another post by Joe.

Diminishing Metaphor by Joe Weil

All metaphors and similes, as Robert Frost pointed out in an essay I read long ago, are inexact. Initially, their “just so-ness” (my clumsy term) seems infallible. With time, they grow dull, lose their power, start to unravel or even fade into common usage to such an extent that we are no longer aware of them as metaphors (for example I just mixed two metaphors and you probably didn’t notice). Metaphors and simile draw their power by pointing out the “correspondences” in essentially unlike things. Now how about diminishing metaphor?

A diminishing metaphor is a horse of a slightly different color in that it draws its effectiveness by being incongruous and slightly imprecise from the start, yet losing none of its evocative power. It is the metaphor of evocation beyond correspondence.

We know the diminishing metaphor (or simile) is a little off, but the inaccuracy seems just right. It’s as if Goldilocks had come to the porridge and said: “this porridge contains a weird ghost of nutmeg , but somehow that makes it just right.”

Such imprecision from the onset promotes a whole situational universe that can be, as with all incongruities, comic, ironic, or full of further, yet suggested rather than overt meaning. This is why the metaphysical poets used oxymoron, paradox, but more importantly, diminishing metaphor (John Donne’s “The Flea” is a case in point) as one of their main devices to build up the intellectual and mystical power of their poetry. This is a major part of modernity, of the darkly comic, of the ironic and, most of all, the surreal. Surrealism is not possible without incongruity—without laying unlike things side by side, and then letting the reader’s subconscious make the connection or, rather, the fruitful “disconnection” In fact, diminishing metaphors, what might be called the accuracy of the near miss, increases in potential force because of its slightly off kilter and incongruous nature. It is often a species of extended metaphor (meaning an action or situation built into the metaphor and carried on as an almost sub-form that parallels the text):

Let us go then you and I
when the evening is spread out against the sky
like a patient etherized upon a table

This is the classic example of diminishing metaphor, and it does a lot of things that more congruent yet less suggestive metaphors can do. First, it introduces the main theme of T. S. Eliot’s “Prufrock” (enervation or, what was then called “neurasthenia”) into the body of the poem via a subsidiary form (the extended simile). Second, it challenges “poetic” simile by associating evening (one of the favorite times for poets) with something surgical, drugged, etherized (contrast this with Wordsworth’s evening). This creates what the definition of diminishing metaphor calls a discrepancy between tenor (tone) and vehicle (the actual situation). There is something a little absurd and even ridiculous to all metaphor if truth be told, but diminishing metaphor heightens this slightly off kilter feeling. That’s why metaphors wake us up—the good ones at any rate, and why diminishing metaphors can lead us down a whole new trail of thought (a sort of necessary digression) that opens the poem out to varied ontologies. This is the power of perspectives by incongruity that Kenneth Burke mentioned. Most metaphors hide the incongruity by privileging the correspondence between tenor and vehicle. Diminished metaphor actually plays the incongruity up (the flea sucking the blood of the two lovers as a sign of them being one—a  flea!). You can get comical with this:

Her kiss is rain, not that cloud burst kind
but that all day steady pour that
keeps you curled up in the green light of the
living room, watching old movies,
one hand tucked between your knees,
the other on remote.

Yes, this is extended or Homeric metaphor but it is also off just enough to make it a diminishing metaphor. Her kiss becomes a day isolated and in doors—a day of perhaps contented indolence. It’s all a little fuzzy, but it seems to increase the understanding of her kiss and the power of it. Surrealists use diminishing metaphor by heightening the inaccuracy to the point of the inaccuracy having the irrational just so-ness of a dream. Paul Eluard:

The world is blue as an orange
No error the words do not lie
They no longer allow you to sing
In the tower of kisses agreement
The madness the love
She her mouth of alliance
All the secrets all the smiles
Or what dress of indulgence
To believe in quite naked.
The wasps flourish greenly
Dawn goes by round her neck
A necklace of windows
You are all the solar joys
All the sun of this earth
On the roads of your beauty.

“Sing in the tower of kisses, dress of indulgence, wasps flourish greenly” (Eluard). All these phrases are lovely, even beautiful without adding up to any precise or determined meaning. They are evocative rather than correspondent. One could just as easily call diminishing metaphor, evocative metaphor to distinguish it from those metaphors that emphasize correspondence. Note that these lines by Eluard are not extended similes or metaphors. Diminishing metaphors need not be extended. They just tend to be extended. The world is blue as an orange might make a child laugh: “An orange is not blue, silly!” But by saying this, we get a whole arc of color from blue to orange. We also get the delight of a more evocative inaccuracy. The hyper literal child might become furious that the world is blue as an orange. We must not be too literal and we must calm that child because if we allow that child too much free reign to be a hyper literal tyrant, poetry might lose its ability to miss the mark, and thereby, hit the bull’s eye.


1. Write a poem that does not worry so much about correspondence as evocation. Lean on an incongruity. If you can’t come up with a metaphor or simile, try to put unlike things together as in the following example.


War Poem

The sea whispers to the chefs at midnight.
Stars fondle their kite strings in the dark
The minstrel takes his fork and stabs
the yellow vegetables: squash, carrots,
Turnips. The yams sing songs he can no longer
utter. What strangled his voice—our voice?
We—the minstrels who do not sing,
seas that no longer whisper.
chefs who no longer cook.
Or perhaps, there was something in us:
Like a doll left in a child’s pool
at the end of the day—one leg missing
the other pointed at the moon risen
above the abandoned hospital.
Who knows?
Something in us left behind made crooked
—floating with the grass,
the whole of the sky reflected there.
And where have the children gone?
Home to eat or to the graveyards where their
mothers have become struck tuning forks
they ring on and on—one note, pure beyond all breaking.
Not a single glass shatters.


1. 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).

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

3. 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.)

4. Avoid clichés. Strive for originality (especially in your metaphors for this poem). Don't be afraid to take chances. (A bit of the surreal can be fun.)

5. Show, don’t tell—through striking metaphors.

6. If you take a risk, make it a big one; if your poem is edgy, take it all the way to the farthest edge.


Thanks again to Joe Weil!


Saturday, June 23, 2018

Prompt #316 - Aposiopesis - By Guest Blogger Joe Weil

Aposiopesis means becoming silent, but as a rhetorical device it implies tripping over your own words, cutting yourself off, halting the flow—the speaker being cut off either by the self, or by someone else. It happens far more in normal human speech than we'd think, and to master it can make you a better writer of scripts, but here, we are going to use it to make a poem: This is called “I Tried To.”


I Tried to

I tried to—oh damn
this is—
I tried to—you know
And then I thought
forget about it. I mean
it shouldn't be this—
Jesus do you always
have to chew
while I—
I'm sorry but it's like
you got
some small
in your cheek!
Anyway, I tried. I—
Jesus! Listen! I'm doing
the best I can.
You're impossible.
This is impossible.
Yes, everything's ok Mam, and
no ... no desert. Do you?
You can just bring the check.

Here, Aposiopesis creates the rhythm of halting speech, and it even implies the setting: two people seem to be sitting down to a meal. One never speaks. A third enters at the end, probably the waitress, and we never hear her question, but we can guess. We know the speaker is troubled, and annoyed by the other's “chewing.” The Aposiopesis creates a nice little shape to the poem as well. This is one of the possibilities for using an ancient rhetorical device in a free verse structure. Give it a shot.

Similar verbal phenomena to look up: non-sequitur, sentence fragments.

Poets who have used methods of Aposiopesis: Shakespeare in King Lear (and in other plays), Robert Creeley (in some respects, Creeley made an aesthetic out of it), Paul Celan in many of his poems that fragmented the German language. Many post modern poets, and poets in the modified New York school of poetry in Brooklyn use radical non-sequitur to create either surreal disconnects or a voice that is seemingly “ditzy.” You can hear this sort of feigned “ditzy” in many poets, but also in Indy scripts with “pixie” types—that so called “dream” girl who, in an earlier manifestation, was played to perfection by Carole Lombard and Jean Arthur in screwball comedies. Going from one thing to another can be construed as a kind of Aposiopesis.


1. In your poem, use aposiopesis by breaking off abruptly and leaving statements incomplete; that is, leave a sentence unfinished, so that the reader can determine his or her own meanings.

2. Use the example above to create a form/format for your own poem.

3. Sometimes a word is used to indicate something completely different from its literal meaning. Such as in this example, “Tis deepest winter in Lord Timon’s purse; that is, one may reach deep enough, and find little” (Timon of Athens, by William Shakespeare).
4. Sometimes a word is used to indicate something whose actual name is not used like, “A chair’s arm.”
5. Sometimes a paradoxical statement is used to create illogical strained metaphors. Such as, “Take arms against a sea of troubles.”

6. To create surprise, aposiopesis does not give information that the audience wants or expects to receive. This generates audience interest in the information.

7. Emotive aposiopesis does not finish a sentence due to an emotional outburst. This type of aposiopesis does not finish an idea to give a sense of something that’s beyond description, as in the case of an angry man who is so furious that he can’t even think of what he wants to do to express that anger. Example: If I catch up with you, I’ll, I’ll  – (the thought is left incomplete).

8. Abusio is a subtype of Aposiopesis, which results from the combination of two metaphors.


1. Try to stay away from long lines, remember that abrupt cut-offs are typical of Aposiopesis.

2. Remember, too, that the most effective Aposiopesis happens when the reader is able to figure out the thoughts that the poet has left unfinished.

3. Stay “conversational” without telling too much.


Many thanks to Joe Weil for this prompt!

Joe Weil is a professor teaching undergraduate and graduate creative writing at Binghamton University (SUNY). He has published numerous chapbooks and four full-length collections of poems, including A Night in Duluth, The Great Grandmother Light, and The Plumber’s Apprentice, all from NYQ Books. He also co-authored West of Home, with his wife, the poet Emily Vogel. Joe and Emily have two children, Clare and Gabriel.

A long-time poet with the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program, Joe Weil’s poems, reviews, essays and short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and journals. He appeared on Bill Moyers’ PBS documentary, “Fooling with Words,” and, in addition to teaching for the Dodge Foundation, he has been a featured reader at the Dodge Poetry Festival. With a long list of reading series and poetry events to his credit (including the Can Of Corn Poetry Series designed to generate food donations for the hungry and homeless), Joe has worked tirelessly to create non-competitive community among poets. The New York Times described him as “working-class, irreverent, modest, but open to the world and filled with a wealth of possibilities.”

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Prompt #315 – The Museum of ...

A museum is typically described as a building that contains and displays objects of specific and lasting interest. Imagine a museum that holds a vast array of unlikely things, surprising things, things you’d never expect to find in a museum collection. Imagine a collection of emotions or lost lovers. Imagine a display of people you’ve known. Imagine a depository of negative and positive things. Now imagine yourself a metaphor for museum. What things do you keep inside?

For this prompt, let’s focus on museums of the unusual, the fantastical, the unreal, as well as on museums of the real. That sounds like a tall order but, before you give up, consider the possibilities. Here's a chance for you to create your own museum, to work with metaphors, to dig deeply into any "collection" you'd like to create in a poem. So ... fill in the blank and make your museum!


1. Begin by creating a title. Here are some suggestions (feel free to use any one of these or to come up with one of your own):

The Museum of Unlikely Objects
The Museum of Places I’ve Been
The Museum of Broken Hearts
The Museum of People I Can’t Forget
The Museum of Things I Wish I’d Never Seen
The Museum of Lost Loves (or Lost Lovers)
The Museum of Turned Corners
The Museum of Yesterday’s Dreams
The Museum of Dinosaur Spines (think in terms of metaphor for this one)
The Museum of Blank Canvases
The Museum of Unacceptable Options

2. After you’ve chosen a title, either free write for a while or list “things” that are good fits for your museum.

3. Begin writing your poem with an opening line designed to spark interest.

4, Continue writing about the items in your museum. Include details to bring each item to life. Use some similes. Move from item to item.

5. As you journey the exhibits and corridors of your museum, don't be afraid to add a touch of the surreal or a dreamlike mood. Venture into unfamiliar territory.

6. Conclude with a bang, not a whimper.


1. Don’t clutter your poem with too many items.

2. Remember that a good poem does more than state the apparent. It should have an obvious subject and an underlying subject (or subjects) that give breadth and depth to the obvious meaning.

3. Create an emotional center for your poem.

4. Be very careful not to simply create a list—go for impact. Be lyrical, paradoxical, and edgy at the same time.


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Prompt #314 – What We Keep

Of course, we all keep memories, but sometimes there are tangible objects that become “valuable” to us because of their connections to our memories. Mementos and keepsakes that belonged to loved ones, that came from places we’ve visited, were gifts given to us, and even old photographs—these all fall into the category of “what we keep.”

When my mom passed away, twenty years ago, I brought many of her things home to my house. Many of the items I treasure most are the small things that she used every day—familiar and  humble. Among them are the salt and pepper shakers from her kitchen—not her crystal, silver-topped antiques, but the dime store set that was part of her daily life. These casual items have become personal and meaningful treasures.

What have you kept that belonged to another time, another place, another person? Why did you keep it? Why do you feel “close” to it? Write a poem about something you keep and treasure because of its connection to someone you loved, a special place, or a time in your life that was especially important to you.


1. Begin by making a list of things you’ve kept and treasured over the years.

2. Next, annotate each object on your list with the people, memories, and feelings  associated with the items.

3. Then, select one of the items on your list—only one. If the object is handy, spend some time with it.

4. Free write for a while about the item you selected.

5. Finally, work on writing a poem about the item you selected.


1. Avoid sentimentality. Anything with a strong emotional attachment can lead you into the trap of becoming sentimental. Be aware of that when you write.

2. Start with a line that will invite your readers into the poem. A “so what” beginning can ruin a poem like this.

3. Include enough details to describe the item, to remember the people, place, and feelings associated with it, but be wary of over-using adjectives, articles, and prepositional phrases.

4. Steer clear of trite expressions, clichés, and hackneyed similes and metaphors. Keep your writing fresh and direct.

5. If you began writing in the past tense try switching to the present (or vice versa), and see which version works better.

6. End with a “punch.” Avoid summing up, and think about concluding with a strong image.


Read the following poem carefully, and observe how skillfully the poet creates a memoir poem based on her father's cuff links

Work Clothes by Nancy Lubarsky

 (for my father)

Long after you were gone
I found your cuff links
in a velvet pouch among my
bracelets. The A (for Arthur), etched
in gold ovals, leaned right, the tail
swirled left, like a wave receding.
There’s mystery in the curls,
from a time before font names
were familiar, when elaborate letters
pledged stories to come.

I never saw you wear them – never
watched you twist the levers into slits
on cuffed shirts, or slip your arm into
the sleeve of a pinstriped suit.
Your work clothes were heavy twill –  
drawstring pants, an apron –
you left at midnight with them
stashed in a canvas sack, and headed
deep into the Bronx.

Over time, they wore and frayed,
stained with jelly and chocolate.
In middle school, after Home Ec
ended, you surprised me with the
sewing machine. In late afternoon,
at the dinette, you cut patches
while I mended holes and edges.  
My toe touched the pedal, the machine
whirred – you asked me to print
your initials inside along the seams.

From The Only Proof, Aldrich Press, Kelsay Books 
Copyright © 2017, all rights reserved. 
Reprinted by permission of the author.

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.