Saturday, September 27, 2014

Prompt #202 – Postcard-Sized Apology by Guest Prompter Peter E. Murphy

This week’s prompt comes from Peter E. Murphy, founding director of the highly-praised annual Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway and other programs for poets, writers, and teachers in the U.S. and abroad.

Peter is the author of Stubborn Child, a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize, and three chapbooks of poetry. His essays and poems have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Green Mountains Review, The Journal, The Lindenwood Review, The Literary Review, The Little Patuxent Review, Rattle, Witness and elsewhere. He has received fellowships for writing and teaching from The Atlantic Center for the Arts, The Folger Shakespeare Library, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars.

From Peter

Assignment: Write a postcard-sized poem in which you apologize for or argue against something or someone for an offense, real or imagined.

Requirements: Choose three postcards that attract you and one that disgusts or confuses you and incorporate one or more of these images into your poem.

[Note: When Peter uses this prompt at his Getaways, he provides participants with postcards from which to choose. He also offers a site for postcards at which you’ll find several postcard examples:

Alternatively, Peter suggests that you might choose from your own postcards or even old photographs or letters.]

Variation: Have someone apologize to you instead. Wouldn’t that be sweet?

Challenge for the delusional: C’mon, do you really need any more stimulation? Oh, all right. Integrate some writing from one or more of the postcards into your poem.

Note: Speaking of “challenges for the delusional,” be sure to check out Peter’s book Challenges for the Delusional: Peter Murphy’s Prompts and the Poems They Inspired (“a selection of Peter Murphy’s infamous and eccentric poetry-writing prompts. For 19 years he’s shared these prompts at his writers’ conference, the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway, and this collection features a sampling of the many diverse and wonderful poems that they’ve inspired. Contributors include: Stephen Dunn, Kathleen Graber, Dorianne Laux, James Richardson, and more.” Click Here to Order


"Sorry" by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (Though this one is definitely not postcard-sized!)

Thank you, Peter!

This prompt calls to mind one that was posted in August of 2012 . If you missed it first time around and would like to try a different spin on the apology poem, here's the link.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Prompt #201 – Poem Beginning with a Line By ...

Autumn begins here in the Eastern United States in two days’ time, and that got me thinking about  beginnings. Accordingly, in a spirit of beginnings, it might be interesting to write a poem that begins with a line by another poet (kind of a new beginning for a previously written line).

This, of course, isn’t a new idea or one unique to me, but it’s a great way to create a poem, especially during those times when wrestling a poem out of your pen isn’t easy.


1. Read a couple of the example poems below.

2. Now read several other poems, poems that are long-time favorites or new poems (perhaps in current issues of journals) that you haven’t read before.

3. From the poems you read, select the one that “speaks” to you the loudest and read it again.

4. Pick one line from that poem and use it as the first line in your own poem.

5. Either use quotation marks or italics to set the line apart and to indicate that it’s the quoted line (and make a note of the title of the poem from which the line comes).

6. Let the line you quote inspire you, let it direct the content of your poem; give it its “head” and see where it leads you.


1. Keep your poem under 30 lines.

2. Remember that good poems have more than one subject (the obvious and the suggested or inherent).

3.  Show, don’t tell.

4. Don’t let the obvious meaning of the line dictate what your content will be.

5. Let your poem connect, reveal, and surprise.


Some Lines You Might Like to Use:
  1. “In my beginning is my end” by T. S. Eliot from “East Coker”
  2. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all” from “Ode On A Grecian Urn” by John Keats
  3. “But at my back I always hear” from “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell
  4. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats
  5. “And miles to go before I sleep” from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
  6. “Let us go then, you and I,” from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
  7. “Because I could not stop for Death,” from Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death”
  8. “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”
  9. “Hope is the thing with feathers” from “Hope Is The Thing With Feathers” by Emily Dickinson
  10. “Scarcely a tear to shed” from “An Evening” by Gwendolyn Brooks
  11. “Our whisper woke no clocks” from “Dear, Though the Night Is Gone” by W.H. Auden“When we two parted / In silence and tears” from “When We Two Parted” by George Gordon (Lord) Byron
  12. "When we two parted / In silence and tears” from “When We Two Parted” by George Gordon (Lord) Byron)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Prompt #200 - What Does a Poem Need?

This week prompt is a follow-up to last week’s and all those wonderful poet-tips. 

So ... let's stay in revise/edit mode and begin by taking a look at a few ideas of what a poem needs to be a poem.

For starters, a poem needs
  1.  to be fresh and to have a dynamic sense of language;
  2.  to have a strong emotional center;
  3.  to engage readers, to be accessible;
  4. to require every one of its words—no more, no less;
  5. to avoid preachiness and sentimentality;
  6.  to steer clear of abstractions (to show, not tell);
  7.  to be clear even when complex;
  8.  to create an integrated whole of meaning, language, and form;
  9.  to startle, to connect even the unseen dots, to reveal;
  10.  to employ craft effectively and attend to the mechanics of verse while using the head as much as the heart;
  11. to have more than a single subject (the obvious, yes, but at least one other suggested and inherent);
  12. to “speak” with the ownership of the poet—both the poem and its contents, its emotional core, and its voice (the page may be silent, but readers must hear the poet’s voice).
  1. This week again, take a look at some of your previously-written poems and pick one that hasn’t quite worked for you, one that still needs “fixing."
  2. Using the checklist above, examine your poem analytically and see if it meets the criteria. If it doesn’t, ask yourself why not and work on it line-by-line to make improvements. 
  1. Go back to last week’s prompt and review the tips noted there. 
  2. Focus on one or two of last week's tips and apply them to your poem.
  3. In the process, you may think of some tips of your own. If you do, be sure to jot them down! 
  4. Click here for some helpful editing tips from Writer's Digest.

The Poem Wants a Drink
By Karen Glenn

In the workshop, students analyze
what each poem wants, what each one
strives to be. Well, this poem is
a layabout with limited ambitions. It wants
a drink. This poem doesn't give a damn
for rhyme or reason. It only sings
off-key. It has no rhythm
in the jukebox of its soul.
It grew up without symbols.
It doesn't know from assonance.
Give it mambo lessons, and it
still won't learn to dance. It has
not one stanza with a lyric pedigree.
It's late, and getting later, and this poem
wants a drink.
Call it gray and tired. Even call it
a cliche. This poem's lived long enough
to know exactly what it means
to say: Don't be stingy
with the whiskey, baby.
.....Yes, the night
has been a cruel one, and this poem
could use a drink.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Prompt #199 –Tips for Fixing Your Poems

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning,
and took out a comma.
In the afternoon I put it back again.

— Oscar Wilde

Edit: Correct, condense, or other wise modify written material.

Revise: Alter or amend already-written work to make corrections or improve.

We all spend time editing and revising our poems, and I’m sure we all have certain things that we attend to as part of the usual edit-and-revise process. 

I recently read an article about famous poets whose first editors were famous poet friends. Wouldn’t it be a treat to have a noted poet-mentor who would look at every poem we write and offer expert advice on how to make out poems better? Of course, we’re not all lucky enough to have poet-editors in the way that William Wordsworth had Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the way Lord Tennyson had Arthur Hallam, and the way T. S. Eliot had Ezra Pound but, this week, we do have advice from several distinguished poet friends who were generous enough to share some of their editing and revising tips with us. 

Renée Ashley:

Compression is one of the keys to a well-tuned poem, and one easy edit for tightening is a read-through for the notoriously almost-always-deleteable relative pronoun (that, which, whom, who). If you find one in your draft, try reconfiguring the sentence without it. You’ll probably see your line become crisper, swifter, and more effective.

Laura Boss:

Recently, I've been using some of my own lines from poems I've written in the past and incorporating these lines into my newer poems. I've suggested this idea to some of my writing students who have had success using their own favorite lines from their previously written poems and incorporating them into newer work. (I don't believe in using lines from other poets in your own poems unless you credit the poet or at least use quotation marks to show the words are not your own; using your own previously-written lines eliminates the need for acknowledgments.)

Robert Carnevale:

Take all the punctuation out of the poem and put it away without reading it in this state. When you take the poem out again, look for places where the absence of punctuation adds a new meaning or makes the meaning ambiguous. Consider the possibility that the new or ambiguous meaning might be the true-to-life one. Look for places where the absence of punctuation alters the rhythm or makes it ambiguous. Likewise, the tone. Stay open each time to the possibility that the change brings the poem closer to life or enlivens it some other way. Finally, restore just the punctuation marks that have passed this test and still seem to you gains for the poem.

Barbara Crooker:

“Sometimes, you have to kill the little darlings.” I’ve seen this quote attributed to Seamus Heaney, but I’ve also seen it attributed to numerous other writers. At any rate, it’s good advice—sometimes, you have to delete lines you absolutely love in order to make a good poem better.  Something I’ve found that helps me do this is to save cut lines and cut images that I still really like. I then try and use them to help jumpstart new poems.

Catherine Doty:

When I’m blundering about in a narrative and find that I’m sticking too close to the truth, whining, or beating to further death the horse of some watery epiphany, I summon the voice of a mentor—someone whose work I greatly admire. Would Thomas Lux say this, I ask myself, would Renee Ashley let something this overstated out of the corral? Sometimes it snaps me in the right direction, sometimes it just helps me toss what needs to go, even if I’m not sure what will replace it. 

Gail Fishman Gerwin:

Print out your poem(s). Take them to a quiet place, away from your computer. Pretend you are someone else: an editor, contest judge, respected mentor. Read the poems aloud as if you were an audience and look for cadence while observing unnecessary details: words that halt the movement, detours meaningful only to you, punctuation, overkill. Make your changes, repeat the process, and see how the work looks and sounds. 

Penny Harter:

I write mostly on the computer these days, print a couple of drafts, read them out loud to myself, make some edits by hand, go back into the computer to make those changes, and THEN find myself making even more. I also let a poem sit a day or two and revisit it to see whether I need to make further edits. One thing in particular I like to do is vary line lengths to see what works best, evaluating whether I want all the stanzas the same number of lines, or different, and also whether a longer or shorter line works both for content and sound.

Diane Lockward:

Finding the right form for your poem is best left for late-stage revising. Let’s say you have a single stanza of twenty lines. You like the way it looks and reads. But before you mark it Done, explore the possibility of alternative form arrangements. Divide your single stanza into four 5-line stanzas. Live with that for a while. Then try five 4-line stanzas. Now break those 4-line stanzas into 2-line stanzas. How about 3-line stanzas? This strategy often exposes the poem’s flaws—a weak line, a redundant line, a spot where something is missing. And eventually, you’ll uncover your poem’s true form.

Priscilla Orr:

Poems that drive me a bit crazy are poems where the speaker says what the person being addressed already knows. You once said…, or when we walked here. This is deadening to a poem. Instead, start after that moment, or argue with the person (even if they’re dead). Keep drafting until your poem takes a turn and you discover where it really wants to go. One thing that helps me is to move back and forth in time, so that the dialogue goes beyond what has already been said. 

Bob Rosenbloom:

Even with a couple of revisions, hearing yourself read a poem aloud helps. Reading to an audience is like airing a poem out and helps me hear how the poem might/should sound, so I often read drafted poems at open mics. If you edit as you read, which I do, you’ll discover better phrasing. Also, talk the poem out. What are you trying to say with the poem? Do you say what you meant? Talking the poem out with another poet, or even non-poet friend, who doesn’t mind listening to you often helps.

Charles Simic:

Remember, a poem is a time machine you are constructing, a vehicle that will allow someone to travel in their own mind, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while to get all its engine parts properly working.

Matthew Thorburn:

An early draft of a poem often takes a couple lines to rev up to full speed—and likewise it may drift along for a few extra lines at the end. When revising, take a close look at your opening and closing. Would the poem be stronger if you cut lines 1-2 and start with line 3? Could you delete those last three lines for a more surprising ending? Try folding the page over at the top or the bottom and see how it changes your poem. Your poem may actually be shorter than you thought.

Michael T. Young:

Sometimes a poem feels clunky, it’s just hitting some wrong notes no matter how much I revise.  I rework the poem but as a prose poem. I give myself the breathing space to write anything that comes without the restrictions of stanza and line breaks. Then I rework it again to find the stanza and line breaks after having found the images and diction necessary to the material. Giving myself that freedom helps find the movement needed to hit all the right notes in the final poem.


… and one from me with a quote from Mark Twain (’cause no one else mentioned how pesky adjectives can be).

Adjectives are descriptors and, in general they lack the power of nouns and verbs. Often, adjectives are just spectators at a prizefight, the real power and punch come through nouns and verbs. In fact, adjectives sometimes duplicate the meaning of the nouns they describe and are therefore redundant. Too many adjectives can ruin an otherwise good poem. So, as Mark Twain 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.”

Guidelines & Additional Tips:

1. The activity for this week is to revise and edit one or more of your already-written poems using the tips provided above to help jumpstart the process. 

2. Look at each of the poems with which you choose to work this week and identify a phrase, sentence, or line that represents the poem’s emotional center. What have you included (and should delete) in your poem that’s really meaningless in relation to the poem’s emotional core?

3. Don’t lose sight of the whole poem while editing the particular.  As you prune your poems, make sure that every word, every, phrase, clause, and sentence is necessary.

4. We all know what we mean when we translate thought into written language, but what we actually write on the page isn’t necessarily what we intended (and that includes the typos we don’t see precisely because we “see” what we intended and not what we typed). Be sure to “listen” to whatever spell checking program you have on your computer (they’re not always right, but a heads-up here and there can be a good thing.

5. Keep a copy of your originals and compare them, line-by-line, with your edited versions.

And ... here's a related poem by Wendy Rosenberg for you to enjoy.  

By Wendy Rosenberg

To renovate a poem
gut your kitchen first,
then sit in the middle of
the rubble and imagine
words climbing a trellis
outside the window.
Notice which words fall
to the ground when the
winds change. Invite a few
inside to light up the dark corners. 
Let the boldest ones paint a
fresh coat of phrases over dull walls.
If your poem still needs a
shelf to house some sadness,
leave the doors off.

William Butler Yeats wrote, “A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,  / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.”

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Prompt #198 – Poeming the Blues

While recently listening to B. B. King, it occurred to me that blues lyrics are akin to poetry in many ways and have, in fact, lead to a type of poetry known as “blues poems.” Such poems embrace subjects that include resilience, strength in the face of hardship, oppression, and human sorrows.

According to,

“One of the most popular forms of American poetry, the blues poem stems from the African American oral tradition and the musical tradition of the blues. A blues poem typically takes on themes such as struggle, despair, and sex. It often (but not necessarily) follows a form, in which a statement is made in the first line, a variation is given in the second line, and an ironic alternative is declared in the third line.”

One of the first poets to think in terms of blues poems was Langston Hughes, who first heard the blues played by a blind orchestra in Kansas City; he was eleven years old at the time. When he moved to the East in 1921, he heard the blues again and later wrote of it in his autobiography (The Big Sea), “I tried to write poems like the songs they sang on 7th street.” According to Hughes, those songs “had the pulse beat of a people who kept on going.”

This week, let’s give blues poems a try.


1. Listen to a few good blues tunes (YouTube is a good online source), and get a sense of what typical blues lyrics are.

2. Blues lyrics are typically twelve bars, and focus on pain, suffering, subjugation, sadness, or loss. A typical blues poem stanza contains three lines. For this poem, you may have as many three-line stanzas as you wish.

3. While blues poems originally highlighted African-American troubles, the blues sensibility can be applied to tragedies and wrongs of many kinds.

4. Begin by making a list of blues-worthy subjects in your own life or in the general world today.

5. Choose an item from your list and compose your poem.

6. Keep in mind that blues poems often have a kind of heartbeat rhythm, ta, dum, ta dum, ta dum, ta dum—like the iamb in formal poetry.


1. Anything “bluesy” carries with it both lyrical and rhythmical suggestions. Work on incorporating a blues-type rhythm in your poem. See # 6 above.

2. Considering the definition, begin with a structure that starts with a first-line declarative sentence, repeat that sentence or give a variation of it in the second line, and use that sentence to begin a third line that expands on the first two. The intention is to express an emotion. For example:

I couldn’t believe he/she was gone.
I couldn’t believe he/she was gone.
I couldn’t believe he/she was gone, and I was left with nothing.

and this from Lead Belly's “Good Morning Blues”:

Good morning blues. How do you do?
Good morning blues. How do you do?
I’m doing all right. Good morning. How are you?

3. Don’t be afraid of repetition. Just be sure to expand in the third line of each stanza. 

4. Continue to build your poem using this structure (understanding that changes may be made when you begin to edit and tweak). In each new stanza, the problem may become larger and your explanation more detailed.

5. Include some metaphors or other figures of speech.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Prompt #197 – Ekphrasis Revisited

Every so often, I like to work with 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 revisit the process of writing ekphrastic poems. So, fix yourself a tall glass of lemonade, choose an artwork that “speaks” to you, gather your writing materials and a picture of the artwork, and find a comfortable place indoors or outdoors where you enjoy writing.  

If you’re not familiar with ekphrastic poetry or need a quick refresher,  click here.


1. Simply choose a work of art (painting, sculpture, musical composition, photograph, etc.) and write a poem based on it.

2. Be sure to include a reference to the artwork somewhere in your poem (at the beginning, within the text, or at the end).


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. Speak directly to the artwork; that is, address the subject (or subjects) of the art. 

3. Write from the perspective of the artwork, or adopt the persona of the artwork itself (i.e., write as if you were the Mona Lisa).

4. Write in the voice of the artist who created the artwork.

5. Work with strong images and, if you tell a story, be sure not to overtell it.

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

7. 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.

8. 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.


"The Shield of Achilles" by W. H. Auden
"The Painting" by Jon Balaban

"Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats
"Photograph of People Dancing in France" by Leslie Adrienne Miller 
"Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by William Carlos Williams

By way of sharing, 
the jacket cover illustration 
on my book What Matters was based 
on the painting Beata Beatrix 
by Pre-Raphaelite poet and painter 
Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Here’s the poem the painting inspired:

In Memory Of

(After Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix)

No movement but this: subdued luminosity, sunlight
from the distant city. River. Bridge. There is always
a background (that far, this close), and what memory
does – like the dusky lines of a double shadow,
it multiplies loss.

In Rossetti’s Beata, a sundial casts its metal wing
on the thin, blown hour when leaving begins.
Red dove, white poppy: the woman, transfixed,
slips – diffused like light through darkened glass –
her hands open and soft.

I am here and you aren’t. It is summer –
the sky is clapper and bell, the lemonade sweet.
I can almost hear you singing. In that voice
without margin, the notes I remember most
are high and low.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Prompt #196 – Perchance to Dream

Asleep or awake, I suspect that most poets are dreamers, and our dreams are a rich source of inspiration and creativity.

Much has been written about dreams and their interpretation, and dreams have offered an infinite wellspring of ideas for writers of every stripe throughout written history. This week, let’s write  a poem inspired by an actual dream (happy dream, emphatic dream, nightmare, surreal dream, waking dream, precognitive dream)—any dream that you’ve had.


1. Dig deeply into your dream recall (your ability to remember dreams) and write down as much of a particular dream as you can remember (perhaps even a recurrent one).

2. Reflect upon the imagery and symbolism of the dream you’ve chosen. Think about the details. To explore some dream symbols, click here.

3. What did the dream mean or suggest to you?

4. Then re-dream your dream in a poem.

5. Alternatively, recall times when you’ve watched a beloved pet sleep, and imagine what that pet’s dreams might have been. Write a poem about a pet’s dream.


1. Focus on imagery and on creating a sense of your dream’s mood. Mood and tone will be important in this poem.

2. If the dream didn’t make sense to you, don’t attempt to force it to make sense in your poem.

3. If the imagery of the dream was surreal, then use surreal imagery in your poem.

4. You may want to write in the past tense, but think about switching to the present tense to create a sense of immediacy, as if the dream is happening now.

5. Be aware of “ing” endings and overuse of prepositional phrases.

6. If you write about a recurrent dream, be sure to include some elements of repetition, including anaphora (the deliberate repetition of the first part of a sentence). Repetition can be used for emphasis, as well as to create tension, and to enhance the sound quality in a poem.

7. Let your poem use space on the page in the same way that it uses space in your mind. If the dream components are scattered, scatter their word counterparts across the page with interesting line breaks, indents, and stanzaic arrangements.


By way of sharing, here's a dream poem based on a neighbor's suicide
(from my forthcoming book, A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing At All).

So Much Life 

The girl who killed herself, her dog, and son speaks to me. She tells me that this death is only sleep. I’m not sure what she means by this—what other death? I stand above her grave, not knowing if there even is a grave (a place to put her—perhaps just ash, the newspapers didn’t say); but, no, I see her face. Her lips move before the words: So much life, she says, is dead before the body follows. She looks at me through stippled eyes and, reaching up, she trims the moon with pinking shears. Light, unraveled, falls (a perfect circle) around the dog beside her—the dog’s spirit scratches its jaw. I don’t know how she came to be inside my dream or why she haunts me—I barely knew her. From my front porch, I see the house in which she lived—the storm door open. Snow that is ice, that is glass, covers the lawn; the lawn splinters and cracks.

(Acknowledgment: Exit 13 Magazine, Vol. #20, 2014)


Photo: Grateful acknowledgment to Renée Ashley for permission to use 

"Steve and Mona."

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Prompt # 195 – Historical High Jinks

You’ve heard about revisionist history, I’m sure. That is, the reinterpretation of traditionally accepted views on documentary evidence, motivations, and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event—the idea that things didn’t happen exactly as we think they did.

This week, let’s try something amusing and fun. Many historical events changed the world— here’s your chance to change history, to put your own spin on the thoughts, ideas, and experiences behind actual historical events.


1. Think about historical events that interest you, and make a list of some.

2. Choose one historical event from your list and think about that event in terms of what no one can ever know.

A. What were the people central to the event really thinking. For example, what do you think Mary Queen of Scots was thinking just before her head was severed. What were the builders of Stonehenge thinking as they transported and lifted those huge stones into place?
B. Consider what happened moments before the event to one of the people central to it?
C. Tell how did the event happen to be recorded incorrectly.
D. What did people misunderstand at the time the event occurred?
E. What if there had been computers and cell phones, email and texting, when the event occurred? How might things have happened differently?

3.  Free write for a while just to get some ideas into written words.

4.  Take a look at what you’ve written and work the best of it into a poem in which you give a different interpretation, description, or understanding of a single historical event.

5. Consider assuming the persona of a historical figure and write from that person’s “invented” perspective.


1. Funny, flippant, and just plain silly are okay for this poem, but don’t get so caught up in the fun that you sacrifice quality.

2. After you’ve got a fairly good draft completed, look at what you’ve got and work on arranging the poem into lines and stanzas. Don’t become bound by a particular format. Let your poem “speak” to you, and because you’re “fracturing” history, let your lines and stanzas be “fractured” (uneven, broken, emjambed) as well.

3. Here are some historical events you might consider: the death of Cleopatra, the signing of the Magna Carta, DaVinci painting the “Mona Lisa,” Shakespeare writing one of the plays or sonnets, Columbus landing in the “New World,” Marie Antoinette on her way to the guillotine, the Wright Brothers flying the first motorized plane, Fleming discovering penicillin, the first moon walk.

4. For some added fun, include at least one anachronism (something that belongs to a period in which it didn’t yet exist; for example, a plane flying over Alexandria as Cleopatra lifts the asp to her neck or Columbus checking his watch at the precise moment of landing).

5. An alternative idea might be to rewrite a famous poem about a historical event (i.e., “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Longfellow).


Imagine Mary Queen of Scots

Imagine Mary Queen of Scots, dressed in red
beneath the black cloak—her short gray hair
covered by a wig as she walks in silence to the block.
Her ladies stand aside, the executioner
holds his axe. No one will ever know the truth,
she thinks (about who set the plans in motion
for the evil husband’s death and how the queen, yes,
“good queen Bess” was frightened to the core).
The executioner swings three times before her
head is severed. A train rumbles in the distance.