Saturday, October 3, 2015

Prompt #233 –The Importance of Sports

With the soccer season in full swing (yes, I admit that soccer, especially British Premier League, is my sports passion), I find myself devoting large parts of my weekends to watching soccer on TV. Being a little (okay, a lot) soccer-obsessed, it occurs to me that sports are very much a part of many of our lives, whether we actually play sports, enjoy being spectators at live games and matches, or simple like watching them on TV.

Among numerous other benefits, participation in sports can

promote physical strength and mental alertness,
offer experiences in socialization and communication skills,
encourage a sense of team (community) spirit, and
foster greater self-confidence and healthy self-esteem.

Ah—I know you guessed this was coming, sports can also offer material for our poems.


1. Think about a sport that you enjoy:
  • a sport that you’ve played,
  • a sport that you enjoy watching (in person or on TV),
  • a sport that a family member, spouse, partner, or friend has played,
  • a sport that your children or grandchildren play,
  • a sport you’d like to play. 

2. Choose a sport and make that the initial subject of your poem.

3. Now, write a poem in which you use the sport you chose to convey a deeper message (remember that really good poems have more than one subject—the obvious subject and other unstated subjects).

4. Perhaps you’ll use a particular sport as an extended metaphor, or use sports imagery and vocabulary to give your poem a sports “base.”

5. Think beyond the obvious subject of your poem to discover what your poem might really be about.

6. An alternative might be to write an ode to a particular sport or sportsperson or, if you really don’t care for sports at all, write about why you don’t like sports (or a particular sport).

7. And here’s a fun option: since American baseball icon Yogi Berra passed away last week, many sites have featured what are known as Yogi-isms. These pithy witticisms often take the form of obvious tautologies or paradoxical contradictions but, more often than not, they hold fundamentally meaningful messages that offered as much wisdom as humor. Read the following Yogi-isms and choose one to incorporate into your poem in some way.
  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
  • You can observe a lot by just watching.
  • It ain’t over till it’s over. 
  •  It’s like déjà vu all over again.
  • No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded. 
  • A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
  • You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you. 
  • I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.
  • Never answer an anonymous letter.
  • The future ain’t what it used to be.
  • It gets late early out here.
  • Pair up in threes.
  • It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.
  • I never said most of the things I said.
  • If you ask me anything I don’t know, I’m not going to answer.
  • If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.


1. Avoid over use of adjectives.

2. Get rid of prepositions wherever you can.

3. Try to work your poem into stanzas and compare stanzaic and stichic forms to determine which is best for your poem.

4. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Make sure you bring your poem to closure in with a home run, knockout punch, touchdown, or goal.


“A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball” by Christopher Merrill

“Baseball” by Gail Mazur           

“Analysis of Baseball” by May Swenson


And just for fun ...

my Yorkie, Chaucer
 with one of his favorite
 soccer players!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Prompt #232 – The End of Summer

In this corner of the world, summer ended last Wednesday, and autumn began with beautiful weather. I thought it would be appropriate this Saturday to post a prompt that deals with the end of a season—specifically summer here but, if you’re on the opposite side of the world, then the end of winter.


1. Spend some time thinking about the season that has ended.

2. Then think in terms of a specific event or time during the past season.

3. Free write for a while about the season and the event or time. Give your mind and imagination loose reins, and let your writing go where it wants to go.

4. After free writing, look at what you’re recorded and begin working on a poem based on ideas from your free write.

5. A possibility may be to write about the last day of a season (see the Merrill example poem below).

6. Consider the metaphorical and symbolic meanings of the end of a season.

7. Pull your “End of ______” poem together with a punch at the end—perhaps something that refers to the season that’s just begun.


1. Incorporate seasonal imagery that appeals to one or more of the senses. 

2. Be sure to incorporate some figurative language.

3. Avoid all the usual pitfalls (especially too many adjectives, prepositions, and articles).


“End of Summer” by Stanley Kunitz

“Three Songs at the End of Summer” by Jane Kenyon

“End of Summer” by James Richardson

“A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball” by Christopher Merrill

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Prompt #231 – For the Feast

Over the past few years, I’ve featured a few prompts that deal with food poems and ways to “cook up” some exciting poetry based on food. On the subject of food poems, I was recently honored with inclusion in a Black Lawrence Press book titled Feast: Poetry & Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner edited by Diane Goettel and Anneli Matheson. Feast is an amazing collection that’s both a poetry anthology and a cookbook—with poems and recipes to nourish body, mind, and spirit.

I’ve already gifted friends with copies and recommend the book to all as a perfect any-time or holiday gift. And ... with the winter holiday season coming along soon, I hope you’ll consider Feast for the poets and cooks on your gift-giving lists. It’s a lot of book for a very affordable price. You can order:

Directly from Black Lawrence Press (PayPal is accepted)

In honor of Feast and Black Lawrence Press, I invite you to “dig in” and write a poem about a food—but wait, you’re going to need some “gravy!” For this poem, the challenge is to use a food item (or food in general) to bring forward a meaning that’s deeper than a simple meal or nosh. In other words, create a second meaning in your poem that takes the content from food to something “other.” You’re going to start with food as your subject but then you’ll need to give your poem its head, some wiggle room, an opportunity to extend its subject beyond the obvious—look for layers of meaning and make your poem a feast of its own!


1. Think of a food that you especially like or intensely dislike.

2. Think about that food in terms of your senses: what it looks like (sight—color, size), what its texture is (touch—smooth, rough), its fragrance (smell—flowery, earthy, astringent), its flavor (taste—sweet, sour, spicy), its noise associations (sound—music, a voice).

3. What emotional connections does that food have for you? Do you associate it with a happy or unhappy experience? Does thinking of that food call up certain memories of people you know or have known?

4. What is it about this food that makes it more than something edible?

5. Alternatively, instead of basing your poem on a single food item, you may choose to use food in general as an extended metaphor in your poem


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. 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.)

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

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

6. Challenge the ordinary, connect, reveal, surprise! And … remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains. With that in mind, push past your surface subject until you find your poem’s second, deeper subject.

7. Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”


(My poem from Feast, which begins with blueberries and moves into memories of a special family relationship (BTW, the recipe that goes with the poem is for Bluemisu—blueberry tiramisu—but you’ll have to order a copy of the book for the details).

To Blueberries

Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,

Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum

In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!

– Robert Frost, from “Blueberries”

Imagine the “Mona Lisa” with blueberry eyes;
Vincent Van Gogh’s “Blueberry Night;” imagine
Vermeer’s “Girl with a Blueberry Earring” and
Gainsborough’s “Blueberry Boy.” Imagine
blueberries, one at a time, between stained fingers—
sugary, tart—large or small (not all created equal).
Full in the sun, even their shadows are warm:
silvery patina, bluer than blue sky, bluer than blue. 
First the pop and then pulp between your teeth.
Listen to the birds (sparrows, chickadees)—blue
fruit sweet in their beaks. Oh, briarless bush! Bluest
fruit. No core, no seeds. Nothing ever to pit or peel.
Definitely not the forbidden fruit, no Eve down on
her knees—never the cost of paradise. Blueberry
muffins, pancakes, wine! Highbush and low—blue
on the crest of Blueberry Hill—and years ago, my
mother mixing the dough for blueberry pies, the
rolling pin round in her hands (our dog asleep
on the kitchen stair), my father at the table, and
me on his lap, close in the curve of his arm.

(From Feast: Poetry & Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner, Black Lawrence Press, Copyright © 2015 by Black Lawrence Press, reprinted by permission from the publisher.)