This is a pattern poem to help "jump start" your writing process. The poem will be about a memory – something real that is important to you, a poem sourced to the past.
(a) Write a word or two to set a time "backdrop" that you associate with your memory. The word(s) with which you begin can suggest a season, month, day, occasion, morning, afternoon, night, etc. End with a period.
(b) On the same line start an image that characterizes your time word(s). This is an image – descriptive, evocative. Stay in the present tense – the poem begins now, in the present to create a sense of immediacy. Find a natural pause in your image and go to the next line to complete it. You may need more than one line to do this. Remember: break to a new line when you “feel” a pause. Use as many lines as you need, but keep it fairly brief. Punctuate as you would in prose.
(c) Now add a second image, still in the present tense. Use as many lines as you need.
(d) In the next several lines, you get to the memory. If you look at the sample, you’ll see the ellipsis at the end of the last line. This doesn’t signal the end of the poem! At this point you begin to "tell" your memory. You don’t need to use words like “I remember” (you may if you wish, but there are better ways to make the transition from present to past). From this point on, you will work through the memory. Try to use alliteration, assonance, and figures of speech – just don’t overdo – and, beware the dreaded Prose-o-saurus (fight the prose impulse and remember that a memory poem is not a journal or diary entry).
(e) Finally, bring the poem to closure – not a summation or moralization. You don’t need to overtly make your point in the last line or tell your readers what the rest of the poem means – the body of the poem should do that. Remember that less (a quick, sharp punch) is often more, especially at the end of a poem.
(a) Late night. (b) Deepening dark,
(b) and no moon.
(c) Curtains move in the windows –
(c) ghosts of ourselves
beneath the pale and perfect stars.
(d) It is now and night
(d) and twenty years ago …
After you’ve drafted the poem, edit, revise, and tweak. It’s okay to revamp the pattern at the beginning and rewrite if you wish (make the poem uniquely yours).
Work on line breaks, and remember that there are two effective ways to end lines within a poem. Lines may be enjambed, (where one line flows smoothly into the next with little pause), or lines may be end-stopped (when readers pause before moving into the next line). Enjambment works well when you build a scene, description, or feeling and want the reader to move quickly into the next line; end-stops work when you want to slow the reader down to emphasize a word or image, complete a sequence, or create a more fragmented, scattered feeling. End-stopped lines require appropriate punctuation (period, colon, dash) and are best when they conclude with a strong word.
While tweaking, look for adjectives that you don’t need. Be wary of "ing" endings (gerunds) and the passive voice. Be ready to eliminate prepositions or prepositional phrases (i.e., change a phrase like “the whisper of a church” to “a church’s whisper." Polish your poem’s form (stanzas, use of space).
Choose a title (often a significant phrase from the poem).
Here's a fully realized poem that began with this prompt.
by Rev. Alex D. Pinto
We do not speak of winter or what happened.
How we longed for this: the almost-rose that
leans against the fence, the iris bed a promise
that will be fulfilled – all promises fulfilled –
the tree, the hill – the ether shift and how we
learned what things are fragile, what endures,
the toxins and the cures. The window and the
hyacinth are rigged with scent. She lives and
nonetheless, the sutured hole that was a breast –
we prayed for this: the light unthinned, the grace
by which we know it, the grace we cannot earn.
Acknowledgment: The Carriage House Poetry Series Tenth Anniversary Anthology
Copyright © 2008 by Muse-Pie Press. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of Muse-Pie Press.