Saturday, August 28, 2010

Poetry Prompt #20 – Toys

When I was little, there were no media-linked toys, iPods, laptops, or cell phones. For many children of my era, the toys we loved best were little green plastic army men, Hula-Hoops, Slinkies, Ginny and Barbie dolls, Play-Doh, and Mr. Potato Head (played with real potatoes). However, any toy, from any era, will be great for this prompt. 

First, think back to your childhood and recall a toy that was special to you. "Freewrite" about that toy for a few minutes. How is this toy the memory-trigger for a past experience and/or relationship? Write a poem about (1) the toy, (2) about a memory triggered by your recollection of the toy, or (3) about a person you associate with the toy. Alternatively, you might write about a toy that was special to your child or to a pet. You might enjoy writing a persona poem from the perspective of a toy. It's playtime!


By Linda Radice

The kid in the commercial had straight stairs for the 
     coil to work its way down. The three-story staircase 
in our house had landings that turned. My slinky 
     required a nudge around corners, but guided close 
to the railing it went smoothly past Uncle Joe who 

came to visit great-grandma every Thursday afternoon, 
     and slid by my grandfather in his gardening shoes at 
sun up. I could make it glide with my father’s run 
     when the fire whistle called him to the station, and 
work it around my mother – the constant between each 
     floor – who stepped quickly, my brother on her hip, 
to check on my grandmother after her stroke.  

The staircase and the house around it are for sale.
     The rest of the people who walked there are gone –
sixty years of footsteps that wore the wood smooth.
     I perfected Slinky’s twisted descent long ago –
the kid with the straight stairs has nothing on me.

Copyright © 2010 by Linda Radice. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Poetry Prompt #19 – Color Your Poems

The use of color in poetry has a long history: among other early poets, Virgil used over 500 color words in The Aeneid, and Shakespeare often used both colors and the word color to heighten linguistic drama. 

Personal and cultural associations affect our experiences of color and, while perceptions of color are essentially subjective, there are color effects that have general meanings. For example, colors in the red section of the color spectrum are considered warm and include red, orange and yellow. Warm colors evoke emotions ranging from love, sincerity, and comfort to anger and hostility. Colors on the blue side of the spectrum are called cool colors and include blue, purple and green. Cool colors are often described as calm, but they are also related to feelings of sadness, loneliness, and indifference.

While “color poem” prompts are often used in classrooms with young students, color can enhance mature poetry as well (with the caveat not to overdo). Before writing, take a look at some examples of poetry in which colors are used. Notice how effective judicious use of color can be – only one or two color references can add much to a poem (less can be more). Consider the following examples:

For your color poem:

Begin by taking a “color inventory” of your life. What colors do you like to live with? If you had to live with a single color what would it be? What is your favorite color? What colors do you associate with the best or worst times of your life? What colors do you associate with people, places, experiences? Following are ten possibilities for color poems:

1. Write a poem about a color without naming the color and without using one of its synonyms (for example, don’t use “crimson” in place of “red” or “azure” in place of “blue”).

2. What color is your life? Write a poem about your life’s color(s). 

3. Write about an experience using colors to set the “tone.”

4. Compare a relationship to a color.

5. Compare a person to a color. 

6. Compare your job (or creative work) to a color.

7. What is your life’s “rainbow?” 

8. Write a poem about a place (scene, landscape) and use colors to highlight descriptions and details.

9. Think about implied colors as in Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” Wordsworth only mentions “golden” once, but the sense of “yellow” is strongly present throughout the poem. Try this in a poem of your own. Click Here to Read Wordsworth's Poem.

10. As an alternative to color, write a poem about something colorless. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Poetry Prompt #18 – Reverie Poem

absentminded dreaming while awake; 
a state of being pleasantly lost in one's thoughts.

For me, during these “dog days” of summer, reverie means sitting in my gazebo (with my Yorkie next to me) and being “pleasantly lost” in thought to the music of birds, crickets, and cicadas. Sometimes my “absentminded dreamings” become poems.

For your reverie poem: 

1. Take a walk, lie on the grass, lounge in your favorite lawn chair (or, if the outdoor weather isn’t cooperative, relax on a sofa or other comfortable place in your home). Any time is fine, but try doing this in the morning or evening.

2. Keep paper and a pen or pencil nearby. 

3. Simply unwind, free your mind of distractions, and let yourself daydream. 

4. Write down some of the things that come to you, and don’t try to organize your thoughts. 

5. Later in the day (or the next day), go back to the notes you took during your reverie and look for inspiration. Is there something there that you can develop into a poem? What did you daydream about? What did your reverie bring to mind? Instead of one poem, you might find material for several short poems or a sequence of short poems. Your reverie may take a traditional, experimental, or fantasy form (and it's not necessary to use the word "reverie" in your title.)

Examples (Click Link to Read):

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Poetry Prompt #17 - Food in Poetry

Food as a subject for poetry has a long history. Poets of China’s ancient Zhou (Chou) Dynasty (about 1127-221 BC) wrote of celebratory foods; and in early Greek poetry, feasting and everyday eating are found in the Iliad and in the Odyssey. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Baucis and Philemon share their food with supposed beggars who are actually gods in disguise and who reward the couple’s generosity. 

Defined as “over-indulgence and over-consumption of food or drink,” gluttony has figured as a moral concern in poetry. In Dante’s Inferno, gluttony is severely punished in hell, and in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Pardoner sermonizes on gluttony (lines 219-262) and makes it clear that gluttony is a cardinal sin. “To eat or not to eat” becomes a moral dilemma in Book 2 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, which echoes the Bible (Genesis 3:1-13) when Guyon is tempted with a tree of golden apples. In Paradise Lost, Milton begins his tale of humankind’s fall with the biblical story of Eve eating the forbidden fruit and uses numerous food metaphors; Milton, like Chaucer, connects gluttony with sin.

Ben Jonson’s “Inviting a Friend to Supper” offers a menu of salad, mutton, fowl, cheese, fruit, pastry, and wine. In his “To Penshurst,” the menu includes pheasant, carp, eels, cherries, plums, figs, grapes, quinces, apricots, peaches, cake, nuts, apples, cheese, pears, beer, bread, and wine (whew!). In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” milk and honey are linked to an altered state of mind; in John Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” the beautiful woman destroys a knight by feeding and seducing him; and Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s English idyll “Audley Court” is a “picnic” of food imagery in a poem that is not about food. 

Poets have also used food imagery to express spiritual concerns. T. S. Eliot’s question “Do I dare to eat a peach?” conveys the speaker’s spiritual/emotional weariness in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hunger,” hunger and dining signify loneliness and love. 

On the lighter side of the poetry pancake, Robert Burns’s “Address to a Haggis” is traditionally recited when the signature Scottish dish is served; Robert Southey’s ode-like “To a Goose” ends with “ … this I know, that we pronounced thee fine, / Seasoned with sage and onions. And port wine;” and Sydney Smith wrote recipes in verse, including “Recipe for a Salad” and a poem   about roast mutton. In Elemental Odes, Pablo Neruda wrote about artichokes, lemons, and olive oil (and the use of the oil in mayonnaise and salad dressing). Ogden Nash wrote light verse about food in such poems as “The Clean Platter” in which he stated, “When I ponder my mind / I consistently find / It is glued / On food.” D. H. Lawrence wrote poems entitled “Pomegranate,” “Peach,” “Medlars and Sorb-Apples,” “Figs,” and “Grapes;” and William Carlos Williams immortalized plums in his famous “This Is Just to Say.” 

In “The Bistro Styx,” Rita Dove wrote of a modern young woman’s journey to Paris that is analogous to Persephone’s descent into the underworld. Her meal at the Bistro Styx includes Chateaubriand, Camembert, pears, figs, parsley, bread, and Pinot Noir. 

Oh, and lest we forget, in poetry, drink qualifies as food – consider William Butler Yeats’s “A Drinking Song.”

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

Now, with Diane Lockward’s great inspiration (previous post) and a bit of food poetry history here, what will you write about food (and/or drink)?

1. Is there a poem waiting for you in the smell or taste of a particular food, a poem in which you describe food in terms of sensory perceptions? 

2. What foods do you associate with your life, special people, memorable times, laughter or tears?

3. What food can you use as a metaphor for an experience or a relationship? Is there a food that you might compare to a present or former romance? 

4. Do you associate a certain food with a dinner table conversation or any “talk” that was important to you?

5. How about a “food fight” poem? (Can you make it metaphorical for a struggle or challenge you’ve faced?)

Remember: Food imagery can enhance a poem that's not about food at all!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Guest Poet Diane Lockward on Food Poems

Note: I’ve known Diane Lockward for a number of years. She’s an amazing poet with an equally amazing reading style. I asked Diane to be a guest poet this week because next week's prompt will consider poems about food, and Diane's food poems are among the best I’ve read. She has said of her work, "Some of the poems are about the hunger we have for real food, but others are about the larger hungers – our need for love, for sex, family, success, the past. These hungers are a kind of longing. I'm interested in what happens when we are left undernourished or starving." Diane is the author of three poetry books, What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, Eve’s Red Dress, and, most recently, Temptation by Water. Her poems have been published in several anthologies and in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac. Interestingly, Diane's husband owns a restaurant.

From Diane Lockward

I’m often asked why I write poems about food. My interest, of course, goes back to childhood. I was a fussy eater whose father insisted that every plate be cleaned. I became adept at surreptitiously getting rid of food I found disgusting. While I had no appetite for vegetables, I had a big sweet tooth. But the foods I loved—cake, cookies, candy, ice cream sundaes—were prohibited by my father who wanted me slender. My cravings only increased. On the sly I consumed entire jars of Marshmallow Fluff.

At some level, perhaps, I'd begun equating food with risk, danger, punishment, deprivation, desire, hunger.

I went to Sunday school and met Eve and learned about the garden, the snake, and the apple. I must have filed all of that away for future use. Fruit, temptation, capitulation, expulsion, abandonment.

I saw the film, Tom Jones, and was mesmerized by that famous eating scene in which Tom and a buxom woman he meets at an inn sit at opposite ends of a long table and proceed to rip apart chicken legs and stuff their faces with juicy grapes, all the while gazing at each other with seduction in their eyes. Food and sex. Of course! 

So for me food has all kinds of connotations. I don't think I'm unique in that. Consider, too, how many of our social rituals are connected to food. Special dishes for special occasions. Romantic dinners. Repasts. And memories. Aren't there certain foods that call up memories, good or bad? And think of the sensory appeal of food; every part of the body is somehow involved. Finally, food intrigues me for its rich metaphorical potential. For example, in my poem, “The First Artichoke,” the artichoke becomes emblematic of a family with its many layers, its heart at the center, a heart that’s fragile. 

I'd like to add that while the title of my second book, What Feeds Us, invites the conclusion that I am a "food poet," in fact, that collection contains only nine poems that are overtly about food, and each one of those nine is really about something else. Look at my poem, "Linguini"—is it really about pasta?


It was always linguini between us. 
Linguini with white sauce, or 
red sauce, sauce with basil snatched
from the garden, oregano rubbed between 
our palms, a single bay leaf adrift amidst 
plum tomatoes. Linguini with meatballs, 
sausage, a side of brascioli. Like lovers 
trying positions, we enjoyed it every way 
we could—artichokes, mushrooms, little 
neck clams, mussels, and calamari—linguini 
twining and braiding us each to each.
Linguini knew of the kisses, the smooches,
the molti baci. It was never spaghetti
between us, not cappellini, nor farfalle,
vermicelli, pappardelle, fettucini, perciatelli, 
or even tagliarini. Linguini we stabbed, pitched, 
and twirled on forks, spun round and round 
on silver spoons. Long, smooth, and always 
al dente. In dark trattorias, we broke crusty panera, 
toasted each other—La dolce vita!—and sipped 
Amarone, wrapped ourselves in linguini, 
briskly boiled, lightly oiled, salted, and lavished 
with sauce. Bellissimo, paradisio, belle gente!
Linguini witnessed our slurping, pulling, and 
sucking, our unraveling and raveling, chins 
glistening, napkins tucked like bibs in collars,
linguini stuck to lips, hips, and bellies, cheeks 
flecked with formaggio—parmesan, romano, 
and shaved pecorino—strands of linguini flung 
around our necks like two fine silk scarves.

Read Diane's Poem "Bueberry": "Blueberry" by Diane Lockward
Read Diane's Poem "The First Artichoke": "The First Artichoke" by Diane Lockward
Click Here to Visit Diane's Website: Diane's Website    
Click Here to Visit Diane's Blog: Diane's Blog (Blogalicious)
Click Here to Order Diane's Books

Be sure to check back on Saturday for next week's prompt – food poems (Poetry Prompt #17).