Saturday, March 26, 2011

Poetry Prompt #49 – Playing Pinocchio

Long-time Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn once said, "You'll never get mixed up if you simply tell the truth. Then you don't have to remember what you have said." There’s wisdom in that statement even if it doesn’t address the ethical and moral aspects of untruthfulness. All of that aside, this week’s prompt focuses on how you can use a lie to create a poem. One goal will be to use a lie you’ve told to reveal a truth about yourself. For this prompt we’ll play Pinocchio!

1. Before you begin, think for a moment about the shape-shifting nature of truth, lies, white lies, fibs, and lies of omission.

2. Now make a list of lies you’ve told. Move out of your comfort zone and be completely honest (it’s okay – the list is for your eyes only). Think about real lies – not fibs or white lies told to spare someone’s feelings or to avoid unnecessary conflict – we’re talking “whoppers” here!

  • Do you remember a lie that you told as a child?
  • Did you ever cheat on a test in school and lie about it?
  • Have you ever lied to avoid something you didn't want to do?
  • Have you told a lie to avoid judgment or to make yourself look "good."
  • Have you lied to improve your image?
  • Have you lied to someone you loved?
  • Have you protected yourself with a lie of omission or selective truth?
  • Do you recall a time when you lied because you lacked the courage to tell the truth?
  • Have you ever lied and then not remembered the details, making it impossible for you not to be caught?
  • In what ways have you lied to yourself?

3. For each lie you list, remember the consequences.

4. Pick one of the lies you listed and write a poem about it. What does this lie tell you about yourself?

Alternative Ideas

1. Write a total fantasy, a poem based on fabulous fibs and delightful deceptions.
2. Make up a scenario that you’d love to live. Not the truth, of course – a fantasy. You might try prose poem form for this.
3. Write a poem about a liar you’ve known.
4. Write a poem about a time that someone lied to you.
5. Write a poem about Pinocchio (Geppetto’s wooden puppet who came to life and whose nose grew whenever he told a lie).

Something to Think About

Lies are successful when they control language to achieve the effect of truth. How do poets control language to make their poems believable? Have you ever read a poem in which the words, phrases, lines were beautiful but somehow just didn’t hold up under close scrutiny? Have you read poems in which phrases and lines sounded contrived or manipulative, almost as if they were listening to themselves with a kind of smug satisfaction? What is it that makes a poem “ring true?”


  1. i am fan of poetry...i really love to write poetry and read poetry

  2. Welcome Punjabi Music! Thanks for your comment; I hope you enjoy the blog!


    A friend who lives in Missouri
    calls to say hello. We reminisce
    the years before we both

    came to the States. He tells me he
    just came back from the Greek island
    you and I and the two of them - still together -

    spent two weeks in the summer
    of ‘64. He says he looked up the B&B
    where we stayed. He asks if I remember.

    I lie - I say I don’t. He tells me
    about the new marina, the yachts and
    the tennis courts. I say “too bad it changed so much”

    but he likes the changes. So, we do not
    debate the island’s progress. I say
    “forty years -too long to remember”

    but I don’t say that I still see reflections of your
    eyes against the water, taste the salt of your skin on my tongue
    And feel the chill of the night breeze from the open window.

    By Basil Rouskas
    All rights reserved

  4. Basil! Thanks so much for sharing your poem here. It's always a pleasure to read your work. Wonderful "dismount."

  5. Here's an interesting "lie" poem presumed to have been written by Sir Walter Raleigh. In this political and social criticism poem, the poet commands his soul to go "upon a thankless errand" and tell various people and organizations of their wrongdoings. If they object, the poet states that they should be publicly accused of lying ("give them the lie," a common phrase in Raleigh's day).

    Thanks for an especially thought-provoking prompt!


    The Lie
    By Sir Walter Raleigh

    Go, Soul, the body's guest,
    Upon a thankless errand:
    Fear not to touch the best;
    The truth shall be thy warrant:
    Go, since I needs must die,
    And give the world the lie.

    Say to the court, it glows
    And shines like rotten wood;
    Say to the church, it shows
    What's good, and doth no good:
    If church and court reply,
    Then give them both the lie.

    Tell potentates, they live
    Acting by others' action;
    Not loved unless they give,
    Not strong, but by a faction:
    If potentates reply,
    Give potentates the lie.

    Tell men of high condition,
    That manage the estate,
    Their purpose is ambition,
    Their practice only hate:
    And if they once reply,
    Then give them all the lie.

    Tell them that brave it most,
    They beg for more by spending,
    Who, in their greatest cost,
    Seek nothing but commending:
    And if they make reply,
    Then give them all the lie.

    Tell zeal it wants devotion;
    Tell love it is but lust;
    Tell time it is but motion;
    Tell flesh it is but dust:
    And wish them not reply,
    For thou must give the lie.

    Tell age it daily wasteth;
    Tell honour how it alters;
    Tell beauty how she blasteth;
    Tell favour how it falters:
    And as they shall reply,
    Give every one the lie.

    Tell wit how much it wrangles
    In tickle points of niceness;
    Tell wisdom she entangles
    Herself in over-wiseness:
    And when they do reply,
    Straight give them both the lie.

    Tell physic of her boldness;
    Tell skill it is pretension;
    Tell charity of coldness;
    Tell law it is contention:
    And as they do reply,
    So give them still the lie.

    Tell fortune of her blindness;
    Tell nature of decay;
    Tell friendship of unkindness;
    Tell justice of delay;
    And if they will reply,
    Then give them all the lie.

    Tell arts they have no soundness,
    But vary by esteeming;
    Tell schools they want profoundness,
    And stand too much on seeming:
    If arts and schools reply,
    Give arts and schools the lie.

    Tell faith it's fled the city;
    Tell how the country erreth;
    Tell, manhood shakes off pity;
    Tell, virtue least preferreth:
    And if they do reply,
    Spare not to give the lie.

    So when thou hast, as I
    Commanded thee, done blabbing --
    Although to give the lie
    Deserves no less than stabbing --
    Stab at thee he that will,
    No stab the soul can kill.

  6. Thanks, Jamie, for the Raleigh poem!

  7. Here's the link for a YouTube version of Raleigh's "The Lie."

  8. Congratulations on the honor!

    I've been lurking at your blog for sometime now, as I love the prompts and all the extras. I've decided this National Poetry Month to write a poem a day (starting tomorrow of course). To give me ideas I'm going to be using the first 30 prompts from your blog. I know it will be so fun!

  9. Violet - thanks so much for your comment and for the congrats! I'm delighted to know that you've been enjoying the blog and that the prompts will be useful during National Poetry Month. Enjoy and, if you feel like sharing, please post a poem or two on the blog.

    All the best,