Saturday, March 31, 2012

Prompt #97 - National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month, established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 begins tomorrow!  This month-long celebration of poetry is held every April “to widen the attention of individuals and the media to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.” During April, poets, poetry lovers, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, and schools throughout the US celebrate poetry. One of the challenges of NPM is to read and/or write a poem every day. So ... in the spirit of the observance, I offer you an inspiration word or phrase and a related poem for each of April’s thirty days. You may wish to read, write, or do both. Keep in mind that writing a poem a day doesn’t mean that you have to “finish” each poem immediately. You can write a draft each day and set your drafts aside to work on later. As always, your posts are welcome!

Regular weekly posts will resume on April 28th for the first week of May.
In the meantime, I wish you a happy and poetry-filled National Poetry Month!

April 1 – April Rain
“April Rain Song” by Langston Hughes 

April 2 – Waking
“Why I Wake Early” by Mary Oliver 

April 3 – Parents
“Parents’” by William Meredith 

April 4 – Spring
Spring is like a perhaps hand by e.e. cummings 

April 5 – Memory
“My Earliest Memory” by Ray Gonzalez

April 6 – Change
The Moment I Knew My Life Had Changed by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

April 7 – Footsteps
“Footsteps” by Fanny Howe

April 8 – Easter
“To Him That Was Crucified” By Walt Whitman

April 9 –Magic
“Magic” by Louis Untermeyer

April 10 – Time
“In Time” by W. S. Merwin

April 11 – Motion
“Motion” by Octavio Paz

April 12 – Ego
“Ego” by Denise Duhamel

April 13 – Silence
“The Silence” by Philip Schultz

April 14 – Light
“The Secret of Light” by James Wright

April 15 –Dawn
“Dawn” by Robert Bly

April 16 – Love
“Salvation” by Rumi

April 17 –Words
“Words” by Anne Sexton
April 18 – Self-Portrait
“Self-Portrait” by Adam Zagajewski

 April 19 – Trees
“Lost” by David Wagoner

April 20 – Food
“Linguini” by Diane Lockward

April 21 – Morning
“Morning at the Elizabeth Arch” by Joe Weil

April 22 – Grace
“Grace’ by Linda Pastan

April 23 – Animals
“The Heaven of Animals” by James Dickey

April 24 – Wildlife
“The Bear” by Galway Kinnell

Blogaversary! Today (April 24th) is this blog's second birthday! My sincerest thanks to all of you who have visited, joined, commented, and shared poetry here! 

April 25 – Lightning
“Lightning” by Mary Oliver

April 26 – Dreams
“It Was a Dream” by Lucille Clifton

April 27 – Promises
“A Deep Sworn Vow” by William Butler Yeats

April 28 – Landscapes
“Landscape at the End of the Century” by Stephen Dunn

April 29 – Birds
“Waxwings” by Robert Francis

April 30 – Peace
“Wildpeace” by Yehhuda Amichai

"One demands two things of a poem. Firstly, it must be a well-made verbal object that does honor to the language in which it is written. Secondly, it must say something significant about a reality common to us all, but perceived from a unique perspective.
What the poet says has never been said before, but,
once he has said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves."
– W. H. Auden

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Prompt #96 - Stones

When I was a little girl, I loved stones – I collected them, skipped them across the creek, and sat on a large stone in my backyard to write poems. Later in life, I created a stone circle in my garden with a fountain in the center, ringed my flowerbeds with stones, and created stone walkways in different parts of the yard. I can't say that I ever consciously thought much about stones, and I wasn’t aware that stone imagery figured strongly in my newest poetry collection (What Matters) until a reviewer pointed it out. After reading the review, I looked at the poems and realized that the reviewer was right – there is a fair amount of stone imagery. My use of stones was organic, not deliberate, but I found it interesting to re-read those poems much after they were written and to think about “stones” as image and metaphor. As the reviewer pointed out, stones, pebbles, rocks and other such seemingly solid and permanent objects, suggest a way to anchor ourselves in this world. Stones can carry numerous suggestions and meanings. What do they suggest to you? This week, try using “stones” as your inspiration word and write a poem based on stones or in which stones are part of the imagery.

 Sample Stone Poems:

Ideas to Consider before Writing:

1. Has anyone ever thrown a metaphorical stone at you? A real stone?

2. What does this familiar saying mean to you and how might you use it in a poem: “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones?”

3. Did you ever skip stones in a pond or creek when you were a child?

4. How are the troubles in your life like stones?

5. Can you work this New Testament Scripture passage into a poem: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone ….” John 8:7 NRSV
6. It has long been a custom in Judaism to place a stone on the grave marker of a loved one to signify that the deceased person’s memory has been honored with a visit to the grave – the deceased has not been forgotten. (There’s a lovely example of this at the end of the movie Schindler’s List.) Can you work this custom into a poem?

7. Reflect on this old adage as the inspiration for a poem: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

8. You’ll probably remember this childhood nursery rhyme “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me” that encourages a child who’s been called names to ignore the ridicule and to show a stronger character than the name-caller. Has name-calling ever hurt you? How did you handle it?

9. What special “steppingstone” has been helpful to you at some point in your life?

10. What “something” in your life was just a “stone’s throw away?”

11. Worry stones are smooth, polished gemstones, usually oval-shaped, and sometimes with a thumb-sized indentation. Holding a worry stone between the thumb and index finger and rubbing it is said to have a calming effect. In Irish folklore, rubbing a worry stone crafted from Connemara marble is said to relieve worries and bring luck. Some people hold a worry stone during meditation to help center concentration. How about a worry stone poem?

12. What can a stone (or stones) symbolize in a poem? What’s your best stone metaphor?

13. Statues are made of stone – how about an ekphrastic poem based on a piece of stone sculpture? (Think Venus De Milo, Rodin's The Thinker or The Kiss, The Sphinx, Michelangelo's Pieta The Tian Tan Buddha in Hong Kong, The Fountain of Trevi in Rome. Here's an example by Rainer Maria Rilke:  "Archaic Torso of Apollo."

14. When we think of ruins, we usually think of crumbling stone walls or broken statuary. Have you ever visited historical ruins? Ancient temple remains in Egypt or Greece? A fallen cathedral? Cities like Pompeii?  Stonehenge in England? Chichen Itza or Machu Picchu? The bombed out ruins of a war site? Is there a ruin poem that you might write? Here's an example: "in the ruins" by Mark Conway.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Prompt #95 - Happy St. Patrick's Day

(Vintage Postcard from Ireland)

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit! Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This is always a special day for me – a day to think about my Irish ancestors and to re-read the works of the Irish poets I love most. The earliest surviving poems in Irish date to the sixth century, and Ireland has produced many poets including Lathóg of Tír Chonaill, Thomas Kinsella, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Muldoon, Eavan Boland, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Mary O’Donoghue, Elaine Feeney, and Noelle Vial. Below are some poems by a few (just a few!) of my favorite Irish poets.
 Bain sult as (enjoy)!

A number of years ago, I spent three weeks in Ireland. That trip was a kind of going home – not for myself but for my great grandfather Patrick Kenny who brought my family to America in 1889 and for my dad who never got to Ireland. Ancestors, family, and homeland are traditional and recurrent themes in Irish poetry. We went green in an earlier prompt, so this week let’s adopt an Irish-type theme and write poems about our various ancestries, our different nationalities, our people – our “roots.”

Some Ideas:

1. Write a poem about the country from which your ancestors came.
2. Write a poem about your ancestors.
3. Perhaps you’ve come to this country from another. Write a poem about making the decision to leave the country of your birth and to settle in a new country. Or, write a poem about your homeland.
4. Write a ballad about one of your ancestors (or a current family member).
5. Alternatively, you just might want to write a poem about St. Patrick, shamrocks, Guinness, Irish Wolf Hounds, or something else that’s wonderfully Irish, whether you’re Irish or not!

Sample Poems:

In a spirit of sharing, here’s an excerpt edited from an early version of the title poem from Chosen Ghosts:

Chosen Ghosts

A chattering wind brings down the leaves,
remnants of bagworm and chestnut lie in the tangle.

Moonlight falls in fractions through dead bindweed,
on milkweed pods that crack open and float away.

Always in autumn, when the backyard thins and
the brittleness starts, I go back to my griefs.

I bury the last chrysanthemums and wish it was still
summer when the sky traveled  in a thousand directions

at once or years ago when every season was spring
with its risings and promise. But now, here and now,

in the whirl of this brief, sad season, I call my ghosts
home and gather them around me. Like the flock of

geese that sleeps in an open field near the river, they rise
in a rush of wings that remembers the victory of flight.

Where does it begin? A wandering Celt follows the sun
to a green island and turns his painted face away from

the pagan gods. An Irish farmer digs a harvest of black
moons and surrenders his plow to a coffin ship, weeks

of pitching in the dark hold, a sea-wrack of salt and tar.            
My grandfathers, immigrant spirits. They enter my house

and stand together on the stairway. My father, still in
uniform, walks in from the cold and holds my mother’s

hand as if nothing were changed. The others arrive –
family and friends – the company of Heaven. They all

turn toward me and raise their glasses in a toast. These
are my ghosts – the invited, the chosen – a party of souls.

Life, liquid and thick, leaps in their wrists. I touch
their cheeks with gentle fingers, brush stray hairs from

their foreheads – remembering, remembering,
as I kiss the dust from their lips. 

And ... A Little Irish Slideshow That I Made to Celebrate the Day

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Prompt #94 – The Dance

While reading Yeats a few nights ago, I came across a line in “Among School Children” that really resonated for me: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” Having performed and taught ballet and jazz for many years, I sometimes created choreography to be danced while poems were read. There was always a connection. The Yeats line made me think, “How can we know the poet from the poem?” and then,  “How can the poet teach us the dance?” I began to search for poems about dance and was happy to discover quite a few.
A lot has been written about the psychology of movement, about dance as an effective supplementary therapeutic technique, and about how the “emotion of movement” holds court with expression of feeling that goes back to the beginnings of artistic expression. People dance all around the world and, although not everyone participates in dance, all societies include dance among their art forms (from ritual dance to dance for entertainment). Crossing cultures and times, dance offers opportunities to tap into emotions, to create, and to encourage interpersonal associations. Dance also serves the poet as both subject and metaphor. 


For this prompt, let’s “dance a poem.” Samuel Beckett wrote, “Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.” With that in mind, you might begin by writing first – free write, that is. Don’t plan anything, just think “dance” and begin a free write to see where your thoughts go. After writing for several minutes, take a short break, and then go back and read what you’ve written. Is there anything you might develop into a poem? Of course, if you have something specific in mind at the start, skip the free write – go ahead and “dance” with your idea.

If the free write doesn’t work for you, and you can’t “dance up” an idea, some alternatives and suggestions follow.

1. Compare something in your life (a relationship, an occasion, or an experience) to a specific dance. Some title ideas: Why My Life Is A Foxtrot, Jitterbug Jibe, Disco Days, The Boyfriend Ballet, Swing Season, Belly Dance (How I lost 25 Pounds). An alternative here might be to write a poem entitled "Break Dance" about someone who left you with a broken heart (or you might write about an experience that caused you emotional pain).

2. Write a poem about an actual dance: the first girl or guy you ever danced with, a dance or prom that you attended, a dance recital in which you performed, or a dance performance that you attended (i.e. a professional dance company or your child’s first dancing school recital).

3. Re-read Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s poem “My Daughter at 14, Christmas Dance, 1981” (see examples above), and write about a similar or related “dance experience” that reveals something about parenthood.

4. If you’ve ever taken a dance class, you might write about that. Or, how about a humorous poem that describes your two left feet?

5. Use this quote as inspiration for a poem: “If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance.” (George Bernard Shaw)

6. Write a poem about animals dancing (i.e., deer in a meadow, puppies at play, dolphins at sea, a herd of gazelles on the African plain).

7. Write a poem about team players in dance “formation” (football, soccer, baseball, hockey).

8. Re-read Mary Oliver’s poem “Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?” (see examples above) and use the title as inspiration for a poem of your own – think, perhaps, in terms of the mortal dance we all share.

9. Try to include some dance terms or dance imagery. You’ll find a list of terms and definitions that might be helpful at:

10. Use dance as an extended metaphor (just be wary of clichés such as “the dance of life,” “dancing with the devil,” and “the last dance.”).

 Waltz, leap, pirouette, tango into a poem!
As Lord Byron wrote, “On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined.” 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Prompt #93 – Blessings & Luck

Luck is defined as a “force that brings good or bad.” In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans worshiped luck through the goddesses Tyche (Greek) and Fortuna (Roman); and in Norse folklore, both the acorn and the oak tree were good luck symbols.

The Consolation of Philosophy, a 6th century work by Boethius, was one of the most extensively studied texts of the Middle Ages. Both King Alfred and Queen Elizabeth I presided over translations of it, and it would be hard to overvalue its significance in medieval thought. The best-known symbol associated with Fortune, the central figure of the Consolation, is the wheel. During the Victorian Era, Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones created his interpretation in “The Wheel of Fortune” seen above (click on image for larger view); in this painting, a giant wheel turned by Fortune features three figures – a king, a poet, and a slave.

Most cultures have signs and symbols for good luck; for example, “Fu” is the Chinese symbol for luck and is often worn or displayed (Fu Symbol). The elephant god Ganesha is the Hindu god of luck, and Feng Shui practitioners believe that elephant figurines with their trunks up in a home will bring good fortune and strength. Other traditional good luck symbols include such “charms” as rabbits’ feet (not so lucky for the rabbits), horseshoes, and four-leaf clovers. In addition, some days are considered lucky while Friday the Thirteenth is feared as a day of possible misfortune.

Interestingly, there is good luck and there is bad luck, but a blessing is always good. A blessing is a gift, often undeserved or unasked for – something hoped for, associated with love and with God, and not defined by trivial things. You can have good luck in a casino, but a blessing is more than good luck; and, while luck is random, blessings are more personal.
This week’s poem (yes, you guessed it) will be about blessings or luck. You may use an anecdotal format, write a prose poem, or experiment with any form that appeals to you. Your tone may range from seriously theological to insanely silly.
Starter Questions:
1. Has there been a time in your life when you were the recipient of especially good luck? What’s the best “luck” you’ve ever had? What’s the worst?

2. When have you felt especially blessed? Has your prayer for something or for someone been blessed with the outcome for which you prayed?

3. How do you feel about “lucky charms?” Do you have a particular “lucky charm?”

4. Have you ever won big in a casino or in another “game of chance” venue? What’s your wheel of fortune?

5. Have you ever had your fortune told?

6. What does this quote mean to you: “Being deeply learned and skilled, being well trained and using well spoken words; this is good luck” (Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.)?

7. How might you use a “throw of the dice” as a metaphor or extended metaphor in a poem?

8. How might you reflect upon and write about blessings using these words of Charles Dickens for inspiration: “Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

Example Poems: