Saturday, October 26, 2013

Prompt #169 – Gather Ye Ghosties

It’s that time of year again! Halloween! Time for ghosts, goblins, ghouls, a touch of suspense, a bit of mystery, and poems to fit the occasion! Located on the calendar between autumn and winter, harvest and scarcity, Halloween is associated with early festivals and traditions, especially the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced SAH-win). Samhain, the Celtic New Year, was celebrated on November 1st. At Samhain, Celts gathered around bonfires lit to honor the dead, believing that the wall between worlds was at its thinnest and that the ghosts of the dead could re-enter the material world to mingle with the living. At Samhain, the Celts sacrificed animals and wore costumes (most probably animal skins). They also wore masks or colored their faces to confuse faeries, demons, and human spirits that were thought to walk among them. As Christianity began to replace earlier religions, the feast of All Saint’s was moved to November 1st, making the night before All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. For An Earlier Post and More Halloween History, Click Here
This year, in observance of Halloween, let’s focus on writing a poem in which we create an aura of suspense and mystery. To help with this, let’s be specific and use ekphrasis to write about the image at the top—the moon in the window—for inspiration. (Remember that ekphrasis is a literary commentary on a visual work of art. That is, a poem or other piece of literature based on a painting, statue, or other visual artwork.  Read More About Ekphrastic Poetry By Clicking Here

For this prompt, take a look at the image at the top and think about how you might “view” the photo in the context of a particular place and time that was (or is) mysterious, suspenseful, or scary. How might you work personal experience (something that really happened to you) into a poem based on this image?  (If this image doesn’t work for you, feel free to choose another that will!)

Things To Think About:

1. What does the image suggest to you?
2. What’s mysterious about the image?
3. How does the image “speak to” autumn, Halloween, harvest season, the moon, or colder weather?
4. For what might the moon in the window be a metaphor?
5. What images does the word apparition call to mind?

The Writing:

1. Begin by free writing for about 10-15 minutes. Reflect on the photo and just write whatever pops into your mind. But … whatever you do, DON’T write a description of the photo.
2. After writing for a while, go back and read what you’ve written. Is there anything there that suggests a topic, theme, narrative, experience?
3. What written images did the photo generate? How might you create a vivid scenic description for this poem? (Not a description of the photo, but something in which to context the photo.)
4. Circle all the words and short phrases that suggest something mysterious to you. Then, choose from the free write one subject or idea that you think you may be able to develop in a poem and begin to work on it.
5. You might write a narrative about what happened before the photo was taken or what will happen next. But remember: a personal narrative has be larger and more meaningful than something merely anecdotal. 
6. You might write about being moonstruck.
7. You might write a poem about a face that appears in your window, or the moon in your window mysteriously turning into a face. 
8. Include some phrasal verbs—for example: dress up, watch out, turn into, scare away, ward off.
9. Work on voice, tone, diction, and sound to enhance the effect of your poem.
10. Come up with a chiller-thriller of a dismount!

Some Ideas:

1. How long had I stared at that window …
2. The window had become a prison …
3. Arms of the plant that bloomed in summer etch the window …
4. A face in the window next to the moon …
5. I knew there was someone, or something, behind me as I looked up at the window ...

Remember that a good poem should make the reader gasp at least once while reading it. You can make that happen through striking imagery, an unexpected twist, a surprise in content, and/or a punchy dismount. So, go for it!

Click on the Titles to Read the  Poems
Halloween by Robert Burns
Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
Haunted Houses by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Bats by Paisley Rekdal
Song for the Deathless Voice by Abram Joseph Ryan
All Souls' Night, 1917 by Hortense King Flexner
Halloween by Arthur Peterson
All Hallows Night by Lizette Woodworth Reese
The Hag by Robert Herrick
The Apparition by John Donne
Shadwell Stair by Wilfred Owen
Hallow-E'en, 1915 by Winifred M. Letts
Incantation by George Parsons Lathrop
Hallowe'en Charm by Arthur Guiterman
The Haunted Palace by Edgar Allan Poe
On Halloween by Janet Little
Spirits of the Dead by Edgar Allan Poe
From The Lady of the Manor by George Crabbe
Here’s to the witches,
Here’s to their cats,
Here’s to the poets
In Halloween hats;
Here’s to the ghosties,
In robes of white,
Here’s to your poems
For Halloween night!


  1. BRILLIANT, ADELE! Love the play on "Gather Ye Rosebuds" in the title, so clever (Robert Herrick would undoubtedly chuckle over that), and I quite like the idea of writing with that evocative photo as inspiration.

    Happy Halloween!

  2. All Hallows Eve

    Snug under her covers in her pink flowered bedroom
    she fell happily asleep
    after handing out what seemed like
    a ton of sweets
    to gaily costumed imps.

    She felt guilty for such happiness
    since her sister's one year memorial day
    had only been nine days ago.

    So, Marcia, how's it going? How've you been? You're looking well. I like that outfit you've got on.

    I've been well. And you? I heard you're teaching online. Like it? And you published a book of poems.

    Yeah, it's true,

    she said into the ethers
    that filled her mind.

    The Bermuda hurricane shutters clanged
    and she woke.
    Raising her head from her tear-stained pillow
    she shut the window against the cold
    flipped the pillow over
    and went back to sleep.

    1. Beautiful, Risa! I like the way you've gone to a more narrative style with this, adding more detail than usual. You've created a strong emotional center with this one! Thanks so much for sharing with us.

    2. Risa, This is so different from your usual style and yet it's clearly your "kind" of writing. I agree with Adele's comment about the emotional center, and I like the way you wrote in the third person. Thanks for sharing!

    3. Beautiful, Risa. A real dream? The pain is almost tangible, and clearly you love your sister despite whatever issues. Thanks for sharing.