Saturday, February 23, 2013

Prompt #138 – Heaven

Heaven is the generally understood term for a transcendent place inhabited by God, metaphysical beings, and the souls of the departed. Heaven is often considered a higher place, a holy place, a paradise set in juxtaposition to its opposite, which is hell. Religions hold various views on what heaven is and how souls enter it; some consider heaven a spiritual “place,” and some claim that there are several heavens. Many faith systems suggest that heaven is a condition of spiritual aliveness and closeness to God.

Heaven may be the physical heavens that we see in the sky (sun, moon, stars) or a place where those who have led good lives go after death. Heaven may be a metaphorical term used to symbolize any kind of perfection. The concept of heaven is one that defies scientific proof, and whether one believes in any “standard” or “other” definition of heaven or not is a very personal thing.

For this prompt, I’d like you to write about your concept of heaven (either as an afterlife, as a spiritual “place,” as another plane of existence, or as a metaphor). You may take a serious approach or you may choose to be funny.

Things to Think about before Writing:

What does heaven mean to you?
What images does the word conjure up?
Is there a “heaven on earth” for you?
How would you describe heaven?
Who would you like to meet in heaven?
Who’s the most “heavenly” person you know?
Is there a “heaven on earth” that you’ve visited or would like to visit?

What’s the opposite of heaven for you?

Be sure to read the example poems to get an idea of where other poets have gone with the concept of “heaven.”


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Prompt #137 – Happiness is...

Have you ever thought about what happiness is? Hard to define, happiness means different things to each of us, most often based on our experiences. This week’s prompt is a simple one: write a poem about what makes you happy.

Things to Think about Before Writing:

  • Have you experienced moments of exceptional happiness?
  • What are some moments of ordinary happiness (joy in every day people and things) that you’ve experienced?
  • Does happiness have to be a time that “hits the heights,” or does your happiness come in less elaborate trappings (a kind of subjective “well-being”). 
  • Is happiness something actual or can it be a state of mind?
  • The Dalai Lama has said, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” What does that mean to you? 
  • Thomas Merton said, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony.” How do balance, order, rhythm, and harmony fit your definition of happiness?
  • Have there been times in your life when happiness evolved from unhappiness?
  • How are happiness and gratitude related? Happiness and peace?
  • What does positive thinking have to do with your happiness?
  • How is happiness a composite of enjoyment, engagement, and meaning?


You might try beginning with a list of things that have or do bring you happiness. Develop a list poem or select one “happiness” from your list and write about that. 

Even if you’re not in a particularly “up” mood, go to a good place for this week’s poem (a happy memory, a happy time in your life, a special moment of happiness, a person who has made you happy, a pet that brought or brings you joy, a gift that brought you happiness).

As you write, remember that good poems have two subjects: the topic itself and the meaning of the topic. As you develop these in your poem, watch out for “ing” endings, overuse of adjectives and details, and too many prepositional phrases. Let your poem take you where it wants to go (let it surprise you).

NOTE: There’s one important rule this week: you can’t use the word “happiness” in your title or anywhere within your poem!


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Prompt #136 – Collage Cabaret

"Still Life with Chair-Caning"
Paris, 1912
Oil and oilcloth on canvas, with rope frame
10 5/8 x 13 3/4 in. (27 x 35 cm.)
Daix 466. Musee Picasso, Paris

Note: Early in 1912, Picasso created “Still Life with Chair Caning” (above), which is considered by many to be the first modern collage. To create the artwork, Picasso attached a piece of oilcloth with a caning pattern to an oval-shaped painting, which he “framed” with rope.

The world collage comes from the French coller, which means “to glue” and is an art production technique in which artwork is made from a variety of materials to create a new whole. Typically, collages contain photographs, newspaper clippings, different kinds of papers, ribbons or string, maps, matchbooks, magazine advertisements, and a range of other materials that are glued to a piece of paper or a canvas. Collage, as an art form, may be traced back several centuries and was first seen in China around the year 200 BC at the time paper was invented. It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that collage reached its height of popularity (concurrent with the Modernist Movement’s beginnings). Today, collage enjoys a renaissance of interest among graphic artists and poets alike. 

Here’s the Challenge:

1. Before beginning, Google “collages” and spend some time looking at examples offered on the Internet. You’ll find some great collage examples by poet/artist Nancy Scott at  

2. To begin, think of a general topic/theme (childhood, a particular place, a person, a pet, a time in your life, a historical era, etc).

3. Now either write a poem about the theme you’ve chosen, or select one of your already-written poems that fits your theme or determines another.

4. At this point, I suggest getting a piece of posterboard (any size), cardboard, sturdy paper, a small artist’s canvas, or the backing material of your choice on which you will make your collage. You'll also need scissors and glue. Then, gather several pictures or images that express your theme and specific points in your poem. You can include personal photos, photos that you print from the Internet, or pictures from magazines or newspapers. You’ll also need other interesting materials—think in terms of colors, textures, etc. Your materials may be anything that can be glued to your background.

5. Now begin to “collage” your poem. There are no specific instructions for making a collage—experiment with shapes and forms, surface variety, unique materials, and have fun. Make your collage a composite of related images, give a little nod to the surreal, take some risks. Your collage and your poem will be two parts of a whole and will contain layered images in both visuals and language.

Alternative Suggestions:

1. An alternative is to create a collage background (a paste-up of pictures) over which you paste the words of your poem. To do this, type the poem and print it out, then cut the lines into strips and paste them over your background collage.

2. A second alternative is to write a collage poem (sometimes called “found poetry”) in which you clip words and phrases from a newspaper or magazine and turn them into a poem. 

Have fun with this — enjoy the processes of poem and collage!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Prompt #135 – Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Neil Sedaka had it right when he sang the old song “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” (Scroll down to hear  it.) Sooner or later, most of us experience a broken relationship: a romantic break-up, a divorce, a lost love, rifts among family members, friendships that fail. In some cases, these have been painful experiences; in others, the results were more positive. This week, let’s write about breaking up with someone. Please note that this won’t be about a loss through death; rather, your poem’s subject matter will be a deliberate break-up (either by your choice or someone else’s).

Things to Think About:

  • The “exit” you’ll never forget.
  • The “exit” you’ll never regret.
  • A break-up that was a good thing for you.
  • A break-up that devastated you.
  • A teenage break-up, an adult breakup.
  • The break-up of a friendship, not a romance.
  • A break-up with family members.
  • Why it's sometimes necessary to let someone out of your life.
  • The coping strategies you've found helpful when you experienced a break-up.

  • There should be a sense of intimacy in the poem as you “tell the story” of a break-up (as you reveal something personal). However, be careful not to “overtell,” and avoid writing a confessional poem.  
  • A good poem needs some details, but too many can ruin the poem. Remove anything extra or unnecessary, and don’t explain everything. You should always leave room for the reader to enter and experience the poem from his or her experiential perspective. 
  • Be very careful not to sentimentalize, become maudlin, overly-emotional, or confessional. Be sure to read the example poems!