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!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Prompt #168 – Rantables

Have you ever felt that you needed an outlet to vent, to shout, squawk, yell, or bellow about something that really bothered you? Have you ever displayed your frustration or impatience in a kind of “temper tantrum” with a family member or friend?

While more and more research suggests that “ranting”  isn’t necessarily the best thing for us, research does suggest that venting through writing can be a therapeutic strategy that can help engage the body and mind and allow your emotions to drain a bit, thus not needing to actually yell, stamp your feet, or otherwise physically let the anger out. In a rant poem, we pull ourselves together and write through whatever it is that’s upset us. A rant poem can be “wild” or it can be controlled and sensible—the latter is our writing challenge for this week, a rantable that doesn’t lose its perspective—a “rational” rant.

The idea is to let your feelings out about something or someone and to examine those feelings through your poem. Remember, this isn’t a narrative poem—you’re not telling a story, you’re writing about something that really bothers you. The activity is similar to the invective poem in Prompt #107, but this is not a poem addressed to something or someone; rather, this is a poem about something or someone.

For Starters:

Begin by thinking about or listing things that have really upset you, and then choose one to write about.

Write some details (phrases, thoughts) about this “rantable.”

Select some of the details from the preceding step and write them into complete thoughts. Develop those thoughts into lines that contain similes, metaphors, off rhymes, or other poetic language techniques.

Now go through your sentences and remove the word “I” anywhere that you’ve used it. Replace it appropriately.

Go ahead—rant and rave, but remember to maintain a sense of control. The idea is to get things “off your chest.” 

Topics May Include:

Personal Affronts ( insults, lies, betrayals, bad manners, bullying)

Social Concerns (hunger, inequality, power, greediness, inhumanity to others, animal abuse, injustice)

Pet Peeves (junk mail, improper grammar, texting at the dinner table, impatience, thoughtlessness, arrogance)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Prompt # 167 – Ten-Line Poems

Before beginning this week’s prompt, I’d like to invite you to take a look at the slideshow from this year’s pet blessing. Just scroll a few items down in the right sidebar until you come to “2013 Pet Blessing.” Click on the arrow. Hope you enjoy it!

Now, on with the prompt. This week’s challenge is for you to write a 10-line poem using a prescribed format. For starters, the “rules” are specific, so try to follow them closely for your first draft.

The “Rules”

1. Don’t use any terminal punctuation, but begin each line with a capital letter.

2. Throw out all prose impulses (no narrative poems).

3. Resist all formal tendencies (no metrical patterns or rhyme schemes).

4. Don’t plan any part of your poem—just write from line to line.

5. As you write, see what relationships develop; discover what’s going on in the poem.

6. When you finish, look through the poem for a word or phrase that you can use as a title.

7. Let the poem “sit” for a day or two and then look at it again. That will be the time to make changes, to break the rules, tweak, refine, and “color outside the margins.”

8. Make changes in capitalization and punctuation (add periods, question marks, commas etc).

9. Work on alliteration and other sound qualities in your poem.

10. Decide on line breaks.


Line 1: Open the poem with an action.
Line 2: Write a specific image related (even if only superficially) to the last word in line 1.
Line 3: Ask an unconnected question and put it in italics.
Line 4: Write an image related to the question in line 3.
Line 5: Answer the question in line 3 and include a color.
Line 6: Write an image related to the answer in line 5 (direct or suggested).
Line 7: Add a detail in which you modify a noun with an unusual or unlikely adjective.
Line 8: Add an image that echoes or relates to the action in line 1.
Line 9: Free line—add whatever you wish.
Line 10: Close with something seemingly unrelated, strange, or surreal.

Sample Poem

Line 1:  She lifts the potted plant from its place on the windowsill
Line 2:  Dusk slips in through parted curtains
Line 3:  A lingering dream, and what came after
Line 4:  The evening sky deepens into something darker
Line 5:  A shade of blue she’s never seen before
Line 6:  Ghosts in spaces between the stars
Line 7:  The clattering choices were hers to make
Line 8:  Gently, her fingertip traces the edge of a tiny bloom
Line 9:  Choices, yes, and flowers among the regrets
Line 10: She removes the china doll from her dresser drawer

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Prompt #166 – Word Chain Poem by Guest Prompter Diane Lockward

This week’s prompt is from guest blogger Diane Lockward. Diane is the author of three poetry books, most recently, Temptation by Water. Her previous books are What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve's Red Dress. She is also the author of two chapbooks, Against Perfection and Greatest Hits: 1997-2010. Her poems have been published in numerous journals and included in such anthologies as Poetry Daily: 360 Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times. She is the recipient of a NJ State Arts Council Poetry Fellowship and has received awards from North American Review, Louisiana Literature, and Journal of NJ Poets. Her newest book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, was recently released by Wind Publications. The book includes helpful tips for writing poetry contributed by 56 distinguished poets, along with 27 model poems and prompts with 2 sample poems for each. 

Please note that you can order The Crafty Poet from the right sidebar by scrolling down to the book cover and clicking on it.

Be Sure to Visit Diane’s Website:
and Her Author Page at


The following prompt is one of ten bonus prompts in my new book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop. While the other prompts in the book are more complex and focused on craft techniques, the bonus prompts are quick and easy. They are also inexhaustible, that is, you can use them over and over again. You should never again find yourself at the desk with nothing to say.

The Word Chain Poem

Choose one word that you like the sound of. Be sure it has at least two syllables. Suggestions: purple, silver, yellow. I like colors because they immediately bring in the visual. But don’t feel limited to colors.

Now put your word on the top line of your paper, all the way to the right.

Jumping off that lead word, quickly brainstorm a list of words with similar sounds. Avoid exact rhymes. One word per line. Each single word should lead to the next. Do not go back to the original word. If you include only words with the same initial sound, this will result in nice alliteration in the poem you write. But this is an option, not a requirement.



Try to get at least ten words.

Now write a poem consisting of as many lines as you have words. Your first line will end with the first word in your list, the second line will end with the second word, and so on. Using the above example, line 1 will end with purple, line 2 will end with plump, and so on.

You should end up with a first draft that has some promising sounds, not exact rhymes but near rhymes.

Sample Poem:

Note from Diane: The list of words above is the beginning of the list I created for my own poem, "Love Song with Plum." As you read the poem, you'll see that I stuck with all "p" words, but remember that that's an option, not a requirement. Although I did not include my entire list here, from what I did include, you can see that I didn't stick one hundred percent to the original order of the words. During revision I moved some words around. I seem to recall that I also added some words not in the original list. What I'm sure of is that I had a good time writing this poem. I hope you have a good time writing yours.

by Diane Lockward

I take what he offers, a plum,
round and plump,
deeper than amethyst purple.
I lift the fruit from his palm.
Like Little Jack Horner, I want it in a pie,
my thumb stuck in to pluck
out that plum.
I want it baked in a pudding,
served post-prandial,
drenched in something potable,
and set on fire, to sit across from him and say, Pass
the pudding, please.
Spread on our morning toast, dollops of plum preserves,
and when we grow old, a bowl of prunes,
which, after all, are nothing more than withered plums.
But today the air is scented with plumeria,
and at this particular fruit stand, I’m plumb
loco in love with the plumiest
man. Festooned with peacock plumes
and swaddled in the plumage
of my happiness, I want to stand at the perimeter
of this plum-luscious
earth, sink a plumb
line for balance, then plummet
like a bird on fire, placate
all my desires, my implacable
hunger for the ripeness of my sweetheart’s plum.

Thank you, Diane, for sharing with us!