Saturday, February 15, 2014

Prompt #177 – The Loss of Things

In life, some things stay with us and some things are lost. People, of course, enter and leave our lives in the same way that beloved pets do. Loss through death is an experience that none of us can avoid. It’s been rightly said that loss is a part of life, but while many losses leave us in sadness, there are losses that are just part of life’s natural process, not all that difficult to accept and often for the best.

There are two major psychological responses by individuals when adjusting to loss: (1) the use of coping mechanisms, and (2) emotional reactions. There is, however, a third component in the “psychology” of loss that deals with “cutting” and “coming to terms with” our losses (however large or small those losses may be).

Poetry often speaks a language of loss and, while losses come in all magnitudes, let’s not think in terms of major losses this week. Instead of agonizing over a serious loss, let’s consider a leaving or a letting go that was not devastating and perhaps even for the best.  For example, we all lose things that are special to us (a family keepsake, an article of clothing that makes us recall a special time or event, a stuffed animal that remembers childhood, a piece of jewelry with special reasons for attachment, a good luck charm, a book). We all lose such things along the way. Remember: this week, we’re not writing about people or pets but, rather, about things.


1. Write a poem titled or based on, “I Had It Once, But I Don’t Need It Now.”
2. Write a poem titled, “Thanksgrieving” about a loss for which you were ultimately thankful.
3. Related to the above, take an inventory of your blessings and things for which you’re grateful and include some of them in a poem about a loss.
4. Write a poem about a loss that ended in good.
5. Write a poem about letting something go—a letting go that was for the best.
6. Write a poem about an object that you once treasured but no longer have. Why was it important? What happened to it?
7. Write a poem in which you re-find something that you lost.
8. Write a poem in which a loss unexpectedly lent itself to the good and meaningful in your life.
9. Write a poem from the perspective of a treasured object that you’ve lost.
10. Write a poem addressed to a treasured object that you’ve lost.


1. Start by making a list of words that deal with the subject of loss.
2. Choose some of the words from your list to include in your poem.
3. Think of a loss to write about—one over which you had no control or one that you chose., and remember that the loss can’t be a person or pet.
4. Think about what your poem says at the sub-meaning level through syllables, sonic impression (sound), images, and word choice.
5. Remember that a good poem should have at least two subjects: the obvious subject and the not-so-obvious. Think about your content and what you really want to say about your subject. Dig deeply. Don’t settle for what you meant to write.
6. Let the loss you choose to write about lead you into another “place.” Evoke a feeling of loss (or some sense of it) within a larger context.
7. Spend time during revision on your line and stanza lengths.
A. Is there a reason for your line lengths? For example, is your poem skinny and, if so, why? If you’ve used longer lines, how does the line length serve the poem’s meaning?
B. Try some enjambments. (Enjambment occurs when a phrase carries over a line-break without a major pause. In French, the word “enjambing” means “straddling” and, in poetry, enjambment means that one line “straddles the next.”) When you read an enjambed line, the sense of it encourages you to keep right on reading the next line, without stopping for a breather.
B. Have you used irregular (aleostrophic) stanzas and why?
C. If your poem appears as a single stanza (stichic), can you work it into a line scheme such as couplets, tercets, etc.?
D. If you typically write with a certain line or stanza length, try to get out of your comfort zone (or rut) and try something different. Be sure that line and stanza lengths fit the meaning of the poem and how you wish to express it.


“Loss” by Carl Adamshick 

“Token Loss” by Kay Ryan

“Reluctance” by Robert Frost


  1. We tend to focus on the big losses, don't we? I love this prompt for the way it looks away from those losses and calls us to pay attention to details with many options to write not "just another" poem about death but, rather, about other kinds of losses.

    1. Thanks so much, Jamie! I'm glad you like the prompt!

  2. Another good one, Adele. I'm looking forward to trying this with my students.

  3. Thanks, Rich! Hope the prompt works well for your students.

  4. It's interesting to consider the non-monumental losses and what they mean to us.

  5. Lost Keys

    the birds watched
    as the muddle-headed neighbor
    climbed over the garbage cans
    through her window
    on the first floor
    in the heights
    the same neighborhood where
    houses from the 1700's stood
    the birds a witness to time forgotten
    and forgetfulness in time

    1. Lovely, Risa! A nice idea to have the birds witness the loss of the keys as well as the passage of time. Thanks for sharing with us!

  6. Thanks! Your prompts always inspire!

    1. Risa -- I couldn't agree more. I also agree with Adele's comment on your poem! It's always great to read your work.