Saturday, May 24, 2014

Prompt #186 - Transport and Travel

I recently put together the video below, based on Nic Sebastian’s reading of my poem “The Trains”—a poem that goes back to a childhood time that, for me, continues to inform the present.

Thinking about trains “transported” me into thoughts about the different ways we travel (in our daily lives to and from work or school, to and from the grocery store, etc.), the ways in which we travel for recreation and education, and the metaphorical travels we take. “Travel,” more than just getting from one place to another, connects us to other people, to other cultures, and can engage us in the art of adventure.

For this prompt, let’s think about how we “travel” and write related poems.


1. Think about all the ways we get to where we want to go—actual modes of transportation: horses, cars, trucks, trains, subways, boats, planes, bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, trams, baby carriages, elevators, hay wagons, monorails, wheelchairs, ziplines. Make a list of types of transport that you’ve used. Which of these conjure up especially memorable times. Select one to write about.

2. Today, we have various modes of transport that we, perhaps, take for granted. Imagine what life would be like without one or more of them.

3. How is “travel” a metaphor for a time, place, or experience in your life? Or, how is a particular form of transport a metaphor for something in your life?

4. What’s your favorite type of transportation?

5. What’s your best travel memory?

6. Is there a funny travel experience in your life?

7. Have you ever been in a situation in which you felt emotionally “transported” to another time or place?

8. Think about time travel (what it means to journey through imagination, a time machine, or a wormhole).

9. Consider this T. S. Eliot quotation, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Can you relate Eliot’s words to a travel or transportation experience in your life?

10. Think about this quote from Buddha: “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” What does this mean or suggest to you? Can you apply it to a personal experience?


1.  Don’t explain everything. Leave room for the reader to enter and be part of your poem.

2. Avoid clichés and the ordinary. Create images that are unique (and don’t be afraid to be different, take chances, experiment).

3. Because this poem is about travel, find ways to evoke a sense of movement in your poem. (Think in terms of language, form, and meter/sound—try to create a regular meter or metrical pattern for your poem.)

4. Use details sparingly—too many details can spoil an otherwise good poem. Don’t allow your poem to become cluttered with minutia. Too many details can make a poem feel claustrophobic.

5. Only include what’s essential. You know the old adage—if a poem only contains five good lines, then the poem should be five lines long.

6. Read your poem out loud and listen to how it sounds, then edit (tweak and refine).



  1. We tend to forget how differently we travel now, but Adele's prompt made me visit personal memories from my childhood and later voyages including my immigration to the US. Here is my first draft of this travel poem:


    The station master
    called it “automotrice”
    and we mocked the way he

    announced the arrival of
    this diesel engine
    (with two cars in tow)

    to take me and my cousin
    on a trip north of Athens
    to a regional hub town.

    From there, mules
    carried us and
    our bags

    to the magic vacation mountain,
    to my father’s birth village, to the last
    vestiges (half of our family)

    who still lived the farming life —
    before the city
    swallowed us all;

    before (in a misty September dawn)
    the last ocean liner crossed the Atlantic
    to bring me to New York’s harbor.

    Immigrants after me
    saw the statue
    from the air as the plane

    circled Manhattan,
    before landing
    at JFK.

    1. Nice poem, Basil. It's good to see more of your work (glad you don't disappear after Poetry Month). My students (who visit this blog regularly) really enjoyed your poems during April.

    2. Thanks for your comment, Rich—it's wonderful to know that your students enjoy the blog!

    3. Nice poem, Basil, as all of your poems are!

    4. Very nice. I'm circling with you on this emotional journey!

  2. A lovely poem, Basil, that speaks of the immigrant's sense of home and what is left behind. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

  3. Great idea for a prompt, and you're right about us taking our means of transport for granted. These days we feed a car petrol instead of feeding a horse oats and hay -- I may just try a poem about that!

    1. Jamie,
      It sounds so catchy… oats and hay vs — —

  4. The Flying Dutchman!
    We love 'im!
    He's not beautiful.
    But, man, can he go.
    A working man's bike
    We share 'im
    We go everywhere
    Walkin's over-rated

    1. Let's hear it for the Dutchman! Well done, Risa!

    2. Risa, I had to look up "Flying Dutchman" and found this (which helped me context the poem): "The Flying Dutchman is a legendary ghost ship that can never make port and is doomed to sail the oceans forever. The myth is likely to have originated from 17th-century nautical folklore. The oldest extant version dates to the late 18th century. Sightings in the 19th and 20th centuries reported the ship to be glowing with ghostly light. If hailed by another ship, the crew of the Flying Dutchman will try to send messages to land, or to people long dead."

  5. There’s a forest
    Monkeys swing
    Fish fly
    The rabbit eats the tiger
    she doesn’t
    She eats grass
    The tiger eats the cat
    he doesn’t
    He eats grass
    The tree can hurt
    all the flowers and grasses
    and have all the nutrition
    but he doesn’t
    Because they are in that forest
    in my dream

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your poem with us, Ken! Very nicely done and what a great "dream" ending. I hope you'll post other poems!

    2. I really like your poem, Ken, and it's great to know that one of Risa's students is enjoying the blog. Keep writing (and please share more with us).

  6. My student, Ken, has sent you one of his poems. It may not have to do with transportation exactly, but.... I hope you like it.


    1. Thanks so much, Risa! How wonderful that you're sharing poetry and this blog with your students. I like the poem Ken posted very much! I hope you'll encourage him to write more.

      P.S. Often a prompt idea will generate poems that aren't directly connected to the prompt itself, and that's great. The goal is to write poems!

  7. Love your poem, Adele. So beautiful!

  8. Your poem "The Trains" is stunning! I just ordered the book (WHAT MATTERS). I'm new to this blog and love it!