This week’s prompt asks you to think back to a relationship from your past (parent, friend, romantic, work, May-December, toxic, love/hate, abusive). If you think hard you’ll be able to define several. Focus on one and think about one word that describes or relates to that relationship. Can you write a poem about the relationship that uses the word just once for maximum effect (in the title and/or text of the poem)?
1. Think about your past relationships—don’t limit the kind of relationships you remember, and keep in mind that this must be a past relationship, not one in which you’re currently involved.
2. Choose one of your past relationships as the subject for your poem.
3. Think of a word that relates, directly or indirectly, to that relationship. Just one word, so make it a strong one!
4. Begin writing your poem (about the relationship) and include the word (in the title and/or within the poem). BUT …. here’s the challenge: you can only use the word once. Synonyms (as many as you like) are allowed, though.
1. Because you’re focused on two things in this poem (the relationship and the word), work toward incorporating them through imagery and content.
2. Try writing beyond your last line, then go back and find the real last line hidden in what you’ve written.
3. Don’t undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.
4. Leave your reader something to reflect upon.
5. Point toward something broader than the body of the poem.
Take a look at the poem below, “Red Bud,” from Nancy Lubarski’s book, Tattoos (Finishing Line Press, 2014, Copyright © 2014).
Although the poem wasn’t written for this prompt, it’s still a perfect example of what you might do with your own poem this week. In “Red Bud,” Nancy deals with the relationship between parents and children, loved ones, and losses. There are several relationships at work in this poem. The tree that fell in a storm might well be a metaphor for other kinds of loss. Notice how Nancy’s poem is image-based and written with absolute economy of words. This poem tells a story, but it’s not merely anecdotal—it does more than simply relate something that happened, it goes beyond the obvious and suggests something more than the loss of a tree. As I've noted often before, the best poems have more than one subject: their obvious subjects (of course) and one or more "inner" subjects as well. Think about how you can achieve this in your own work.
Which word in the poem do you think is the defining word in "Red Bud," articulated only once? (Scroll down for the answer.)
When you planted it years
ago, it was to teach our two
sons about care and tending.
They helped you trim the
branches each spring to
ease its growth upward.
I wish the storm had spared
that Red Bud—the single
gust that ripped the roots
and toppled it. Now, there will
be no more flowers. The boys
are older; they didn’t notice
that the tree was gone.
(Reprinted by permission of the author.)
You can order Tattoos (I recommend it highly!) directly from the publisher.
(Answer: The defining word in "Red Bud" is “gone,” effectively placed as the last word in the poem.)