Saturday, October 24, 2015

Prompt #236 – Halloween (Post for October 24th & 31st)

When witches go riding, and black cats are seen,
the moon laughs and whispers, ‘tis near Halloween.
—Author Unknown

Because Halloween falls on the 31st, next Saturday, I thought I'd post a Halloween prompt this week and leave it up this week and next for you to enjoy.

BTW, did you know that the poet John Keats was born on Halloween in 1795? His last poem is an untitled, eight-line fragment that seems chillingly well-suited to Halloween:

                     This living hand, now warm and capable
                     Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
                     And in the icy silence of the tomb,
                     So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
                     That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
                     So in my veins red life might stream again,
                     And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
                     I hold it towards you.

For Halloween this year, simply read a selection of Halloween and related poems to get into the "spirit" (see example poems below), and then write a Halloween poem that brings back the memory of a particular Halloween (from childhood or more recent). There are no guidelines or tips other than to observe the usual caveats and to have fun with this. Here you go ...

  • Touch base with a Halloween memory, think in terms of a narrative poem (one that tells a story), and let the memory guide your poem. 
  • Be sure to evoke a mood or tone that's compatible with your subject.
  • Use language that's appropriate to Halloween and your Halloween experience.

Example Poems:
John Donne,
“The Apparition” (1633)

Robert Herrick,
“The Hag” (1648)

Robert Burns,
“Halloween” (1785)

George Gordon, Lord Byron,
“Darkness” (1816)

Edgar Allan Poe,
“Dream-Land” (1844)

Edgar Allan Poe,
“The Raven” (1845)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
“Haunted Houses” (1858) 

Christina Rossetti,
“Goblin Market” (1862)

Walt Whitman,
“The Mystic Trumpeter” (1872)

Abram Joseph Ryan,
“Song of the Deathless Voice” (1880)

Paul Laurence Dunbar,
“The Haunted Oak” (1903)

Edith Wharton,
“All Souls” (1909)

Adelaide Crapsey,
“To the Dead in the Graveyard Underneath My Window” (1915)

Robert Frost,
“Ghost House” (1915)

Thomas Hardy,
“The Shadow on the Stone” (1917)

And here's a Halloween prose poem from my book A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing at All    (Welcome Rain Publishers, 2015.
Click here to order via Amazon.


Trick-or-treaters come to the door repeatedly—little ones early, older kids into the night until she runs out of candy and turns off the outside lights. The wall between worlds is thin (aura over aura—stars flicker and flinch). The woman buttons her coat, checks her reflection in the mirror, and stands cheek to glass (eye on her own eye, its abstract edge). She leaves the house (empty house that we all become)—shadows shaped to the trees, crows in the high branches.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Prompt #235 – From A Different Perspective

This week, the challenge is to imagine that you’re someone else (a historical figure, a celebrity of any kind, anyone famous or infamous, a homeless person, a painter, a musician, one of your relatives or neighbors, a character from a song or novel) and, then, to write a poem from the perspective of that person. These are often called persona poems.


1. Start with a list in which you include as many details about the person you’ve chosen as you can.

2. Reflect on those details and decide which you can best use in a poem.

3. Remember that you’re writing from the perspective of the person you’ve chosen, not your own perspective. Consider how the person you’ve chosen might think and feel.

4. Begin writing and see where your poem takes you. One possibility is to begin or end your poem with a quote—something the person you’ve chosen actually said or wrote.

5. Consider writing a monologue in poem form.


1.  Be careful of saying too much and including too many details. Stay focused.

2.  Remember that you’re “speaking” through someone else’s voice.

3. Think in terms of your person’s viewpoints and perhaps include a fictional layer to address concepts and ideas with which you’re not completely comfortable yourself.

4. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re not writing about someone else, you are that someone for the space of your poem.

5. Remember that your poem shouldn’t include commentary or analysis.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Prompt #234 – One Sentence Long

One thing we’re all taught in writing classes is to watch out for run-on sentences. This week, just for fun, let’s try writing a single sentence poem (but not a typical run-on that wanders aimlessly along the page).

There are many such poems by very distinguished poets, including “Piedra de Sol” by Octavio Paz, which is a 584-line one-sentence poem (that ends with a colon).

One of my all-time favorites is Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough. 

And here’s a longer one-sentence poem by Linda Pastan:

The New Dog   

Into the gravity of my life,
the serious ceremonies
of polish and paper
and pen, has come

this manic animal
whose innocent disruptions
make nonsense
of my old simplicities—

as if I needed him
to prove again that after
all the careful planning,
anything can happen.
Another by Wallace Stevens:

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

And this from Adrienne Rich’s Twenty-One Love Poems:


The rules break like a thermometer,
quicksilver spills across the charted systems,
we’re out in a country that has no language
no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren
through gorges unexplored since dawn
whatever we do together is pure invention
the maps they gave us were out of date
by years … we’re driving through the desert
wondering if the water will hold out
the hallucinations turn to simple villages
the music on the radio comes clear—
neither Rosenkavalier nor Götterdämmerung
but a woman’s voice singing old songs
with new words, with a quiet bass, a flute
plucked and fingered by women outside the law.


1. Look at the example poems above and below. Notice how the poets use punctuation and line breaks to “pace” their poems. Try to do the same with your poem.

2. You might begin with  a free write that contains little or no punctuation.

3. Work toward a poem that’s 6-12 lines long, and don’t be afraid to try and divide into stanzas.


1. As always, avoid over-description and too many adjectives.

2. Don’t allow meaning to become subservient to form; that is, focus on what your poem means more than the lack of terminal punctuation.

3. Think in terms of semi-colons instead of periods.

4. Work through images as you tighten wording. 

5. Don't simply write a run-on sentence—make your one sentence poem interesting and accessible.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Prompt #233 –The Importance of Sports

With the soccer season in full swing (yes, I admit that soccer, especially British Premier League, is my sports passion), I find myself devoting large parts of my weekends to watching soccer on TV. Being a little (okay, a lot) soccer-obsessed, it occurs to me that sports are very much a part of many of our lives, whether we actually play sports, enjoy being spectators at live games and matches, or simple like watching them on TV.

Among numerous other benefits, participation in sports can

promote physical strength and mental alertness,
offer experiences in socialization and communication skills,
encourage a sense of team (community) spirit, and
foster greater self-confidence and healthy self-esteem.

Ah—I know you guessed this was coming, sports can also offer material for our poems.


1. Think about a sport that you enjoy:
  • a sport that you’ve played,
  • a sport that you enjoy watching (in person or on TV),
  • a sport that a family member, spouse, partner, or friend has played,
  • a sport that your children or grandchildren play,
  • a sport you’d like to play. 

2. Choose a sport and make that the initial subject of your poem.

3. Now, write a poem in which you use the sport you chose to convey a deeper message (remember that really good poems have more than one subject—the obvious subject and other unstated subjects).

4. Perhaps you’ll use a particular sport as an extended metaphor, or use sports imagery and vocabulary to give your poem a sports “base.”

5. Think beyond the obvious subject of your poem to discover what your poem might really be about.

6. An alternative might be to write an ode to a particular sport or sportsperson or, if you really don’t care for sports at all, write about why you don’t like sports (or a particular sport).

7. And here’s a fun option: since American baseball icon Yogi Berra passed away last week, many sites have featured what are known as Yogi-isms. These pithy witticisms often take the form of obvious tautologies or paradoxical contradictions but, more often than not, they hold fundamentally meaningful messages that offered as much wisdom as humor. Read the following Yogi-isms and choose one to incorporate into your poem in some way.
  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
  • You can observe a lot by just watching.
  • It ain’t over till it’s over. 
  •  It’s like déjà vu all over again.
  • No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded. 
  • A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
  • You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you. 
  • I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.
  • Never answer an anonymous letter.
  • The future ain’t what it used to be.
  • It gets late early out here.
  • Pair up in threes.
  • It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.
  • I never said most of the things I said.
  • If you ask me anything I don’t know, I’m not going to answer.
  • If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.


1. Avoid over use of adjectives.

2. Get rid of prepositions wherever you can.

3. Try to work your poem into stanzas and compare stanzaic and stichic forms to determine which is best for your poem.

4. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Make sure you bring your poem to closure in with a home run, knockout punch, touchdown, or goal.


“A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball” by Christopher Merrill

“Baseball” by Gail Mazur           

“Analysis of Baseball” by May Swenson


And just for fun ...

my Yorkie, Chaucer
 with one of his favorite
 soccer players!