Saturday, January 30, 2016

Prompt #244 – What I Didn't

Some time back I posted a list of dos and don’ts for writing poetry. This week, I’m going to revisit that list with the specific intention of enhancing the poems you write for this prompt. You’ll find the list under “Tips.”


1. Reflect for a few moments on a difficult decision or choice you’ve had to make.

2. What were the implications of the decision you made? What happened as a result? What didn’t happened? Was your decision a good one or not?

3. Now, here’s the challenge: write a poem about what might have happened had you made a different decision or choice. In other words, explore the possibilities of what you didn’t opt to do.

4. After you’ve drafted your poem, take a look at the tips below. One by one, apply each to your poem and make appropriate edits.


Don’t: End with a moral.

Don’t: Close with an “I’m going to tell you what this poem is about” ending.

Don’t: Go with an expected outcome (especially in a narrative poem). Shake up your readers’ expectations.

Don’t: Use up all the air in your poem on the last couple of lines—leave the reader room to breathe.

Don’t: Undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.

Don’t: Conclude with a sentimental or emotional statement (both sentiment and emotion may be heartfelt but, when they’re blatantly stated, they can detract from the power of your poem).

Don’t: Close the door on your poem; leave it slightly ajar.

Do: Link the end of the poem to the beginning but not overtly—and don’t over-write.

Do: Write beyond the last line, then go back and find the last line hidden in what you’ve written.

Do: Use more one-syllable words than multi-syllable words in your last couple of lines (think in terms of strong verbs and no superfluous language).

Do: Try (minimal) repetition from another part of the poem—sometimes this can work very well.

Do: Resist the urge to apologize (or to even suggest apology).

Do: Leave your reader something to reflect upon.

Do: Point toward something broader than the body of the poem.

Do: Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”


The Road Not Taken 
     By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


  1. The dos and don'ts are so helpful, but what I want is to write a poem about that incredible image! Wow!

  2. Dos and don'ts are great! Okay if I copy and paste to use in a handout for my students? I'll give full acknowledgment to you and the blog.

    1. Absolutely, Rich! Feel free to copy and paste for your students, and thanks for any acknowledgment you care to make.

  3. For these, your tips and helpful dos and don'ts, thank you, Adele. :)

    ~ ~ ~

    The Magnetic Pull of Thought

    What would be his fate through the nights and the days of

    the years to pass? An instant before — the jar full

    of tiny creatures; dragonflies, butterflies and

    beetles and moths to burn black as raven watches

    from there in the shade of the oak the rise of smoke

    and the children that laugh and joke by their bonfire

    to care for nothing else — there had been for one, the

    magnetic pull of thought, 'what is it for living

    things to die and then again, we mustn't do it.'

    Of the nights and the days the years past — memory

    and regret how he stood on the edge of summer-

    sixty-eight full of fear and imagined screams of

    insects as they gasp to breathe and struggle to break

    free through the glass in hope to fly in the air and

    to rest among the moisture of grass and leaves and

    the fragrance of every flower warmed by the sun.

    ~ ~ ~

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Lewis!I can feel the frustration/fear, the darkness of the thoughts.

  4. Good, concise list. Many of these remind me of things Dana Gioia taught me at Wesleyan Writers Conference. Most of my early poetry ended with, what he called, "And in conclusion," lines. It took me a while to break that habit but it really makes poems much better to avoid that. Gioia used Lowell as an example of someone who knew how to end a poem well. Such as, "The Lord survives the rainbow of his will." Wish I had written that. Thank you, Adele. This is a great list to have on hand as a reminder . Wonderful prompt.

    1. Thanks so much, Michael! Great dismounts are so important, and the Lowell example is sublime!

  5. The "dos and don'ts" are really useful tools! Thanks!

  6. Using only the words taken and rearranged from the above poem 'The Road Not Taken', By Robert Frost.

    ~ ~ ~

    The Passing

    With a sigh, I shall tell this —
    where two roads diverged; one traveler
    could not travel both —
    took one and kept passing there,
    perhaps that has made all the difference
    how way leads on to way and another day.

    Somewhere ages hence: with a doubted step
    leaves trodden black and sorry I
    could not come back.

    ~ ~ ~

    1. What an interesting way to "read" a poem! Thanks for sharing this, Lewis! I think you'll like the post for the coming week!