Saturday, January 16, 2016

Prompt #242 – What Bugs You?

A while back, I was asked to discuss my “pet poetry peeves” in an interview question. I haven’t thought about it since, but I came across the file a few days ago and thought it might be interesting to work with the idea of “peeves” for this week’s prompt.

Following is my answer to the question, “What are your pet poetry peeves and general poetry philosophy?” I hope something in it resonates for you.

Poetry “Peeves” and Poetry “Philosophy”

There’s a big difference between writing a poem and creating art. A lot of people who write poetry work from a prose impulse and a prose logic that they arrange in lines and stanzas. They may be very capable writers, but art has to be something more than competent. It’s too easy to tell a story in a format that looks like a poem.

Some people who write poetry are so interested in being poets, telling their stories, and getting applause that they (the writers) are indelibly superimposed over their poems. The poem is the thing and it needs to be free of the poet if it can ever be called art. There is definitely a finding and loss of the self in poetry writing—that sounds contradictory, but it isn’t. The poet enters the poem to learn something; once a poem is written, the poet necessarily exits; the poem shouldn’t carry the poet along with it—all that bulk and bone can cast shadows on a poem’s light. A good poem takes risks—artistic and emotional—but never through concepts and notions or simplifications. Every poem needs a strong emotional center that doesn’t smother meaning with sentiment (I think of that as sediment)—subtlety (and that doesn’t mean obscurity) is necessary for a poem to succeed.

A poem must contain an element of mystery or surprise—first to the poet and then to the reader or listener. A poet, beyond competence, has to trust his or her readers to fill in some of the blanks. Dylan Thomas wrote, “You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it tick... You’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps … so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.”

The best lesson a poet can learn is to write “little”—to work from the minute on the way to the large.

Now … for this week’s prompt … simply write a poem about a pet peeve—something that really irks you (and it doesn’t have to be poetry or writing related).


1. Start with a list of things that annoy you.

2. Select one item for your list and write a poem about it.

3. You may choose to write about the peeve itself or how that peeve came to be something that really “bugs” you.


1. Because this kind of poem lends itself to a good “rant,” you might try that approach.

2. You may choose to be humorous or serious.

3. Stick to specifics and don’t let emotion rule your content. Remember that this is a poem and should contain the qualities of good poetry (imagery, figures of speech, effective line breaks, sound).
4. Don’t close the door on your poem; leave it slightly ajar.

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

Pet Peeve Suggestions:
  • People who talk with their moths full of food
  • People who use poor grammar
  • People who use or pronounce words incorrectly
  • Screaming (noisy) children in churches, movie theaters, restaurants
  • Terrible service in a restaurant
  • Arrogance
  • Overuse of the word like 
  • Overuse of the word actually 
  • Vanity
  • Bigotry
  • Slow drivers in the fast lanePeople who always have to get the last word 
  • Loud Music
  • Phoniness (insincerity)
  • Liars 


  1. Hi Adele,

    The peeve of all peeves for me is the subject of the poem below. :)


    Grandma Swears

    Grandma swears by the use of batches of my own hair.
    Others, over the years, have recommended the following —
    coffee grounds, pipe tobacco, and flowerpots of lavender,
    geraniums, absinthe, lemon thyme and thorny roses.

    Someone wrote in a copy of Gardeners Weekly —
    "Have you tried dried peels of lemons, oranges or
    grapefruit thrown on top of some chicken wire embedded
    in the soil, or, perhaps a thin layer of grass clippings,
    what about a scattering of sheep
    pellets and a few mothballs strategically placed around
    rockery stones covered with vapour rub?
    Guaranteed to work!"

    Even the bus driver has a few tips: "you could try
    white pepper, tea bags soaked in citronella oil,
    some plastic bottles filled with water, and a couple of
    small mirrors." Believe me, I've tried the lot!

    Most recently, I placed a trail of cat biscuits
    leading to a litter tray with compost all to keep
    the neighbours cats off the flowerbeds.
    Finally, Mrs Jones from number forty-three said —

    "you should try making a cat-friendly area —
    a small plot of catnip, catmint, cat thyme and
    spider plants." The cheek of it!
    Maybe it's time I got my own cat!

    ~ ~ ~

    1. Very nice, Lewis! I really like the humorous element.

    2. Well done, Lewis! We have a problem with stray cats in my neighborhood too. Nothing seems to keep them away!

    3. Nice Lewis. I thought it was to keep out other animals like deer. Does it really work to keep away cats? No? My friend in the country used hair to keep away the deer. Oh well! Good luck and try to keep as much hair on your head as possible.

    4. The hairs on my head are gone for good unlike the cats in the garden.

      Congratulations and best wishes on your new book, Risa. :)

  2. I'm still sniffling and sneezing, so right now my pet peeve is winter colds/flu! I do like this prompt!

  3. Thank you, Adele and Jamie. I have tried so many ways in which to keep the cats out of the garden, which is starting to look like an assault course for the cats that seem to enjoy ​climbing over and crossing the ​various ​objects — it's as though they are using the garden to ​test ​their ​strength and ​physical ​condition. Just like the cats I hope your flu leaves soon, Jamie. :)

  4. Amita Jayaraman (Mumbai)January 18, 2016 at 11:38 AM

    I like this prompt very much as I have something I need to rant about right now! Thank you, Adele!

  5. Pet Peeve

    I love words
    I'm obsessed
    with words
    and deeds
    Say what you mean
    Do what you say
    leave in peace
    and silence!

    1. The poem reminded me of those times after a period of quiet when the thoughts/words appear to have a certain directness and the story being told about everything doesn't seem so serious. Risa, I love the way you put the poem together :)

    2. We word lovers can relate to this poem, Risa! Nicely expressed!