Saturday, February 6, 2016

Prompt #245 – Take Five

I’ve always felt that reading poetry can go a long way toward generating poetry. We’re often inspired by what we read, we discover new forms and styles, and we find interesting examples of how language can be used in different and engaging ways.

Inspiration comes in many forms. Often, when we read another poet’s poem, we feel inspired, encouraged, and perhaps even compelled to write something of our own. In general, derivative works are frowned upon, but finding bits of stimulation here can be a very good thing. It's how we use what inspires us that makes the difference.

This week, to encourage poetry reading and to explore some ways in which other poets’ words can motivate us, we’re going to begin with poems that other poets have written.


1. The first thing I’d like you to do is select five short poems from books you have or from the Internet. Try to use poems that are under 40 lines each. The poems may be old favorites or new discoveries—you decide.

2. Read all five poems carefully.

3. Jot down 5 interesting things about each of the poems you selected. 

  • Write down one stunning, startling, or otherwise noteworthy image from the poem.
  • How does the poet invite you into the poem? Is there a “hook” in the first line?
  • How does the last line, the dismount, bring the poem to closure?
  • What’s unique about the last line? 
  • What has the poet written that resonates for you?
  • Make a note of anything else that stands out in the poems you’ve selected.

4. Now, in the spirit of writing a cento, borrow a meaning, metaphor, simile, line, phrase, image, or word from each of the five poems you chose. Altogether, that’s only five things—only one from each of the poems you chose to read.

Note: Cento is the Latin word for patchwork (as in patchwork quilt). In poetry, a cento is made entirely of lines taken from poems by other authors. The rules are simple: no more than one line may be taken from any one poem; any number of quotes is acceptable; and centos may be rhymed or unrhymed. Remember that “borrowing” other poets’ words is typically regarded as an honorific practice when the work is well-done and sources are properly credited. Be sure to provide credits (usually at the end of your poem).

5.  Reflect on your five “borrowed” items. What do they suggest to you? Do they, in any way, lead you to a subject for a poem of your own? Establish the subject for a poem.

6. At this point, begin to write a poem in which you incorporate all five of the “borrowed” items; but, here’s the challenge: unlike writing a cento, you can’t quote anything directly. In other words, the things you chose for the poems you read are purely for inspiration. All the words in your poem must be completely your own.


1. Let yourself be inspired gently, take whatever suggestions the poems you read might have to offer, but don’t be locked into anything.

2. Spend a lot of time, playing” with the ideas you gathered from other people’s poems. Where do they lead you? What moments of inspiration do they bring? How can you “piggy back” from these ideas into something spectacular of your own?

3. Be sure to reject anything that doesn’t fit the poem you begin to write.

4. Keep your poem short, don’t ramble.

5. After you’ve written a draft, look for “lifeless” parts of the poem and delete or rework them.

6. In the end, your new poem should bear little or no resemblance to any of the poems you read. 

7. Remember, this isn’t a prompt about “grand theft poetry”—it’s a prompt about how other people’s writing can inspire your own!


  1. You're getting us to read, Adele! Great idea!

  2. I love that light bulb (and the prompt)! Thanks, Adele!

    1. Thanks, Sandy! I hope the prompt light a light bulb for you! :-)

  3. I love this week's prompt. What a brilliant way to generate ideas for poems. I shall use this prompt whenever I get stuck. Below the poem, the lines from some of my favourite poets that I used as inspiration. As always, thank you, Adele. :)

    ~ ~ ~

    Words on the Page

    The wastepaper basket is open in all weathers
    for every poem I write at the kitchen table.
    One eye on the laptop's screen one on the spin-dazzle
    of bubbles in the washing machine its drum beats to
    my ear's own drum to follow the rhythm. This morning
    I shall ask the bird in the oak something about the
    home of inspiration before the sun's reflection
    in the garden's birdbath becomes liquid black and dead —
    here she comes from above the skyline and clouds there
    the mountain home of the muses with songs easy to
    inspire the thoughts onto tongue and lips words on the page.

    ~ ~ ~

    "Those were the days before we knew what dead meant." - (East Rahway - by Adele Kenny.)

    "Harpo Marx, your hands white-feathered the harp—the only words you ever spoke were sound." (Harpo Marx - by Robert Lowell.)

    "How many golden prints on the smudgy page?" (Villon - by Basil Bunting.)

    "But you've been had, dearie, you've been had." (In The Course Of The Rider - Nicholas Moore.)

    "I read as I eat, one fly alights on my book, the size of print; I let it be. Read and let read." (Serious Readers - Peter Redgrove.)

    ~ ~ ~

    1. Well done, Lewis! (Thank you for quoting me!) And thank you for sharing.

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  5. This post is suitable for last week's prompt as well. Osho, a contemporary mystic, has a word "disrespectable," which I've used in this poem.

    I didn't do a lot of things.
    I didn't obey.
    Not my parents
    not schools
    not society

    I did become disrespctable
    Obeying my heart alone
    Following an ancient voice

    Up hills
    Down valleys
    Ecstasy to despair
    Despair to ecstasy

    I am grateful
    for it all

    1. Hi, Risa, I love the poem, especially the last line. Happy memories of listening to Osho on my MP3 player while out on walks whenever I felt like being cheered up. :)

  6. A poem inspired by this week's prompt and some of the poets mentioned below. —

    ~ ~ ~

    Sequins Sewn

    In the Gaslight Cafe in New York City,
    the window behind their neck creaks
    in time with the flicker
    of the lamp to launch into space
    like a psychedelic fuelled rocket
    from the center table
    seated by the spacemen —
    Huncke, Ginsberg, Burroughs,
    Kerouac, Corso and Carr.
    Each to write words onto napkins
    crumpled and propelled "out there"
    as satellites in orbit to transmit
    inspirational words back to the poets
    who look up at the stars
    and imagine them sequins sewn
    on the multiple layered fabric
    of a cosmic ballerina's skirt
    as she dances through the many rooms
    of the grandest mansion prepared
    for one and all.

    ~ ~ ~

    1. I haven't seen the name "Huncke" in a long time. I met him on several occasions—he was a friend of a friend. So interesting to "encounter" him here. Thanks so much for sharing, Lewis!