Saturday, February 27, 2016

Prompt #247 – What If

Last week, Deborah LaVeglia, my friend and fellow poet, posted the Coleridge poem below on her Facebook page, and I was so grateful to her for reintroducing me to a poem I've always found intriguing but haven’t read in years.

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in you hand
Ah, what then?

The whole "condition" of "if" in this poem fascinates me. Some time ago, in prompt #188, we worked with "if" clauses. (Click here for prompt #188.) That prompt, was intended to address the specific ways in which conditional clauses create mood, conditions, limitations, dependencies, and expectations. The Coleridge poem suggests something different, and our goal this week will be far from the same.

Poems like the one above can empower our imaginations (and surprise us) as we briefly leave what we know and move into a place of fabricated experience where we aren’t bound by geography or time.

Accordingly, this week, let’s write “What If” poems. Not “if, then” poems in which an idea put forward is followed by a result. Instead, simply consider a single “what if,” and don’t speculate on what happens because of it. In other words, try to write a poem based on the poem above but make it your own.  This will call for some special thinking and planning.


1. Spend time thinking about an occurrence with unexplainable connotations (read the Coleridge poem again).

2. Once you have an idea, begin by free writing for a while.

3. If you have trouble with this one, try working your poem around the pattern of Coleridge’s poem. Set your poem up, initially anyway, to look like Coleridge’s. Here’s rough idea of what I mean:

What if _____________
And what if _____________
In ______________
You ____________
And what if ________________
In your _____________
You _________________
And ___________________
And what if ______________
When ________________
You had ______________
Ah, what then?

(Notice that all lines begin with caps and there's no terminal punctuation until the last line.)

4. Keep in mind that the idea is to pose the question of a “what if” but not to offer any answers, results, or “what happens after.” Leave your readers with an aura of mystery and something to think about!


1. Create an impression of the unexplained. Leave your “what if” unanswered—don’t even hint at answers.

2. End with a question.

3. Think in terms of image and sound, pace and nuance.

4. Include details—but not too many, and beware of using too many adjectives. Remember that your goal in this isn’t to create a picture but, rather, to create a sense of mystery and question.

4. After you’ve written a few drafts, let the poem sit for a while (a few days even). When you go back to it, take out anything that isn’t absolutely essential.



  1. The Coleridge poem is new to me, and I love it! I also love Deborah LaVeglia's poem. Such an interesting prompt all around. Thanks, Adele and Deborah!

    1. Thanks, Jamie! So glad you like the Coleridge poem and Deborah's!

  2. Dreamed A Strange Dream

    On the bedside table, a mosquito settles
    On the tab over the open hole
    Of a can of soda and drinks,
    Then, her mouth-parts needle-like, she pierces
    The skin of my hand which let's go
    The beautiful flower I plucked in a dream.

    The bloodsucker makes her getaway
    Through the morning window and up
    To the tip of the shard of glass
    That stands at over a thousand feet high
    As the sun in the style of Jackson Pollock
    Drip paint's red the city's tallest building.

    What if I a sleepwalker were found in my bedclothes,
    Ah, what then of the flower plucked in a dream,
    Or was it from the rose garden in an inner city park?

    ~ ~ ~

    1. Very nice, Lewis! I really like the way you took the prompt and the inspiration piece and made this poem that is uniquely your own.

    2. Ditto to what Jamie and Risa wrote!

    3. Jamie, Risa and Sandy thank you for your comments, I appreciate your kind and encouraging words. :)

      Coleridge’s poem is mysterious and appears to act as a trigger for the brain to start making all sorts of connections from the sounds and images in its memory bank. Thank you, Adele, for another great prompt.

    4. Dreams are always fertile ground for poems, and you've used the dreamscape imagery so well in this poem, Lewis!

  3. Amita Jayaraman (Mumbai)February 28, 2016 at 8:32 AM

    A wonderful prompt. I especially like the inspiration poem and the poem by Deborah LaVeglia! Thank You!

  4. What if we had
    been born in
    another time?
    another place?
    another race?

    Would we have been
    able to love, then?

    Are we satisfying
    an ancient longing, now?

    What a blessing!

    1. Risa, I love the movement from question to question and from then and now and on to the final sense of openness beyond any human creation.

    2. I really like the suggestion of something otherworldly in this poem. You've captured the feeling so perfectly!

    3. =/\../\= this is supposed to be a smiling cat!

    4. Risa, I see it (the cat, that is)!

  5. The Garden, A River Ever Through It

    A goddess now and then shakes the bough of a willow tree,
    Where on the leaves swim a thousand morning suns
    In dewdrops, to shower as the source of energy
    For the life of willow stems planted in the ground
    And weaved by her into living sculptures.

    Some are shaped into human form and in their center a ball
    Of hot plasma for a heart. What if they are you and me,
    And the harmonies of the birds are meant the words by us
    Chosen and spoken that we might reach the joy of each
    Willow flower carried its way to heaven — why not?

    ~ ~ ~

    1. Congrats to you, Lewis -- two poems this week!