Saturday, June 2, 2018

Prompt #314 – What We Keep

Of course, we all keep memories, but sometimes there are tangible objects that become “valuable” to us because of their connections to our memories. Mementos and keepsakes that belonged to loved ones, that came from places we’ve visited, were gifts given to us, and even old photographs—these all fall into the category of “what we keep.”

When my mom passed away, twenty years ago, I brought many of her things home to my house. Many of the items I treasure most are the small things that she used every day—familiar and  humble. Among them are the salt and pepper shakers from her kitchen—not her crystal, silver-topped antiques, but the dime store set that was part of her daily life. These casual items have become personal and meaningful treasures.

What have you kept that belonged to another time, another place, another person? Why did you keep it? Why do you feel “close” to it? Write a poem about something you keep and treasure because of its connection to someone you loved, a special place, or a time in your life that was especially important to you.


1. Begin by making a list of things you’ve kept and treasured over the years.

2. Next, annotate each object on your list with the people, memories, and feelings  associated with the items.

3. Then, select one of the items on your list—only one. If the object is handy, spend some time with it.

4. Free write for a while about the item you selected.

5. Finally, work on writing a poem about the item you selected.


1. Avoid sentimentality. Anything with a strong emotional attachment can lead you into the trap of becoming sentimental. Be aware of that when you write.

2. Start with a line that will invite your readers into the poem. A “so what” beginning can ruin a poem like this.

3. Include enough details to describe the item, to remember the people, place, and feelings associated with it, but be wary of over-using adjectives, articles, and prepositional phrases.

4. Steer clear of trite expressions, clichés, and hackneyed similes and metaphors. Keep your writing fresh and direct.

5. If you began writing in the past tense try switching to the present (or vice versa), and see which version works better.

6. End with a “punch.” Avoid summing up, and think about concluding with a strong image.


Read the following poem carefully, and observe how skillfully the poet creates a memoir poem based on her father's cuff links

Work Clothes by Nancy Lubarsky

 (for my father)

Long after you were gone
I found your cuff links
in a velvet pouch among my
bracelets. The A (for Arthur), etched
in gold ovals, leaned right, the tail
swirled left, like a wave receding.
There’s mystery in the curls,
from a time before font names
were familiar, when elaborate letters
pledged stories to come.

I never saw you wear them – never
watched you twist the levers into slits
on cuffed shirts, or slip your arm into
the sleeve of a pinstriped suit.
Your work clothes were heavy twill –  
drawstring pants, an apron –
you left at midnight with them
stashed in a canvas sack, and headed
deep into the Bronx.

Over time, they wore and frayed,
stained with jelly and chocolate.
In middle school, after Home Ec
ended, you surprised me with the
sewing machine. In late afternoon,
at the dinette, you cut patches
while I mended holes and edges.  
My toe touched the pedal, the machine
whirred – you asked me to print
your initials inside along the seams.

From The Only Proof, Aldrich Press, Kelsay Books 
Copyright © 2017, all rights reserved. 
Reprinted by permission of the author.


  1. Hi Adele! Another great prompt. I noticed that the photos of the man and woman in this picture are the same as the ones you used for your blog title bar. Are they family members by any chance?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jamie! You've got a great eye for details! Yes, the two people in the double daguerreotype case are my great, great grandparents John and Mary Ann Eliza Brooks (who came from West Bromwich, England. The pictures are tintypes. The single pic to the left is my grandmother (John & Maryann's granddaughter), and the pic on the right is my great grandfather Patrick Kenny (from Ireland).

  2. Just stopped by to read the new prompt and to comment with a thank you when I noticed Jamie's comment. Those old photographs are treasures and definitely "keepers."

    Anyone else reading should know that if you click on the photo, you can see it full size.

    The poem by Nancy Lubarsky is wonderful! Thank you for sharing it with us, along with the info for purchasing the book.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Sandy! Those old pics are real treasures.

      Nancy's book is wonderful.

  3. A great prompt and a great example poem.

    A few classes left this school year, so the prompt will come in handy.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Rich! Hope your students like the prompt!

  4. A great prompt to work with, and a great example poem by Nancy Lubarsky. Thanks.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, John! I hope Nancy has an opportunity to read the lovely comments about her poem.

  5. Keep nothing at all
    Become like an empty cup
    God will fill the space

    1. It's great to see your poem here on the blog, Risa! As always, right to the point and spot on! Thanks so much for sharing with us. Hope you'll keep coming back!


  6. In this poem Nancy leverages her craft to describe tangible objects that were part of her growing up and connected to unforgettable memories. Her family-dedicated father is portrayed through cuff links, suits rarely worn, aprons, etc. The objects are amazingly accurate in their visual details but not boring or “lost in the weeds”:

    …The A (for Arthur), etched
    in gold ovals, leaned right, the tail
    swirled left, like a wave receding…


    …watched you twist the levers into slits
    on cuffed shirts….

    Although most of the words are objects, they are subtly triggering emotions: This is why, in my opinion, this is a brilliant selection of a poem to demonstrate the power of physical objects to trigger memories and emotions.

    Daughter’s love of her father is even today (when she writes the poem) immersed in a soft sadness about years gone, emotions cherished and an ever-lasting bond.

    In the last stanza, preparing for dismount, Nancy masterfully introduces the gifted sewing machine when she and her father work together with patching and mending and he asks her to print his initials on the work clothes, as if those letters will guarantee his presence in her life and memories. Mission accomplished!

    I was very touched by this poem.

    Basil Rouskas

    1. Basil, thank you so much for your insightful and beautifully expressed comment. It's always wonderful to "touch base" with you here on the blog.

  7. We all have things that we keep for sentimental and other reasons, so this prompt really resonated for me. When I read Nancy Lubarsky's poem, my eyes filled with tears because I have my own father's cuff links, and I was so deeply touched by Nancy's words. Thank you Adele and Nancy!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Carole! It's always wonderful to know that poems we've written touch readers we don't even know or haven't met. It's good to know that Nancy's poem resonated for you and touched your spirit.

  8. Wonderful comments, Basil and Carole!

    1. I couldn't agree more, Risa! Thank you again for sharing your poem!

  9. I just ordered Nancy Lubarsky's book on eBay. Always my first stop when ordering books. Prices are often better than Amazon and other booksellers. Of course, there's an element of luck involved in regard to book availability. I got lucky and can't wait to read more by this poet.

    1. So glad you ordered Nancy's book, J. Lewis! You won't be disappointed. Ebay is a great resource for book buyers -- I've often found newer books for much reduced prices.

  10. This prompt "prompted" me to do an inventory of treasures that I keep. There are many! Nancy Lubarsky's poem is a wonderful example.

    1. I did the same thing, Carolyn, right before I wrote the prompt. Like you, I have many mementos. Thanks so much for your comment.