Saturday, February 1, 2020

Prompt #347 – The Number Five


This prompt takes you to a quiet place and focuses on the number five. I did a bit of research on the number five and learned (among other things) that:

In numerology, five is a number of harmony and balance.

In the Bible, number five is a symbol of divine grace.  It is a number that symbolizes God's kindness and favor to humankind. (In Hebrew, the number five symbolizes the idea of saving, to be saved, or to be rescued.)

The Chinese believe five elements make up everything under the heavens: metal, wood, water, fire, earth.

The human body reflects the number five: we have five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. We also have the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing and thus five sensory organs: eyes, nose, tongue, skin, and ears.

The five plagues of Egypt were: floods, grasshoppers, lice, frogs, and blood.

The five moral precepts of Buddha are: to refrain from taking life, to refrain from taking what is not freely given, to refrain from misuse of the senses or sexual misconduct, to refrain from wrong speech as in lying or gossiping.

The five fundamental virtues are: wisdom, love, truth, goodness and justice.

The five pillars of Islam are: Profession of Faith (shahada), Prayer (salat), Alms (zakat), Fasting (sawm), and Pilgrimage (hajj).


1. Take yourself to place in which you can relax (your den, your bedroom, your front porch, your backyard, near a lake or stream, the woods, a park).

2. Once you’re settled and comfortable, look around carefully. Notice things (objects, trees, plants, water, stones, etc.) around you and write down five things that capture your attention (and, hopefully, your imagination). You might select five things that are similar or the same (five flowers, five pens or pencils, five windows, five pieces of paper, five books, five people walking by).

3. Now notice the details of those “things.” Jot down some notes.

4. Then write a poem that’s based on, about, or that includes the five things you selected. Look for connections among the five "things" you've chosen and yourself. How do they "speak" to you? What story might they tell?

5. Let your environment become the “landscape” of the poem. Write in the present tense – here and now. Let the objects direct the content of your poem. Describe them, define them, contextualize them, analyze them, repurpose them, recreate them. Play on the number “five.” Let your poem take you where it wants to go, but don’t let your five “things” get lost.

6. Once you’ve completed a draft, take a break.  Five minutes, five hours, five days. Then go back to your poem and begin the process of editing and revising.

Five Tips:

1. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).

2. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).

3. The great author Mark Twain once wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” This is especially true in poetry. So ... as you work on a poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)

4. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).

5. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.

A Poem Based on the Number Five:

The Great Figure
          By William Carlos Williams

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

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