Saturday, June 6, 2020

Prompt #354 – Hiareth

Have you ever had the experience of hearing a new and unusual word for the first time and vowing to remember it? I remember the first time I heard the word gobsmacked. My former professor and long-time mentor and friend, Charles DeFanti, introduced me to that word, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve used it since (i.e., I was gobsmacked when I read Eliot’s “Little Gidding” for the first time).

I recently came across the word hiraeth, a Welsh word with no exact translation into English, which generally means “homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.” Words typically used to try to explain it are homesickness, yearning, and longing. However, there is greater depth and suggested meaning to hiraeth than in any of those words on their own.

Just the sound of the word resonated for me and, then, when I looked it up, I couldn’t help but relate it to pre- and post-pandemic life—how much things have changed, and how much most of us long to have our lives back—our yearning and homesickness for life as it was. With so much uncertainty about when or if that will happen, I thought it might be interesting to use the word hiraeth as a kind of jumping off word for a poem about how life has changed since Covid-19, how we feel about what’s happened, and whether or not we think things will ever be the same as they were before Covid.

Can a poem begin with a single word even if that word doesn’t appear in the poem? 
It's may seem a little strange at first but, of course, it can!

There are many poems being written right now about Covid-19 and its collision with personal and global life. Many of the poems are insightful and profoundly meaningful. I recommend reading several before you begin writing, and here’s a place where you’ll find some:

Some Things to Think about before Writing:

  • What was your life like before Covid-19 (personal, national, or global)?
  • How has the virus affected your family life, friendships, work life, and social life?
  • What do you miss most about life before Covid? What are you “homesick” for?
  • When was the last time you hugged someone who isn’t a member of your immediate family?
  • When was the last time you shook a stranger’s hand?
  • When was the last time you attended a religious service in a filled house of worship? Attended a wedding or a funeral where there were no restrictions? 
  • How does it feel not to be able to go to a restaurant with family members or friends and sit down together (inside the restaurant) to enjoy a meal together?
  • How does social distancing change the dynamic of being part of any group?
  • What’s it like for you to wear a mask when grocery shopping, going to a doctor, or walking in a park?
  • How long do you think this will all go on?
  • What things do you fear may never change back to what they were before Covid? Do you think there are some irrevocable changes?


1. Keep the word hiareth in mind (not the word itself but what the word suggests to you), then relate its meaning to what you feel about the pandemic and its personal impact on your life.

2. You might want to start by making a list of the ways in which the pandemic has changed your life.

3. Remember: you don’t have to use the word hiareth in your poem—that’s not required—but try to evoke the word’s feeling in images.

4. Write about family changes, work changes, travel changes, social changes.

5. Write about fear—your personal fears and how fear has impacted your life.

6. Write about friends or co-workers who have contracted the virus.

7. Write about those who have not survived.

8. This is a personal poem, so don’t be afraid to show how the virus has directly affected your life.

9. Importantly, think in terms of the nostalgia for things of your pre-Covid life—what do you long for, what real or metaphorical "homesickness" are you experiencing? 

10. Whatever you write, don't be afraid to interject a note of hope.


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.

6. Challenge the ordinary, connect, reveal, surprise! And … remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains. Think about surface and underlying meanings.

7. Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”

8. If you take a risk, make it a big one; if your poem is edgy, take it all the way to the farthest edge.

9. Understand that overstatement and the obvious are deadly when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t ramble on, and don’t try to explain everything. Think about this: a poem with only five great lines should be five lines long.

10. Bring your poem to closure with a memorable dismount. (Be careful not to undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line.)

NOTE: Think about making your poem unusual, edgy, different in some way. Try a prose poem, dip into the surreal, be satirical, try a haibun or a haiku sequence, perhaps a limerick.

Whatever you write, and whatever form you choose,
go for Ezra Pound’s classic dictum,” Make it new!”

On Breathing
By Alicia Jo Rabins

I’m OK during the day, but at night I get scared,
Which makes it hard to breathe, which is a symptom
Of the pandemic, which is what scares me.
Well played, anxiety, my old friend. You’ve always
Warned me something like this might happen.
You’re a gift from my ancestors who survived plagues,
And worse. They wove you into my DNA to warn me,
So that I too might survive. Now that it’s happening,
Anxiety, I don’t need you any more. I need
The ones who gave you to me. So hear me, ancestors
Who lived though danger times: I’m ready for you now.
All these years I’ve carried your worries in my bones.
Now I need your love, your thousand-year view.
Tell me it’s going to be OK, remind me you made it
Through and we will too. Teach me to breathe. 

Reprinted by permission of the author.)

Coronavirus, One Month Later
     By Nancy Lubarsky
Outside, streets are vacant
except for delivery trucks
and half-mast flags. There

are fewer places where I can
walk. As the parks empty, my
head is crowded with lost

people­—artists, legends, and
ordinary folk who spent their
lives making ends meet or

keeping us safe. There is less
music now, less poetry, fewer
pictures. I mourn for the people

I don’t know of, and the ones
I do—my colleague’s 90 year
old mother, our synagogue’s

past president, a friend’s
musician pal. As I learn about
their lives, I try to make them

comfortable in my mind’s
multiple rooms. My hope is
they’ll be there a long time.

(First Published in Frost Meadow Review)


Two-Day Diary     
     By Penny Harter

mid-morning heat—
humidity already
a mask

late afternoon
a heavy rain cleanses
the dense air

steam rises
from hot pavement—
sirens somewhere

sudden thunder—
distant rumbles echo
in its wake

just a minor
accident—spilling beans
from a torn bag

supper again—
knife, fork, plate
and TV

of childhood flicker at
the edge of sleep

midnight waking—
try to reenter my
lingering dream

eyes closed—
another landscape opens
inside me

clearing night—
even through the roof

hazy morning—
stirring daily collagen
into my tea 

(Copyright © 2020 by Penny Harter)


Sheltered in Place
     By Adele Kenny

Working from home—
anthills appear
on the driveway.

     I spray the mail with Lysol,
     then wash my hands 

Sheltered in place,
I lose track 
of the date.

     Below my window,
     a man on the street 
     sings behind his mask.

Memories of childhood—
wishing for last year 
or any year before.

     Peonies begin to bloom—
     I long for the way
     things were.

(Copyright © 2020 by Adele Kenny)


Stay safe and be well, dear friends!

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