Saturday, March 27, 2021

National Poetry Month 2021

Established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month begins on April 1st and runs through April 30th. The largest literary celebration in the world, this month-long celebration of poetry is held every April “to widen the attention of individuals and the media to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.” During April, poets, poetry lovers, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, and schools throughout the United States celebrate poetry.


One of the challenges of NPM is to read and/or write a poem every day. So ... in the spirit of the observance, as I’ve done for the past several years, I offer you a prompt re-visit that I hope will be inspirational for each of April’s thirty days.




1. Each day, think about the key word (in caps next to the date).


2. Then click on the link and read the poem—one each day of the month. Let each day’s poem inspire you.


3. After thinking a bit about the content of the poem you read, identify something in that poem that “strikes a chord” for you.


4. Working from that “chord,” try to write a poem of your own that somehow incorporates the key word (doesn’t have to be exact) and which may or may involve content similar to the example poem.


5. I’ve deliberately made some leaps in the ways my key words sometimes differ from the content of the poems to which I’ve matched them—take some leaps yourself!




1. Don’t feel compelled to match your content to the examples’—in fact, do just the opposite and make your poems as different as you possibly can. The inspiration titles and the example poems are only intended to trigger some poetry-spark that’s unique to you, to guide your thinking a little—don’t let them enter too deeply into your poems, don’t let their content become your content.


2. Let your reactions to the key words and poems surprise you. Begin with no expectations, and let your poems take you where they want to go.


3. Give the topics your own spin, twist and turn them, let the phrases trigger personal responses: pin down your ghosts, identify your frailties, build bridges and cross rivers, take chances!


4. Keep in mind that writing a poem a day doesn’t mean you have to “finish” each poem immediately. You can write a draft each day and set your drafts aside to work on later.


5. Whatever you do this month, find some time (a little or a lot) to enjoy some poetry!




“If You Forget Me” by Pablo Neruda




“The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams



April 3—AGING

“When You Are Old” by William Butler Yeats




“Where the Mind Is Without Fear” by Rabindranath Tagore




“Echo” by Christina Rossetti



April 6—MUSIC

“I am in Need of Music” by Elizabeth Bishop




“A Golden Day” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar




“Alone Looking at the Mountain” by Li Po




“A Moment of Happiness” by Jalal al-Din Rumi



April 10—LOVE

“April Love” by Ernest Christopher Dowson



April 11—BIRDS

“Birdhouse” by Diane Lockward




“Patterns” by Amy Lowell



April 13—RAIN

“The Rain” by Robert Creeley



April 14—BOREDOM

“Dream Song 14” by John Berryman



April 15—NAMES

“The Naming of Birds” by Edwin Romond



“Twilight” by Henri Cole



April 17—ROMANCE

“The Romantic” by Gerald Stern




“The Risk of Listening to Brahms” by Michael T. Young



April 19—CHANGES

"The Moment I Knew My Life Had Changed" by Maria Mazziotti Gillan



April 20—WAKING

"Why I Wake Early" by Mary Oliver (Audio)




“Failure” by Philip Schultz




“Family Promises” by Laura Boss




“Fists” by Joe Weil



April 24—LIFE

"The Yellow Brick Road" by Donna Baier Stein


April 25—FAITH

“Breakfront” by Bob Rosenbloom




“To the Next Centuries” by James Richardson



April 27—SPRING

“Spring” by Christina Rossetti




“Dear Magnolia Blossom” by Grace Marie Grafton



April 29—ANIMALS

“Hedgehog” by Paul Muldoon



April 30—MORNING

“On The Pulse of Morning” by Maya Angelou




Happy National Poetry Month!

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Prompt #368 –Txt Msg Poems

With all the social distancing we currently practice because of the Covid pandemic, it's logical to assume that our forms of communication have become largely device-driven. This prompt is a re-visit of one from many years ago that I hope you'll enjoy, particularly in view of how we communicate other than in-person.


Text-based communication (including mobile text messaging, instant messaging, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter) has resulted in a new text language tailored to the immediacy and compactness of popular communications and is widely used. There are thousands of texting abbreviations (also known as shorthand), and hundreds of strange expressions have emerged: ty (thank you), yw (you’re welcome), omg (oh my God), w/e (whatever), and lol (laughing out loud) are among the thousands. Upper case is allowed for emphasis, but a whole message in upper case is considered shouting and therefore rude. For the uninitiated, this new "written language" might appear as gibberish or perhaps an abbreviated form of Jabberwocky.


Text messaging, or texting, involves composing and sending brief, electronic messages between two or more mobile phones, or fixed or portable devices over a phone network. The term originally referred to messages sent using the Short Message Service (SMS) but has grown to include messages containing image, video, and sound content (MMS messages). The sender of a text message is known as a texter, and this week, you will be a poet-texter.


Interestingly, Carol Duffy, who became Britain’s first female poet laureate in 2009, has made connections between poetry and texting and was quoted in an interview with England’s Guardian, “The poem is a form of texting ... it’s the original text. It’s a perfecting of a feeling in language – it’s a way of saying more with less, just as texting is. We’ve got to realise that the Facebook generation is the future—and, oddly enough, poetry is the perfect form for them. It’s a kind of time capsule—it allows feelings and ideas to travel big distances in a very condensed form.”


If you do any texting yourself, you’re well aware of texting shorthand, which facilitates brevity and immediacy, you probably know many of the most popularly used shorthand abbreviations. For this prompt, the challenge is to write a poem in the form of a text message. Your topic may be anything, but your language must be text message-based and the poems should contain numerous text abbreviations.




1. Write a poem in which you use text message shorthand for some of your words. Don’t attempt to write the whole poem in text message lingo, just use some of the better-known symbols.


2. An alternative idea might be to take a short famous poem and rewrite it using text message shorthand. Or, you might take one of your already-written poems and rewrite it using some text message abbreviations.


3. If you’re not well versed in texting shorthand, you can visit these sites for help.





1. Keep your poems short—no more than 10 or 12 lines.

2. Avoid less commonly used or known abbreviations to ensure that your readers will understand.

3. A humorous approach might work well for this prompt, but certainly isn’t required.

4. In keeping with the spirit of text messaging (brevity and immediacy), keep your lines short and perhaps limit yourself to one stanza—stichic form).

5. Try writing a text message parody of a famous poem.




This Is Just To Say

by William Carlos Williams


I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox


and which

you were probably


for breakfast


Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold.



A Texting Parody of  “This Is Just To Say”


This is jst 2 say

I ate ur plums

that were in

the icebox.


w/e u

saved them 4

I do not care.



pls understand

I am not sorry, LOL.

Go to Dunkin Donuts

TY and TTFN. 




Saturday, February 13, 2021

Prompt #367 – A Short Form of Poetry for the Shortest Month


February is the shortest month, and I thought it might be a good time to revisit a very short form of poetry (one that we’ve worked with before)—haiku. Haiku, despite its brevity, always has a freshness and a richness that we can come back to.


Haiku’s origins have been traced to a form of Japanese poetry known as haikai no renga, a kind of linked poetry that was practiced widely by Matsuo Bashō (1644-94) and his contemporaries. Over time, the first link in a renga, the hokku, evolved into the haiku as we understand it today. A minimalist form of poetry, haiku has been popular among modern poets since the 1960s, when a western-world haiku movement generated increased interest in the form. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Billy Collins, John Ashbery, and Paul Muldoon have written haiku, and haiku-like poems are found in the works of such literary greats as Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and Richard Wright. Although something other than “mainstream” poetry and very much its own genre, haiku is a unique and demanding form to master.


In traditional Japanese, the haiku is typically written vertically on the page  (from top to bottom). Each haiku contains seventeen sound symbols. However, early translators were mistaken when they assumed that Japanese sound symbols were equivalent to syllables in the English language and that haiku should be written in three lines containing 5,7, and 5 syllables respectively. Although incorrect, these “defining” qualities of haiku are still regarded as “haiku format” by many. A more acceptable standard for English-language haiku is 10-20 syllables in 3 lines with a longer second line and shorter first and third lines. That said, the parameters are often stretched depending on content and meaning. Three lines have become the norm, but haiku of one and two lines are also seen, and syllable count varies


Traditional haiku contain a kigo (season word) to indicate the season or time of year in which the haiku takes place, along with two phrases (or images) that are inherently unrelated but are juxtaposed to show some commonality within a particular experience. Normally, one idea is presented in the first two lines and then a switch occurs in the third. Alternatively, a single idea is presented in the first line and a switch occurs in the second and third lines. Nearly every haiku has this kind of two-part, juxtapositional structure. The shift is achieved with what is called a kireji or cutting word, which “cuts” the poem into two parts. The kireji is a kind of caesura (and similar in theory to the volta in a sonnet) that signals a pause in the poem’s “thought” and suggests a parallel to the preceding phrase, the following phrase, or provides a “dismount for the poem that offers a finely tuned sense of closure. 


Haiku is, in a sense, an art of detachment in which the poet is removed enough from the subject to write without self-interest or self-absorption but, rather, with a sense of both inward and outward direction. The best haiku are life-affirming and eternity-conscious, spontaneous and unpretentious but entirely focused and either gently or startlingly profound.


Note: The word haiku forms its own plural – haikus is incorrect.




1. Haiku describe things in a very few words – they never tell, intellectualize, or state feelings outrightly. They never use figures of speech (similes, metaphors, etc.) and should not rhyme.


2. Haiku is more than a simple genre or form of poetry—haiku is a way of seeing, a way of capturing experience, a kind of “aha” moment or instant when something in the ordinary captures our attention and leads us to a closer, more concentrated look at its connection to nature, and human nature.


3. Haiku don’t have titles, although haiku sequences do.


4. Brevity is key, along with a sense of immediacy (written in the present tense) and often a sense of relationship between nature and human nature. Some haiku poets feel that one measure of a haiku’s success is its ability to be read in a single breath. Most will agree that a successful haiku is characterized by crystal-cutting clarity and in-the-moment presence.


5. Haiku are about spiritual realities, the realities of our every-day lives, and the realities of human- and natural-world relationships. Most importantly, haiku honor the inside of an experience through attention to the outside.


6. Compact and direct, haiku appear to be light and spontaneous, but their writing requires careful reflection and discipline—haiku may even be considered a kind of meditation. Finely-tuned powers of observation reveal the haiku moments that happen continually in the world around us.


7. Don’t be bound by any notions of 5,7,5 syllable structure—focus instead on use of season words, two-part juxtapositions, and objective sensory imagery.




1. Bashō said that each haiku should be “a thousand times on the tongue.” Before writing anything, read many haiku from a range of sources to get a “feel” for the form. Be sure to read some haiku that have been translated from the Japanese, but spend more time on good haiku written in English. Read some of the haiku aloud, and listen deeply.


2. After you’ve read many haiku and have a sense of what they’re about, think about an experience you’ve had.


3. Remember the season in which you had the experience, and then think of a word or phrase that suggests that season. For example, peonies is a season word for spring; snow and ice are season words for winter. A simple phrase like “autumn leaves” can evoke feelings of loneliness and the coming of darkness (shorted days, longer nights) in winter. While many haiku appear to have a nature focus, they are more-specifically based on a seasonal reference that as much about nature as it is within nature.


4. Organize your thoughts into approximately three lines. First, set the scene, then suggest a feeling and, finally, make an observation or record an action.  Write in the present tense, don’t use figures of speech (similes, metaphors), and keep things simple.


5. Be sure to include a contrast or a comparison. Remember that haiku often present one idea in the first two lines and then switch quickly to something else in the third. One of your goals is to create a “leap” between the two parts of your haiku without making too obvious a connection between the parts or leaping to a distance that’s unclear or obscure. At the same time, you must reveal the emotions (not ideas) that you want to communicate without stating them overtly.


6. Try to think of haiku in terms of your five senses—things you experience directly, not ideas or your interpretation or analysis of “things.” Think in terms of sensory description and avoid subjective terms.


7. Spend time working on punctuation. In poems so brief, punctuation is important. Read some of the examples and see how other haiku poets make punctuation work for them in their haiku.



Questions to Consider When Editing and Refining Your Haiku


How many lines have you written? It’s easy to over-write a haiku. Longer than 3 lines isn’t really a haiku. Haiku can be 1, 2, or 3 lines, but not more.


Is your writing simple and clear?


How long are your lines? Sometimes, we write too much in each line. Think about what you can take out if your lines seem long. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but good haiku usually contain about 20 syllables or less.


Did you focus on a single moment (detach from everything else) and recreate that moment in as few words as possible?


Did any figures of speech creep into your haiku (similes, metaphors, etc.)? If so, remove them along with anything that seems forced or contrived.


Did you include a season word (kigo)?


Did you include a shift between the two parts of your haiku (did you create a two-part juxtapositional structure)?


Have you taken out take out any words that aren’t essential to the haiku; for example, there are many times when you can delete words such as “a,” “and,” and “the.”


Have you worked toward economy of language? Very few, if any, adjectives?


Have you avoided prepositional phrases?


Instead of writing “the brightness of the starts,” take out the prepositional phrase and write, “the stars’ brightness.”


Another example: “the depth of the water” can become “the water’s depth.’


And another: “the vastness of the ocean” can become “the ocean’s vastness.”





From the Japanese Masters


Winter seclusion –

Listening, that evening,

To the rain in the mountain.


— Issa


My life, –

How much more of it remains?

The night is brief.


— Shiki


Over the wintry

forest, winds howl in rage

with no leaves to blow.


— Soseki


No one travels

Along this way but I,

This autumn evening.


— Bashō



Contemporary Haiku From Modern Haiku magazine


Contemporary Haiku from Frogpond (Journal of the Haiku Society of America)


Frogpond 37.1 • Winter 2014

Frogpond 36.3 • Autumn 2013

Frogpond 36.2 • Summer 2013

Frogpond 36.1 • Winter 2013

Frogpond 35.3 • Autumn 2012

Frogpond 35.2 • Summer 2012

Frogpond 35.1 • Winter 2012

Frogpond 34.3 • Autumn 2011

Frogpond 34.2 • Summer 2011

Frogpond 34.1 • Winter 2011

Frogpond 33.3 • Autumn 2010

Frogpond 33.2 • Summer 2010

Frogpond 33.1 • Winter 2010

Frogpond 32.3 • Autumn 2009

Frogpond 32.2 • Summer 2009

Frogpond 32.1 • Winter 2009

Frogpond 31.3 • Autumn 2008

Frogpond 31.2 • Spring/Summer 2008



And, by way of sharing, a few of my own:


migrating geese –

once there was so much

to say


(1st Place Henderson Award, 1984,



between the moon

and the billboard,

a jet liner rising


(42nd Street Art Project, displayed on the Rialto West Theater Marquee, NYC, 1994.)



a flurry of bats

and then

the Milky way


(Haiku Quarterly, First Prize, Autumn 1989)




at the edge of the words,

we listen


(From Castles and Dragons, 1990)



through darkness

churchbells on the cusp

of the hill


(From Questi Momenti, 1990)









Saturday, January 23, 2021

Prompt # 366 - Surrealism in Poetry: Something Other

During the last few decades, there’s been renewed interest in Surrealist poetry, and most recently, the genre has become more and more popular as our world is increasingly suspended among political turmoil, racial injustice, gender biases, and the crushing effects of Covid-19. Most of us know the word surreal in a non-poetry lexicon, meaning weird, strange, incredible, or unreal. In the context of art, however, Surrealism began as an artistic movement in 1920s Paris. 
Although Guillame Apollinaire first used the word “surreal” in reference to the concept that an independent reality exists beneath conscious reality, poet and philosopher André Breton (1896-1966) is generally credited with being the founder and driving spirit of the Surrealist movement. Surrealism gained momentum with Breton’s 1924 publication of The Manifesto of Surrealism. In this work, he sought to combat the way art was viewed and understood, focusing on the “disinterested play of thought” and the “omnipotence of dreams” rather than on reason and logic. 
Along with Breton and Apollinaire, other poets who advanced the Surrealist movement included Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Éluard, and Peruvian poet César Vallejo. Also prominent among the early Surrealists was Spanish poet Federico García Lorca who is still considered by many to be Spain's greatest poet and dramatist. During the 1920s, Lorca joined a group of avant-garde artists that included Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel. Called “The Generation of ’27,” this group introduced Lorca to Surrealism and greatly influenced his writings. Noted woman Surrealist poet Gisèle Prassinos was discovered by Breton in 1934 when she was only fourteen years old. A photograph by Surrealist photographer Man Ray shows the fourteen-year-old schoolgirl reading her poems to members of the Surrealist group, including André Breton and Paul Éluard (National Galleries, Scotland). 
Initially, Surrealism grew out of Dadaism, an art movement introduced in Zurich during WWI as a negative response to the horror and senselessness of the war. Deliberate irrationality and contravention of the traditional artistic canon were features of Dada. Surrealism developed as a mechanism of knowledge, and those who embraced the movement believed that the subconscious contained true reality. They believed that the unconscious mind is deeper than the conscious mind. Early Surrealist poets focused on reality created by the “waking consciousness,” which unites the world of imagination with the real world—subjectivity and objectivity, and dream states and wakefulness. 
In The Communication Vessels, Breton stated that the real and dream worlds are actually the same and that the mind communes in each state like two connected vessels. This principle is also known as “point sublime” or the realization of surreal harmony—the point at which contrasts (life and death, beauty and ugliness, dark and light) merge. World War I left its generation profoundly traumatized; the comforts and certainties of life as most people knew them were largely obliterated by the war. The world was bitter and broken, and very little seemed to make sense. In addition, during the final months of World War I, what would become a worldwide flu pandemic broke out in 1918. This would become a global pandemic much like the one that is devastating our world today. 
Catalyzed by the state of their world, Surrealist painters and writers began to feel that by embracing the world’s disorder, and the disorder in individuals’ lives, they might turn consciousness away from the war’s aftermath and the flu’s devastation. In a very real sense, the Surrealists, by recognizing the confusion and fear of their time, were able to offer a measure of healing from the damage wrought by what the world had seen and suffered. Most importantly, the Surrealist movement looked toward ways in which people might be freed spiritually and psychologically—freedoms that were much needed at the time, just as they are today. 
Breton and his colleagues drew heavily on Freudian psychoanalysis and the power of unconscious thought, including such strategies as “automatic writing,” as they strove to open their imaginations to deeper truths. When Surrealist poets used automatism, or automatic writing, they wrote whatever came to mind without controlling their conscious thoughts. Breton stated that poets should not filter, edit or shape automatic writing because the words should be dramatic and unprocessed. This resulted in wild illogical vaults, elaborate imagery, and strong tonal shifts. 
Along with automatism, Surrealist poets also experimented with cut-up, collage, and other types of what we might call “found poetry” today. Because Surrealism was first a Parisian movement, it also took hold among young students from Martinique (an insular region of France in the West Indies) who were studying in Paris. In the spirit of poetic revolt and social revolution, Black Surrealists, who shared the racial history of slavery, were touched by Surrealism’s defense of human rights and its suggestions of creating change in the world. The first woman Surrealist of African descent was Simone Yoyotte. Active within the Paris Surrealism group, she was the only woman in the Légitime Défense (self-defense) group formed exclusively by students from Martinique during 1932. She published poems in the Légitime Défense journal. Sadly, only one edition of the journal was produced and virtually nothing is known of her life. 
The advent of World War II and the rise of Nazism and Fascism was not an easy time for the Surrealists, and numbers of them came to America where they continued to shape changes in literary philosophy. After World War II, certain “diluted” forms of Surrealist poetry appeared, and a second generation of surrealist writers emerged in various parts of the world, especially in Latin America (where interest in Surrealism began as early as 1928 in Argentina). Poet Pablo Neruda wrote in various styles, including Surrealism, and Octavio Paz was also influenced by the genre. Surrealism has also interested many modern and contemporary poets such as Americans James Tate, John Ashbery, Dean Young, George Kalamaros, and Will Alexander, Englishwoman Helen Ivory, Romanian Tristan Tzara, and Slovenian Tomaž Šalamun. 
Although the active movement came to an end after the Second World War, a substantial group of today’s poets turn to Surrealist imagery and ideas in their efforts to stretch the margins of literary art and to make readers think. Given the stresses of contemporary society and international relations, it’s hardly surprising that poets would turn to an aesthetic that looks toward ways of overcoming the inconsistencies of our conscious minds. 
Today’s Surrealist poets, like their predecessors, are producing a body of literature with imagery that affirms the supremacy of fantastic and often bizarre juxtapositions. They advocate contrasting images and ideas and embrace Freudian ideas of free association that move readers away from societal influences, thus encouraging readers to open their minds in regard to what reality is. Metaphor and imagery are the main techniques used by Surrealist poets to cause their readers to think more deeply and to seek subconscious meanings in their poems. Readers are thus propelled to examine their unconscious and to analyze what they discover. 
Rarely is Surrealist poetry narrative; instead of telling actual stories, it is concept-forward and emphasizes dreamlike “settings,” nonlinear timelines, incongruous content, and unbound associative leaps in thinking. Typically, Surrealist poetry has a certain shock value that characterizes the form. Often, in today’s poetry, we see softly surreal qualities that speak to Surrealist influence. Our place in world history is challenging at best; the current pandemic is taking a huge toll. Is it any wonder that poetry today is ready to contemplate realities other than what we read about in print media and see on Internet and television news?
In this time that cries out for spiritual and psychological freedom, and for relief from harsher realities, Surrealist poetry, with its dark corners and its flashes of light, is a rich source to which poets and poetry lovers can turn to buttress their need for something “other.” 
Acknowledgment: By Adele Kenny, Reprinted by Permission from Tiferet Journal
Autumn/winter 2020 ( Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. 
1. Understand that it’s not easy to “teach” anyone how to write a Surrealist poem. Begin by reading examples of Surrealist poetry for inspiration. You’ll find many online. Google poets such as Andre Breton, Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Éluard, and César Vallejo. It may also be helpful to look at some Surrealist paintings. 
2. There’s an excellent resource for writing Surrealist poems at this website: Try some of the ideas and suggestions. 
3. When you begin writing, don’t consciously “think” or plan your poem. 
4. Clear your head and realize that nothing currently active in your mind will appear in your poem. Just let your thoughts flow, and jot some of them down even if they seem disjointed and unrelated. 
5. Choose one of the things you jotted down and write about it. Don’t be deliberate, just write. The idea is to go in a particular direction and not to just write gibberish that has no meaning. That said, keep in mind that intentional symbols aren’t part of the plan. The unexplainable images that pop into your mind are what we’re after. 
6. Continue to write until you feel you’re finished. Shorter is probably best for starters. 
7. Now, think about what your poem means—not an overt meaning but subtle, subconscious things that have crept into your writing. 
8. If you find yourself looking for “something other” by way of prompts, try writing a “Surreal” ekphrastic poem based on Salvador Dali’s "The Persistence of Memory" at the beginning of this post. 
A Couple of my Own Examples:


Friday, January 1, 2021

Happy New Year!



    For last year’s words belong to last year’s language.

And next year’s words await another voice.


—T.S. Eliot



Dear Blog Readers,


I send you my very best wishes that this New Year will bring you good health, a peaceful spirit, and many blessings! 


2020 was a difficult and challenging year for people around the world. May Eliot’s “words” that “await another voice” bring an end to the pandemic in 2021 and a return to life as we knew it; and may we all join together in the “poetry of life” with generosity, compassion, gratitude, and love.


In prayerful and grateful hope,