Saturday, November 6, 2010

Poetry Prompt #30 – On the Clothesline

Interestingly, there are also numerous stories about poets and clothing. For example, Randall Jarell traded ties with colleague Robert Watson, gloves and scarves with his wife Mary, and jackets and hats with his friend Peter Taylor; and when James Laughlin first met Ezra Pound, he wrote in terms of clothing, “There came Ezra, dressed to the nines in his velvet jacket, pants with equestrian seat, his cowboy hat, swinging his silverheaded cane .…” 

You guessed it! This week’s prompt is about clothing, and here are some options for you to try:

1. Take a “field trip” and visit an op shop (used clothing store). Walk up and down the aisles and think about the clothes you see. Choose a piece of clothing that you are especially drawn to or repelled by. Buy it and take it home. Use this piece of clothing as your inspiration for a poem (a poem about who wore the article of clothing, about what happened to someone who wore the clothing, etc.).

2. Write a poem about a favorite piece of clothing or about an article of clothing that has or had special significance for you.

3. Think about someone from your past, and note his or her clothing in a poem.

4. Think about articles of clothing as metaphors and try writing a poem in which you use clothing (one article of clothing or several) to represent something else.

5. In dreams, it is said that clothing represents two things: the way we would like the world to see us and the way we’re afraid the world sees us. Dreaming about clothing may also represent our attitudes about ourselves and about others. Write a "dream poem" in which clothing figures in your imagery, or write a poem about the way you are seen, or would like to be seen, by others.

6. Think about your clothesline (even if you use a dryer, imagine a clothes line that you might use). What’s hanging on that line? Write a poem about your clothesline (what laundry would you hang out to dry – actual or metaphorical). 

7. Take a humorous approach to clothing and write a funny “clothes poem” (i.e., “Ode to Underwear”). 

8. Mark Twain wrote, "The finest clothing made is a person's skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this." Do you remember the Hans Christian Anderson story about the emperor's new clothes? You can read it here: "The Emperor's New Suit." Was there ever a time when you felt figuratively naked in a crowd of people? Write a poem about that time, a poem about a time when you were afraid to speak up because you thought others would think you “stupid,” or a poem about how your clothes define you or reflect who you are.


  1. My Clothes

    I put on my shirt - inside out.

    Did this have great meaning?
    Did the world take great note?
    Was it somehow symbolic?
    Should I fear for my coat?

    Is it anything like wearing your heart on your sleeve?
    Or is that simply no problem, like the poets believe?

    When they tell you all men have a shirt with a tail,
    is it Darwin, not Arrow, who we are to hail?

    And pants, they insist, on one leg at a time,
    though they give you no reason, no logic, no rhyme.

    As for me, just for once
    I would like to walk out
    with my shoes pointed backwards
    and my pants inside out.

    I’d reverse my shirt.
    It would face the right way.
    So it would be happy and
    would not portray --
    me - as somewhat disjointed.

    I forgot –

    One more thing:

    While the inside be inside
    and the outside be out,
    There’s one more condition,
    I’d like to point out.
    The front be the back. --
    so no buttons you’d see,
    and the tail, it would lead
    and I could be me.

    Ray Brown

  2. Adele! Another unique idea! I know you designed this site not to be an "about me" blog, but I couldn't help thinking of your poem "Black River" and the pathos evoked by your references to clothing. Hope you don't mind me sharing it here with other readers. :-)


    In the almost-dark of a late spring
    evening, the air still holds a scent of
    moss on dampened stone, the bitter
    tang of bluebells.

    You are with me because I remember
    (the sense of you just over my left
    shoulder), a shadow that follows the
    angled light.

    This was your place, where the world
    should have let you go – here where
    the river turns, a fishing pole in your
    hand, the back of

    your brown flannel shirt slipped from
    your belt, your old shoes worn, as
    they always were, on the insides
    of their heels.

    I have come to touch your death with
    the palm of my hand, clench my fist
    around it, and fling it upstream like
    bone ash into space.

    Go! Go now! I call down the stars
    for your ransom. One by one they
    fall into the river, which carries
    them all away.

  3. It's nice of you, Bob, to think of my poem. Thank you!

  4. As always, many thanks, Adele! Here's another poem for you and your readers that incorporates clothing. I can just imagine Emily pushing a "petal from her gown."



    I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—

    Life's little duties do—precisely—

    As the very least

    Were infinite—to me—
    I put new Blossoms in the Glass—

    And throw the old—away—
I push a petal from my Gown
That anchored there—I weigh

    The time-twill be till six o'clock

    I have so much to do—

    And yet—Existence—some way back—
Stopped—struck—my ticking—through—

    We cannot put Ourself away

    As a completed Man

    Or Woman—When the Errand's done

    We came to Flesh—upon—

    There may be—Miles on Miles of Nought—
Of Action—sicker far—

    To simulate—is stinging work—
To cover what we are

    From Science—and from Surgery—

    Too Telescopic Eyes

    To beat on us unshaded—
For their—sake—not for Ours—
'Twould start them—

    We—could tremble—
But since we got a Bomb—

    And held it in our Bosom—

    Nay—Hold it—it is calm—

    Therefore—we do life's labor—

    Though life's Reward—be done—

    With scrupulous exactness—

    To hold our Senses—on—
    Or do you mean like this?

  5. Jamie, as always, thanks for your comment, and thanks for this wonderful Dickinson poem.

  6. Thanks, Adele, for this blog. It really is a "poetry place." You've given us so much to read, write, and think about. It's wonderful to spend time here.

    Kate Whalen

  7. As always, Adele, wonderful ideas to "prompt" us along. Thank you.

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

  8. Thanks, Kate! Your comment is much appreciated!

  9. Maire, thank you for your comment. It's wonderful to know that someone in Ireland is enjoying the prompts.