Saturday, December 31, 2011

Poetry Prompt #84 - Happy New Year

For last year's words belong to last year's language

And next year's words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

                                                                                              – T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

On this last day of 2011, I send each of you my warm and heartfelt best wishes for good health and happiness throughout 2012.

As we start the New Year with poetry (our first poems of 2012), let’s think about newness and things in our lives that are (or have been) new. One option is to write a poem inspired by the T. S. Eliot quote above or to use this quote as an epigraph. Your poem may be about an ending that  became a new beginning for you. Another suggestion is to write a poem about New Year’s resolutions or old year reflections.

By way of inspiration, I share with you Alfred, Lord Tennnyson’s
 famous lines from “In Memoriam”:

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

And this haiku in which Kobayashi Issa approaches the New Year with reverence and humility:

New Year's Day –
everything is in blossom! 

I feel about average.

Other New Year’s poems:

May the end of 2011 be the beginning of a new year
filled with abundances of good health, happiness, and poetry!
Happy New Year, my friends! God bless you!

P.S.  Love, licks, and good puppy wishes from Chaucey! 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Chaucey’s First Christmas, 2011

Regular prompts will resume on December 31. In the meantime, I wish you all a blessed and joyous Christmas and light-filled remainder of Chanukah! May the light, love, and peace of this special season be yours!

Be filled with wonder!
Be touched by peace!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Poetry Prompt #83 – Winter

With winter beginning in a few days, I thought this might be a good time to write a seasonal poem. For your poem this week, focus on any aspect of winter or several aspects, and work on using good, solid imagery. Think about things unique to the season, and think about what particular light winter offers us.

Before beginning, read the following poems to get some ideas of places your winter poems might lead you.

“A Winter Without Snow” by J. D. McClatchy

“Approach of Winter” by Willian Carlos Williams

“An Old Man’s Winter Night” by Robert Frost

“Winter Distances” by Fanny Howe

“Winter Trees”  by William Carlos Williams

“Return to Winter” by Elaine Terranova

“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Poetry Prompt #82 - What's in a Title?

I think we’ll all agree that while we’re wary of judging books by their covers, we often “judge” poems, at least at first blush, by their titles. Sometimes, an amazing title is just what a poem needs to draw readers in.

This week, let’s “play” with an old prompt idea in which you think of a few well-known poems that you especially like. Reflect on the titles and see if there’s one that you can change to keep the “sense” of it similar but the meaning completely different. After you’ve made a change that works for you, write a poem that “goes with” the new title.

Here are some examples:

Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
might become “Stopping by the Park on a Summer Morning”

Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Graveyard”
might become “Elegy Written on a City Street”

John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” 
might become “Ode to a Sparrow”

Carl Sandburg’s “Fog”
might become “Smog”

T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
might become “The Love Song of __________ " (you fill in the blank)

Now, here’s the important part: your finished poem needn’t bear any resemblance at all to the inspiration poem. In fact, the goal is to make your poem entirely different and entirely your own. You might even want to change the title after you’ve written the poem.

The goal this week is to have some creative fun with the prompt idea and, more specifically, to think about how important your poems’ titles can be. Remember that a good title gives your prospective readers a hint of what’s to come without giving too much away. It introduces readers to the heart or emotional center of a poem and invites readers to enter the poem and spend time with you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Poetry Prompt #81 - Submission Etiquette

Many poets with whom I’ve worked have asked about “submission etiquette.” The following info was prepared for one of my private workshop groups, and I'm happy to share it here. It's not exactly a "prompt," but here's hoping that it will "prompt" you to send some of your work to journals.

It’s important to note that each journal has its own submissions guidelines, and the editors expect submitters to follow them. There are, however, a few general suggestions that might prove helpful (with the caveat, of course, to follow the specific guidelines for any journal to which you submit your poems).

A good place to begin is to thoroughly research the market. You need to find out which journals would be suitable vehicles for your work. The best way to conduct your “market research” is to start buying poetry journals.

Aside from buying poetry journals, you can conduct some of your research via the Internet. Many poetry journals have strong web presences, so check out the web sites of journals that interest you. You’ll usually find submission guidelines, and many journals post sample poems on their websites. Searching the Web be time-intensive, but it will save you a fortune in stamps and may considerably reduce the number of rejection slips you accumulate. You can also do further research in libraries, but most libraries don’t subscribe to small press journals. Invaluable resources are books like Writer’s Market. When you’ve decided which journals you’d like to target for possible publication and have obtained copies to “study,” be sure to check the journal’s submission guidelines and follow them! I mean, really follow them. (I can’t say this enough times!)

Always present your work in typescript (never hand-written), using a simple 12 point font like Arial, Times New Roman, or Courier.  Fancy fonts will not impress editors. On the contrary, they suggest that the sender is a novice writer. Poetry should be single-spaced with the title at the top (in the same font that you use for the text of the poem).

Retain a copy of any material you send. Most editors receive hundreds of submissions and it’s possible for submissions to go missing. The mail service, too, sometimes “loses” items. Always keep records of which poems you’ve sent out, which journals you’ve sent them to, the dates of submission, and the results.

Use a plain #10 envelope for hard copy submissions, and always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (s.a.s.e.) for the editor’s reply. This is a basic courtesy – most journals will not reply to a submission if the s.a.s.e. is not included.

For hard copy submissions (and most electronic as well) type one poem to a page unless you are instructed to do otherwise. For hard copies, it’s better to use a paper clip than a staple as clips are easier for editors to remove during the assessment process.

If you include a cover letter, it should be short, including only your name, contact details, and titles of work submitted. In general, most editors do not want to read your life story, nor do they want to know your hobbies or your marital status.

It isn’t necessary to include a bio unless the guidelines specifically ask for one. Most editors aren’t impressed by previous publication credits and judge submissions on their own merits. Many editors request a bio at the time of acceptance. Whatever you do, never invite an editor to visit your web site or blog by way of introduction or bio. Most editors don’t have time for that sort of thing, and your invitation can be a little like chalk scraping on a chalkboard.

Make sure each poem has your name and address on it, as cover notes can and do get separated from submitted material. Unless journal guidelines specify otherwise, your name, address, phone number, and email address should appear in the upper left or right hand corner. Setting this info into clever text boxes at the top or bottom of the page isn’t necessary and can look amateurish.

Refrain from using copyright symbols – this can and does offend some editors (they are not going to steal your work and pretend it's their own).

Be careful not to over-submit. Journal editors are usually more dismayed than pleased when they receive large numbers of poems from a single poet. As an editor myself, I can testify to that. Never submit more than the number of poems noted in the guidelines, usually no more than five poems, and DON’T follow up with another batch during the same reading period. Once, I received two entire manuscripts via our Tiferet submissions manager. The poets both suggested that I read the manuscripts and choose from among the poems they contained. Each submission contained over 40 poems! Aaaargh! I have a strong commitment to reading every submission at least three times, but this was a bit much.

Many print journals don’t accept email submissions.  There are good reasons for this, the potential transmission of computer-destroying viruses among them. Some journals, however, do welcome email submissions. If this is the case, be sure to read the submission guidelines carefully, and follow them. Some journals will accept submissions in attachment form; some require the poem text to be copied and pasted into the body of an email. Many journals now use electronic submissions managing programs. Make sure you know the preferences before submitting, and follow the guidelines (there, I've said it again). Some journals require that each poem be electronically submitted individually. If that’s the case, send each poem individually via the electronic manager.

At one time, simultaneous submissions were a major no-no. Today, however, journal editors recognize that huge volumes of submissions mean long response times, and they extend the courtesy of allowing poets to submit the same poems to more than one journal at a time. Be sure to read journal guidelines carefully (have I just said that again?). Usually, if simultaneous submissions are allowed, editors ask that you contact them when a poem you’ve submitted has been accepted elsewhere. This is a simple return courtesy that should be observed. Journals that don’t allow simultaneous submissions often take many months to respond, which means that a poem may be “away from home” for a  long time before you know if it's been accepted or rejected.

Don’t query editors about the status of your work! Editors work as quickly and as carefully as possible, but hundreds of submissions can mean that you’ll have to wait for a response. Similarly, it’s not a good idea to include self-addressed, stamped postcards that you wish an editor to send back to let you know that your submission has been received. This means extra work for an editor and most editors don’t have that kind of time. Many journals indicate response time in their guidelines – if that response time has long passed, then (and only then) might you query.

You shouldn’t expect editors to make individual comments on your poems, accepted or not. Editors are not critiquers in that sense – they often read several hundred poems during a reading period, and they just don’t have time to make individual comments. Occasionally, an editor will suggest edits, which, if made, will result in publication. As a poet, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you agree to the changes.

Here’s a hint: if a journal has a specific reading period, be sure to submit early. Unless you're submitting to a themed issue in which all poems accepted deal with a particular subject, when a poem on the same subject as yours is accepted before you submit, yours won’t be accepted even if it’s a better poem. So, send your poems sooner rather than later.

Many poetry editors work countless hours and earn nothing for their efforts. Some journal publishers subsidize their journals from their own pockets. Most of them do it for the same reason that poets submit their poems to journals – love of the art. So please, respect the editors to whom you send your poems. This doesn’t mean that editors are the ultimate arbiters of what is and isn’t good work. Selection is often a subjective process. If your poems are rejected, don’t take it personally. Move on. Send the poems elsewhere. It’s not uncommon for poems to be rejected by numerous journals before finding a home. It’s a process of persistence. So, persevere.

Beware of vanity publishing in which you pay a fee for your poems to be published.  There are unscrupulous people out there who will happily fleece you if you are desperate enough to be published at any cost. Don’t be fooled by their flatteries. If you have to pay to be published, think again. This is not the same as paying an entry fee for a contest, which is not only credible but often necessary to fund the prize monies. 

On vanity publishing and publishing scams: 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Poetry Prompt #80 - Who Would You Be?

Have you ever thought about changing roles with someone or just being able to live someone else's life? Have you ever thought about becoming someone other than yourself? If you could become anyone (alive, dead, fictional), who would you be? 

This week, step out of your skin, become someone else, and write a poem about it.

Some things to consider before writing:
  • Who am I?
  • Who am I meant to be?
  • Who would I like to be?
  • Who would I choose to be if I could become someone else?

Alternative ideas for this week:
  • Write a poem about a poem that you’d like to “inhabit” (enter a poem, become part of that poem by writing about changing places with a character from it).
  • Write about becoming a character in a song or a movie.
  • Write about becoming the subject of a famous sculpture or a famous painting.  (Ever wonder what life would be like for the woman in DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa” or what the Venus de Milo might be like if she were flesh and blood instead of stone? What would you be like if you were the Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo?)
  • Write from the perspective of your avatar, doppelgänger, or alter ego.
  • Write about why you don’t wish to change places with someone else.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Poetry Prompt #79 - From Painting to Poem

"Il Penseroso" by Thomas Cole (1845)

Ekphrastic poems are based on other forms of art, most often paintings, but may also include  sculpture, musical composition, dance, etc. You can read more about ekphrasis if you click on fifth tab in the page bar above. You will also find the following informative: Ekphrasis: Poetry Confronting Art  and Notes on Ekphrasis.

This week, I thought it would be interesting to move from painting to poem by writing about a painting (with an invitation to post your poems for sharing). I've chosen "Il Penseroso" by Thomas Cole, one of my favorite painters and the founder of the Hudson River School. Interestingly, Cole's "Il Penseroso" was inspired by a poem of the same title written by John Milton in 1631 ("Il Penseroso" by John Milton)

Keep in mind that ekphrastic poems do more than offer textual descriptions or verbal interpretations of visual art. Take a good look at Cole's "Il Penseroso" and see where it leads you. (Click on the image for a larger view.) Notice details.

You may want to begin by jotting down your impressions, images inspired by the painting, and feelings, memories, or experiences that the painting calls to mind. Think in terms or your emotions and your spiritual response to the painting.

Some questions to consider before writing:

What is happening in the painting?
Who  or what is the subject of the painting?
What mood does the painting suggest?
How do you relate to that mood?

You may want to create a dialogic in which you journey in "conversation" between the painting and your text. Or you may avoid referring to the painting at all (other than, perhaps, a mention in the title or subtitle).

If the Cole painting doesn't work for you,  feel free to work with one of your own choosing!

Famous Ekphrastic Poems:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Poetry Prompt #78 – Home

This week’s prompt invites you to write a poem about “home.”

“Home” may mean many things to us – it may be a physical place or it may signify the center of our world (the heart of our immediate reality). “Home” may be the brick-and-mortar of childhood homes, homes in which we’ve lived as adults, places in which memories were made, or places in which joys were shared and hearts were broken. “Home” may be imagined or mythical locations, dreamscapes, or the metaphorical geography of a particular place. “Home” may include specific attachments, relationships with others, things we said and did, and experiences that helped or hurt us.

“Home” has long provided inspiration for poets. In William Stafford's "One Home," a childhood home is remembered; in "Home Again Home Again," A. F. Moritz reflects upon time, aging, and family.

“Home” may represent both place and people as in Gerald’s Stern’s "The Dancing," and relationships may be revealed through “home” as in Adrienne Rich’s "Living in Sin."

W. H. Auden’s collection About the House (1965) is an extended analogy between the house as a building and the building of the self. For Auden, “home” becomes an extension of “self” through poems that look into physical rooms as well as into their metaphorical equivalents. Click Here to Order About the House

Other Examples:

Some things to think about before writing:

What memories do you have of a childhood home?
What’s your “dream home?”
If a genie granted you the wish to go home for a while, where would you go?
When you think of “home,” what people do you think of?
How has a particular home impacted your life?
What memories of a home can you express through attachments within and to that home?
Does where you live (or where you have lived) define you in any way?
How does a home have two inner spaces – physical and metaphorical?
Is there a “home” in your life that isn’t a physical structure?
Is there a person in your life who represents “home” to you?

By way of sharing, here’s a poem from my book What Matters about the day I sold my childhood home: 

Selling the Family House

I didn’t plan to be undone
by a catbird crying, irises in
bloom where a cherry tree stood,
the baby, born dead, buried there;

or those ovals on the wall where
our pictures were hung, holes
from the nails that held them.

The house – empty or nearly
empty –  crumbles into itself.
I leave a few books on their shelf.
Some shimmer, the others are rags.

What voice do I hear (or want to
hear)? The catbird cries; the earth
turns on wing-boned fingers.

Saturday, November 5, 2011



September 15, 1994 - November 3, 2011

Sire: All Star's Rambo
Dam: Lucy At All Star

Derivation of Name: From the French,
meaning a small, dainty, exquisite jewel; 
something infinitely special, precious, 
and delicately beautiful.

AKC Registration #TN160180/01
January 16, 1995

With much sadness, I write this morning that my dear little Yorkshire Terrier, Bijou, died on Thursday evening. She was seventeen and to her last moment the "personification" of her name. Her passing was very sudden and a great blessing to have happened quickly and peacefully at home and in my arms. Bijou was the last of my Yorkies. I miss her terribly.

There's an Irving Townsend quotation that touches me deeply and expresses what I believe many pet lovers feel about the "little creatures" with whom we share our lives and our love. In memory of Bijou, and in memory of pets you've loved, I offer the quotation as the prompt for this week's poem. (If you write or have written poems for beloved pets, please feel free to post them.)

“We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own 
live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. 
Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. 
We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, 
never fully understanding the necessary plan.”

– Irving Townsend from “The Once Again Prince”

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Poetry Prompt #77 – Wilderness

In his most recent chapbook, Kicking the Rain, R. G. Rader included a poem entitled “Let There Be A Wilderness.” The poem immediately struck me because the dialectic of the poet’s observation is so immediate and direct, and so filled with metaphorical meaning. Clearly, R. G. wasn’t thinking only about “wilderness” in a literal sense, but, rather, in a context of implied meanings that suggest relationship, tension, and the conflict between “safety” and risk-taking.” It’s a love poem that’s not exactly a love poem, it’s sensual and passionate in its defense of romanticism, and it tosses out a challenge to those who are afraid to explore the wilderness (or wildness) within themselves.

Let There Be A Wilderness
by R. G. Rader

Let there be a path leading out of sigh
And at its other end a temperate zone:
woods devoid of beasts, roads that please the foot

From “Against Romanticism” by Kingsley Amis

Let there be roads that hurt the feet
at places I travel – exotic
outside the temperate zone.

Let there be a wilderness
where I taste the pleasure of wild food
where the winter cold is cause for no clothing

and the soft cushion of summer grass
is softer still when you and I fall upon it.
Avoid the temperate zone

where little is safe from each hour’s boredom
and all the words are neatly packaged
into the pages of a book.

Let there be time to share
and to lose our  passion
and a way to find it again,

a space where wingless birds can fly
a place filled with beasts
who dare do battle.

Copyright © 2010 by R. G. Rader. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
From Kicking the Rain (Finishing Line Press, 2010) 

Click Cover to Order Kicking the Rain

Many see “wilderness” as a path to awakening, and it is deeply present in many of the world’s “wisdom” traditions. Wilderness is transcultural and transpiritual – shamans and mystics, sages and saints have gone into the wilderness to find inspiration and enlightenment. Jesus Christ and the Desert Fathers went into the desert; Buddha and Lao Tzu went into the forest. Thoreau went to Walden Pond, and in Emersonian transcendentalism, nature was created by a transcendent god for the benefit for humankind. These examples all beg the question, “What is it about wilderness (in any of its forms) that draws humankind to it?”

Wilderness may be understood as a way and as a tradition, and throughout history, “wilderness” has been strongly symbolic. Importantly, wilderness is never merely the untarnished forest, the crystal stream, the field of flowers; it is also tangled vines and exposed roots, rain and mud,  rocky places and poisonous berries. Wilderness is wild nature in all of its aspects, and it may be expanded to include human nature.

Okay, I’m sure you see where I’m going this week. Our prompt is “wilderness,” and the challenge is to write a poem that focuses on a personal wilderness experience, a wilderness insight, a wilderness “therapy,” or  “wilderness” as a metaphor. What we’re not looking for are “nature” poems (which I love dearly but not this week).


Before beginning to write consider these questions:

What’s your wilderness?
What has a wilderness taught you?
Where has a wilderness taken you?
What life experience can you describe in wilderness terms?
What does wilderness offer your senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell)?
What specific wilderness images will you incorporate into your poem?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Poetry Prompt #76 – Phrase Play

Have you ever listened to someone who uses a particular phrase so often that you expect to hear it whenever you speak with that person? Are there certain phrases that you use often in everyday conversation? Think of the “trendy” phrases that become (for me anyway) like fingernails on a chalkboard; for example, push the envelope, I hear you, piece of cake, I could care less, my bad, just sayin’ (and a new one that I heard recently – totally salinda meaning peacefulness, or a peaceful state of mind). 

Interestingly, every language has well-used colloquialisms and idiomatic expressions; for example, in Italian in bocca al lupo literally means "into the wolf's mouth" but, rather like the strange English expression "break a leg," this phrase is used in Italy to wish someone good luck.

Choose a phrase (not a cliché but a common idiomatic expression) and write a poem "around" that phrase. Alternatively, you might try using that phrase as much as possible within your poem. Turn the expression over and around, spin it, repeat it, extend it, give it new meanings, mock it, praise it, see how far you can stretch it. You might even consider using the phrase as a metaphor.

Begin by making a list of expressions that you or friends use often, and then choose one for your poem. Another idea is to use several phrases throughout your poem, or perhaps even compose an entire poem of  “phrase plays.” Try taking a humorous approach – have fun with this!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Virtual Poetry Salon

Please visit Diane Lockward's blog (Blogalicious)
to "attend" a virtual poetry salon in which I'm the guest poet!

Interview Excerpt:

Diane:  How did you select the title for your book?
Adele:  Strangely enough, What Matters had a title several years before it became a book. Like many images in the poems, the title came to me late one night. It literally “popped into my mind”  before I’d even begun to think of the poems in terms of a collection. I woke up the next morning knowing that What Matters would be the title of my next book. That day I took a long look at my newer poems (revised, written, and in process) and began to see them arranged in sections relative to the experiences that drove them. The title powered the long process of writing, editing, tweaking, and selecting. 

Diane's virtual poetry salon is such a creative and fun idea complete with an interview, reading, and virtual food (see above)! Enjoy!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Poetry Prompt #75 – WHY?

Why? How often do we ask that question in regard to a cause, reason, or purpose? “Why?” is arguably the most common question we ask others and ourselves (and, at times, one of the hardest to answer).

Newspaper reporters begin by asking six questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Of the six questions, five may be answered easily. Think for a moment of the game (and the movie) called “Clue.” In answer to a reporter’s questions, the answers might be that (who) Professor Plum (what) 
murdered Miss Scarlet (when) early in the morning (where) in the conservatory (how) with a candlestick. The most difficult question is “Why?” because asking why calls the rational, analytical, conscious mind into action. “Why?” needs an explanation – it isn’t based on purely factual information, and there may be different, equally acceptable ways of understanding the question. For example: Why did Professor Plum murder Miss Scarlet? Why did he use a candlestick instead of a knife?  Why did he commit the murder in the conservatory? “Why?” has much to do with motive and meaning.

I know you can see where I’m going with this: the prompt for the coming week is to write a poem in which we consider an important “why?” 


Five “whys” to reflect upon before you begin to write:
  • an unanswered question in your life,
  • the reason someone hurt your feelings or the reason you hurt someone else’s feelings,
  • the cause behind your feelings about a particular person, issue, or idea,
  • how “Why me, why Not me?” fits your personal experience,
  • the reason you have avoided making a decision.

Think hard about a “Why?” experience. Remember the details of time and place. Remember other people (if any) who were part of the situation. Or, alternatively, think about a “Why?’ question that troubles you and focus on the question rather than on an experience.

Consider a light approach and make this a humorous poem (for example, a list of funny “Why?” questions).

You might even make the timeless “Why?” question – “Why is the sky blue?” –  the foundation for a poem.

Another possibility is a poem titled “Why I Write Poetry.” Or, how about a poem entitled, "Ever Wonder Why?"

Here’s the challenge: avoid becoming overly psychological or philosophical and work to create strong, effective images. Show, don’t simply tell. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Poetry Prompt #74 – Words, Images, Sounds

A friend recently told me about a workshop he attended in which the leader gave the participants a list of words and asked them to write a poem that included those words. This is an old technique and one that can work really well. Having been reminded of it, I thought we might try my adaptation of the basic prompt, which focuses on the things that are most important in poetry: words, images, and sounds. And … because it’s autumn, let’s write autumn poems.

Some autumn poems for inspiration:

Now for your poem!

1. To begin, read each word in the following list:

harvest moon
spider’s web

2. Next, write an image for each word.

Example: for spider’s web – the dewdrops strung like crystal beads inside the spider’s web

3. Then, write a poem that begins with one of your images and includes as many others as you wish. Try to include some appropriate sensory details (sound, sight, taste, touch, smell).

4. To extend this prompt, and to add an extra element of challenge, deliberately create an iambic meter in your images that you will continue throughout the poem. (Keep in mind that this is about meter; rhyme isn’t required, though you may include rhyme if you wish.) Take a look at the image example for step #2. This image is written in written in iambs (a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables) and is actually iambic heptameter (7 iambs in the line).  A good example iambic pentameter (five iambs in each line) is “To Autumn” by John Keats.

Click either of the links to read and listen to Keats’s “To Autumn.” Be sure to listen carefully to the audio to get a sense of the poem’s sound.

Note that the iambic pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables is rather like a human heartbeat.


Look at the iambic pentameter in a line from “To Autumn” (da indicates an unstressed syllable, dum indicates a stressed syllable)

To    swell    the     gourd     and     plump     the     ha-     zel     shells
da     dum     da      dum       da       dum        da     dum    da      dum

Give it a try, then listen to the sonic impression you’ve created to underscore your words and images.

Of course, and most importantly, use the words given to prompt an autumn poem in any style or form that works for you!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Poetry Prompt #73 - Anaphora

In a recent workshop that I led, one of the participants spoke strongly against repetition in poetry. Admittedly, there are times when using a word or phrase more than once weakens it’s impact; however, there is a poetic technique (one of literature’s oldest, in fact) that raises the bar for repetition to create parallelism, enhance rhythm, intensify emotion, and strengthen sonic impression. This technique is called anaphora.

Anaphora derives from the Greek for “a carrying up or back” and is characterized by repetition of single words or phrases. In poetry, anaphora occurs when several lines or successive clauses begin with the same word or phrase.

 A good example of this is Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 66” in which ten lines begin with the word “and.”
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly – doctor-like – controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone. 
Another good example is Emily Brontë’s "Remembrance," in which the opening phrase, “Cold in the earth” is repeated.

Other examples:
“The Tyger” by William Blake (repetition of “what”)
“What the hammer? what the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?”

“Birds of Passage” by Walt Whitman (repetition of “O”)
“O you daughters of the West!

O you young and elder daughters! O you mothers and you wives!

Never must you be divided, in our ranks you move united,

Pioneers! O pioneers!”

Whitman used anaphora extensively in his poems. Here’s another example: "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"
And, of course, by way of example, there is "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg
This week, try to write a poem in which you use anaphora. For starters, you may want to limit the poem to fifteen lines or less. Clearly, anaphora effects a poem’s sound and how it is read, sometimes creating a kind of chant or litany effect. There is, however, a fine line between heightened effect and boring reiteration – the trick is not to overdo. With good anaphora the poet creates a kind of tension that is released into “wisdom” with a “punch” at the dismount.