Saturday, January 29, 2011

Poetry Prompt #41 - A Fly on the Wall

The subject of flies in poetry may not be common, but I'm sure you're familiar with Emily Dickinson's famous poem "I Heard a Fly Buzz." (Click Here to Read)

This week we're going to work with a "fly idea," but our treatment will be different from Emily D's. We've all heard the expression "fly on the wall." The meaning of the phrase suggests the ability to observe a situation without being seen or heard.

This isn't a new prompt idea, but it's one with lots of possibilities, and the challenge this week is to take yourself – in the form of a fly – into an unusual or emotionally charged place to tell what you see and hear. The idea is to become virtually invisible but nonetheless present.

1. You may "become" the fly and speak from the fly's point of view (persona/personification).

2. You may go back in time to observe yourself in a particular situation from your past.

3. You may eavesdrop on a conversation you were never intended to hear.

4. You may be anywhere, at any time, observing people and listening to what they say.

5. Your tone may be serious, humorous, or ironic.

To begin, imagine yourself as a fly on a wall. Where are you? What do you see? Who is there with you? What do you hear? What insights into a situation do you have from your unseen/unnoticed perspective? What can you (the fly) explain about human behavior in the situation you observe? Is there a situation in which you (the fly) can offer insights into your own actions or personality? What do you learn when you (the fly) observes you (the person)? How may the fly become a metaphor?

Some places to consider for your wall: a cocktail party, a wedding, a masked ball, a birthday party from your childhood, the midst of an argument, a classroom, a divorce court, a funeral parlor, a room in an altered dimension, an empty house, a cruise ship, a bar or pub, a tent deep in a forest. 


  1. I started writing this morning and got sidetracked into a limerick that begins "If I were a fly on the wall."

    Then, having moved into humor mode, I started a parody on Emily Dickinson's "I Heard a Fly Buzz."

    The wonderful thing about your prompts is that they're great as you present them, but they also lead us into other areas of creative thinking (and poetry).

    As always, thanks!


  2. Jamie! What fun! Thanks so much for sharing your poem ideas and for your kind words.

  3. Another interesting prompt! Interesting, too, that, like Jamie, I started to think in terms of a limerick: "If I were a fly on the wall..."

  4. Jamie and Bob,

    Interesting that you both thought "limerick." Apparently others have as well.

    I found a fly on the wall limerick at

    Wish I Were a Fly on the Wall
    by Robert D. Cowan

    There once was a fly on the wall
    I wonder why didn't it fall
    Because its feet stuck
    Or was it just luck
    Or does gravity miss things so small?

    And another at

    There once was a fly on a wall
    Whom brave Humpty Dumpty saw fall
    Down to save her, he leapt ...
    But that leap was inept
    'Cos he won't reassemble at all!

  5. Like Flies on Milk

    In India at age 25,
    a virus took his sight
    took as well for a time, his hope.

    When life convinced him
    that his sight would not be returned
    he took back his hope on his own accord.
    Resigned to make do.
    Tragedy just another of life’s difficulties.

    his other senses maneuvered in a dark world.
    He worked what jobs he could,
    being a whole man
    did not require a complete body.

    Now at age 75 he labors still.
    An early morning shift at the local granary
    making his way down the walks of life
    the tips of his fingers communicating with walls
    paint a streetscape as familiar to his mind,
    as his eyes would ever notice.

    He mills the grain.
    Has visualized each part of the machine,
    could repair it blindfolded.
    Checks initially that the night
    has not altered his work space,
    change has not crept in like his virus,
    to take his sight once again.

    He sits on a small uncomfortable stool
    scoops the whole grain into the grinder
    from a cedrus deodar bin.
    Then from the shoot - bags with burlap.
    Ties each parcel.
    Carries it the few feet to the waiting palette.

    His eyes no burden -
    they accompany him in silence
    as they have for fifty years.

    In the twilight of the early evening,
    his skin reads the words of the setting sun.
    Retraces his steps to his apartment home,
    four generations now live there with him,
    a life’s companion for 50 years,
    both discovering that sight
    is not needed to find love.

    His children, grandchildren
    return from their own work.
    They are family. Have but one bank account
    of which they all partake in common
    as they do their evening meal.

    He senses,
    but they do not acknowledge,
    that at his age they watch him constantly
    shadows which move within
    the shadows of the daytime,
    a grandchild perhaps,
    his own spouse, their children,
    watching Daada.
    This not a burden, but an honor.

    This family of four generations
    unlike many in America
    where the elders do not wish to be a burden
    and the children do not wish to shoulder one.

    When told of this culture
    it was as if it were – from another world.
    “Who would have children,” he remarked,
    “if when you grow old
    they would shoo you away
    like flies on milk.”

    Ray Brown

  6. Thanks so much for posting your poem, Ray! Great "dismount."

  7. A Few Lines For Hamlet

    Lemon sun and the blue fly on the oak
    tree where new leaves glitter green in a noon
    breeze where the voice of the playwright is heard—
    'The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, puzzles the will
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?'

    1. Wow, Lewis, you've gone way back, and I'm so glad that you have. Thanks so much for sharing this!

    2. Thank you, Adele, for providing the opportunity to experiment with new ideas. It is always fun seeing the poems that turn up in response.

    3. I agree, Lewis. I really enjoy seeing the poems and wish more poets would share!

    4. I feel that the reluctance to do so may be due in part to the fear of the response to the poems but, all aspiring poets would do well to take the plunge and share their work, especially, at your blog where I have learned so much and am always gaining experience. More than that isn't this what writing is all about—sharing. There isn't anything to fear here, only the fun of participation.

    5. Bless you, Lewis! And thank you!

  8. The line—'The undiscover'd country from whose bourn...' is from Shakespeare's Hamlet.