Saturday, May 28, 2011

Poetry Prompt #55 – A Meaningful Moment

This week’s prompt comes in a spirit of sharing via a wonderful writing prompts site at which I’m honored to be a guest “prompter.” You'll write about a meaningful moment in your life (with a pattern to help get you started). Please click on the link to visit the site and to view the prompt. Enjoy!

Many thanks to fellow poet and blogger Anjie for the invitation to share
and for promoting a spirit of mutual purpose among writing prompt bloggers!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Poetry Prompt #54 - Flower Language

Fascination with flowers has long been a delight of human imagination, and many ancient civilizations attributed special powers and symbolisms to various flower types. Inspired in part by Lady Mary Wortley Montague (who learned the Middle Eastern language of flowers and whose published letters in 1763 introduced flower symbolisms to England) and by Charlotte de la Tour’s 1819 French book The Language of Flowers, flower language became enormously trendy during the nineteenth century. By the Victorian Era, a return to Romanticism and the Gothic revival worked together with the Victorian psyche, already finely tuned to the “romantic” and geared to blossoming interest in flower studies. Amateur botany came into vogue, buttressed by advances in printing that made flower pictures widely available. By mid-century, floral dictionaries or alphabetical lists of flowers and their meanings were  eagerly read and memorized. “Florigraphy” was most eminently popularized in John Henry Ingram’s Flora Symbolica (1869). With a love of the mysterious already firmly in place, flower meanings were subject to the trends and vagaries of Victorian feeling and fashion. Standard bouquets, tussie-mussies (round nosegays of flowers, framed by doilies and tied with satin) or single posies could convey both subtle and deeply meaningful messages. By using flower language, young ladies hoped their intimate communications would escape the watchful eyes of parents and chaperones, and men were able to “speak” unheard to the objects of their affection. Clandestine messages were flower-phrased to escape the notice of fiancés and spouses.

Flowers enjoy a long history in literature, and some of their symbolisms were centuries old when the Victorians adopted them. By the 13th century, Guillaume de Lorris’s Romance of the Rose inspired the medieval romance genre, typically set in a garden where flowers conveyed meanings. Shakespeare’s works contain over 500 floral references. The flower poetics of nineteenth century literature ranges from Emerson’s “Flower Chorus” and Tennyson’s “Flowers in the Crannied Wall” to Wordsworth’s exaltation of daffodils in “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” Some Victorian poets assigned human characteristics to individual blooms: Hood called the violet a “nun” and the pea a “wanton witch.” In “A Flower in a Letter,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: “Young maids may wonder if the flowers/ Or meanings be the sweeter.” Tennyson compared the rush of sweet recollections to a bridal procession: “With music and sweet showers / Of festal flowers.”

In Victorian painting, flower iconography inspired many artists, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and Edward Burne-Jones, Burne-Jones was so intrigued by flower symbolism that he made lists from which he drew inspiration for his paintings. The Arts and Crafts movement, spearheaded by William Morris, expressed flower symbolism in floral wallpapers, hangings and stained glass. From the mid 19th century on, flower symbolism was in common use everywhere. Fashionable bouquets carried a wide range of meanings based on established symbolism, positioning of flowers, and combinations of certain plants. A flower presented in an upright position conveyed a positive thought; “yes” was implied by offering a flower with the right hand, “no” with the left.

Irises carried multiple meanings, including “I have a message for you,” “your friendship means so much to me,” and “my compliments.” Viscaria was an invitation to dance. A bouquet of purple heartsease held the message “you occupy my thoughts.” Gardenias, symbolic of secret love, expressed “you are lovely.” Purple lilacs, symbolic of love’s first emotions, asked “do you love me?” Heliotrope was a sign of devotion and carried the message “I adore you.” A single rose in full bloom meant “I love you” or “I still love you.”

While the purple hyacinth was a symbol of sorrow, it also hinted that the recipient’s actions were rash. White hyacinths meant “I’ll pray for you.” A bouquet of hydrangeas was a grateful acknowledgment – “Thank you for understanding.” Sweet peas were a silent note of thanks for a lovely time. Yellow carnations signified “you have disappointed me.” Jonquils were a plea to return affection. Pink carnations promised “I’ll never forget you,” and tea roses held the message “I’ll remember always.” Above all, the rose was, and remains, the sovereign of flower language. Long praised in literature and in art, the medieval badge of love and the Tudor emblem, the rose held various meanings based on variety and color. It remains the ultimate flower symbol, possessed of a perfect beauty that in the words of William Wordsworth “puts forth a thorn” – a symbol perhaps of the very nature of life.

(Excerpted from “Victorian Flower Language,” by Adele Kenny, Collectables Trader (Australia), Oct/Nov 2005)

Whew – all that history having been noted and, hopefully, having inspired you, we get to this week's prompt, which is based on flowers and flower language. This week’s poem will incorporate a flower symbolism or two and some flower imagery. The idea will be to tell a story from your personal experience and to include flower symbolism in the telling.

Begin with a free write to get some ideas going; or, think about an experience or time in your life with which you associate a flower or flowers, and jot down a few notes.

Look over what you’ve written and focus on a particular experience or time.

Look through the Victorian flower symbolisms  and choose those that apply to the experience you’re going to write about. Be sure to read a few “flower poems” by famous poets

Write your poem! Focus on imagery, and be careful not to become prose-like as you tell your story; although, a prose poem would be great, see Poetry Prompt #47 for info.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Summer Submissions

Diane Lockward has again posted her comprehensive and immensely helpful lists of journals that read submissions during the summer. Check them out! THANK YOU, DIANE!

A thru F

G thru P

Q thru Z

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Poetry Prompt #53 – Fill in the Blanks

Sometimes it’s fun to work with a time-honored poem as a prompt, so this week I thought you might enjoy trying something I’ve done with workshop groups. It's a bit challenging, but it will cause you to really focus and think. T. S. Eliot’s “Morning at the Window” is our inspiration piece. Begin by reading the poem carefully several times. Then, fill in the blanks with ideas of your own (refer to the inspiration poem frequently while doing this). After you’ve filled in the blanks, look at your “inspired” poem and change it in any ways you wish to make it more completely your own.


By T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.

The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile that hovers in the air
And vanishes along the level of the roofs.

"Morning at the Window" originally appeared in Poetry, September 1916.

_______ AT THE __________

They are rattling  (plural noun)_____ in (adjective)______  (plural noun) _____,

And along the (adjective)__________ edges of the (noun)____________

I am aware of the (adjective)_______ soul(s) of (noun) __________

Sprouting (adverb)_______ at  (adjective)________   (noun)_________.

The (adjective)______ (plural noun)________ of (noun)___________toss up/down to me

Twisted (plural noun)_____ from the (noun)_________of the (noun)________,

And tear from a (noun)________ with (adjective)______    (plural noun)_______

A/An (adjective)______ (noun) _______ that hovers in the (noun)_________

And vanishes along the (noun)_______ of the (noun)________.


Here are two drafts from a workshop participant.

Draft 1:

Pines at the Start of Night

They are rattling needles in the treetop wind,
And along the loose edges of the night sky
I am aware of the murmuring souls of memory
Sprouting here at grief’s wide gate.

The green sighs of pine boughs toss down to me
Twisted sadness from the years of emptiness,
And tear from a dream with vague hands
A tangible pain that hovers in the heat
And vanishes along the border of sleep.

Draft 2:

Night Pines

Pine needles rattle in the treetop wind
     and along the sky’s loose edge. I am

aware of memory’s murmuring (like souls
     that whisper here at grief’s wide gate) –

a twisted sadness, a dream with vague hands
     that vanishes along the border of sleep.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Poetry Prompt #52 - Junk Drawer

Our lives can be like junk drawers, filled with clutter we keep. For this prompt, I’m not thinking about a literal junk drawer but, rather, an emotional junk drawer (psychological baggage, failed relationships, memories that should be forgotten, griefs and grievances that “mess” with our happiness, broken dreams that need mending, reminders of people and places we’ll never see again).

This week we use poetry to jettison some junk. The goal is to write a poem about the clutter in your emotional junk drawer. (Try using the imagery of an actual junk drawer, and let the poem take you where it wants to go.)