Saturday, August 6, 2011

Poetry Prompt #65 - What Would You Say?

Is there someone you didn’t get a chance to speak with before he or she passed away? Have you ever thought about things you neglected to say when that person was alive? Who is that person? Imagine for a moment that you’re able to speak to him or to her. What would you say? What comfort would you find in one more communication? Think in terms of your relationship with the person and what that person meant to you. Think how you felt when the person passed away. Think about things that were left unsaid.

As you write this week, the object is not to dwell on sadness or regret but, rather, to work toward unique imagery and expression. Think of your poem as having two subjects. Poet Renée Ashley describes these as “the obvious one, its material, and the unarticulated one, its matter.” Don’t just tell about your feelings; evoke a feeling by showing, not telling. Your poem should have something to say, something honest and real, with a profound emotional center. It needs to "hit home" for the reader, and it needs to do that without being sentimental or ordinary.

1. Write a poem addressed to someone who is deceased.


Fists (For My Father)
By Joe Weil

It was the sense that your fists were worlds
and mine were not that caused me to worship you;
all those thick rope veins, and the deep inlaid grime of your life,
the permanent filth of your labors.

I wanted your history.
My own smoothness appalled me.
I wanted that hardness
of fists.
I'd pry your fingers loose,
using both my hands,
find stones, a robin's egg uncrushed
in the thick meat of your palms.
Between thumb and forefinger,
your flesh smelled of creosote and lye,
three packs of Chesterfield Kings.
You told me stories about heroes,
David with his sling,
Samson with his jaw bone of an ass,
Christ with his word forgive.

Tonight, I read about Cuchulain
contending with the sea,
how he killed his son in battle,
a son he'd never known,
and, mad with his grief,
fought the waves
for three nights and as many days,
until, at last, he came ashore,
and fell asleep holding his dead child's hands.
When he woke, it was morning, and the hands of his son
had become two Black Swans.
They flew West where all suffering ends.
I read this story
and I remember you.
Hold me clenched until I am those birds.
Sleep now,
until your fists can open.

(From Painting the Christmas Trees (Texas Review Press, Copyright © 2008. All rights reserved.)

2. Address a poem to a specific group of deceased persons or to the deceased in general.


3. Write a poem to or about a deceased pet.

By way of sharing, here’s a poem I wrote for my Yeats, my beloved Yorkshire Terrier:

By Adele Kenny

In Memory of Yeatsy
(January 5, 1993- July 6, 2008)

The way his head slips from     
my hand as I lay him down,
his eyes still open (though I
try to close them), the same
warmth still in his small body.

It is this: death, a skill learned
by those who observe it; grief
what we keep – and memory
always, at least in part, about
forgetting. I cross his paws the
way he crossed them in sleep.

Like all deaths that summer
remembers, I walk his home.
A patch of sun climbs the stairs
without him; white moths,
like snowflakes, span the sky. 

(From What Matters, Welcome Rain Publishers, Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved.)


  1. What a great idea!

    This one really has me thinking. I suspect that there are people in all of our lives who have left this world and whom we would like to speak just one more time.

    Love the Billy Collins audio and cartoon. And the Joe Weil poem is amazing - I'll never forget the last lines!

    Thanks, as always,

  2. Thanks, Jamie!

    Your comments are always appreciated!

  3. I agree with Jamie on all counts - a great, thought-provoking prompt and one with which I'm sure we can all identify. Also great Billy Collins, and a fantastic Joe Weil poem (I've heard Joe read that poem, and as good as it is in print, it's even better when you hear it in Joe's own voice).

  4. Thanks, Bob! Glad you enjoyed the prompt and the re-visit to Joe's great poem.

  5. Joe Weil's poem! And yours! As Emily Dickinson said,"I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off..."

    Thank you so much for this sharing!

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

  6. Thanks so much, Maire! (I love that Dickinson quote.)

  7. A dear friend of mine and poetry therapist colleague suggested I check your website. I'm so glad I did because your website is inspiring, informative and one I've happily bookmarked. I'm a creative writing instructor at a local community college and teach poetry, memoir and creative writing workshops in Westchester County, NY. In addition, your poem to your beloved Yorkie has touched me on every level. I'm a mininature schnauzer owner, Lili is my 3rd; she's a white pup who is definitely my muse!!! Thank YOU for having such a quality website/blog. Best wishes with all of your endeavors and enjoy your new Yorkie, Chaucer!!! Karen R, Hawthorne, NY

    1. Hi Karen!

      Welcome aboard and thank you so much for your kind words - they mean a lot to me!

      It's wonderful to meet another dog and poetry lover.

      My very best to you and Lili, and puppy licks from Chaucey!

      With grateful good wishes,