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.