Sunday, February 26, 2012

Prompt #92 – Dreams

Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought?

– Joan Didion

What’s the dream experience like for you? Have you ever had a particularly vivid dream that you haven’t forgotten? A recurring dream? A precognitive dream (a dream that comes true as a future event)? A dream that defies understanding?

While dreams are typically defined as thoughts, images, or emotions that occur during sleep, Thoreau called dreams the “touchstones of our characters.” William Butler Yeats said, “In dreams begins responsibility.” And according to Shakespeare, “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on.” C. K. Chesterton wrote, “The center of every man's existence is a dream.” When I read these comments, I made an immediate connection to poetry: touchstones of our character, the stuff of dreams, responsibility, the center of our existence, thought, image, and emotion; and I began to think about the ways in which dreams intersect with waking life, what dreams mean, and why some dreams are so compelling (and sometimes convincingly real).

I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that poetry is the language of dreams or vice versa, but a shared “lexicon” of image and emotion is definitely possible. Without getting into the psychology of dreams or dream interpretation (fascinating areas of study), let’s write poems about dreams this week.

Try writing a poem about a specific dream. You might “tell” about a dream, re-create a dream, write about a dream’s impact, or you might write your poem in the prose poem format of a dream journal or diary. If you honestly can’t remember a dream, make one up or write a poem about dreams in general. You might write about an animal’s dream, an inanimate object’s dream, or you might take on the persona of a dream and write as if you are a dream speaking. Another possibility is to write about a nightmare you’ve had, to create a nightmare poem, or to write about a favorite daydream. Still another possibility is to write a poem based on this quotation: "If there were dreams to sell, what would you buy?" (Thomas Lovell Beddoes)

Example Dream Poems:

And ... from my newest collection of poems, the dream I had while I was on chemo:


It’s the same damned dream – a hole and she
knows she’s in it. She feels herself flail, small

(like shiver, the bed sprung with the weight of
her life.) She can’t lift off. She flaps, arms

pitched like wings (that would be bird – wren,
sparrow – but she isn’t). She races and revs, gains

a fraction, then bumps down (the way one fall
bumps into another). She thinks: a spade for the

feathers, a bucket for the blood (whatever is left –
her own slow ghost). But stop! The fortuneteller

trips – illusion, trick – there’s one bird left on
the water, one wing through, and it’s rising.

                        (From What Matters, Welcome Rain Publishers, New York, NY, 2011)

 Click Cover to Order

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Prompt #91 – Firsts

This week we’re going to think about significant “firsts” in our lives – not childhood milestones (first words, first steps) but, rather, times in our later lives that recalled the childlike wonder of a special “first” or “first times/first experiences" that have been disturbing and perhaps even life-changing.

One way to begin is to create a list of important “firsts” in your life. You may opt to use this inventory to write a list poem in which you write about several of your "firsts." For a more challenging activity, select one of the “firsts” from your list and write about it in detail. Think about why your “first” was important to you. How did it affect you at the time? How has it impacted your life? Were other people involved and, if so, what roles did they play? Be sure to include details of time and place. Keep your imagery fresh and original. Develop a strong emotional center (but be careful of sentimentality). For an added edge, try to write something more than an anecdotal poem – don't simply tell a story, reveal something of the story's deepest meaning.

Alternatively, you may decide on a humorous approach. If you do, remember that a witty tone doesn’t mean you can’t make a serious point – funny and profound can happen in the same poem. (Some good technical elements to try in humorous poems include exaggeration, anaphora, and rhyme.)

Keep in mind that you don’t have to know exactly where your poem is going when you begin to write. Let the poem lead you and perhaps even surprise you. Be creative – the only rule is that the “first” you write about must be your own (not a child’s, friend’s, spouse’s, partner’s, or anyone else’s), and the poem [imagine a grin here] should be written in the “first” person.

A few “starter” ideas:

First Love
First Kiss  
First Loss  
First Death    
First Grief  
First Fear
First Deception  
First Taste of ______  
First Pet  
First Marriage  
First Child
First Time I Saw _____  
First House  
First Car  
First Secret

Sample “First” Poems:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wishing you love and a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

                – William Shakespeare

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Poetry Prompt #90 – What Haunts You?

We all have “ghosts” in our lives – people, places, experiences, mistakes, regrets – metaphorical “apparitions” that haunt us. This week, face one of your “ghosts” and translate “it” into written language. For this poem, I’m not talking about ghostly apparitions or things that go bump in the night but, rather, realities that inhabit our hearts and refuse to let us forget. Dig deeply, think hard. Meet your ghost face-to-face. Invite your ghost to inhabit your poem. Give your ghost words and a form. Write a poem you’re afraid to write.

Possible Ghosts:

1. Deceased loved ones …
2. Former friends or family members …
3. People we’ve hurt or treated unfairly …
4. People who have hurt us ...
5. Something we should have done but didn’t …
6. Something we shouldn’t have done but did …
7. Lost loves ...
8. Wartime Experiences ...
9. Houses or special places …
10. Unwise decisions …
11. Words we’ve spoken …
12. Lies we’ve told, lies of omission, truths we’ve withheld …

Example Poems:

And an excerpt from the title poem of my book Chosen Ghosts:

Always in autumn, when the backyard thins
and the brittleness starts, I go back to my griefs.
I bury the last chrysanthemums and pray for my
sorrows, wishing it was still summer when
the sky traveled in a thousand directions at once
or years ago when every season was spring 
with its risings and promise. But now, here
and now, in the whirl of this brief, sad season,
I call my ghosts home and gather them around me.
Like the flock of geese that sleeps in an open field
near the river, they rise in a rush of wings
that remembers the victory of flight.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Prompt #89 – Choices

With everything that has happened to you,
you can either feel sorry for yourself
or treat what has happened as a gift.
Everything is either an opportunity to grow
or an obstacle to keep you from growing.
You get to choose.

– Dr. Wayne Dyer

Choices can be like walking into a candy store and trying to figure out which sweet we want the most. Like items on a menu or flavors in an ice cream parlor, we have options. We choose “things” all the time, but not all choices are easy. We choose one job over another, we choose where to live, we choose our friends, we choose our life partners, and we choose the ways in which we deal with life experiences.

Have you ever thought about the ways in which a particular choice impacted your life? For this week’s prompt, begin by thinking about choices you've made. One option is to reflect upon the Wayne Dyer quote above before writing a poem about a choice that you’ve made and the ways in which you acted in response to that choice. An alternative suggestion is to write about any major choice that you’ve made; and a third option is to write a humorous poem about choices. You might even try a poem with the title, "You Get to Choose."

Sample Poems: