Two years ago, an old friend with whom I hadn’t been in touch since high school, found me on Facebook and contacted me. We first met when we were eleven years old and quickly became best friends. I went to her family reunions, and she accompanied my parents and me on our family vacations to Upstate New York. We saw each other every day, talked on the phone every night, and were generally inseparable. Somehow we lost touch after high school, and reconnecting after so many years, despite being a little scary, was filled with the hopeful anticipation of renewed closeness. While thinking about our “reconnection” this week, I realized that although there are hordes of poems about romantic love, I haven’t seen many poems about plain old friendship. An article on the Poets.org Website refers to friendship poems as the neglected cousins of love poems, and that certainly seems to be true although there is a tradition of poets writing poems to their poet friends or to poets whose work they admire (for example, the exchange between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell).
This week, in honor of my childhood friend, and in honor of your friends, let’s write friendship poems. The big caveat is to be very wary of sentimentality (a.k.a. schmaltziness, sappiness, corniness, over-romanticizing) – carefully distinguish between sentimentality and poetic sentiment – excessive sentiment is sentimentality and very much a negative term in literary criticism. Keep in mind that movies, children’s stories, and greeting card verses may be able to get away with sentimentality, but a poem can’t. So … stay objective, watch out for overuse of complimentary adjectives, and don’t “wax poetic.” Describe your friendship as it is or was, approach your friendship from unexpected perspective, let your poem take you somewhere you didn’t plan to go, and be sure to observe the old poetry “maxim” – show, don’t tell.
Ideas for Writing:
1. Write a poem about a very special friend, old or new (and by the way, that friend may be furred or feathered),
2. Write a poem to a friend (you might try an ode for this one or perhaps a prose poem in letter format).
3. Write a poem to your BFF (that’s the current text/chat acronym for “Best Forever Friend”).
4. Write a poem about reconnecting with an old friend after many years. (How are your lives different? Can you reclaim the old closeness? What hasn’t changed? What has?)
5. Write a poem about an imaginary meeting with a friend you haven’t seen in years.
6. Write a poem about a friend who betrayed you.
7. Write an elegy to a friend who has passed.
8. Write a poem to a poet whose work you admire.
And just for fun (remember this friendship classic?) ...
Wonderful, as always!ReplyDelete
What a great treat - to see that old video of Lucy & Ethel!
Thanks, Jamie! glad you enjoyed the old video clip!Delete
Great idea! Everyone can identify with the concept of friendship. That video of Lucy & Ethel really is a classic.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Bob! I agree, we all know something about friendship. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Thanks again for another great prompt!ReplyDelete
I didn't realize that friendship poems were so underused.
And thanks for the great Bishop/Lowell reference!
Thanks so much, Kristina! I'm so glad you're enjoying the prompts. (I found the Bishop/Lowell poems fascinatingDelete
From Poetry Center at Smith College, Alumnae PoetsReplyDelete
THE LOST FRIEND
Gail Fishman Gerwin
I saw her photo
in The New York Times,
my freshman friend from Smith,
raven-haired Montreal girl who
taught me to sing O Canada
as we walked to class
along Paradise Pond,
the crew team chants
a rhythmic counterpoint.
She’d softened my woe at Smith,
my terror when I felt my housemother
reject me from the first handshake,
was it because I hadn’t gone
to boarding school?
Because I was a girl from Paterson,
a girl whose father hauled furniture
to feed his family, to educate me?
A girl who’d never donned virgin white
to make her debut on the arms of a
Harvard man at The Waldorf?
A homesick girl.
This leggy Canadian wanted out as well,
that’s what she shared in our long-ago life,
but her father prevailed, don’t be a quitter,
he told her, finish what you start.
And she did.
And I didn’t.
From the moment I arrived at that bucolic
Berkshire sanctuary, where compulsory
chapel allowed coughing sisters to share
the Asian flu as Sputnick orbited overhead,
sadness captured my core.
Maybe because my dorm,
overlooking the pond—where
a classmate chose Paradise,
hanging herself from one of
New England’s colonial trees—
was the only campus house
with no showers, only ancient
claw-foot bathtubs where
rinsing hair under arched spigots
mapped daily head bumps.
Maybe I was ill prepared
for academic rigor.
One pole-thin professor
(she of the itchy wool stockings),
told me you’ll never be able to write,
used her red pen to cross out
every page in my exam blue book.
Could have been the humiliation
of posing naked while gym teachers
snapped my posture picture, then
prescribed a semester of Basic Motor Skills
—step whirl together step whirl together—
to help me stand erect.
When the dorm cook reported me,
told the housemother that I lied
about my Thanksgiving destination
when she saw me hug my friend
as her train left for the north while mine
headed south to home, I decided to leave
Smith at the end of the year, to take
my improved posture and an
extra fifteen pounds elsewhere.
My beautiful friend with the perfect
oval face stayed to finish what she started
and we lost touch, though I spotted her
once when we were in our twenties
at Saks Fifth, I in Manhattan dress-up,
she in beatnik black, her face
powdered a death white, raccoon-lined
eyes searing me, I beaming
at finding her after a dozen years,
she puzzled by my elation.
My freshman friend from Smith,
my buttress in the gloom of youth,
died in May, the same week I gained
another year, her obituary listed a host
of those who loved her and a lifetime
of coaxing energy into wilted flowers and
stray animals, her face frozen in a photo
that could have been taken freshman year
when we walked along the grassy shore of
Paradise Pond, as we bleated O Canada
for all the girls to hear.
Thanks so much for sharing your poem, Gail!Delete
What a powerful story well told. I was completely sucked in, in the best sort of way.Delete
Thanks, Annette, I hope Gail sees your comment!Delete
Lovely, Gail, Thank you for sharing!Delete
@Annette, thank you so much for your kind words.Delete
He came to my door one day
and just wouldn't leave
I told him to go
It just wasn't allowed
I didn't want him
But he stayed
for 17 years he's been by my side
He has his own pillow on the bed next to mine
His own dishes
and his own place in my heart
When I hear him purr
I want to purr too
When I look at his furry face
I want a fur body just like his
He's the king in my castle
The lion in my jungle
I love it, Risa! You've written about a furred friendship! Our friendships with pets are often among the most wonderful, especially when the pets choose us! Thanks so much for sharing!Delete
A wonderful tribute to your special little fur-friend! Thanks for sharing this, Risa.Delete
This strikes a warm chord for me and I'm sure, for many of Adele's blog readers. Thanks, Risa!Delete
Unfortunately, my reunion with my best friend didn't go so well... I'm still not sure what happened and it used to haunt me. I've let it go but it still gave me enough emotion and energy to write on. http://hoofprintsinmygarden.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/people-change/ReplyDelete
Yes, Annette, sadly, people do change. I'm so sorry your reunion with a friend wasn't a happy one. I hope writing about it was healing for you. Thanks so much for sharing your poem with us.Delete
Readers, highlight the link in Annette's comment and then right click - that should take you directly to the poem on Annette's blog
Adele, Your prompts always stretch our thinking from the personal to the universal - such a gift to your blog readers! Many thanks!ReplyDelete
Thanks for your kind words, Maire! !ReplyDelete
A very interesting prompt to think about. Got me reflecting on why I WOULDN'T want to meet up with certain old friends - sometimes failed friendships from the past continue to hurt - it's better to let them go. So, my poem is about that, and I thank you for giving us such thought-provoking ideas for our writing.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your kind words and for your comment, John - an interesting twist!Delete
ʜi there, ӏ log on to your bogs regularly. Your writing style is awesome,ReplyDelete
kеeep doing what you're doing!
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