Saturday, July 21, 2012

Prompt #110 – Friendship Poems

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 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?) ...


  1. Wonderful, as always!

    What a great treat - to see that old video of Lucy & Ethel!

    Sincerest thanks,

    1. Thanks, Jamie! glad you enjoyed the old video clip!

  2. Great idea! Everyone can identify with the concept of friendship. That video of Lucy & Ethel really is a classic.

    1. Thanks, Bob! I agree, we all know something about friendship. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Thanks again for another great prompt!

    I didn't realize that friendship poems were so underused.

    And thanks for the great Bishop/Lowell reference!

    1. Thanks so much, Kristina! I'm so glad you're enjoying the prompts. (I found the Bishop/Lowell poems fascinating

  4. Gail Fishman GerwinJuly 22, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    From Poetry Center at Smith College, Alumnae Poets

    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.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your poem, Gail!

    2. What a powerful story well told. I was completely sucked in, in the best sort of way.

    3. Thanks, Annette, I hope Gail sees your comment!

    4. Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)July 24, 2012 at 12:07 PM

      Lovely, Gail, Thank you for sharing!

    5. Gail Fishman GerwinJuly 24, 2012 at 12:08 PM

      @Annette, thank you so much for your kind words.

  5. Pride

    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
    and 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

    1. 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!

    2. A wonderful tribute to your special little fur-friend! Thanks for sharing this, Risa.


    3. Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)July 24, 2012 at 11:23 AM

      This strikes a warm chord for me and I'm sure, for many of Adele's blog readers. Thanks, Risa!

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

      Readers, highlight the link in Annette's comment and then right click - that should take you directly to the poem on Annette's blog

  7. Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)July 24, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    Adele, Your prompts always stretch our thinking from the personal to the universal - such a gift to your blog readers! Many thanks!

  8. Thanks for your kind words, Maire! !

  9. 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.

    1. Thanks for your kind words and for your comment, John - an interesting twist!

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