Saturday, October 20, 2012

Prompt #123– Something Magical

I know I promised that this wouldn’t be an “about me” blog, but sometimes an incredible magic happens when we take our poetry into the world, and I’d like to share a recent experience with you. Last Sunday (October 14th), I had the honor of reading at the 14th Biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. I read from my newest collection of poems, What Matters, which speaks to the fact that we’re all survivors of one thing or another (fear, grief, illness, loss). The individual details may be different, but we’re all survivors.

When I read from the book’s second section (which deals with my own breast cancer experience), I spoke about the conditions of survival and the ways in which we remember how to live. I also mentioned that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month—a time to remember and a time to hope for a cure. Spoken word poet Taylor Mali read after I did and noted that he lost his mom to breast cancer; he then read a poem about his mom that he dedicated to her and to me—a lovely, spontaneous gesture.

After the reading, a lady I’d never met before asked me to sign her program and said my words would remain with her (that’s her with me in the photo above). On the way out of the building, a group of young people came up to me and thanked me for the reading—several shook my hand, and one said that his mother is a survivor and that he could hear her “life” in my poems. Later, in NJPAC’s lobby area, two ladies asked me to sign their copies of What Matters (I remembered seeing them at  the reading). One told me that she, too, is a survivor and how much my poems meant to her. In the book tent, a man came up to me and said that his wife is a survivor and that after hearing my poems he understands better what she went through. He said he was going home after the festival to give her a big hug and a copy of my book (I admit to the tears in my eyes.) These were all reactions that I couldn't possibly have anticipated.

Reading at the Dodge Festival was a special honor, and I send my sincerest thanks to Martin Farawell, Dodge Poetry Program Director, for inviting me to be part of such an exceptional poetry celebration. As always, the Festival brought people together and reminded us that poetry is about addressing the human condition deeply and, in the process, confirming that we’re all brothers and sisters—that we’re not alone. I’m so very grateful! 

This week, I’d like you to write about a magical moment in your life. There’s no formula for such moments, most come unplanned and unexpected, and are all the more meaningful for that. As Jane Kenyon wrote in her poem “Happiness,”

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet …

The experience you write about this week may be a major one (falling in love, your wedding, the birth of a child, a long-time goal achieved, surviving a challenge) or it may be a small moment of joy (a detail in the happiness of your larger life). Your moment may be part of a continuum as in “Painting”  by my dear friend and distinguished poet Ed Romond:


I still hear his voice urging
me to bring the brush back
to blend the paint into one
continuous stroke of green.
I don’t know why after 50 years
these words remain
like lyrics of a favorite song
but I keep seeing that Saturday …

This week, you’re called to remember and to write. Dig deeply into your heart’s archives and look around you (perhaps the leaves’ changing colors, a certain song, a photograph, or a souvenir tucked away in a dresser drawer will bring a special moment back to you).

Here are five tips:

1. Don’t simply tell a story (remember, this is a poem, not a journal entry, and you’ll need to avoid writing from a prose impulse as you move from the personal to the universal).

2. Work on a sense of immediacy (even when you write in the past tense). Stay away from the passive voice, and be wary of words that end in “ing” (gerunds).

3. Avoid over-use of adjectives 

4. Eliminate prepositions whenever you can (i.e., the sky’s length rather than the length of the sky).

5. Don’t over-write—watch out for too many details, and don’t try to explain everything. Think about this: a poem with only five great lines should be five lines long. And remember what Dylan Thomas wrote, “You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it tick … you’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps … so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.”



  1. Adele! How wonderfully beautiful! I'm so happy for you and for the people who heard you read. We don't have anything like the Dodge Festival here in England -- I so wish that we did, and I thank you for sharing this with us.

    1. Thanks so much, Jamie. Your comment is much appreciated. (I read in England some years ago, and found the audience to be very warm and receptive.)

  2. I was there, Adele -- you were fantastic (there was definitely something magical in that auditorium). The whole festival was extraordinary and something to look forward to in 2014.

    1. Thanks so much, Rich. Never having met in person, I didn't realize that you were in the audience!

  3. Adele, I love you! I have no other words about you and your magic.
    Or was it a spell, a charm?

    1. Oh, Jago (Ales)! How sweet of you! The magic is the poetry and the Dodge Festival makes it so special for thousands of people. How is life in Rome?

    2. You know...In Rome the life is sweet (La dolce Vita)

  4. I was at your reading, saw the reactions of people in the audience, and it was definitely magical!

    There's nothing quite like the Dodge Festival for bringing people who love poetry together in a big way. It was great at Waterloo Village, and Martin Farawell has made a huge success of it in Newark.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Bob! You're right, the Newark festivals have their own special and successful "personality" (a kind of coming-of-age).

    2. Ditto to what Bob said!

  5. Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)October 22, 2012 at 12:50 PM

    Wonderful example poems, especially the Jane Kenyon, which I haven't seen before.

    As you might guess, poetry is often celebrated here in ireland, and we have heard of the Geraldine R. Dodge Festival in the US - I would say that the Dodge Festival is internationally known and respected.

    Thank you, Adele, for your blog and all the poetry sharing!

    For anyone interested, here's the link to a wonderful site dealing with Celtic poetry:

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Maire—it's always great to hear from you!

      I know there's a big annual poetry festival in Strokestown (Co. Roscommon), the town in which my ancestors were born.


    2. Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)October 24, 2012 at 3:55 PM

      I've been to the Strokestown festival, and it's grand. (I suspect much smaller than your Dodge Festival, but grand nonetheless.)

  6. I walk down this path
    my life is a mystery
    Autumn chills the air

    1. Wonderful, Risa! I love the nuance you create in so few words. Again, your "to the point style" rocks!

    2. Lovely! Once again you've "said it all" in just a few words, evoking the "spirit" of the autumn season (as a metaphor as well as actual).

      I hope you're planning a book of these short, pithy poems.

    3. Very nice, Risa! The brevity works!

  7. Thank you Adele,Jamie and Rich! Yes, I am planning a book. Since re-connecting with Adele and writing with these wonderful prompts, I have quite a collection. Your kind words are so encouraging.