Friday, December 28, 2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prompt #130 – Winter Holiday Poems

Did you know that Nobel Laureate, Russian poet Joseph Brodsky was so taken with Christmas that he wrote a Christmas poem every year (now collected in his book Nativity Poems)? Holiday poems and stories have an enduring appeal, and most of you are familiar with Charles Dickens’s story about Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. For this week’s poem, we’re going to do some variations on the past, present, and future theme, and you’ll need to think about your past, present, and future Christmases, Chanukahs, Kwanzaas, or other annual winter-season celebrations.


1. Write about a holiday about your past (dig deeply into family memories).
2. Write a poem in which you compare winter holidays of the past, present, and/or future.
3. Write about seasonal ghosts that haunt you.
4. Write about people from your past who are no longer with you and how that impacts your present holiday season; or, write about one special person with whom you always associate the winter holidays.
5. Write about aspects of winter holiday traditions that remain part of your annual celebrations.
6. Write about the faith and/or cultural aspects of your winter holidays.
7. Write about one unforgettable winter holiday.
8. Write about holiday food treats and how they sweeten your memories.
9. Write about a holiday song that replays in your mind because of its associations (or, write your own words to a Christmas carol or other winter holiday song).
10. Write a poem based on an old Christmas, Chanukah, or other winter holiday photograph
11. Write about a historical holiday-time event.
12. Write about a winter holiday yet to come. You might consider a fantasy poem with a futuristic sensibility.

Keep in mind that holiday literature can be tricky—be sure to sidestep the pitfalls of sentimentality, schmaltziness, nostalgia, and clichés.


Note: "Are We Done Yet?" is from Gail Gerwin’s new book, Dear Kinfolk, (155 pages, ChayaCairn Press, 2012, $18.00). Click book image to order; shipping is free.

The next prompt will be posted on Saturday, January 5, 2013.

In the meantime,

I wish each of you the special gifts of this season
happiness, hope, and peace—
and a New Year filled with good health 
and all the things that bring you joy.

In poetry and sharing, 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Prompt #129 – Something A Little Different

I was recently honored by poet Diane Lockward when she included “Snake Lady” from What Matters as the prompt model for her December newsletter. I found it immensely interesting to read another poet’s analysis of my poem and then to see how she used the poem to develop a prompt for her readers. I’m happy to share it with you and thought that, in lieu of our usual format, you might enjoy working with Diane’s prompt this week. 


From Diane Lockward’s Poetry Newsletter,
Copyright © 2012 Poetry Newsletter. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of Diane Lockward.

This month's poem comes from Adele Kenny who previously contributed a Craft Tip on imagery. The poem is from Adele's new book, What Matters.

Snake Lady       

She was the main event when
     the carnival came to town.
Fourteen and oh, so young,
     we stood inside her tent with
boys who spoke among themselves
     of things that made them men.

Had we been older, we might
     have understood – their helpless
fascination as the snake slid
     between her breasts and made its
thick descent along her thighs.
     Those boys never blinked until
her fingers stroked the coils
straight, tightened on the head,
     and coaxed it to a sudden milky
venom. With an innocence we
     didn’t think we had, we blushed
and turned from the sure and
     easy way she made them burn.

Adele's poem initially appears simple enough. The speaker describes a memory of something she observed when she was 14. However, the poet has built in several layers of complication. The speaker does not merely observe the scene; she observes someone else observing it. Then instead of using first person singular, the poet uses first person plural; a group of girls observes a group of boys observing an action. The poet also recounts the incident from the distance of Time. The speaker is no longer on the threshold of adolescence but is an adult looking back on the scene. As such, she can have perceptions that the 14-year-old girl could not have had. Finally, the entire poem rests on a metaphor, a very sexy one, indeed!

Let's see if we can do something similar. Let's begin with a simple draft and then add layers of complication.

First, choose a potentially sensuous and sensual scene to describe, perhaps someone eating a peach or a tomato, someone shampooing or bathing, someone turning on a water faucet or drinking from a fountain, someone planting bulbs or dancing or making a salad.

For your first draft, describe the scene, first person singular, present tense. The speaker can be you or someone you pretend to be. The action can be real or imagined.

Now let's add some layers to that basic draft. Complete each step before moving on to the next one.

1. Bring in a third character, someone to stand between the speaker and the person doing the action. Rewrite the draft so that your speaker not only describes the action but also observes and describes the new character observing the scene. Stick with first person singular and present tense.

2. Revise using past tense. The scene now becomes a memory.

3. Revise again, this time using first person plural. Who else could be with your speaker? Who else could be with the other observer?

Think about how each revision changes the poem. (For example, the shift in time, from present to past tense, might alter the tone of the poem.) Choose the version you like best and continue to work on that one. But keep all the steps in your arsenal.

One final consideration: Notice how Adele indents every other line. That nicely parallels the back and forth between past and present and between the speaker and the other characters. Aim for a form that enhances meaning.


“Snake Lady” and the prompt will appear in Diane’s forthcoming book, The Crafty Poet, scheduled for summer 2013 release.

If you don’t subscribe to Diane’s newsletter, I recommend it! 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Prompt #128 – Waiting

The pre-Christmas season of Advent begins on Sunday (December 2nd)—a season defined as a season of waiting.

Waiting … we’ve all been in the position of waiting for something: love, a child, a job, good news or bad, an elevator, a plane, a piece of mail. Have you ever stood in a waiting line or sat for what seemed an inordinately long time in a waiting room? Have you ever been stuck in traffic? Have you sat in a restaurant or other public place and waited from someone? Have you waited to make a discovery of some kind? Have you ever thought about how much of each day is spent waiting for something or someone? Do you remember any childhood “waits?” Like many children, did you wait impatiently to be grown up? Are you waiting for something now? What kind of metaphorical “advent seasons” have you experienced?

This week, let’s write about waiting. You might begin with a list of times you’ve waited, or you might focus on a time you remember waiting for something or someone. The tone of your poem may be serious or funny. You may write from the perspective of your child self or your adult self. There are many possibilities—just be wary of slipping into the predictable (stay away from clichés and over-stated emotions). You might want to write about waiting, anticipation, and hope (are there connections you can make?).

Remember that the content of your poem should have more than one layer: Think in terms of the experience itself and its deeper meanings. Be economical with extra words, extra syllables, prepositions, and articles; but be generous with caesuras to allow for the unspoken silences that can power a poem.


To all my blog readers who observe it,
I wish you an Advent filled with blessings and peace,
and here's Sugarland's version of a traditional Advent hymn that I hope you'll enjoy!