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! 


  1. I have Diane Lockward's book, Temptation By Water, and it's wonderful. Such a great idea for this prompt. Thanks to both of you.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Rich! So glad you like the post and the prompt!

  2. I have Temptation By Water too and agree with Rich that it's a great read.

    It's really nice that Ms. Lockward used your poem and that the poem and her prompt will be included in the new book.

    1. It's a great book. I lent my copy to a friend who didn't want to give it back, so I left it with her and bought another for myself!

  3. Just close the tent of the Snake Lady, they sold:

    Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound

    Is a Positive Cure

    For all these Painful Complaints and Weaknesses
    So common to our best female population.
    It will cure entirely the worst form
    Of female complaint, all ovarian troubles
    Inflammation and ulceration
    Falling and Displacements
    And the consequent Spinal Weakness
    And is particularly adapted to the
    Change of Life

    removes faintness, flatulency, destroys all craving
    For stimulants, and relieves weakness of the stomach.
    It cures Bloating, Headaches, Nervous Prostration, General Debility, Sleeplessness,
    Depression and Indigestion.
    That feeling of bearing down, causing pain,
    Weight and backache, is always permanently cured by
    Its use.

  4. There's an old song about Lydia Pinkham and her patent medicine called "Lily the Pink!"

    I just looked her up and found this online:

    "The five herbs contained in Lydia Pinkham's original formula are:

    Pleurisy root is diaphoretic, anti-spasmodic, carminative, and anti-inflammatory.

    Life root is a traditional uterine tonic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, and emmenagogue used for amenorrhea or dysmenorrhea.

    Fenugreek is vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, tonic, emmenagogue, galactogogue, and hypotensive.

    Unicorn Root was used by several Native American tribes for dysmenorrhea, uterine prolapse, pelvic congestion and to improve ovarian function

    Black cohosh is an emmenagogue, anti-spasmodic, alterative, nervine, and hypotensive and is used traditionally for menopausal symptoms.

    The formula also contains drinking alcohol, ethanol, as in wine, beer and liquor of all sorts. Alcohol relieves muscular stress and acts as a pain killer, and also changes one's mood."

    1. Thanks, Jago, for the poem! And thanks, Adele, for the info on that great old pub song.

  5. Alas! It's not my poem, I think it was an advertisement; I used it in my blog ( to explain that for me: TUTTO è POESIA ma la POESIA è TUTTO? ( everything is poetry but poetry is anything?).
    Anyway I like Snake Lady; it reminds me those small circus,few benches on the sawdust, a very sad tiger, a poor lion,raining inside the big top..

    1. No matter, Jago—it's always great to read your comments, and this one was fun. Maybe everything and anything IS poetry?

      Those little traveling circuses were a part of the culture that seems to have disappeared from this area of the country. I remember the snake lady, of course, and that same "circus" had a tent with a two-headed baby in a jar, a ferris wheel, and all kinds of weird side-shows. Those were the days.

  6. And the lion tamer
    a red jacket
    cotton candy

    1. I can picture that, Jago! The small, travelling carnival or circus was a tradition in England from Victorian times on. We don't see many today, but they're not forgotten.

      Just a little poem from me:


      There, in the far summer field,
      where gypsy camp fires burned in spring,
      villagers gathered for the travelling circus,
      and my father lifted me high in his arms
      to see the ferris wheel, there, beneath the stars.

      Jamie Morris

    2. Yes, those few words from Jago convey the "sense" of it—and your words, too, Jamie! I love the images of the field where gypsies camped and your dad lifting you high, the ferris wheel, and the stars! Thanks so much for sharing.

  7. Very beautiful, Jamie.
    And so, from Snakes Ladies , with a long journey, ( but not so long) we arrived to the ferris wheel.
    Along the road we encountered Lydia and her compound, Adele and Jamie, little travelling circus, tigers and lions, a lot of sawdust, gypsi camp,Jago ( maybe he's the lion tamer but has not a red jacket...)