Saturday, August 31, 2013

Prompt #161 – The Blame Game


This week let’s take a look at blame. We all feel guilty at one point or another, and we all accept or assign blame to others. Blame is a form of judgment and censure, which, of course, can have a serious effect on relationships.

Communicating with openness and understanding isn’t always easy, and blame’s pointing finger can be a total deal breaker when it comes to a close bond (partner, spouse, child, grandchild, relative, friend, co-worker). Self-blame, too, can lead to the trap of self-victimization, guilt, shame, remorse, and depression. However we look at it, blame can be damaging and hurtful. Maybe we can use this week’s prompt to “unload” some blame. As you’re working toward that, be sure to make craft choices that will empower your poem.

1. Your reader should be left with a sense that something happened and something changed, but you don’t want to simply tell a story. A flat narrative isn’t a poem.

2. Think about how readers will “hear” your poem and what you can do to increase the poem’s sound value. In addition, how have you used form, meter, scattered or external rhyme, repetition, assonance, and alliteration to create, contribute to, or enhance meaning? 

3. How do your choices of details and diction evoke a particular mood or attitude? How does the poem generate tension?

4. What are the poem’s surprises?

5. Decide what you’re really saying (not what you’re trying to say).

Things To Think About:

1. Blaming others is easier than acknowledging our own shortcomings and accepting responsibility for them.

2. Blaming others is easier than admitting we’ve fallen short or failed, than facing our own realities.

3. Blame is easier than trying to improve.

4. Blame really is a waste of time; blaming others won’t make us feel better about ourselves.

5. Being wrongly blamed hurts.

6. It takes courage to accept blame for our actions.

7. Is there something for which you blame yourself?

8. Is there something that makes you unhappy for which you blame someone or something else?

Have you ever:

1. Blamed someone else for your bad behavior,
2. Blamed yourself for something for which you had no responsibility,
3. Been blamed unfairly by someone for something you did (thought or felt),
4. Blamed someone for something they didn’t do,
5. Willingly accepted blame for something you didn’t do,
6. Experienced a failed relationship because of blame,
7. Acknowledged a blame-error, your own or another person’s, and really worked to repair it?

Ideas for Writing:

1. You might consider writing a sonnet this week. (Click the link for explanations of sonnet forms

2. Obviously, the subject of this prompt is serious, but that doesn’t mean you have to write a serious poem. A funny poem about blame will work as well as a solemn poem.

3. Write about blaming something other than another person (animal, inanimate object). For example, write a poem about blaming the sidewalk or staircase that “tripped” you, or write a poem in which you blame the rain for ruining your favorite shoes.

4. Write a poem about blaming a situation, environment, or person for falling in love.

5. Write about a time when you were blamed unfairly or when you wrongly blamed someone else.

6. Write a poem in which you assign blame for the state of the world or some part of it.

7. Try to come up with an compositional idea that’s “outside the box;” that is, work with subject and language in a unique way. Your readers should be “winded” at least once while reading your poem. Remember that the way something is written is arguably more important than what is written.

8. Be wary of a prose-impulse when you write your poem and work on sound and unique figures of speech.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Prompt #160 – Scratch That Itch

Sometimes prompt ideas evolve in the most unexpected ways. I was reading Diane Lockward’s new book, The Crafty Poet A Portable Workshop, and Craft Tip #3—“Scratching”—immediately sparked this idea, which is completely unrelated to the craft tip in the book. (By the way, if you don’t have a copy of The Crafty Poet, I strongly recommend it. Look to your right on this page, and you can order by scrolling down to “News” in the right sidebar. Just click on the book cover picture, and go directly to

I like to think that a lot of “poetry inspiration” happens unintentionally—that words, people, and things we encounter continually charge us with creative ideas. The title of the prompt “Scratching” made me think those metaphorical itchings that we need to metaphorically scratch: itchings to do something exciting, itchings to meet someone, itchings to quit a job and try something else, itchings to travel, itchings to create and, yes, even itchings to find the right “scratch” for an itch. This week, try to write a poem about a metaphorical itch, a restlessness or a persistent craving, that you’ve experienced (no, not a skin irritation or a mosquito bite, so you won’t need any calamine lotion). 

Don’t just “scratch the surface” in this poem, even if writing it takes you out of your comfort zone—remember that when it comes to “write or flight,” your choice should be to write.

Some Ideas:

1. Make a lit of metaphorical itches that you’ve had. (“Itches” you’ve “scratched” and perhaps some that you just couldn’t get rid of.)

2. Look at your list and pick one itch to write about.

3. Spend some time free writing.

4. Look at your free write material and pull out lines, phrases, and images that you think you can work into your poem.

5. Begin writing your poem.

6. Think about your poem’s energy (negative, positive) and where you’d like the poem to go.

7. Think about the music in your poem and consciously work on creating a strong sense of sound through alliteration, assonance, dissonance, anaphora, and scattered rhyme. Focus on assonance this week: assonance occurs when vowel sounds are repeated in words that are close to each other; assonance can enhance the mood or tone of a poem.

8. Weed out everything superfluous—words, phrases, lines—anything that doesn’t add to your poem’s meaning. Remember that an element of understatement, and even mystery, will boost your poem’s interest level.

9. Did you find a metaphorical “scratch” for your itch? You might want to include how it happened.

10. Remember that narrative poetry tells a story, but be careful to avoid a prose impulse in your poem. Bring the poem to closure with a “scratchy” punch.

11. Let the poem sit for a day or two and then go back to it. Tweak and refine. Make decisions about the poem’s form (line breaks and stanzas)—try different arrangements and see what works best.

12. Alternatively, if a serious poem doesn’t work for you, consider a humorous approach (perhaps a limerick about itches).

Examples: Sorry, I couldn’t find any this week. If you think of one, please let me know!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Prompt #159 – Reflections

The process of writing a poem is a process of reflection. Many, if not most, poems are reflections on one subject or another. This week, the prompt is to write a poem about reflections. Obviously, the “territory”  is wide with lots of possibilities for content. You might write a reflection or meditation about a particular subject or you may write about a literal reflection (the moon in a window, your own face on a pond, a stranger in a mirror, etc.). Try to focus on the “here and now” of your reflection (stay in the moment to create a sense of immediacy in your poem), and remember that a good poem has two parts to its meaning: the obvious and the underlying.

This week, be conscious of caesuras in your poem (a caesura is a noticeable pause in a line of poetry). Be aware that all of your pauses don’t have to occur with lines breaks. Caesuras are strong silences within lines of poetry. One of the best examples is Alexander Pope’s “To err is human || to forgive divine.” (The vertical lines indicate the caesuras.)

Here are examples of caesuras from an old nursery rhyme:

Sing a song of sixpence, || a pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds, || baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, || the birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish, || to set before the king?

And here are examples from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”:

Once upon a midnight dreary, || while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious || volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, || suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, || rapping at my chamber door.
’Tis some visitor,’ || I muttered, || `tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.’

Some Things to Think About Before Writing:

1.  A reflection is a kind of meditation (What do you think about or meditate on?).
2.  A reflection may be heat, light, sounds, or an image.
3.  A reflection might be the process of careful or long concentration.
4.  A reflection may be a thought, an idea, or an opinion that results from concentrated thought.
5. A reflection may be a manifestation or result (for example, His achievements are a reflection of his hard work.)
6. Reflections may be theological (religious) or philosophical.
7. Reflections may be based on one’s own character, (flaws, strong points).
8. A reflection may be based on a quotation or popular saying.
9. A reflection may be based on a memory (the past) or a person.
10. A reflection may be funny.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Prompt #158 – Forbidden Fruit

There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.
—Mark Twain

I'm not sure what it is about the forbidden that makes it so tempting, but I'll bet there are, or have been, enticements in all of our lives that we’ve wanted but can’t or shouldn’t have—definitely forbidden fruits.

Metaphorically (and idiomatically), “forbidden fruit” is something that we find attractive or desirable but aren’t allowed to have (often because having it is immoral or illegal). The phrase is derived from the Bible’s Genesis story of Adam and Eve and their partaking of the Tree of Knowledge fruit that was forbidden to them by God. The term “forbidden fruit” came into figurative use during the seventeenth century when, in 1663, James Heath used the phrase “The stealing and tasting of the forbidden fruit of Sovereignty” in Flagellum; or, the Life and Death … of Oliver Cromwell. In recent times the term has come to mean anything that is forbidden, prohibited, or off limits.

In prompt #105, we wrote about fabulous fruit; this week, your challenge is to write about a metaphorical “fruit” that is or has been forbidden to you. You might start by making a list of things that you want but can’t or shouldn’t have (currently or in the past). Look at your list and choose one “forbidden fruit” to write about. Whatever you choose (object, person, occupation, action, relationship, food), write into your poem exactly why the “fruit” is (or was) forbidden to you. Think about how giving in, or not giving in, to the “forbidden fruit” you’re writing about impacted your life. Why was your “forbidden fruit” bad for you? What made it seem so good? Don’t avoid a “forbidden fruit” experience that makes you uncomfortable. When it comes to “write or flight,” dig your heels in and write.

Some Possibilities to Consider:

1. Write a poem about something forbidden to you as an adult.
2. Write a poem about something forbidden to you when you were a child.
3. Is there a “forbidden passion fruit” in your story? Write a poem about a forbidden romance.
4. Write a poem based on the following quotation (or use the quote as an epigraph for your poem): “We always long for the forbidden things, and desire what is denied us.” (François Rabelais)


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Prompt #157 – How Do They See Me? Let Me Count The Ways.

When Elizabeth Barrett Browning published Poems in 1850, I doubt if she would have imagined that a sonnet in that collection (“How Do I Love Thee?” Sonnet 43) would become world famous or that its title would be the source for a prompt topic on a 21st century blog. But here it is …

Lest you begin to think that our prompt this week is cupid-driven, let me assure you that we’re not going to write love poems—we’re just using a certain spin on a famous love poem as a prompt title to jump-start our writing.

Here’s the idea: Adopt the persona of one of your neighbors and write a poem that tells how that neighbor sees (thinks about) you. You may prefer to be serious with this or you may go for a lighter, humorous tone.

This week, pay special attention to sound (the music in your poem) through use of alliteration, assonance, dissonance, anaphora, and internal and scattered rhymes. 

Some Things to Think About:

1. What does the neighbor think of you? Why?
2. What does the neighbor believe about you? Why?
3. What does the neighbor hear through your open windows?
4. What does the neighbor see or hear of your personal life?
5. What does the neighbor think he or she knows about you (correctly or incorrectly)?
6. Can you use the famous line from Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” (“Good neighbors make good fences”) as an epigraph or to enhance meaning within your poem? "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost
7. On the flip side, what don’t your neighbors “see” about you and your life?
8. An alternative idea is to write a poem about a neighbor (or neighbors); and a second alternative is to write a poem about the image at the top.


Alas, I wasn’t able to find any example poems that quite fit this prompt, but I did find one “neighbor” poem that you might enjoy: "The Good Neighbour" by John Burnside