Saturday, September 21, 2013

Prompt #164 – Jigsaw Puzzles

Years ago, when I was a teenager living home with my parents, there was always a card table set up in a corner of our sun porch with one jigsaw puzzle or another that we all worked on—sometimes together, sometimes individually. My mom and dad had a great knack for selecting puzzles that were either wonderfully beautiful or, in some way, educational. Remembering those old puzzles led me to wonder how jigsaw puzzle imagery might direct and power a poem.

By way of history, it’s believed that British mapmaker John Spilbury constructed the first jigsaw puzzle around 1760. He took one of his world maps, pasted it to sheet of hardwood, and cut out the countries with a fine-bladed saw to create a visual aid that he used to help children learn world geography.  

Jigsaw puzzles are deceptively simple and straightforward in concept: fit the pieces together to make a whole. Psychological studies, however, have recognized several thought processes required to make the identification process and the process of applying identified shapes to overall patterns. Interestingly, in an interview posted on, former US Poet Laureate Rita Dove described her writing process as “similar to assembling a jigsaw puzzle.”

This week, think about jigsaw puzzles and the imagery and symbolisms they suggest, and then write a poem based on how your life (or some aspect of your life) is like a jigsaw puzzle.

1. Focus on form, content, and trope.
2. Try to work in something different with syntax, some unusual sentence structure that will create an element of surprise, perhaps something that suggests a “jigsaw puzzle."
3. Be sure that your line break “logic” is clear but not intrusive. Enjambments lend themselves well to this subject.

Things To Think About:

1. In what ways is your life, metaphorically, a jigsaw puzzle?
2. What’s the one jigsaw puzzle in your life that you haven’t been able to piece together?
3. What are some of the “interlocking pieces” in your life?
4. Who’s the biggest “puzzler” in your experience? 
5. Imagine that you find an old jigsaw puzzle in a box, but there’s no indication of what the finished image should look like. As you put the puzzle together, what emerges? What’s the subject of the finished puzzle?
6. Write about a life experience (“jigsaw puzzle”) in which you found that there were more pieces than you needed (or could handle).
7. Write a poem about a jigsaw puzzle that was left unfinished.
8. If you can’t quite relate your life or particular experiences to a jigsaw puzzle, try writing a poem about an actual jigsaw puzzle.


(A visual poem in which sixty-three individual fragments of text are cut into the shapes of jigsaw puzzle pieces and are placed together in a rectangular grid.) 


  1. I wrote this the 19th and reworked it for today's prompt - I think this was what it needed-a bit of a focus.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your poem and your website with us, Debi! (Your poem asks the questions that we all ask at some point in our lives.)

  3. It's been a busy weekend culminating with the Manchester United/Manchester City game today. A long-time Man U. fan, I'm disappointed and wish Robin Van Persie has been able to play.

    So ... I'm soothing my spirits with your blog. Sigh ...

  4. Jamie, I saw that game on TV here! What a disappointment. We used to get something called Fox Soccer Channel, but it's been discontinued, so there are few BPL games to watch. I was so looking forward to yesterday's match. If only Robin Van Persie had been able to play!

    When you have a moment, check out Chaucey's soccer "video" on YouTube:

  5. I suppose, on some level, that the idea of being "in pieces" is an old one, but you've given it a great visual slant in this prompt. I'll definitely try it with my senior honors writing class. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Rich! So glad you like this one and will give it a try with your class.

  6. Just noticed Rich's post and wanted to say that I did a version of this with my 6th graders, and they loved it. I asked them to write a poem about a time that their lives felt like jigsaw puzzles. The results were amazing. Just goes to show that prompts intended for adults can be "scaled down" to work just as well for younger poets.

    Thanks, Adele!

  7. days, nights, moon and sun
    holy days, secular days
    what's it all about?

    thousand year old roots
    a piece here and another there
    long life, full circle

  8. Very nice, Risa! Your "full circle" reminded me of the rings inside trees and that brought me "full circle" to your thousand year-old tree roots. I almost missed this one—Thanks for the heads-up on Facebook.

  9. I am very thankful I came across with your blog because it is very informative. highly recommend.

    1. Hello, Cool Jigsaw Puzzles. So glad you're enjoying the blog! Thanks for your comment!