Saturday, December 6, 2014

Happy Holidays! December 6, 2014 – January 3, 2015

As in the past, I’m going to take a brief  December hiatus 
and will begin posting new prompts again in January.

I send my sincerest thanks to all of you who have visited this blog over the past year, to loyal readers who visit regularly, and to those of you who have taken the time to post comments and poems. Poetry is about sharing, and I'm grateful for the sharing that happens here! I wish you all special blessings of light, love, and peace throughout this joyous season. 

And, as this year comes to a close, I wish all of you 
a New Year filled with abundant good health and much happiness!

Regular posts will resume on Saturday, January 3, 2015, 
so please stay tuned until then.

In the meantime, if you'd like to revisit some previous holiday season prompts, here are two links:

And ... a few of my favorite holiday poems that you might enjoy:

 "A Hymn on the Nativity of My Savior" by Ben Jonson
"The Feast of Lights" by Emma Lazarus
"Are We Done Yet?" by Gail Fishman Gerwin

Visit Christmas Article & Poems for an excellent article on Christmas poems. Also on this site are Christmas poems that you can access by clicking on the titles in the left sidebar.

Happy holidays to all!

In poetry and blogging,
Adele & Chaucey

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Prompt #210 – The Loveliness of Words by Guest Prompter Diane Lockward

Once again, I’m happy to offer a guest prompt sent to us by Diane Lockward (click here for Diane's picture and bio) from her excellent resource The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop. If you haven’t gotten a copy of Crafty Poet yet, I strongly recommend it as a terrific text designed to jump start your writing process and to provide you with many sources of creative inspiration. Click on the book cover image to order.

From Diane

One of the qualities that distinguishes an outstanding poem from a merely competent one is language that sizzles, sings, and surprises. And yet too many of us settle for ordinary language when extraordinary language is available and free to everyone.

Never settle for the first words that come to you; go in search of the best words. If you don’t begin with the best words, as is most often the case, be sure that you end with them. In your revision process, go through your poem and interrogate each line, asking again and again, Is this the best word here? Choose words for their meaning and their music.

Here’s a poem and prompt from The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop. Read the poem by Rod Jellema and luxuriate in his language. Be sure to say the poem aloud. Put the words in your mouth and savor them. Then try the prompt that follows the poem. Enjoy!

Because I Never Learned the Names of Flowers

It is moonlight and white where
I slink away from my cat-quiet blue rubber truck
and motion myself to back it up to your ear.
I peel back the doors of the van and begin
to hushload into your sleep
the whole damn botanical cargo of Spring.

Sleeper, I whisk you
Trivia and Illium, Sweet Peristalsis, Flowering Delirium.

Sprigs of Purple Persiflage and Lovers’ Leap, slips
of Hysteria stick in my hair. I gather clumps of Timex,
handfuls of Buttertongues, Belly buttons and Bluelets.

I come with Trailing Nebula, I come with Late-Blooming
Paradox, with Creeping Pyromania, Pink Apoplex,
and Climbing Solar Plexus,

whispering: Needlenose,
Juice Cup, Godstem, Nexus, Sex-us, Condominium.

                                                           —Rod Jellema

I admire the wordplay in this poem, the sexiness of it. The language is romantic, fanciful, and musical. Notice the made-up words like cat-quiet and hushload. And the beauty of the flower names. Real names, made-up ones, or silly ones, they are fun to say, to roll around in the mouth.

Notice the sound devices, e.g., the alliteration in Buttertongues, Belly buttons and Bluelets. And the rhyming of Paradox, Apoplex, Plexus, Nexus, Sex-us. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be that Sleeper and have someone whispering all this into your ear as you nod off?

Choose a category, perhaps fruits, vegetables, birds, or fish. Or choose something within the category, e.g., apples, beans, or lettuces—something that has variety. Then create a bank of words with great sounds, some rhyming words, some near rhyming words. Let some of those words be nouns, some verbs, a few adjectives. Make up some of the words. Make your word choices delicious.

Imagine an auditor. (This is a key ingredient in creating a strong voice.)

Then begin your draft with Because I never learned the names of __________.

Drawing from your word hoard, write a poem delivered very privately to your auditor.

In revision change your poem to make it uniquely yours. 

You might want to check out these contemporary poems, all of which do wonderful things with language. 


Thank you, Diane!

Be sure to visit Diane online at

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Prompt #209 – List Your Blessings

“Gratitude is the heart’s memory.”
   French Proverb
Here in the U.S., Thanksgiving will be celebrated this week on Thursday, November 27th. Our Thanksgiving has a long history beginning in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is considered the first Thanksgiving celebration. For over 200 years, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. In 1827, magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale began a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln set the last Thursday in November as the official day for a national Thanksgiving observance. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week, and in 1941 Roosevelt signed a bill that designated the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving is also celebrated in certain other countries, including Canada, Grenada, Liberia, The Netherlands, and the Australian external territory of Norfolk Island.

Gratitude is a developmental emotion, and books have been written on its psychology. Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” There are times in our lives when we feel more Grinch than grateful, especially when the stresses of every day living gather momentum and all but overwhelm us. However, acknowledging and expressing our gratitude can have a beneficial effect on our lives, relationships, and work.

What are you grateful for? This week let’s write a list poem about the blessings in our lives and things for which we’re grateful.

A list poem is one in which each line may begin the same way (repetition or anaphora).

The French proverb above tells us, “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” Our first step in writing this week will be to remember—to look into our memories to identify a list of things for which we’re grateful. (A couple of years ago, we did this same prompt but focused on a single thing.)


1. Make a list of blessings in your life or a list of things for which you’re thankful—be inclusive, try to get as many items on your list as possible (things for which you’re truly grateful, even small things that are sometimes taken for granted).
2. A list poem is typically one in which each line may begin the same way (repetition or anaphora). You may start out using this kind of format and either keep it or change it when you begin revising.
3. Your poem may be stichic (one stanza with no line breaks), it may be a formal poem (ode, sonnet, villanelle, or a kyrielle as we worked with in Prompt #32, November 20, 2010); you may choose to write a prose poem or your poem may take the form of prayer or a letter.
4. As you write, think about the reasons for your gratitude and show (without telling) what those feelings mean.


1. Pay attention to the order of your list. Is there a beginning, a middle, and end. You may want to move your list items around. Remember that you’ll need a good dismount—perhaps the last line in your poem won’t begin as the others have.
2. Dig deeply to reach beyond the specifics of your personal experience to the underlying universal subject with which your readers will identify.
3. As an alternative to a list poem, you might address or dedicate your poem to a person for whom you're thankful, or you might go to the flip side and write about a challenging time (or a time of adversity) that somehow led you to feelings of gratefulness (my mom used to say that good always comes from bad).


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Prompt #208 – So ... Who's YOUR Hero?

Without heroes, we're all plain people, and don't know how far we can go.

   Bernard Malamud

This prompt was inspired, believe it or not, by an old picture of the actor Fess Parker dressed as Davey Crockett. As a child I had a large poster of Fess/Davey that hung in my bedroom. My cousin Eddie and I had a coonskin caps and, along with other neighborhood kids, we played “Davey Crockett” in the woods across the street—Davey Crockett was our hero.

I think we all have heroes of one stripe or another and, of course, our heroes change as we advance in age and experience. I think it's safe to say that we all need heroes. 

Some heroes nurture and inspire us (parents, relatives, friends), some give us hope (those who are successful, those who have been where we are, survivors), and others provide us with examples of justice and morality (those who do good, those whom we admire and wish to emulate). For most of us, heroes are enlightened spirits, noble souls, courageous people who have the same frailties and shortcomings we do but who rise to overcome them. They tell us that what’s possible for them is possible for us. They give us hope, they feed our dreams, they encourage us to try harder to be better tomorrow than we are today. Even if our heroes are imaginary figures, otherworldy, or lived in another age, our admiration for them holds for us an invitation to achieve.

That said, who’s your hero or heroine? Your role model? Someone you respect and admire with all your heart?

Historically, literature includes the epic poem, which is a long, narrative poem that focuses on the deeds of a heroic person. The ancient epics of Homer and Virgil are among these, as are more modern versions by such poets as Hart Crane and Alice Notley.

Don't panic, we’re not going to write epic poems this week! Instead, let’s just write a tribute about, or to, a personal hero or heroine (past or present). Here are some ideas:
  • a comic book or movie superhero
  • a parent, foster parent, or relative
  • a husband or wife
  • a child or young person
  • an elderly person
  • a unique friend
  • a mentor or confidant
  • a person who has given something special to the world
  • a veteran of the armed services
  • a religious or spiritual leader
  • a courageous person
  • a person who has enriched your life
  • someone who saved your life (actually or metaphorically)
  • a heroic animal


1. Think about people you’ve admired (from your earliest memories to the present).
2. Select one person as the subject for your poem.
3. Begin by making a list of that person’s special qualities.
4. Jot down some ideas about your experience of, or with, that person.
5. Decide whether you prefer writing a poem addressed to your hero or a poem about your hero.
6. Alternatively, you might write a poem about heroes in general (why heroes mean to us, why they’re important).
7. Another possibility is to write a poem about an anti-hero (a flawed hero or heroine with underlying complexities of personality or experience that set him or her apart from the typical heroic person.
8. Still, another poem possibility is to write about how you have been (or tried to be) a hero or heroine to someone. A comic hero might work well with this option.


1. When you begin writing your poem, avoid over-use of complimentary adjectives. Show rather than tell why the person you’re writing to, or about, is special to you.
2. Be aware that if you “go overboard” with praise, the effect of your poems may be lost in that applause. Gratuitous back-patting never works in a poem. Again, show, don’t tell.
3. Increase the energy and immediacy of your poem by bringing it into the present tense. Even if you’re writing about a past hero, try to work through the present.
4. Work toward ways in which your poem honors a particular hero or heroine by exploring, plumbing, illuminating, and situating the human condition.
5. Don’t try to be lofty or overly laudatory. It’s important to be genuine and humble. Honor your hero through connections, revelations, and surprises. 


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Prompt #207 – What on Earth Is Spiritual Poetry?

This week’s prompt was inspired by a Facebook post a few weeks ago that was written by my old friend and fellow poet (and my godson’s father), Joe Weil.  


By Joe Weil

In the middle of being busy, I grew distracted (I have that talent), and soon forgot to be busy, and I was four years old and sitting under the sweeping arch of a large forsythia bush that used to border our back yard. There were no blooms yet, but it was late winter, the beginning of March, and sparrows were puffing up their little bodies, perching close together to stay warm. I started to pray to God though I did not know any prayers yet or how to pray. I kept saying, “God, God, God.” God, and laughing. I was silly with the word. I made a song out of it. I said God in a deep voice and a high voice—very, very slowly, then very quickly. The sky was cloudy, the color of old oatmeal. The rich and slightly damp soil beneath the forsythia was on my hands, and it smelled vaguely of root beer. I heard my mother call my name, but I did not answer her right away, “Joseph! Where are you?” I blessed myself the way I saw my grandmother do a hundred times, and I shouted, “Ma!” I came out of this reverie stained with the grief of knowing even my most sophisticated prayers, all the work I do, can never make me feel that alive and intimate with God again. I thought, “I peaked at age five,” and then I realized the longing I felt to return to some interior life like that was a gift—perhaps my only gift, a genuine prayer given to me while, as Auden said, the dog goes on with its doggy life.


What struck me about this prose poem is its intense spiritual nature and its sense of wonder and awe. It is, in my reckoning, profoundly spiritual. It isn’t self-consciously religious and it doesn’t stand on superficial pretension. It’s spiritual, not because it mentions God, but because it affirms God’s presence in the poet’s life, the importance of the poet’s family members, how childhood’s innocence is something we all lose, and how we long for communion with the sacred.

To me, Joe’s words read like a prose poem; but, more importantly, they do what Joe is noted for: they approache the “sacred” through the here and now—an important component of spiritual poetry.

As poetry editor of Tiferet Journal, I’m often asked what spiritual poetry is. My first answer is always that spiritual poetry isn’t necessarily religious, a statement of faith, or about an “ism” of any kind. For me, it is:

  • poetry that approaches the sacred through the here and now,
  • meditative poetry that doesn’t just skim the surface of experiences,
  • poetry that avoids the sentimental, the corny, and the obvious while reaching toward deeper truths,
  • poetry that incorporates silence, awe, and humility,
  • poetry that may or may not include reference to a deity but somehow affirms something larger than humanity at the core of existence,
  • poetry that, without being overtly mystical or obscure, understands it has touched something that is unknowable and holy.

According to poet and translator, Jane Hirschfield, “The root of 'spirit' is the Latin spirare, to breathe. Whatever lives on the breath, then, must have its spiritual dimension—including all poems, even the most unlikely. Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams: all poets of spiritual life. A useful exercise of soul would be to open any doorstop-sized anthology at random a dozen times and find in each of the resulting pages its spiritual dimension. If the poems are worth the cost of their ink, it can be done.” (Source)

I realized when writing this that “spiritual poetry” is hard to define, but I know it when I read it, and I suspect that you do too. I thought you might be interested in reading other poets’ thoughts on the subject, so I consulted a few poet friends, and their thoughts follow.

From Renée Ashley

I tend to think of spiritual poems as those that address the state of the inner being in the context of the long now as opposed to the lyric moment. Perhaps another way to say that is, those that address the condition of the soul over the long term, though I’m not certain what soul may be. Brigit Pegeen Kelly is very much a spiritual poet, I think. For example, her poem “Song” builds brilliantly and elegantly throughout and culminates with its reveal of the ongoing state of the boys’ inner lives after their murder of the goat. "Song" by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

From Priscilla Orr

For me, spiritual poems reach into the numinous.  What I mean is that the poems may be anchored in the natural world or even the human world, but they also reach into the ether.  They take the poem into territory, which is inexplicable to us but that we somehow all know or recognize as a place where we move beyond rational knowing to pure intuitive knowing.  We may not understand or comprehend in that rationale way, but we recognize the place we've entered as sacred in some way.  And sometimes it's the collision of these two worlds that reveals what we typically miss.  Elizabeth Bishop's "The Moose" is a good example. The last stanzas illustrate the sense of wonder.  "The Moose" by Elizabeth Bishop

From Penny Harter

Spiritual poetry is poetry that celebrates life with a sense of wonder and humility, poetry that finds the most simple moments of our everyday experience revelatory and radiant with meaning. Also, it is poetry that searches for understanding as it probes the eternal questions of time and mortality, exploring our place in the mystery of the cosmos. Among contemporaries, Jane Hirshfield, Barbara Crooker, Julie L. Moore, Therese Halscheid, and Adele Kenny come first to mind as spiritual poets. And of course James Wright, and the late Galway Kinnell ...whom we will sorely miss! Many poets write "spiritual" poetry, too many for me to keep naming. It's an essential part of who our best poets are, I think.

From Gary J. Whitehead

It seems to me that there are many ways of defining spiritual poetry. Some see spiritual poetry to mean religious verse. Others think of it as poetry that deals with New Age topics or the occult. I've always thought of it in the metaphysical sense—as poetry that attempts to examine one's own place as a living, breathing (think of the Latin meaning of spiritus), mortal being in the world. Spirit, separate from soul, then, is that unique breath of life of the individual. Stanley Kunitz comes to mind as a good example of a spiritual poet.

The word spiritual often gets in the way. Its connotations are usually that of uplift or wisdom or nature writing that seeks to induce "Serenity" on the part of the reader and to cater to easy epiphanies. There is an enormous market for serenity—countless self help books, and inspirational tales of affirmation, but I think serenity without some sense of ferocity is always a bit of a cheat. Miguel Hernandez was a deeply spiritual poet as was St. John of the cross and they didn't tidy things up to look like sunsets on a lake. George Herbert's pains and contradictions, and the absolutely sexual heat of much mystical writing also factor in. I think the best spiritual writing proves that uncertainty and trouble are not diametrically opposed to a peace that surpasses all understanding, or more importantly to joy. Joy can exist beyond the conditional without being in denial. Happiness is far more precarious and those who lust for easy transport often misunderstand that the spirit goes where it will, like a wind, plumbing and testing even the depths of God. It’s raucous, and rippling. The spirit has energy and ferocity to spare, and so does the best spiritual poetry. To me, it is not spiritual to sit on a lake at the end of the day feeling all blessed-out if your fanny gets to sit there because thousands of others are suffering and far from any lakes. We cannot make a heaven of others’ misery, but we can try as poets not to make misery the end all/be all. Spiritual poetry is kind, compassionate, in love with the physicality of life, and deeply wise, but it is not polite. It is not a "seeming."



1. Begin by thinking in terms of awe-filled moments you’ve experienced. Remember that these moments may be the simplest and seemingly unimportant but are moments through which your awareness of something special and good in the world was enhanced.

2. Pick one moment and free write about it for fifteen or twenty minutes.

3. Come back to your free write several hours (or even a day or two later) and read what you wrote. Cull from your free write images and ideas to work into a poem.

4. Begin writing—think in terms of form (free verse, pantoum, sonnet, haiku, haibun, etc.).

5. “Direct” your poem: to a particular person, from the first person, in narrative form.

6. Create a mood or tone.

7. Consider the spiritual insight you hope to share. What exactly is the point you want to make?


1. Spend time on your line breaks. Remember that how you break your lines (scansion) can help the reader pause exactly where you want pauses to occur. Line breaks can also be used to accentuate content and meaning.

2. Keep in mind that the best poems make their points by showing and not telling.

3. Beware of becoming self-consciously “religious.”

4. After you’ve written a couple of drafts, put the poem aside for a while and then come back to it. Try some reorganization; that is, move your lines around (sometimes the first line of a poem should become the last line and vice versa).

5. Look for adjectives and adverbs that are unnecessary. 

6. Drop articles when possible and remove prepositional phrases.

7. Create an integrated whole of language, form, and meaning.


1. For a wonderful article and numerous example poems with commentary, click here.

2. My personal all-time favorite when I think of spiritual poetry. (Note that this is a poem about God; that notwithstanding, how does Hopkins use language to empower the poem?)

God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

3. Here's another personal favorite (first published in Tiferet: A Journal of Spiritual Literature, Issue 19, 2011).

A Valediction to the Horizon by Robert Carnevale

I marvel at friends who believe
that they will see loved ones again

The Earth falls forward without belief,
and no struggle, no anguish of ours
can begin to deceive it.

It seems the most I could believe in
was how some grace brought us
together in ways no god would imagine.

But plots thicken beyond believing.
Nothing is still there where we knew it,
no one, still there where we knew them.

   Whose leaving was our arriving?
   What did they have to take with them?
   What will grow from our going?

But even to question is to believe
in what makes the question conceivable
over here in the impossible. 

Here, now, we can only be
on one side of a door or the other.
That is not how it is where we’re going.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ruthlessness by Guest Blogger Douglas Goetsch

This week, I’m happy to introduce you to distinguished poet and guest blogger Douglas Goetsch, the author of three full-length collections of poetry and four prizewinning chapbooks. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review and Best American Poetry. His honors include poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, the Paumanok Award, and a Pushcart Prize. He is an itinerant teacher of writing, and founding editor of Jane Street Press in New York City. Visit him at In this guest blog, Doug shares with us a personal reflection on process and offers insights into his theory and method of fine-tuning our poems.

From Douglas Goetsch


Lately I’ve been inspired by something the poet John Berryman said to a young Philip Levine: “Be ruthless with your poems, or someone else will be.” I’ve got a sense that ruthlessness, more than talent or skill or inspiration, gives me my best chance of distinguishing myself from my peers, and gives my poems their best chance of being read and remembered.

I don’t think Berryman’s advice had anything to do with nastiness (though Berryman did some nasty things). It had more to do with love, the love required of a drill sergeant preparing young soldiers for combat, loving them with every barked order—“Get down and give me 10!”—and eliminating the weak ones, who pose a danger to themselves and to the group. Berryman wanted Levine to cultivate standards higher than any critic, so that his poems might stick around.

How does ruthlessness translate to my own work?—how do I make a poem get down and give me 10? One practice I’ve adopted comes in the beginning of the creative process. If I look at a first draft of a poem and understand everything in it, I’ll set it aside as an exercise and never look at it again. That goes especially for when what I’ve written seems like it’s pretty good. I know that feeling from early on in my writing life: “Hey, this is pretty good,” I’d tell myself, then show it to a few friends who concur: pretty good. It looks like a poem, it’s eminently competent, even smart. And it’s a waste of time.

When William Packard once told me that a poem of mine was good, he also said, “You know, the enemy of the great poem isn’t the bad poem, it’s the good poem.” I’ve since learned that, while bad poems are harmless, in that they would never deceive us, “good” poems are inherently limited and dangerous, in that they were made to please our egos, and are very difficult to come away from. Conversely, if I look at an early draft of a poem and don’t quite understand it—can’t even tell if it’s good or not—I know it has a chance, and I become interested in it.

The other thing I require in a new piece of writing is that it bear no resemblance to the last thing I’ve written, even if the last thing was groundbreaking. Art is demanding: as soon as you break the same ground twice, you’re in a rut. How many poets, even well known ones, wind up writing essentially the same poem, making the same moves, repeatedly? Maybe I’m destined to do this too, but ultimately that’s a concern for readers and critics, if I’m fortunate enough to have them. In the meantime, I owe it to myself not to be hoodwinked by the familiar, and to steer toward the strange and new.

Another form of ruthlessness comes at the other end of the creative process, when I’m putting together a manuscript. Periodically, I’ll pull up the table of contents and employ the tab and delete keys like machetes. Any title of a poem that I don’t then and there consider top notch, I’ll tab over half an inch from the others. I can’t tell you right here what “top notch” is—just to say that certain titles cling to the left margin, and others can’t, for whatever reason, hold on anymore. They’re asking to be moved, and I need to listen. These are cousins of the poems from previous books I never read in public, and wish I’d deleted when I had the chance.

Then I look at the poems I’ve tabbed over half an inch, inspecting for weak wolves in this pack, and I might tab some of these over another half inch. So now I have three ranks. The “one-inchers” get deleted—immediately, and regardless of where they may have already been published. The “half-inchers” might eventually make it, but they need time. The most ruthless move of all is when I decide to wait another year before sending out a manuscript that, earlier in my writing life, I’d be too hungry to resist submitting. Now I’m hungry for the time to revise some of the “tabbed” poems, and compose some better ones.

All of us have bought poetry books, or record albums for that matter, knowing there’s plenty of slack in them. I’ve got a Cheryl Crow album with two and a half good songs on it, and I don’t regret the purchase. It’s what most artists do. All the more special, though, when we behold Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, Carole King’s Tapestry, Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, or the Beatles’ Abbey Road. In the world of contemporary poetry, there are those rare collections with zero slack—Galway Kinnell’s Imperfect Thirst and Stephen Dobyns’s Cemetery Nights immediately come to mind. And I’m especially inspired by the poets, such as Marie Howe and Jack Gilbert, who had the capacity to wait, while publishers would gladly publish earlier, inferior versions of their volumes.

There are 34 poems in my newest collection. At some point, 31 other poems were included in the manuscript, then subsequently deleted. The collection is called Nameless Boy, it came out this July, and I’ve never been happier about a book. I’m not claiming it’s Abbey Road, just that I was able to keep improving it, ruthlessly.


Thank you, Doug!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Prompt #206 – Trick or Treat

Here is the U.S., and in other countries as well, it’s long been a common practice for children to dress up in costumes on Halloween and to go from door to door saying “trick or treat.” In other words, “Give us treats or we’ll find ways to trick you. The treats typically mean candy while the tricks (usually idle) suggest mischief of some sort.

In North America, trick-or-treating has been a popular Halloween tradition since the late 1940s. The custom of going from door to door and receiving food existed early on in Great Britain and Ireland in the form of “souling,” where children and poor people sang and said prayers for the dead in return for cakes. Guising, in which children dressed in costumes went from door to door for food and coins, also predates trick or treat, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895. Back then, masqueraders in disguise carried lanterns made from scooped out turnips and visited homes asking for cakes, fruit, and money.

Today, trick or treating remains popular in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Puerto Rico, and northwestern and central Mexico. In Mexico, the custom is called calaverita (Spanish for “little skull”). Instead of saying “trick or treat,” children ask “¿me da mi calaverita?” (“can you give me my little skull?”)—the asked-for calaverita is a small skull made of sugar or chocolate.

This week, let’s write about a Halloween memory, a treat or a trick that stands out for some reason.


1. Begin with a list of some of the Halloween costumes you’ve worn (as a child or as an adult).

2. Select one of those costumes from your list.

3. Make another list of details (things you remember) from the time you wore that costume.

4. What made that costume (or that Halloween) so memorable? Was there a trick or treat involved (something that you didn’t expect that was either a trick or a treat for you)?

5. Write a poem about the experience.


1. Avoid over use of details, adjectives, and adverbs.

2. Pay attention to craft.

3. Enliven the poem with effective use of language and figures of speech.

4. Re-create the experience by showing, not by telling.

5. Create a strong mood or tone.


Living Room
         by Catherine Doty

Remember the Halloween night
I was sick with migraine
left alone with you
while the others went out
and we took your nap together
after the beer
you on the couch and me
on my back on top of you
I could smell the painted flames
on my devil costume
the devil’s starchy mouth hole
damp with beer
I could see the car lights
stripe the living room ceiling
hear Halloween banging
at the door
hear your breathing
turn to sleep breathing
as I lay full-length
on that bony, crabby daddy
the man who never touched
who hardly talked           
I was happier that I had ever been
I was petting a sleeping lion
I though of turning five
the next day
I though of the cake
the paints and paper
I’d asked for
a picture I’d make you
of two red devils sleeping
of bowls of candy
safe and untouched in the dark

Reprinted by permission of the author. From Momentum, CavanKerry Press. 
Copyright © 2004 by Catherine Doty. All rights reserved.