Saturday, March 29, 2014

Prompt #182 – National Poetry Month

The idea that poetry comes from beyond oneself is vital, as is the sense that one writes a poem in a condition that is often associated with a spiritual position, i.e., the condition of humility. One doesn't know what one's doing and is inspired in that respect. But it doesn't mean one's completely inert, or passive; rather it's just about allowing a poem to come from wherever it comes from and getting it into the world

                   —Paul Muldoon, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize

Here we are again! In just three days’ time, we’ll begin National Poetry Month and a month-long celebration of poetry.

Established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month begins on April 1st and runs through April 30th.  This month-long celebration of poetry is held every April “to widen the attention of individuals and the media to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.” During April, poets, poetry lovers, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, and schools throughout the US celebrate poetry.

One of the challenges of NPM is to read and/or write a poem every day. So ... in the spirit of the observance, as I’ve done for the past few years, I offer you inspiration words/phrases and related poems for each of April’s thirty days.

This year, I’ve taken titles of poems by some of my favorite poets and used them as inspiration words and phrases. Links to the poems appear beneath. You may wish to read, write, or do both. If you choose to write, be sure to extend the inspiration and travel away from the example poems.


1. Don’t feel compelled to match your content to the examples’—in fact, do just the opposite and make your poems as different as you possibly can. The inspiration titles and the example poems are only intended to trigger some poetry-spark that’s unique to you, to guide your thinking a little—don’t let them enter too deeply into your poems, don’t let their content become your content.

2. Let your reactions to the inspiration phrases and poems surprise you. Begin with no expectations, and let your poems take you where they want to go.

3. Give the topics your own spin, twist and turn them, let the phrases trigger personal responses: pin down your ghosts, identify your frailties, build bridges and cross rivers, take chances!

4. Keep in mind that writing a poem a day doesn’t mean you have to “finish” each poem immediately. You can write a draft each day and set your drafts aside to work on later.

5. Whatever you do this month, find some time (a little or a lot) to enjoy some poetry!

As always, your sharing is welcome,
so please be post your thoughts and poems as comments!

Regular weekly prompts will resume on May 3rd.
In the meantime, I wish you a wonderful and poetry-filled April!
Happy National Poetry Month!

Let the poeming begin!

April 1
Inspiration: Taken for Granted
Example: “Taken for Granted” by Marie-Elizabeth Mali

April 2
Inspiration: Street Music
Example: “Street Music” by Robert Pinsky

April 3
Inspiration: And Soul
Example: “And Soul” by Eavan Boland

April 4
Inspiration: Reading Between the Lines
Example: “Reading Between the Lines” by Michael T. Young

April 5
Inspiration: The Summer Day
Example: “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

April 6
Inspiration: The Distances
Example: “The Distances” by Henry Rago

April 7
Inspiration: The Partial Explanation
Example: “The Partial Explanation” by Charles Simic

April 8
Inspiration: Anything Can Happen
Example: “Anything Can Happen” by Seamus Heaney

April 9
Inspiration: The Idea of Ancestry
Example: “The Idea of Ancestry” by Etheridge Knight

April 10
Inspiration: Here and Now
Example: “Here and Now” by Stephen Dunn

April 11
Inspiration: Why Regret?
Example: “Why Regret” by Galway Kinnell

April 12
Inspiration: Five Flights Up
Example: “Five Flights Up” by Elizabeth Bishop

April 13
Inspiration: Blueberry
Example: “Blueberry” by Diane Lockward

April 14
Inspiration: Day of Grief
Example: “Day Of Grief” by Gerald Stern

April 15
Inspiration: The Embrace
Example: “The Embrace” by Mark Doty

April 16
Inspiration: What The Living Do
Example: “What The Living Do” by Marie Howe

April 17
Inspiration: The Strange House of the Past
Example: “The Strange House of the Past” by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

April 18
Inspiration: Suffering
Example: “Suffering” by Joe Weil

April 19
Inspiration: One of the Lives
Example: “One of the Lives” by W. S. Merwin

April 20
Inspiration: I Am Not Yours
Example: “I Am Not Yours” by Sara Teasdale

April 21
Inspiration: The Road Not Taken
Example: “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

April 22
Inspiration: All You Did
Example: “All You Did” by Kay Ryan

April 23
Inspiration: A Blessing
Example: “A Blessing” by James Wright

April 24
Inspiration: If You Forget Me
Example: “If You Forget Me” by Pablo Neruda

April 25
Inspiration: Where the Sidewalk Ends
Example: “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein

April 26
Inspiration: When You Are old
Example: “When You Are Old” by William Butler Yeats

April 27
Inspiration: Some Days
Example: “Some Days” by Billy Collins

April 28
Inspiration: Unfolded Out of the Folds
Example: “Unfolded Out of the Folds” by Walt Whitman

April 29
Inspiration: A Dream Within A Dream
Example: A Dream Within A Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe

April 30
Inspiration: Kindness
Example: “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye

P.S. If you missed the National Poetry Month blog prompts for 2013 or 2012, you can check them out by clicking on the links below.

National Poetry Month 2013
National Poetry Month 2012

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Prompt #181 – Literary Locations: Places You've Never Seen

The challenge this week is to write a poem about a place from literature that you’ve never seen. The place may be real or imaginary, filled with real or imaginary details, and peopled with made-up or actual persons. The goal is explore the significance and possibilities of place in a poem.
The only requirement is that you must write about a location that’s highlighted in a literary work and, if it’s an actual place, it must be one you’ve never visited.
1. Write about any famous literary location that never existed in reality (Lilliput, Wonderland, Avalon, Camelot).

2. Based on a work of literature such as “The Idylls of the King” by Tennyson, you might want to place yourself in a different historical period. For example, you might want to write about medieval times. You can include a castle, knights, peasants, and then get into the nitty gritty of what life was really like back then: no indoor bathrooms, no running water, no wash-and-wear fabrics, no washing machines, more serfs than aristocrats, no easy means of long distance communication, etc.
3. After choosing an actual literary place to write about, research that place online or perhaps even use Google Maps.
4. Using the text of a myth or legend (may be found online), write about a mythological or legendary place (i.e. Valhalla, Asphodel Meadows, Elysian Fields, Mount Olympus, Tír na nÓg).

5. Write about places such as James Joyce’s Dublin; Anne of Green Gable’s Prince Edward Island; or Florence, Italy (the setting for  E.M. Forster's A Room with a View and Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady).

6. Here are some more literary locations that you might consider “visiting” in your poem:

Atlantis (noted in Plato’s writings, an island with an advanced civilization that was lost in preclassical times and never found.

Camelot (cited in various works of literature as the place of King Arthur’s court).

El Dorado (from Spanish legend, the name of a Native American chieftain and the city and city he ruled; a metaphor personal fulfillment).

Faerie (from various European fairy tales and folktales, the magical realm of fairies and related “beings”).

Gotham City (the home of batman).

Hogsmeade Village (from the Harry Potter novels, inhabited exclusively by magical beings).

Middlemarch (the setting from George Eliot’s Middlemarch, a fictional town in 19th century England).

Neverland (from J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, an idyllic land that serve as a metaphor for escapist thinking and eternal childhood).

Shambhala (a mythical and ideal hidden kingdom in Central Asia).

Shangri-La (a paradise from James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon).

Utopia (from Sir Thomas More’s allegorical novel Utopia about an idealized society).

Xanadu (from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan,” an idealized place of lavish grandeur).

1. Be sure to identify the literary work that inspired your place poem. You may do this in the title, subtitle, within the poem, or in a note at the end of the poem.

2. Treat the place you’re writing about as if it were a “main character” in your poem.

3. Write about what the place means to you (and what it might mean to others).

4. Think about how your literary location might be a metaphor for something else.

5. What might this location teach you and your readers?

6. What theme and universal truth does your chosen literary location hold?

7. Avoid clichés and hackneyed expressions in describing the place you’ve chosen.

8. Think and write about the significance of place.


For a comprehensive list of poems about places visit

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Prompt #180 – The Color Green

You don’t have to be Irish to celebrate the color green and, with St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, let do exactly that this week. Color poems have long been popular in workshop and classroom settings: pick a color and write about it. What we do this week will be different, though, because we’re not going to write about the color but, rather, about things identified with it. As you write, in order to de-simplify the write-about-a-color idea, remember that every poem should have two centers: this week, the color green (the obvious “subject”) and where your poems takes the color (its implicit “matter”).


1. Write about a green object—anything, any shade of green, but make the poem about more than the object.
2. Write about the green of envy or jealousy—it’s okay to personalize this, but be sure to reach toward the universal.
3. Write about green living that protects the environment.
4. Write about something green in nature (tree, leaf, grass, frog, etc.).
5. Write from the perspective of something green—try some personification. Click here to see prompt #175 for info on personification.
6. Write a poem about the “greening” of something. For example, the greening of the earth in spring (or, the de-greening of the earth in autumn). “Greening” is defined as the return or revival of youthful characteristics as in “the greening of America.”
7. Write a funny poem about something suddenly turning strangely green.
8. Write about any of the following or include one or more of these words in your poem:

Green Eyes
The Green Man
Military Uniforms
Peas or Broccoli, Lettuce or Kale, Avacados (or any other green veggie or fruit)
Green Apples
The Hulk
Money (American)
Praying Mantis
The Jolly Green Giant (advertising figure)
8. If your Irish is itching to write a poem, or if you love the Irish or Ireland, feel free to switch gears and write a poem about being Irish or about Ireland instead of focusing on the color green.
9. And let’s just assume that not everyone likes the color green—no worries, choose another color and go for it, but be sure to adapt the guidelines to the color you choose!

1. Be sure to focus on the narrator in your poem and experiment with using the first, second, or third person. Switch back and forth during revision to determine which voice best expresses your meaning.

2. Experiment with a bit of unusual sentence structure, play with syntax (the way you order the words in sentences and phrases).

A. The general word order of an English sentence is subject + verb + object. In poetry, though, word order may be shifted to enhance artistic purposes such as rhythm and sound, to create emphasis, or to heighten connections among words.

B. Sometimes it’s okay to “fracture” syntax beyond what’s grammatically correct if doing so reveals things not possible within the parameters of thought that grammatical language demands.

C. For a great example, read J. P. Kavanaugh’s poem “Beyond Decoration” in which he shifts syntax and writes “go out I cannot” instead of the more prosaic “I cannot go out,” thus giving emphasis to incapability conveyed by the word “cannot.” 

D. In another example, Adrienne Rich’s “For This,” the syntax is stretched in the first two stanzas to “hold off” what it is that depends on the “if” at the start of the stanzas.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh
(La ale-lah pwad-rig son-ah jeev)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Prompt #179 – LOL: Txt Msg Poems

Through the current popularity of real-time, text-based communication (including mobile text messaging, instant messaging, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter), a new text language tailored to the immediacy and compactness of such communications has developed and is widely used. There are thousands of texting abbreviations (also known as shorthand), and hundreds of strange expressions have emerged: ty (thank you), yw (you’re welcome), omg (oh my God), w/e (whatever), and lol (laughing out loud) are among the thousands. Upper case is allowed for emphasis, but a whole message in upper case is considered shouting and therefore rude. For the uninitiated, it might appear as gibberish or perhaps an abbreviated form of Jabberwocky.

Text messaging, or texting, involves composing and sending brief, electronic messages between two or more mobile phones, or fixed or portable devices over a phone network. The term originally referred to messages sent using the Short Message Service (SMS) but has grown to include messages containing image, video, and sound content (MMS messages). The sender of a text message is known as a texter, and this week, you will be a poet-texter.

Interestingly, Carol Duffy, who became Britain’s first female poet laureate in 2009, has made connections between poetry and texting and was quoted in an interview with England’s Guardian, “The poem is a form of texting ... it’s the original text. It’s a perfecting of a feeling in language – it’s a way of saying more with less, just as texting is. We’ve got to realise that the Facebook generation is the future—and, oddly enough, poetry is the perfect form for them. It’s a kind of time capsule—it allows feelings and ideas to travel big distances in a very condensed form.”

If you do any texting yourself, you’re well aware of texting shorthand, which facilitates brevity and immediacy, you probably know many of the most popularly used shorthand abbreviations. For this prompt, the challenge is to write a poem in the form of a text message. Your topic may be anything, but your language must be text message-based and the poems should look like a text abbreviations


1. Write a poem in which you use text message shorthand for some of your words. Don’t attempt to write the whole poem in text message lingo, just use some of the better-known symbols.

2. An alternative idea might be to take a short famous poem and rewrite it using text message shorthand. Or, you might take one of your already-written poems and rewrite it using some text message abbreviations.


1. Keep your poems short—no more than 10 or 12 lines.
2. Avoid less commonly used or known abbreviations to ensure that your readers will understand.
3. A humorous approach might work well for this prompt, but certainly isn’t required.
4. In keeping with the spirit of text messaging (brevity and immediacy), keep your lines short and perhaps limit yourself to one stanza—stichic form).
5. Try writing a text message parody of a famous poem.

Example (Parody):

This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

A Texting Parody of  “This Is Just To Say”

This is jst 2 say
I ate ur plums
that were in
the icebox.

w/e u
saved them 4
I do not care.

pls understand
I am not sorry, LOL.
They were delicious!
TY and TTFN.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Page to Pixels: What About Online Journals?

This week, we’re taking a little break from prompts to consider online journals and publishing poems in them. Maybe your goal this week will be to look through your poems and see if there are any you might like to submit to a couple of online journals.

Imagine this scenario: you’ve just written a poem that feels right in every way, and you have several others that you’d love to see published. There are, of course, dozens of print journals to which you might submit your work, (some with long publication histories and sterling reputations), but there are also an increasing number of online journals. Maybe you’re a bit wary of publishing online, concerned about plagiarism and copyright issues. Or maybe you feel that print publications have always carried greater prestige and authority partly because there’s an underlying assumption that anyone can publishing anything online, and that print publications offer greater credibility to writers. It’s also been thought that print editors and publishers have higher standards and will only print what is generally considered worthwhile or valuable. This isn’t necessarily true, though I do believe that print issues suggest both permanence and gravitas. It is true, however, that online journals are easily established and easily dissolved.

I must admit that, while I came to online journals somewhat reluctantly at first, it’s impossible not to pay attention to the movement from page to pixels, specifically a changed accessibility for poets and poems,

When it comes to online journals, the better ones have many pluses:

1. Online journals have a potentially global reach, which will bring your work to a much larger audience than most print journals.
2. Because the “market” is larger and the venue accessible, you have a better chance of receiving feedback.
3. Accessing your poems is more convenient with online publications. Readers don’t have to purchase or subscribe to the journals in which your work appears, nor do they have to look through library and bookstore stacks for such journals (often without finding them).
4. Response time is often much quicker with online journals than it is with print journals.
5. You can link to your online publications easily through social media, blogs, and websites, thus making it quicker and easier to share with friends and colleagues.
6. We’ve all come across typos in print journals; and don’t you hate it when your name is spelled incorrectly? Online journals may occasionally appear with a typo, but they’re not written in stone in the same way that print journals are—there’s no final product, and errors can be corrected very quickly.
7. These days, writers are often defined by their web presences.

Look for Online Journals

·      that don’t charge a reading fee,
·      that were once print journals with strong reputations that have switched to online formats,
·      that archive poems they’ve published so that your poems remain accessible (you don’t want to allow an online journal to publish your poems and then remove them from the website—you want to be able to link to those poems at any time, while the publication is current and long after),
·         that are visually pleasing, well-designed, and professional looking,
·      that are easy to navigate,
·      with established reputations for excellence,
·      that don’t have inordinately long response times,
·      that are open to previously published works to which you hold the copyright,
·      that are open to simultaneous submissions,
·      that are website-based rather than blog-based,
·      that publish both new and established poets.

As with print magazines, it’s paramount to read and follow individual guidelines for online journals. These can and do vary. Most importantly, be sure to read a few issues of the online journals you’re considering for submissions (happily, that’s easy enough to do). Reviewing what journals have already published is the best way to determine whether or not your poems are suited to editorial style and content preferences.

Despite the thinning ranks of daily newspapers and small press print journals, it’s safe to say that for now, at least, print journals are still far from going the way of dinosaurs. I’m grateful for that because I love the feel of paper in my hands when I read, but I’ve also come to “hold” a number of online journals in high esteem. It seems to me that as long as the print media survive, we can have the best of both worlds when it comes to publishing poetry.

By way of sharing, click the links below to read a few of my poems published online and archived in Ragazine, IthacaLit, and Rose Red Review.

A Baker’s Dozen of Recommended Online Journals:

Avatar Review –
Canary –
Fogged Clarity –
Loch Raven Review –
Ragazine –
Reprint Magazine –
Rose Red Review –
The Innisfree Poetry Journal –
Valparaiso Poetry Review –

A resource for online journals: