Saturday, May 3, 2014

Prompt #183 – "Love in the Animal Kingdom" by Guest Prompter Marie-Elizabeth Mali

We come back to our regular prompt schedule this weekend following a wonderful National Poetry Month. To all who visited, commented, and wrote or read poems, here’s a big THANK YOU! The poems and comments posted added so much to this annual celebration of poetry and sharing. 

Kudos and special thanks go to Risa Roberts and Basil Rouskas who both posted poems for just about every day of the month!

On this first Saturday of May, I’m happy to post a prompt from guest prompter Marie-Elizabeth Mali, the author of Steady, My Gaze (Tebot Bach, 2011) and co-editor with Annie Finch of the anthology, Villanelles (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets, 2012). Marie-Elizabeth graduated Summa Cum Laude from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego in 1998 with a Master of Traditional Oriental Medicine degree and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Oberlin College in 1989 with a B.A. in East Asian Studies. Before receiving her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in 2009, she practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including Calyx, Poet Lore, and RATTLE, among others, and she has served as co-curator for the Page Meets Stage reading series from 2008-2012. She also co-curated louderARTS: the Reading Series from May 2008 through December 2011.

A distinguished poet, Marie-Elizabeth is also an amazing underwater photographer. To view some of her stunning underwater photographs, please click here.

From Marie-Elizabeth:

It’s no secret that love poems are tough to write. They too easily veer into cliché and sentimentality. But cliché and sentimentality happen when a poem is too general, when the poet reaches for stock phrases and common images to represent love, or when the poet relies on declarations of feeling instead of imagery. That said, the best love poems walk right up to the edge of sentimentality but don’t go over the cliff. Here are four ideas for ways to enter the tricky terrain of the love poem.

1. Choose an animal and research its mating rituals, parenting practices, feeding practices, etc. Write a poem about that animal as if it were someone you love.

Here’s a link to a sample poem by Aimee Nezhukumatathil: "Penguin Valentine." 

2. Another effective strategy to counteract the tendency toward sentimentality is the use of humor. Try writing about a funny moment you and your love shared, or didn’t share. Sometimes the humor is found in misunderstanding.

Here’s a link to a sample poem by Tony Hoagland (bonus: involves animals!): "Romantic Moment."

3. Write an anti-love poem or a poem that seems to celebrate love but leaves you wondering if it really did.

Here’s a link to a sample poem by Kim Addonizio:  "For You."

4. Write a poem celebrating the inevitability of the loss of the beloved.

Here’s a sample poem by Ellen Bass: "Ode to Repetition."


Thank you, Marie-Elizabeth!


  1. Lovely prompt with wonderful ideas for fresh approaches to the love poem! Thank you Marie-Elizabeth. I'm going to see if I can order your book via eBay UK.

    Adele, bet you're happy to be back on the regular schedule again!

    1. Thanks, Jamie! Hope you can get the book on eBay UK. You'll love it.

      Yes, I'm happy to be back to the regular posts!

  2. I heard Ms. Mali read in New York some time ago. Her style is engaging and fluid. The same might be said of her poems themselves. I recommend the book -- you won't be disappointed.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I agree that Marie-Elizabeth is a wonderful reader. There's a link to a YouTube video at the end of the post—I think you'll enjoy it.

  3. Marie-Elizabeth was great when she read at the Carriage House a couple of years ago. It's nice to "meet" her here again.

  4. Great ideas! Thanks, Marie-Elizabeth and Adele.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Rich! Glad you like the ideas.

  5. Wild Animals

    run free
    no cages or bars
    not imprisoned by humans
    for profit
    and entertainment
    life goes on
    without malice or remorse
    beautiful and brutal
    we are
    a small part

    1. It's been a very busy week at work, so I missed your poem earlier, Risa, and just found it now. As always you create strong visual images and bring the poem to closure with a real punch.

    2. Thanks, Adele and Jamie!

  6. Nice, Risa! And a great dismount that adds an important perspective.

  7. This prompt inspired me to write a poem about my dogs and how special they are. thank you!