Saturday, June 28, 2014

Prompt #190 – So Much Depends

The first time I read William Carlos Williams’ famous poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,”  I thought it was silly. A red wheelbarrow beside white chickens? I was about 11 years old and hooked on Robert Frost—obviously not ready for the kind of profound compression, mystery, and power that Williams achieved.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

“The Red Wheelbarrow,” like so many other Williams poems, is experimental. It appears to be a single sentence that ends with a period but doesn’t begin with a capital letter. The lineation is abrupt and dotted with monosyllabic words. 

Williams doesn’t tell us why “so much depends / upon” the “red wheel / barrow / glazed with rain / water / beside the white / chickens.” He invites us to ask and to answer that question for ourselves.

In what has been called a “still life poem,” the last brushstroke adds another color and another image: white is set in juxtaposition to the earlier red, and chickens are added to the wheelbarrow image, leaving the reader to wonder what exactly depends upon the red wheelbarrow, whether or not the wheelbarrow is a metaphor for something else and, perhaps, why this poem has become well known.


1. Choose an object that represents or “remembers” something important to you (an object that you “live with” now or one from memory), and write a poem in which you describe that object. Don’t tell why it's important or what depends upon it. Use the Williams poem as a model for your own.

2. Williams famously said, “No ideas but in things,” which suggests that ideas, emotions, and abstractions should be avoided. Work toward that in your poem.

3. William breaks his poem into the red wheelbarrow’s most basic parts to create a sense of looking closely at each component of the scene. Include your object in a simple scene and create the poem’s power through compression and simplicity.

4. Williams uses line and color in much the same way that a painter might, but he uses them sparingly. Try to do the same in your poem.


1. Think carefully about why the object you chose to write about is important to you. What depends (or has depended) upon it?

2. The wheelbarrow is introduced starkly with only the word “red” to create drama and contrast with the white chickens. Introduce a single bit of bright color in your poem, and set it in juxtaposition to something white, black, or gray.

3. Use some monosyllabic words to heighten the effect.

4. Use short lines with no unnecessary words and no figures of speech.

5. There's a striking pause between “wheel” and “barrow” in the Williams poem. Create a single unusual or meaningful pause in one line of your poem.

6. Don’t explain why the object you write about is important but suggest something about its meaning.

7. Reflect upon Williams’ poem and think about what makes it so powerful. Think about creating complexity through simplicity.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Prompt #189 – SummerScapes

Today marks the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Every year on the solstice, I read some or all of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and think about the time I visited Stonehenge to watch the sun rise on Midsummer morning. After the severe winter we had here in the northeastern U.S., this spring and summer couldn’t come quickly enough, and now that summer is here, it seems a good time to celebrate with a poem that’s light, lovely, or filled with a sense of summer fun. With that in mind, our prompt this week is to simply write a poem about the solstice, midsummer night, summer, or any aspect of summer that makes you feel good. 


1. Make a list of happy summer memories and select one memory from your list to write about.

2. Write a funny summer poem.

3. Write a poem about any character from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Titania, Oberon, Puck). Or write a poem from the perspective of one of the characters.

The entire play may be read here:

4. Do a stream of consciousness poem about summer. Think about summer and just start writing. Write for about 10 minutes and see where your thoughts have lead you.

5. Using your five senses as inspiration, create a “SummerScape” that includes summer’s sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and touches.

6. Write something "magical" (or a summer fantasy) in a poem about the summer solstice.


1. Make your poem a kind of celebration. Have fun with it. Think warmth, bright skies, sunshine, flowers, leafy trees, children playing outdoors, swimming pools, sailboats, lazy days, vacations—think fullness and abundance.

2.  Use sound (alliteration, assonance, anaphora) to give your poem a sense of summer.

3. Keep your tone light.

4. Use line and stanza breaks that enhance your content.

5. Remember: nothing superfluous—no extra words, lines, phrases, images. Don’t include anything that your poem doesn’t absolutely need.


Happy Summer solstice, dear blog readers!

"Then followed that beautiful season... Summer.... Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape Lay as if new created 
in all the freshness of childhood." 
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

May this summer bring you the "freshness of childhood" and much joy!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Prompt #188 – Conditional Clause Poems ("If" Poems)

Perhaps you’ve heard of “If” poems? These are poems characterized by conditional clauses (“if clauses”). Such clauses can be used to get a poem started or may be inserted in various places through the text of a poem.  Poems of this type are not the typical “what if” sort of poem. They do something more.

Note: A conditional clause is a type of adverbial clause that states a hypothesis or condition, real or imagined, and their consequences. A conditional clause may be introduced by the subordinating conjunction if or another conjunction, such as because, unless, provided that, or but. Like other adverbial clauses, a conditional clause may before or after the clause on which it states a condition.

One of the most famous “if poems” is “If—” written by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling begins with a conditional clause and goes on to add interest by creating a kind of causal tension when he contradicts his “if” clauses with details, contradictions, and contrasts. There are also “result” clauses that follow the “ifs.” Here’s the beginning of Kipling’s poem:

If you can keep your head when all about you  
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;  
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

In “King of the River,” Stanley Kunitz does much the same thing and keeps us, as readers, waiting for what will come next. His long sentences create suspense and a sense of mystery and expectation as the poem’s momentum begins and is sustained. Here’s the beginning of “King of the River:”

If the water were clear enough,
if the water were still,
but the water is not clear,
the water is not still,
you would see yourself,
slipped out of your skin…

Adrienne rich begins her poem “For this” with a conditional (“if”) clause:

If I’ve reached for your line (I have)
like letters from the dead that stir the nerves …

Her third stanza continues:

If I’ve touched your finger
with a ravenous tongue
licked from your palm a rift of salt
if I’ve dreamt or thought of you
a pack of blood fresh-drawn …

As you can see in the three examples, conditional clauses create mood, conditions, limitations, dependencies, and expectations.  Along with “if” clauses, others that work similarly include “but,” “although,” “when,” and “because.”


1. Begin by writing a list of “ifs.” Think about things in your own life, in the natural world, etc.

2. Follow with a list of “then” statements so you have “ifs” and “thens.”

3. Reflect on your lists for a while. Do any of the ideas link or match up?

4. Begin a poem with one of your “if” clauses, add an appropriate “then” and continue. See where the poem leads you.

5. Remember to start out by thinking in terms of “ifs” and “thens,” but don’t be limited by them.

6. Try writing a poem like Kipling’s in which you set up the characteristics or necessary qualities for some personal kind of success.

7. Using my prose poem below, write a poem that looks at something which made an awareness occur. Create a setting, configure a truth, move from the specific, individual experience to something more universal

If It Hadn’t Been

We wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the rain, the wind-loosened trees (this quiet shelter); and I wouldn’t tell you how nothing wonderful ever matches its memory, how not going home is a sadness we all carry. I wouldn’t tell you what I know about losing, how what we keep is never all that we need.


1. Simply writing an “if-then” poem isn’t what we’re working toward. Conditional clauses, yes, but we need to expand, switch gears, make a point, and create striking imagery.

2. Try a little anaphora—repetition. You may want to use several “if” clauses within the text of your poem. read the examples and see how they use but don’t overdo repetition.

3. A really good poem almost always has two subjects—the obvious subject and the implied or suggested subject. Think about that.

4. A good ending is one that readers will remember—an ending with punch and purpose, an ending filled with meaning. Work on creating a powerful “dismount.”


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Submission Tips for Summer by Guest Blogger Donna Baier Stein

With summer quickly approaching and, hopefully, some leisure time for all of us, this seems a good week to think about submitting poems to journals. I’m delighted to present our guest blogger this week, the publisher of TIFERET Journal, Donna Baier Stein, whose long career in writing, editing and publishing provides the background for some practical and invaluable journal submission tips.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Donna at Tiferet since 2006, and here’s a bit about her by way of introduction: Donna Baier Stein's poetry and prose have appeared in Poet Lore, Beloit Poetry Journal, New York Quarterly, Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Phoebe, Confrontation, and many other journals and anthologies. Her story collection Sympathetic People, a finalist in an earlier Iowa Fiction Awards contest, was published last year by Serving House Books. Awards include a fellowship from Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, a scholarship from Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the PEN/New England Discovery Award, honorable mention in the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards, four Pushcart nominations, and more. Donna was a founding editor of Bellevue Literary Review and is founder and publisher of TIFERET Journal. You can visit Donna online at

From Donna Baier Stein

As writers, we want to pass muster first with our own internal editor. Then, when the work feels ready for a wider audience, we push our word babies out into the world, hoping to catch the eye, heart, and approval of a publication editor. 

This process doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sometimes feels.

After viewing thousands of manuscripts submitted to Tiferet Journal and Bellevue Literary Review, I can tell you how off-putting sloppy formatting, spelling errors, and slow beginnings are to an editor you want to impress. There are always other manuscripts waiting to be read.

So here are 5 tips to increase your chance of success with an editor:

1. Start strong. As my Missouri aunt used to say, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.” The longer it takes your writing to hook the editor’s attention, the less likely a positive response.

2. Fine-tune mercilessly. Remove every unnecessary word. Read your poem aloud to hear its internal music. Language is your medium; use it expertly.

3. Spell check. Use standard formatting and type fonts. Fair or not, handwritten submissions begin with one strike against them.

4. Include a short, professional cover note.  List prior publications if you have them but don’t worry if you don’t. The work is judged on its own merit. What is not necessary, and somewhat detrimental, is to write a long treatise about why you have just started writing.

5. Be patient. Editors really are inundated with manuscripts. At Tiferet and most journals, review is a multi-step process, with different levels of readers.

Here at Tiferet, we look for writing that is so truthful it may elicit goose bumps. Writing that resonates emotionally. And specific to our publication, writing that offers a glimpse of the invisible world, that reminds us of all that is sacred in our lives.

Many thanks, Donna!

To order Donna's books via, click here.


For lists of journals that accept submissions during the summer, please be sure to visit Diane Lockward’s excellent blog (Blogalicious):

Summer Journals Q-Z

Prompt Ideas for This Week

(Nope! I didn’t forget …)


1. Write a poem about the end of spring, the beginning of summer, or summertime,

2. Write a poem in which you highlight the tastes (or remembered childhood tastes) of summer (lemonade, Kool Aid, marshmallows, watermelon, BBQ, etc.). You may want to use a sense other than, or along with, taste for this.

3. An alternative prompt is to read Donna’s poem "The Yellow Brick Road" and let it inspire you to write something about an imaginary place or thing and its relative or metaphorical meaning to you.


1. Focus this week on sensory perceptions (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell).

2. Remember that imagery is used to suggest all the objects and qualities of sense perception in a poem—such images may use literal descriptions, allusions, or figures of speech such as similes or metaphors.

3. Keep in mind that the best poems typically contain some element of mystery or understatement. 

Good luck with your submissions!