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


  1. I LOVE Diane's book! In fact, I love all her books -- got them off eBay and go back to them often. Crafty Poet is especially wonderful because it invites us to write along with, and because of, Diane's hard work. You can feature Diane as a guest prompter anytime!

    My thanks to both of you!

    1. Thanks, Jamie! I'm so glad you've been able to get Diane's books. (I find a lot of books on eBay too.)

  2. Thanks to your recommendation, I have two copies of Crafty Poet, my personal copy and one that I keep in the classroom for my students to use (and they DO us it).

    Thanks (Diane and Adele) for another great prompt!

    Adele, are you going to post through the Christmas season this year?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Rich! I have two copies too, one for my files and one that I use often. It's great to hear that you keep one in your classroom for your students.

      I'm going to take a little hiatus (again this year) for a couple of weeks this month. I think we're all busy with family and friends, shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking, and visiting, so it seems an appropriate time to take a short break.

    2. Oops, that was supposed to be "they DO use it" in my comment. (How embarrassing, a student kindly pointed out my error.)

  3. Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)November 30, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    I've got a copy of the Crafty Poet too (here in Ireland). Per your recommendation, I ordered it online some time ago. Every bit as wonderful as you said it would be.

    Another lovely prompt!

    Thank you Adele and Diane

    1. Thanks for your comment, Maire! It's lovely that you were able to get a copy and so nice to know that Diane's book has found a home in Ireland!

  4. I'm a big fan of Diane Lockward's poetry and heard her read once a long time ago (I think in PA or maybe at the Dodge Festival). It's always great to "meet up" with her again here on your blog. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sandy! Diane's work is deeply meaningful, as well as entertaining, and her reading style is truly unique. I'm so happy to be able to feature her here on the blog from time to time.

      Are you familiar with Diane's blog? It's called "Blogalicious" and you can visit at

  5. Diane's book contains so many ideas and poems from so many poets that it's a must-have for anyone who writes (or wants to write) poetry.

  6. 'The Loveliness of Words' -- what a beautiful title and such a 'lovely' prompt! Made me think about words and our word choices. Poetry can be elegant and entertaining as well.

    Thank you, Diane Lockward.
    From Amita (in Mumbai)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Amita! You're so right that poetry can be both elegant and entertaining.

  7. As usual, a great prompt from Diane. The Crafty Poet is a superb resource for poets seasoned and new, for those who work in solitude and for those who facilitate workshops. This prompt, like all in the book, livens up our craft and challenges us. Here's to wordplay that pleases the auditor.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Gail! Yes, The Crafty Poet is wonderful for all who write poetry and for all who teach it (workshops, classrooms, etc.). We all need a boost now and then, and Diane's prompts do precisely that for us.

  8. Forgive me for being "anonymous" for this. It's a draft and probably needs a lot of work. I loved the prompt, though, and thought I'd give it a go.


    Because I never learned the stars’ names
    or what the silver moon might mean, I
    never thought to seek the things I didn’t
    have: the scent of lilacs lush in May, the
    river filled with golden fish, an afternoon

    with nothing in my heart but dreams. Because
    I never learned the way back home or how
    I might reclaim the losses, I never dreamt
    that time would move so quickly. I never
    thought that you would leave so soon.

    1. The last three lines of the last stanza do miracles for me.

    2. Thanks for your comment, Basil! Yes, the poem definitely dismounts with a punch!

    3. Whoever you are, Anonymous, you really embraced the idea of this prompt and wrote a very meaningful poem!

    4. I agree with Jamie, Anonymous! Thanks so much for sharing!