Saturday, June 27, 2015

Prompt #228 – Let's Fib

Don’t let this prompt’s title mislead you! We’re not going to write poems in which we tell fibs. Nope! This week we’re going to work with Fibonacci poems.

Math has never been my strong suit (I even failed geometry in high school, and I can only count on my fingers), but some time ago, I was introduced to a form of poetry based on the Fibonacci numbers sequence that appeals to me despite it math-based origins.

To introduce you to the form, I’m going to quote from a definition provided by The Fib Review’s editor, distinguished poet Mary-Jane Grandinetti.

"The Fibonacci poem is a poetry form based on the structure of the Fibonacci number sequence. For those unfamiliar with the Fibonacci Sequence, it is a mathematical sequence in which every figure is the sum of the two preceding it. Thus, you begin with 1 and the sequence follows as such: 1+1=2; then in turn 1+2=3; then 2+3=5; then 3+5=8 and so on. The poetry sequence therefore consists of lines of 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and so on with each number representing the number of syllables or words that a writer places in each line of the poem. As a literary device, it is used as a formatted pattern in which one can offer meaning in any organized way, providing the number sequence remains the constancy of the form.

The subject of the Fibonacci poem has no restriction, but the difference between a good fib and a great fib is the poetic element that speaks to the reader. No longer just a fun form to write as a math student, the poets who write Fibonacci poems have replaced the ‘geek’ with the poet."

Here's the format: 

For a 6-line poem:

1 syllable or word for first line
1 syllable or word for second line
2 syllables or words for third
3 syllables or words for fourth
5 syllables or words for fifth
8 syllables or words for sixth

Note: A Fib poem doesn't have to stop as above but may continue the sequence as far as the poet wishes to take it. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 ...

An example (one that I wrote, published in Fib Review, Issue #3)

     through the
     frame of a
     broken window—the
     torn lace curtains flutter like wings.

Bear in mind that Fibonacci poems go beyond mere number sequencing and should incorporate poetic language, heart, and spirit. It isn’t enough to just adhere to the syllable or word number sequence. In other words, you don’t just drop a so-what poem into a numbered frame. Instead, you create a real poem that appears in Fibonacci form.

At first, I found myself comparing Fib poems to haiku. Mary-Jane Grandinetti offered the following in response:

"Several Wiki sites have called the Fib the Haiku's "cousin". People who are unfamiliar with formal poetry don't realize how many other poetry forms require a specific syllable count. I've been holding workshops every Tuesday night for the past 7 years on short poetry forms and there are hundreds of forms that count syllables. I believe it is an injustice to haiku to continue the "myth" that haiku is all about 17 syllables of 5-7-5, so I try to make a point of debunking the supposed relationship of the Fib to haiku.

I don't believe that a Fib needs to focus on a single moment of experience. In any short poetry form that would be the most important part of the poem - capturing a specific moment, thought, idea.  But having given our Fib poets the freedom to experiment with the form, many have written substantially longer poems with line lengths of over 55 syllables, or with multiple stanzas.
Ms. Grandinetti also offered us the following suggestions (for which many thanks):
  • Sentence versus Poetry—shouldn’t be a sentence divided in 20 syllables/words.  This is especially true in word count Fibs.  People just split a standard poem by words, and use enjambment just to make the poem fit. Poetic - this is poetry isn’t it? It should be a poem, poetic, each line doesn’t have to be a sequence of the one before it but the natural break at the end of each line should work to the advantage of the poem
  • No Cheater words—words like a, the, very, unnecessary adjectives are not the best choice for those one syllable words, and no fair using “very, very, very” to make up the 8 syllable line.  Rethink what you want to say and use different words that do fit.
  • First two lines should set the tone—these two words should show what the poem is about. The first 2 words are always the most difficult. And if you use the reversed or diamond shaped form the last 2 words are equally difficult and the most important.  This is where most poets fail - they can't find a way to end the poem.
  • Last line —the juxtaposition, punchline, point of the poem - just like with any other poem.


1.  Fib poems may include figures of speech, so don’t shy away from similes and metaphors.

2. Remember that you may use the Fib number sequence through syllable count or word count. You choose whichever works best for you.

4. You might like to try a Fibonacci sequence—that is, a series of Fib poems that link to one another or, in some way, relate to each other. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

5. Of course, you may begin with a Fib poem and veer off into something else. Let your poem take you where it wants to go!


1. Keep your poem accessible and engaging.

2. Use fresh language

3. Avoid abstractions and clichés.

4. Avoid “preachiness.” Poetry that instructs on some level is fine, but don’t annoy your readers with something you feel compelled to "teach" them.

5. Craft counts—always—no matter what form of poetry you’re writing, pay attention to technique.

6. Working with a form is a good way to practice discipline in your writing. It can also be fun, so enjoy writing your Fib poems.

7. If you'd like to read more about Fibonacci poems, here's the link to an article on Gregory Pincus's blog  that you'll find helpful:


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Prompt #227 – Summer & Remembering a Childhood Friend

With summer beginning tomorrow in my corner of the world, I find myself thinking about long-ago summer days and some of the friends with whom my childhood summers were shared. The qualities of that sharing are understandably different from the qualities of our adult friendships. Children don’t ask complicated questions, and most live in a more carefree place than adults do.

This week, how about writing a poem to or about a friend from your youth. This friend might be someone with whom you still interact or someone with whom you’re no longer in touch but remember fondly. Dig deeply—remember ...  remember—and celebrate!


1. Begin by thinking about the summers of your youth and by selecting one friend from back in the day (not necessarily a child friend, you might choose an adult who was an important part of your long-ago summers, someone you respected and admired).

2. Make two lists: one that details specific memories of your friend (appearance, age, attitudes, typical clothing, etc.) and one that includes particular memories of times spent with that person. Think about thunderstorms, hot days, summer nights, summer stars, summer vacations, day trips, days at the neighborhood park.

3. Begin writing using your lists as source materials. You may limit your memories to one, or you may include several. Just be careful not to clutter your poem with too many details.

4. You might try writing from an adult perspective or from the perspective of your child self. Alternatively, you might writer a letter poem to your old friend.


1. Remember that your memories may be interesting to you, but in a poem you need to work on making connections that will make your poem interesting to anyone who might read it. What are you saying about childhood friendships and feelings that addresses something universal through your personal experience?

2. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).

3. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).

4. Avoid clichés and sentimentality.

5. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Prompt #226 – "Hip" Tips for Editing Your Poems

Often when I conduct poetry workshops, I give participants the following list—I thought you might find these tips helpful in revising, editing, and perfecting your poems. The idea this week is to go back to an already-written poem and make it stronger.

Here Are the Tips:

1. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).

2. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).

3. The great author Mark Twain once wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” This is especially true in poetry. So ... as you work on a poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)

4. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).

5. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.

6. Challenge the ordinary, connect, reveal, surprise! And … remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains.
7. Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”

8. If you take a risk, make it a big one; if your poem is edgy, take it all the way to the farthest edge.

9. Understand that overstatement and the obvious are deadly when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t ramble on, and don’t try to explain everything. Think about this: a poem with only five great lines should be five lines long.

10. Bring your poem to closure with a dazzling dismount. (Be careful not to undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.)


1. This week, I’d like you to take a look at one or more poems that you’ve already written, and apply the five items above as a kind of checklist for editing.

2. Go through your poem (s) one item at a time and see if there are changes you can make based on the "high five" list.

3. After you’ve finished, compare your original version and the newly edited one. Is one stronger than the other?

4. Another interesting way to go about this is to ask a poet friend to do the exercise with you. Instead of you editing your own poems, exchange poems and see what edits you both come up with for each other.


1. Be sure to work with a poem that you finished or put aside some time ago. Don’t try to work with a new poem or a poem in process.

2. Be as objective as you can (I know, that's not easy when working with your own poems).

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Prompt #225 –20 Tips for Reading Your Poems Aloud

Patricia Smith Reading in the Carriage House Poetry Series, 
Photo Courtesy of Bob Fiorellino

Have you ever attended a poetry reading and heard a dynamite reader? On the flip side, have you ever heard a reader whose performance fell flat on its face? What makes a poetry reading great?

Giving readings of our work is part of what many of us do as poets. Being published and appearing in print or online can be very rewarding, Taking our poems into the world in our own voices is a very different kind of  experience and an amazing way to connect with an audience.

Originally intended for vocal performance, poetry was first a form of spoken literature, and it has a strong performance tradition. The way a poem “sounds” remains important, and poetry readings bring poets into closer contact with their audiences than the printed word allows.

Your audience is not waiting for you to mess up – they’re hoping you’ll be spectacular, so keep that in mind when you read.

With the exception of spoken word poets, poets are not typically performers in the manner of stage or movie actors, but reading with spirit and communicating your enjoyment of poetry is important for a successful reading.


Before Your Reading:

1. Prepare well before the reading. Select the poems you plan to read and “rehearse” them at least a few times. Start by reading the poems aloud to yourself. Follow the “guidelines” given by punctuation for pausing and stressing; listen to each poem's musicality and try to match your voice to it. If you have a video camera you can tape yourself during practice; alternatively, you can record just your voice to get an idea of how you sound. You can also stand in front of a mirror (full length is good) and “observe” yourself as you read (“mirror-practice” may sound silly but it can be very helpful, and the easy part is that you do it alone, no one sees but you!).

2. Time yourself while rehearsing to make sure your reading will fit the time allotted to you. Reading over-time is a lot like over-kill. You should always leave the audience wanting more.

3. Poets sometimes structure their readings around a theme. If you opt to do this (and it’s not required), try to pick poems that share thematic or emotional similarities. This can give your reading an added bit of interest. Whatever poems you choose to read, have them ordered and ready to go so you don’t have to stand in front of the audience and shuffle through papers, journals, or electronic devices to find the poems you want to read.

4. Learning your poems by heart and delivering them “straight up” can have a powerful impact on your listeners. Memorization is typically expected of performance or spoken word poets, but it is not expected of all poets. It’s perfectly fine to read from a book, magazine, or printed page when you do a reading. What is important is making sure that you have some level of eye contact with your audience. Make a point of looking up as you read, especially during pauses in the text or at points in the poem where you want special emphasis.

5. If you have trouble seeing (or are nervous about) the print size of magazines and journals in which your poems appear, print your poems out in a large font so they can be easily read. Marking the pauses, breath or stress points with a highlighter will also help you remember what you rehearsed. The visual cues will help you stick to your reading plan when you get in front of the audience.

During Your Reading

6. Often poetry readings don’t offer a microphone, but when they do, it’s important for you to know how to adjust the mic stand so that you’re not too close or too far away. Try to adjust the mic quickly and to get into your reading right after you’re introduced.

7. Present yourself well, use good posture (stand straight), and look as relaxed and confident as you can (even though you may be nervous). Your physical presence is the first thing the audience will see.

8. After you’re introduced, be sure to thank the person who introduced you, and then greet the audience. Be gracious but genuine. Don’t overdo your “thanking” and “greeting.”

9. You might be the most brilliant poet in the world, but if no one understands you they won’t listen. Read slowly and loudly (the latter particularly if there’s no microphone, see next item for volume). Allow each word its place in the poem. The inclination to rush is understandable, especially if you’re nervous. Relax as much as possible and consciously slow yourself down. Sometimes the proper pace seems ridiculously slow, but it’s really not. Concentrate on pronouncing each word as clearly and distinctly as possible. Above all, don’t mumble or let your voice fall away, especially at the end of a poem.

10. Volume is important. Try to project your voice to the back of the room. Look at a person seated in the last row or the furthest away, and speak directly to that person.

11. Work on making your voice interesting. Timbre (resonance, the quality of a sound independent of its pitch and volume) is important. Try using a slightly fuller range than you would in normal conversation. Raise and lower your voice appropriately. But don’t go overboard and look foolish by emoting "all over the place." Don’t declaim. Don’t preach. Be as natural as possible – be real.

12. Think in terms of pace and power. Try to alter the speed at which you read the poem. If you want to sound angry or excited speed up a little and raise the pitch of your voice. When you want to sound more serious lower the pitch and slow down. A higher pitched voice can also be used when talking about things that are high up (stars, the sky, angels, tall buildings, etc.) and a lower pitch for lower things (soil, graves, underwater, etc.).

13. Lineation defines poetry (other than prose poems). Decide whether your line breaks need pauses and how long those pauses should be. Think about how you need to pause for punctuation. If you use enjambment, be sure not to pause at the end of a line—read smoothly through the enjambment.

14. If you write lyrical or imagistic poems that don’t necessarily tell a story, be sure to offer your audience a few places to rest and think. That means reading slowly, pacing yourself, and giving the audiences small pauses in which to think, “Yes, I understand that.”

15. Never apologize for your work or say things like, “I just wrote this poem today,” “This is the first time I’m reading this poem,” “I’m trying this poem out on you tonight,” “I hope you’ll like this poem,” or “This is a draft of a poem I’m working on.” This suggests that you’re insecure about your work, that you want the audience to go easy on you because you don’t think your poem is up to speed, or you want to impress the audience by setting them up to think they’re not getting your best work when you really think it is. Apologies almost always reflect poorly on the person giving the reading.

16. Introductions for individual poems can be helpful, but be aware that you shouldn’t have to explain your poems – the poems should do that without any coaching from you. If you’d like to say a few words before each poem to invite the audience to share in it with you – that can be a good thing. Sharing a bit about a poem can “warm up” your relationship with the audience. Just be sure that you don’t talk too much. The audience is there to hear you read your poems, not to hear you explain them. I think we’ve all heard poets whose intros are longer than their poems. Practice introductions ahead of time, and you may even write them on the pages from which you read. Practice your introductions when you practice reading your poems. Listen to yourself until you feel comfortable and your words sound natural.

Suggestions for Poem Intros

 A. You can introduce a poem very briefly by saying something like

(1) “This is a poem about _____.” 
(2) “I wrote this poem when _____.”

B. To help your audience feel at ease and to bring them into your “environment,” 
you can ask a simple question to introduce a poem.

(1) “How many of you have been to ____?”
(2) “Have you ever experienced _____?”

17. Try to stand still unless you have a contextual reason for moving. Typically, moving around at the podium is a symptom of nervousness, and everyone in the audience will be aware of it. It’s a good idea to consciously plant your feet and straighten your spine. Don’t fidget while reading! Sometimes, punctuating certain lines with movement of your hands is effective, but be careful not to over-do that sort of thing.

18. “Sorry,” or “Oops.” Most of the time the audience won’t even notice a word-trip unless you call attention to it. If you lose your place while reading (and that does happen), don’t panic. Just pause, find your place, and get on with reading. If you memorize your poems and miss a line, just keep going – the audience won’t know that you’ve left something out.

19. You’ve performed a poem well if the audience knows when it’s time to applaud. Some audiences applaud after each poem, but some don’t. Either way, when you finish a poem you can signal that it’s over with a pause and a smile (or a small step back from the mic, podium, or stand) before moving on to the next piece. If the audience does applaud, be sure to say, “Thank you.”

After Your Reading

20. At the end of the reading, after the audience applauds, make a point of a final, gracious “thank you” and return to your seat.

And now, just for fun, enjoy the video below!