Saturday, November 28, 2015

Happy Holidays!


Dear Blog Readers,

This time of year is usually hectic for many of us (today is my birthday, tomorrow is the first day of Advent, there's holiday shopping to do, cards to send, gifts to wrap, and the usual writing deadlines to meet). With seasonal busy-ness and commitments in mind, I take a brief hiatus most years during December. If you find yourself wishing you had a prompt or two, please look through the archives and, hopefully, you'll find some old prompts that work for you. Along with that, here's a list of potential sources of inspiration that might be helpful:

1. A special holiday gift you've received.
2  A special holiday season memory.
3. A person you associate with Christmases or Hanukkahs past.  
4. A favorite holiday season song (rewrite the lyrics).
5. A gift you'd like to receive (your Christmas wish list, or a letter to Santa).
6. Your favorite holiday food or drink.
7. Winter birds.
8. Snow.
9. A holiday memory about a cherished pet.
10. Special holiday traditions.

 Regular weekly posts will resume on Saturday, January 2, 2016.

I wish you all a holiday season filled with good health, light, joy, and peace!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Prompt #239 – Object-ive Associations

We often discuss being objective about our poems when we edit and refine them (of course, we all know that real objectivity about our own work is next to impossible). Last week we wrote about pieces of furniture—this week, we’re going to spin the word objective and use an object as inspiration—let’s take a fresh look at something to which we don’t generally pay a lot of attention. (Some might call these "object poems.")


1. Take a look around your living space and select an odd, unusual, or taken-for-granted object—something that speaks to you about its unusualness, a special time, someone who gifted the object to you, or a memory associated with the object. Remember that this must be an inanimate object.

2. Free write about the object and its associations. Or, make a list of things that the object calls to mind.

3. Establish your connection with the object.

4. Working from your free write or list, begin to draft a poem using the object’s name as your working title (remember that a working title can be changed later on).

5. Don’t make this a personification or persona poem. That is, don’t ascribe human characteristics to the object. Write from your point of view, not the object’s.


1. Think about possibly transforming an unusual object into something familiar.

2. Describe your chosen object, reference it, give it a sense of movement and trajectory.

3. Think in terms of the senses, especially colors and textures.

4. Create a second subject in your poem by thinking beyond the object itself to what it means to you (or what it might mean to someone else).

5. Don’t just write a flat description of an object; your poem should be based on imagery rather than philosophy or psychology to underscore the poem’s meaning(s). Be sure to go beyond the obvious!

6. Be as objective as possible when you edit and refine your poem (imagine a big smile here)!  


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Prompt #238 –Not Just Wood (Chrome, Glass, or Plastic)

This week the challenge is to write a poem based on a piece of furniture. Yep—that’s right—a piece of furniture. Furniture is often merely functional, but there are special, meaningful pieces that we hold close in memory or live with every day.

For example, here’s a poem that Robert Rosenbloom wrote in memory of his mom—it’s about an ordinary breakfront that he remembers from his youth, but the memory and meaning are much greater than the piece of furniture called to mind in the poem.


I am forever grateful to my mother
for prayers she uttered alongside
our breakfront, for the yearly
metamorphosis of this

bulky red-brown furniture
into ark and tabernacle.
I am grateful for how she
helped blessings rain down

on its contents, a hardcover
War and Peace no one read,
a chrome serving tray
meant for show,

a miniature torah scroll from
one of the bar-mitzvah cakes,
all visible behind the glass,
baseball card sets, a shoebox

full of family photos stored below,
behind one of its doors,
linen tablecloths and expensive
silverware kept in the drawers.

I am thankful for how she dovined*
before this tall, unsecured
ceilingscraper on the High Holy Days,
how it shook when she rocked

back and forth in awe, how
in a housedress, she turned
a circle of spotless living room
carpet into sacred ground.

 *Rocking back and forth in prayer

(From Reunion, Finishing Line Press, © 2010. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.)


1. What does Bob do in this poem to underscore the meaning of the breakfront for him?(What imagery, what reminiscences, what details?)

2. How, specifically, does he make the poem about more than a piece of furniture?
3. How does Bob remember his mom through the breakfront?
4. If the breakfront is the obvious subject of this poem, what is the unspoken or inherent subject?

Note: Bob has written of this poem: “Poetry is my ‘remembrance wall.’ There are so many ways to ‘honor thy parents’ and if they were good parents, even bad parents at times, why not? One of the answers to a poem like ‘Breakfront’ for me is that my parents gave me more than religion, they gave me faith, which means, at the least, not giving up and the recognition of that faith in everyone.” 


1. Think about a piece of furniture that you grew up with, that you once had in your adult life, or that you live with now that means something special to you.

2. Jot down how that piece of furniture came into your life, how it fit into your life, what it meant or means to you (and to other people who lived, or currently live with, it).

3. You may choose a large piece of furniture or something much smaller and not at all dominant in the room.

4. Bring a person, pet, or something “other” into your poem—something other than the piece of furniture

5. If you’re stuck on this one, you might consider writing from the point of view of the furniture piece. If you opt for that, be sure to bring in a human element. 


1. Your obvious subject in the poem you write this week will be the piece of furniture you’ve chosen. The goal is to develop that subject while working toward another, deeper meaning. Consider how Bob Rosenbloom’s poem “celebrates” the breakfront but also honors his mother and her faith, and what the example of her faith means to him now, many years later. He begins by expressing his gratitude—think about why he’s grateful. Are you grateful to the furniture piece you chose to write about for any reason (or perhaps just the opposite)?

2. Avoid sentimentality—an easy pitfall with a poem of this sort. Look at Bob’s poem again and see how he creates true poetic sentiment without being sentimental.

3. Remember that simply telling a story is nothing more than anecdotal—make your poem more than that. In other words, don't just tell a story that includes your piece of furniture—go deeper, use your furniture piece to somehow show something more.

4. Make sure your poem moves forward with a sense of “trajectory” and the momentum it needs to illuminate something about the human condition.

5. Create a coherent and concise “whole” of language, form, and meaning.

You can order Bob Rosenbloom’s book Reunion, which contains “Breakfront” (and other skillfully-written poems) by clicking on either of the following links (I recommend the book and know that you won't be disappointed if you order a copy):

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Prompt #237 – Relationship & Word

This week’s prompt asks you to think back to a relationship from your past (parent, friend, romantic, work, May-December, toxic, love/hate, abusive). If you think hard you’ll be able to define several. Focus on one and think about one word that describes or relates to that relationship. Can you write a poem about the relationship that uses the word just once for maximum effect (in the title and/or text of the poem)?


1. Think about your past relationships—don’t limit the kind of relationships you remember, and keep in mind that this must be a past relationship, not one in which you’re currently involved.

2. Choose one of your past relationships as the subject for your poem.

3. Think of a word that relates, directly or indirectly, to that relationship. Just one word, so make it a strong one!

4. Begin writing your poem (about the relationship) and include the word (in the title and/or within the poem). BUT …. here’s the challenge: you can only use the word once. Synonyms (as many as you like) are allowed, though.


1. Because you’re focused on two things in this poem (the relationship and the word), work toward incorporating them through imagery and content.

2. Try writing beyond your last line, then go back and find the real last line hidden in what you’ve written.

3. Don’t undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.

4. Leave your reader something to reflect upon.

5. Point toward something broader than the body of the poem.

Take a look at the poem below, “Red Bud,” from Nancy Lubarski’s book, Tattoos (Finishing Line Press, 2014, Copyright © 2014).

Although the poem wasn’t written for this prompt, it’s still a perfect example of what you might do with your own poem this week. In “Red Bud,” Nancy deals with the relationship between parents and children, loved ones, and losses. There are several relationships at work in this poem. The tree that fell in a storm might well be a metaphor for other kinds of loss. Notice how Nancy’s poem is image-based and written with absolute economy of words. This poem tells a story, but it’s not merely anecdotal—it does more than simply relate something that happened, it goes beyond the obvious and suggests something more than the loss of a tree. As I've noted often before, the best poems have more than one subject: their obvious subjects (of course) and one or more "inner" subjects as well. Think about how you can achieve this in your own work.

Which word in the poem do you think is the defining word in "Red Bud," articulated only once?  (Scroll down for the answer.)

Red Bud

When you planted it years
ago, it was to teach our two
sons about care and tending.

They helped you trim the
branches each spring to
ease its growth upward.

I wish the storm had spared
that Red Bud—the single
gust that ripped the roots

and toppled it.  Now, there will
be no more flowers. The boys
are older; they didn’t notice
that the tree was gone.
(Reprinted by permission of the author.)

You can order Tattoos (I recommend it highly!) directly from the publisher.

(Answer: The defining word in "Red Bud" is “gone,” effectively placed as the last word in the poem.)