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.)


  1. Another interesting prompt with more than one dimension!

    Nancy Lubarsky's poem is lovely and illustrates beautifully what you're asking us to do with this prompt.

    Thank you once again!

    1. Thanks, Jamie! I'm glad to know that you like Nancy's poem. She's a very gifted poet!

    2. Thanks for your feedback, Jamie, and thank you, Adele!

  2. So many ideas for poems inspired by this week's prompt. The poem below is about my relationship with the fear of death and the way it has changed.

    Thank you, Adele :)

    ~ ~ ~

    In The Field

    When he calls he won't care as you shiver

    with fear under the rainbow's arc, where leaves

    cartwheel in the field by the barn and the

    last drops of rain fall from the farmers coat

    nailed to the scarecrow created to scare

    away the crows. Is that Death at your side

    and you in his eye? — "Quick," he says, "shoot a

    glance at my brave, fine face, I dare you, smile.

    ~ ~ ~

    1. Such an evocative poem… caused some much reflection…

    2. Risa, we enjoy writing these poems, it's always a thrill when others enjoy reading them :)

    3. Hi, Basil,

      The subject of 'death' now and again creeps into my poems, as though a reminder of life.

    4. As Basil noted, this is a very evocative poem, and it's so wonderful to see where the prompt led you

      As always, Lewis, thank you so much for sharing!

    5. I love your word choices. They get to the heart of it.

    6. Thank you for your comment. And talking about words that get to the heart of it — 'they didn’t notice that the tree was gone,' from the featured poem 'Red Bud' do exactly that.

  3. An interesting idea. I may ask my students to think about Nancy's poem, discuss it, identify the key word, and then work on something similar. I may have to give them some ideas about relationships too.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Rich! I hope the prompt worked well with your students!

    2. I would love to see what they come up with.

  4. Lesbian!
    He painted that on my apartment wall
    and he was my fiancé!
    What was I thinking?
    It was obedience
    I had forgotten.
    I was an adult, after all, not a child.
    Caught between worlds
    the '60s opened closed doors
    I walked through them

    1. 'Another Sunday', 'I Met The Devil in Florida' and now 'Lesbian'. Risa, I love this style of writing, actually, I feel excited about it. I look forward to reading more of these. :)

    2. Thank you, Lewis. Thanks Adele for providing this platform for us to be inspired and to share!

    3. Wow, Risa! You've done it again! You have a very distinctive style and work it so well!

      I'm grateful that you enjoy the blog and find the prompts inspiring.

      Thank you for sharing!

    4. Risa- Amazing how a single word can generate so much.


    I remember us —
    passengers on separate
    busses scaling the steep street

    from Milton Square’s terminal.
    One month after my air-force training
    began and our love ended.

    You point me out to your sister
    the way kids tug their mothers’
    skirts at military parades

    (or circus rings)
    to wow in awe of steel tanks
    or feel sorry for sad clowns..

    I see the pointing finger,
    but pretend
    I don't.

    I look away. My hands, awkward,
    tidy up the air force hat on my head.
    Our busses drive apart.

    © Basil Rouskas

    1. Basil, it's always a pleasure to read your well thought out poems—I hope we get the chance to read more of them here at Adele's blog.

    2. Thank you Risa!
      Thank you Lewis!
      Thank you Adele!

    3. Superb, Basil! A perfect example for this prompt. (I think your key/defining word might be "apart.")

      I agree with Lewis that it's always a pleasure to read your poems. Thanks so much for sharing this one with us.

    4. Yes! "Apart" is the key word. Thanks for the wonderful prompt.

  6. Amita Jayaraman (Mumbai)November 11, 2015 at 9:05 AM

    I have much admiration for all the comments poems and for Nancy Lubarsky's example poem "Red Bud." I will try to order a copy of Nancy's book and hope the publisher will ship to India. Thank you to all for this wonderful sharing.

    1. Thanks so much. If you have any trouble let me know. I have extra copies.

    2. Thanks so much for your comment, Amita!