Saturday, July 29, 2017

Prompt #286 – A Little Levity

Many years ago, long before email submissions, e-zines, and spell check, and long before I had any poems published in journals, I eagerly awaited the publication of a new journal that had accepted one of my poems. After months of waiting, the contributor’s copy arrived. Holding my breath, I tore open the envelope and thumbed through for my poem. Sure enough, the poem was there, but (horrors!) my name appeared as “Addle Kenney.” The misspelled last name was bad enough, but “Addle” (muddled, confused, befuddled, dazed, disoriented)? Years (and many misprints and typos later), I can laugh about that early experience and cheerfully acknowledge that these days "Addle" is sometimes spot on.

Having recently remembered that years-ago poetry story, I thought it might be fun to gather some amusing writing anecdotes and to post them here on the blog this summer. Accordingly, I invited several distinguished poet friends to participate, and their responses follow. Here’s hoping we can beat the heat with some laughter. Enjoy!

P.S. A related prompt for this week follows the anecdotes.


From Laura Boss
Award-Winning Poet, Teacher, Founding Editor/Publisher of Lips Magazine, Poetry Series Director, Dodge Foundation Poet

In July 1988, I was on a 10-day reading tour of Sicily to celebrate my book On the Edge of the Hudson winning an American Literary Translators Association Award. The other featured reader was Maria Mazziotti Gillan for her ALTA award winning Luce D'Inverno. It was an exhilarating and heady tour that combined numerous poetry venues as well as TV appearances throughout the country. Billboards like circus posters with our names greeted us, as did huge audiences in each city we visited—a heady experience for two American poets. But at Caltanisetta things changed. After our readings to a responsive audience, there was a question and answer period. I was startled and upset when one of the men in the audience angrily asked me if I took my last name “Boss” to dominate men. As calmly as I could, I responded that Boss was my former husband's name, the last name of my sons, and I had always written under the name “Laura Boss.” And although that man didn't seem convinced, at the reception that followed he asked me (despite his gold wedding band) if I'd like to go on a date with him. Even now, when Maria and I reminisce about our ALTA reading tour in Sicily, we always smile when we remember that male poet with his ironic sexist views.


From Edwin Romond
Award-winning Poet, Teacher, Dodge Foundation Poet, Playwright, Composer


I think all poets appreciate a generous, maybe even flattering introduction when they are giving a reading. My story is not about one of those! 

A few years ago I accepted an invitation to read at a PTA meeting and the host introduced me as follows: “None of Mr. Romond’s poems rhyme but some are still good.”


From Michael T. Young
Award-Winning Poet, NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Recipient, Blogger

Shortly after my first chapbook came out in the mid 90s, I moved to a new apartment and got a new telephone number. The first week I lived there my phone rang and someone at the other end asked, “Is Kate Light there?” I said, “No, but do you mean Kate Light, the poet?” He said, “Yes, I’m trying to sign up for her workshop.” I said, “Well, I know Kate and can get a message to her for you. My name is Michael Young.” The caller said, “Michael T. Young?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I saw your book at St. Marks Bookstore.” We had a good laugh and talked a little. He told me the phone number he had for Kate and it turned out her phone number was only one digit different from my new phone number. The man simply misdialed resulting in one of the oddest coincidences in my life.


From Catherine Doty
Award-winning Poet, Teacher, Artist/Cartoonist, Dodge Foundation Poet, NEA Fellowship Recipient

Many, many years ago my poem, “Home for a While,” became my first published piece. I was elated, of course, and when I held the journal at last, I flew through the pages searching for the poem that would change my life and, perhaps (youth speaking), the lives of my future fans. And there it was: “Home for a Whale.” 

According to Oscar Wilde: “A poet can survive anything but a misprint.”


From Tom Plante
Poet, Award-winning Editorial Writer, Public Information Writer/Editor, Founding Editor/Publisher Exit 13 Magazine, Fanwood (NJ) Arts Council Co-Director

Back in my Berkeley days (1973-86) when I was reading at lots of venues in the San Francisco Bay area, I interviewed Gregory Corso for the “Berkeley Barb” newspaper. In the interview, Gregory recalled advising the poet Bob Kaufman to be funny. "Thus his humor spared him," Corso said. I was scraping along in those days and thought I was making a dent in the scene. But it only took a visit to friends in Oregon to put things in perspective. My friend wrote a brief human interest story about my visit and submitted it to her weekly newspaper. The article appeared the day before my return trip to Berkeley. Somehow in the re-typing I became “Tome Plant, reporter for the Berkeley Barge.” 


From Donna Baier Stein
Award-winning Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer, Founding Publisher of Tiferet Journal, Workshop Leader

The first poem I ever published came out in an anthology called Kansas City Outloud, edited by John Ciardi. The poem is called "Easy Marks" and was written after I read Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes

On a whim, I mailed the poem to Bradbury. Imagine my astonishment when I received a letter back from him. That letter still hangs, framed, in my office, decades later. He told me he was working on the movie that would soon be out (starring Jason Robards). The top 2/3 of his stationery was filled with an intricate, sci fi drawing. I thought for decades he had drawn it himself until I showed it to a friend who identified the work. Unfortunately I now can't remember who the artist was! But here's the picture. If anyone recognizes it, I'd love to be reminded.


From Bob Rosenbloom
Award-winning Poet, Poetry Series Director, Attorney, Former Stand Up Comic

Before I became a poet, I was a standup comic and wrote jokes, something that’s often felt in my poems. Here are a couple of those early writing experiences.

Paul Colby, the owner of The Other End, his successor club to The Bitter End, asked me to meet him to discuss the possibility of working as a house comic and developing a routine. He had seen me on his talent showcase. When I went to meet him, there were two other guys at the table. I was willing to wait but he motioned for me to sit with them. Those two guys were pitching a movie scene for him and didn't notice me at all. As it turned out, those two guys were Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, which I didn’t realize until halfway through my burger deluxe.

Joan Rivers bought unsolicited material, at ten dollars a joke. I went backstage after one of her shows to have her autograph her then current book. When I reached her in line, I told her she bought six of the twenty jokes I sent to her in three mailings. She asked me to tell one of the jokes. I did, and she said she didn't recognize it. 


From Deborah LaVeglia
Award-winning Poet, Workshop Leader, Long-time Director of Poetswednesday (the longest running poetry series in NJ)

I was talking to poets in the audience after a reading I did. I had commented on my body in one of the poems that I'd read. So, a young guy, in his early 20s, made a point of telling me how it annoyed him that women always write about their bodies in poems. Then he got up in the open and read a very long poem about his girlfriend's body. Haha! I wrote a poem about it. 

From Joe Weil
Poet, Musician, Professor at Binghamton University-SUNY, Appeared on Bill Moyer's PBS documentary, "Fooling With Words," Dodge Poet, Poetry Series Director, Journal Founder and Editor

A number of years ago, I was one of the Dodge poets at the East Brunswick Poetry Festival. This was maybe my second year as a Dodge poet in the schools. At that time, they bussed students in from the whole of Middlesex county, so there were a couple of hundred kids in the auditorium—maybe more—and I believe we were reading with Thomas Lux as headliner. It was my turn to go up on stage and read. Just prior to that moment, I'd been to the men's room. I guess I was in a hurry. I started reading my poem "Fists" and heard: "Psst, psst," an urgent hissing whispering sound coming from one of my fellow poets below me on stage. Instinct told me to look down. I'm short wasted and so I often buy longer shirts to tuck them in better. In this case, the shirt saved me from indecent exposure. At least a half a foot of green shirt was sticking out from my zipper. I looked down. I looked up. Lots of laughs. I turned my back to the audience, tucked myself in, and continued with the poem. I sold 28 books that day. I think it was the "ice skater falls but smiles and completes her routine" effect. Works every time.


From Maria Mazziotti Gillan
Award-Winning Poet, Founder/Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, founding editor of the Paterson Literary Review, director of the Creative Writing Program and Professor of Poetry at Binghamton University-SUNY

When I think about the funny things that have happened to me in my life as a poet, I think one of the funniest things was also horrifying and painful. I'll let you judge.

In 2010 I went to the University of Rome to read my poems and I had a wonderful experience, warm and welcoming. My daughter came with me and we left Rome for Florence where I had two reading scheduled, one in the oldest reading series in Florence, so old they even had invitations on parchment paper. I was very excited and when we checked into the hotel, I decided I would take a shower. I admit that I never saw a shower that looked quite like that. It was in the middle of the room and the grab bars were on the walls, which were about 10 feet away! In order to reach them I would've needed to have very long arms. The shower had bifold doors, which only attached at the top. I stepped in and turned on the shower but in another second the showerhead fell off! When it did, it hit me on the head, and water sprayed the entire bathroom. My daughter called out from our room. "Mom there's water rushing out of the bathroom. What did you do?"

Though I'm short, I managed to shove the showerhead back on and turn the shower off. Unfortunately, the floor was marble so when I stepped out of the shower I slid across the room and landed on my face and shoulder. I didn't know a broken nose would result in so much blood, but it sure did, and I quickly realized I had broken my shoulder as well. My daughter called an ambulance and the EMT s arrived. They were two very thin and not very tall men who first asked me to get up. I informed them I was in too much pain—I could not move. They conferred in Italian. I suppose they thought that I could not understand them. I understood them perfectly as they commented on my weight, which they thought was unbelievably high. They finally went back to the ambulance and came back with a metal contraption that they could slide under me. It looked like a torture device. It had big metal teeth, and they slid one side under me and then the other side until two sets of teeth linked. The stretcher could not fit in the elevator as Italian elevators tend to be quite small. So, they proceeded to carry me down three flights of curving stairs, cursing the whole time over how heavy I was and having to stop every five or six steps to put me down. Every time they stopped the teeth of the stretcher caught my rear end, and I screamed.

By the time we got to the lobby, I had attracted quite an audience and, because I moaned and screamed, I saw people's faces looking at me in alarm. Since I was naked, I was very happy that my daughter had found a towel to throw over me and that the ambulance people tucked a blanket around me.

Once in the ambulance the two EMTs kept up their conversation about my weight, still oblivious to the fact that I understood every word they were saying. Finally, I told them but they kept on anyway. Apparently they didn't believe that I understood them but, then, one of the EMTs looked at me and took my hand and held it the rest of the way to the hospital, an act of kindness that managed for me to erase their conversation about my weight, which in retrospect was quite funny. It was like being caught in some Lou Costello movie full of pratfalls and misunderstandings.


This Week’s Prompt:

For your prompt this week, how about writing a funny poem. It may be based on something that happened to you or something you make up, and may be tongue-in-cheeky, absurd, witty, droll, or just plain goofy. Whether you go for guffaws or simple smiles, go for some fun.


1. You can build your poem around a story. For an amusing story poem, you might try telling something funny that happened to you. You can also write about a person (historical, sports, or family), place, thing or situation that’s humorous (for example, a funny-looking animal like the platypus, a particular food that you either love or dislike intensely, part of the human anatomy such as the funny bone or the nose, a crazy day at school or work, a dialogue with someone).

2. You might want to try a parody—a take-off on an already existing poem that you make humorous by keeping the form but changing the language.

3. You might enjoy including silly rhymes; sometimes, forced rhymes (like those Dr. Seuss created) are the funniest. You might even try a funny rap poem.

4. Try writing a limerick. Note: A limerick is a humorous poem consisting of five lines. The first, second, and fifth lines must have seven to ten syllables while rhyming and having the same verbal rhythm. The third and fourth lines only have to have five to seven syllables, and have to rhyme with each other and have the same rhythm. See example below.

          There was a young lady whose chin
          Resembled the point of a pin:
          So she had it made sharp,
          And purchased a harp,
          And played several tunes with her chin.

                                         —By Edward Lear

5. If a limerick doesn’t appeal to you, consider writing a funny haiku or other form poem (if you’re feeling really ambitious, you night even try a funny sonnet, sestina or villanelle). If you have a form in mind that you don’t know a lot about, you can always look the form up online and read some examples before writing.

6. A funny list poem can be enjoyable (and easy) to create. “Sick” by Shel Silverstein is a good example:

7. Try a humorous ode (for example, “Ode on a Dill Pickle”).

8. A witty prose poem might be fun to write (remember that a prose poem is written in paragraphs and isn't bound by lineation or stanzas).

Examples of Funny Poems by Famous Poets:

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Prompt #285 – A Clerihew or Two

This week’s prompt is purely for enjoyment and deals with a form of poetry that’s rooted in rhymed doggerel formed by two whimsical couplets. The purpose of the clerihew is to create a brief, sometimes satiric, biographical note.

Far from being in the same category as other “form” poems (such as sonnets and sestinas), the clerihew was invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) who was so bored in his high school chemistry class that he jotted down a silly rhyme about Sir Humphrey Davy (the Cornish chemist and inventor who discovered, among other things, sodium). Clerihews developed from this first poem and many have continued to be about famous people (or at least people, characters from literature, pets, and places their authors know). The name of the subject is always the first line. The rest of the poem is supposed to reveal something funny, absurd, or satirical about the subject.  Short and pithy, the best clerihews combine a mix of clownish and urbane elements.

The line length and meter in these poems is usually irregular, the rhymes are often humorously forced, and the rhyme scheme is AABB. Clerihews have only a few simple rules:

1. They are four lines long.
2. The first and second lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other.
3. The first line names a person.
4. A clerihew is a micro-biography and the intent is humor.

Clerihews can be great fun when you need to vent about someone; they can make great little silly gifts for friends and family members on special occasions (I once used clerihews as place cards for a dinner party); and they’re just plain fun to “noodle” around with.
Guidelines & Tips:

1. Begin by choosing someone to be the subject (and first line) of your clerihew (this first line may be simpley the poeson's name or may be a bit longer). Then, write a second line that end rhymes with the first. Next, write a third line in which you reveal something about the subject (personality, occupation, anything—just keep it light. Finally, write a fourth (and last) line that rhymes with the third line. (Consider sports stars, movie stars, recording stars, politicians, famous poets and other authors, family members, or anyone else you know or know about.)

2. Remember that rhyme is essential and be sure to follow the a, a, b, b rhyme scheme (the first and second lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other).

3. Tell something about the person in your clerihew. Just one biographical detail is enough.

4. Focus on humor but try for a bit of cleverness.

5. Punctuate as you would in normal sentences. Bentley started each line with a capital (once a favored technique in writing poetry), but you don’t have to.

6. Have some fun writing a clerihew or two!

Examples by Edmund Clerihew Bentley:

Sir Humphrey Davy
Detested gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

Sir Christopher Wren
Said, "I'm going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls,
Say I'm designing St. Paul's."

Other Examples:

David Beckham
knew how to wreck ’em.
When it came to soccer,
he was a rocker.

My cousin Nancy
is better than fancy—
she’s elegant and cool
and nobody’s fool!

The puppy Zoey
is sweet and showy;
she may be a Morkie,
but she’s looks all Yorkie!

The poet Joe Weil
will make you smile
with stories and more—
he's a raconteur!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Prompt #284 – Rimas Dissolutas

A while ago, my poet friend and colleague Diane Lockward (whom you've met here on the blog) introduced me to a form of poetry called rimas dissolutas. There are great examples of this form and a prompt on pages 234-237 in Diane's book THE CRAFTY POET II: A Portable Workshop.

Rimas dissolutas is a French troubadouric verse that was popular with 12th and 13th century French poets. There are no absolute rules for meter, line length, or syllables. The form’s only strict regulation is that stanzas must contain the same rhyme pattern from line to line in each stanza—each line in each stanza must rhyme with the corresponding line in the next stanza and all stanzas that follow.

If this sounds a little complicated, don’t worry! The form really allows you a lot of freedom. You decide how many stanzas you want, you determine how many lines each stanza will contain (as long as the number is consistent from stanza to stanza—quatrains, tercets, sixains, etc), and line lengths may be the same or varied.

In keeping with old French forms each line may be isosyllabic and contain the same number of syllables, but this is not required.

To sum up the pattern: the first line in the first stanza must rhyme with the first line in all subsequent stanzas.  Line 2 rhymes with the second line in all stanzas. This is true throughout. So, while there’s no end rhyme, there is very consistent rhyme within the stanzas, making the sound value softer and the rhymes subtler in comparison to  typical end rhymes.

For example, if you were to write a three-stanza poem with five lines in each stanza, the following would be your rimas dissolutas rhyme scheme

1-a (rhymes with the first line in the second and third stanzas)
2-b (rhymes with the second line in the second and third stanzas)
3-c (rhymes with the third line in the second and third stanzas)
4-d (rhymes with the fourth line in the second and third stanzas)
5-e (rhymes with the fifth line in the second and third stanzas)




1. After deciding what you’d like to write about, make a list of all the things you want to include.

2. Divide your list into groups of equal length (this will take a little juggling and counting). These groups will become your stanzas. Remember that each stanza must be like every other stanza.

3. If you have five lines in each stanza, you will have five rhyming sounds. Remember that each line in each stanza will end with a word that rhymes with the corresponding line in every other stanza. These may be hard or exact rhymes or off/near rhymes. Some rhymes may even be repeated.

4. Because the form is what I like to think of as structured and unstructured at the same time, experiment with it and see where it takes you. Become your own 21st century troubadour!

1. Choose a subject with which you’re comfortable. You might want to reflect on Sylvia Plath’s and Barbara Crooker's subject matter from nature and think along those lines for your own rimas dissolutas.

2. Although rhyme is important in this form, a good rhymed poem is never rhyme-driven. In other words, the meaning of your poem should never become subordinate to your rhyme scheme. Keep that in mind while writing.

3. Be sure to observe all the usual caveats of good writing especially:

a.     be conscious of creating striking imagery that shows without telling,
b.     include some figures of speech (similes and metaphors),
c.     create a sense of music through alliteration and assonance,
d.     avoid the passive voice (“ing” endings),
e.     be wary of using too many adjectives,
f.      edit out articles and prepositional phrases whenever you can,
g.     decide what details your poem can live without and remove them,
h.     don’t use up all the air in your poem on the last couple of lines,
i.      point toward something broader than the obvious content of the poem.

Of Clocks and Love by Charlotte Mandel

The radio reports conceptions of time—
that two clocks traveling at different speeds
can vary by seconds, minutes and hours.
Physicists surf waves on cosmic oceans.

A poet poor in math, I feel stymied
when scientists operate by creeds
near to religion, aiming telescopic power
to digitize mysteries of creation—

as the universe expands, space/time
swirls in a blender, milky ways bleed
ancient fires, one black hole devours
another. What simple harmonic motion

set off this wild yo-yo we call sublime?
4.3 babies are born every minute. I meet
with joy a great-grandson—and with fears
of drought-shriveled fruits, earthquake implosion.

Still, I cross off calendar days, set a time
the radio sings me awake. Little one, reach
out your arms to those who will adore
the beauty of your body/soul’s creation.
(From The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop, Terrapin Books, Used with the Permission of Charlotte Mandel and Terrapin Books)

Sylvia Plath Reading Her Rimas Dissolutas Poem  "Black Rook in Rainy Weather"

Black Rook in Rainy Weather by Sylvia Plath – Text (note the off and near rhymes)

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To see the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then—
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Prompt #283 – In the Good Old Summertime

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, 
just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life 
was beginning over again with the summer.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Summer is the season of abundance. Also abundant are our memories of summers past. This week, pick one summer and one specific memory (something happy and upbeat), and write about that summer and that special time.

1. Think about what makes summertime so special.

2. Go back in time to a summer that stands out in your memor

3. Re-create the feeling of that time through written language. Show (don’t tell) how you felt.

4. Convey mood and tone with just enough detail (don’t overdo).

5. Appeal to the senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

6. Incorporate things that are season-specific. Here are a few examples:

baseball and stickball
building sandcastles
camping out
catching fireflies
daylight saving time
diving into waves
eating ice cream
going barefoot
picking wildflowers
sipping iced tea or lemonade
summer camp
swimming pools
tending your garden
the ocean
walking in a park
willow trees

7.  Recreate who you were and what happened to make that summer so special. 

1. Start with a free write to get things started (you might want to jumpstart the process by looking through a old photo album or two).

2. Write in a comfortable place (whether that means outdoors or in an air conditioned indoor space), that’s conducive to reflection and writing.

3. If you’re writing, for example, about summer’s heat, give examples rather than simply stating that it was hot. If you’re writing about the ocean, use words to conjure up imagery that “speaks” of the ocean’s sounds, smells, etc.

4.  Always be specific, avoid general terms, phrases, and statements, abstractions, and philosophical musings. 

5. Watch out for clichés.

6. Create a sense of sound (music) through alliteration, assonance, anaphora, and rhythm.

7. Remember what Robert Lowell said: “A poem is an event, not the record of an event.” Make your poem a summer event!

“Midsummer, Tobago” by Derek Walcott
“I See the Boys of Summer” by Dylan Thomas
“My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer” by Mark Strand
“Summer Night, Riverside” by Sara Teasdale    

And just for fun—the old song that "prompted" this prompt's title.