Saturday, August 26, 2017

Prompt #290 – Reflections (Summer Re-Run #4)

The process of writing a poem is a process of reflection. Many, if not most, poems are reflections on one subject or another. This week, the prompt is to write a poem about reflections. Obviously, the “territory” is wide with lots of possibilities for content.


1. You might write a reflection or meditation about a particular subject or you may write about a literal reflection (the moon in a window, your own face on a pond, a stranger in a mirror, etc.). Try to focus on the “here and now” of your reflection (stay in the moment to create a sense of immediacy in your poem), and remember that a good poem has two parts to its content: the obvious and the underlying.

2. Be conscious of caesuras in your poem (a noticeable pause in a line of poetry). Be aware that all of your pauses don’t have to occur with lines breaks. Caesuras are strong silences within lines of poetry. One of the best examples is Alexander Pope’s “To err is human || to forgive divine.” The vertical lines indicate the caesuras.

Here are examples of caesuras from an old nursery rhyme:

Sing a song of sixpence, || a pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds, || baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, || the birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish, || to set before the king?

And here are examples from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”:

Once upon a midnight dreary, || while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious || volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, || suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, || rapping at my chamber door.
’Tis some visitor,’ || I muttered, || `tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more.’

3. Work on a sense of rhythm in your poem. By that I don’t mean a sing-song rhythm but something subtler—a deeper kind of music. Read your poem aloud to yourself as you write it. Try writing in iambs.


1.  A reflection is a kind of meditation (What do you think about or meditate on?).
2.  A reflection may be heat, light, sounds, or an image.
3.  A reflection might be careful or long concentration or thought.
4. A reflection may be thought, idea, or opinion that results from concentrated thought on a  particular subject.
5. A reflection may be a manifestation or result (for example, His achievements are a reflection of his  hard work.)
6. Reflections may be theological (religious), philosophical.
7. Reflections may be on one’s own character, (flaws, strong points).
8. A reflection may be based on a quotation or popular saying.
9. A reflection may be based on a memory (the past) or a person.
10. A reflection may be funny.


“Reflections” by Yusef Komunyakaa

“Reflections on History in Missouri” by Constance Urdang

“Interrupted Meditation” by Robert Hass

“Meditation Under Stars” by  George Meredith

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Prompt #289 – Letting Go (Summer Re-Run #3)

Some people believe holding on and hanging in there
are signs of great strength.
However, there are times when it takes much more strength
 to know when to let go and then do it.

— Ann Landers

In any context, letting go can be a painful (but sometimes necessary) part of life.  On the flip side, letting go can free us in much the same way that forgiving does. Have there been times in your life when you let something go and felt better for it?

In many ways, the past informs the present, but letting go is about much more than the past. Importantly, letting go is about freeing ourselves from fears, from impractical expectations, from uncertainties about ourselves, and it’s about affirming our value in the world.

This week, write a poem about a time that you let go.


1. Is there a dream you’ve let go?

2. Is there a person or group of people you’ve let go? Have you ever ended a relationship that wasn’t working? Have you ever deliberately said “good-bye” to someone or something and felt better (or worse) for having done so?

3. Has there been a job you had to let go?

4. Have you ever let go of any personality traits, ways of thinking, old habits?

5. Has there ever been a hurt or an anger that you let go?

6. Has there ever been something that you couldn’t let go?

7. Is there something (or someone) in your life right now that you’ve thought about letting go?


1. A poem should astonish its readers, either with an amazing story, with a unique view of something, or with insights that challenge (or change) the reader’s thinking.What insights can you share about letting go? What can you "let go" in your poem?

2. Your poem should contain at least one image or idea that takes the reader’s breath away.
3. Work on a sense of immediacy (even when you write in the past tense).

4. Stay away from the passive voice, and be wary of words that end in “ing.”

5. Be specific—avoid abstractions and generalizations. Imagery is key. Write about things, not ideas. William Carlos Williams wrote: “No ideas but in things.” Tell it “like it is” in specifics, not through philosophical musings on the “meaning of it all.

6. Work on a dismount that elicits a “wow.” 


This beautiful poem by my dear friend Linda Radice (1952-2017) describes having to "let go" of the family home in which she grew up and which she loved

Little Enough by Linda Radice

I don’t know why I drive by the house.
The new owners painted over my mother’s

blue doors, butchered her beloved Chinese Maple.
They tore off the steps my dad built. The circle

of rhododendron bushes my brother and I played in
were ripped out by the roots, discarded

with ivy yanked from the brick on the shadiest
side. The light colored roof was replaced

by a black one; the peak over the porch is gone.
There is little left familiar enough to call home.

Maybe the spruce my grandfather planted the year
I was born knew something I don’t. It fell in a

hurricane just months before the sale, barely brushed
the house, dented a gutter, gave in gracefully.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Prompt #288 – Edges (Summer Re-Run #2)

Our world is a world of borders and edges. In most spheres of our lives, we’re required to observe prescribed boundaries. We live among separations, always trying to find places where edges meet and connections happen. This week, let’s think about edges and what they suggest to us. Free write for a while, then go back and read what you’ve written. Does anything speak to you?


1. Write a poem about edges in your life? Ragged edges? Smooth edges?

2. Write a poem about a time when you found yourself at the edge of something?

3. Write a poem about a time when you were caught between edges?

4. Write about an “edge” in which you met or left someone special.

5. Write about a time when you (metaphorically) went over an edge?

6. Write a poem about the edge or edges of something (an object, a place, a state of mind—the edge where land and sea meet, the moon’s edges, the edge of a star, the edge of romance, the edge of a forest, the edges of someone’s face, the edge of a dream).

7. Write about something (or someone) that’s “lost its edge.”

8. Write a poem about a time you were one the “edge” of an important decision?

9. Write a poem based on this quote from E. L. Doctorow: “We're always attracted to the edges of what we are, out by the edges where it's a little raw and nervy.”


1. Don’t be afraid to let yourself go with this. It’s okay to be “edgy” (to astonish your readers, not with shock value but, rather, with an element of mystery, a unique voice, and/or understatement).

2. Use imaginative language and distinctive figures of speech (similes, metaphors). Let your poem stand on “the edge of understanding” (leave room for the reader to enter your poem, to interpret, and to imagine).

3. After you’ve written your poem, refine its rough edges with careful editing (and remember that good editing usually means deleting rather than adding).


“The Edges of Time” by Kay Ryan (audio)

“Edges” by David Cooke

“Edges” by Allen Tate

“On Edges” by Adrienne Rich

“Edge” by Sylvia Plath

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Prompt # 287 – What's Your Don Quixote? (Summer Re-Run #1)

The annual August summer re-runs begin this week. There will be one each week through the month. Hope you enjoy them!

The character Don Quixote, created by Cervantes) has become an icon for idealism and the ways in which we pursue our personal notions of the ideal. Quixotism is typically defined as a visionary action in which the quixotic person seeks truth, justice, or beauty with an internal vision so clear that it “sees” through the illusions of exterior experiences. It is also defined as “impractical pursuit of ideals.” Impulsive people, spontaneous people, idealists, dreamers, and romantics are considered quixotic.

There are, of course, complexities in Cervantes’s novel, as well as multiple interpretations, that we needn’t address here, but I thought that this week we might look at times in our lives when we’ve been led by visionary ideals, impulses, spontaneity, or romantic notions. (I’m reminded here of a time many years ago when I was driving to work and saw and elderly lady trip and fall on the sidewalk. I pulled over to the side of the road and ran back to help her. With a lot more strength that I could have imagined, she punched me and told me if I didn’t leave she’d scream for help. I didn’t want to leave her sitting there on the sidewalk, and those were the days before cell phones, so I hesitated and she started to scream. In fact, she got up and began to chase me down the street. I suspected that she must be embarrassed by the fall but she as definitely not a red-faced as I was. So much for being “heroic.” I like to think I did the right thing, even though it made me late for work and cost me a bruise on the arm.)


1. Has there ever been a time when you tried to act as a “knight in shinning armor” but were rejected? What “ideal” inspired you? How did the rejection make you feel?

2. Has there been a time when you were “foolishly impractical?” Where did it lead you?

3. Don Quixote “tilted at windmills,” seeing them as giants who threatened people. The expression “tilting at windmills” has become an English language idiom that means attacking imaginary or unbeatable enemies (“tilting” refers to jousting or, more generally, to engaging in combat). Is there a metaphorical windmill at which you’ve tilted? Has there ever been a concern or issue in your life that you later learned was inconsequential despite your fear of it?

4. In 1644, John Cleveland published in his London diurnall, “The Quixotes of this age fight the windmills of their owne [sic] heads.” Can you relate that to something personal or perhaps something in current society or politics? Have you ever fought a symbolic windmill “in your own head?”

5. “Tilting at windmills” has also come to mean trying to fight battles that can’t be won. Has there been such a “battle” in your life? Keep in mind that the larger question is not failure but, more importantly, how your actions affirmed a higher quality of character.

6. When it first appeared in print, Don Quixote was considered a comic novel; by the nineteenth century, it was considered a social commentary; and it later came to be called a tragedy. In keeping with the lighter (comic) interpretations, can you write a narrative poem in which you tell the story of a funny time you were idealistic, romantic, or heroic?

7. Is there something appealing about an idealistic Don Quixote-kind of figure to you? What specifically? Why? How are you like Don Quixote?

8. From the play and movie The Man of La Mancha (based on the Cervantes novel), the song “The Impossible Dream” became well known (listen below). Do you have an “impossible dream?” 


1. Be sure to write in an authentic voice—the way you “say” things is critical to a poem’s success. Your attitude toward the content is definitely part of the content, and your language should be imaginative, unique, and distinctive. Don’t simply tell a story—that would be prose.

2. Be wary of including so many details that your poem becomes cluttered. You want to hold your readers’ attention, not lose them in superfluous particulars.