Saturday, January 27, 2018

A One-Sentence Spin on Shakespeare by Guest Prompter Joe Weil

Last week, we worked with one-sentence poems. This week, we continue the one-sentence “theme” through an even more specific idea that involves writing one-sentence sonnets.

The word sonnet derives from the Italian sonetto. Typically, a sonnet is comprised of 14 lines, often presented in iambic pentameter and often with each line containing ten syllables. There is usually a specific rhyme scheme. 

This prompt will free you from many of the traditional rules while extending last week’s prompt in a challenging but, hopefully, enjoyable way devised by our guest prompter—poet, musician, performer, publisher, and professor Joe Weil. (Some of you have “met” Joe here on the blog in past posts.) 

On the Sentence Sonnet by Joe Weil

I developed my own form of a sentence sonnet (and I am sure 100 poets will rise up to tell me they invented the same or some big shot did) to teach my students how to counterpoint sentences against the line. This teaches enjambment, but also how poetry can isolate subsidiary clauses, even individual words and give them an emphasis or spin in meaning that prose cannot always give.  Many poems, including “By the Road to The Contagious Hospital” by William Carlos Williams suspend the pay off of a sentence over many lines. My sentence sonnet rules are simple:

1. The sonnet must be one single simple, compound or compound/complex sentence moving over 14 lines.

2. Like a traditional sonnet, a sentence sonnet must have a volta (a turn) somewhere between the seventh and tenth lines (that’s a little more leeway). (In a traditional sonnet, a turn is called a volta. A vital part of virtually all sonnets, the volta is most frequently encountered at the end of the octave (first eight lines in Petrarchan or Spenserian sonnets), or the end of the twelfth line in Shakespearean sonnets, but can occur anywhere in the sonnet.)

3. There should never be less than three words per line (unless you want to be cheeky and make each line a single word—like “The Locust Tree in Flower” by William Carlos Williams). 

If nothing else, sentence sonnets teach my students the parts of the sentence, and what a sentence can be (not always well known to poets) in relation to lines. For experienced writers, the test is to try this spin on a form that Shakespeare mastered.

Here’s an example:

Mercy (A Sentence Sonnet)

The world is full of high quality coffee beans,
but mercy is as rare as A Siberian tiger,
though I often imagine her stalking the taiga
of our infamy—stealthy, moving
strobe-like through the thin birch saplings,
becoming the striped ghost that haunts
our deepest sorrows until, brought halt and lame
before the covenant, we are devoured 
by such loving recompense, by that grace, that mighty
stillness that says to each” sanctuary, “to each 
“reprieve,” until the loneliness of being
unforgiven and of not forgiving is consumed
and we stand as ourselves again, not singular
but joined, tethered to the full meaning of amen.

The volta comes in this example at line ten’s “until.” You could do one of these in iambic pentameter if you wanted to wrestle with it, and I have. I used both end stopped and enjambed lines in this sentence sonnet because the unit of meaning is not the unit of the sentence. So in this sense, the poet has to think in counterpoint: unit of meaning against sentence against line, how each impacts and mitigates, and informs the other. As I said, it’s a teaching tool and a challenge.

Here’s one written by a student of mine Emily Faso:

     by Emily Faso

Your gentle hands
showed me how
to lift the needle,
onto the record
then draw away
as scratchy sound began
to take the shape
of a melody
flooding the room,
and held mine
as we swirled
across the basement
on days when rain fell
across the roof in turrets.  

Many thanks to Joe Weil for this wonderful prompt
and to Emily Faso for letting us post her fantastic sentence sonnet!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Prompt #303 – One-Sentence Poems

A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

—William Butler Yeats

One-sentence poems are conceptually interesting and a challenge to write. The title, however, is a bit misleading. One-sentence poems are longer than a typical sentence, they may even be several stanzas long. Importantly, they are not simply poems without punctuation. In fact, they employ all the standard rules of punctuation, capitalization, and grammar, and all of poetry’s distinguishing features: figures of speech, imagery, and sound values. However, because these poems are one-sentence but several poem-lines long, they must be carefully constructed and go a long way toward encouraging the writer to make every word count, to tighten language, and to focus on details to create a sense of immediacy and “presence.”

Unlike prose that moves freely from paragraph to paragraph, poetry is composed in lines. Lineation in poetry refers to the way lines break in definite places (decided upon by the poet). Lines are elements of composition that impact meaning and sound. It isn’t necessary to end a line of poetry with a terminal punctuation mark, and, poets often use enjambment (the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line or stanza, without terminal punctuation at the end of the line).

In a one-sentence poem, we're not talking about one line. The poems may be a number of lines long, but is composed as a single sentence. The poet simply continues the main thought from line to line using such punctuation marks as commas, semi-colons, parentheses, dashes, and colons and moving from line to line without any terminal punctuation. The idea is not to create a long run-on sentence but, rather, to a craft a poem that flows seamlessly from line to line.

Take, for example,  Galway Kinnell's amazing poem "Saint Francis and the Sow":

Saint Francis and the Sow
     by Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;   
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;   
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch   
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow   
began remembering all down her thick length,   
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,   
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine   
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering   
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

And this wonderful example by Edmund Charles Baranowski:

Death Sentence
     By Edmund Charles Baranowski

The scent of death lingers
in the air
from the rotting corpse
of a road kill deer,
laying near the curb,
just out of town,
on the corner of
the cemeterial grounds;
decaying quickly
in the summer's heat;
displaying death
on a one way street;
at the base of the sign post,
below the sign
that says "one way"
not unlike time.


1. Think for a while about the subject of your one-sentence poem, and jot down some ideas, images, and phrases.

2. Remember that crucial in creating one-sentence poems, are strong pictorial images and images that appeal to the senses and emotions.

3. Don’t try to write a long one-sentence poem for starters. Begin with a shorter poem, no more than 12-15 lines.


1. Once you have an idea for your subject, begin writing.

2. Be especially aware of how you break your lines (and ultimately stanzas).

3. Use traditional punctuation throughout your poem but remember that there should be no terminal punctuation except at the end of your last line.

4. Work on sound: create harmonic textures through alliteration, assonance, consonance, and internal rhyme.

5. Pay attention to syntax and pacing.

6. Control subject and tense.

7. Work with enjambments.

8. As always, end with a dismount that has a “punch.”

1. The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

2. The New Dog
by Linda Pastan

Into the gravity of my life,
the serious ceremonies
of polish and paper
and pen, has come

this manic animal
whose innocent disruptions
make nonsense
of my old simplicities—

as if I needed him
to prove again that after
all the careful planning,
anything can happen.

3. Bright Star, Would I Were Stedfast [sic]
By John Keats

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No---yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake forever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon in death.

4. "Piedra de Sol" (Sunstone) by Octavio Paz is a 584-line one-sentence poem that ends with a colon—making it a 584-line incomplete sentence.

Read “Piedra de Sol” here (original and translation):

Click here to visit an online journal that publishes one-sentence poems:

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Prompt #302 – Snow Poems

Welcome back, blog readers! I hope your holiday season was filled with happiness and light!

After a seasonal hiatus, I planned to resume regular posts on January 16th but missed blogging so much that I decided to start the 2018 posts today.

In this part of the world, we’re deeply immersed in winter. Where I live, after a very mild autumn, the first winter temperatures have been frigid. As I write this today, the thermometer on my backyard deck reads 4º F. There was a snowstorm during the week and, after snow blowing and digging out, my little town has settled into a deep freeze. With snow and cold on my mind, I thought it might be an appropriate time to write snow poems.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that falling snow is a “poem of the air," where the “troubled sky reveals the grief it feels.” Air and grief—not obviously associated with snow, but both are evocative words that make me wonder what other snow-inspired words and phrases we might come up with. What “snow words” and images occur to you?


1. Think in terms of emotions and the emotions conjured up by the idea of snow or memories of it.

2. Write a poem in which you employ personification (told from the perspective of snow or perhaps from the perspective of a wild creature (squirrel, deer, wolf, bird) that struggles to survive the cold.

2. Write a snow haiku.

Example haiku from my book Not Asking What If:

snow in the air—
the graveyard gate opens
on rusty hinges

3. Write a snow haibun (begin with a prose passage or paragraph and end with a haiku).

4. Although winter is traditionally known as the “dark season,” there is much in winter and snow that is not bleak or lifeless. Robert Frost wrote in “Dust of Snow," about a crow’s movements that cause snow to dust the speaker as he passes under a tree. According to Frost, this dust “Has given my heart / A change of mood / And saved some part / Of a day I had rued.” Is there an upbeat or positive snow moment like this one that you recall and might write about?

5. Recreate a snowy landscape from a winter memory. Or, if you live in a tropical climate, a place where there is no snow, create an imaginary snow scene and write about it.

6. You might want to use a photograph or painting of snow as inspiration for an ekphrastic poem.

Example: An ekphrastic poem that I wrote based on Monet’s Snow Scene at Argenteuil. Published: The Good Men Project, December 8, 2017

Just Enough Spectacle

(After Snow Scene at Argenteuil by Claude Monet)

It’s that time—ice-sliver and ache—frost at the sides of our eyes. This is the cold season, the winding down. When we were children, we imagined wolves in the woods, amber eyes between trees—excitement more than fear—a beauty that caught inside our breath, deep in the joy we lived for. Unaware of the ground beneath us, we walked into those woods (sometimes astonished), hands open inside our wooly mittens.

Childhood ponds skate into space; and, yes, this is winter—the calendar’s last portion. Just past dawn’s shadow, light flits over the top of things, like the end of another year seen through snow—just enough spectacle to offset time and age, to silence the “I” in who we’ve become.

7. Write about a snow globe. How about writing from the viewpoint of whatever is inside the snow globe—looking out from inside?


1. Keep your imagery tight and use images to evoke a “snow mood.” Remember to show and not simply tell.

2. Watch out for clichéd images. Examine your poems carefully and note any phrases or lines that seem familiar or general. Work to create images that are striking and fresh—distinctive and different. Think in terms of similes, metaphors, and other types of figurative language, and how you can use these to enhance your images. I love this related quote from W. H. Auden: [A poem] “must say something significant about a reality common to us all, but perceived from a unique perspective.” That unique perspective can be articulated through imagery.
3. Be on the lookout for  relative pronouns (that, which, whom, who). If you find one in your poem, try reconfiguring the sentence without it.

4. Your line breaks should have a kind of logic that’s clear but doesn’t intrude.

5. Find a form for your poem (stanzaic arrangement) that enhances the meaning of your words.

6. Don’t be afraid to challenge the ordinary, to create a new resonance for your readers.

7. Remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains. Go for obvious and unstated meanings.