Saturday, March 31, 2018

Prompt #310 – National Poetry Month 2018

Established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month begins on April 1st and runs through April 30th.  This month-long celebration of poetry is held annually “to widen the attention of individuals and the media to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.” During April, poets, poetry lovers, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, and schools throughout the US celebrate poetry.

One of the challenges of NPM is to read and/or write a poem every day. Over the years since I started this blog, every National Poetry Month I’ve included various example poems, inspiration words and phrases, and selected lines from well-known poems to serve as “mentors” for interested blog readers. Sometimes, getting the right “jumpstart” can be challenging, and a good example can advise and guide both imagination and sensibility, take some of the risk out of getting started, and encourage poets to take risks in their own work.

This year for National Poetry Month, you’ll find thirty quotes (one for each day in April) about poetry by well-known thinkers and poets, ancient to modern. I’ve “collected” quotes about poetry for a long time, and it’s wonderful to share some of them with you here on the blog.

My idea is for you to read a quote each day, think about it, possibly locate and read a poem by the poet, and then write a poem of your own that’s inspired by either the quote or by the poem. Alternatively (and this could be fun), you might try writing your own quote about poetry. This is a little different from other years, and I hope you enjoy the process.

As always, your sharing is welcome,
so please be post your thoughts and poems as comments!

Regular weekly prompts will resume in May.
In the meantime, I wish you a wonderful and poetry-filled April!
Happy National Poetry Month!


1. Let your reactions to the quotes surprise you. Begin with no expectations, and let your poems take you where they want to go.

2. Give the quotes your own spin, twist and turn them, let the phrases trigger personal responses: pin down your ghosts, identify your frailties, build bridges and cross rivers, take chances!

3. Keep in mind that writing a poem a day doesn’t mean you have to “finish” each poem immediately. You can write a draft each day and set your drafts aside to work on later.

4. Whatever you do this month, find some time (a little or a lot) to enjoy some poetry!

Let the poeming begin!

April 1: Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular. —Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC)

April 2: Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history. —Plato (BC 427-BC 347)

April 3: Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the sky. —Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

April 4: If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. —Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

April 5: Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those we have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape from these things.  —T. S. Eliot  (1888-1965)

April 6: Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does. —Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

April 7: Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself. He who has a contempt for poetry, cannot have much respect for himself, or for anything else. —William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

April 8: Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. —Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

April 9: It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.  —W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

April 10: Any healthy man [woman] can go without food for two days—but not without poetry. —Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

April 11: A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom. —Robert Frost (1875-1963)

April 12: Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. —Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792- 1822)

April 13: Out of our quarrels with others we make rhetoric. Out of our quarrels with ourselves we make poetry. —William Butler Yeats (1865- 1939)

April 14: My poetry, I should think, has become the way of my giving out what music is within me. —Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

April 15: Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. —Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

April 16: There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it. —Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)

April 17: Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. —Robert Frost (1875-1963)

April 18: Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity—it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.” — John Keats (1795-1821)

April 19: Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. —William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

April 20: Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. —T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

April 21: Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. —Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

April 22: Poetry is life distilled. —Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

April 23: I define poetry as celebration and confrontation. When we witness something, are we responsible for what we witness? That’s an on-going existential question. Perhaps we are and perhaps there’s a kind of daring, a kind of necessary energetic questioning. Because often I say it’s not what we know, it’s what we can risk discovering. —Yusef Komunyakaa (1947- )

April 24: Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that. —Mary Oliver (1935- )

April 25: If poetry and the arts do anything, they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness. —Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

April 26: I’m a great believer in poetry out of the classroom, in public places, on subways, trains, on cocktail napkins. I’d rather have my poems on the subway than around the seminar table at an MFA program. —Billy Collins (1941- )

April 27: Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone. —Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919- )

April 28: I think that were beginning to remember that the first poets didn’t come out of a classroom, that poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, “Ahhh.” That was the first poem. —Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

April 29: Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful. —Rita Dove (1952-)

April 30: Poetry is everywhere; it just needs editing. —James Tate (1943-2015)

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Prompt #309 - What Wishes Are

When we were children, wishes were part of our immediate reality, and believing that our wishes would come true was easy. You may remember blowing on a dandelion puff and making a wish, or reciting “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.” What happens to our wishes when we grow up? We still have them, right? This prompt is about your wishes.


Write a poem ...

1. based on a wish for more time with someone (recall the words in Jim Croce’s song: “If I could make days last forever / If words could make wishes come true / I'd save every day like a treasure and then, / Again, I would spend them with you.”),

2. that “thinks about” a wish to see or spend time with someone you lost touch with years ago,

3. that includes a wish to see/talk to someone no longer living,

4. based on a wish you had as a child,

5. about a wish that was realized and lost,

7. that deals with a wish you know will never come true,

8. that explores the old caveat: “Be careful what you wish for…”


1. The poet Robert Lowell once wrote, “A poem is an event, not the record of an event.” Work toward making your poem an “event.”

2. Be specific, avoid general terms, phrases, and statements. Images aren’t about abstractions or philosophical musings. Rather, they evoke the meaning and truth of human experiences in perceptible and “actual” terms.

3. Remember that when it comes to imagery, the “wow factor” lies in language that is unexpected and deceptively simple.

4. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).

5. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles and conjunctions too).

6. The great author Mark Twain once wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” This is especially true in poetry. So ... as you work on a poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)

7. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).

8. Be wary of incorporating too many details—be sure to leave room for your readers to enter and experience the poem in their own ways.

9. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.

10. Try incorporating anaphora. Anaphora is a kind of parallelism that happens when single words or whole phrases are repeated at the beginning of lines. Shakespeare was fond of anaphora and used it often (in “Sonnet No.66,” he began ten lines with the word “and”). Anaphora can give a sense of litany to a poem and can create a driving rhythm that intensifies a poem’s emotion. In this prompt, perhaps you can use anaphora to intensify the meaning and implications of your wish.



Saturday, March 17, 2018

Prompt #308 – Ancestors

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!  
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 

This is always a special day for me – a day to think about my Irish ancestors and to re-read the works of the Irish poets I love most. The earliest surviving poems in Irish date to the sixth century, and Ireland has produced many poets including Lathóg of Tír Chonaill, Thomas Kinsella, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Muldoon, Eavan Boland, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Mary O’Donoghue, Elaine Feeney, and Noelle Vial. Below are some poems by a few (just a few!) of my favorite Irish poets.

 Bain sult as (enjoy)!

I've visited Ireland several times. (And, yes, I've kissed the Blarney Stone – Blarney Castle is pictured above!) The first trip was a kind of going home – not for myself but for my great grandfather Patrick Kenny who brought my family to America in 1889 and for my dad who never got to Ireland. Ancestors, family, and homeland are traditional and recurrent themes in Irish poetry. We went green in an earlier prompt, so this week let’s adopt an Irish-type theme and write poems about our various ancestries, our different nationalities, our people – our “roots.”

Some Ideas:

1. Write a poem about the country from which your ancestors came.
2. Write a poem about your ancestors.
3. Perhaps you’ve come to this country from another. Write a poem about making the decision to leave the country of your birth and to settle in a new country. Or, write a poem about your homeland.
4. Write a ballad about one of your ancestors (or a current family member).
5. Alternatively, you just might want to write a poem about St. Patrick, shamrocks, Guinness, Irish Wolf Hounds, or something else that’s wonderfully Irish, whether you’re Irish or not!

Sample Poems:

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Last Call for Poetry Contest Entries

There are still several days left to enter the Carriage House Poetry Contest!

Any style, any length, as long as you mention a tree or trees. 
Your poems needn't be purely about trees! 
The judge will look for some "tree reference" 
(actual tree, metaphor, symbol).
Please check last week's post for the guidelines!

Your entries are all welcome!

The deadline is March 15, 2018