Saturday, November 28, 2020

Prompt #365 – A Covid Christmas

This spring and summer, we had to learn a new vocabulary that included words  such as pandemic, Covid, self-isolation, quarantine, and social distancing. Those and related terms remain in our lexicon. We wear masks and gloves, and we stay at least six feet away from people in stores, doctors’ offices, and everywhere groups used to be. We avoid crowds, and we don’t shake hands or hug any one other than those with whom we live. Many families didn't make annual summer trips, many were unable to visit parents and children who live far away; we weren’t able to hold family reunions, attend weddings (and even funerals). We weren’t able to spend time together as we normally would; and the recent “second wave” of soaring infections is cause for solemn concern. With a vaccine suspended in the realm of hope but not yet available to the general public, and with some people refusing to follow simple safety guidelines, things are likely to worsen.


This year holiday celebrations around the world will undoubtedly be different: no large parties at work and among friends and family members, local community gatherings will be limited in numbers or cancelled, gatherings at restaurants will be restricted to just a few people (if they happen at all), masks and social distancing will remain in place, in-home get-togethers will be limited, and travel will be risky at best. Mall Santas won’t have children sitting on their knees, and any Santas we might see collecting for the poor will be wearing masks. Attendance at Midnight Mass and other church services will be limited to just a small percentage of people—no standing room only this year. And New Year’s Eve celebrations will be seriously curtailed in Times Square, as well as in all the places where large public celebrations occur around the world.


Despite restrictions on households mixing, with strict curbs on hospitality already in place, and with all the precautions we have to take, this holiday season doesn’t have to be a “wash.” Perhaps this year, we can all find ways to enter the spirit of the season without the usual trappings of social festivities, big dinner parties, visits, travel, and gift giving. Perhaps this year we can find ways to experience the message and meaning of the holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza) in quieter, more personal ways and be able to bring holiday spirit to loved ones and friends without close in-person contact (Zoom, Skype, telephone, email, texts, etc.).


For some of us, writing about this time in human history and its effect on the holiday season may offer a bit of relief from all the related stresses and disappointments and, perhaps, bring us closer to the inner peace and joy we all seek. Writing for its own sake, expressing our thoughts to define and clarify them, and writing poems to give others clearly isn’t going to make the pandemic go away, but our moments of writing, reading, and sharing poetry, may become moments of good that we can gift to loved ones, to friends, and to ourselves.





1. Write about what it’s like to celebrate this Christmas with the threat of Covid so present in our lives.


2. Write about a holiday about your past (dig deeply into family memories).


3. Write about seasonal ghosts that haunt you (per Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and, in particular, you might write about the specter of Covid this holiday season).


4. Write about what you’ll miss most this holiday season—write about aspects of winter holiday traditions that won’t be part of this year’s annual celebration.


5. Write about one special person with whom you always associate the winter holidays.


6. Write about the faith and/or cultural aspects of your winter holidays.


7. Write about a holiday song that replays in your mind because of its associations (or, write your own words to a Christmas carol or other winter holiday song).


8. Write a poem based on an old Christmas, Chanukah, or other winter holiday photograph.


9. Write a holiday prayer, reflection, or meditation.


10. Write about a winter holiday yet to come—a holiday season without Covid.




1. Keep in mind that holiday literature can be tricky—be sure to sidestep the pitfalls of sentimentality, schmaltziness, nostalgia, and clichés.


2. Work toward fresh and original language, figures of speech, and an integrated whole of language, form, and meaning.


3. Show through examples and imagery—don’t simply tell.


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 & conjunctions too).


6. Think about your poem, what it reveals about being human, and how your readers may relate to it.




I wish each of you the blessings and peace of this special season,

along with my best wishes

for your spiritual and temporal well-being.


I’ll be taking my annual hiatus in December

and will resume posting again in mid to late January.

In the meantime stay safe and be well.


With grateful good wishes,






Saturday, November 14, 2020

Prompt #364 – Giving Thanks in the Time of Covid-19



If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, 

it will be enough.


— Meister Eckhart


Thanksgiving will take place later this month and is a day set aside here in the United States (other countries have similar days) to remember and give thanks—it is a time when families and friends gather—a celebration of sharing, community, and gratitude. This year, our Thanksgiving celebrations will be curtailed and different because of Covid-19. Even in the best of times, it’s easy to fall into the habit of grumbling about what we don’t have, miss, need, etc. This year has been particularly challenging with the specter of Covid 19 haunting all of us. Many of us have lost family members and friends to Covid, many of us have lost jobs, and our businesses have failed. Our social lives are much less than they were, and meeting family members and friends is more often done via programs such as Zoom and Skype than in person. There may seem to be a lot less to be thankful for this year, but I’m going to ask you to dig deeply into yourself and to think about the blessings you have been given.


The challenge for this prompt is to write a poem that focuses on abundances rather than deficits—despite Covid-19.




1. Begin by thinking about things for which you're grateful. Think in terms of particulars and details—not ideas, but specifics (i.e., not love, but an example of love that you've known; not friendship, but a particular friend).


2. Think of past places in which you've been especially thankful (the “geography of thanks”). Think of the people who were part of the story.


3. Write a few ideas for “thankful” refrains (repeated line, phrase, or word) before you begin writing the poem. You may want to use this refrain in your poem.


4. A form that lends itself to this prompt is the kyrielle. Once very popular, the kyrielle originated in France, dates to the Middle Ages, and takes its name from kyrie (found in many Christian liturgies). Many hymn lyrics were written in this form, but kyrielle content is not limited to religious subjects. A traditional kyrielle is often short, octosyllabic (each line contains eight syllables), and is typically presented in four-line stanzas. A traditional kyrielle also contains a refrain (a repeated line, phrase, or word) at the end of each stanza.


  • Begin by writing a quatrain (four-line stanza) about a particular thing for which you're thankful. Each line should contain eight syllables. If you wish, you may create a rhyme scheme. The last line, phrase, or word in your first stanza will become your refrain.
  • You may write about one thing for which you're grateful, or each quatrain may be about individual things that have inspired your gratitude.


5. Alternatively, you may choose to write another kind of formal poem. There are many from which to choose: sonnet, villanelle, haiku, tanka, haibun, etc.




1. If you choose to write a kyielle or other formal type of poem, it is vital that the form does not “drive” your poem. If the form begins to feel forced or unwieldy, you may switch to something less deliberate (i.e., free verse, prose poem).


2. You might address or dedicate your poem to a person for whom you're thankful, or you might go to the flip side and write about a challenging time (this year, for example) that somehow led you to feelings of gratefulness (my mom used to say that good always comes from bad).





Kyrielle by John Payne (1842-1916)


A lark in the mesh of the tangled vine,

A bee that drowns in the flower-cup's wine,

A fly in sunshine,--such is the man.

All things must end, as all began.


A little pain, a little pleasure,

A little heaping up of treasure;

Then no more gazing upon the sun.

All things must end that have begun.


Where is the time for hope or doubt?

A puff of the wind, and life is out;

A turn of the wheel, and rest is won.

All things must end that have begun.


Golden morning and purple night,

Life that fails with the failing light;

Death is the only deathless one.

All things must end that have begun.


Ending waits on the brief beginning;

Is the prize worth the stress of winning?

E'en in the dawning day is done.

All things must end that have begun.


Weary waiting and weary striving,

Glad out setting and sad arriving;

What is it worth when the goal is won?

All things must end that have begun.


Speedily fades the morning glitter;

Love grows irksome and wine grows bitter.

Two are parted from what was one.

All things must end that have begun.


Toil and pain and the evening rest;

Joy is weary and sleep is best;

Fair and softly the day is done.

All things must end that have begun.


Poems about Thankfulness and Thanksgiving:


“Te Deum” by Charles Reznikoff


“Thanks” by W. S. Merwin


“When Giving Is All We Have” by Alberto Ríos (audio)


“Thanksgiving Letter from Harry” by Carl Dennis

From “Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus” by Denise Levertov

“Thanksgiving Day” by Lydia Maria Child




Dear Blog Readers, 


I wish each of you a blessed and healthy Thanksgiving! 

 Stay home, stay safe, and be well!