Saturday, July 24, 2021

Prompt #370 – Choice or Chance


In looking back at some of the prompts from years ago, I came across this one (based on a Robert Frost poem) that I thought might be interesting to revisit during these hot July days. We've all made decisions in our lives that we either bless or regret. Frosts's "The Road Not Taken" is about the process and the repercussions of making choices. I’ve always loved this poem for its symbolisms, accessibility, and universal appeal. This one of the best known and most often quoted of Frost’s poems. There is, of course, much more to this poem than a surface understanding reveals.

For this week’s prompt, “The Road Not Taken” will be our inspiration poem. Before beginning, please give it a read.  
As you read, note that one of the poem’s fascinations is its archetypal dilemma. Be sure to note that it is later in his life that the narrator looks back, reflects upon the meaning of choice and chance, and marks this decision as a defining moment in his life.


Frost’s poem is about actual and figurative roads, and the fork in the path is an extended metaphor for making choices.

1. Write a poem about a metaphorical road that you didn’t take. Not the choice you made, but the one you didn’t. “Forks in the road” and “roads” seemed clichéd today, so be sure to create other symbolisms and metaphors for making choices that are fresh and new.

2. Write a poem about a “road not taken” in your life? Have you ever had to make a decision and then wondered much later how making the other choice might have impacted your life? Do you have any regrets?

3. Some analyses claim that Frost’s poem is about lost opportunities. Write a poem about a lost opportunity in your life?

4. Write a poem about the complexities of choice making. How do you feel about choice and chance?

5. Write a poem about a time that you had no choice.

Other Examples: 


Choices” by Tess Gallagher

The Decision” by Jane Hirschfield

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Guest Blogger Yvonne Zipter "Healing the World, One Poem at a Time"

For this post, I'm very happy to introduce you to poet Yvonne Zipter. I first encountered Yvonne's poetry when I saw the cover of her book Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound and knew that I had to read the poems inside. Her publisher, Diane Lockward of Terrapin Books (, kindly sent me a review copy, and I was immediately struck by Yvonne's skill and spirit. Here's a brief except from the review I wrote (Tiferet, Autumn/Winter 2020): 
“It isn’t often that a book cover is so visually stunning that a potential reader is immediately captivated. Sometimes, however, a book’s contents don’t measure up to the cover. In this case, Yvonne Zipter’s poems do not disappoint! Her work is extraordinarily rich in metaphor and meaning and skillfully crafted in language that is both compressed and compelling. The poems in this collection come to bear on love, loss, and grief—things the poet has been forced to learn about herself, things we are all, ultimately, required to learn.”  
Yvonne is the author of the poetry collections Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound (, The Patience of Metal (a Lambda Literary Award Finalist), and Like Some Bookie God. Her poems have appeared in numerous periodicals over the years, and her published poems are currently being sold individually in Chicago in two vending machines to raise money for the nonprofit arts organization Arts Alive Chicago. She is also the author of the nonfiction books Diamonds Are a Dyke’s Best Friend and Ransacking the Closet and the Russian historical novel Infraction. She appears in and provided some narration for the documentary A Secret Love about All-American Girl Professional Baseball Player Terry Donahue and her long-time partner Pat Henschel. Retired from the University of Chicago Press in 2018, where she was a manuscript editor, she lives in Chicago with her wife and their former racing greyhound.  
Healing the World, One Poem at a Time 
I have long suspected that poetry is healing. As long ago as forty years, after my mother died at age forty-one when I was twenty-four, I started processing my grief through poetry. A lot of it wasn’t good poetry, but even those lousy poems gave me some place to put my pain and figure out how to move on. It was also a way of keeping my mother alive for myself in some small way—our happy moments together as well as the tough ones, when she got sick—and a way of sharing with others what a wonderful woman she was. But mostly, especially in the beginning, it was a way for me to find comfort in the face of unthinkable loss. To put it another way, writing poetry can create a sense of control or order over what otherwise seems like chaos. 
It’s not only writing poetry, however, that can be healing for the psyche, but reading it can be as well. Anecdotally, I once had a young college student write to me that a poem of mine about incest helped him realize he was not alone in that experience. Therapists Phyllis Klein and Perie Longo echo this experience, saying, “When we read a poem that speaks to our experience, there is a shift, a click within. Someone has understood our darkness by naming their own. We feel less alone.”  
The National Association of Poetry Therapy actually publishes an entire periodical devoted to research on the use of language arts in a therapeutic capacity: the Journal of Poetry Therapy. At the association’s website, there is a short history of poetry therapy, in which the unnamed author points out that it was not uncommon for witch doctors and shamans to chant poetry during religious rites intended to promote well-being. But my favorite bit of the history given there—or should I say bite?—is that, “in ancient Egypt, words were written on papyrus and then dissolved into a solution so that the words could be physically ingested by the patient and take effect as quickly as possible.” To the best of my knowledge, no one has physically ingested one of my poems!  
Poetry isn’t just helpful in dealing with psychological trauma. It can also help with physical pain. Psychiatrist and poet Robert Carroll writes about research that has shown that expressive writing can result in a reduction of symptom complaints by patients and can decrease physiological stress. Physician and poet Rafael Campo says that one of the ways that poetry can heal “is through the rhythms in poetry. There’s actually some science to back this up. Much like meditation, when we hear rhythmic language, when we read poetry aloud, our breathing and our heart rates synchronize. So just as meditation might be beneficial for certain health conditions, the same can be said of poetry.” 
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, writing or reading poems is far from being a cure-all. Obviously, writing a poem is not going to fix a blocked artery or get rid of a malignancy. But even with psychological issues, poetry writing can only do so much if those issues of very deep (think: Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton). Nevertheless, poetry can be very helpful in a variety of ways, as indicated above.  
Poetry also makes for better doctors—which can make for better medical outcomes. McMaster University, some years ago, created a literary companion for pediatric residents there. In the introduction to the list of recommended readings for doctors, they say that “exposure to creative works allows for development of skills essential for the practice of medicine, especially empathy.” (As an aside, I’m proud to say that the list—which is divided into different areas of medicine—includes a poem of mine: “Osteosarcoma: A Love Poem.”)
Rafael Campo concurs that poetry can make for better doctors, saying: “I don’t think of poetry as an irrelevant diversion. I think it’s central to how we can best treat our patients. How we can heal. We doctors, who deal with life and death every day, who look into the eyes of people who are in pain, who are dying, or who are giving birth and having one of the most joyous experiences of their lives, need the humanities to help us make meaning of those experiences for ourselves, and for our patients. That to me is what being a healer truly is.” Campo so strongly believes in the healing power of poetry that he edits the “Poetry and Medicine” section of the Journal of the American Medical Association.  
Books on the subject of poetry and both physical and psychological healing abound, with literally thousands of books on the subject listed at Amazon, including collections of poems that address varying medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and breast cancer, as well as other stressful occurrences. One such collection, for example, Poetic Medicine in the Time of Pandemic: A Collection of Poems from around the World, sought to gather poems from various countries in “an international effort to unite humanity in a fight against Covid-19.”  
The pandemic has without a doubt been a traumatic health crisis for many worldwide, inflicting both physical harm and psychological pain. But what has had me thinking lately about poetry and how it can heal has been my own personal journey during the latter half of 2020. Smack dab in the middle of the pandemic, I ended up developing a partially collapsed lung from pneumonia and being diagnosed, as well, with early-stage ovarian cancer. Through two hospital stays over twelve days and through most of my time during chemotherapy treatments, my wife was not allowed to visit because of Covid precautions, making a scary series of events even more difficult.  
Certainly, the kindness and competence of my many doctors and nurses eased some of my anxiety. But I feel confident saying that I was able to deal with all that I had to go through because I was writing poetry through much of it. I also strongly suspect that I had an easier time with chemo than many people do because I could pour my fears, my confusions, and my small moments of victory into poems. And the poems, in turn, let me share with friends and family what my experience was like, and in a more profound way than I could have if I’d only provided them with the facts. From the procedure to implant a port in my chest (for the delivery of the chemo into my veins) to the procedure to remove it, months later, I documented nearly everything—including probably far too many poems in which I fixated on losing my hair and getting it back!  
While some of the poems were written directly on the heels of whatever they addressed, letting me poetically vent about the good and the bad of it all, others have needed months to take shape, the PTSD of some things requiring time on my part to process them. For instance, surgery for the cancer took place in August of last year, but there were no poems specifically on that topic until I wrote “Valedictory for My Womb” in December. And the pain of two or more blood draws every day for my eight-day hospital stay in July for the collapsed lung wasn’t documented until I wrote “Night Nurse” in April of this year. The point is, even when it takes months or years to be able to write a poem confronting an event, the work they do in terms of bringing some closure is no less powerful.  
As social worker Phyllis Klein says, “Because a poem has a border, a frame, or structure, as opposed to prose, the form itself is a safety net. Strong emotions will not run off the page.” This holds true for the poet no matter her skill level, as well as for those who read the poems, looking for comfort, for understanding, for shared experience.


Robert Carroll, “Finding the Words to Say It: The Healing Power of Poetry,” Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2, no. 2 (June 2005): 161-72,

Harvard Medical School Community, “Imagination and Healing,” March 27, 2019,

Phyllis Klein and Perie Longo, “The Therapeutic Benefit of Poetry,” nd,

McMaster Paediatric Residency Literary Companion,” nd,

History of NAPT,” nd,



To order a copy of Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound