Saturday, October 15, 2016

Prompt #264 – Making More of Revision by Guest Prompter Diane Lockward

I’m sure many of you have copies of Diane Lockward's The Crafty Poet (published in 2013, and reissued in 2016 in a revised edition) in your poetry libraries. Well, there’s great news! Diane and Terrapin Books recently came out with The Crafty Poet II—a companion to Crafty I and another substantial volume packed with craft tips, poems, and much more. This companion to Volume I is similarly designed with the same cover and the contents divided into sections. Each of the ten sections in Crafty II “include three craft tips, each provided by an experienced, accomplished poet. Each of these thirty craft tips is followed by a model poem and a prompt based on the poem. Each model poem is used as a mentor, again expressing the underlying philosophy of the first book that the best teacher of poetry is a good poem. You will find that the model poems receive more analysis than in the first book and that the prompts are a bit more challenging. Each prompt is followed by two Sample poems, which suggest the possibilities for the prompts and should provide for good discussion about what works and what doesn't. Each section includes a Poet on the Poem Q&A about the craft elements in one of the featured poet's poems. Each section concludes with a Bonus Prompt, each of which provides a stimulus on those days when you just can't get your engine started.” 
In order to give you a small sampling of the new book, Diane Lockward is our guest blogger this week with a prompt that addresses the process of revision (and we all know how challenging effective revision can be). The suggestions posted here are only some of those in the book.
From The Crafty Poet II , Craft Tip #29 – Making More of Revision by Diane Lockward    
During revision discussions, we poets hear a lot about compression, reducing clutter, and cutting out the non-essential. Who hasn’t sat in a poetry class or workshop and been told that less is more? So when someone tells us to add more, to expand, to keep going, we might be hesitant to pay attention.
But we should pay attention. The less-is-more principle is often good advice, but it’s not always good advice. As I once heard Mark Doty say, Sometimes more is more.
Too often we start revising and hacking away at the poem before it’s even fully written. We quit before we’ve given the poem life, before we’ve discovered its full potential, before we’ve found its real material.

Stephen Dunn addresses the topic of revision in a 2007 interview in The Pedestal Magazine:  
A fairly new experience that I’ve been having is revision as expansion. Most of us know about revision as an act of paring down. Several years ago, in looking at my work, I saw that I was kind of a page or page and a half kind of poet, which meant that I was thinking of closure around the same time in every poem. I started to confound that habit. By mid-poem, I might add a detail that the poem couldn’t yet accommodate. That’s especially proven to be an interesting and useful way of revising poems that seem too slight or thin; to add something put an obstacle in. The artificial as another way to arrive at the genuine—an old story, really.
Before you begin to strip down your poem or abandon it as no good or decide it’s good enough as it is, first consider how you might expand your poem. The following expansion strategies just might help you to discover your poem’s true potential and arrive at the genuine.
      1.    Choose a single poem by someone else, one that has strong diction. Take ten words from that poem and, in no particular order, plug them into your own draft. Make them make sense within the context of your poem, adjusting your context as needed. Or let the words introduce an element of the strange, a touch of the surreal.
     2.    Find the lifeless part of your poem. This is often the part where your mind begins to wander when you read the poem aloud. Open up space there and keep on writing in that space. Repeat elsewhere if needed. Remember that freewriting can occur not only while drafting but also while revising.
     3.    Find three places in the poem where you could insert a negative statement. Then go into the right margin of your draft and write those statements. Add them to the poem. By being contrary, you might add depth and richness to the poem.
     4.    Put something into your poem that seemingly doesn’t belong, perhaps some kind of food, a tree, a piece of furniture, a policeman, or a dog. Elaborate.
     5.    Midway or two-thirds into your poem, insert a story, perhaps something from the newspaper, a book you’ve read, a fable, or a fairy tale. Don’t use the entire story, just enough of it to add some texture and weight to your poem. Your challenge is to find the connection between this new material and what was already in the poem. 
Now go into your folder of old, abandoned poems, the ones you gave up on when you decided they just weren’t going anywhere. Then get out some of your recent poems that feel merely good enough, the ones that never gave you that jolt of excitement we get when a poem is percolating. Finally, return to some of the poems that you’ve submitted and submitted with no success, those poor rejects. 
Mark all of these poems as once again in progress. Now apply some of the expansion strategies and see if you can breathe new life into the poems. Remember that this kind of revision is not a matter of merely making the poem longer; it’s a matter of making the poem better.
Many thanks to Diane for this “taster” from The Crafty Poet II
Like Crafty I, this new volume is an invaluable resource for poets, teachers, and students—
definitely one that no poet should be without.
To Order Your Copy of THE CRAFTY POET II, Click Here  

If You Don't Have a Copy of Crafty I, Click Here to Order 

Friday, October 7, 2016

In Memoriam – Gail Fishman Gerwin

Gail Fishman Gerwin
May 7, 1939 – October 3, 2016

It is with a sense of profound personal loss that I share with you the sad news that Gail Fishman Gerwin, who wrote last week’s prompt for us, passed away on Monday, October 3rd after months of treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Gail was one of my dearest friends.

Some of you will remember Gail from previous prompts and posts. She was a gifted poet who took special joy in sharing poetry with others, and she touched countless lives with her love and her words. 

Gail is survived by her husband of 48 years, Dr. Kenneth S. Gerwin; her daughter, Karen Gerwin, son-in-law, Michael Stoopack, and grandchildren Ben and Liv Stoopack; her daughter Kate Goldberg, son-in-law Dean Goldberg, and grandsons, Jordan and Brandon Goldberg; she is also survived by a sister, Carol Miller.

 (Gail & Ken Gerwin)  

(Gail & Ken's Daughters, Karen & Kate)

(Gail & Her Much-Loved Grandchildren: Jordan, Liv, Brandon, and Ben)

A native of Paterson, NJ, Gail received her bachelor's degree from Goucher College in 1961, where she was Phi Beta Kappa. She was an elementary school teacher in Ridgewood, NJ, and then took a job in the public relations department at NYU Medical Center. After raising her daughters, she worked in the public relations department at Sea Land and, in 1984, established her own freelance writing/editing firm, inedit (Morristown, NJ). Also a dog breeder, Gail spent many years devotedly breeding champion Cairn Terriers. She taught her first Cairn, Schepseleh Darling, to say "Mama," and Gail loved her Cairn Terriers so much that when she established her own poetry press, she used her kennel name and called the press ChayaCairn:

 (Above – Gail's Beloved Cairn Terrier Eliza Jane: December 31, 2002 – December 14, 2015
Below – Gail's GrandCairn, baby Zeke)
In addition to her beloved dogs, Gail had a deep and abiding respect for wildlife and the natural world: squirrels, bunnies, chipmunks, the goldfinches and hummingbirds that came to her feeders, the turkeys that paraded through her neighborhood, and even a vagrant pigeon who took up residence in her yard. Her delight in "all creatures great and small" was very much a part of who she was.

                                   (Gail and Eliza Jane at a Blessing of Pets, the Pigeon, 
                    Turkeys on Parade in Gail’s Neighborhood, and Goldfinches at Gail's Feeder)

Gail was a Renaissance woman of the highest order. In 1996, she earned her master's degree in creative writing from NYU, where she studied with Ann Hood and discovered an abiding love for writing poetry. Her first book (a poetry memoir), Sugar and Sand, was a 2010 Paterson Poetry Prize finalist; her second book, Dear Kinfolk, received a 2013 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence. Her poem “A State in Mind” was a third-prize winner in the 2015 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards. Her most recent book, Crowns, was published in 2016. Her poetry, book reviews, short fiction, essays, and plays have appeared in a wide range of print journals and anthologies, in online literary journals, and on stage. Among numerous other readings, Gail performed several times in the Carriage House Poetry Series, reading her own work and portraying both Sylvia Plath (November 2015) and Dorothy Parker (June 2013).

(Above & Below: Gail as Sylvia Plath in the Carriage House Production "A Legacy of Words.")

In addition to being a close personal friend, I had the privilege of working with Gail for Tiferet Journal, which she served for several years as associate poetry editor. She loved presenting workshops, giving readings, and sharing her love of poetry with audiences of students, seniors, and every age in between. She was generous and caring, always ready to think of others before herself; her intelligence and quick wit were graced by a wonderful laugh. More than anything else, she loved spending time with her family, often gifting family members with poems that she wrote especially for them.

In a LitBridge interview, Gail said of her poems, “I write. Others create visual art. Others share through conversation. It is crucial for me to record my story and to pass a legacy to the next generation and hopefully to reach a larger readership able to identify with my experiences, which are not unique but simply there in a different costume. Like many, I didn’t ask enough questions when my parents were alive and I regret it but I have found documents, letters, and many photos, and have used these to let my children and grandchildren know who I was and how I felt about this and how I feel about them. I began this process with my first book Sugar and Sand and continue to add narratives to their collection. I also wanted to provide a sharp sense of place and to project the warmth that memories allow.” (Source:

Years ago, shortly after meeting Gail, I asked her how she became interested in poetry. Without hesitating for a second she said, “Because I want to leave my girls and my grandchildren something more than memories—I want them to have something of me to hold after I'm gone.” Gail did exactly that through her poems and her books.

By way of sharing, here are links to some of Gail’s poems.
(Click on each to read.)


May Gail rest in God’s peace. 
She is greatly missed by all who knew and loved her.

זיכרונה לברכה
zikhronah livrakha

May her memory be a blessing.   

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Prompt #263 – Fibonacci Poems by Gail Gerwin

My dear friend and fellow poet, Gail Fishman Gerwin, 
prepared this prompt on the Fibonacci for us,
 and I'm pleased to share it with you this week—with many thanks to Gail.

Write a Narrative Fibonacci

Several years ago, I was fortunate to receive an invitation to read at the Barron Arts Center’s PoetsWednesday in Woodbridge, NJ. The series offers workshops prior to the features and open readings. Luckily, that evening renowned poet Joe Weil facilitated a lesson on how to write a Fibonacci, a poetic form named for 13th century mathematician Leonardo Pisano, later known as Fibonacci. That night’s workshop dealt with one form of Fibonacci. The formula:

First line – one syllable or word
Second line – one syllable or word (0 +1, sum of previous two lines)
Third line – two syllables or words (1+1, same pattern)
Fourth line – three syllables or words (1+2)
Fifth line – five syllables or words (2+3)
Sixth line – eight syllables or words (3+5)
Seventh line – thirteen syllables or words (5+8)
Then reverse:
Eighth line – eight syllables or words
Ninth line – five syllables or words
Tenth line – three syllables or words
Eleventh line – two syllables or words
Twelfth line – one syllable or word
Thirteenth line – one syllable or word

The finished product: an interesting-looking narrative.

I preferred the word count to the syllable count. I chose a television show of my youth, starring Milton Berle, a comedian; it was live television in black and white. Families would gather in some lucky person’s living room at 8 p.m. on Tuesday nights (not everyone owned even a single TV) to watch.

Many early television sets were made by a company named Dumont. The screens were small but the laughs were large. Some skits were extremely silly, like when Milton called “make-up,” someone would come out and smack him in the face with a big powder puff and he always acted surprised. You can see an example of this on an old Donny and Marie YouTube ( at about minute 3:07 (+/-).

When I received Joe’s prompt to compose a Fibonacci with the above formula about something in my past, I thought of Uncle Miltie, as he was called with affection. One feature of the show involved an ad for the Texaco gas company, where service-station attendants sang a jingle that began “We are the men of Texaco, we work from Maine to Mexico . . . Everyone watching knew this song and could sing along. Hence the mention of Texaco men in the poem below. I like to put dialogue in italics, not quotation marks.

Slapstick Fibonacci

Tuesday nights.
Whack! Maaaaaaaakeup. Hilarity.
Dust flies on the set.
Oh no, who turned the sound way down?
Fix it Daddy. I can't. Just go to bed, there's always next week.
There it goes, Ben, it's on again. Whew.
Can I stay up, Mommy,
‘til Texaco men?
Why not?

After that summer evening, when Joe introduced me to the form, everyone in my family received Fibs as birthday poems. Muse-Pie Press’s The Fib Review, an online literary journal edited by Mary-Jane Grandinetti, published that one and another I wrote about my obsession with the style.

Check out The Fib Review’s current issue and archives. 

  • Explore the variety of Fibonacci styles.
  • They don’t always follow the 1-1-2-3-5-8-13-8-5-3-2-1-1 format (my personal comfort zone). 
  • They’re not all narrative. Some may take on the image of what the words describe.
  •  See if you can figure out which formulas the poets used. 
  • Was there more than a single stanza? If so, did they take the same shape? 
  • Then write a Fibonacci of your own and think about posting it in a comment on this blog.

Happy Fibbing.


 Many thanks, Gail!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Prompt #262 – Poems for Summer's End

Here in the northern hemisphere, autumn began on September 22nd. August, in my corner of the pond, was a stretch of heat and humidity that makes this change of season very welcome.

This week, I thought it might be interesting to write poems about the end of summer. To get you started, here are some examples:

"End of Summer" by Stanley Kunitz

"Three Songs at the End of Summer" by Jane Kenyon

"End of Summer" by James Richardson


Try free writing for a while and see where you go.

Then, go through what you’ve written and select any ideas, phrases, and emotions that seem connected. Let your own words and feelings guide you as you work these into the first draft of a poem. 

As you continue to work on your poem, think about your obvious meaning and the deeper intentionality of the poem. What's your "up front" meaning? What deeper meaning have you written into the piece? Think of tone and mood as well.

Keep the following in mind as you edit, and fine tune:

1. 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).

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

3. 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.)

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

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

6. Challenge the ordinary, connect, reveal, surprise! And … remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains.

7. Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”

8. If you take a risk, make it a big one; if your poem is edgy, take it all the way to the farthest edge.

9. Understand that overstatement and the obvious are deadly when it comes to writing poetry. Don’t ramble on, and don’t try to explain everything. Think about this: a poem with only five great lines should be five lines long.

10. Bring your poem to closure with a dazzling dismount. (Be careful not to undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Prompt #261 – Haiku, Related Forms, & How To

I'm leading a haiku retreat on Saturday, hosted by Tiferet Journal and I thought this might be a good time to do some haiku work here on the blog! 

  Haiku and Related Forms

Haiku, a minimalist form of poetry, has enjoyed considerable popularity among modern poets. Allen Ginsberg and Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon, wrote collections of haiku and haiku-like poems are found in the works of such literary notables as Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, Richard Wright, and Gary Snyder. During the 1960s, a haiku movement began in the United States, which catapulted haiku into popular consciousness. Since then, haiku has been widely taught in schools, and hundreds of haiku journals have published the works of numerous haiku poets. The Haiku Society of America, Inc. was established in 1968 and continues with a membership of many hundreds. 

Although something other than "mainstream" poetry and very much its own genre, haiku are compact and direct, and are usually written in the present tense with a sense of immediacy and of being “in the moment.” The natural world and our responses to it are integral to haiku. While haiku appear to be light and spontaneous, their writing requires profound reflection and discipline.  Haiku are about spiritual realities, the realities of our every-day lives, and the realities of human and natural world relationships. Most importantly, haiku honor the inside of an experience through attention to the outside.

Despite the brevity of its form, haiku inspire detachment as well as interrelationship detachment without self-interest or self-absorption but, rather, with a sense of inward and outward direction. the best haiku are life-affirming and eternity-conscious, spontaneous and unpretentious but entirely focused and either gently or startlingly profound. Through haiku, both the writer and the reader are invited to reflect upon minute details that lead them to larger realities. 

Haiku's origins have been traced to a form of Japanese poetry known as haikai no renga, a form of linked poetry that was practiced widely by Matsuo Basho and his contemporaries. Over time, the first link in a renga, the hokku, evolved into the haiku as we understand it today.

In traditional Japanese, the haiku was typically written vertically on the page  (from top to bottom). Each contained seventeen onji or sound symbols. The onji were usually divided into 3 sections, with the middle one being slightly longer than the others, and often with a pause at the end of the first or second section to divide the haiku into two thoughts or images. These thoughts or images contrasted or pooled to create a sense of insight or heightened awareness and usually involved nature. A kigo (season word) was used to indicate the season or time of year.

However, early translators were mistaken when they assumed that an onji was equivalent to a syllable in the English language and that haiku should be written in three lines containing 5,7,and 5 syllables respectively. Although incorrect, these “defining” qualities of haiku are still accepted by many. A more acceptable standard for English-language haiku is 10-20 syllables in 3 lines having a longer second line and shorter first and third lines. That said, the parameters are often stretched depending on content and meaning, and successfully experimental haiku of a single words have been written. Three lines have become the norm, but haiku of one and two lines are also seen, although less frequently. Typically, haiku contain two phrases (or images) that are inherently unrelated but are juxtaposed to show some commonality within a particular experience.

Haiku describe things in a vey few words, usually a in a single image – haiku never tell, intellectualize, or state feelings outrightly. They never use figures of speech (similes, metaphors, etc.) and should not rhyme. Some haiku poets feel that one measure of a haiku’s success is its ability to be reading in a single breath.
Haiku Sequences
Haiku can be linked together to form a sequence that moves from moment to moment in a perceived experience. A good haiku sequence is built on an idea that underscores the sequence and becomes a longer poem. That is, haiku (or haiku-like verses) fused to form an integrated whole. Depending upon the content of the individual haiku, it’s important to have a central idea or theme in a haiku sequence: nature in general or something specific in the natural world, love (or another emotion), a season, a journey (actual or spiritual), or any part of life that is common to each haiku in the sequence.

A great way to begin experimenting with sequences is to think in terms of a narrative approach in which order of the haiku follow the chronological arch of the event:  beginning, middle and end.

A senryu is a poem, structurally similar to haiku, that highlights the foibles of human nature, usually in a humorous or satiric way. In senryu, human nature is more essential, and the poem itself is more playful, humorous, or ironic. A senryu may or may not contain a season word or a grammatical break. Some Japanese senryu seem more like aphorisms, and some modern senryu in both Japanese and English avoid humor, becoming more like serious short poems in haiku form. There are also "borderline haiku/senryu", which may seem like one or the other, depending on how the reader interprets them. Many so-called "haiku" in English are really senryu. Loosely defined, senryu are haiku-like poems that deal most specifically with human nature. In Japanese, the word "senryu" sounds like the English phrase "send you" with a Spanish flipped-r in place of the d. For those unfamiliar with this sound, a three-syllable word, "sen-ri-you" may be substituted in English. 
Tanka, the 5-line lyric poem of Japan is like haiku, its shorter cousin, in that they are grounded in specific images but are also is infused with lyric intensity and intimacy that comes from the direct expression of emotions, as well as from implication, suggestion, and nuance. The tanka aesthetic, however, is broader. You can write on virtually any subject and express your thoughts and feelings explicitly. 

The third line of a tanka may be a “pivot line” or turning point similar to the shift in a haiku. In Japan, tanka is often written in one line with segments consisting of 5-7-5-7-7 sound-symbols. Some people write English tanka in five lines with 5-7-5-7-7 syllable to approximate the Japanese model. To approximate the Japanese model, some poets use approximately 20-22 syllables and a short-long-short-long-long structure or even just a free form structure using five lines. You may wish to experiment with all these approaches.
A haibun is a terse, relatively short prose poem that typically ends with a haiku. Most haibun range from well under 100 words to 200 or 300. Some longer haibun may contain a few haiku interspersed between sections of prose. In haibun, the connections between the prose and any included haiku may not be immediately obvious, or the haiku may deepen the tone, or take the work in a new direction, recasting the meaning of the prose. Japanese haibun apparently developed from brief prefatory notes occasionally written to introduce individual haiku, but soon grew into a distinct genre. The word "haibun" is sometimes applied to longer works, such as the memoirs, diaries, or travel writings of haiku poets, though technically they are parts of the separate and much older genres of journal and travel literature (nikki and kikôbun).

How To Haiku
1. Bashō said that each haiku should be a thousand times on the tongue. Before writing anything, read many haiku from a range of sources to get a “feel” for the form. Be sure to read some haiku that have been translated from the Japanese, but spend more time on good haiku written in English. Read some of the haiku aloud.

2. After you’ve read many haiku and have a sense of what they’re about, think about an experience that you’ve had. 

3. Remember the season in which you had the experience, and then think of a work or phrase that suggests that season. For example, peonies is a season word for spring; snow and ice are season words for winter. A simple phrase like “autumn leaves” can evoke feelings of loneliness and the coming of darkness (shortened days, longer nights) in winter. While many haiku appear to have a nature focus, they are more-specifically based on a seasonal reference that is not necessarily about nature.

4. Organize your thoughts into approximately three lines. First, set the scene, then suggest a feeling and, finally, make an observation or record an action. Use only the most absolutely necessary words. Write in the present tense, don’t use figures of speech, and keep things simple.

5. Be sure to include a contrast or a comparison. Many haiku present one idea for the first two lines and then switch quickly to something else in the third. Alternatively, a single idea is presented in the first line and a switch occurs in the second and third lines. Nearly every haiku has this kind of two-part, juxtapositional structure. A Japanese haiku achieves the shift with what is called a kireji or cutting word, which “cuts” the poem into two parts. One of your goals is to create a “leap” between the two parts of your haiku. Creating a haiku’s two-part structure can become a balancing act because it’s difficult to create just the right equilibrium without making too obvious a connection between the two parts or leaping to a distance that’s unclear or obscure. At the same time, you must work toward sparking the emotions (not ideas) that you want to communicate.

6. Try to think of haiku in terms of your five senses—things you experience directly, not ideas or your interpretation or analysis of “things.” Think in terms of sensory description and avoid subjective terms.

7. In a nutshell: 
·       focus on a single moment (detach from everything else); recreate that moment in words,
·       write simply and clearly,
·       forget about 5,7,5 syllabic structure (start with about 10-20 syllables in three-line format),
·       include a season word,
·       make sure you create a two-part juxtapositional structure,
·       include a shift between the two parts of your haiku,
·       avoid figures of speech, rhyming, anything forced or contrived.
Ways in Which Writing Haiku Can Inform and Enhance Your Longer Poems

     Writing haiku can:

1.     Increase your sense of imagery.
2.     Broaden your awareness of—and attention to—details.
3.     Teach you about compression, conciseness, and clarity.
4.     Help you understand the importance of removing unnecessary words.
5.     Develop your ability to write poems that are efficient and clear, even when their meaning and message are complex.
6.     Show you how to create lines breaks that have a clear and non-intrusive logic.
7.     Illustrate ways in which you can achieve clarity with just a hint of being on the edge of understanding.
8.     Form the basis for longer poems. That is, a haiku may be extended into a longer work of poetry; it may be become the opening, closing, or “somewhere inside” part of a longer poem.
9.     Work toward your understanding that the best poems show rather than tell.
10.  Improve your ability to connect, reveal, and surprise.