Saturday, July 31, 2010

Poetry Prompt #16 - Journeys

It's been said that we travel to lose ourselves, and that we travel to find ourselves. Proust wrote, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." What does "travel" mean to you in terms of wonder, discovery, and self-revelation? Has a journey in your life given you "new eyes?"

Write a poem in which you travel: the journey may be real, imagined, emotional, or spiritual. You may take an "overland trip" through description, attention to details, and sensory perceptions, or you may lead readers through your journey's surface terrain into the emotional, spiritual, or metaphorical landscape at its center.

Before you start writing, be sure to read the examples below.

LITTLE GIDDING  (excerpt) 

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
(Click Here to Read the Whole Poem: Little Gidding)


The railroad track is miles away, 
    And the day is loud with voices speaking, 
Yet there isn't a train goes by all day 
    But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn't a train goes by, 
    Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming, 
But I see its cinders red on the sky, 
    And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make, 
    And better friends I'll not be knowing; 
Yet there isn't a train I'd rather take, 
    No matter where it's going. 


First it’s liftoff and she’s wearing her history
like a bib. Sleep won’t bend her knee, she’s
bent with the lack. So she’s going with the man
and the wind blows through. She won’t beat like
a wren’s wing, like that wing but she’ll flap and
he knows it. Bird on the breeze over the sheep-
field. Take these bitters and run to the pub. No.
Not what he said he said here is the fence now
play outside. He said here is the gate now play
outside. He said go outside. Yes. And, yes, has
a kink in her hip, her brain’s on hold. She’s a mild
case of still alive. (Still has the mother’s eyes, and
the father’s eyes. The gun & a bucket for the blood.
She climbs their rope ladders. A wind blows through.)
She’s eating cold fish. She’s eating cold fish and
she’s watching three sheep, three bend at the knee.
When she flaps those sheep turn and turn
their sheepy eyes. Behind barbed wire the sheep
turn. She’s taking direction from some guy named Z.
She’s taking that direction: turns left at the bus stop,
dustbin, callbox. Turns right at the White Hart, brown
dog, stoat. Lorry, biscuit, hedgepig, hare turning. 

Acknowledgment: Blackbird (Spring 2007, Vol. 6, No. 1)
Reprinted by permission of the author.

"Questions of Travel" By Elizabeth Bishop 

"The Journey" By James Wright

"The Journey" By Mary Oliver

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

Songs for the Open Road is an anthology of over 80 poems on the theme of travel and adventure by 50 poets, including Whitman, Byron, Shelley, Masefield, Hughes, Dickinson, Yeats, Eliot, Hopkins, and many others. 

Click title to order:  Songs for the Open Road

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Poetry Prompt #15 - Postcards


    The idea for this prompt came by a roundabout route. A week ago, I took a look at the longest poem I've ever written – fifteen stanzas and 75 lines about the town (Rahway, NJ) in which I grew up. It's also a poem about childhood and "going home again" (click here if you'd like to read it: "East Rahway"). Reading the poem again, and thinking about the heyday of youth, evoked a "wish I were there" feeling that reminded me of my Rahway postcard collection. As a kind of "adjunct" poetry project, I made a slideshow of the postcards (see slideshow below), which, in turn, led to this prompt. 

    You have several choices this week:

    1. Write a "wish you were here" poem. "Wish you were here" is the stereotypical postcard message. Is there someone you wish were here (with you) right now? Someone geographically distant? Someone deceased? Someone with whom you shared a special relationship? Someone you miss?
    2. Write a poem in the guise of a postcard (keep it postcard-sized). 
    3. Try writing a fantasy postcard message – from an exotic place, from a made-up place, from a place you know you'll never go, or (more challenging) from an emotional place.
    4. If you have an actual postcard (memento), write a related poem.
    5. Write a poem about why you "can't go home again."

    Postcards from Home, Rahway New Jersey

    Sunday, July 18, 2010

    Poetry Prompt #14 - Résumé Poem

    Write a poem about your life (a poetic “résumé”) in which you really go introspective and dig deeply  (define and clarify).

    Following are some “prompt supports” that you can include in your “résumé” poem (maybe as stanza starters).
    •   Negotiated
    •   Considered
    •   Coordinated
    •   Managed
    •   Developed
    •   Established
    •   Acquired
    •   Educated
    •   Organized
    •   Prepared
    •   Planned
    •   Recognized
    •   Controlled
    •   Survived
    An alternate prompt is the Surrealist technique (or game) known as the “Dream Résumé,” which takes the form of an employment résumé but chronicles your life experiences, achievements, employment, etc. in  dreams, rather than in waking life. Sometimes dream résumés contain the achievements/details of both the real and the imagined (dream) lives. You can get very creative with this!

    Another possibility for this prompt is to make up a résumé. Who would you like to be? What would you like to see in your real-life résumé?

    Don’t forget that that you’re creating a poem, not just a résumé. Think in terms of imagery, figures of speech (similes, metaphors). Create a mood/tone – funny, serious … You may want to address this poem to someone (former lover or spouse, current lover or spouse, your child or children, someone who hurt you years ago). Let them know who you are and what you’re about!

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    A New Twist on Emily Dickinson

    Has something in Emily D's. life remained sealed? According to Lyndall Gordon, a senior research fellow at St. Hilda's College in Oxford, England, Emily Dickinson may have suffered from epilepsy. If Gordon's hypothesis is correct, her seclusion and refusal to marry would be explained in a new light. 

    References to sickness are numerous in Dickinson's poems. "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain," she wrote, and "I dropped down, and down." In another poem, " I felt a Cleaving in my Mind—/As if my Brain had split—." She refers to "convulsion" and "throe." Did Emily tell us, through metaphor, something about a medical condition that she had? Supporting factors include prescriptions consistent with epilepsy treatments of the time, photosensitivity (common among epileptics), and a family history of epilepsy.

    Gordon's book, Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds, looks at Dickinson's health and family issues – new info supported by documentary evidence, impressive research, brilliant writing – a fascinating read. 

    Article 2
    Article 3

    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    Poetry Prompt #13 - Caesura (cæsura or cesura)

    In poetry, caesura refers to a pause that occurs naturally in the rhythms of speech when a line is spoken. The pause or break usually occurs near the middle of a line (sometimes used along with enjambment.). Used to create a specific effect, caesura may be soft (barely noticeable) or hard (as in a full stop, such as a period or other terminal punctuation). A caesura is called "masculine" when it falls after a long syllable, and "feminine" when it falls after a short syllable.

    There is a caesura right after the question mark in the first line of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's  sonnet that begins, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." There is also caesura in Emily Dickinson’s line, “I'm nobody! Who are you?” Caesura may be indicated by //. Consider Robert Frost’s line: “Two roads diverged // in a yellow wood” (“The Road Not Taken”).

    You’ve probably used caesura, perhaps without knowing the term, but this prompt isn’t about using caesura in a poem. Rather, let’s expand the idea of “caesura” to something in your life where there was a caesura-like break, pause, or full stop. Friendship? Romance? Liaison? Family relationship? Emotional bond? Place you've lived? Job? You may want to call your poem "Caesura" or incorporate the word in the title and/or text.

    Now, write your poem!

    Sunday, July 4, 2010

    Poetry Prompt #12 - What We Keep

    Along with our memories, tangible objects sometimes help us maintain connection and continuity by preserving the past and speaking to the future.

    When my mom passed away, twelve years ago this month, I brought many of her things home to my house. Of the items I treasure most are the small things that she used every day – familiar, humble things. Among them are the salt and pepper shakers from her kitchen – not her crystal, silver-topped antiques, but the dime store set that was part of her daily life. These casual items have become personal and meaningful treasures. 

    What have you kept that belonged to another time, another place, another person? Why did you keep it? Why do you feel “close” to it? Write a poem about something you keep and treasure because of its connection to someone you loved, a special place, a time in your life that you miss.