Saturday, November 27, 2010

Poetry Prompt #33 – A Poem about Poetry

Thanksgiving weekend, Chanukah (beginning on December 2), and Christmas preparations in full swing will make this a busy week for many of us.  I thought that instead of a typical prompt I'd share one of Marianne Moore's most famous poems  – something to think about – a poem about poetry. Of course, if you do have time to write this week, how about writing your own poem about poetry?

By Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
      all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
      discovers in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
      they are
   useful. When they become so derivative as to become
   the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand: the bat
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to 

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
      wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
      that feels a flea, the base-
   ball fan, the statistician--
      nor is it valid
         to discriminate against "business documents and

school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make
      a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
      result is not poetry,
   nor till the poets among us can be
     "literalists of
      the imagination"--above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
      shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness and
      that which is on the other hand
         genuine, you are interested in poetry.

From Others for 1919: An Anthology of the New Verse, edited by Alfred Kreymborg.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Poetry Prompt #32 - The Kyrielle

O Lord that lends me life,

Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.

– William Shakespeare 

For this prompt, in keeping with the Thanksgiving holiday this week, let's write a Kyrielle-type poem in which thankfulness is expressed. Once very popular, the Kyrielle originated in France, dates to the Middle Ages, and takes its name from kyrie (a litany in the Catholic Mass). Many hymn lyrics were written in this form, but content is not limited to religious subjects. A traditional Kyrielle is often short, octosyllabic (each lines 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. The most widely cited Kyrielle is "A Lenten Hymn" by Thomas Campion.

Here's a format that may be helpful:

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 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.

4. Write 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.

5. Repeat step 4 as many times as you wish. Don't forget that each quatrain (four-line stanza) will end with the same line, phrase, or word. You may write your Kyrielle about one thing for which you're grateful, or each quatrain may be about individual things that have inspired your gratitude.

Remember that with all formal poems nowadays, 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). 

My sincerest best wishes to all for a blessed and happy thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Poetry Prompt #31 - No Place Like Home

In “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy only had to click her ruby heels three times while repeating, “There’s no place like home,” and there she was, back in Kansas. Going home may not be quite that easy for the rest of us, but poetry can be the way we click our heels to get there. Quite often, the journey is healing.

In poetry, home has been written as the “brick and mortar” of actual places, as memories, and as  imagined places. Home has also represented relationships: failed relationships, for example, as in  C. P. Cavafy's "The Afternoon Sun."

Home is also an effective backdrop for the pain of loss, as in 

A “home poem” may be about a place once shared with people who are no longer living, as in W. S. Merwin's "A Single Autumn."

Poems about home may recall the furnishings and people of a particular place and remember how a certain home felt, as in Gerald Stern's "The Dancing."

Houses may figure in the imagery for poems about people as in Mark Strand's

Home poems may also be about giving up or selling a home or about moving from one home to another, as in Ruth Stone's "The Cabbage."

For this prompt, let's write a poem about home. Here are some things to think about:

1. What memories do you have of a childhood home? 

2. Is there a place you’ve lived that was special to you? 

3. What happiness have you found in a particular home? What sadness? 

4. Is there anyone with whom you once shared a home and now miss? 

5. Can you think of something in your life for which “home” may be a metaphor? 

6. Is there a particular object (piece of furniture, painting, lamp, etc.) that evokes the feeling of a former home for you? 

7. How has a place you’ve lived been a “castle” for you? 

8. Is there a “haunted House” in your history (a home that haunts you in some way)? 

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Favorite Poem Project

This amazing project was founded by 39th US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky
and "is dedicated to celebrating, documenting, 
and encouraging poetry in Americans' lives."

The readings are wonderful.
Please check out the site when you have some time to relax and listen 
to individuals reading and speaking about poems they love.

Info about the project here:

(click on the photos)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Poetry Prompt #30 – On the Clothesline

Interestingly, there are also numerous stories about poets and clothing. For example, Randall Jarell traded ties with colleague Robert Watson, gloves and scarves with his wife Mary, and jackets and hats with his friend Peter Taylor; and when James Laughlin first met Ezra Pound, he wrote in terms of clothing, “There came Ezra, dressed to the nines in his velvet jacket, pants with equestrian seat, his cowboy hat, swinging his silverheaded cane .…” 

You guessed it! This week’s prompt is about clothing, and here are some options for you to try:

1. Take a “field trip” and visit an op shop (used clothing store). Walk up and down the aisles and think about the clothes you see. Choose a piece of clothing that you are especially drawn to or repelled by. Buy it and take it home. Use this piece of clothing as your inspiration for a poem (a poem about who wore the article of clothing, about what happened to someone who wore the clothing, etc.).

2. Write a poem about a favorite piece of clothing or about an article of clothing that has or had special significance for you.

3. Think about someone from your past, and note his or her clothing in a poem.

4. Think about articles of clothing as metaphors and try writing a poem in which you use clothing (one article of clothing or several) to represent something else.

5. In dreams, it is said that clothing represents two things: the way we would like the world to see us and the way we’re afraid the world sees us. Dreaming about clothing may also represent our attitudes about ourselves and about others. Write a "dream poem" in which clothing figures in your imagery, or write a poem about the way you are seen, or would like to be seen, by others.

6. Think about your clothesline (even if you use a dryer, imagine a clothes line that you might use). What’s hanging on that line? Write a poem about your clothesline (what laundry would you hang out to dry – actual or metaphorical). 

7. Take a humorous approach to clothing and write a funny “clothes poem” (i.e., “Ode to Underwear”). 

8. Mark Twain wrote, "The finest clothing made is a person's skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this." Do you remember the Hans Christian Anderson story about the emperor's new clothes? You can read it here: "The Emperor's New Suit." Was there ever a time when you felt figuratively naked in a crowd of people? Write a poem about that time, a poem about a time when you were afraid to speak up because you thought others would think you “stupid,” or a poem about how your clothes define you or reflect who you are.