Saturday, January 29, 2011

Poetry Prompt #41 - A Fly on the Wall

The subject of flies in poetry may not be common, but I'm sure you're familiar with Emily Dickinson's famous poem "I Heard a Fly Buzz." (Click Here to Read)

This week we're going to work with a "fly idea," but our treatment will be different from Emily D's. We've all heard the expression "fly on the wall." The meaning of the phrase suggests the ability to observe a situation without being seen or heard.

This isn't a new prompt idea, but it's one with lots of possibilities, and the challenge this week is to take yourself – in the form of a fly – into an unusual or emotionally charged place to tell what you see and hear. The idea is to become virtually invisible but nonetheless present.

1. You may "become" the fly and speak from the fly's point of view (persona/personification).

2. You may go back in time to observe yourself in a particular situation from your past.

3. You may eavesdrop on a conversation you were never intended to hear.

4. You may be anywhere, at any time, observing people and listening to what they say.

5. Your tone may be serious, humorous, or ironic.

To begin, imagine yourself as a fly on a wall. Where are you? What do you see? Who is there with you? What do you hear? What insights into a situation do you have from your unseen/unnoticed perspective? What can you (the fly) explain about human behavior in the situation you observe? Is there a situation in which you (the fly) can offer insights into your own actions or personality? What do you learn when you (the fly) observes you (the person)? How may the fly become a metaphor?

Some places to consider for your wall: a cocktail party, a wedding, a masked ball, a birthday party from your childhood, the midst of an argument, a classroom, a divorce court, a funeral parlor, a room in an altered dimension, an empty house, a cruise ship, a bar or pub, a tent deep in a forest. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Poetry Prompt #40 - A Letter to Myself

How often do we write letters these days? That is, real letters, not emails? Can a letter become a poem?

For this prompt, let's experiment with writing a poem/letter. The form will be similar to that of a letter.  The body of the work may be stichic (one long stanza) or may be composed of several stanzas. Alternatively, you might write yourself a memo, or you might write a letter to someone else (see Renee Ashley's example below).

What things might you say in a letter or memo to yourself? 
What's uppermost or most hidden in your mind?
What things have happened to you that you've thought, but never written, about? 

Some things to consider:

Confront yourself. 
Confront something that troubles you. 
Confront your feelings about a relationship. 
Congratulate, comfort, forgive yourself. 
Focus on the present or perhaps on a challenging time in your life.
Write from the perspective of your childhood, or write from the future (looking back at yourself as you are now).  

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Poetry Prompt #39 – Overheard Words

Have you ever stood in line at a supermarket or department store and heard bits of conversation around you? Have you ever been in a library, museum, or art gallery where fragments of hushed dialogue reached across the silence to you? "Talk" is all around us: a sentence or phrase in a stairwell, a muted voice in another room, words echoed from the far end of a hallway. Restaurants, malls, train stations, airports are all filled with words, and some of them may be used to prompt our poems this week.

1. To begin, be aware of voices around you, especially when you're in public places.

2. Jot down a few things that you hear people say. 

3. When you're ready to write, look at your notes and focus on a snippet of dialogue (sentence, phrase) that you've heard, and use it as the opening thought of a poem (an epigraph or the first line).

4. Think in terms of what the overheard words suggest to you, where they take you. Move beyond the words' literal meaning and look for the unspoken words they suggest. Don't just tell the story of where you were and what you heard. Create layers of meaning.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Poetry Prompt #38 - Clichéd Phrases

There's an old joke about a man who walks out of a theater after seeing Hamlet and says, "I don't know why everyone thinks Hamlet is such a well-written play, it's full of clichés." Of course, phrases from Hamlet such as "in my heart of hearts," in my mind's eye," and "there's the rub" weren't clichés when Shakespeare wrote them. They've become clichés because they've been quoted so extensively.

Webster's defines cliché as "a trite expression or idea" (and trite is defined as "hackneyed or boring from much use; not fresh or original"). In everyday speech, clichés become a kind of verbal shorthand. Clichés, however, require little thought and rarely evoke thought or emotion when they appear in poetry. Readers don't come to poetry looking for what they already know or have heard before. They want fresh content, distinctive perspectives, acute angles – freshness and originality.

Clichés are the worry stone of language: they may have begun sharp and well-defined but have been rubbed smooth by repeated "handling." They are generic, not specific, and poetry requires specifics. 

Clichés often masquerade as similes ("dark as night," "tears like rain," "like a bat out of hell," "pale as a ghost," "fast as lightning"). They may refer to ideas ("a fluffy kitten," "a pounding heart," "sweaty palms"), and some topics invite clichés (i.e., love poems). The caveat is to avoid clichés "like the plague."

For this prompt, we're going to work with clichéd phrases for the purpose of becoming more aware of them in our writing. Click List for a list of  clichés, and click Categories for a list of clichés by category.

Here are some starters:

1. Make a list of of several clichés and then write a poem around them. You might make this a funny poem in which you accent the obvious.

2. Choose a cliché that really annoys or amuses you, and write a poem about it.

3. Choose a cliché to describe a relationship you've had, and use it as the basis for a poem. 

4. Choose a well-worn cliché and re-invent it to create a new meaning; use the new meaning you've created in a poem.

5. Write a poem entirely from clichés.  

He Was Just Another Cliché

To this day, I know that time
heals all wounds (all in due
time) but, needless to say, I
was having the time of my life
when the unexpected happened.

His silence was deafening, so I told
him to cut to the chase. I was scared
out of my mind. The moment lasted
an eternity – it seemed to take
forever – so long that I lost track

of time; I stopped in my tracks.
The long and short of it is this: he
left me faster than greased lightning.
My bubble burst. All that glitters
is not gold, and love is blind.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Poetry Prompt #37 – Poems for the New Year

For last year's words belong to last year's language.
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
(T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding”)

It is believed that New Year celebrations were first observed by the Babylonians about 4000 years ago on March 23 – a time when they paid off debts, returned borrowed goods, and made resolutions for the coming year. Their practices carried over into Roman times when worshippers offered resolutions to the deity Janus (the god of beginnings and endings whose double face looked at the year behind as well as at the year ahead). When the Roman calendar was changed, the first month of the year was called "January" in honor of Janus, and January 1 became the first day of the new year. Early Christians believed that the first day of the new year should be spent reflecting on past mistakes and making resolutions to be better during the coming year. Ah, resolutions ...

Yes, I'm sure my "pre-ramble" has led you to guess that this prompt will deal with resolutions and new beginnings. Some suggestions follow.

1.  Write a poem about your resolutions for this New Year.

2. Write a poem about a resolution you tried to keep but couldn’t.

3. Write a poem about the resolution(s) you’d never make. (You might try a list poem, or you might focus on a single resolution.)

4. Write a poem filled with funny resolutions.

5. Write a poem about resolutions you’d like a friend, family member, or lover to make in regard to his or her relationship with you.

6. Write a poem about a “new beginning” that you’d like to make this year?

7. Write a poem based on the T. S. Eliot quotation above (you may want to use the quote as an epigraph).

My very best wishes to all for a New Year 
filled with abundances of good health, happiness, 
and all the beauty of poetry!