Friday, December 28, 2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prompt #130 – Winter Holiday Poems

Did you know that Nobel Laureate, Russian poet Joseph Brodsky was so taken with Christmas that he wrote a Christmas poem every year (now collected in his book Nativity Poems)? Holiday poems and stories have an enduring appeal, and most of you are familiar with Charles Dickens’s story about Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. For this week’s poem, we’re going to do some variations on the past, present, and future theme, and you’ll need to think about your past, present, and future Christmases, Chanukahs, Kwanzaas, or other annual winter-season celebrations.


1. Write about a holiday about your past (dig deeply into family memories).
2. Write a poem in which you compare winter holidays of the past, present, and/or future.
3. Write about seasonal ghosts that haunt you.
4. Write about people from your past who are no longer with you and how that impacts your present holiday season; or, write about one special person with whom you always associate the winter holidays.
5. Write about aspects of winter holiday traditions that remain part of your annual celebrations.
6. Write about the faith and/or cultural aspects of your winter holidays.
7. Write about one unforgettable winter holiday.
8. Write about holiday food treats and how they sweeten your memories.
9. Write about a holiday song that replays in your mind because of its associations (or, write your own words to a Christmas carol or other winter holiday song).
10. Write a poem based on an old Christmas, Chanukah, or other winter holiday photograph
11. Write about a historical holiday-time event.
12. Write about a winter holiday yet to come. You might consider a fantasy poem with a futuristic sensibility.

Keep in mind that holiday literature can be tricky—be sure to sidestep the pitfalls of sentimentality, schmaltziness, nostalgia, and clichés.


Note: "Are We Done Yet?" is from Gail Gerwin’s new book, Dear Kinfolk, (155 pages, ChayaCairn Press, 2012, $18.00). Click book image to order; shipping is free.

The next prompt will be posted on Saturday, January 5, 2013.

In the meantime,

I wish each of you the special gifts of this season
happiness, hope, and peace—
and a New Year filled with good health 
and all the things that bring you joy.

In poetry and sharing, 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Prompt #129 – Something A Little Different

I was recently honored by poet Diane Lockward when she included “Snake Lady” from What Matters as the prompt model for her December newsletter. I found it immensely interesting to read another poet’s analysis of my poem and then to see how she used the poem to develop a prompt for her readers. I’m happy to share it with you and thought that, in lieu of our usual format, you might enjoy working with Diane’s prompt this week. 


From Diane Lockward’s Poetry Newsletter,
Copyright © 2012 Poetry Newsletter. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of Diane Lockward.

This month's poem comes from Adele Kenny who previously contributed a Craft Tip on imagery. The poem is from Adele's new book, What Matters.

Snake Lady       

She was the main event when
     the carnival came to town.
Fourteen and oh, so young,
     we stood inside her tent with
boys who spoke among themselves
     of things that made them men.

Had we been older, we might
     have understood – their helpless
fascination as the snake slid
     between her breasts and made its
thick descent along her thighs.
     Those boys never blinked until
her fingers stroked the coils
straight, tightened on the head,
     and coaxed it to a sudden milky
venom. With an innocence we
     didn’t think we had, we blushed
and turned from the sure and
     easy way she made them burn.

Adele's poem initially appears simple enough. The speaker describes a memory of something she observed when she was 14. However, the poet has built in several layers of complication. The speaker does not merely observe the scene; she observes someone else observing it. Then instead of using first person singular, the poet uses first person plural; a group of girls observes a group of boys observing an action. The poet also recounts the incident from the distance of Time. The speaker is no longer on the threshold of adolescence but is an adult looking back on the scene. As such, she can have perceptions that the 14-year-old girl could not have had. Finally, the entire poem rests on a metaphor, a very sexy one, indeed!

Let's see if we can do something similar. Let's begin with a simple draft and then add layers of complication.

First, choose a potentially sensuous and sensual scene to describe, perhaps someone eating a peach or a tomato, someone shampooing or bathing, someone turning on a water faucet or drinking from a fountain, someone planting bulbs or dancing or making a salad.

For your first draft, describe the scene, first person singular, present tense. The speaker can be you or someone you pretend to be. The action can be real or imagined.

Now let's add some layers to that basic draft. Complete each step before moving on to the next one.

1. Bring in a third character, someone to stand between the speaker and the person doing the action. Rewrite the draft so that your speaker not only describes the action but also observes and describes the new character observing the scene. Stick with first person singular and present tense.

2. Revise using past tense. The scene now becomes a memory.

3. Revise again, this time using first person plural. Who else could be with your speaker? Who else could be with the other observer?

Think about how each revision changes the poem. (For example, the shift in time, from present to past tense, might alter the tone of the poem.) Choose the version you like best and continue to work on that one. But keep all the steps in your arsenal.

One final consideration: Notice how Adele indents every other line. That nicely parallels the back and forth between past and present and between the speaker and the other characters. Aim for a form that enhances meaning.


“Snake Lady” and the prompt will appear in Diane’s forthcoming book, The Crafty Poet, scheduled for summer 2013 release.

If you don’t subscribe to Diane’s newsletter, I recommend it! 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Prompt #128 – Waiting

The pre-Christmas season of Advent begins on Sunday (December 2nd)—a season defined as a season of waiting.

Waiting … we’ve all been in the position of waiting for something: love, a child, a job, good news or bad, an elevator, a plane, a piece of mail. Have you ever stood in a waiting line or sat for what seemed an inordinately long time in a waiting room? Have you ever been stuck in traffic? Have you sat in a restaurant or other public place and waited from someone? Have you waited to make a discovery of some kind? Have you ever thought about how much of each day is spent waiting for something or someone? Do you remember any childhood “waits?” Like many children, did you wait impatiently to be grown up? Are you waiting for something now? What kind of metaphorical “advent seasons” have you experienced?

This week, let’s write about waiting. You might begin with a list of times you’ve waited, or you might focus on a time you remember waiting for something or someone. The tone of your poem may be serious or funny. You may write from the perspective of your child self or your adult self. There are many possibilities—just be wary of slipping into the predictable (stay away from clichés and over-stated emotions). You might want to write about waiting, anticipation, and hope (are there connections you can make?).

Remember that the content of your poem should have more than one layer: Think in terms of the experience itself and its deeper meanings. Be economical with extra words, extra syllables, prepositions, and articles; but be generous with caesuras to allow for the unspoken silences that can power a poem.


To all my blog readers who observe it,
I wish you an Advent filled with blessings and peace,
and here's Sugarland's version of a traditional Advent hymn that I hope you'll enjoy!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Prompt #127 – Romancing the Poem

Yesterday, on Black Friday (the biggest shopping day of the year), as I sat in my car in Lord & Taylor’s parking lot (waiting for the line of cars ahead of me to move), I turned on the radio and heard Eydie Gorme sing “I’ll Take Romance.” I remember my mom singing that song and, as I sat in the line of cars, I thought about "romance" as a topic for poems. There are, of course, many ways to interpret “romance,” and there are all kinds of love to write about. Let's give it a go this week.

Before you begin writing, consider some possibilities:

First Romance/First Love
Illusory Love
Unrequited Love
Obsessive Love
True Love
Long Distance Love
Love of Your Life
False Love
Betrayed Love
Lost Love
Impossible Love

There are also “romances” that involve a mysterious or fascinating appeal (i.e., an adventure or something uniquely beautiful). Have you ever had a romance with: a particular time in history, the sea, the stars, or nature? These are a different kind of romance and needn’t involve romantic love at all.

Another kind of romance poem is the metrical romance that was popular during the High Renaissance. A literary preference among the aristocracy and upper classes, metrical romances typically related tales of knights and their various adventures and trials. Courtly love was  a typical metrical romance theme, but romantic love was not prerequisite for a metrical romance. Not exactly what I have in mind for this week's poem, but if the form interests you, why not? 

Getting Started:
  1. You  might begin by making a list of “romances” that you’ve had. 
  2. Reflect on your list and select one of the romances to write about. 
  3. You might want to do a free write to get started. 
  4. Don’t let your poem become a typical “love poem.” 
  5. Work to create levels of meaning, and be sure to avoid sentimentality and “mush.” 
  6. Even if your poem is a narrative poem, it should do more than simply tell a story. 
  7. The story is the material of the poem, and you need to do something special with that material (often, as you work with a poem, you discover what its “story” is about (not simply what the story is, but what the story means).

And this gem filled with mystery and nuance 
by Italian translator and poet  Alessandro Pancirolli 

You Get Closer, We Should Not ...

I thought to be out of this maze. I thought to 
Be out of this
That I am now writing. 
You look at me. You smile. "You get closer ,
we should not..."
We know what to expect , a fine rain , we  in hurrying, The Rule.*
It's raining hardly, the wind has ceased,  
The storm is far away...
You cry, you smile at me, you cry.
We walk embraced under the  tall plane trees.
On the riverside.

Ho pensato di essere fuori da questo labirinto. ho pensato
di  essere fuori da questo 
che sto ora scrivo
Mi guardi. Sorridi." Ti avvicini,
non dovremmo..."
Sappiamo cosa aspettarci , una pioggia sottile, abbiamo fretta, La Regola*
Piove appena, il vento è cessato,
la tempesta è lontana ... 
Tu piangi, mi sorridi, piangi.
camminiamo abbracciati sotto  i platani  alti.
Sul lungofiume.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Prompt #126 – What Are You Thankful For?

Here in the U.S., Thanksgiving will be celebrated this week on Thursday, November 22nd. Our Thanksgiving has a long history beginning in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is considered the first Thanksgiving celebration. For over 200 years, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. In 1827, magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale began a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln set the last Thursday in November as the official day for a national Thanksgiving observance. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week, and in 1941 Roosevelt signed a bill that designated the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

Gratitude is a developmental emotion, and books have been written on its psychology. Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” There are times in our lives when we feel more Grinch than grateful, especially when the stresses of every day living gather momentum and all but overwhelm us. However, acknowledging and expressing our gratitude can have a beneficial effect on our lives, relationships, and work.

What are you grateful for? This week let’s write about a specific thing for which we’re grateful.

A French proverb tells us, “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” Our first step in writing this week will be to remember—to look into our memories and to identify a single thing for which we’re especially grateful.

When you're ready to write:
  1. Make a list of things for which you’re thankful.
  2. Choose one item from the list.
  3. Free write about the item you chose.
  4. Look at your free write and select images and details for your poem.
  5. Draft your poem.
  6. Your poem may be stichic (one stanza with no line breaks), it may be a formal poem (ode, sonnet, villanelle, or a kyrielle as we worked with in Prompt #32, November 20, 2010); you may choose to write a prose poem or your poem may take the form of prayer or a letter.
  7. As you write, think about the reasons for your gratitude and show (without telling) what those feelings mean.
  8. Dig deeply to reach beyond the specifics of your personal experience to the underlying universal subject with which your readers will identify.
Note: You might address or dedicate your poem to a person for whom you're thankful, or you might go to the flip side and write about a challenging time (or a time of adversity) that somehow led you to feelings of gratefulness (my mom used to say that good always comes from bad).


Happy Thanksgiving!
My sincerest thanks to all of you for following this blog 
and for being part of its shared poetry experience!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Prompt #125 – Connections

Beginning the night of Hurricane Sandy on October 29th, and through the days until yesterday, I was without electricity, and even when that was restored (with the exception of a few hours last Tuesday), I didn’t have phone, TV, or Internet service until yesterday afternoon. I spent a lot of time thinking about people who were worse off—during this particular storm and through history—and I confess to a bit of personal whinging. 

In all, I was among the grateful lucky who only suffered the inconveniences of a power outage, a single lost tree, and downed branches. What I found most challenging was not being in touch with the outside world (other than a few close friends and neighbors): no telephone chats (not knowing if family and friends were safe), no Internet connection (no email, no blogging, no Facebook, editing jobs waiting in queue to be completed and sent), no snail mail deliveries (not even election campaign materials), and no television (news, favorite programs, etc). It was a strange feeling that put me “in touch” with not being in touch, disconnecting, losing contact, and what being “isolated” means. Although people worldwide experience much worse every day, the past twelve days reminded me how important our “connections” are. 

This week, let’s write about lost, broken, missing, reestablished, and lasting connections. Our poems most often come to us through personal experiences, usually the most strongly emotional. In this week's poem, work toward creating a "charged" emotional center with the caveat to avoid being sentimental, overemotional, or "clichéd." Remember that sentimentality and poetic sentiment are not the same thing. Sentimentality is a literary pitfall dominated by a head-on  appeal to the emotions (whiney, self-pitying, excessively emotional, or saccharinely sweet), and it detracts from a poem’s quality, often making readers resist the emotional response you hope to invoke. The idea is to offer access to feelings rather than to pour them out in a rush of words—don’t simply tell, show through imagery and detail.

  1. Write a poem about a friend with whom you’ve lost contact.
  2. Write a poem about ending a friendship or a romantic relationship.
  3. Write a poem about reconnecting with an old friend or a former lover.
  4. Write a poem about being isolated from others (emotionally, physically).
  5. Write a poem about missing someone—a major "disconnect" in your life.
  6. Write a poem about a lasting connection in your life.
  7. Write a poem about the “connectedness” of humankind.
  8. Write a poem about  what it means to never speak to someone again.
  9. Write a poem about feeling isolated (for whatever reason).
  10. Write a  poem about something missing or isolated within yourself.  


P.S. It’s great to be back blogging and to being connected to you!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

I hope that all of you in Hurricane Sandy’s path, your families, and your homes came through safely! Sandy hit my corner of the country with winds that gusted to over 85 miles per hours throughout the night of October 29th. The town in which I live took a direct hit, and I was without electricity, landline, etc. from Monday night (Oct. 29th) until Saturday night (Nov. 3rd). Then, even though the electricity was restored, I didn't have TV, Internet, or phone until about an hour ago.

There are still many trees and some power lines down all over town. One of my beautiful huge pines out back went down and took out the neighbor's fence and my arbor, but there was no major damage to property. As I look at news photos and at my neighbors’ properties, I feel very blessed.

I have a generator, and that was a big help with the refrigerator and sump pump (though we didn't need the latter). We used a propane heater in the living room during the nights and on Wednesday an electrician neighbor came over and hooked up the generator to the furnace so there was central heat. Gas, however, was hard to find, and we had to wait in lines for up to four hours to fill the red plastic gas containers for the generator. We alternated between the generator and the propane heater as much as possible.

Chaucey, bless his little furry-ness, got through it all without even noticing that anything was amiss!

This has been like living in another century, but the sun is shining today, and now with all the utilities back, things are much more normal. Again, I hope you're all safe!

I've missed sharing poetry with you here on the blog, and I'll catch up with your comments soon. Please "stay tuned" — I'll post a new prompt this coming Saturday. Thank you again for your caring and for your concern!

(Photo: My pine tree and the empty space where the arbor was.)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Prompt #124 – Costumes

Halloween is just four days away—one of my favorite days of the year!

It's widely believed that Halloween was influenced by western European harvest festivals with roots in earlier traditions, especially the Celtic Samhain (pronounced SAH-win). Samhain, the Celtic New Year, was celebrated on November 1st. According to the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress, the Celts gathered around bonfires lit to honor the dead. At Samhain, the Celts believed that the wall between worlds was at its thinnest and that the ghosts of the dead could re-enter the material world to mingle with the living. At Samhain, the Celts sacrificed animals and wore costumes (most probably animal skins). They also wore masks or colored their faces to confuse faeries, demons, and human spirits that were thought to walk among them.
Originally celebrated on May 13th from 609 AD, the date of All Saints’ was changed by Pope Gregory IV in 835 AD to November 1st, the same day as Samhain. All Saints’ was followed by All Souls’ Day on November 2nd and, by the end of the 12th century, these days together became Holy Days of Obligation—days in the Church’s calendar set aside to honor the saints and to pray for the souls of the recently departed. Related traditions included groups of poor people and children who went “souling” from door to door on All Saints’/All Souls’ to beg for traditional soul cakes (mentioned by Shakespeare in The Two Gentleman of Verona when Speed accuses his master of puling [whimpering] like a beggar at Hallowmas). In return for the soul cakes, the beggars promised to pray for the households’ dead. “Souling” is very likely the older tradition from which today’s trick or treating evolved. Click here for a Soul Cake recipe: Click here for a Soul Cake recipe.
Dressing up in costumes (called “fancy dress” in England) has a long history. Masked balls and other fancy dress occasions were popular long before the custom of wearing costumes on Halloween came into popular practice. Halloween costumes as we know them today were first recorded as late as 1895 in Scotland with little evidence of the practice in England, Ireland, or the US before 1900. Early Halloween costumes took their character from Halloween’s pagan and Gothic sensibilities and were worn mainly by children. These costumes were made at home from found materials, but by the 1930s, several companies began to manufacture Halloween costumes for sale in stores, and trick or treating became popular in North America. 
From the time I was little, I enjoyed Halloween costumes for the pure fun of them but also because in costume I was able to step out of myself and into another personality. Back on October 23, 2012, we wrote about masks. This week, in honor of Halloween, the challenge is to write about a costume that you’ve worn, would like to wear, or would never wear (an actual costume or a metaphorical costume).


Write a poem about a costume “experience” that you  had as a child or as an adult.

Write a poem about a costume that you’d love to wear. What’s the “character” you’d like to “become” on a Halloween night? Why and how would a particular costume take you out of yourself and into a new personality?

Write a poem about the costume would you never want to wear and why.

Write a poem about a Halloween costume that corresponds to a current news event; be sure to explain why you would choose this costume.

Write a poem in which you “create” a bizarre costume that makes no reasonable sense—a fantasy costume. Describe it and explain what it means to you.

Write a poem about the animal you’d like to dress up as and “become” on Halloween night.

Write a poem about a historical person whom you’d like to “become” on Halloween. 

Write a poem about about a costume party that you attended. 

Remember as you write to let your poem take you where it wants to go and to be aware of meanings other than the obvious.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Prompt #123– Something Magical

I know I promised that this wouldn’t be an “about me” blog, but sometimes an incredible magic happens when we take our poetry into the world, and I’d like to share a recent experience with you. Last Sunday (October 14th), I had the honor of reading at the 14th Biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. I read from my newest collection of poems, What Matters, which speaks to the fact that we’re all survivors of one thing or another (fear, grief, illness, loss). The individual details may be different, but we’re all survivors.

When I read from the book’s second section (which deals with my own breast cancer experience), I spoke about the conditions of survival and the ways in which we remember how to live. I also mentioned that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month—a time to remember and a time to hope for a cure. Spoken word poet Taylor Mali read after I did and noted that he lost his mom to breast cancer; he then read a poem about his mom that he dedicated to her and to me—a lovely, spontaneous gesture.

After the reading, a lady I’d never met before asked me to sign her program and said my words would remain with her (that’s her with me in the photo above). On the way out of the building, a group of young people came up to me and thanked me for the reading—several shook my hand, and one said that his mother is a survivor and that he could hear her “life” in my poems. Later, in NJPAC’s lobby area, two ladies asked me to sign their copies of What Matters (I remembered seeing them at  the reading). One told me that she, too, is a survivor and how much my poems meant to her. In the book tent, a man came up to me and said that his wife is a survivor and that after hearing my poems he understands better what she went through. He said he was going home after the festival to give her a big hug and a copy of my book (I admit to the tears in my eyes.) These were all reactions that I couldn't possibly have anticipated.

Reading at the Dodge Festival was a special honor, and I send my sincerest thanks to Martin Farawell, Dodge Poetry Program Director, for inviting me to be part of such an exceptional poetry celebration. As always, the Festival brought people together and reminded us that poetry is about addressing the human condition deeply and, in the process, confirming that we’re all brothers and sisters—that we’re not alone. I’m so very grateful! 

This week, I’d like you to write about a magical moment in your life. There’s no formula for such moments, most come unplanned and unexpected, and are all the more meaningful for that. As Jane Kenyon wrote in her poem “Happiness,”

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet …

The experience you write about this week may be a major one (falling in love, your wedding, the birth of a child, a long-time goal achieved, surviving a challenge) or it may be a small moment of joy (a detail in the happiness of your larger life). Your moment may be part of a continuum as in “Painting”  by my dear friend and distinguished poet Ed Romond:


I still hear his voice urging
me to bring the brush back
to blend the paint into one
continuous stroke of green.
I don’t know why after 50 years
these words remain
like lyrics of a favorite song
but I keep seeing that Saturday …

This week, you’re called to remember and to write. Dig deeply into your heart’s archives and look around you (perhaps the leaves’ changing colors, a certain song, a photograph, or a souvenir tucked away in a dresser drawer will bring a special moment back to you).

Here are five tips:

1. Don’t simply tell a story (remember, this is a poem, not a journal entry, and you’ll need to avoid writing from a prose impulse as you move from the personal to the universal).

2. Work on a sense of immediacy (even when you write in the past tense). Stay away from the passive voice, and be wary of words that end in “ing” (gerunds).

3. Avoid over-use of adjectives 

4. Eliminate prepositions whenever you can (i.e., the sky’s length rather than the length of the sky).

5. Don’t over-write—watch out for too many details, and don’t try to explain everything. Think about this: a poem with only five great lines should be five lines long. And remember what Dylan Thomas wrote, “You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it tick … you’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps … so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.”


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Prompt #122 – What Drives You?

A week ago, I was parked in the local Lord & Taylor parking lot and came out of the store to find that someone had hit the passenger side of my car. The damage was mostly streaks of paint from the other car with some sizeable scrapes – nothing huge, but the person who did it didn’t leave a note – nothing. Needless to say, I was annoyed. A friend compounded most of the paint off my car, but the scrapes are deep and will need a substantial amount of touching up. A few days later, the same friend’s 1968 Mustang won best in show at a car show. Then, a day or two later I came across the quote, “It’s not what you drive, it’s what drives you” in a magazine article; and this morning, on my way to the hairdresser’s, the old Car’s song “Drive” came on the radio. Click Here to Listen to "Drive"

Seemed a whole lot of driving-related activity, and that thought nudged me to reflect upon what drives us, what things motivate people, and how those motivations impact our own and others’ lives.

“What drives you?” suggests purpose – your fundamental “reason why.” What’s your motivating force, your energy’s inspiration, the essential gear in your metaphorical wheel, the axle around which your life’s wheel turns? What gives your life purpose and meaning?

Are you driven
  • to do well at your job,
  • to succeed in personal matters,
  • to care for your family,
  • to be healthy,
  • to serve others,
  • to be accepted,
  • to be popular,
  • to be honest and reliable,
  • to live a simple life,
  • to acquire wealth and status,
  • to create art,
  • to find spiritual peace,
  • to advance your career,
  • to be a winner,
  • to receive financial reward for your efforts,
  • to continue learning and growing as a person,
  • to remain close to your faith?
This week, the challenge is to write a poem about a major driving force in your life. You might write about something that drives you now, or you might consider writing about a past motivation, where it lead you, what happened as a result, and how/if that driving force changed over time. I suggest that you keep the poem to a maximum of about 25 lines (less is fine); work on defining your “drive” and clarifying through example. Use a figure of speech or two, and as always, let your poem develop layers of meaning (don’t just tell a story, give the story more than its obvious meaning).


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Prompt #121 – Weathering the Weather

We don’t have to be meteorologists to have an interest in the weather, and we all talk about the weather often enough (for some, it may be the easiest topic of conversation). Weather certainly happens to all of us, making it something that all people have in common. Weather may not be the only determinant for our emotions and moods, but it does seem to play a role, and it really can affect our thoughts and productivity. People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) experience moods very strongly associated with the weather. Think about it: how do you feel on a rainy day, on a sunny day, on a snowy day, and when severe weather is in the forecast?

This year there has been an abundance of rain in my corner of the world. A hot, humid summer, and days of rain again this week with unseasonably warm temps, and high humidity (just as I was ready for some crisp, clear autumn air). With global warming, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods so often in the news, I thought it might be interesting to write about weather conditions and how they make us feel. Extending that thought, I wondered how we might use “weather” to write poems that go beyond the obvious. That’s this week’s challenge!


Write a poem about a specific event that you associate with a particular weather condition (something that happened during a rainstorm, a snowstorm, a sunny day, or any other weather). 

Create symbolic and metaphorical meanings. Write a poem in which you use “weather” as an extended metaphor.

We’ve all heard the old phrase “weathering a storm.” Think of “weather” as a verb rather than as a noun. What experiences or “storms” have you “weathered?” Write a poem not about an actual weather condition but, rather, about an experience that had a considerable effect on your life (emotional, spiritual, a trying time, a test of faith, etc.). How did you “weather" that storm?

Write a poem in which you use weather imagery to set tone and mood.

Write a poem about a “wind” that blew into your life to challenge or inspire you.

Write a poem in which you describe the “weather” of your love life.

Compare yourself (or someone else) to a particular weather (sunshine, rain, snow, tornado, hurricane, typhoon).

Write a “weather forecast” poem for something in your life (relationship, job, friendship, etc.).

For an added challenge, write a poem entitled “Whether or Weather.”

Remember to give your poem room to “breathe,” to go where it needs to go; and leave some spaces for readers to fill in.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Prompt #120 The Adeleanelle

I admit, with a slightly red face, that I’ve never written a villanelle, though I do admit that I have enjoyed reading a few, especially Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” I’ve excused myself with the thought that formula poems are almost mathematical (and math was never my strong suit) but, perhaps I’m just a coward …

Developed in France and  introduced into English literature during the late 1800s, a villanelle has 19 lines, with two repeating lines throughout the poem. Here’s the canonical format:

Refrain 1 (A1)
Line 2 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 4 (a)
Line 5 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)

Line 7 (a)
Line 8 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 10 (a)
Line 11 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)

Line 13 (a)
Line 14 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 16 (a)
Line 17 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)
Refrain 2 (A2)

(Are you confused yet?) The first five stanzas contain three lines (triplets), and the last stanza contains four lines (a quatrain). The 1st (A1) and 3rd (A2) lines of the first stanza are alternately repeated, with the 1st line becoming the last line of the second and the fourth stanzas, and the 3rd line becoming the last line of the third and fifth stanzas. Lines 1 and 3 are repeated again to  become the last two lines of the final stanza. (Feeling compulsive?) There is no prescribed meter or line length; however, iambic (ta-DUM) and four or five feet per line are good bets. (Do you have an idea now why I’ve never tried to write one?) Of course, modern attempts stray from the rules and allow for some flexibility, and enjambments can be used to help the course of the poem. Note: Poems have two basic types of line breaks: end-stopped and enjambed (in an enjambed line, the break occurs in the middle of a sentence or phrase; end-stopped lines end with punctuation).

In one of my workshop groups, I recently taught the villanelle and, although it was happily received, the group members thought the form was too strict and too rigid for their purposes.  They asked if I would come up with a slightly simpler format loosely based on the villanelle but “easier.” Dubbed by group members as the “Adeleanelle,” here’s what we worked with.
  1. A twelve-line poem divided into three four-line stanzas.
  2. No rhyme and no prescribed meter.
  3.  Each stanza begins with the same word.
  4.  Line 1 is repeated as line 5.
  5.  Line 4 is repeated as line 12.
  6. The poem takes its title from the fourth line of the first stanza.

Here’s an unedited example from the group (thanks, Jayne R. for your permission to print it here).

Another Time, Another Life (the title is line 4)

Line 1                                                 And now in the retelling, 
Line 2                                                 I wish and wish again that
Line 3                                                 the dream had been a dream—
Line 4                                                 another time, another life …

Line 5  (repeat line 1)                         And now in the retelling,
Line 6                                                 I wish you here, my love,
Line 7                                                 your still eyes wide (alive),
Line 8                                                 nothing in the shadows—

Line 9                                                 And only light and light—
Line10                                                where loss forgets its place
Line 11                                               and your hand is warm in mine,
Line 12 (repeat line 4)                        another time, another life …

If the Adeleanelle doesn’t strike your fancy and you want to go for a “real thing” challenge, click here for a great villanelle "how-to."

Note: Keep in mind that whatever you choose, meaning should never be subordinate to form!

Villanelle Examples: