Saturday, January 28, 2012

Prompt #88 - Muse-ing

Erato, Muse of Poetry by Sir Edward John Poynter, 1870

Have you ever thought about what drives you to write? In Greek mythology, the Muses, in ancient Greek αἱ μοῦσαι (hai moũsai), were minor goddesses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, believed to inspire music, song, dance, and poetry. At some point, nine Muses were assigned to specific arts: Kalliope, epic poetry; Kleio, history; Ourania, astronomy; Thaleia, comedy; Melpomene, tragedy; Polyhymnia, religious hymns; Erato, erotic poetry; Euterpe, lyric poetry; and Terpsikhore, choral song and dance. On Mount Helicon, home to the Muses, were two sacred springs: the Aganippe and the Hippocrene. The Hippocrene spring (Ἱππου κρήνης) was considered a source of poetic inspiration (Tennyson referred to it in his poem “Ode to a Nightengale,” and Longfellow mentioned it in “Goblet of Life”).

With Muses in mind, I've chosen an inspiration poem by William  Stafford for this week's prompt:

When I Met My Muse

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off – they were still singing. They buzzed  
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. "I am your own
way of looking at things," she said. "When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation." And I took her hand.

The key notion of this poem is one of self-awareness and our ability to express individual ways of seeing things. Stafford speaks to the importance of accepting who we most truly are. To live with your Muse, then, is to live comfortably with yourself.

Before writing, let’s “muse” a bit on what inspires us. What inspires you to write poetry? What’s your Muse like? Is she ever-present or does she favor three martini lunches and long vacations in the south of France? In what kind of surroundings or landscapes do you find your Hippocrene spring? When you first started writing poetry, what inspired you? What inspires you now? Is there a person or place from which you draw inspiration? An emotion? Are you inspired by other poets? A particular poet? Is there a spiritual “place” to which you return repeatedly for inspiration?

Let your musings and Stafford’s poem serve as inspiration for this week’s poem. Take the cues from your Muse and choose one of the following:

1. Write a poem about your Muse (serious or funny).

2. Write a poem about your “Hippocrene Spring” (your best source of inspiration – one to which you return often in your poems).

3. Ray Bradbury wrote, “In a lifetime we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. These are the stuffs, the foods, on which The Muse grows.” Write a poem about the ways in which you “feed” your Muse.

4. Write a poem about living comfortably (or uncomfortably) with yourself.

P.S.  Here's the link to another "Muse" poem that I hope you'll enjoy: "A Muse" by Reginald Shepherd.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Prompt #87 - The Memory of Water

A couple of nights ago I watched a DVD of my favorite British detective series, “Rosemary and Thyme.” I’ve watched all the episodes more than once, and the show I watched that night is my favorite: “The Memory of Water.” As I lay in bed thinking about the show, I segued into thoughts of this week’s prompt. Wide-awake, I reached for the top book on my bedside pile of poetry collections and opened to  Mary Oliver's "Beside the Waterfall." The next book in the pile was Diane Lockward's Temptation by Water (click link to read the title poem:

While wading in "water poems," it occurred to me that people have long sought the physical, psychological, religious, and spiritual healing powers of water – at the River Ganges; in the ancient Roman baths; in the spa waters of Bath in Somerset, England; at Mecca's holy spring of Zamzan; in Christian baptisms; at Lourdes in France; and throughout the world at various healing water sites. Continuing to think about water, I remembered reading somewhere that about 70% of the world is covered in water and about 75% of the human body is water. There I was, completely “immersed” in water thoughts and tempted by water (a la Diane's book) to write a "water prompt." 

A few ideas:

Write a poem about a water “experience” you’ve had.
Write a poem about a time that water touched your life in a special/dramatic/exciting way.
Write a poem about a time that water was healing for you.
Write a poem about a memorable rainstorm or hurricane.
Write a poem about the importance of protecting the earth’s water sources.
Write a poem about a landscape in which water is prominent.
Write a poem about a time when you were “transformed” by water.

And on the lighter side:

Write about a time that you went skinny-dipping.
Write about your earliest memory of being in water.
Write about a beach or pool party you attended.
Write a bath poem or a take-off on the old song "Splish Splash."
Write about your life as a fish in a bowl.
Write about a water cooler.
Write about a water fantasy titled “Alice in Waterland.”

Sample Poems

And, by way of sharing, here’s a “water poem” that I wrote as an elegy for a friend.

Black River by Adele Kenny

In the almost-dark of a late spring
evening, the air still holds a scent of
moss on dampened stone, the bitter
tang of bluebells.

You are with me because I remember
(the sense of you just over my left
shoulder), a shadow that follows
the light.

This was your place, where the world
should have let you go – here where
the river turns, a fishing pole in your
hand, the back of

your brown flannel shirt slipped from
your belt, your old shoes worn, as
they always were, on the insides
of their heels.

I have come to touch your death with
the palm of my hand, clench my fist
around it, and fling it upstream –
bone ash into space.

Go! Go now! I call down the stars
for your ransom. One by one they
fall into the river, which carries
them all away.

(from What Matters, Welcome Rain Publishers, New York, NY, 2011)

Click Cover for Info and Orders

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Prompt #86 – Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul, 

And sings the tune – without the words, 

And never stops at all …

– Emily Dickinson

This week, I thought it would be interesting to write about hope and the ways in which it manifests itself in our lives. As an emotional state, hope is the opposite of despair. Everyone hopes for something, and it is hope that often sustains us through challenging times. Hope is also about anticipation and looking forward to things we want. Many believe that hope can become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. 

“Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.” (Source:

Example Poems:

For Reflection Before You Begin Writing:

 1. What do you hope for?
 2. What have you hoped for?
 3. How have your hopes been realized?
 4. How have your hopes ended in sadness or disappointment?
 5. How have you dealt with the fallout of ruined hopes?
 6. It’s been written that lies shatter hope. How has a lie shattered your hope?
 7. How do you “live in hope?”
 8. How can you relate the term “be careful what you hope for” to a personal experience?
 9. What metaphor can you create for “hope,” and how can you work it into a poem?
10. How can you express what "hope" means in the context of your personal faith system?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Poetry Prompt #85 - Through the Looking Glass

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (the sequel to Alice in Wonderland), Alice goes through a looking glass into a world that is identifiable but strangely “sideways.” Has there ever been a time in your life when you metaphorically went “through a looking glass” to find your world askew? In what ways has your “looking glass” been a source of revelation?

This week, let’s think about “looking glass” reflections of ourselves – the past, and what we see when we look into reflectors of any kind. The poem this week will be a kind of reflection on your reflection. As you write, be sure to focus on content, imagery, and a strong emotional center. Engage your readers with language, meaning, and opportunities for them to identify with you through your poem.

Here are a few “reflection” options for you to explore.

1. Write about a time in your life when you metaphorically went “through a looking glass” to find your world “turned around.”

2. Write a poem in which you use the term looking glass either literally or symbolically.

3. Write a poem about what you see when you look into your mirror. (Look deeply … who and what do you see? Do you see something in your own eyes that others may see? Do you see a reflection of your mother or father in your own face? Do you see eyes that hide or express emotion?)

4. Write a poem about seeing your own reflection in someone else’s eyes.

5. Write a poem about seeing your reflection in a lake or pond or in a window (house, store, car, train, computer screen). Where are you? What are the circumstances of your being in that place? What do you see when you look at your reflection? You may choose to start with the present scene (looking at your reflection) and then go back to the past; bring the poem full circle with a return to the present.

6. Write a poem about someone else who looks into his or her mirror and sees a reflection of you. What does the person see?

7. Write a complete fantasy about a mirror, a looking glass, a reflection of yourself, or a reflection of someone else. How about writing a fantasy dream to parallel Alice’s experience in Through the Looking Glass?

8. Write a poem in which you look into a mirror and see the past or the future. Look at your younger or older self and create a monologue or dialogue.

Sample Poems:

And ... by way of further inspiration ... Through the Looking Glass music. Enjoy!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Emily Dickinson First Book Award

For readers who have their first book length manuscript ready to submit, the Poetry Foundation announces the 2012 Emily Dickinson First Book Award. This is an occasional contest (not held annually) intended to recognize an American poet, aged 40 or older, who has not yet published a collection of poems. The winning book will be published by Graywolf Press, and the winner will receive a prize of $10,000. Manuscripts will be accepted from January 16 through February 17, 2012. The winner will be notified by April 30, 2012 and publicly announced at the Pegasus Awards ceremony in 2012. There is no entry fee.