Saturday, June 29, 2013

Prompt #152 – Over the Moon

Writing poems about the moon is probably as old as written language and might seem a bit “done.” However, inspired by Midsummer Night on the 21st, immediately followed by a “supermoon,” I thought it might be interesting to have a go at “lunar” poems this week—not the typical or expected fare but, rather, moon poems that speak to the ways in which we can take a familiar theme and make it “new.”

The goal this week is to approach the moon from a fresh perspective, with memorable ideas and images that startle (and, hopefully, delight) your readers. Be aware that your poem should address the actual subject and should contain a deeper meaning as well. Remember that really good poems often contain the shock of discovery—something life-illuminating that happens when you write and when your poem is read.

Some Ideas to Consider:

1. A honeymoon (a get-away taken by a man and a woman immediately after their marriage).

2. Moonshine whiskey (illegal liquor, made by a “moonshiner” in a secret still).

3. An eclipse of the moon (when the moon appears darkened as it passes through the earth’s shadow).

4. Being moonstruck (so in love that one cannot think clearly or behave normally).

5. A mooncalf  (a pejorative used to suggest that someone is stupid, a blockhead, a fool, or otherwise not very intelligent).

6. Being “over the moon” (extremely delighted about something).

7. “Shooting for the moon” (being highly ambitious).

8. “Mooning about” (as in hopelessly in love).

9. “Once in a blue moon” (something that happens very rarely).

10. “Casting beyond the moon” (making wild speculations).

11. “Moonlighting” (in the US, having a night job in addition to day-time employment—in Australia, riding after cattle at night—in the UK, illegal work—and in Ireland, once used to describe violence carried out at night).

12. The famous line from the old Honeymooners show in which Ralph Cramden (Jackie Gleason) says to his wife, “To the moon, Alice!”

13. The man, or the rabbit, in the moon.

14. The old silliness about the moon being made of green cheese.

15.  The old fad for “mooning” (referring to a bare, moon-like posterior displayed to passersby).


Click on the Titles to Read the Example Poems

At a Lunar Eclipse by Thomas Hardy
December Moon by Brenda Hillman
Honeymoon by Louis Simpson
I'm Over the Moon by Brenda Shaughnessy
Moon Gathering by Eleanor Wilner
Moonlight by Sara Teasdale
Moonrise by H. D.
The Distant Moon by Rafael Campo
The Harvest Moon by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Moon in Time Lapse by David Rivard
The Wind and the Moon by George Macdonald
The Wind and the Other Moon by Robert Gregory
Under the Harvest Moon by Carl Sandburg

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Prompt #151 – Personal Ad Poem

In journalism, the personals section is comprised of brief, private notices in newspapers or magazines. Typically printed in a special part of the classified advertising section, “personals” are sometimes addressed to a particular person and are sometimes “coded” to provide confidentiality. In most media, the personals section is a place for people to connect. People  list their positive attributes, best qualities, and/or interests, along with contact information in the hope of meeting a significant other or just making friends with a similar-minded someone. Online dating sites have eclipsed the old personal columns to some extent, but they’re still found in many newspapers. For this prompt, write a poem for the personals sections of a newspaper. Have fun with this! 


Begin with a persona (either your actual persona or a fictional one).

Try beginning with the word “You” in the title (headline) to engage the reader. 

Include something like this: Unknown poet seeks appreciative and nonjudgmental reader who can read between the lines.

Ask a question, again engaging the reader.

Note your gender and age. Tell what's important to you.

If you're writing about yourself, be honest, but step out of your box a little.

List your attributes (be sure to exaggerate). Show the personality in the ad, don't tell about it.

Address the reader with a challenge to think about something that requires use of his or her imagination. i.e., Imagine ______________. 

Describe the person you'd like to meet.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Prompt #150 – A Line or Phrase

Is there a line (or phrase) from a book, play, poem, movie, or song  that you’ve never forgotten,  a few words from a remembered source that has a special meaning for you?

  • Maybe the first line in a novel has stayed with you (for example, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities).

  • Or perhaps a line from a song (for example, “All lies and jest, still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest” from  Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”).

  • Or a famous line from a poem, such as Tennyson’s “Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all;”  Eliot’s “Not with a bang but a whimper;” or Frost’s “and miles to go before I sleep.” 

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

1. Think about a line from a book, play, poem, movie, or song that means something special to you (that you carry with you) and write a poem based on that line.

2. Often book titles draw inspiration from poems such as Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion (based on a line from Yeats’s “The Second Coming”); Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (from a line in Robert Burns’s “To A Mouse”); and Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle from Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Along this line (pun intended), you may want to use a line from a poem (or part of it) as the title for your poem and work from that.

I couldn’t find any great example poems for this week’s prompt, so I hope some of you will post your poems or let me know if you come across any that fit the prompt! 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Prompt #149 – Questions

Right now, at this point in your life, what questions do you ask yourself? Is there one particular question that haunts you? What I’m getting at is what question or questions do you have about yourself, your life, your place in the world? What questions lead you to the deepest self-discovery, help others discover you, and bring you to a place of definition and clarity? This prompt calls for a fair amount of reflection and introspection, but its direction is simple. Write a poem about a question you ask yourself. Remember that this is a question about you, not about others or about anything else in the world. (You may choose to begin with a list of questions and narrow the choices to one or a few.)

Things to Think About Before Writing:
  • Are there things you question about yourself (feelings, motivations, relationships, faith, responses to situations, ways of dealing with stresses).
  • Are there things you feel others don’t understand about you?
  • What’s the single biggest question you have?
  • What question(s) do you think your spouse, partner, children, or closet friend might ask you?

  1. Because the poem is personal, there should be a sense of intimacy, but don’t let this become a confessional poem.
  2. Alternate questions with declarative sentences.
  3. Don’t over-tell.
  4. Avoid sentimentality.
  5. Use sound—“the music in it”— to enhance meaning (alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme, off or near rhyme, onomatopoeia, dissonance, repetition).
  6. Remember that understatement and nuance can be more powerful than telling too much.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Prompt #148 – A Favorite Book from Childhood

For some of us, a love of the written word began in childhood, possibly with the popular Golden Books and series like the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mysteries. There were also Trixie Belden books (among my favorites) and classics of children’s literature such as Treasure Island, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Tom Sawyer, Robin Hood, and Alice in Wonderland, along with more recent “classics,” including Charlotte’s Web, the Harry Potter books, and poems by Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein.

Back in the days of my own childhood, my one of my favorite books was a collection of poems by Eugene Field. (Anyone remember his "Wynken, Bylnken, and Nod"?) This was the book with which my mother taught me how to read when I was four years old, during the summer I was in bed with what the doctors diagnosed as “polio fever.” From that summer on, I loved books and became a devoted reader. When I was in third grade, I found a book in our classroom library titled Ellen Tebbits (a 1951 children’s novel by Beverly Cleary). The story tells about the adventures of a little girl named Ellen Tebbits and her friend Austine. The book has been called “pure nostalgic Americana” by children’s lit expert Anita Silvey and, although I doubt if it’s read very much anymore, I must have read it at least five or six times.

The importance of literacy and books in children’s development is clear but, sadly, children in many parts of the world grow up without books. For most of us, it’s hard to imagine our own childhoods without the literature that ignited our imaginations, taught us about people and life in other countries, excited and delighted us, supported good habits and values, and introduced us to poetry. Today’s e-book technologies (the Internet, Kindles, and Nooks) bring fast and easy electronic access to books, but there are no real page turns, no dog-earred corners, no scent or feel of paper, and reading electronically can be a bit like buying pre-made coffee or wine in cardboard boxes. Don’t get me wrong: the technologies have many plusses, but still I like to think that actual books will always have a place in young readers’ lives. For me, there’s nothing quite as special as the look and feel of a book in my hands, and I still treasure the books I read as a child, many of which hold pride of place on shelves in my home.

This week’s prompt asks you to think about books you enjoyed as a child and to write a poem about one of those books (a chapter book, a picture book, or a collection of children’s verse).

Things to Think About:
  1. What were some of the books you loved as a child? (Make a list.)
  2. What was your favorite childhood book? How many times did you read it?
  3. Why did you love about that book?
  4. Who was the main character?
  5. What did the main character teach you?
  6. What feelings did the book and the main character inspire in you?
  7. Is the book still popular today? Why or why not?
  8. What memories of your childhood does your favorite book call to mind?
  9. When you think of your favorite childhood book, what people do you remember? (What are the connections?)
  10. In what way or ways is your favorite childhood book a metaphor for your youth?

Every poem needs a strong emotional center that doesn’t smother meaning with sentiment—subtlety (and that doesn’t mean obscurity) is necessary for a poem to succeed. Be wary of overstatement. Don’t tell too much—leave room for your readers to fill in some gaps. Sometimes what you don’t write is as important as what you commit to words.

After Writing, Things to Consider:
  1. Does your first line (or first thought) invite the reader into your poem?           
  2. Have you used sounds effectively?
  3. Are there unnecessary words that you might delete such as superfluous adjectives? 
  4. Do you bring the poem to closure with a confident “punch?”
  5. Might you have concluded the poem sooner than you did? (Remember that a poem usually suffers when you “tie it up in a neat package” at the end.) 


A Note to Readers

While a lot of poetry activity stops during the summer and a number of journals are closed to submissions, there are many print journals that do read during June, July, and August. If you’re looking for places to send your poems this summer, be sure to visit poet Diane Lockward’s blog (Blogalicious) for a comprehensive list, complete with links.  Thanks, Diane, for this great resource! 

Click title to order Diane's most recent poetry collection, Temptation by Water.