Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all many blessings and a happy, healthy New Year 
filled with poems to read, to write, and to share!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Happy Holidays!


Dear Blog Readers,

This time of year is usually hectic for many of us (today is my birthday, tomorrow is the first day of Advent, there's holiday shopping to do, cards to send, gifts to wrap, and the usual writing deadlines to meet). With seasonal busy-ness and commitments in mind, I take a brief hiatus most years during December. If you find yourself wishing you had a prompt or two, please look through the archives and, hopefully, you'll find some old prompts that work for you. Along with that, here's a list of potential sources of inspiration that might be helpful:

1. A special holiday gift you've received.
2  A special holiday season memory.
3. A person you associate with Christmases or Hanukkahs past.  
4. A favorite holiday season song (rewrite the lyrics).
5. A gift you'd like to receive (your Christmas wish list, or a letter to Santa).
6. Your favorite holiday food or drink.
7. Winter birds.
8. Snow.
9. A holiday memory about a cherished pet.
10. Special holiday traditions.

 Regular weekly posts will resume on Saturday, January 2, 2016.

I wish you all a holiday season filled with good health, light, joy, and peace!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Prompt #239 – Object-ive Associations

We often discuss being objective about our poems when we edit and refine them (of course, we all know that real objectivity about our own work is next to impossible). Last week we wrote about pieces of furniture—this week, we’re going to spin the word objective and use an object as inspiration—let’s take a fresh look at something to which we don’t generally pay a lot of attention. (Some might call these "object poems.")


1. Take a look around your living space and select an odd, unusual, or taken-for-granted object—something that speaks to you about its unusualness, a special time, someone who gifted the object to you, or a memory associated with the object. Remember that this must be an inanimate object.

2. Free write about the object and its associations. Or, make a list of things that the object calls to mind.

3. Establish your connection with the object.

4. Working from your free write or list, begin to draft a poem using the object’s name as your working title (remember that a working title can be changed later on).

5. Don’t make this a personification or persona poem. That is, don’t ascribe human characteristics to the object. Write from your point of view, not the object’s.


1. Think about possibly transforming an unusual object into something familiar.

2. Describe your chosen object, reference it, give it a sense of movement and trajectory.

3. Think in terms of the senses, especially colors and textures.

4. Create a second subject in your poem by thinking beyond the object itself to what it means to you (or what it might mean to someone else).

5. Don’t just write a flat description of an object; your poem should be based on imagery rather than philosophy or psychology to underscore the poem’s meaning(s). Be sure to go beyond the obvious!

6. Be as objective as possible when you edit and refine your poem (imagine a big smile here)!  


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Prompt #238 –Not Just Wood (Chrome, Glass, or Plastic)

This week the challenge is to write a poem based on a piece of furniture. Yep—that’s right—a piece of furniture. Furniture is often merely functional, but there are special, meaningful pieces that we hold close in memory or live with every day.

For example, here’s a poem that Robert Rosenbloom wrote in memory of his mom—it’s about an ordinary breakfront that he remembers from his youth, but the memory and meaning are much greater than the piece of furniture called to mind in the poem.


I am forever grateful to my mother
for prayers she uttered alongside
our breakfront, for the yearly
metamorphosis of this

bulky red-brown furniture
into ark and tabernacle.
I am grateful for how she
helped blessings rain down

on its contents, a hardcover
War and Peace no one read,
a chrome serving tray
meant for show,

a miniature torah scroll from
one of the bar-mitzvah cakes,
all visible behind the glass,
baseball card sets, a shoebox

full of family photos stored below,
behind one of its doors,
linen tablecloths and expensive
silverware kept in the drawers.

I am thankful for how she dovined*
before this tall, unsecured
ceilingscraper on the High Holy Days,
how it shook when she rocked

back and forth in awe, how
in a housedress, she turned
a circle of spotless living room
carpet into sacred ground.

 *Rocking back and forth in prayer

(From Reunion, Finishing Line Press, © 2010. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.)


1. What does Bob do in this poem to underscore the meaning of the breakfront for him?(What imagery, what reminiscences, what details?)

2. How, specifically, does he make the poem about more than a piece of furniture?
3. How does Bob remember his mom through the breakfront?
4. If the breakfront is the obvious subject of this poem, what is the unspoken or inherent subject?

Note: Bob has written of this poem: “Poetry is my ‘remembrance wall.’ There are so many ways to ‘honor thy parents’ and if they were good parents, even bad parents at times, why not? One of the answers to a poem like ‘Breakfront’ for me is that my parents gave me more than religion, they gave me faith, which means, at the least, not giving up and the recognition of that faith in everyone.” 


1. Think about a piece of furniture that you grew up with, that you once had in your adult life, or that you live with now that means something special to you.

2. Jot down how that piece of furniture came into your life, how it fit into your life, what it meant or means to you (and to other people who lived, or currently live with, it).

3. You may choose a large piece of furniture or something much smaller and not at all dominant in the room.

4. Bring a person, pet, or something “other” into your poem—something other than the piece of furniture

5. If you’re stuck on this one, you might consider writing from the point of view of the furniture piece. If you opt for that, be sure to bring in a human element. 


1. Your obvious subject in the poem you write this week will be the piece of furniture you’ve chosen. The goal is to develop that subject while working toward another, deeper meaning. Consider how Bob Rosenbloom’s poem “celebrates” the breakfront but also honors his mother and her faith, and what the example of her faith means to him now, many years later. He begins by expressing his gratitude—think about why he’s grateful. Are you grateful to the furniture piece you chose to write about for any reason (or perhaps just the opposite)?

2. Avoid sentimentality—an easy pitfall with a poem of this sort. Look at Bob’s poem again and see how he creates true poetic sentiment without being sentimental.

3. Remember that simply telling a story is nothing more than anecdotal—make your poem more than that. In other words, don't just tell a story that includes your piece of furniture—go deeper, use your furniture piece to somehow show something more.

4. Make sure your poem moves forward with a sense of “trajectory” and the momentum it needs to illuminate something about the human condition.

5. Create a coherent and concise “whole” of language, form, and meaning.

You can order Bob Rosenbloom’s book Reunion, which contains “Breakfront” (and other skillfully-written poems) by clicking on either of the following links (I recommend the book and know that you won't be disappointed if you order a copy):

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Prompt #237 – Relationship & Word

This week’s prompt asks you to think back to a relationship from your past (parent, friend, romantic, work, May-December, toxic, love/hate, abusive). If you think hard you’ll be able to define several. Focus on one and think about one word that describes or relates to that relationship. Can you write a poem about the relationship that uses the word just once for maximum effect (in the title and/or text of the poem)?


1. Think about your past relationships—don’t limit the kind of relationships you remember, and keep in mind that this must be a past relationship, not one in which you’re currently involved.

2. Choose one of your past relationships as the subject for your poem.

3. Think of a word that relates, directly or indirectly, to that relationship. Just one word, so make it a strong one!

4. Begin writing your poem (about the relationship) and include the word (in the title and/or within the poem). BUT …. here’s the challenge: you can only use the word once. Synonyms (as many as you like) are allowed, though.


1. Because you’re focused on two things in this poem (the relationship and the word), work toward incorporating them through imagery and content.

2. Try writing beyond your last line, then go back and find the real last line hidden in what you’ve written.

3. Don’t undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.

4. Leave your reader something to reflect upon.

5. Point toward something broader than the body of the poem.

Take a look at the poem below, “Red Bud,” from Nancy Lubarski’s book, Tattoos (Finishing Line Press, 2014, Copyright © 2014).

Although the poem wasn’t written for this prompt, it’s still a perfect example of what you might do with your own poem this week. In “Red Bud,” Nancy deals with the relationship between parents and children, loved ones, and losses. There are several relationships at work in this poem. The tree that fell in a storm might well be a metaphor for other kinds of loss. Notice how Nancy’s poem is image-based and written with absolute economy of words. This poem tells a story, but it’s not merely anecdotal—it does more than simply relate something that happened, it goes beyond the obvious and suggests something more than the loss of a tree. As I've noted often before, the best poems have more than one subject: their obvious subjects (of course) and one or more "inner" subjects as well. Think about how you can achieve this in your own work.

Which word in the poem do you think is the defining word in "Red Bud," articulated only once?  (Scroll down for the answer.)

Red Bud

When you planted it years
ago, it was to teach our two
sons about care and tending.

They helped you trim the
branches each spring to
ease its growth upward.

I wish the storm had spared
that Red Bud—the single
gust that ripped the roots

and toppled it.  Now, there will
be no more flowers. The boys
are older; they didn’t notice
that the tree was gone.
(Reprinted by permission of the author.)

You can order Tattoos (I recommend it highly!) directly from the publisher.

(Answer: The defining word in "Red Bud" is “gone,” effectively placed as the last word in the poem.)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Prompt #236 – Halloween (Post for October 24th & 31st)

When witches go riding, and black cats are seen,
the moon laughs and whispers, ‘tis near Halloween.
—Author Unknown

Because Halloween falls on the 31st, next Saturday, I thought I'd post a Halloween prompt this week and leave it up this week and next for you to enjoy.

BTW, did you know that the poet John Keats was born on Halloween in 1795? His last poem is an untitled, eight-line fragment that seems chillingly well-suited to Halloween:

                     This living hand, now warm and capable
                     Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
                     And in the icy silence of the tomb,
                     So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
                     That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
                     So in my veins red life might stream again,
                     And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
                     I hold it towards you.

For Halloween this year, simply read a selection of Halloween and related poems to get into the "spirit" (see example poems below), and then write a Halloween poem that brings back the memory of a particular Halloween (from childhood or more recent). There are no guidelines or tips other than to observe the usual caveats and to have fun with this. Here you go ...

  • Touch base with a Halloween memory, think in terms of a narrative poem (one that tells a story), and let the memory guide your poem. 
  • Be sure to evoke a mood or tone that's compatible with your subject.
  • Use language that's appropriate to Halloween and your Halloween experience.

Example Poems:
John Donne,
“The Apparition” (1633)

Robert Herrick,
“The Hag” (1648)

Robert Burns,
“Halloween” (1785)

George Gordon, Lord Byron,
“Darkness” (1816)

Edgar Allan Poe,
“Dream-Land” (1844)

Edgar Allan Poe,
“The Raven” (1845)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
“Haunted Houses” (1858) 

Christina Rossetti,
“Goblin Market” (1862)

Walt Whitman,
“The Mystic Trumpeter” (1872)

Abram Joseph Ryan,
“Song of the Deathless Voice” (1880)

Paul Laurence Dunbar,
“The Haunted Oak” (1903)

Edith Wharton,
“All Souls” (1909)

Adelaide Crapsey,
“To the Dead in the Graveyard Underneath My Window” (1915)

Robert Frost,
“Ghost House” (1915)

Thomas Hardy,
“The Shadow on the Stone” (1917)

And here's a Halloween prose poem from my book A Lightness, A Thirst, or Nothing at All    (Welcome Rain Publishers, 2015.
Click here to order via Amazon.


Trick-or-treaters come to the door repeatedly—little ones early, older kids into the night until she runs out of candy and turns off the outside lights. The wall between worlds is thin (aura over aura—stars flicker and flinch). The woman buttons her coat, checks her reflection in the mirror, and stands cheek to glass (eye on her own eye, its abstract edge). She leaves the house (empty house that we all become)—shadows shaped to the trees, crows in the high branches.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Prompt #235 – From A Different Perspective

This week, the challenge is to imagine that you’re someone else (a historical figure, a celebrity of any kind, anyone famous or infamous, a homeless person, a painter, a musician, one of your relatives or neighbors, a character from a song or novel) and, then, to write a poem from the perspective of that person. These are often called persona poems.


1. Start with a list in which you include as many details about the person you’ve chosen as you can.

2. Reflect on those details and decide which you can best use in a poem.

3. Remember that you’re writing from the perspective of the person you’ve chosen, not your own perspective. Consider how the person you’ve chosen might think and feel.

4. Begin writing and see where your poem takes you. One possibility is to begin or end your poem with a quote—something the person you’ve chosen actually said or wrote.

5. Consider writing a monologue in poem form.


1.  Be careful of saying too much and including too many details. Stay focused.

2.  Remember that you’re “speaking” through someone else’s voice.

3. Think in terms of your person’s viewpoints and perhaps include a fictional layer to address concepts and ideas with which you’re not completely comfortable yourself.

4. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re not writing about someone else, you are that someone for the space of your poem.

5. Remember that your poem shouldn’t include commentary or analysis.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Prompt #234 – One Sentence Long

One thing we’re all taught in writing classes is to watch out for run-on sentences. This week, just for fun, let’s try writing a single sentence poem (but not a typical run-on that wanders aimlessly along the page).

There are many such poems by very distinguished poets, including “Piedra de Sol” by Octavio Paz, which is a 584-line one-sentence poem (that ends with a colon).

One of my all-time favorites is Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough. 

And here’s a longer one-sentence poem by Linda Pastan:

The New Dog   

Into the gravity of my life,
the serious ceremonies
of polish and paper
and pen, has come

this manic animal
whose innocent disruptions
make nonsense
of my old simplicities—

as if I needed him
to prove again that after
all the careful planning,
anything can happen.
Another by Wallace Stevens:

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

And this from Adrienne Rich’s Twenty-One Love Poems:


The rules break like a thermometer,
quicksilver spills across the charted systems,
we’re out in a country that has no language
no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren
through gorges unexplored since dawn
whatever we do together is pure invention
the maps they gave us were out of date
by years … we’re driving through the desert
wondering if the water will hold out
the hallucinations turn to simple villages
the music on the radio comes clear—
neither Rosenkavalier nor Götterdämmerung
but a woman’s voice singing old songs
with new words, with a quiet bass, a flute
plucked and fingered by women outside the law.


1. Look at the example poems above and below. Notice how the poets use punctuation and line breaks to “pace” their poems. Try to do the same with your poem.

2. You might begin with  a free write that contains little or no punctuation.

3. Work toward a poem that’s 6-12 lines long, and don’t be afraid to try and divide into stanzas.


1. As always, avoid over-description and too many adjectives.

2. Don’t allow meaning to become subservient to form; that is, focus on what your poem means more than the lack of terminal punctuation.

3. Think in terms of semi-colons instead of periods.

4. Work through images as you tighten wording. 

5. Don't simply write a run-on sentence—make your one sentence poem interesting and accessible.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Prompt #233 –The Importance of Sports

With the soccer season in full swing (yes, I admit that soccer, especially British Premier League, is my sports passion), I find myself devoting large parts of my weekends to watching soccer on TV. Being a little (okay, a lot) soccer-obsessed, it occurs to me that sports are very much a part of many of our lives, whether we actually play sports, enjoy being spectators at live games and matches, or simple like watching them on TV.

Among numerous other benefits, participation in sports can

promote physical strength and mental alertness,
offer experiences in socialization and communication skills,
encourage a sense of team (community) spirit, and
foster greater self-confidence and healthy self-esteem.

Ah—I know you guessed this was coming, sports can also offer material for our poems.


1. Think about a sport that you enjoy:
  • a sport that you’ve played,
  • a sport that you enjoy watching (in person or on TV),
  • a sport that a family member, spouse, partner, or friend has played,
  • a sport that your children or grandchildren play,
  • a sport you’d like to play. 

2. Choose a sport and make that the initial subject of your poem.

3. Now, write a poem in which you use the sport you chose to convey a deeper message (remember that really good poems have more than one subject—the obvious subject and other unstated subjects).

4. Perhaps you’ll use a particular sport as an extended metaphor, or use sports imagery and vocabulary to give your poem a sports “base.”

5. Think beyond the obvious subject of your poem to discover what your poem might really be about.

6. An alternative might be to write an ode to a particular sport or sportsperson or, if you really don’t care for sports at all, write about why you don’t like sports (or a particular sport).

7. And here’s a fun option: since American baseball icon Yogi Berra passed away last week, many sites have featured what are known as Yogi-isms. These pithy witticisms often take the form of obvious tautologies or paradoxical contradictions but, more often than not, they hold fundamentally meaningful messages that offered as much wisdom as humor. Read the following Yogi-isms and choose one to incorporate into your poem in some way.
  • When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
  • You can observe a lot by just watching.
  • It ain’t over till it’s over. 
  •  It’s like déjà vu all over again.
  • No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded. 
  • A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
  • You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you. 
  • I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.
  • Never answer an anonymous letter.
  • The future ain’t what it used to be.
  • It gets late early out here.
  • Pair up in threes.
  • It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.
  • I never said most of the things I said.
  • If you ask me anything I don’t know, I’m not going to answer.
  • If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.


1. Avoid over use of adjectives.

2. Get rid of prepositions wherever you can.

3. Try to work your poem into stanzas and compare stanzaic and stichic forms to determine which is best for your poem.

4. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Make sure you bring your poem to closure in with a home run, knockout punch, touchdown, or goal.


“A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball” by Christopher Merrill

“Baseball” by Gail Mazur           

“Analysis of Baseball” by May Swenson


And just for fun ...

my Yorkie, Chaucer
 with one of his favorite
 soccer players!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Prompt #232 – The End of Summer

In this corner of the world, summer ended last Wednesday, and autumn began with beautiful weather. I thought it would be appropriate this Saturday to post a prompt that deals with the end of a season—specifically summer here but, if you’re on the opposite side of the world, then the end of winter.


1. Spend some time thinking about the season that has ended.

2. Then think in terms of a specific event or time during the past season.

3. Free write for a while about the season and the event or time. Give your mind and imagination loose reins, and let your writing go where it wants to go.

4. After free writing, look at what you’re recorded and begin working on a poem based on ideas from your free write.

5. A possibility may be to write about the last day of a season (see the Merrill example poem below).

6. Consider the metaphorical and symbolic meanings of the end of a season.

7. Pull your “End of ______” poem together with a punch at the end—perhaps something that refers to the season that’s just begun.


1. Incorporate seasonal imagery that appeals to one or more of the senses. 

2. Be sure to incorporate some figurative language.

3. Avoid all the usual pitfalls (especially too many adjectives, prepositions, and articles).


“End of Summer” by Stanley Kunitz

“Three Songs at the End of Summer” by Jane Kenyon

“End of Summer” by James Richardson

“A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball” by Christopher Merrill

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Prompt #231 – For the Feast

Over the past few years, I’ve featured a few prompts that deal with food poems and ways to “cook up” some exciting poetry based on food. On the subject of food poems, I was recently honored with inclusion in a Black Lawrence Press book titled Feast: Poetry & Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner edited by Diane Goettel and Anneli Matheson. Feast is an amazing collection that’s both a poetry anthology and a cookbook—with poems and recipes to nourish body, mind, and spirit.

I’ve already gifted friends with copies and recommend the book to all as a perfect any-time or holiday gift. And ... with the winter holiday season coming along soon, I hope you’ll consider Feast for the poets and cooks on your gift-giving lists. It’s a lot of book for a very affordable price. You can order:

Directly from Black Lawrence Press (PayPal is accepted)

In honor of Feast and Black Lawrence Press, I invite you to “dig in” and write a poem about a food—but wait, you’re going to need some “gravy!” For this poem, the challenge is to use a food item (or food in general) to bring forward a meaning that’s deeper than a simple meal or nosh. In other words, create a second meaning in your poem that takes the content from food to something “other.” You’re going to start with food as your subject but then you’ll need to give your poem its head, some wiggle room, an opportunity to extend its subject beyond the obvious—look for layers of meaning and make your poem a feast of its own!


1. Think of a food that you especially like or intensely dislike.

2. Think about that food in terms of your senses: what it looks like (sight—color, size), what its texture is (touch—smooth, rough), its fragrance (smell—flowery, earthy, astringent), its flavor (taste—sweet, sour, spicy), its noise associations (sound—music, a voice).

3. What emotional connections does that food have for you? Do you associate it with a happy or unhappy experience? Does thinking of that food call up certain memories of people you know or have known?

4. What is it about this food that makes it more than something edible?

5. Alternatively, instead of basing your poem on a single food item, you may choose to use food in general as an extended metaphor in your poem


1. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings and to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).

2. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).

3. The great author Mark Twain once wrote, “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” This is especially true in poetry. So ... as you work on a poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)

4. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).

5. Show, don’t tell—through striking imagery, a strong emotional center, and an integrated whole of language, form and meaning.

6. Challenge the ordinary, connect, reveal, surprise! And … remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains. With that in mind, push past your surface subject until you find your poem’s second, deeper subject.

7. Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”


(My poem from Feast, which begins with blueberries and moves into memories of a special family relationship (BTW, the recipe that goes with the poem is for Bluemisu—blueberry tiramisu—but you’ll have to order a copy of the book for the details).

To Blueberries

Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,

Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum

In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!

– Robert Frost, from “Blueberries”

Imagine the “Mona Lisa” with blueberry eyes;
Vincent Van Gogh’s “Blueberry Night;” imagine
Vermeer’s “Girl with a Blueberry Earring” and
Gainsborough’s “Blueberry Boy.” Imagine
blueberries, one at a time, between stained fingers—
sugary, tart—large or small (not all created equal).
Full in the sun, even their shadows are warm:
silvery patina, bluer than blue sky, bluer than blue. 
First the pop and then pulp between your teeth.
Listen to the birds (sparrows, chickadees)—blue
fruit sweet in their beaks. Oh, briarless bush! Bluest
fruit. No core, no seeds. Nothing ever to pit or peel.
Definitely not the forbidden fruit, no Eve down on
her knees—never the cost of paradise. Blueberry
muffins, pancakes, wine! Highbush and low—blue
on the crest of Blueberry Hill—and years ago, my
mother mixing the dough for blueberry pies, the
rolling pin round in her hands (our dog asleep
on the kitchen stair), my father at the table, and
me on his lap, close in the curve of his arm.

(From Feast: Poetry & Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner, Black Lawrence Press, Copyright © 2015 by Black Lawrence Press, reprinted by permission from the publisher.)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Prompt # 230 – Picture This by Guest Prompter Gail Fishman Gerwin

When we visited Florida’s Sanibel Island a few years ago, the chilled morning air didn’t stop early risers from waiting for the first glimpse of sun. Lucky me: I caught a pelican mid-air against the orange sky, yet the memory the photo took me back to my youth, to a special person, to an affirmation of his life, to an inspiration for the way to live mine. As I stood in the cool sand, awed by the sight, the narrative was nowhere in my mind, yet weeks later the poem came to me along with a flood of emotion.

Pelicans at Sunrise

Just before sunrise at Sanibel,
pelicans gather, soar high above
the Gulf, then dive and soar again.

My high school friend swam in waters
like these as a young man. Awed by an
avian fisherman that could gulp whole
fish into a waiting gullet, he squinted
toward the sun, unaware that this circling
hunter would swoop down, pluck out
his eye.

He married much later than the rest of us,
chatted at class reunions about his progeny
as the youngest: ours were wed and parents,
his just starting their college days.

We never could tell which eye was taken,
they seemed alike, it would have been rude
to stare, but the incident was the icon
that defined him throughout his life.

You remember, we’d say when he was
out of range, a pelican took out his eye.
When I read about his passing a few years
ago, I recalled a sweet man, bespectacled,
who didn’t seem his age, whose generous
smiles belied his trials, who gave his eye
to a pelican and never looked back.

                                        —First Published in Exit 13

Take some time to look through your memories. Is there a photo that sparks a special event or a meaningful time or season in your life? Is there a box of sepia-tinted family photos with people you don’t recognize? Did you stop the car to photograph wild turkeys along a Greek roadside? Or drive (on the wrong side of the road) to Stonehenge? Wait! Look at these: you with a favorite childhood toy, you with arms around your best friend, you as a four-year-old with your first dog (what was his name?), you at your wedding, you at your youngest child’s wedding. Take some time to relish the feelings your chosen photo brings. Can you smell salt air in the background? Can you taste that birthday cake? Does the photo spark a memory outside the image?

Use the photo you choose to create your piece—as a narrative with stanzas, a prose poem, something formal . . . Tell the truth or make up a new truth. Inspire yourself as you bring your image to life. Use whatever implements you keep in your poetry toolbox and publish your poem with “the music in it” on this blog’s comment section—or continue to revise it. Click here for editing tips. Perhaps you will submit your poem to a journal.           

Here’s a link to another poem inspired by a 2010 photo of my granddaughter trying on my wedding dress. Note the allusions to an era of protests, to life’s challenges, to times lost, to times gained. Go to, click on Excerpts from Dear Kinfolk, and scroll down to “Wedding Dress, 1968.” Or check out the kid with the braids and her Dy-Dee doll by clicking here.

Time to dig out those photos now. Happy writing!


1. Write from a distance. Tap your memory to see if the photo evokes an emotion long gone. Tell your story.

2. Write from the photo subject’s point of view.

3. Write in the third person from the point of view of someone (not you or you as someone else) who finds the photo.

4. Pose questions to the photo’s subject(s).

5. Address the subject(s) by name(s).

6. Exaggerate. It’s your poem. If you don’t know who the subjects are, make up a story.

7. Is someone missing from the photo? Let that be your prompt.

8. Incorporate elements from another photo into the poem.

9. Allude to the photo’s era through images. The adage applies: show, don’t tell.

10. Use poetic devices, rhythm, repetition, stanza structure, etc. while simply describing the photo.

11. See how your poem looks on the page. Tighten it. Read it aloud.

12. Have fun!


Many thanks, Gail!