December 31, 2007

Day 31: Resolution

I'm constantly inspired by people who are really good at one thing in particular. I consider myself a kind of dabbler in many things, but not really great at any of them. And I think it's mostly because I'm lazy. And afraid. Afraid, because what if I try really hard—give something all my (extra) devotion and energy, and then I am still not that good at it. And lazy, because I get bored with hard work and distracted by any un-started, more exciting projects.

In particular, I'm totally inspired by the two women who collaborate on the photoblog 3191. They both take a photo every day and post it. For a whole year. And they are simple photos. Especially beautiful when posted as pairs. But they do it every (week)day. I don't usually make resolutions, but I'll try one: to write every day for a year. At least a little. Whether it's a poem, a free-write session (I like to turn off my computer screen for those), a short journal entry, a blog post...I just want to make sure it happens every day. And since I haven't posted poems on all 31 days of these postcard poems, some of that writing will be showing up on the posts I missed.

Do you have a writing resolution?

December 30, 2007

Day 30: Credit where it's due

Most of my ideas for these writing prompts were inspired by, derived from, or directly pulled from a fantastic book by Barbara Drake called Writing Poetry. Others are ideas from writing classes I've taken and the rest are just from reading really good poetry. Thanks for joining in, and feel free to come back and post revisions of your poems or else new poems for those days you missed. I know I'll be making those up. Thanks to Deborah for motivating me to do this by first of all, having the idea, and also by the sheer momentum of her enthusiasm.

December 29, 2007

Day 29: Experimental poets

I could go on and on about how much I got out of the writing class I mentioned yesterday. Not only was my instructor an accomplished poet herself, but she introduced me to so many interesting writers.

Anne Carson has an amazing book, The Beauty of the Husband, where (if I remember correctly) she intimately and cleverly incorporates scientific knowledge and vocabulary into her poems. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I even think she invented the "tango" poetic form in this book.

Alice Notley does interesting things with punctuation in her book, The Descent of Alette. She explains her technique in the author's note: "A word about the quotation marks...they're there, mostly, to measure the poem. The phrases they enclose are poetic feet. If I had simply left white spaces between the phrases, the phrases would be rushed by the reader.... They also distance the narrative from myself, the author: I am not Alette. Finally, they may remind the reader that each phrase is a thing said by a voice: this is not a thought...this is a story, told." If you want to see how it looks on the page, you can search inside at amazon's site.

So, don't be afraid to try something new and bizarre.

December 28, 2007

Day 28: Donald Revell

I was introduced to Donald Revell, among other amazing poets, in a class at a local community college. My instructor was Michelle Mitchell-Foust (author of the ghazal example on Day 26). Here's one of my favorites (& I seem to imagine it scrawled on a postcard) from his book, Arcady.

Tooms I

I am really healthy hurry
So we can wag

I've had a molar removed
I've listened to Chevalier
Even plaster has something to say
On the radio I have not
Been blinded by anything yet
But beauty & sunshine

Beauty here & there
Have you heard
Is my scrap heap
Made of sunshine
Have you heard let me say

I liked the pictures esp. the one with the hat
& the frame is beautiful

December 27, 2007

Day 27: Found poetry

Found poems are constructions. Experiment with found poetry. Look for a passage in a newspaper, advertisement, old textbook, history, medical manual, etc. Arrange the words in lines to bring out some non-evident quality. Remember, by taking the words out of their original context, you change the way we see them.

Or, cut out words from a magazine and separate them into bags: adjectives, adverbs, nouns, verbs…etc. and make a collage poem (or, if you already have a version of magnetic poetry, use that).

Genuine Poem,
Found on a Blackboard
in a Bowling Alley
in Story City, Iowa

If you strike
when head pin
is red pin,
one free game
to each line.
Notify desk
before you throw
if head pin
is red

by Ted Kooser

December 26, 2007

Day 26: Ghazal

Write a ghazal. You can utilize the traditions behind the form (see wiki article), or not. In this case, true form would be anywhere from 5 to 12 free-verse couplets—and that's it. An example:

Migraine Ghazal

A child walking home has her first.
The noon hysteria of dandelions

moves to its home behind one eye.
Noon becomes a snow patch.

Noon anesthetizes her, loosening
her hold on the school book.

Then there are hundreds of flowers
in her head, all the same color,

blooming to escape the snow,
threatening to bloom repeatedly there.

From Michelle Mitchell-Foust's Imago Mundi.

December 25, 2007

Day 25: Gift

Make this poem a gift. Send it on a real postcard to someone far away.

December 24, 2007

Day 24: Constructing memories

Write a poem in which you remember something that never happened. Or, construct a memory—that may or may not be grounded in true events—from a photograph. Use strong sensory images to convince the reader it really happened. Maybe use foods, smells or sounds to make it seem more real.

December 23, 2007

Day 23: Humor

Ogden Nash, whose work I love as much now as I did when I was a four-year-old, was a genius at humorous verse. I still worship his Tale of Custard the Dragon from when I was tiny, and added it to my children's library last year. You have probably heard his brilliant and ironic wit all over the place without knowing it. Gene Wilder quotes him in the clever 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Candy / Is dandy / But liquor / Is quicker). And many of his poems are perfect postcard length. Here's one below, but go ahead and browse some more. They're delightful.

The Ostrich

The ostrich roams the great Sahara.
Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra.
It has such long and lofty legs,
I'm glad it sits to lay its eggs.

December 22, 2007

Day 22: Borrowing from favorites

Think of your favorite poem by your favorite poet. Write a poem in which you include a phrase or line from that poem, worked into some different but related context.

I might use a line from this one by Sylvia Plath:

Morning Song

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

December 21, 2007

Day 21: Daily rituals

Think of something you do daily that switches your autopilot on, or else something you find boring or even unpleasant. Think of all the aspects, actions, and movements it requires. Then make it seem like a sort of sacred, spiritual ritual by how you describe it in your poem. Use all your senses.

December 20, 2007

Day 20: NOT about the event

Here's an assignment I loved from a writing class a few years ago: write a poem about a significant event or moment in your life, BUT ONLY write about things surrounding the event. This could mean the environment, setting, place, time, sensory information, other movements or goings-on...just background stuff. But don't reveal the actual event. That said, let your writing take you where it wants to go. If it decides to go there, then I won't condemn you. This is what I wrote then:


The baby was sleeping in my arms
so I had to put him down--
it only hurts when the milk comes in
or if I hold him too long.

It doesn't rain much
but it was pouring.

I had to put the book down too,
binding open,
so I wouldn't lose my place
or my temper.
I'm not sure it worked.

An afternoon downpour.

There was a pumpkin in the kitchen
and bad lighting
but the dishes were clean.


December 19, 2007

Day 19: Ekphrasis

Try some ekphrasis. Don't be intimidated by that word if it's new or strange to you. All you do is choose a visual art piece: photo, drawing, painting, sculpture, collage...and write about it, write a response to it, or write what it reminds you of. Create some of your own meaning from the piece of art in the form of a poem.

Here's one example where the poem references more than one work of art (though I did choose one painting to pair it with):

A Poem is a Painting

A poem is a painting that is not seen;
A painting is a poem that is not heard.

That's what poetry is--
a painting in the mind.
Without palette and brush
it mixes words into images.
The mind's edge sharpens the knife
slashing the canvas with savage rocks,
twisting trees and limbs into tortuous shapes
as Van Gogh did,
or bewitched by movement's grace,
captures the opalescent skirts
of Degas' ballet dancers.

But words on the page
as paint on canvas
are fixed.
It's in the spaces between
the poem is quickened.

By Phoebe Hesketh, from The Leave Train: New and Selected Poems.

* * *

One I wrote years ago on a particular painting:

“The Voice” by Edvard Munch

Straight trees with silent shapes beyond them
showing moon on water. But the girl
There’s always the girl in her white dress
hands primly clasped behind
And her face. She seems to lean forward at the waist
as if to tell us some piece of gossip.
But her lips are missing.

She’s listening, leaning to hear us.
We imagine a sound, a scrap of memory,
and put it in her strain of a mouth.
Maybe the voice of someone we know,
grandfather as he reads us poetry
in a warm evening house under the lamp,
or the whisper in our ear
that comes with a kiss,
or a speech from the narrator who played
Elizabeth in the film we saw last year.


And just for fun, here's a little post I wrote last year on my personal history with ekphrasis. And click here for a poem I wrote about an imaginary painting. Remember, it doesn't have to be painting. Use any visual art. Keats wrote this one about a piece of pottery.

December 18, 2007

Day 18: Haiku

It's always fun to try a hand at something so small, I think. While the true haiku is something I don't claim to fully understand, I like adopting and adapting traditional poetic forms, even if I only know little of their backgrounds, just to get creativity flowing. That's the great thing about poetry—all the poetic liberties!

I am drawn to a part in the Wikipedia article that talks about how American poets adopted the haiku—Beats and Imagists, among others (scroll down to the "The budding of American haiku" heading).

If you have a minute, browse a bit here or here. And if you know of other cool haiku sites, please share them!

December 17, 2007

Day 17: Animals

Choose an animal. Write a poem where you describe the animal in an unusual way. Or, write a poem where you become the animal. One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, has a million amazing animal poems.

Honey at the Table

It fills you with the soft
essence of vanished flowers, it becomes
a trickle sharp as a hair that you follow
from the honey pot over the table

and out the door and over the ground,
and all the while it thickens,

grows deeper and wilder, edged
with pine boughs and wet boulders,
pawprints of bobcat and bear, until

deep in the forest you
shuffle up some tree, you rip the bark,

you float into and swallow the dripping combs,
bits of the tree, crushed bees - - - a taste
composed of everything lost, in which everything lost is found.

~Mary Oliver

And though they are not usually postcard length, I am also a sucker for Elizabeth Bishop's animal encounters. Here's one I love about a moose.

December 16, 2007

Day 16: Going back

Hello everyone who is participating or wanting to participate: I was talking to a friend of mine who was saying she'd like to go back and post poems on past prompts sometime. I think this is a great idea, being's how I have missed a number of days myself. The more poems, the merrier. So, even if you have missed a day or a few, or even all the days, even if it's not even December anymore, that shouldn't stop you from posting poems for past dates.

And don't forget one for today, too!

December 15, 2007

Day 15: Words, words, words

Choose a word, any word. Do a free write on it to generate ideas. Then turn your free-write into a poem.

December 14, 2007

Day 14: A note to you

Try writing a poem in the persona of someone you know, addressing you.

December 13, 2007

Day 13: Enjambment

Try using enjambment as a structural element. Write a poem that is all one sentence, or a poem that gives a feeling of rushing or excitement. Or use enjambment in a first-person poem to give the speaker’s monologue a headlong feeling. An example by e. e. cummings:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

December 12, 2007

Day 12: Prose poem

Try writing a prose poem or describing something ordinary in a new way. Here's an example by poet Vern Rutsala:


Though winners are rarely declared this is an arduous contest similar, some feel, to boxing. This fact can be readily corroborated by simply looking at people who have just awakened. Look at their red and puffy eyes, the dishevelled hair, the slow sore movements, and their generally dazed appearance. Occasionally, as well, there are those deep scars running across their cheeks. Clearly, if appearances don't lie, they have been engaged in some damaging and dangerous activity and furthermore have come out the losers. If it's not dangerous—and you still have doubts—why to we hear so often the phrase, He died in his sleep?

December 11, 2007

Day 11: Juxtaposing images

In a Station at the Metro

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

by Ezra Pound, perhaps the original imagist poet. Read more about the poem here.

December 10, 2007

Day 10: Poetry websites

Just a few sites I've come across that involve the poetry of more than one author/blogger. You may want to check them out.

**Poetry Thursday (which is no longer running, but you can browse the site anyway.)

**Poetry Soup

**And also, on the Exponent II blog list of links is Popcorn Popping, which has many genres of creative submissions, but you can submit a poem and hopefully they will post it so you can get feedback from (more serious) writers.

December 9, 2007

Day 9: Myths and fairy tales

Write a reinvention or retelling of a traditional myth or fairy tale.

December 8, 2007

Day 8: Object fetish

Choose a small object or entity for close observation. Give it your closest attention. Describe in writing all your sensory impressions of this object and craft it into a poem. You may want to generalize from your specific, concrete images to some meaning drawn from your observations. Or compare it to something very large.

December 7, 2007

Day 7: Memory

Thank you: A big hooray to everyone who has been/is participating! I love looking through your poems each day, even though I haven't commented on them. It's so great that you're sharing. Thanks a hundred times!

Prompt: Think of the kids you knew in your first grade (or second, all depends on what kind of memory you have) class and write something about one of them. Kudos to you if you even remember names.

December 6, 2007

Day 6: Maybe the first ever postcard poem*

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

by William Carlos Williams

*Make your postcard poem for today an actual note to someone.

December 5, 2007

Day 5: Acrostics

Try writing an acrostic poem. Have the first letter of each line spell out the name of a person, place, or symbolic object.

December 4, 2007

Day 4: Billy Collins, animated

I love Billy Collins' poetry. And experiencing his poetry goes to a whole other level when you can watch how different animation artists have interpreted or enhanced some of his poems. You can see more videos here (don't miss "Some Days," it's a favorite of mine). I love how these animations bring out different things in the words. Be inspired. Enjoy.


{The Dead}

December 3, 2007

Day 3: Where you carry them

Jana sent this poem to me a couple of weeks ago (thanks, Jana!). I love the feelings and images it conjures. Write a poem about where you carry your words or poems. Or, write about something else you always carry with you.

December 2, 2007

Day 2: Music as inspiration

Choose a song, performer, or band that you love to listen to and let the music (and perhaps lyrics) inspire your poem today.

December 1, 2007

Day 1


I, too, dislike it.
    Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one dis-
                                                                                                          covers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.

by Marianne Moore

{Read the first (original, long) version here.}