Poets Online has been on a bit of a hiatus lately (yes, there will be a new July prompt!), but not everyone in the poetry world has been lazy. Poet Diane Lockward is always active and her July newsletter she offers this prompt for you in the meantime.
The prompt poem is by Marie-Elizabeth Mali which Diane found in the 2011 collection, Steady, My Gaze.
Second Year of Marriage
Over breakfast and the staggering waft
of jasmine tea and pesto eggs, you say
if it were your job to create the senses,
you would have forgotten smell.
I keep my mouth shut, look
intrigued. A link to the limbic,
the olfactory: the pulse-quickening
scent-coffee, green-humid air, exhaust—
of the airport in Venezuela—or the way
the geranium in my living room sends me
straight back to my grandparents' deck,
those summer lunches. Last year,
I would have tried to convince you
of smell's virtues. Instead, I let it be.
Later, we fight over the best way to unlock
the car. No matter. Your scent, that wordless
telegram, still takes me apart, like it did
when it first arrived out of nowhere.
Diane's prompt: What intrigues me in this poem is the poet's use of smell. We are very accustomed to visual imagery, but not so much to olfactory imagery. And yet smell is such an important sense. When I read the lines about the geranium taking the speaker right back to her grandparents' deck, I knew just what she meant, that is, how closely tied to past experience smell can be. There's a certain kind of wet morning that takes me back to Red Raider Camp with its vile man-made lake full of frogs and mud. The morning smell triggers my memory, along with a sense of revulsion and a keen ache of nostalgia. Whenever I smell lilies of the valley, I remember my mother's Muguet des Bois, my mother all dolled up to go to Canasta Club. Let's see how the sense of smell might work for you in a poem.
Write down the names of some sensuous food items, ones with fabulous aromas.
Write down some other items with strong, distinctive smells.
Let one or more of these trigger a memory. Go back to another time and place.
Is there another person in your present scene and / or in the past scene?
Let this be a love poem, though it doesn't have to be a romantic love poem.
Now see how you might pull your material into a draft that shifts back and forth between past and present. Try just freewriting at first. Give yourself 10 minutes.
Shape your material into a poem, maybe eventually using 2-line stanzas as Marie-Elizabeth has.
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