November 20, 2006

Good Advice Gone Bad

"You Should Avoid Doctors", says Diane Lockward in our model poem for November. Diane takes it a step further and provides our writing prompt.

"Take a piece of good advice and write a poem in which you argue for its opposite. As in my poem--we're told to go for the yearly physical, to stay in touch with the doctor, but the poem argues just the opposite--stay away from the doctor! There seems to be a bit of a tradition in poetry for this approach - Donne's "Valediction Forbidding Mourning" or Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night". As a writing strategy I find it liberating and exciting to be on the opposite side of the fence. I call it playing Opposite George--after a Seinfeld episode in which George announced that henceforth he'd be doing everything opposite; he'd be " Opposite George". Of course, my beginning point is not of the size that Donne or Thomas used, but I like taking something seemingly insignificant and escalating it. You might choose something like: chew with your mouth closed, don't make waves, play by the rules (you'll come up with better than these, I'm sure). Bonus challenge: Use a body part in the poem."
A first for us - extra credit!

I last saw Diane when the two of us were greeting busloads of high school students and their teachers at this year's Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. She mentioned during our down time that her new book would be out this fall, so I contacted her last month about using something from the collection on Poets Online.

Diane and I met years ago when we were both teaching secondary school English. We have both left those noisy but wonderful hallways, but she still works as a poet-in-the-schools for both the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

She also conducts writing workshops for young and old poets, inexperienced and experienced poets, and for teachers on how to teach poetry, so writing prompts are a part of her repertoire.

I like her wit and wordtwisting - what Thomas Lux calls on the book jacket, "humorous and sometimes heartbreaking...plain-spoken and rich, lush."

Another one of her poems opens this way:

The Missing Wife

Wife and dog missing.
Reward for the dog.

—bumper sticker on a pickup truck

The wife and the dog planned their escape
months in advance, laid up biscuits and bones,
waited for the careless moment when he’d forget
to latch the gate, then hightailed it.
They took shelter in the forest, camouflaged
the scent of their trail with leaves.
Free of him at last,
they peed with relief on a tree.

I have heard Lux, Billy Collins and other poets say that they like "to learn something new" in a poem. I agree. Look how Diane gives us a fact and then sets it ablaze in this stanza from her poem, "Pyromania":

And now I learn that silicone in the breasts
must be excised before cremation
or it blows up, liquefying to a dangerous substance,
destroying the crematorium.
I’d like to have breasts like that—
round and full, earth-tipped and tilted
heavenward, the kind that ignite and explode.
I’d like my breasts to burst into flame,
spreading like wildfire,
tongues of scarlet licking the walls.
I’d like breasts just that white-hot
as once they were under the touch
of my lover, so recently departed.
I’d like to burn the crematorium down.

Have you got some good advice that you think we could turn around for poetic purposes? Even if you can't write the poem, post your advice below in the comments and let someone else take a crack at it.

Diane Lockward is the author of Eve's Red Dress and What Feeds Us (Wind Publications, 2003, 2006). Diane has also been a featured poet at a number of festivals, such as the Warren County Poetry Festival, the Inkberry Festival, the Long Branch Poetry Festival, the Walt Whitman Poetry Festival, and the 2006 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. She was a featured poet at the 2005 Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching and a workshop presenter at the New Jersey State Council of Teachers of English Conference in both 2003 and 2006. Her work has recently appeared in The Seattle Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore,and Prairie Schooner, as well as in the anthologies Poetry Daily: 366 Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times.

Diane's Website is at

1 comment:

  1. Some good advice is to read this:

    This isn't in response to the previous prompt on advice, but you don't have a blog entry yet for the current prompt. Is it my imagination or has Garrison Keillor become the newest and most visible/vocal arbitor of poetry? His choices and taste in poetry are so specific to his reading style that it prompted me to google "poetry" and "Garrison Keillor" and see if I'm alone in getting bored with this sameness in taste. Just a thought and personal observation. It seems it's all starting to sound too much the same.


* * All comments must be approved by the site administrator before appearing in order to prevent spam.