December 29, 2017

Finding Poems in Prompts

Years ago, I was in a haiku workshop where the teacher gave us a find-a-word puzzle as a writing prompt and asked us to look it over and write down the first three words we saw. We were then to use each of those words in a different line of a haiku.

Many writing prompts seem "artificial." You are asked to "write about an article of clothing you once owned that you wish you still had." How odd. But in another workshop where that was a prompt, my friend, Jim, wrote a beautiful poem about his father's coat that hung on a hook by the back door for most of his childhood. And when Jim read that first version of his poem, I was prompted to write a poem about the Navy pea coat my father wore in WWII and that I wore after he died. Why did I give it away?

Below is that original find-a-word puzzle that I found in with some poetry papers during my annual end-of-year cleanout. If you need a bonus prompt to write something here at year's end, try this: Look over the puzzle below and write down the first 5 words you find and then use each as part of a line of a poem about the year that is ending.

Of course, you could also find just 3 words and write a haiku, or get into puzzling and find 14 for a sonnet or any variation.

I think the value of writing prompts is that they can push you into places you would not have otherwise gone in your writing. It seems counterintuitive that given as "assignment" you have more freedom. In the same way, forms are freeing. As a young poet, I despised formal poetry in my own writing. It seemed like I was being forced to select a word or line break etc. when I didn't want it. But my imagination was forced to not only conform to the form or prompt, but find creative ways to do it.

If you like the poem that comes from this little prompt, post it as a comment here and put the words you found and used in CAPITAL letters.

December 15, 2017

Stanley Kunitz's 'Touch Me' and Love in the Garden

Our December prompt on pilgrims and pilgrimages talked about my own short journey to the garden of Stanley Kunitz and I want to his final poem from his Collected Poems.

I was at the reading captured here on video at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival held at Waterloo Village in New Jersey. There was an electricity that ran through the audience as he read, and a standing ovation when he finished.

Touch Me” is a love poem that takes place in that garden. In his old age, as a storm approaches and he stakes his plants for protection, he ponders the seasons in a life. To his question“What makes the engine go?” he answers  “Desire, desire, desire.”

It is the last poem he published.

...The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
                        and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

December 9, 2017

Prompt: Pilgrimages

Canterbury Pilgrims by William Blake, 1808

A pilgrim (from the Latin peregrinus) is a traveler. Literally, it is one who has come from afar and commonly it is someone who is on a journey to a holy place. Though we generally think of this as a physical journey, often on foot, to some place of special significance, it can also be other kinds of "journeys."

A pilgrimage is that journey. At one time, these were alway long trips made to some sacred place. But distances can be covered more quickly today, and the journey can be a metaphorical one and the destination can be into someone's own beliefs.

There are many places that pilgrims have made their way to for many years: the Holy Land, Lumbini, Kumbh Mela, The Temple Mount and Mecca. There are also places less well known tat individual make pilgrimages to for their own reasons: to the place where they were born or where they grew up, or where there father or mother lived, a poet's home or...

I know that people also make pilgrimages to a place but really it is to a thing - the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C., a manuscript, a gravesite.

One of the best known books about a pilgrim is John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. It is an old text (1678) and a difficult read for most modern readers.

The book is presented as a dream sequence told by an omniscient narrator. The allegory's protagonist is Christian, an everyman. His pilgrimage takes him from his hometown, the "City of Destruction" ("this world"), to the "Celestial City" ("that which is to come" - Heaven) atop Mount Zion.

To end 2017, we will write pilgrimage poems this month, and by pilgrimage, we mean a journey to a special place or thing, spiritual, if not religious.

Our model poem is "Pilgrimage" by Natasha Trethewey, which is about a journey to Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Her poem incorporates the themes of time, history, and memory as are presented in the first half of her book Native Guard.
Here, the Mississippi carved
            its mud-dark path, a graveyard
for skeletons of sunken riverboats.
            Here, the river changed its course,
turning away from the city
            as one turns, forgetting, from the past—
A kind of pilgrimage that I have made over the years is to the birthplaces, homes and graves of writers. I can't quite explain what I expect to find in these places, but I really enjoy being in the actual places where writers I admire did their work.

My first pilgrimage was to the gravesite of Stephen Crane. I was born in the same city as Crane. I liked his stories and I liked his simple poems a lot when I was a very young poet. His life was short and tragic. He is buried not far from where I grew up. I went there. I made a gravestone rubbing. I took a photo of myself at his grave.

I didn't feel his presence there. No ghosts. No mystical experiences. But in some way, it did change how I thought about him and writing. I've never written a poem about that pilgrimage. I haven't determined, even after all these years, exactly what I want to say about it.

When I spent a week in a poetry workshop in Provincetown on Cape Cod, a few of us in the group wanted to make a pilgrimage to the house - really, the garden - of poet Stanley Kunitz.

We had heard about the garden. We knew it entered into some of his poems. We asked some locals who either protected his privacy, had never heard of him or gave us rather cryptic directions. But we found it.

His home was modest. A grey shingled cottage on a small hill in the east end. The garden was terraced, built on what was originally a dune that he fertilized with compost and seaweed to have actual soil. As a gardener myself, I felt this connection to him and his poems.

We didn't see Stanley and didn't knock or intrude, but it was great to see it.

I eventually met Stanley a few times at poetry readings at the Dodge Poetry Festivals and in Paterson, New Jersey.  Later, I would find the book, The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, and also read articles about other Kunitz pilgrims, and I would reread his poems looking for garden references.

If you decide to journey the more traditional religious path in your poem, you can look to some older poems - perhaps, George Herbert's "The Pilgrimage," or a more modern poet traveling to an ancient place, such as in "Different Ways to Pray" by Naomi Shihab Nye.  Here is an excerpt from her poem:

Some prized the pilgrimage,
wrapping themselves in new white linen
to ride buses across miles of vacant sand.
When they arrived at Mecca
they would circle the holy places,
on foot, many times,
they would bend to kiss the earth
and return, their lean faces housing mystery. 
While for certain cousins and grandmothers
the pilgrimage occurred daily,
lugging water from the spring
or balancing the baskets of grapes.
These were the ones present at births,
humming quietly to perspiring mothers.
The ones stitching intricate needlework into children’s dresses,
forgetting how easily children soil clothes.

Religious or not, journey by foot, car or in the imagination - for December, write about a pilgrimage.

Deadline for submissions: December 6, 2018


December 6, 2017

Who Reads Poetry?

Who reads poetry? Poets read poetry. Students read, not always by choice, poetry they are assigned. Who are the other readers of poetry?

Certainly, people get things from poetry that they don't get from reading novels, non-fiction and news.
“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.”
That's what William Carlos Williams wrote in  "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" (read an excerpt) a long love poem to his wife that he wrote late in his life.

In the collection Who Reads Poetry: 50 Views from 'Poetry' Magazine, people are asked why they read poetry. The answers are taken from the magazine's column "The View From Here.”

Musician Neko Case calls poetry “a delicate, pretty lady with a candy exoskeleton on the outside of her crepe-paper dress.”

An anthropologist, Helen Fisher, turns to poetry while researching the effects of love on the brain, “As other anthropologists have studied fossils, arrowheads, or pot shards to understand human thought, I studied poetry. . . . I wasn’t disappointed: everywhere poets have described the emotional fallout produced by the brain’s eruptions.”

Ask that question to a Google search and you will find many other people have asked and answered the question.

Dan Chelotti gives many answers, begiinning with: "Read poetry because of the times you have stopped to look at rain fall through the light of a street lamp and wished you knew the words that made it what it was. Read poetry because you are lonely and full of wild abandon. Read poetry so when you are no longer lonely and are wrapping your arms and legs around your beloved your beloved will tell you I have never known arms and legs to have such wild abandon. Read poetry so a part of you stays in what you see, so what you see stays with you..."

Matthew Zapruder covers the question in a bit broader way in his book Why Poetry which attempts to answer not only why we should read it but also why we write it.

If you're reading this blog, the chances are you are a poet and/or a reader of poetry. You're in a select group. We would love to hear your answers too.

Why do you read poetry?

Why do you write poetry?


December 1, 2017

Getting Published

One of the perennial and difficult to answer questions that writers get in a Q&A is "How can I get published?"

When I was in a week-long poetry workshop about 20 years ago with Tom Lux, I asked him that often-asked question. He said he always had a dozen poems "out there" at magazines and journals, and he had envelopes ready to go to other magazines so that when a poem was rejected, it went right back out again. Persistence.

It's good advice and a discipline that does not come naturally to many writers.

These days, not as many poems get mailed on paper to publishers. Online submission portals and email is often the way we submit our work.

Poet and publisher Diane Lockward has regularly posted listings of print journals that are reading submissions. She did two Summer Journals A - F  and Summer Journals G - P post this year.

If you have used Submittable, a service used by a good number of organizations, it allows you to submit and track your submissions. They also offer an email newsletter that lists publishing opportunities.

I wish I knew the secret of getting a book published. I know more and more poets who are self-publishing and doing their own promotion, tours etc., but most of us want the recognition of a publisher accepting our work. Validation, perhaps.

I would also recommend using lists like one from Poets and Writers magazine to find individual publications for poems and also manuscript contests and grants.  There are always some that are free, but most have a fee which is how many presses pay for publication.

The Poetry Society also offers resources of places that use poetry.

Start with the free ones, but the secret might be to always have a few poems out there as submissions.

November 18, 2017

National Book Awards in Poetry

The National Book Foundation have announced its winners of National Book Awards in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people’s literature. Each winner will be awarded $10,000, and each finalist will take home $1,000.

For Poetry, the winnner is Frank Bidart for Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016

Leslie Harrison, The Book of Endings (University of Akron Press)

Layli Long Soldier, WHEREAS (Graywolf Press)

Shane McCrae, In the Language of My Captor (Wesleyan University Press)

Danez Smith, Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems (Graywolf Press) finalists:


Books on the judges' long list are:

Chen Chen, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, Ltd.)
Marie Howe, Magdalene: Poems (W. W. Norton & Company)
Laura Kasischke, Where Now: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press)
Sherod Santos, Square Inch Hours (W. W. Norton & Company)
Mai Der Vang, Afterland (Graywolf Press)

The judges for poetry were Nick Flynn, Jane Mead, Gregory Pardlo, Richard Siken, Monica Youn (Chair).


November 17, 2017

Poets Online Offline

You may have noticed that the main Poets Online site went offline for the past 24 hours. This was due to server issues with our host. 

It is back, hopefully stable and complete.  

This and the ending of the year is a good time for me to consider the future of the site in 2018.  

More to follow... I may be asking all of you for your advice.


November 8, 2017

Prompt: Two Voices

Richard Wilbur died on October 15, 2017, in Belmont, Massachusetts at age 96. He was an American poet and literary translator, and one of the foremost poets of his generation. He composed primarily in traditional forms and his poems had wit and what might today be considered a "gentlemanly elegance."

It is unfortunate that it sometimes takes the death of a writer for me to go back and look at their work again. I suppose that it is a good thing whenever we do go back and read their work and put our living breath into their words.

I chose for this month's prompt his poem "Two Voices in a Meadow."  It looks on the page like two poems, but they are connected by the location in the meadow.  As the title says, these are two different voices - a milkweed personified and the voice of a stone.

Monarch butterflies on milkweed

A Milkweed

Anonymous as cherubs
Over the crib of God,
White seeds are floating
Out of my burst pod.
What power had I
Before I learned to yield?
Shatter me, great wind:
I shall possess the field

A Stone

As casual as cow-dung
Under the rib of God,
I lie where chance would have me,
Up to the ears in sod.
Why should I move? To move
Befits a light desire.
The sill of heaven would founder,
Did such as I aspire.

I suppose these two voices are opposites - one living, one not. Of course, the milkweed will have its season and die, and the stone was once living material. Their attitudes are quite different about their current place in this meadow world.

For this month, you are to write a poem in two voices. The structure should look, as the model poem, like two poems in two distinct sections. The voices can be those of people or things or a combination, but they must both be addressing the same topic. That might be a location, as in Wilbur's poem, or any theme or subject.

Wilbur uses form and rhyme in his poem and that does give it a neat structure. You may want to try the same. His 8-line sections are not a triolet or an octave, but you may want to use a form for both of your voices.


October 29, 2017

The Urge for Going

Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize in 2016 and there was a lot of discussion about whether or not song lyrics qualify as poetry.

I came of age in the 1960s and even my high school English teachers were bringing in Dylan, Paul Simon and other lyrics to get us interested in poetry. It convinced me that some song lyrics were, if not poetry, poetic.

Joni Mitchell was another songwriter whose lyrics entered the classroom. One of her songs caught hold of me one autumn day in the late 1960s. It was a version recorded by Tom Rush. He was the first major artist to record some of her songs on his album The Circle Game. Besides the title song, he recorded "Tin Angel" and the lyric that caught me, "Urge for Going."

That song, heard on a chilly, late October day, changed how I felt as I listened. Isn't that what good poems do?

Tom Rush changed the gender in the lyrics and since I had "a girl in summertime with summer-colored skin" who also got the urge for going. I can still remember sitting in a car listening to the song and not moving until it was over.

Yes, I also wanted "to call back summertime and have her stay for just another month or so, But she's got the urge for going so I guess she'll have to go."

I heard the song again this past week and it all came back to me again - the song, that moment, that girl.

Does the lyric stand up as a poem?

Is there a song lyric that felt like poetry for you?  Tell us about it in a comment here.

Urge for Going by Joni Mitchell 
I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
and all trees are shivering in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go 
I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in
I had me a man in summertime
He had summer-colored skin
And not another girl in town
My darling's heart could win
But when the leaves fell on the ground
And bully winds came around pushed them face down in the snow
He got the urge for going and I had to let him go 
He got the urge for going
When the meadow grass was turning brown
And summertime was falling down and winter was closing in
Now the warriors of winter they gave a cold triumphant shout
And all that stays is dying and all that lives is getting out
See the geese in chevron flight flapping and racing on before the snow
They've got the urge for going and they've got the wings so they can go 
They get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in
I'll ply the fire with kindling and pull the blankets to my chin
I'll lock the vagrant winter out and I'll bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime and have her stay for just another month or so
But she's got the urge for going so I guess she'll have to go 
She gets the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
And all her empires are falling down
And winter's closing in
And I get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
And summertime is falling down

October 25, 2017

Outdoors all afternoon under a gunmetal sky...

Feeling a bit old as another birthday passes, and cleaning up the plants dying in the garden today, I needed a bit of poetry and a hot drink when I came into the house to keep me moving on.

I took a poetic pilgrimage back to Stanley Kunitz's garden in Provincetown via his poem “Touch Me.” I took a literal pilgrimage to his garden years ago when I was there for a poetry workshop week.

This love poem unfolds in his garden as he prepares for a storm. I have heard him read it several times and it always moves me.

What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it's done.

It was the last one he ever published and what a way to leave this poetry world.

October 23, 2017

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes

Halloween is my least favorite calendar event. I know it is the favorite of many of you. I never liked dressing up as something else, and trick or treating always felt too much like begging.
Maybe you celebrate Halloween, or perhaps you celebrate Hallowtide or Samhain. The latter is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. Samhain is celebrated from sunset on October 31st until sunset on November first and was chosen because it was the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
I do enjoy tales of Halloween, Martians and Radio Terrorists and, growing up in New Jersey, I enjoyed hearing about when the Martians landed in my home state. 
halloweengrinchSo, I am pretty much a Halloween Grinch. 
I would rather think of this time following my birthday as spooky in the way that a book and movie about the season scared me as a kid. That story is Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury which takes its title from Mr. Shakespeare's tale of wickedness with witches, Macbeth
"By the pricking of my thumbsSomething wicked this way comes."

And then there is the night before Halloween, known as "Mischief Night" and the "Devil's Night" which is less about the occult and lightweight vandalism.
But if you need some poetry for those nights, suggests these:

The Vampire” by Conrad Aiken
The Apparition” by John Donne
The Owner of the Night” by Mark Doty
From a Train” by Lynn Emanuel
Omens” by Cecilia Llompart
The Haunted Palace” by Edgar Allan Poe
All Hallows Night” by Lizette Woodworth Reese
Bats” by Paisley Rekdal
Black Cat” by Rainer Maria Rilke
To Live in the Zombie Apocalypse” by Burlee Vang

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Open, locks,
Whoever knocks.

October 18, 2017

Philip Larkin: Unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity

Philip Larkin was born in Coventry, England in 1922. He is best known for his clipped, spare poems that explored post-war England. Though he was a very popular English poet, he didn't work very hard at self-promotion.

His father introduced him to the writing of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, and he was sure he would become a novelist. By By the time he enrolled at Oxford in 1940, he had written five full-length novels. He destroyed them but he did complete two novels, Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947) and his first collection of poetry, The North Ship (1945).

He tried to write another novel, but couldn't finish it, and so he said, "I didn't choose poetry; poetry chose me."

Philip Larkin spent more than 30 years as a university librarian, never married and lived alone. My first impression of him was a small bio in an anthology we used in school. He sounded like quite  the glum, curmudgeon.

He once said: "I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any — after all, most people are unhappy, don't you think? Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth."

He didn't try hard to promote his work. He never traveled to America. He never gave readings. H was nominated for Poet Laureate but declined the position when it was offered. Still, he is often described as England's best-loved poet.

Sample poems

October 15, 2017

A Celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Dodge Poetry Festival

The Warren County Community College in New Jersey presents "A Celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Dodge Poetry Festival."

This free event will be on Saturday, October 21, 2017 at Warren County Community College (475 Route 57 West, Washington, NJ 07882)

Poets and panelists include Martin Farawell (Director of the Dodge Poetry Program), Laura Boss, Kenneth Hart, Susan Jackson, Charles H. Johnson, Tina Kelley, Diane Lockward, John McDermott, Peter E. Murphy, Khalil Murrell, Priscilla Orr, Joe Weil, Gretna Wilkinson and Sander Zulauf.

The program will run from 12 noon through 4:30 pm.

12 to 12:45     Panel Discussions
1:00 to 2:15    Poetry Sampler: The Dodge Festival Poets
2:30 to 3:00    Poems by Martin Farawell
3:00 to 3:45    Favorite Poems by Others, as read by Dodge Poets
4:00 to 4:30    Favorite Poems from the First 30 Years of the Dodge Main Stage, as read by Martin Farawell

For directions to the college:
For information, please contact BJ Ward

October 5, 2017

Prompt: Finders, Keepers

WordPress offers an Intro to Poetry 101 freebie online “course” to inspire you to write 10 poems in 10 days. Really, it is just a very brief one-word prompt and some poetry form and language suggestions. I don’t normally need much prompting to write, but it is good to get poked into writing once and awhile.  
On my Writing the Day website, I devote myself to the ronka form, but I took up this October challenge and let some other forms slip onto the site. Poems for this little side project are tagged #poetry101 there, and you can see poems by others as part of this project at
One of their prompts was the "found poem" which is a form we used on Poets Online back in 2010. I decided to use it again because it is such a deceptively easy form. Easy in that someone else has done the writing for you, but a good and more difficult exercise in what makes a poem a poem. And what better prompt could I use for a found poem than a prompt that I found.
Here is what Wordpress gave us to use:
found poem is composed of words and letters you’ve collected — randomly or not — from other sources, whether printed, handwritten, or digital, and then (re)arranged into something meaningful. Since a found poem is made up of words and letters others have created, it’s up to you, the poet, to find them (hence the name), extract them, and rejig them into something else: your poem.

The classic way of going about the creation of a found poem is scissors and newspaper in hand: you cut out words and phrases and arrange them into your poem. You can then either snap a photo and upload it to your blog, or simply transcribe the resulting text into a new post.
That said, you can control the degree of randomness you impose on your available stock of words, as well as on the procedure you follow to create the poem. You can photocopy a page from a book (even a book of poetry!) and select every fifth word on the first ten pages. Repurpose one of your unpublished drafts into something new. You can even use your books to create some book spine poetry, or recycle your tweets (one online tool will actually do it for you) and other social media messages and turn them into a poetic meditation on… anything, really. Another popular option is erasure or blackout poetry, where you cross out words from an existing printed page until the remaining ones produce a new meaning.

As with our earlier attempts at found poetry, there are some rules for submissions:

  1. Use only the words found in the source - no changing verb forms, making plurals etc. 
  2. but the title can be original (and often makes a difference in the way the poem will be read.
  3. You can add or subtract capitalization and punctuation. 
  4. Your tools are careful selection, ordering, line breaks and stanzas. 
  5. You must identify the original source either in the title or a note at the beginning or end of the poem. (If the source is online, you could give a link for the reader to follow.)
Deadline for submissions is November 5, 2017

September 22, 2017

Emily and Love

I don't think most people associate Emily Dickinson with love poems. I have always felt there was a "quiet passion" in her poems and therefore in Emily.

Here is one her poems that is not as often read as her more famous ones.

It was a quiet way—
He asked if I was his—
I made no answer of the Tongue
But answer of the Eyes—
And then He bore me on
Before this mortal noise
With swiftness, as of Chariots
And distance, as of Wheels.
This World did drop away
As Acres from the feet
Of one that leaneth from Balloon
Upon an Ether street.
The Gulf behind was not,
The Continents were new—
Eternity it was before
Eternity was due.
No Seasons were to us—
It was not Night nor Morn—
But Sunrise stopped upon the place
And fastened it in Dawn.

Emily Dickinson's Hair
In 1853, Emily enclosed this lock of her hair in a letter
addressed to her friend Emily Fowler.      via Flickr

September 15, 2017

The Poetry of Death

Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon

When death, as public as a President or as private as a lover, overwhelms us, it speaks itself in elegy’s necropoetics.

I recently read Donald Hall's article in The New Yorker, "The Poetry of Death." It sounds like a real downer, but I recommend that you give it a read.

Many readers of this blog probably know that Donald Hall was married to Jane Kenyon and that they shared a life of poetry.

Jane Kenyon and I almost avoided marriage because her widowhood would have been so long, between us was there such a radical difference in age. And yet today it is twenty-two years since she died, of leukemia, at forty-seven—and I approach ninety...

I heard the two of them talk about their shared life in poetry in a session at a Dodge Poetry Festival a few decades ago. That was before Jane was diagnosed with leukemia.

We inhabited not the natural world but the landscape of leukemia. I read a draft of “Without” to Jane. From her bed, Jane said, “You’ve got it, you’ve got it!” A year later, I put the poem into the past tense, and eventually it became the title of my book of Jane’s death.
But poets know that death plays a big role if poetry. It is aprt of poetry history and all poets eventually deal with the topic in their poems.

Poetry begins with elegy, in extremity, as Gilgamesh laments the death of his companion Enkidu, watching worms crawl out of Enkidu’s neck. Homer sings of heroes as they die in battle, and Priam weeps to see the body of his son Hector dragged around the walls of Troy. Virgil follows Aeneas from the graveyard of Troy to the founding of Rome, Dido’s pyre flaming on the way. In the fifteenth century, poetry emigrated from Chaucer’s England north to the Scots, where William Dunbar wrote his elegy for the makers—in Greek, a poet is a “maker”—and grieved over twenty-five dead and dying Scots poets.


September 10, 2017

Prompt: Running

We all run.

Babies can't wait to stand and walk because they really want to run. That is running for the joy of running, but people run for other reasons and in other ways. We run toward things and people. Sometimes we run away.

A Baby Running Barefoot by D. H. Lawrence

When the bare feet of the baby beat across the grass
The little white feet nod like white flowers in the wind,
They poise and run like ripples lapping across the water;
And the sight of their white play among the grass
Is like a little robin’s song, winsome,
Or as two white butterflies settle in the cup of one flower
For a moment, then away with a flutter of wings.

I long for the baby to wander hither to me
Like a wind-shadow wandering over the water,
So that she can stand on my knee
With her little bare feet in my hands,
Cool like syringa buds,
Firm and silken like pink young peony flowers.

We think of D.H. Lawrence as a novelist but his first-published works were poems and he continued to write poems throughout his life. This innocent poem is not what we typically associate with Lawrence's writing but it captures the youth joy of running.

Not all running is done by humans.  Edward Baugh's poem "Running River Water" is an example of that use, though in his poem there is a "deep river woman."

As our model poem for this month's writing prompt on the Poets Online website, we are using
Afaa Michael Weaver's poem "Losing the 440-Yard Dash." In that poem, the runner wants the joy of that child. He wants to fly, not as a child but as a man - no, as a warrior.

I wanted more than being human, a warrior
of field and track would be bursting out now
ripping open my chest with masculinity 
to make Jesse Owens proud or jealous,
or inspired or something other than me
the pulling-up caboose slower than mud

Running holds the possibilities of joy and fear. For your poem, someone might be running toward or away, or for some other goal. Or it may not be a person that is doing the running at all.

Deadline for submissions to this prompt is Wednesday, October 4, 2017.

September 4, 2017

Teaching Poetry

The most recent episode of the Poetry Off the Shelf podcast was a back-to-school episode. The title is what caught my attention: "Teaching Poetry in Times Like These."

Do we change what we teach because of the times we teach in? The podcast doesn't mention President Trump but it surely is alluding to the current administration as part of the turmoil of the times.

Of course, poems change - or our feelings and interpretations change - depending on the time when we read them.

I won't be in a classroom teaching this fall, but I don't know if I would be selecting reading selections based on the politics and news of the day.

What I would heartily agree with that the teacher interviewed in the program says is that teachers need to give their students choice and a voice.

The classroom is where poetry connects with young people and also where they can disconnect from poetry.

Listen to the podcast (14 minutes) online at

August 25, 2017



As a student, you tend to read poetry in anthologies, and certain poems are often anthologized and so become "the canon" that is taught.  I had to buy the Norton Anthology of Poetry in a college class along with many other undergraduates.

I saw an article on the Most Anthologized Poems of the Last 25 Years. It has the usual suspects on the list. If you look at the top dozen -
  1. William Carlos Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow”
  2. T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
  3. T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”
  4. Robert Frost, “Birches”
  5. Robert Lowell, “For the Union Dead”
  6. Robert Lowell, “Skunk Hour”
  7. Ezra Pound, “The River-Merchant’s Wife : a Letter”
  8. W. H. Auden, “Musee des Beaux Arts”
  9. Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”
  10. Gwendolyn Brooks, “We Real Cool”
  11. Emily Dickinson, “Because I could not stop for Death –”
  12. Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
- you'll see poems you read in a classroom, but what you don't see are many contemporary poets and poems. That is partially about publishing, copyright and paying for the reprint rights. Older poems are cheaper or perhaps even free. You will always find public domain poems and classics included in anthologies.

Not that I wouldn't suggest reading all of the top 25 poems. And poetry anthologies are a good way to discover poets that you can then read in their own collections. 

Was there a poet you discovered by reading their work in an anthology?  Add your anthology comments below.

August 11, 2017

Summer School Poetry Class

You might not have taken an AP (Advanced Placement) English course in high school, but on the website you can "study" 21 Poems for AP Literature and Composition. These are poems frequently taught in AP English Lit and Composition classes. 

For each of the twenty-one poems, there are resources including audio clips and video, primary source documents and photographs, timelines, and, of course, poems.

For example, Robert Frost's “Mending Wall” is one selection, and the site offers The PoemAbout this Poem from the Poetry Foundation, On “Mending Wall” from Modern American Poetry, a lesson "Mending Wall": A Marriage of Poetic Form and Contentand more about Robert Frost from Voices and Visions.

School is closed for the summer, but some AP students are assigned summer reading and might be assigned some of these poems. Well, here is some help from the teacher's file cabinet. And for the rest of us, we can do some summer school and not have to worry about tests, homework, or grades.

The poems:  
  • Matthew Arnold: “Dover Beach
  • Elizabeth Bishop: “In the Waiting Room”
  • Gwendolyn Brooks: “We Real Cool”
  • Robert Browning: “My Last Duchess”
  • Emily Dickinson: “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers” (124)
  • John Donne: “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”
  • T.S. Eliot: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
  • Carolyn Forché: “The Colonel”
  • Robert Frost: “Mending Wall”
  • Robert Hayden: “Those Winter Sundays”
  • Langston Hughes: “Let America Be America Again”
  • John Keats: “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
  • Andrew Marvell: “To His Coy Mistress”
  • Wilfred Owen: “Dulce et Decorum Est”
  • John Crowe Ransom: “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter”
  • William Shakespeare: Sonnets
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley: “Ozymandias”
  • Wallace Stevens: “Sunday Morning”
  • Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night”
  • William Carlos Williams: “Danse Russe”
  • William Butler Yeats: “The Second Coming”