“This is a twist on a prompt offered by Kay Gabriel during a meeting she facilitated at the Poetry Project last year. Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a two-part poem, in the form of an exchange of letters. The first stanza (or part) should be in the form of a letter that you write either to yourself or to a famous fictional or historical person. The second part should be the letter you receive in response. These can be as short or long as you like, in the form of prose poems, or with line breaks – and of course, the subject matter of the letters is totally up to you.”
“The fun of this prompt is to make it the “to-do list” of an unusual person or character. For example, what’s on the Tooth Fairy’s to-do list? Or on the to-do list of Genghis Khan? Of a housefly? Your list can be a mix of extremely boring things and wild things. For example, maybe Santa Claus needs to order his elves to make 7 million animatronic Baby Yoda dolls, to have his hat dry-cleaned to get off all the soot it picked up last December, and to get his head electrician to change out the sparkplugs on Rudolph’s nose.”
“I call this one “Return to Spoon River,” after Edgar Lee Masters’ eminently creepy 1915 book Spoon River Anthology. The book consists of well over 100 poetic monologues, each spoken by a person buried in the cemetery of the fictional town of Spoon River, Illinois.
Today, I’d like to challenge you to read a few of the poems from Spoon River Anthology, and then write your own poem in the form of a monologue delivered by someone who is dead. Not a famous person, necessarily – perhaps a remembered acquaintance from your childhood, like the gentleman who ran the shoeshine stand, or one of your grandmother’s bingo buddies.”
Obviously, I didn’t follow the prompt because it gave me the creeps (I tried, but it gave me all of the “yips” if you get my meaning), but I’m still sharing the prompt along with a link to the book because it was an intriguing and innovative idea, though yes, also a very creepy one. I read some of the poems and it’s ingenious in a macabre way how they all seem to fit together.
Though I didn’t do the prompt, I leaned into the shivers I got from trying by writing dual-mirrored cinquains on what felt like adjacent subject matter. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go sage my laptop.
“There are many different poetic forms. Some have specific line counts, syllable counts, stresses, rhymes, or a mix-and-match of the above. Of the poetic forms that are based on syllable counts, probably the most well-known – to English speakers, at least – is the Japanese form called the haiku. But there are many other syllable-based forms. Today, I’d like to challenge you to pick from two of them – the shadorma, and the Fib.”
I’ve dabbled with the shadorma a few times, but I cannot recall ever trying a Fib, so naturally, I went with the unknown to see if I could make a new friend of it. The Fib is a fun, light form that seems made for nostalgia.
The line I used is “History has failed us, but no matter.” This is the opening line of the historical novel, Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. It’s a gripping opening, similar to “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” and the novel more than lives up to its thesis statement, becoming my favorite book in 2020.
When you proclaim to not see race
despite a world
licking its infected wounds
deepened by the status-quo
our beauty bound and muted
listless and silenced
might you see rebirth
lift us as something
other than a threat?
‘This prompt challenges you to find a poem, and then write a new poem that has the shape of the original, and in which every line starts with the first letter of the corresponding line in the original poem. If I used Roethke’s poem as my model, for example, the first line would start with “I,” the second line with “W,” and the third line with “A.” And I would try to make all my lines neither super-short nor overlong, but have about ten syllables. I would also have my poem take the form of four, seven-line stanzas. I have found this prompt particularly inspiring when I use a base poem that mixes long and short lines, or stanzas of different lengths. Any poem will do as a jumping-off point, but if you’re having trouble finding one, perhaps you might consider Mary Szybist’s “We Think We Do Not Have Medieval Eyes” or for something shorter, Natalie Shapero’s “Pennsylvania.”’
You borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbors, knowing they will never get it back
not completely, not even if a slice of fresh baked German chocolate cake is shared
in return, in gratitude, and yet if they have it, it’s yours.
Next week they may need two cups of flour and if you have it to give, you give, and still no one is keeping score.
During these unmeasured exchanges, they may toot the horn of their beloved’s achievements as you nod and smile,
never bringing up that someone sounding a lot like them through the walls has taken to midnight sobbing.
They will politely pretend not to notice your puffy, bloodshot eyes as well.
Perhaps you may share a glass or two of red wine and trite cliches as facile lies go unscrutinized, failing to not undress themselves
as somehow no one falls apart in this fleeting reprieve from physics.
When parting, one of you will ask the other – as if it matters – if they have everything they need,
knowing the answer will be a resounding yes, and yes, again, a lie will go unchallenged as both return to respective bubbles to bake
nutrient-deficient treats to be consumed with scarcely a thought of gratitude.
Written for NaPoWriMo: Day 3 – I’m off-prompt today, as today’s prompt felt a bit too much like an Ikea furniture build for me. But go check it out for yourself if you like your prompts to be of the more involved variety.
And what of the difference anyway? All paths lead to this chambered next gasp To deconstruct is to sift away Foundations where we live, love, and play As time’s fleeting grains fall from our grasp
Dare you rule regret as garden path As miserly as man’s own timeline Fill ledgers with dread’s feeble new math Flog missteps with chaste, unbridled wrath Or admire our road’s divine design?
We are not this somber switch-backed trail Our value, more than stone, earth, and bone Our feet dare not scale where we prevail Stardust exhaled, we sail cosmic gale Sown tracks overgrown best left unknown
I toast every knotted twist and turn Woodland, universe, and I are same We learn, unlearn, as winds of fate churn Until the earthen soil I return I care not from which path that I came.
“In the world of well-known poems, maybe there’s no gem quite so hoary as Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken.’ Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem about your own road not taken – about a choice of yours that has “made all the difference,” and what might have happened had you made a different choice.”