Saturday, January 20, 2018

Prompt #303 – One-Sentence Poems

A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

—William Butler Yeats

One-sentence poems are conceptually interesting and a challenge to write. The title, however, is a bit misleading. One-sentence poems are longer than a typical sentence, they may even be several stanzas long. Importantly, they are not simply poems without punctuation. In fact, they employ all the standard rules of punctuation, capitalization, and grammar, and all of poetry’s distinguishing features: figures of speech, imagery, and sound values. However, because these poems are one-sentence but several poem-lines long, they must be carefully constructed and go a long way toward encouraging the writer to make every word count, to tighten language, and to focus on details to create a sense of immediacy and “presence.”

Unlike prose that moves freely from paragraph to paragraph, poetry is composed in lines. Lineation in poetry refers to the way lines break in definite places (decided upon by the poet). Lines are elements of composition that impact meaning and sound. It isn’t necessary to end a line of poetry with a terminal punctuation mark, and, poets often use enjambment (the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line or stanza, without terminal punctuation at the end of the line).

In a one-sentence poem, we're not talking about one line. The poems may be a number of lines long, but is composed as a single sentence. The poet simply continues the main thought from line to line using such punctuation marks as commas, semi-colons, parentheses, dashes, and colons and moving from line to line without any terminal punctuation. The idea is not to create a long run-on sentence but, rather, to a craft a poem that flows seamlessly from line to line.

Take, for example,  Galway Kinnell's amazing poem "Saint Francis and the Sow":

Saint Francis and the Sow
     by Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;   
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;   
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch   
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow   
began remembering all down her thick length,   
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,   
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine   
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering   
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

And this wonderful example by Edmund Charles Baranowski:

Death Sentence
     By Edmund Charles Baranowski

The scent of death lingers
in the air
from the rotting corpse
of a road kill deer,
laying near the curb,
just out of town,
on the corner of
the cemeterial grounds;
decaying quickly
in the summer's heat;
displaying death
on a one way street;
at the base of the sign post,
below the sign
that says "one way"
not unlike time.


1. Think for a while about the subject of your one-sentence poem, and jot down some ideas, images, and phrases.

2. Remember that crucial in creating one-sentence poems, are strong pictorial images and images that appeal to the senses and emotions.

3. Don’t try to write a long one-sentence poem for starters. Begin with a shorter poem, no more than 12-15 lines.


1. Once you have an idea for your subject, begin writing.

2. Be especially aware of how you break your lines (and ultimately stanzas).

3. Use traditional punctuation throughout your poem but remember that there should be no terminal punctuation except at the end of your last line.

4. Work on sound: create harmonic textures through alliteration, assonance, consonance, and internal rhyme.

5. Pay attention to syntax and pacing.

6. Control subject and tense.

7. Work with enjambments.

8. As always, end with a dismount that has a “punch.”

1. The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

2. The New Dog
by Linda Pastan

Into the gravity of my life,
the serious ceremonies
of polish and paper
and pen, has come

this manic animal
whose innocent disruptions
make nonsense
of my old simplicities—

as if I needed him
to prove again that after
all the careful planning,
anything can happen.

3. Bright Star, Would I Were Stedfast [sic]
By John Keats

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No---yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake forever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon in death.

4. "Piedra de Sol" (Sunstone) by Octavio Paz is a 584-line one-sentence poem that ends with a colon—making it a 584-line incomplete sentence.

Read “Piedra de Sol” here (original and translation):

Click here to visit an online journal that publishes one-sentence poems:

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Prompt #302 – Snow Poems

Welcome back, blog readers! I hope your holiday season was filled with happiness and light!

After a seasonal hiatus, I planned to resume regular posts on January 16th but missed blogging so much that I decided to start the 2018 posts today.

In this part of the world, we’re deeply immersed in winter. Where I live, after a very mild autumn, the first winter temperatures have been frigid. As I write this today, the thermometer on my backyard deck reads 4º F. There was a snowstorm during the week and, after snow blowing and digging out, my little town has settled into a deep freeze. With snow and cold on my mind, I thought it might be an appropriate time to write snow poems.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that falling snow is a “poem of the air," where the “troubled sky reveals the grief it feels.” Air and grief—not obviously associated with snow, but both are evocative words that make me wonder what other snow-inspired words and phrases we might come up with. What “snow words” and images occur to you?


1. Think in terms of emotions and the emotions conjured up by the idea of snow or memories of it.

2. Write a poem in which you employ personification (told from the perspective of snow or perhaps from the perspective of a wild creature (squirrel, deer, wolf, bird) that struggles to survive the cold.

2. Write a snow haiku.

Example haiku from my book Not Asking What If:

snow in the air—
the graveyard gate opens
on rusty hinges

3. Write a snow haibun (begin with a prose passage or paragraph and end with a haiku).

4. Although winter is traditionally known as the “dark season,” there is much in winter and snow that is not bleak or lifeless. Robert Frost wrote in “Dust of Snow," about a crow’s movements that cause snow to dust the speaker as he passes under a tree. According to Frost, this dust “Has given my heart / A change of mood / And saved some part / Of a day I had rued.” Is there an upbeat or positive snow moment like this one that you recall and might write about?

5. Recreate a snowy landscape from a winter memory. Or, if you live in a tropical climate, a place where there is no snow, create an imaginary snow scene and write about it.

6. You might want to use a photograph or painting of snow as inspiration for an ekphrastic poem.

Example: An ekphrastic poem that I wrote based on Monet’s Snow Scene at Argenteuil. Published: The Good Men Project, December 8, 2017

Just Enough Spectacle

(After Snow Scene at Argenteuil by Claude Monet)

It’s that time—ice-sliver and ache—frost at the sides of our eyes. This is the cold season, the winding down. When we were children, we imagined wolves in the woods, amber eyes between trees—excitement more than fear—a beauty that caught inside our breath, deep in the joy we lived for. Unaware of the ground beneath us, we walked into those woods (sometimes astonished), hands open inside our wooly mittens.

Childhood ponds skate into space; and, yes, this is winter—the calendar’s last portion. Just past dawn’s shadow, light flits over the top of things, like the end of another year seen through snow—just enough spectacle to offset time and age, to silence the “I” in who we’ve become.

7. Write about a snow globe. How about writing from the viewpoint of whatever is inside the snow globe—looking out from inside?


1. Keep your imagery tight and use images to evoke a “snow mood.” Remember to show and not simply tell.

2. Watch out for clichéd images. Examine your poems carefully and note any phrases or lines that seem familiar or general. Work to create images that are striking and fresh—distinctive and different. Think in terms of similes, metaphors, and other types of figurative language, and how you can use these to enhance your images. I love this related quote from W. H. Auden: [A poem] “must say something significant about a reality common to us all, but perceived from a unique perspective.” That unique perspective can be articulated through imagery.
3. Be on the lookout for  relative pronouns (that, which, whom, who). If you find one in your poem, try reconfiguring the sentence without it.

4. Your line breaks should have a kind of logic that’s clear but doesn’t intrude.

5. Find a form for your poem (stanzaic arrangement) that enhances the meaning of your words.

6. Don’t be afraid to challenge the ordinary, to create a new resonance for your readers.

7. Remember that a poem should mean more than the words it contains. Go for obvious and unstated meanings.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Happy New year

My sincerest, grateful good wishes
to all of you who read and follow this blog!

May 2018 bring you abundant blessings, 
good health, happiness, and peace!

(And, of course, wonderful poetry—written or read—always enjoyed & inspiring.)

Regular posts will resume on January 13th
so please stay tuned and check back!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Prompt #301 – Happy Holidays!

This week, let’s have a look at language using alternative titles for time-honored Christmas and other seasonal songs. This is just for fun—feel free to copy, paste, and print to enjoy with family members and friends during your holiday celebrations. The answers are posted below after a poetry prompt for this week (but don’t peek until you’ve tried to name all the songs)!


Can You Name These Christmas Carols?

1. Ah, Approach, Everyone Who Is Steadfast (or, Ah, Loyal Followers Advance)

2. Far Off in a Feeder

3. Hey, Minuscule Urban Area of Southwest Jerusalem

4. Icy, the Humanoid Solid Precipitation Sculpture

5. Do You Auscultate As I?

6. Ag Chimes

7.  Ah, Liturgical Evening

8. Individual Visualization of Matriarch Smooching Red-Suited, Sleigh-Driving Guy

9.  God Grant Relaxation to You Jolly Fellows

10. Heavenly Beings from the Areas of Magnificence

11. Arrival at 2400 Hours in Cloudless Weather

12. The Bantam Youthful Male Percussionist

13. Father Christmas is on the Way to the Borough

14. Ecstasy Toward the Planet

15. The Dozen Intervals between Sunrise and Sunset Related to the 25th Day of the 12th Month

16. Us, a Monarchical Trio Who Originated Near the Ascent of Apollo

17. I’m Fantasizing Concerning a Blanched Yuletide

18. The Initial Christmas

19. Noiseless Nocturnal Period

20. Listen, the Foretelling Spirits Harmonize

21. Array the Corridors

22. The Sum of My Yuletide Yearnings is Two Anterior Incisors

23. Query Regarding the Identity of Descendant

24. The Quadruped with the Vermilion Proboscis

25. Frozen Precipitation Command or Allow Crystalline Formations to Descend

26. Ebullient Elderly Saint who was Bishop of Myra

27. Ringing Chimes

28. At This Juncture Arrives the Jolly Old Elf.

29. The Appearance of Christ’s Natal Day is Commencing

30. Ah, Drawing Close Permit Us to Worship Him


This Week's Prompt: Try Writing a Holiday Poem

1. Write about a holiday from your past (dig deeply into family memories).
2. Write a poem in which you compare winter holidays of the past, present, and/or future.
3. Write about seasonal ghosts that haunt you.
4. Write about people from your past who are no longer with you and how that impacts your present holiday season; or, write about one special person with whom you always associate the winter holidays.
5. Write about aspects of winter holiday traditions that remain part of your annual celebrations.
6. Write about the faith and/or cultural aspects of your winter holidays.
7. Write about one unforgettable winter holiday.
8. Write about holiday food treats and how they sweeten your memories.
9. Write about a holiday song that replays in your mind because of its associations (or, write your own words to a Christmas carol or other winter holiday song).
10. Write a poem based on an old Christmas, Hanukkah, or other winter holiday photograph.
11. Write about a historical holiday-time event.
12. Write about a winter holiday yet to come. You might consider a fantasy poem with a futuristic sensibility.


 Christmas Carol Quiz Answers

1. Oh, Come All Ye Faithful
2. Away in A Manger
3. Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem
4. Frosty the Snowman
5. Do You Hear What I Hear?
6. Silver Bells
7. Oh, Holy Night
8. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
9. God Rest You Merry Gentlemen
10. Angels from the Realms of Glory
11. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
12. The Little Drummer Boy
13. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
14. Joy to the World
15. The Twelve Days of Christmas
16. We Three Kings of Orient Are
17. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas
18. The First Noel
19. Silent Night
20. Hark, the Herald Angels Sing
21. Deck the Halls
22. All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth
23. What Child is This?
24. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
25. Let it Snow
26. Jolly Old St. Nicholas
27. Jingle Bells
28. Here Comes Santa Claus
29. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
30. Oh, Come let Us Adore Him


To All My Blog Readers

I wish all my blog readers happy and healthy holidays and the best blessings of this festive season. May the the coming year bring you good health, much happiness, and all the things that you love! I’ll resume posting on Saturday, January 13, 2018! In the meantime, celebrate the season!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Prompt #300 – The Night Before Christmas Parody

This week, I decided to revisit (and embellish) a seasonal prompt from December 11, 2010. The prompt deals with writing parodies of a well-known poem. Parody is always fun—the imitation of another work, writer, or genre. In poetry, parody is often about burlesquing serious verse for comic or satirical effect. This week, the idea is to write parodies of Clement C. Moore’s famous poem “The Night Before Christmas” (originally titled “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”). 

This poem has delighted both children and adults for many years—and some very funny parodies have been written. These humorous riffs on the Christmas classic are in many ways as entertaining as the original.

The original version of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was anonymously published shortly before Christmas in 1823. As the poem’s popularity grew, several writers claimed to be its author, including Clement Clarke Moore, a classics professor, writer, and friend of author Washington Irving. Written in anapestic tetrameter (four feet of unstressed-unstressed-stressed), the poem’s rhythm and rhyme have made it easy to memorize.

Three of four hand-written copies of the poem are housed in museums (including the New York Historical Society Library). A private collector sold the fourth copy in December 2006; this copy was written and signed by Clement Clarke Moore and given as a gift to a friend in 1860. It was purchased for $280,000 by an unnamed “chief executive officer of a media company.”


1. To begin, read Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas.”

2. Now sample some parodies of the poem. Google "Parodies of the Night before Christmas," and you'll find several online. Note how the parodies imitate the style and form of the original but use different language and meaning to alter the text.

3. Next, think of the content you’d like your poem to contain. Theme? Idea? Think about the examples you read and consider other possibilities. Here are just a few:

The Night Before Christmas (from a Pet’s Point of View)
A Mother’s/Father’s Night Before Christmas
A Poetry Reading the Night Before Christmas
A (Profession Here, Teacher’s, Lawyer’s, Poet’s, Policeman’s) Night Before Christmas
A (Person’s Name Here) Night before Christmas (This Version is about a Particular Person)
The Night Before _________________(Not Christmas, Anything You Wish)

4. When you’ve got an idea in mind, begin writing. You should, of course, model your work after the original while addressing a completely different subject matter. If the Moore poem is longer than you’d like your parody to be, simply write something shorter. Be sure to follow the rhythm and rhyme schemes of the original poem – that is, maintain the sense of music that Moore created. Allusions to Moore’s poem are fun to include.

1. Something that I’ve done over the years is to write “Night Before Christmas” poems for friends and family members. I print and frame them and give them as gifts – they’re fun to write (especially humorous versions), a great way to make friends and family members smile, and an amusing way to share poetry.
2. Have fun with this!

3. As always, you’re invited to post your poems as comments (finished or in draft form) for other blog readers to enjoy.

Example: “Twas the Night before Hanukah”

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Prompt #299 – Silent Night

As the holiday season begins, and Christmas preparations gear up in my house, I find myself listening to (and singing in my less-than-harmonious voice) a number of favorite Christmas carols. I wondered what the most popular Christmas carol of all might be. A quick Google search led me to an article based on a Time Magazine study that revealed the following:

“The names Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber have largely vanished into the annals of Christmas tormentors, but their greatest triumph lives on. “Silent Night,” which Mohr wrote the lyrics for (in German) in 1816 and Gruber put to music two years later, is the most recorded Christmas song in the modern era of the holiday’s substantial oeuvre.”

“To determine this fact, TIME crawled the records at the U.S. Copyright Office, which offers digitized registrations going back to 1978, and collected data on every Christmas album recorded since that time. “Silent Night,” it turns out, is not merely the most popular carol; with 733 copyrighted recordings since 1978, it is nearly twice as dominant as “Joy to the World,” a distant second with 391 records to its name.”

Whether your observation of the season is secular or religious, and regardless of your religious affiliation, this week, the challenge is to use the title (that’s right, just the title) of the song “Silent Night” as a springboard for something that may well be quite different from the song. Think about a “silent night” (any silent night) that you’ve experienced. This may be a seasonal or Christmas experience or a “silent night” experience from any time of year.


1. Free write for a while on silence, nighttime, or any specific experience you’ve had at night (mystical, beautiful, frightening, comforting). Some possibilities may include a family time, a particular holiday celebration, a nighttime walk in the woods or on a city street, a time alone, a time when words failed you, or a time when you were in deep reflection.

2. After free writing for a while, take a short break and then go back and read what you wrote. Is there anything there that you might work into a poem? Copy some images and ideas that you think might fit.

3. Consider prose, narrative, and lyric forms.

4. Write your poem with the specific intention of creating a mood or atmosphere. Mood is the major feeling or atmosphere of a piece of poetry, and can be an important device is establishing emotional communication between you and your readers. Remember that your topic is a “silent night.”

5. Don’t be afraid to create an air of mystery. Along that line, don’t tell it all—leave room for your readers to enter your poem. Give your readers something to reflect upon. Don’t close the “door” on your poem—leave it slightly ajar.


1. The images you create will impact the mood of your poem. If you create somber images, the mood of your poem will darken and perhaps become ominous. If you create light, happy images, your poem’s mood will move into a positive, uplifting direction. Know what mood you want to create before writing anything.

2. Remember that setting contributes to mood and atmosphere, and establish a setting for your poem accordingly. (Note that setting is the physical location in any literary work. It provides a background that supports the content.)  

3. Use language to your poem’s advantage. That is, choose words and phrases that convey the mood or tone of a “silent night.”

4. Be generous with caesuras (pauses). Allow the unspoken silences of your poem to speak to your readers. You can create pauses with dashes, parentheses, spacing, and line breaks.

5. There should be nothing superfluous in your poem: no extra words, no extra syllables. Avoid explanations of what you’ve written in your poem: trust your images.


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.  
His house is in the village though;  
He will not see me stopping here  
To watch his woods fill up with snow.  

My little horse must think it queer  
To stop without a farmhouse near  
Between the woods and frozen lake  
The darkest evening of the year.  

He gives his harness bells a shake  
To ask if there is some mistake.  
The only other sound’s the sweep  
Of easy wind and downy flake.  

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,  
And miles to go before I sleep,  
And miles to go before I sleep.

Evening Solace By Charlotte Brontë

The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;—
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame’s or Wealth’s illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.

But there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart’s best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.

And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back—a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others’ sufferings seem.
Oh! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie!

And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress—
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven
Seeking a life and world to come.